The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show: Dream Drams & Whisky List

  September is long gone, the leaves are changing colour and I’m having to dig out all my jumpers again. Welcome October and it’s many joys. One being the best whisky event around – The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show. It’s been moved to a bigger venue, there are more drams than ever before and it’s run by Andy Milne, one of my accomplices at university (just ask me at the show and I’ll tell you some stories!)

I can’t even get my mind round the amount of whiskies available over the weekend. Everything from Douglas Laing, Compass Box and Wemyss to distilleries such as The Balvenie, Kilchoman and The English Whisky Company. Not to forget a number of show bottlings from The Whisky Exchange itself; 16yo Laphroaig, 2002 Bruichladdich, 9y0 Ledaig, 22yo Irish whisky and a 21yo Rosebank). The full list of drams are here if you want to start planning.

Don’t forget the Dream Drams over the weekend. You get one free token and they are £10 to buy after that. One token could get you a 30yo Caol Ila, 1952 Glen Grant or a 1980’s 21yo Springbank. With two or three tokens you could find yourself sipping on a 1980’s Karuizawa or a 1965 Macallan. If you want to try a Glenfarclas distilled in 1956 or an Auchentoshan distilled in 1966, then you will need three or four tokens. I would keep an eye out for the Springbank 25yo Cask sample, Brora 35yo, Compass Box Flaming Heart and all of the show bottlings!

To check out all the Dream drams, have a look here.

If you are going, then have an incredible time. Look out for me… I’m the short guy looking like a kid in a sweet shop. If you’re not going, then start planning next year.


Feis Ile Special Releases Tasting

Once a year, the alluring west coast island of Islay welcomes thousands of visitors to its shores to help celebrate the Feis Ile. A week of distillery tours, music, celebration and you guessed it – whisky. Each distillery holds an open day, welcoming the hordes of passionate followers through their doors for tastings and special releases. Some might call it a pilgrimage for whisky fans and aficionados, and they’re not wrong.

I’ve only been to Islay once and it sadly wasn’t during the Feis Ile. In fact it was only two weeks post festival season. This meant that we got to visit the distilleries and try many of the special bottlings without having to battle through swarms of other whisky fans. (Saying that, I am desperate to make it Feis Ile some point in the near future). This leads nicely onto the Feis Ile Bottlings. As previously mentioned, each distillery releases a number of special bottles to celebrate the occasion each year and I was lucky enough to get my hands on five of the eight different distillery bottles, plus one extra one to finish with. So how did they do?

Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary (51.2%)

laphroaig-cairdeas-2015N: Withheld start. Wet wood, uncooked peppered steak. Iodine and chlorine. Peat seems slightly astringent, but there’s a nice cigar box note. Relatively old style Laphroaig it seems, but less intense than many OB’s. You won’t find much TCP, unless you add water.

P: Dark, dirty and earthy from the word go. The Laphroaig character is somewhat hidden under layers of dark fruit. Anise, salt water and cigar leaf. Quite a sticky undertone before the sweetness rolls around palate. Water brings our cherries.

F: Medium. Very drying, fizzy and pretty briny with some dust and diesel. This is interesting. I think with time in the bottle it become an easy drinker. Different and nice. Won’t blow you mind like some Laphroaigs though! 86.

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary (57.2%)

kilchoman-10th-anniversaryN: Wow, a pretty intense blend of flavours there. Barley, wood, vanilla and bourbon come through first. Wide splashings of peat with car tyres and dark sherried fruits. Slightly fragrant though with some menthol, especially with water. It is like a freshly valeted car. Polish and wax!

P: Powerful and dark with prickly peat – but less than the nose suggests. Nice balance of the peat with the sweet sherry and oaky dryness. Raisins and sticky toffee pudding swirls a nice sweetness around the palate, with it staying just shy of cloying.

F: Long, menthol, barley and fruits. Astringent spearmint chewing gum. This was a really solid dram. One that I would have bought if it had been available. Moorish and lingers beautifully. 87/88.

Caol Ila 17yo (1998) Feis Ile 2015 (57.3%)

caol-ila-feis-ile-2015N: Full nose, lots of big is lay peat and warm oaky tones. Wine tannins, dark cherry and hoisin sauce. Fiery and amazingly powerful. Water opens this a bit, with more salt water and lovely iodine like peat. I could nose this for quite a while.

P: Huge, peppery yet creamy peat. Strong yet still remaining delicate. The peat integrates so well the tannins. Dark forrest fruits, burnt treacle. Some really good casks seem to have been used here. Water dulls everything down, especially the fruit. I prefer it neat.

F: Medium. Brown sugar, dull sweetness and fizz. Peat lingers nicely. Water actually prolongs the finish and adds peppered sausages. Nice choice of cask for this. Another cracking bottle. My favourite so far. 89.

Ardbeg Perpetuum Distillery Release (49.2%)

AA-JW-3N: Honeycombe, banana split and lavender. These seems like quite a light nose to start with. Evoked memories of swimming pool changing rooms with dull chlorine. After giving time to open up, there was some prickly petrol notes. Sweet notes dominate the nose with the peat masked by bitter sweetness. Sticky BBQ ribs towards the end.

P: I prefer the palate to the nose. A bit of Ardbeg character starts to shine through. All the warm peat I wanted on the nose appears, but it brings some pepper, grit and sweet rose petals. Slight brine. Lacks power and intensity I like in Ardbeg. Hints of sweet oak and sherry at times.

F: Short, drying and slightly bitter. Flavours disappear leaving some ashen wood and brine. It’s easy to drink, but lacks flavour and integration. Considering it’s an NAS, it shows its youth sadly. This just didn’t do much for me. Shame. A bottle of their 10 year old or Uigeadail is half the price and twice the whisky. 83

Lagavulin 24yo (1991) Feis Ile 2015 (59.9%)

lagavulin-1991-2015-feis-ile-2015N: Beautiful start. I’m transported to the Lagavulin warehouse. You can tell this is a more mature whisky. Light woody flavours, sticky toffee pudding, dusty sawdust. Leather, gentle peat balances beautifully with the sweet PX sherry. Raspberries, wood polish and chocolate.

P: Fantastic balance of peat, engine oil and ashen woodiness. Sherried fruits, slightly briny and cake mixture. Quite leathery and vibrant considering its age. Salty and sweet popcorn. Finally some BBQ mackerel. A palate that keeps on giving. Incredibly enjoyable.

F: Long, delicate and aged to perfection. Hint of bitter lemons on the end. Perfectly balanced with hints of tobacco leaf, minty chewing gum, cold meat and leather wax. This was awesome. Not quite as epic as the 2014 release. But that had a special place in my heart. It’s not far off though. 91 and best of the bunch (I’m glad I got a bottle).

And the final bottle is from my independent bottler, The SMWS. It’s a 17 year old Bowmore and big thank you to them for sending me a sample to review.

SMWS 3.243 ‘Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy) (57.1%)
Bowmore 17yo

img_3958N: Pretty dark and dusty with some big sherry from the offset. Much better with some time in the glass. The is a bed of smoke and mint leaves here, upon that plenty of chocolate and caramel. Sweet sherry soaked christmas pudding also. Towards the end the Bowmore Character appears above the sherried nose. Water definitely softens everything, bringing with it calm, nuttiness and some parma violets (oh hello older Bowmore).

P: So there *might* be some sherry here. It’s slightly overpowering to start with, before the briny and meaty notes appear, giving it more substance. Delightfully playful between the light and dark though and I really enjoyed the mix between the tar and leather. Brown sugar and the Bowmore character shines through toward the end.

F: Long and drying. Dark sherry, rough sweetness, dark berries and raisins. Slightly too sweet for me, although I’m sure many would appreciate this. Sad to see so many bottles on this on auction sites before the official release. I guess that’s the same with most special releases nowadays. Solid 86.

If you haven’t got them now, then you probably won’t…unless you’re happy to pay over the odds at auction. The Lagavulin and the Caol Ila were top tasters for me, so well done Diageo. The Kilchoman was strong too. Bring on next year.

Port Ellen 30yo (1979) : Day 24 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Wow. What a journey the last 24 days have been. I have tasted some wonderful whiskies given to me by some incredibly generous souls. It shows that the #whiskyfabric is a strong community of people that want to share their love of the water of life. I have been lucky to have met most of the “contributors” and I’ve been humbled by their generosity. I know that my #whiskyfabric journey has only just started. Whisky is for sharing guys! What better way to finish, than with the infamous Port Ellen. Again, I tip my hat to Frenchman Franck for this awesome little sample. Here we go…

Port Ellen 30yo (1979) 9th Release (57.7%)

pe1979N: Seems withheld at first, but give it a few minutes and POW! The gristly warm peat leads the way with its best Islay foot forward. It seems soft and harmonious…nothing too brash about it. Salty, coastal, slightly medicinal. Similarities to the nose of older Lagavulins. Sweet honey, dried apricots and orchard fruits. After 15 minutes there is menthol mouthwash upon a bed of zesty notes. Complex, bold, refined, mature, yet completely accessible.

P: Fantastic arrival, full on, powerful and graceful. Really coats the tongue and mouth. Rich smoke, brown sugared sweetness, peppery – rough, rugged and ready. Some nutmeg along with other gentle spices. Hint of custard cream and lemon fizz. Smoke dominates after a while, with some old sweets, oak and smoked salmon on the BBQ.

F: Very long. Lingering spices with some sweetness and a hint of liquorice. Pretty dry with smoke hanging around the mouth. I can still taste this an hour later. Balanced beautifully.

Comments: Amazing. I simply love it. Does the fact that it’s a Port Ellen play a factor? Maybe. But quite simply if I tasted this blind, I would have found it just a delightfully tasty and moorish as I do now. There is a perfect level of peat, earthiness and smoke. It is refined, not over complex and the height of beautifully matured whisky. A solid 93, and easily my favourite whisky of the calendar for me. Well done Franck…as usual.


Well there we are. 24 whiskies tasted. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. If you have followed this, then thank you. If you have contributed to this, then an even bigger than you. I think I might take a break for a bit. Not from whisky, but from writing about it. I need to spend more time enjoying it without pen and paper to hand. I’ll be back later next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.


Springbank 28yo (1974) : Day 23 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Having visited Springbank distillery in the summer of 2014, I have come to love more and more of their special liquid. What’s even more fascinating though is the whisky produced in their stills back in the 70’s and 80’s. Even now, Springbank feels like a traditional distillery. By that I mean, everything there seems classic, aged and how it would have been done 30, 40 or 50 years ago. They are a friendly bunch and they are without a doubt up their as one of the strongest distilleries (you very rarely get a week whisky… let along a NAS!). So when I was offered a sample of this 28yo Springbank from Phil Storry, I was intrigued to see what it offered.

Springbank 28yo ‘Chieftains’ (46%)

DSC_0065N: Waxy, white pepper, wood shavings, crayola crayons and apples. Pretty malty with hints of polished wood. There is a smidgen of peat hidden in there somewhere. But after some time apricot jam and wax dominated. I found this difficulty complex. Not necessarily a fun one to nose.

P: Quite spicy. Some strong oaky notes with a dull sweetness like week old fizzy drink.. I found it quite earthy throughout the tasting. Metallic, waxy and weirdly vibrant considering its age. A certain char taste reminded me of elements of Ardbeg Alligator.

F: Medium. Cinnamon, dirty peat, smoked kippers, crayons and the remains of burnt wood. Quite bitter and drying right at the very end.

Comments: I think the bottle was open for a while, but it was still very interesting. Not only old, but weirdly complex, constantly changing without the minute hand. I wasn’t sure at first as it was a bit of a struggle, but after giving it time, it became more enjoyable and layered. Great to try. 90 (mostly down to it’s aged quality).


Thank you Phil for all your special whiskies. Without you, this calendar would not have had the weird and wacky edge! Please go and visit Phil’s site here. He regularly has reviews of the latest SMWS bottlings and to be honest… he knows his stuff!

Brora 25yo : Day 22 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calender

Now things have started getting rather special, and that isn’t down to christmas being 3 days away. I knew this sample was in there somewhere and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. Before this I have only had the chance to taste one or two Brora’s, with the 30yo particularly standing out. This enticing whisky has again come from my good friend Franck. Please check out his blog here.

Brora 25yo (56.3%)

Brora-25-years-old-june-2014-1N: Complex from the offset. A balanced blend of dry sherry, compact smoke, elegant sweetness and cured meats. Some fresh hay, bbq sauce and a slight sharpness similar to white wine. It felt somewhat closed, and a drop of water helped to open up the fruity, menthol and smoky flavours.

P: Granny Smith apples, conference pears and lemon sherbets. Peppered meat on the bbq, with some hay bails also. I found this quite earthy in glass. Water brought out the power of the fruit and made it even more vibrant.

F: Long. Love the lingering woody notes towards the end. Continues with the freshness of the palate, with some stewed apples and a hint of maritime salt air. This is where the smoke appears (not as much as the 30yo though).

Comments: Powerful, balanced and majestic. I’m not going to lie. The fact that this is Brora most probably sways my decision, but this really is tasty. I think I preferred the 30yo as it had a touch more smoke. 92.

Thank you again goes to Franck for his incredible generosity.

North British 48yo (1962) : Day 21 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calender

2014 was the year I started discovering grain whisky, mostly thanks to Phil Story. I’ve tried some fantastic examples from the SMWS, but this one is a 2010 indie bottle from the Perfect Dram. You guessed it – Phil Story sorted me out on this one! 

North British 48yo 1962 (47.9%)

   N: Huge grainy nose, full of bananas, vanilla and fresh coconut. Subtly sweet and slightly rum like. Earthy, leathery, surfboard wax. With time furniture polish & banana milkshake comes to mind. Creamier with time in the glass, but then with compost and cigar box. Very moorish.
P: Delightful and scrumptious on first arrival. Like the nose there are some strong notes of vanilla, but with added coconut here. Nutty and fresh were my to first thoughts. Widens slowly in the mouth with some cinnamon and gentle spiciness. Chocolate covered nougat. Banana smoothie with honey and tinned tropical fruit
F: Long. You guessed it, bananas. Crème brule. Sweeter towards the end before some rough bitterness appears. Finish slightly unbalanced.
Comments: This is some quality aged grain. Remains relatively vibrant and silky throughout considering its age. At 48, it’s the same age as Halle Berry… and very similar in fact. Mature. yet beautiful, sexy and exciting. Like Halle Berry, how does it remain so good?! Very high 80s.

SMWS 1.168 28yo (1984) : Day 20 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calender

Always nice trying older bottles from the SMWS. This 1984 Glenfarclas was sent by Stumbler.

SMWS 1.168 ‘Delightfully Dulcet Deliciousity’, 28yo (1984) (53.8%)
   N: Not sure I would have pegged this for a Glenfarclas. A light start but with a hidden darkness; rather astringent. Cherryade, porridge oats, off fruit and wet grass. After 15 minutes it changes, with some strong paint thinner, pricstick and metallic notes. Some nice strawberries though. Need to stay focused or you get confused with this one. 
P: Light arrival at this ABV. Incredibly fruity – crazily so. Off fruits from nose now move to ripe apples. Cornflakes, strawberry laces, tropical fruit, walnuts and wood spices. There’s an overriding unbalanced sweetness to this throughout that I can’t quit put my finger on. 
F: Long, spicy and woody. Bitterness couples with some oiliness, covering the mouth. Peaches, marshmallows and some Glenfarclas style leather. 
Comments: There are similarities with this to the Tomatin 21yo (this is less balanced overall though). It has an thought provoking nose, overriding fruits throughout and in general, very different. Weirdest Glenfarclas I’ve had the pleasure of trying. Mid 80s.
Thank you Stumbleton

Balvenie 30yo : Day 19 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calender 

I’ve already reviewed most of the Balvenie core range here and always enjoy what they have to offer. I find them accessible, beautifully put together and always enjoyable. So when I received a sample of their 30 year old whisky from my Fascinating French Friend Franck, I had high hopes.
The Balvenie 30yo (47.3%)
   N: I really enjoyed this from the word go. Gentle yet bold, light yet feisty and perfumed yet smooth. Floral mixed with honey. Lots of sweet manuka honey with light fragrant grassy notes. Lightens rather than intensifies whilst in the glass. Water brings an oily edge, ripe fruits, apricot jam and a whisp of spices. 
P: Strong upfront delivery. Rich, fruit cake and honey on toast. Quite a silky sherry character with a nuttiness too. Fudge, mackies vanilla ice cream and brown sugar upon Greek yoghurt. I even get a bit of old pipe smoke.
F: Medium/long. Incredibly malty, slightly fresh and fruity with hints of rose. Continues its smooth quality throughout. 
Comments: Beautifully aged, balanced from start to finish, confident in its flavours, simple yet stunning. Sit back, relax and enjoy. 91.
Huge thanks to Franck. This was lovely

John.M.Robertson Special Old Scotch Whisky : Day 18 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar 

Pretty sure this is the oldest whisky I have ever tasted. Very little information about it, but from research done, it looks like it could be from the turn of the century. Andy Purslow gave this to me as blind taster and no matter what it tastes like, I just think the history behind it will make it even more exciting.
John.M.Robertson Special Old Scotch Whisky (ABV Unknown)

    N: Fresh and delicate. You have to dig your nose right in. Freshly cut grass, malty, dry wood, menthol mouthwash, follow by even more wood. Salt & vinegar crisps with a slight bitterness before walking into a sweet shop. Beguiling nose that frequently changes in the glass. I would guess low ABV. 
P: Very light, again with lots of grass before being overtaken by a dark gritty note; a mix of earth, spices and possibly a hint of peat. This has a pretty soft character, but some distinct flavours. American sour sweets, dark ale and brown sugar. An off note that felt like week old red wine. 
F: Short. Malty, dry and surprisingly spicy. Menthol/herbal notes towards the end with even a slight sherries sweetness. 
Comments: Not sure what to think of this. Feels rather regal to be honest. Some nice flavours in there, but most of the enjoyment came from the thought that it was a whisky from the turn of the century. Low-mid 80s.

Big thanks to Andy Purslow for giving me the opportunity to try this

English Whisky Company Founders Reserve : Day 17 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

I had only tried a few select whiskies from this Norfolk distillery, so to be able to try some of their Founders Private Cellar edition seems like quite a leap forward. Phil Story threw this my way towards the end of 2014 and told me it was a cracker. Let’s see if he was right:

English Whisky Company Founders Private Cellar 5yo [Triple distilled] (60.8%) 

english-whisky-founders-private-cellar-peated-sauternes-whisky N: Nice fragrant nose. Although ABV is quite high, its incredibly easy to nose. Fruity with thick apple sauce and blueberries. Sticky fudge from the seaside with some slight sawdust notes. Water mellows it bring forth the oak and fruity flavours. Some raisins and victoria sponge too. Mesmerising. 5yo what?!

P: Full and powerful on first delivery with some beautiful balance. Delicate, but full of big flavours including vanilla (first fill bourbon), wood shavings, stewed fruits and rose petals too. Vanilla ice cream covered in toffee sauce with some pineapple and mango on the side. Takes water like a champ, giving a few spices and a tad more sweetness.

F: Long. Full of orchard fruits and sweet fudge. A whisp of bitterness on the tongue with some strong oak lingering.

Comments: This is a velvety and elegant whisky. Great complexity, balance and incredibly moorish. At times it reminded me of some cracking Hazelburns I’ve tasted in the past, which is interesting as those are triple distilled as well. Even better with water I would say. Lets get me some more English Whisky. Easily into the 90s.

Thanks again to PS!