Review: Glencadam The Re-awakening 13 Years Old

The story of Glencadam gets its start in 1825, when the distillery was opened in the Scottish Highlands. The stills went silent in 2000 and in 2003 it was purchased by a local company, Angus Dundee Distillers. While Glencadam bottlings drawn from older stock have never really gone away, at long last, in 2017, the first product from the relaunched distillery is hitting the market.

As the name suggests, this is a 13 year old single malt. The production run is limited to 6000 numbered bottles.

This is a  lively and fresh expression of Highland malt — young and nimble on its feet, but quite worthwhile. The color is surprisingly light — a pale straw, almost. Fresh cereal notes, honeycomb, and lightly smoked meats all play out on the nose, with those inviting honey aromas dominating. On the palate, the whisky is immediately sweet, a bit sharp with unexpected citrus notes, then moving into notes of sugar cookies, graham crackers, a hint of lemon, and a bit of coconut. The finish is sharper than expected — thanks largely to the slightly higher abv — with more coconut and vanilla notes lingering on the back end.

Not a bad little whisky, and definitely worth trying if you’re a Highland malt fan.

92 proof.

B+ / $65 /

Review: Glenfarclas The Family Casks 1989 from Astor Wines & Spirits

In the whisky world, single casks are great because they offer the opportunity to try a unique and rare version of an otherwise familiar spirit. Glenfarclas’ Family Casks go one step further and lets you pick across vintages spanning five decades. Since 2007, this Speyside distillery owned by the Grant family has produced more than 380 bottlings of vintage single malts from the early 1950s to the early 2000s. Of course no one bottle year is like the next, and cask finishing varies from year to year and release to release, so you never quite know what you’re going to get. There’s also a lot of history in these bottles, as each year’s complete release showcases multiple generations of the Grant family’s approach to whisky-making. Pricing varies accordingly from a few hundred dollars a bottle to thousands for those from the 1950s.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a bottle of The Family Casks 1989 bottling selected exclusively for Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City. This cask was bottled at the end of 2013, putting it at almost 25 years old. That’s somewhat on the younger side for that year’s releases but still a healthy, old age. Glenfarclas is typically associated with sherry-finished whiskies, but this bottling is all ex-bourbon cask, making it all the more unique.

The nose on this whisky is full of buttered pastry and orange blossom honey with a little clove, melon, and black pepper. On the palate, an initial burst of heat gives way to a malty, biscuity quality. As a fan of this distillery’s core range, I’m always looking for the dark fruit notes from the traditional Oloroso sherry finish, but I find in their place vibrant flavors of vanilla bean, oak, ginger, and an almost caramel apple quality. The finish is spicy with more honey and ginger root. Adding water creates a musty, leathery note on the nose, restrains some of the spice on the palate, and really amplifies the honeyed sweetness overall. I’m honestly not sure which way I prefer to drink this one, but I can confidently say I’m looking forward to the opportunity to try my next Glenfarclas Family Cask.

114.8 proof. Reviewed: Cask #7299.

A / $250 /

Review: Kilchoman 2009 Vintage and Red Wine Cask Matured

You can’t slow Kilchoman down, as the upstart Islay distillery is still cranking out at least four releases every year. Up next is a new vintage release, last seen in late 2015, and a brand new expression finished in red wine casks. Let’s dive in!

Kilchoman 2009 Vintage – This is an eight year old Kilchoman, one of the oldest bottlings the distillery has ever released. While the three prior vintage releases were aged exclusively in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels, this one is sourced from a combination of Oloroso sherry butts distilled in 2008 and bourbon barrels distilled in both 2008 and 2009. Results: It’s very peaty, particularly for Kilchoman, The nose is dense with smokiness, both barbecue and open wood fires. Some of that trademark fruit — apples and bananas — manages to creep through, but it’s fleeting against the background of smoking peat. The palate is largely in line with the nose, a burly smoke bombforemost, though one with more of a fruit profile laced throughout it. Aside from the general lack of sherry influence, there are no big surprises on the smoky, fruity, and very lightly floral finish — in fact there are no big surprises in the whisky at all. This is classic Kilchoman,which means that despite some production tweaks, it’s not overly distinguished vs. prior releases. 92 proof. B / $100

Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured – This is a limited edition bottling aged entirely (not finished) in red wine casks from the Douro Valley in Portugal (though not, it would seem, Port casks). Distilled in 2012, making it roughly 5 years old. A ruddy burnt orange, almost pink at times, this expression immediately shows itself as something entirely different from the typical Kilchoman bottling. The nose is inviting, a combination of eucalyptus, cedar wood, dried fruits, and almost savory amaro notes. There’s smoke here, but it’s understated, a secondary character that stands behind the broader fruit and herb profile. The palate is just as enchanting, a rich and lively mix of red fruits, mint, vanilla, and a surprisingly vibrant chocolate character. The finish is sweet and sultry, with hints of red pepper jelly and echoes of dark chocolate. All told, it’s probably my favorite release of Kilchoman to date. An absolute must “buy it now.” (For kicks, compare this to Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013.) 100 proof. Under 10,000 bottles produced. A / $125

Review: The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 4 Single Malt

The Balvenie is back with another of its highly-desired Tun series, with the fourth expression of Tun 1509 now in the market. We previously reviewed Batch 1 and Batch 2, but Batch 3 somehow slipped by us.

As with prior batches, Batch 4 is a vatting of 23 casks, including bourbon and sherry casks that are married in a special vessel called a tun before bottling at cask strength.

While Batch 2 was a letdown, Batch 4 marks a return to the original’s excellence. The nose is sherry forward and racy, loaded with baking spice and dried flowers, atop plenty of vanilla caramel notes — a nice balance between the sherry and bourbon casks in this bottle.

Though over 51% abv, the whisky doesn’t feel hot on the palate. While it’s vibrant and as racy as the nose would indicate, it’s tempered by a well-rounded body that features a toasty, malty, cereal-laden core, but one that is tempered by plenty of flavor. Notes of toasted coconut and dried apples bring fruity sweetness, while an edge of mahogany wood oil provides a moody counterpoint. The sherry notes aren’t as powerful on the palate, but the sharp finish sees a reprise, along a bite of that toasty cereal by way of conclusion.

While Batch 2 might have been a misfire, Batch 4 proves that Balvenie still has its blending magic well in hand.

103.4 proof.

A- / $399 /

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017

San Francisco’s WhiskyFest seemed as popular as ever this year, kicked off with the stampede to the Pappy Van Winkle booth that always marks the start of the show.

As always, there was plenty to enjoy at this year’s event — both new expressions and classic old friends ready for tasting. Here’s a full rundown on everything I tried.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2017


Alexander Murray & Co. The Monumental Blend 18 Years Old / B+ / a touch hot for a blend
Alexander Murray & Co. Braes of Glenlivet Distillery 1994 21 Years Old / B+ / bold, spicy, with lots of oak
Alexander Murray & Co. Strathmill Distillery 1992 24 Years Old / B+ / lots of nougat, more granary note than expected; citrus on the back end
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1990 26 Years Old / B+ / earthy and unusual, big wet mineral notes
Alexander Murray & Co. Linkwood Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / a bit simple
Alexander Murray & Co. Glenlossie Distillery 1997 19 Years Old Cask Strength / B / old bread notes dominate
Alexander Murray & Co. Bunnahabhain Distillery 1988 28 Years Old Cask Strength / B+ / overpowering sherry, but ample fruit
Bruichladdich Black Art 5 / B / sugar cookie dough, lots of vegetation
Laphroaig 25 Years Old / A+ / drinking absolutely gorgeously today, smoke and sweetness in perfect proportions
Tomatin 1986 / A- / bold cereal and malt notes, challah bread; cherry on the back
The Macallan Classic Cut / A- / the first cask strength Macallan in the U.S. in four years; bold and punchy; honeyed
Compass Box Phenomenology / A- / a mystery blend of five whiskeys; Compass Box will reveal their identity at the end of the year; this is a soft, lightly grainy whiskey with ample honey notes
Compass Box No Name / A- / this one is 75% Ardbeg, but the peat is light and quite floral; a really fun one
Highland Park Fire Edition / B / heavy grain and punchy alcohol today, not my favorite tonight
Highland Park Ice Edition / A / a massive step up, gently minty and cereal-infused; soothing
BenRiach 25 Years Old / A- / lemon is heavy on this light bodied 25
Shackleton Blended Malt (2017) / B+ / the third edition of the Shackleton is unrelated to the bottlings that Richard Paterson pulled together; this is a much cheaper blend in simpler packaging; for what it’s worth, it’s soft and simple inside, too, without much complexity but easy to enjoy
Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / fully firing, lush with fruit and toast notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask Finish / B / 25 years old; 17 of those years in Bordeaux casks; bold and spicy, but the finish is off
Bowmore 25 Years Old / B / lots of potpourri and perfume here, overly floral on the finish


Elijah Craig 23 Years Old / A- / drinking well, lots of wood and baking spice folded together
Stagg Jr. / B / over-wooded, with licorice and cloves; really blown out (don’t know the release number)
W.L. Weller 12 Years Old / A / a classic wheater, with ample butterscotch and toffee; really worthy of its praise
Calumet Farm Single Barrel / B+ / a big undercooked for a single barrel, somewhat thin
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley 2017 / B+ / corn and barley only; very gentle with the smoke, understated but with a true, fruity complexity; full review in the works
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition “Al Young” / A / gorgeous, a vanilla powerhouse; a favorite of the night

Other Whiskey

John & Allisa’s 2 Month Aged Tennessee Whiskey / NR / this is a preview from the as-yet-unnamed Tennessee distillery that Sazerac got when it purchased the assets of Popcorn Sutton; it’s always fun to taste near new-make, but today it’s all corn, all the time; try us again in 4-6 years
Westland Distillery Peat Week 2017 / B+ / soft for a “peat bomb,” with minty notes on the back end and some stewed prunes
WhistlePig Boss Hog IV: The Black Prince / B / way overoaked, antiseptic at times; full review of this is coming soon
Bushmills 21 Years Old Single Malt / A- / very heavy maltiness, big body, lots of heather and a lovely depth


Hennessy Cognac Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 / A- / 18 months in virgin oak, then 10-20 years in used casks; a wood-forward, domineering blend with tons of dried fruit to fill the palate

Review: Collectivum XXVIII Limited Edition 2017

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and for this final look at the 10th whisky in the 2017 Diageo Special Releases we come to a true oddity. For the first time ever, Diageo has made a master blend of all 28 single malt distilleries that it owns (hence the XXVIII). I’d list them here, but you can Google the full list as easily as I can. The resulting spirit (formally a NAS release) is a blend of refill American oak hogsheads, refill European oak butts, ex-bodega European oak butts, and first fill bourbon casks.

In a nutshell: This is an infinity bottle done by professionals.

One catch: It’s not available in the United States. Here’s a writeup anyway for our international (and mor industrious) readers.

Considering this whisky is sourced from nearly every producing region of Scotland, I expected a spirit writ broadly, with minimal finesse and a somewhat muddy character. That’s not the case here: Collectivum is complex, and its disparate elements manage to come together surprisingly nicely.

Speyside runs the show here. On the nose, it’s malty, sharp with alcohol and moderately heavy sherry notes, and an ample, earthy character that offers notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor. The palate is hot at full strength. Water helps temper the beast and brings out plenty of character. It starts with that classic, golden honeyed Speyside character, heathery florals, and a squeeze of lemon. As it evolves in the glass, peaty smoke is present but elusive, dialed well into the background, allowing notes of coconut, fig jam, and dried flowers to evolve. The finish is a bit off, sharp and somewhat vegetal, which is a minor letdown in what is otherwise a fun and engaging little whisky.

Should you find yourself in Europe and faced with the prospect of a purchase, I’d nab one.

114.6 proof.

B+ / £125 /

Review: Port Dundas 52 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

The lone single grain whisky in the 2017 Diageo Special Releases is this one from Port Dundas, and it’s a whopper: The Glasgow-distilled spirit hit the barrel in 1964 and spent 52 years in refill American oak hogsheads. This is only the second Port Dundas release in the history of the Special Releases — the last one being a mere 20 years old, back in 2011.

Single grain whisky doesn’t get a lot of respect because it is often harsh and uninspiring — that is, until it reaches serious age. At more than half a century, this Port Dundas has had time enough to reflect and grow into something potentially special.

What’s amazing is that, even after 52 years, Port Dundas still manages to come across like a classic grain whisky. The nose is heavily floral — with ample notes of rose-heavy potpourri — with a sharp, citrus-like overtone. On the palate the whisky, though under 90 proof, is also sharp on the palate, with a biting orange peel note up front. This soon fades to reveal a more lush and austere interior: big butterscotch notes, heavy coconut character, banana, rounded oak notes… though it also gives way to some oily petrol character, particularly on the surprisingly pungent finish.

There’s a lot going on here. Most of it is definitively worth exploring and examining (and you won’t find much 52 year old single malt at this price), but as with many a single grain whisky, the flavors can be an acquired taste.

89.2 proof. 752 bottles produced.

B+ / $900 /