Blair Athol 1989 Carn Mor Review

“Tropical Rain Forest”

Country: Scotland
Region: Central Highlands - Pertshire
Brand: Blair Athol 1989 (Carn Mor - Celebration of the Cask Series)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 24 Years
ABV: 57.2%
Chill-Filtration: No

Colour: Golden (Natural Colour) 

Nose: The Alcohol is quite strong so be sure to give this Blair Athol enough time in the glass before Nosing. It's quite Malty, Fruity and Floral but also a bit Dusty with Malted Barley, Buttered Toast, Straw, Salted Peanuts, Dusty Road, Vanilla, Honey, Red Apples, Mandarin, Lemon, Nectarine, Pineapple and some Tropical Fruit that I find difficult to identify. Mango perhaps. Some light Spices as well, mainly Cinnamon and Ginger. With more time in the glass the Fruits tend to develop and after a while I get some Banana Bread and Tutti Frutti as well. I also detect something that I can only describe as Perfumed Candles. The Oak is of course noticeable but not in a dominant way. There's enough to discover on the Nose but you must carefully find your way around the Alcohol. All in all it's not bad at all although it misses the "Wow" factor.

Taste: Strong delivery thanks to the high ABV. It's still Fruity but the Oak and Spices are more noticeable now. I find Toasted Barley, Vanilla, Honey, Banana, Blueberry, Tutti-Frutti, Orange, Grapefruit Juice, Salted Nuts, Nectarine, Dusty Road, Herbal Tea and Spices like Pepper, Ginger, Cinnamon and Cardamom.  

Finish: Sufficiently Long, Fruity, Bitter Sweet and Spicy with Toasted Grain, Blueberry Muffins, Orange, Banana, Mango, Berries, Salted Nuts, Cooked Vegetables, Vanilla, Dusty Roads, Menthol, Herbal Tea, Licorice, Cinnamon, Pepper, Ginger and Cardamom. The Oak is quite strong at this point.

I added a little Water and that helps to control the Alcohol. Other than that the Aromas and Flavours are basically the same. A bit more Fruit on the Nose and Licorice and Grapefruit Juice in the Finish. You can certainly experiment with a little Water although I still prefer to sip it neat. 

Rating: 85.5

Nose: 21.5 - Taste: 21.5 - Finish: 21 - Overall: 21.5

General Remarks: This Blair Athol 24 Years Single Cask Whisky was distilled on the 2nd of November 1989 and was bottled at Cask Strength on the 6th of October 2014 by Indie Whisky bottler Morrison & Mackay from Perth. It matured in an Ex-Bourbon Refill Hogshead with Cask # 6463. Only 228 bottles went to the market and I was lucky enough to buy a sample. This Malt is still available in places and will cost you around 180 US Dollars. 

Blair Athol was founded in 1798 by John Stewart and Robert Robertson. It was called Aldour at first and received its current name only in 1825. The Distillery is located in Pitlochry and is owned nowadays by Diageo. Almost all of the Spirit is destined for the Bell's Blend.

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: This is an interesting Single Malt, especially on the Nose. With a little patience you discover lots of Fruity Aromas. On the Palate and in the Finish the years in the cask begin to tell and there the Wood and Wood Spices start to dominate although the Fruity and Malty Flavours maintain their presence as well. The Refill Cask still managed to give sufficient Aromas and Flavours to the Spirit. I would have loved to have tasted this Blair Athol at around 15-17 years as I believe the balance between Malt, Fruit, Wood and Spices would have been perfect at that age. Still, if you like strolling in a Tropical Rain Forest, this Blair Athol might just be the Single Malt you're looking for. It's not that expensive for a 24 year old Whisky and you can still find it on the Internet. Cheers!    

Jan van den Ende                                                                      April 28, 2016

Highland Park 16 Years Review

“Another Storm in a Tea Cup”

Country: Scotland 
Region: Highlands-Islands-Orkney
Brand: Highland Park
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 16 Years
ABV: 40% 

Colour: Deep Gold/Amber (Artificially Coloured)

Nose: The Refill Sherry Cask influence is clear and I immediately pick up Dried Fruits like Apricot, Raisins and Sultanas as well as assorted Nuts. On the Nose, this HP is mainly Sweet and a bit on the Light side. It's a pity that most of these Travel Retail expressions are bottled at 40%. I also find Banana Bread, Sweet Apples, Fresh Pastry, German Butter Biscuits (Butterkekse), Heather Honey, Vanilla, Toffee, Sugared Orange Peel, light Oak, light Aniseed and a distant note of Varnish. Behind it all a Thin web of Vegetable Peat and Campfire Smoke has been woven. The Alcohol is not completely integrated. Although I find various Aromas, most of them are mere hints. Cereals, Dried Fruits and Honey are the main drivers. On the Nose, I find this Highland Park Thin and Underdeveloped for a 16 Year old Single Malt.      

Palate: Bitter Sweet and on the Thin Side. Single Malts of this age really deserve to be bottled at, at least, 43%. I find Malted Barley, Heather Honey, Dried Fruit, Vanilla, Salted Nuts, Orange, Grass, Herbal Tea, light Licorice, light Pepper, light Ginger, light Cinnamon, light Smoke and Peat and slightly Sour Red Grapes.     

Finish: Rather Short, mostly Sweet but with a light Acidity. I find Dry Earth, Grass and Straw, Cereals, Vanilla, Toffee, Honey, Dried Fruit, Orange Liqueur, light Pepper, light Aniseed, light Licorice, light Cinnamon, Oak, slightly Sour Red Grapes Jam and Smoke of a distant Campfire.

With added Water I find more Cereals and Honey on the Nose. Palate and Finish become too weak for my taste. Better sip it neat. 

Rating: 82 

Nose: 21 - Taste: 20.5 - Finish: 20 - Overall: 20.5 

General Remarks: Highland Park was founded in 1798 and is located on the Orkney Isles off the North-East coast of Scotland. The distillery uses local Orcadian Peat, that mostly consists of Heather and other Plants. Highland Park matures most of its spirits in Ex-Sherry casks from both Spanish and, curiously, American Oak. Highland Park is one the very few remaining distilleries that malts around 30% of its Barley needs on their own malting floor. The HP 16 years is not part of the core range and was created exclusively for the Travel Retail Market in October 2005. Back in 2012 I tasted another 16 Year Old HP Travel Retail expression. That was a Vintage 1994 however that was bottled in 2010. I found that one quite disappointing by the way. The HP 16 I'm reviewing today won't be easy to find in the meantime. Expects prices way over 100 US Dollars (April 2016).

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay/Good but Indifferent.

Conclusion: I usually like Single Malts that have matured for 16 Years but I must admit I find this Highland Park to be unimpressive. I blame indifferent Cask Management and an insufficient ABV. More and more I find Travel Retail expressions to be rather weak versions of similar Standard Distillery Bottlings. This is a general observation on my part and certainly not limited to Highland Park. If you like HP and I'm sure many do as it's a very easy going Whisky, you are better off with the regular 12, 15 or 18 years depending on your taste and cash flow. This 16 Year old unfortunately does not do justice to the HP Spirit.   

Jan van den Ende                                                                     April 25, 2016

Bladnoch 1990 Wilson & Morgan Review

“Wooden Heart”

Country: Scotland 
Region: Lowlands
Brand: Bladnoch 1990 (Wilson & Morgan - Barrel Selection)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 18 Years
ABV: 51%
Chill Filtration: No

Colour: Golden (Natural Colour)

Nose: Fruity, Malty and a bit Dusty with Toasted Barley, Buttered Toast, Vanilla, Caramel, Brown Sugar, Grass, Straw, Heather-Honey, Floral Soap, Apple, Pear, Oak, Lemon Zest, Cardboard Boxes, light Herbs, Varnish and a hint of Coconuts. There's not a whole lot going on here. I believe this Bladnoch matured in an Ex-Bourbon cask but I don't get a lot of feedback from the Rum Finish. The Oak and Alcohol are present but not in a too dominating way. Do give this Bladnoch enough time in the glass to open up.     

Palate: Strong delivery thanks to the high ABV. The Wood, Spices and Alcohol are much stronger now. I also find Malted Grain, Straw, Vanilla, Apple, Pear, Lemon, Pepper, Ginger, Cardamom and Candle Wax.  

Finish: Middle Long, Woody and Spicy. The Oak and Wood Spice are quite in the lead at this point. Very Dry towards the end. I find Malted Cereals, Oak, Butter, Vanilla, Brown Sugar, Straw, Orchard Fruit (Mainly Pears), Lemon, Pepper, Mint, Nutmeg, Ginger and Cardamom.

With some added Water the Alcohol retreats and that's a good thing in this case. On the Nose, Citrus Fruit like Lemon and Grapefruit become more noticeable. I don't think the Water improves the Palate and the Finish. Images of Extra Bitter Lemon popped up. For Nosing purposes alone you might add some Water but it's better to sip this Bladnoch neat.

Rating: 82.5

Nose: 20.5 - Taste: 21 - Finish: 20.5 - Overall: 20.5

General Remarks: This Bladnoch was distilled in 1990 and bottled at Cask Strength in 2008 by Independent Bottlers Wilson & Morgan in their Barrel Selection Series. It matured in Casks # 5071 and 5072 and received a Rum Cask Finish. It costs around 100 US Dollars but the availability is limited. 

The Bladnoch Distillery is located in Bladnoch, Wigtown and was founded in 1817 by Thomas and John McClelland. It changed hands various times before being mothballed by United Distillers in 1993. A year later it was bought by Raymond Armstrong but unfortunately the distillery went into administration in 2014 and was put up for sale again. In 2015 it was bought by David Prior, an Australian businessman who wants to put Bladnoch on the whisky map again.

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay/Good

Conclusion: So far I have tasted only two Bladnoch expressions and they were both quite mature with 21 - and 18 years respectively. I must admit they are not quite my style. On the Nose it's basically Orchard Fruit and Citrus and not a whole lot else. On the Palate and in the Finish the Wood and Wood Spice are quite dominant. I would love to try a 15 year old Bladnoch one day as I believe that could be the correct maturity for this Spirit. In the case of this Wilson & Morgan Bladnoch I wonder how long it was finished in Rum casks as I can hardly find any additional flavours and aromas other than those supplied by the ex-Bourbon cask. Three to five months perhaps. If you are a fan of Woody Pears Apples and Lemons this Bladnoch could be just what you're looking for. As for me, I will be on the look out for a younger whisky of this Distillery. Who knows what the new owner can deliver in the coming years! 

Jan van den Ende                                                                      April 18, 2016

Jack Daniels Sinatra Select Review

“The Lady is a Tramp”

Country: USA
Brand: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select
Type: Whiskey (Tennessee)
Age: NAS 
Alcohol: 45% (90 Proof)

Colour: Deep Amber

Nose: Sweet but not as Smooth as I expected. The Alcohol is quite noticeable and so is the Wood. The "Sinatra" barrels certainly left their marks. I also find Sweet Corn (Syrup), Rye, Malt, Charred Oak, light Acetone, Caramel, Custard, Overripe Bananas, Orange Peel, Peach, Apple, Cherry, Butter, Honey coated Nuts, Pepper, Cinnamon and traces of Furniture Wax, Leather and Tobacco. On the Nose, the Sinatra Select has more Oak and Depth than the Old # 7 but is not as pleasant as the Single Barrel and not as delicious as my favourite, the Silver Select.  

Palate: Strong, Hot, Spicy and Bitter Sweet. The Wood influence is quite strong and tends to dominate the other Flavours such as Sweet Corn, Rye, Caramel, Toffee, Vanilla, Butterscotch, Orange, Cherries and Banana. I also find Charred Oak and Spices like Pepper, Cinnamon and Clove. 

Finish: Middle-Long, Hot, Woody, Spicy and Buttery. Quite Dry after a few seconds. I find Sweet Corn, Rye, Orange, Charred Oak, Cooked Red Fruit, Butterscotch, Banana, Salted Butter, Soy Milk, Vanilla, Pepper, Clove, Menthol, Cinnamon and a little Licorice.

I added a couple of drops of water to the whiskey and the Alcohol retreats of course. On the Nose you will find more Fruit and Vanilla. On the Palate the Sinatra Select is less Hot but the Finish becomes rather Short. Still I would advise you to experiment with a little Water.  

Rating: 81.5      

Nose: 21– Taste: 20 – Finish: 20 – Overall: 20.5

General Remarks: The Jack Daniels Distillery is located in Lynchburg Tennessee. It was indeed founded by a man called Jack Daniel in 1866 and it stayed in the family until 1956 when it was bought by Brown Forman from Kentucky. Jack Daniels Sinatra Select was released in 2013 to honour the friendship between Frank Sinatra and Jack Daniels. For around 40 Years, Jack Daniels was Frank's favourite whiskey and he almost acted as a Brand Ambassador. What's special about the Sinatra Select? In the first place it is bottled at 90 Proof, the original ABV of Jack Daniels Old # 7 before it was diluted twice over the years. And it partially matured in "Sinatra" barrels. Deep grooves were cut into the staves of those casks increasing the exposure of the Whiskey to the Wood. Those barrels are then married with a much larger percentage of casks containing the normal Old # 7. The Package and Bottle are spectacular but the price is very high at around 160 US Dollars for a 1 liter bottle (April 2016).  

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay/Good 

Drinking Experience on the Rocks: Okay/Good. The Wood is too heavy in my opinion. The Single Barrel is the best option if you like your JD over Ice.

Conclusion: Frank Sinatra used to enjoy his Jack Daniels with a little Ice and a little Water. That leads me to conclude that he liked his Whiskey Smooth. I'm not sure therefore that he would have liked this Sinatra Select that was crafted in his honour. Because the extra Wood contact in the Sinatra barrels has left this expression Woody, Hot and a little on the Rough side. The Wood is too present in my opinion although it does provide the Smoky Aroma that Frank used to love. If you are used to enjoy your JD over Ice, both the Gentleman Jack and the Single Barrel are the better options. If you prefer to sip it neat, the Silver Select is the JD for you. Forget about this Sinatra Select despite the very nice bottle and packaging. No way it deserves its very steep price. In fact, The Lady is a Tramp!

Jan van den Ende                                                                     April 14, 2016

Old Ballantruan Peated Review

“A Fisherman’s Friend”

Country: Scotland 
Region: Speyside 
Brand: Old Ballantruan Peated (Distilled at Tomintoul)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: NAS (Around 5 Years)
ABV: 50%
Chill-Filtration: No 

Colour: Golden (Artificially Coloured)

Nose: Sweet, Young and a bit Thin. I believe that Refill Ex-Bourbon and a lower percentage of Refill Ex-Sherry casks were used to mature this Spirit. It's a Young Malt for sure and I would guess it matured for around 5 years. There's still a light New Make feel to the Spirit and the Alcohol is quite noticeable. You wouldn't guess an ABV of 50% though. The Peat and Smoke are there but they don't really dominate the other Aromas. I also find Sweet Barley, Buttered Toast, Straw, light Sherry, Nuts, Caramel, Toffee, Vanilla, Floral Soap, Heather-Honey, Sweet Apple, Dried Herbs, Espresso, light Refill Oak, Dough, Banana Bread, light Menthol and little hints of PVC and Meat or Fish on the BBQ. Most of the Aromas described above are not terribly clear. You really need to take your time and dig for them. Adding it all up I conclude that on the Nose the Old Ballantruan is a Young, Light and relatively Clean Spirit. It's the inland version of a Young and Immature Islay malt.

Palate: Young, Thin and a little Rough and Hot with Sweet Barley, Caramel, Toffee, Nuts, Cherry Flavoured Cough Syrup, Lemon, Charred Refill Oak, light Peat, light Campfire Smoke, Apple, Dried Herbs, Pepper, Ginger, Licorice, Soap and hints of Metal, PVC pipe and Smoked Meat. I do feel that Tomintoul added quite some E-150 Caramel to the Old Ballantruan.      

Finish: Bitter-Sweet and a little Hot. More Salty notes towards the end. I find Sweet Barley, Caramelised Ginger, Grass and Straw, Caramel, Alcohol, Refill Oak, Artificially Flavoured Strawberry Candies, Lemon, Espresso, Dry Earth, light Campfire Smoke, Ashes, light Vanilla, Pepper, Licorice and hints of Raw Meat, Metal and Wet Newspaper. The Ashes, Metal, Wood Spices and Paper remain in your throat for quite a while.

I added a bit of Water and on the Nose you get more Orchard Fruit and Lemon. Palate and Finish do not benefit taste wise from the added Water but the Alcohol Burn diminishes of course.  

Rating: 82   

Nose: 20.5 - Taste: 20.5 - Finish: 20.5 - Overall: 20.5

General Remarks: Back in 2001, Tomintoul started experimenting with peated Whiskies. A couple of years later, the Old Ballantruan Peated NAS expression was officially launched followed in 2012 by a 10 Year old version. The name Old Ballantruan refers to the Ballantruan spring in the Cromdale Hills close to the town of Tomintoul. The water of this spring is used by the Tomintoul distillery. Recently the Peaty Tang expression was introduced, less heavily peated than the Old Ballantruan. It is possible that the latter will replace Old Ballantruan NAS in the coming years. The core range of the distillery also includes the 10,14,16 and 33 Years as well as a 12 Year old Oloroso. Tomintoul is also used in blends like Dundee and Parker's. Old Ballantruan NAS is usually for sale at prices in the 40-50 US Dollar range (April 2016).  

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay/Good 

Conclusion: If you like your Whisky Young and Rough and are looking for an affordable alternative for young Islay you might consider this Old Ballantruan. It's not a Malt for beginning Whisky drinkers though. The Spirit is quite Young and Immature and the Alcohol is hot. I also found some light off notes such as PVC and Metal. Personally I find it on the Thin side and Unfinished but I could imagine liking a dram of the Old Ballantruan when fishing on the high seas in a rain storm. I would never do that by the way but I hope you get the picture.

Jan van den Ende                                                                    April 11, 2016