Highland Park ‘Drakkar’

Bought: Whiskysite, Holland, 16th February 2015

Ratings:
82.42/100 – Whiskybase (average from 54 member votes)

Initially released in 2011, this Highland Park was originally exclusive to Travel Retail. It’s still available in Germany, Holland and Belgium but I’ve not seen it online in the UK, or at airport shops in this county in recent times. With my whisky interest starting in 2013, by the time I discovered Drakkar I could only get it from abroad. Holland to the rescue again! Coming in at just under £40 seemed like a bargain for a 1ltr bottle but, if I lived in Germany, I could get it for the equivalent of £22.50! Sadly I’m yet to find a German shop that exports to the UK.

As a dedicated Highland Park collector, I shouldn’t let reviews worry me but I’m bit disappointed about the comments Drakkar gets. Reviewers on Whiskybase are somewhat lukewarm with comments of “expected more” and “a rather everyday aperitif by Highland Park, which struggles to compete with their regular standard expressions”. On the plus side we get remarks of “still an acceptable whisky” and “a decent entry level Highland Park which gives a good impression of the distillery profile”.

Clearly the Drakkar isn’t a Highland Park that’s set the whisky world on fire but I’m pleased to add it to my collection.

Highland Park Drakkar NAS 100cl

Glendronach ‘Revival’ 15-year-old

Bought: Whiskysite, Holland, 16th February 2015

Ratings:
88.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
90/100 – RalfyHis review on You Tube here (April 2011)

I’d heard good things about the Glendronach ‘Revival’ so I was pleased to have a chance to sample it last year. I was in an excellent whisky bar back home in Scotland where I did a taste comparison between:

  • Glendronach ‘Revival’ 15yo – best of the night by far!
  • Glen Grant 10yo – a bit rough and young
  • Highland Park G&M 2005 Cask Strength – like the Glen Grant
  • Macallan Speymalt G&M 2005 – mellow, youthful and OK

(G&M = Gordon & MacPhail)

You might think that putting a 15yo up against whiskies 10yo or less was a bit unfair until you consider that the Whisky Bible scores the Glen Grant 10yo 96/100, 7.5 points ahead of the Glendronach. As a big fan of Highland Park and Macallan, I was disappointed with those two but, in isolation I’m sure they would have tasted OK. Unfortunately, the Glendronach was so good, everything thereafter had a lot to prove.

The Whisky Bible has only this to say about the ‘Revival’ – “unambiguously Scottish. A fantastically malty dram.” And 88.5/100 puts it in the category of “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. I’d agree with that!

Glendronach 15yo Revival 70cl

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

Bought: Sainsbury’s, 9th February 2015

Ratings:
83.99/100 – Whiskybase (average from 75 member votes)

Since I now have more whisky than I could possibly drink in a lifetime (unless I wanted to end my life very quickly with alcohol poisoning!) I’m officially a ‘whisky investor’ as well as a collector and occasional sipper. With this in mind I started a spreadsheet (I like those) containing my collection, the purchase prices paid, and the latest auction bids (if more than I paid). I bought this Yamazaki from Sainsbury’s in February 2015 for £42, in the same month it sold at auction for £90! Clearly the bidders weren’t aware that this bottle was available in supermarkets for less than half the price? Unless they lived on a remote island and had a raving thirst for Japanese whisky. It’s unlikely that this price would be matched in the next auction, but it’s encouraging to an investor to see a 100% gain so soon!

This Yamazaki NAS (non-age statement) bottle has effectively replaced the old 10-year-old, and even the 12-year-old that used to grace the shelves of supermarkets across the UK. Nevertheless it’s been around long enough to get a lot of ratings on Whiskybase. Nearly 84/100 is an excellent mark. I’ll be interested to see if it makes it into the Whisky Bible 2016, and what the author thinks of it.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve NAS 70cl

Hedonism – Compass Box

Bought: Amazon, 5th February 2015

Ratings:
84/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
89/100 – RalfyHis review on You Tube here (March 2012)

Trust the independent bottler Compass Box to come up with a whisky that needs its own special category! Hedonism isn’t a single grain, nor is it a blend, it’s a vatting of different grain whiskies! Cameron Bridge and Cambus to name but two of the possible 15 in the mix. I’ve had to create the new category heading “Scottish Vatted Grain” just for this entry. Compass Box clearly have no consideration for whisky bloggers! ;)

I first came across Hedonism in the book ‘101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die’ back in 2013. It’s unusual nature and great reviews put it firmly on my wish list. At the same time the Whisky Bible 2013 ranked the bottle 91/100. The year before, Ralfy had rated the version he tried with an excellent score of 89/100.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the latest edition of the Whisky Bible reviews a batch of Hedonism bottled in February 2013, and the score has dropped to 84/100. My bottle is from a batch created in July 2014. I’ve downloaded the information about the batch from the Compass Box website, and it’s hardly surprising that reviews vary from release to release. The tasting notes given are “deep aromas of vanilla pastry cream, toffee and lightly toasted nuts with elegant, rich flavours of creamy coconut and milk chocolate.” This is very different from the tasting notes given for the release of Hedonism earlier in 2014.

I suppose, since ‘hedonism’ is the pursuit of pleasure, there’s always an element of uncertainty to what you might encounter along the way. At least with Compass Box you know they’re very consistent with their ability to create wonderful whisky. Each batch of Hedonism might be different but it seems that quality is always lurking in every sip.

Hedonism - Compass Box NAS 70cl

Knappogue Castle 1995

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes)

This is the last in my trio of Knappogue miniatures, an independent bottling of Bushmills. Distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2007, so a 11/12-year-old single malt. Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, says the previous Knappogue examples were younger but that gave them more “charisma, clarity and complexity”. Nevertheless, scoring 88/100 still classes this dram as “very good to excellent whiskey definitely worth buying”.

Similar to the 1994 version, Jim Murray isn’t a fan of the bitterness but he rates the nose 23/25. Perhaps that element benefits from the extra maturity. 82/100 on Whiskybase is a good average score. One member says they felt this 1995 version had a more malty character to the earlier 1993 and 1994 versions.

As I post this, a full 70cl bottle is available on The Whisky Exchange for £37.95 where it gets good comments in 10 reviews.

Knappogue Castle 1995 5cl

 

Knappogue Castle 1994

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
89/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
89/100 – RalfyHis YouTube review here (March 2013)

Here we have an independent bottling of a single malt from the Bushmills distillery in Ireland. It’s unusual to see both Ralfy and Jim Murray (author of the Whisky Bible) giving the same high mark. Obviously this must be good stuff! Although you wouldn’t think so from Ralfy’s opening references to bitterness. The Whisky Bible also picks up on this in its summary “not enough attention has been paid to getting rid of the oak-induced bitterness”. Ralfy’s initial impression was “I’m not really going to enjoy this” but, as he got used to it, and let the whiskey breath in an open bottle, his attitude changed. He grew accustomed to the new flavour experiences and their qualities.

89/100 in the Whisky Bible puts this single malt in the category of “very good to excellent whiskey definitely worth buying”. Jim Murray says in his review “a wonderful whiskey in the Knappogue tradition”. Although not overly happy with the bitter finish he scores the taste component 24/25.

All-in-all, a very interesting dram!

Knappogue Castle 1994 5cl

Knappogue Castle 1993

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
91/100 – Whisky Bible 2015

My apologies for the picture I took of this Irish single malt. It came as part of a triple-set of Knappogue Castle miniatures – 1993, 1994 and 1995. I tried to get them out of the box but I realised I’d rip the thing to shreds in the process, so I left it alone. I don’t know why because it’s never going to be much of a collector’s item. The box will have to go eventually, when I finally have the time to drink them!

I considered doing all 3 bottles in one review until I discovered that each one has its own entry in the Whisky Bible, and the 1994 edition was reviewed by Ralfy on You Tube. I will include that in my next blog. As for this 1993 release, Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, says in his review “a malt of exceptional character and charisma. Almost squeaky clean but proudly contains enormous depth and intensity. The chocolate finish is an absolute delight.” Did someone say ‘chocolate’? I will have to ensure I have some dark chocolate on standby when I do my tasting because it’s always nice when you find a whiskey that marries nicely with chocolate.

The Bible’s score of 91/100 classifies this whiskey as “brilliant”.

Knappogue Castle 1993 5cl

Clontarf 1014 Classic Blend

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
81/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
69.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

On the back of the box containing my 3 Clontarf miniatures is says of this Classic Blend “A Single Malt with a sophisticated rich malt taste, full of texture yet astonishingly smooth and lingering.” Single Malt? Perhaps if it’s a blend of single malts from the same distillery, then it’s still a single malt, but why is it called a blend?! They’ve confused me, even though I know it’s a blend. Perhaps the terminology can be more vague in Ireland. Try selling a blend as ‘single malt’ in Scotland and you’d feel the wrath of the law! The rest of the text on the box says “Nose: Toffee and subtle oak. Taste: Smooth and velvety with hints of vanilla”.

It all sounds very nice, albeit somewhat confused about its identity. Scoring 81/100 in the Whisky Bible might not sound amazing but it still falls into the category of “good whisky worth trying”. Jim Murray, the Bible author, says in his review “a hard as nails blend only softened by the heavy use of caramel which, though chewy, tends to obliterate any complexity from elsewhere. Ouch!” Nevertheless, he scores the ‘taste’ element as 22/25, so effectively 88/100. If you put a peg on your nose and ignore the finish, you’ll enjoy a top-class dram! :)

Clontarf Classic Blend NAS 5cl

 

Clontarf 1014 Reserve

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
None I can reliably tie down to this bottling.

Having bought this blend as part of a triple set of Clontarf miniatures, I’m certainly glad I didn’t get it as a full bottle! Although finding a review has proved tricky, the general consensus seems to be that this Irish blend isn’t very good (average at best). I’ve found information about a ‘Gold Label Reserve’ which could be the predecessor of this version minus the “1014” on the label.

The distillery say of this whiskey “a mouthwatering blend of Single Malt and rich grain whiskies. Uniquely fresh, smooth and spicy.” They then go on to describe the nose as “malt and spice” and the taste as “mouthwateringly fresh, smooth with a malty complexity.” Not exactly a deep analysis but then it seems from the lack of reviews that there’s not much more to say about this blend. I’m just praying I don’t end up holding my nose and throwing it back to finish it off!

Clontarf Reserve NAS 5cl

Clontarf Single Malt

Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015

Ratings:
90.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015

As I was finishing off a whisky order from Holland, I went looking for something cheep and fun to make the most of the postage. This is when I discovered 3 miniature bottles of Clontarf, Irish Whiskey, that stack on top of each other to form a taller bottle shape – cute! There are two 5cl blends, and this 5cl single malt, which gets a good mark in the Whisky Bible 2015. The author, Jim Murray, says in his review “beautiful in its simplicity, this has eschewed complexity for delicious minimalism”. 90.5/100 puts it in the category of “brilliant”.

It’s also possible to get a stacking set of 20cl bottles, and a full 70cl of this single malt is currently available at The Whisky Exchange for £25.15, where it gets good customer reviews. I might be tempted once I’ve drunk this miniature!

Clontarf Single Malt NAS 5cl