Review: Symposion Longmorn 1992

Symposion — the “House of Taste” — is a Sweden-based independent bottler of Scotch whisky and other spirits, with a particular eye on serving the Nordic market. I picked up this indie bottling of Speyside’s Longmorn — distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2012 at 20 years old after maturation in bourbon hogsheads — at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, duty free.

The nose is driven by the old bourbon cask — minimally woody, lots of cereal, and strong vanilla-chocolate overtones. The palate spices things up a bit, with some cinnamon and nutmeg, gentle florals, and light citrus notes, but again, even after 20 years in oak, the malt-forward backbone stands strong and unyielding, seemingly ready for another 10 years or more in the barrel. The finish is a touch hot, but not at all unpleasant, somehow still connoting youth despite numerical evidence to the contrary.

A curiosity that drinks younger than its age.

103.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #98 of 274.

B+ / $85 /

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask Edition 2017

Laphroaig’s annual limited edition release — dubbed Cairdeas, Gaelic for “friendship” — has arrived, and this one keeps the production process a little more familiar than many of its previous bottlings. To wit:

Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask features different ages of Laphroaig matured for more than five years in first-fill bourbon casks, then laid to rest for a second time in smaller quarter casks. Following six months of maturation, the liquid from 177 of the casks was bottled at Cask Strength — no color added, no chilling and a simple barrier filtration.

As Cairdeas releases go, this one is, in some sense, closer to mainline Laphroaig than nearly all of them, offering a heavily smoky nose with overtones of barbecued meat, black pepper, and bacon. The racy palate finds some sweetness to share, a vanilla- and sugar cookie-heavy encounter that melds, somewhat unevenly, with the smokier notes, leaving behind a finish that bends slightly in the direction of citrus. It’s a very bold whisky, stuffed to the gills with flavor, not shy at all about bending your palate to its will.

How does it compare to rack Quarter Cask, you ask? Well, the standard Quarter Cask is by comparison a much gentler expression that drinks beautifully and approachably, even at 96 proof. There’s a little less of everything on this bottling — less sweetness, and less smoke, too — particularly on the finish, where that citrus character, while present, just doesn’t make as significant of an impression.

Water surprisingly doesn’t temper Cairdeas Quarter Cask all that much — its flavors continuing to explode like pop rocks on the palate, almost overwhelmingly. To be honest, it’s a bit much, tossing restraint out the window in favor of pushing the peat pedal to the metal. Ultimately it’s fun as a novelty, but frankly the greater nuance of standard Quarter Cask is more to my liking.

114.4 proof.

B+ / $80 /

Review: Tullibardine The Murray

To date, Tullibardine has been largely known for its relatively forgettable collection of single malts, many of which are perfectly palatable but a bit lackluster despite exotic cask finishes.

That changes with the release of The Murray, a cask strength malt that easily stands as the best whisky I’ve had from this distillery, despite a youthful age of just 12 years. Some details:

The Murray was distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016 after maturing entirely in first-fill bourbon casks at the Perthshire distillery. Released as the first whisky in Tullibardine’s Marquess Collection, The Murray is named after Sir William Murray, the 2nd Marquess of Tullibardine, and offers a new flavour profile that draws upon the local lands and waters from around the Ochil Hills. Says Keith Geddes, Master Blender at the distillery, “This is the first release in our Marquess Collection, and also the first of our range to be entirely distilled and matured at cask strength this century.”

Let’s give ol’ Murray a spin.

The nose of The Murray is fantastically engaging, a melange of oily wood, cloves, burnt sugar, cayenne, fresh sugar cookies, and — atop it all — plenty of burly malt. A grassy character emerges with some time in glass, eventually evolving into a sort of lemongrass character. At cask strength of over 56% abv, the palate is on the hot side, though it’s still (mostly) approachable with notes of ripe banana, apricots, and sharp orange peel, the fruit fading a bit as notes of walnuts, toasted bread, and fresh wood take hold.

The whisky can stand up to a ton of water, so don’t be shy. Brought down in heat a bit, it reveals notes of licorice, some petrol, a bit of slate, and more of those cloves, which linger on the finish alongside echoes of the barley.

It’s quite a high-grade whisky at a great price, and The Murray drinks well above its mere 12 years of age.

112.2 proof.


Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

Review: Compass Box Double Single (2017)

Compass Box released its first version of Double Single way back in 2003. A second version followed sometime after, and now this expression, the third, has arrived.

What’s Double Single? Simple: It’s a blend of two whiskies — one is a single malt, one a single grain. Double single. Get it?

For this batch, the single malt is from Glen Elgin (72% of the total blend), which was aged in re-charred bourbon hogsheads. The single grain is from Girvan, also aged in re-charred bourbon casks. There’s no age statement for either, or for the whisky as a whole.

Let’s give it a try.

With its classic malt-forward nose, the whisky offers aromas of green apple, hearty baking spices, and salted caramel — a strange but surprisingly compelling combination. The palate is lean but silky, showing some surprisingly bold citrus notes, lots of malty cereal, banana, and lingering nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. The whisky is so gentle on the whole that it’s hard to be overly effusive about it, but at the same time it is so pure and full of flavor that it’s quite impossible not to love.

92 proof.

A- / $175 /

Review: Tomintoul 16 Years Old

My dad recently asked me if I’d had Tomintoul before. I knew I had, but had none in my stash (and nothing fresh in my mind), so I went digging around in my archives. Turns out I’ve reviewed Tomintoul on several occasions — all of them at whisky shows, never on their own.

Tomintoul is a Speyside whisky with the tagline, “The Gentle Dram,” and the name is more than fitting. This approach is clear from the get-go: It’s a 16 year that is aged fully in bourbon casks, with no finishing.

The nose is initially a little hot, with notes of sweet cereal and fresh brioche — with hints of vanilla. On the palate: toasty grain, gentle caramel, a hint of licorice and cloves, and a drying finish. It’s almost vegetal at times, but not in a bad way — the whisky goes into a world of carrots and eggplant(?) — before coming out the other side with the essence of a corn meal fish fry.

It’s nothing fancy — at all — but all I can say is I sure did drink a lot of it trying to figure that out.

80 proof.

B / $50 /

Review: The Singleton of Glendullan 12, 15, and 18 Years Old (2017)

My first experience with the Singleton of Glendullan whisky line, back in 2008, seems remarkably simplistic now. The Singleton line actually includes three distilleries, not just the Speyside-based Glendullan, all made by the Singleton family, but Glendullan seems to have the focus. To that end, the original Glendullan, which started with only a the 12 year old release, is now expanding, with a 15 year old and 18 year old expression coming to the U.S. for the first time.

We got all three for review, including a fresh bottle of Glendullan 12, to compare to our 2008 tasting notes. All are aged “primarily in bourbon casks” and are bottled at 80 proof.

The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Years Old (2017) – Malty with cereal notes and plenty of alcoholic burn on the nose, this is a starter Scotch if ever there was one. On the palate, ample apple, banana, and lemon peel give the otherwise grainy whisky some fruity nuance, as well as imbuing the malty core with additional notes of almond and baking spice. Otherwise, the finish tends toward some medicinal character. A bit dull on the whole. B- / $35

The Singleton of Glendullan 15 Years Old – Three extra years finds this whisky with more fruit on the nose, especially apple and banana again, plus some hints of coconut. That ethanol burn endures underneath, but it’s downplayed in comparison to the hot hot heat of the 12 year old. The palate is bolder here than on the 12, its roundness busting out notes of applesauce, caramel, vanilla syrup, and some cola notes. Again the almond makes an appearance, enduring on the finish with some roasted grain notes. A vast improvement over the 12 year old. B+/ $50

The Singleton of Glendullan 18 Years Old – New layers of flavor are revealed in the 18 year old, namely chocolate, which pairs beautifully with that banana and almond, which are common threads throughout the Glendullan experience. A sweeter expression than the 12 and 15, there are notes here of toasted marshmallow and honeycomb, with a gentle scorched wood — not quite smoky — element that wafts in and out. Here the finish ends squarely on the almond notes, a nutty and lasting character that is, surprisingly, the most gentle conclusion of all the whiskies in this range. A great price for an 18 year old spirit. A- / $80