Single Malt Whisky

I developed a taste for single malts while I was in Scotland. See the page about the whiskies I tried there.

I'm keeping track of the single malts I've tasted. Even in the first year and a half of drinking them, I found that the characteristics of a given single malt can change from year to year, so I'm going to track dates as well. Click on the name (in green) to see a description. If you're a fan of single malts, keep in mind that I'm a fan of Islay and nothing but.

Aberlour A'bunadh (2008)
200801: I'm not usually much of a fan of non-Islays, but this is good stuff. Cask strength and not chill filtered always helps, and matured exclusively in sherry casks. The nose reminds me of nothing so much as brandy. Lovely creamy mouth feel. Tastes of orange and sherry. Seriously potent aftertaste that runs nearly as long as Laphroaig's, and is quite unusual. A slight hint of sourness in the tail that I'm not crazy about, but this is a really fine whisky.
Arran Single Sherry Cask (2008)
200801: Toffee nose, quite nice. Good creamy/oily mouth feel. Honey smooth taste tapers to a long sweet finish. Very good stuff - everyone at my tasting table ranked this first out of the seven we tried that night.
Ardbeg
Tried in Scotland.
Ardbeg 10 year old (2008)
200801: Extremely smokey nose with a touch of the medicinal. Thin body. Smoke flavour with a bite, turning nasty. The aftertaste starts harsh with phenols, mellows to something worth tasting two minutes out(!). I loved the nose on this one, but actually drinking it was rather less rewarding.
Ardbeg 17 year old cask strength (Adelphi bottling)
June(?) 2002: This Adelphi bottling of Ardbeg belonged to a friend. When Catherine and I saw that it was 64% alcohol, we were a little uncertain about it, but it may be the best whisky I've ever tasted. We probably should have added some water - but why? Fabulous stuff, wish I could find some more. Unfortunately, independent bottlings are generally small runs with uneven distribution.
Ardbeg 17 year old
August 2002: I purchased a bottle of Ardbeg 17 year old at Pearson's Wines in Atlanta. They have the best selection of whiskies I've seen in Atlanta, and the staff are extremely knowledgeable (read: they drink their own products - this is a GOOD thing). Their salesperson explained to me about chill filtering and the fact that it removes a lot of the esters and oils that give the whisky flavour. Very interesting. The Ardbeg is good, another smoky Islay, but not on par with the Adelphi bottling.
Ardbeg 1974
June 2003: Yes, it's Ardbeg, and better than the 17 I had. And it's Islay, but still not great, just good. Second tasting went down better, with a hint of Bowmore-ish character.
Ardbeg Uigeadail
May 2004: Tried at Vintage House (Old Compton Road, London). One of the current batch of experiments in over-peating has produced an Ardbeg I actually like. The owner of Vintage House thinks the peating is overboard, but I really liked it. He says it's selling well in the UK: I brought a bottle back with me. May 2005 update: No one will ever accuse this stuff of being smooth. I have days when I'm okay with it and days I hate it. I'm unlikely to buy it again.
Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood
December 2003: Sweet, honeyish nose. Smooth taste, a bit of an edge, oranges and honey. Nice texture - not thin. Very fine for a non-Islay, but I still like the Islays better! Possibly my favourite of all non-Islays. Paul says of the flavour, "butterscotch and butter." He liked it a lot.
Balvenie 15 year old Single Cask
May 2004: Sweet smooth honey flavour, thick texture, lingers a bit longer than most non-Islays. I think I prefer the Double Wood, but it was definitely nice. Sampled at a store in Gatwick airport, not enough of a sample to say much more.
Bowmore Legend
January 2003: I found a bottle of this at a local Milledgeville liquor store for $20. I bought it because it was cheap and an Islay. A pleasant surprise: a tasty smooth start followed by that blistering Islay smoky aftertaste. The big drawback is in the middle where I sometimes catch a slight taste of chemicals, and even I notice that the nose is a little raw. Overall, a good deal for the price especially if you like Islays.
Bowmore sherry finish
Tried in Scotland.
Bowmore (Murray McDavid) 11 year old
July 2003. Distilled in 1989, bottled in 2000, this independent bottling of Bowmore is 46% alcohol - not cask strength. But it's not coloured (adding caramel colour is a common practice) or chill filtered (removes some of the flavour). This isn't as sweet as most of Bowmore's older (12 years and up) malts, but it's still a little sweet, with a more single-minded smokiness than their others. Quite nice!
Bowmore 12 year old
May 2003. Bowmore 12 year old. Sweet. Carmelized sugar, candy. Very strong smokiness. Very strange, but fascinating and pretty good.
Bowmore 10 year old cask strength
June 2003: Paul and I thought of this as "Baby Bowmore." We weren't hugely impressed. Not bad, but the other Bowmores were much better, and if you want a young cask strength, get the Lagavulin.
Bowmore Dawn
June 2003: (port casked.) Not smooth, not subtle. Port isn't the right thing for Bowmore. It's good, don't get me wrong. But the Darkest and 17 are much better.
Bowmore Dusk
200312: Bordeaux/Claret casked. Rich sweet nose. Reddish colour. Sweet! Lush. Wonderful flavourful start! Finish a disappointment, tapering to slight bitterness, no real smoke. Paul tasted the slight bitterness in the finish, but was fine with it. I thought that it tasted like the best cough syrup anyone could possibly imagine, but only take it that way if you can imagine cough syrup tasting good - this is very fine stuff. 200710: I think the finish has improved in more recent bottlings. A fine whisky.
Bowmore Mariner
August 2003: 15 years old. This bottle went on a trip to Cincinnati with us, and was consumed by the four of us in about five days. Very fine stuff: to its benefit, the Bowmore sweetness is somewhat supressed and a touch of sea salt added. Very nice. December 2003: Another bottle, and it's just excellent.
Bowmore Darkest
June 2003: rocked both Paul and I. I found it very similar to the Bowmore 12 yr. old that I own, slightly smoother and less sweet (but still sweet!). Odd it should be less sweet after sherry casking ... And it is indeed a dark, rich colour. Like the Bowmore 12, it still has candy sweetness and smoke. The start is nothing special, but it rapidly blossoms and yanks your attention to it ... The best of the Bowmores, and that's saying something.
Bowmore 17 year old
June 2003: the "Bowmore" flavour kicks in immediately, the candy sweet ... but as Paul says, it actually lacks the complexity of the "Darkest." Ageing has taken off a lot of the edges, even some of the interesting ones. Very smooth. Excellent stuff, all the flavours blended together.
Bowmore 20 year old, Vintage House Bottling
May 2004: Vintage House (Old Compton Road, London) occasionally buys a cask direct from the distillery and has it bottled (cask strength, no filtering, no colouring). This one is beautiful: everything good about Bowmore bottled in this fabulous one-off. Magnificent stuff.
Bowmore Surf (no age statement)
May 2004: This seems to be their next young standard after Legend - happily it's mellower than Legend. Not the sweet I expect from Bowmore, but a good finish. Mariner is so much better, but this might be a passable buy as a cheap bottle. We'll see how it ends up being priced in the U.S. (I tried it in a shop in Gatwick airport).
Bowmore Cask Strength (no age statement)
May 2004: bought a liter of this in Gatwick airport on the way back from London. About $55 US, which is quite cheap when you consider the size and the fact that it's cask strength. This has the flavour of the younger Bowmores, and I'm not particularly impressed. It's not bad, but you're better off with Mariner or Darkest.
Brora 1982
December 2003: Age unknown, probably 10 or 12 years. Brora did some experiments in this time period or perhaps later with extremely heavy peating, and I had hoped that this was one of those. Alas ... this was an unspectacular single malt. Not strong on the start or finish, and nothing to distinguish it.
Bruichladdich
June 2003: (10 yr. old? their standard.) An Islay, but didn't much suggest that to me. It struck me as being very similar to Bunnahabhain, another mild Islay I used to have a bottle of. They're both acceptable, but I don't need to buy them.
Bunnahabhain 12 year old
October 2002: I purchased this recently, and it's been disappointing. If you like the taste of Islay, but find the flavours too intense - this is the whisky for you. I like the strong Islay attack and finish, and Bunnahabhain is a bit mild for me.
Caol Ila 1989
December 2003: Smells like smoked fish or cheese, probably fish. Much paler than the Balvenie [12 DW, which I had just tried], a colour only slightly richer than straw. Not quite as nice a texture as the Balvenie, but okay. Smoky flavour, not a very strong finish, although I'm getting the faintest hint of lingering smoke. Not a powerful Islay, but more of the character of the island than Bunnahabhain. Tastes a bit like a regular single malt with smoke added.
Caol Ila 18
April 2005: Tried and bought at Oddbins in Summertown (outside Oxford), England. The woman at "Whisky World" told me later that I was correct: Caol Ila was "mothballed" for several years - they were still producing, but only for blends. A shame, and it's nice they're back. This is a powerful, tasty Islay. Smoke, smoke, and more smoke!
Coleburn 1983
June 2003: uninspiring (both Paul and I agreed). The decent single malt when you can't get anything else. Except that it's probably pretty expensive at that age.
Cragganmore 12 year old
I had a bottle of this for a while, and never made notes about it. June 2003: I encouraged Paul to try this, as it comes highly recommended by Michael Jackson (the author of the authoritative text on whisky these days) and I had a bottle and thought he would like it. It is reported to have an exceptional nose, perhaps the most complex of all whiskies. I couldn't verify this as I have no nose for nose (if you'll pardon the expression). Paul liked the flavour, finding subtle complexity in it.
Dalmore Cigar Malt
January 2003: smooth and relatively sweet to me, not bad but not something I'll pursue. I don't smoke cigars, so I can't comment on its interaction with its intended companion. June 2003: smooth. Late odd flavour Paul calls butterscotch but I couldn't name. Very smooth.
Dalwhinnie
While I was in Toronto in April 2002, I sampled Dalwhinnie side by side with Glenmorangie. Two of my friends there think that Dalwhinnie is excellent, and the one I was tasting with said "Dalwhinnie is what Glenmorangie would be if it was a good whisky." He has a point: they're similar, but Dalwhinnie takes the rough edges off. It's very nice. December 2003: bought another bottle - disappointing. Not Dalwhinnie's fault, I'm just too much of an Islay person.
Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition
So similar to Dalwhinnie's regular single malt that I don't think I could tell the difference in a side-by-side taste test. Therefore it's just as good as Dalwhinnie - and not worth the price difference.
Dalwhinnie Double Wood
June 2003: we weren't too sure of the provenance of this whisky. We think it was slightly older than the distiller's edition (double casked) of Dalwhinnie that Paul had at home. He found it slightly smoother, but similar.
Dun Bheagan 8 year old (2008)
200801: From the Isle of Skye. Smoke and peat in the nose, a touch of alcohol. Taste of peat, something of the medicinal. Decidedly harsh finish.
Edradour 1976 cask strength
June 2003: I found overpowering soap (Ivory?) from middle to finish and hated it. Paul didn't taste that, but found it unremarkable, uninspiring.
Glendronach 12 years in sherry casks
January 2003: Tried Glendronach's 12 year old 100% matured in sherry casks at Paul's. Extraordinary stuff: it has more in common with sherry (on steroids) than whisky. To me the taste was very simple, but nice, and the smoothest whisky I've ever drunk.
Glenfarclas
Tried in Scotland.
Glenlivet
Tried in Scotland.
Glenmorangie 10 year old
Tried in Scotland. Not a bad whisky - just not a good one. Many others are smoother.
Glenmorangie sherry finish
An improvement on the 10 year old, some sherry sweetness, still not a good product to me.
Glenmorangie 18 year old
Tried in Scotland.
Highland Park
Tried in Scotland.
Inchgower 14 year old
June 2003: Most unusual nose ever. Unusual taste - Paul says don't add water. Paul says rum-like, I don't see it. Grass-like to me. Unusual. Fairly smooth.
Isle of Jura
The Isle of Jura was a friend's purchase. It holds the distinction of being one of the the cheapest Scotch single malts available at $20 when most are $40 or more. It's radically different than the stuff I like: all the flavour is up front with very little aftertaste, and I'm afraid I didn't like it too much.
Isle of Jura, 21 years old (2008)
Nose of honey, a touch of brown sugar, strange and interesting other things I couldn't name. Honey and cereal taste, very smooth. Sweet and warming finish, although not terribly long. Very popular with my tasting companions.
Jura Superstition
May 2004: sampled at Gatwick airport in one of the duty free stores. I'd seen a good review of this, and now I know why. Similar to an Islay, smoky, flavourful, long finish. Not enough to carry it back, but good enough that I'll look for it.
Knockando 1984
June 2003: Odd middle taste of grass or oats that sticks with you through the finish, otherwise a smooth but normal malt.
Lagavulin 16 year old
Tried in Scotland. This is the commonest Lagavulin. The "purest" Islay to me: Lagavulin tastes of nothing but smoke from start to finish, with enough power to make it taste like you took a deep inhalation from a heap of burning peat. In a way I prefer Laphroaig with its imperfections because it has personality, whereas Lagavulin is so perfect it has none. Nevertheless, an excellent malt.
Lagavulin 12 year old, cask strength
June 2003: The nose on this is all alcohol. But the taste, while somewhat raw, is that wonderful single purpose Lagavulin smoke. I really liked this one - perhaps even better than the standard Lagavulin 16 that's so readily available. If I find this, I'll be buying it. [I thought this was an independent bottling but didn't see the bottle. May be the same as the next, to which I had a less positive reaction.]
Lagavulin 12 year old, cask strength, distillery issue
December 2003: Raw nose of alcohol and smoke (there's a reason they age their standard bottling 16 years). Good taste, fabulous aftertaste. Not quite as pure smoke as the 16 year old, not quite as good a start, but very fine. Potent. Ultimately I prefer the 16, although this is nothing to scoff at.
Lagavulin Distiller's Edition
January 2003: I found Lagavulin Distiller's Edition in Toronto for a "mere" $100CA. Two years in sherry casks puts a sherry tint on the Lagavulin in much the manner that you would expect: it's a nice plus, but not the incredible gestalt of flavours that Talisker DE manages (nor as bland as Dalwhinnie DE). July 2003: having just finished the bottle, I have to say that my taste for it increased hugely as I drank it: the sherry sweetness combined with the powerful Lagavulin smoke is awesome.
Laphroaig 10 year old
Tried in Scotland. Extremely flavourful, very intense. Somewhat medicinal. Aftertaste of smoke lasts for a very long time. One of my favourites. September 2003: a more recent bottle showed more characteristics of the 15 year old, tar and grass, and I didn't enjoy it near as much as the previous bottle.
Laphroaig 15 year old
In May 2002, I purchased a bottle of Laphroaig 15 year old. The 10 year old is only about $40 around here, the 15 year old is about $70. I bought it based on my enjoyment of the 10 year old and Michael Jackson's very good review, but I find a very strong flavour of tar and bitter grass in the middle of the taste that I dislike. It does improve with the addition of a small quantity of water. The texture is also noticeably oilier. Happily, it shares that staggering smoky finish with the 10 year old. January 2003: with water this stuff is growing on me. Very flavourful. October 2003: the last of it gone, shared with Tim. Tim brought some insight to the issue; he says it tastes like drinking Tiger Stripe pipe tobacco. He was very specific about the brand.
Laphroaig Cask Strength
May 2004: The flavour struck me as half way between the ten year old and the 15 year old. Huge flavour of course. I tried it at Gatwick airport in a shop, so the sample was too small to really make more of a comment than that.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
April 2005: A Laphroaig experiment gone mainstream: 10 years in regular casks and two in quarter size casks, as they did decades (centuries?) ago. Non-chill filtered, 48%. Great smoky seaweedy nose. Powerful. As always with Laphroaig, a long wonderful smoky aftertaste. For me, it manages to emphasize the things I like better about Laphroaig without increasing the stuff I don't like. Got to love that seaweed taste!
Laphroaig PX Cask
2012-05: When I was preparing to taste this at "World of Whisky" in Gatwick airport ("World of Whisky" isn't the best stocked store in the U.K., but for a Canadian traveler they look pretty good - and are incredibly convenient), I expressed some doubt to the salesman about finishing Laphroaig in Pedro Ximénez casks. I said, approximately: "the Laphroaig taste will take the Pedro Ximénez taste into a back alley, beat it to a bloody pulp, and leave nothing recognizable." I didn't think I'd taste a damn thing of that final casking. But I'm happy to report I was incorrect. If drinking 10 year old Laphroiag is like getting punched in the head (hey, Islay fans like that kind of thing), PX Cask is like being punched in the head with a velvet glove. It's still a hell of a flavour hit, but it takes some of the edges off, just generally rounds it in wonderful ways. So I took the bottle, and the salesman looked smugly at his coworker and said "that's the last of the PX." Apparently they moved it incredibly fast - I'm not surprised. And I don't expect to ever see it for sale in Canada (sigh).
Lismore
April 2003: not sure of age or full title. One of the "lightest" whiskys I've ever tasted. Well done for what it is, but not my style.
The Macallan 18 year old
October 2002: Catherine and I had the 18 year old Macallan at dinner recently. It was good, but not so excellent as to warrant the $10 per shot price - not to us, anyway. But it's pretty clear at this point that we're Islay fans.
Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
August 2003: We visited the Maker's Mark distillery a few days ago. Their gimmick (beyond a fairly good and free tour) is that you can hand-dip your own bottle of their whisky. You have to pay for the bottle yourself. They still hand-seal every bottle with "wax" (actually, partly or entirely plastic) and the gift store sells unsealed bottles that you dip yourself. Very plain but nice nose - don't know what to compare it to. Very smooth taste, a strong sense of vanilla. Not complex, but quite good. Very different than Scotch whiskies. We'll have to see if my enjoyment of the whisky outlasts my fond memories of the tour. 200801: It did, and I've been drinking it ever since. Haven't met any other bourbon that comes close.
Oban 14 year old
January 2003: Technically a Highland whisky, it struck me as having a lot of the characteristics of an Islay - milder in character, but a nice smokiness. May 2003: tried it again: perhaps a little too light for me.
Oban 1980 Double Wood
December 2003: Nice. Nose similar to the Balvenie DW, slightly lighter colour and texture. Aftertaste appears suddenly, quite nice, about twenty seconds late - odd, but a good flavour.
Port Ellen 1980
December 2003: Port Ellen is an Islay distillery that closed its doors about a decade ago, so bottlings are becoming fairly uncommon. Paul and I wanted to try this to see how it compared to other Islays. Age probably 10 or 12 years. Not a very strong nose. Harsh palate. Nothing special - disappointing.
Port Ellen port casked
May 2004: tried this at Vintage House (Old Compton Road, London). Port Ellen ceased production in 1983, and almost never did second caskings, so this is a very rare item. It's extraordinary - I had only a tiny sample, so my description will be very limited. It was very dark, purplish. I remember being utterly fascinated, but still not feeling the need to take any home. Although that decision was partly informed by a very high price.
Rosebank 10 year old Cask Strength
December 2003: Paul's first reaction to this was "paint stripper." I tried it and didn't get that sense at all, but found it to be a plain and uninspiring single malt. Paul tried it again, then watered it down and tried it again, and still reacted the same way.
Scapa 12 year old
March 2003. Tried Scapa 12 year old at a friend's place. Smooth and mild - not my style but fairly nice.
Scapa 14 year old (2008)
200801: I smelled paint thinner in the nose, but no one else got that. A bit of heather and honey. Taste of honey, a bit of grass. Not much of a finish, a bit of honey.
Smokehead (2008)
200801: A nose of smoke and old shoes. Passable texture. Taste is harsh, smoke and phenols. The aftertaste is mostly medicinal. Did not like this one at all.
Talisker
Tried in Scotland. Made on the Isle of Skye, has a lot in common with the Islay single malts. Powerful, very good.
Talisker Distiller's Edition
Tried in Scotland, brought a bottle back. A superb single malt: the sherry is the perfect complement to Talisker, smoothing and improving any roughness. My favourite whisky from Scotland, and not likely to be deposed. January 2003: Many thanks to Paul, who caught a friend in Europe and had them bring me a bottle of this very difficult to find single malt.
Talisker 18 year old (2007)
Magnificent, smooth Islay nose (although it's actually made in Skye): smoke, peat, and a bit of honey. Really, the nose is great. Creamy texture, even with water. Over-strong taste of smoke with a hint of iodine, but smooth. Lovely, lingering aftertaste. Cost: $100 200712.
Tobermory 10 year old (2008)
200801: Nose of grapes? and brown sugar. An oddly grapey taste, a finish with hints of vinegar. Obviously not a favourite.

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