Review: Nikka from the Barrel

Blended whisky month is coming to a close but I still have around 3 reviews left to post. (I say around as Im at Edinburgh whisky festival tomorrow and I might try some there!)

Today it’s another dram from my friend Adrian Barnett (@mynameisgone) and it’s Japanese. Nikka from the Barrel. A cask strength blend from the geniuses over at Nikka. Here are the dramstats:



  • Price £27
  • ABV 51.4%
  • Country: Japan
  • 50cl

Nose: Some decent spicy grain here, lots of spice and sweet vanilla. Rye-esque at first. Black pepper, rye bread, cinnamon and anise. A real spice bomb! Muscavado sugar, cola bottles. There is something unique about the spice here that I can’t put my finger on. Wonder if it is Japanese oak?

Palate: Vanilla, liquorice and brown sugar with oak before a huge wave of spice begins a long finish.

Finish: Spicy spice gets spicy! There is oak, pepper, anise, cinnamon, ground ginger, cola and it keeps coming!

Verdict: Terrific stuff and unique. Even though it’s 50cl (grrr Nikka, grrr!), I think this is a bargain and a brilliant drop. I will be purchasing a bottle.



Review: Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare old

Today I’m reviewing a special blend as part of blended whisky month, and a big thank you to Sean Foushee (@whiskymarks) for sending me this one.

This is Shackleton’s whisky. Buried for over a century in Antarctica following Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to the south pole, this whisky was found and then, eventually, recreated by Whyte and Mackay.

W&M were given permission to fly 3 bottles back to Scotland where there were  analysed by the W&M team and then recreated by master blender Richard Patterson. The recipe does include some old 30 year old whisky (1983 Glen Mhor), and there is no doubt, with the back story, that this is a special whisky.

Here are the dramstats:



  • Price £98 plus shipping
  • ABV 47.3%
  • Age 100+ 😉

Nose: This is interesting. Some of the qualities of the lost Tartan Prince blend from my last review. In particular the fruity notes which I can only describe as “sea kelp shower gel” that I used to buy (can’t pin down the actual fruits). There is a hint of savoury smoke and roasted nuts. It is surprisingly woody for what would have been a relatively inexpensive blend back in the day. Sour grapefruit and honey sweetness, then some sultana and salt chocolate in the background. Definitely some sherry in here.

Palate: Fruity with woody, sultana, white grape and savoury notes.

Finish: Right at the death there is an earthy peaty note with roasted nuts (like a springbank type of peat), with smoke and sea salt.

Verdict: It reminds me of what Benromach are doing at the moment, yet it is much more complex, at least on the nose. I think I’d need much more than a 35ml sample to get to the bottom of this one. I feel I missed a lot of the story on the palate, though it’s not an easy one to read. Now to the part of the review where I discuss price. Well there is no doubt that nearly £100 for a blend is expensive (I rarely break the £100 for a bottle of whisky though I sometimes do). For me to spend this much, the whisky needs to wow me, and based on only this one dram, I was not wowed. However, there is more to this whisky than just the liquid for the pleasure of drinking. This is a piece of history and it has obviously been an arduous task recreating it. The packaging is lovely and it all leads to the feeling that when drinking this you are looking back to the past, both to the history of scotch whisky and to that hut in Antarctica over 100 years ago. This is not a marketing gimmick, nor a collectors price. This is a fairly priced product in my view. Sometimes whisky is about more than nose and taste and this is one of those times.


Review: Tartan Prince Blended Scotch Whisky

This is a lost blend. So lost I couldn’t even find a picture of it! My friend Adrian Barnett kindly sent me a sample of this lost blend (last bottled in 1992), and I’m very glad that he did. A really different experience.

Here are the dramstats:

  • ABV 40%
  • Price? (maybe available and inexpensive at auction).

Nose: Sea kelp shower gel! Walnuts and brazil nuts and nougat.

Palate: Seaweed? Sea kelp, inside of a snickers bar (without the chocolate or caramel). Kiwi fruit juice.

Finish: More of a standard finish to this with some vanilla, custard creams and a brief crackle of oak. Short.

Verdict: It’s very pale and it was a former house blend, but it doesn’t taste young. It’s really quite interesting and I really dig this sea kelp shower gel note. Weird and wonderful! Thanks Adrian!


Review: Boxes Blend

Blended whisky month on dramstats rolls on with Boxes Blend, from Master of Malt. By way of full disclosure I was sent this sample by the chaps at master of malt, and I am very grateful.

Boxes Blend was created by Athlete bassist Carey Willets, named after his solo project “Boxes”. I wonder if he created it entirely on his own or if he had expert guidance? I’d love to create a blend… Anyway, I digress, here are the dramstats:



  • ABV 40.9%
  • Price £55.95

Nose: Initially floral with creamy toffee and werthers original. Becomes quite woody with coriander seeds and pepper. Fresh.

Palate: Treacle toffee, peppery spice, creamy and buttery, hint of honey then wood sap.

Finish: Buttery toffee sauce, pepper, oak, drying but with fading caramel sweetness then a final hint of smoke.

Verdict: It’s lovely. Complex and I’d probably need another dram or three before I really got to the bottom of it. Slightly on the woody side from these first impressions, and I’m not entirely sure I want to buy a full bottle in order to get there. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the dram a lot. But this is one of the most expensive blends I’ve tasted so far this month, and I preferred a number of the others.



Review: Compass Box, The Spice Tree

Only 10 more days of blended whisky month and I’m still loving it!

Today I’m not, strictly speaking, reviewing a blended whisky. Compass Box’s The Spice Tree is actually a blended malt. This expression is famous for having been banned (in another incarnation) by the Scotch Whisky Association. The reason? Toasted Oak Staves were placed inside the barrels used to marry the blend in order to add spicy notes. This did not go down well.

Nevertheless John Glazer and the Compass Box team reinvented the Spice Tree, finding alternative “legal” means of getting a similar flavour profile. Here are the dramstats:



  • Price £38
  • ABV 46%
  • Blended Malt

Nose: Orange, ginger, cinnamon, ice cream cones, pepper and a hint of ozone with red dessert apple.

Palate: Vanilla ice cream, black and white pepper, oak, ground ginger and cinnamon, with some hints of raisin. Extremely spicy.

Finish: The spices continue to tingle and grow. Pepper, ginger and oak amongst a background of sweet Mr Whippy Ice cream.

Verdict: It’s excellent. A wonderfully spicy and controlled delivery on the palate. If you like a spice whisky, or you want one to add to your collection, this is a pretty good price!




Review: Compass Box, Great King Street Artists Blend

Thank you to Adrian Barnett (follow him on twitter via @mynamisgone) for sending me this sample. (Don’t worry, we swapped samples)

Compass box make lots of interesting blends. Some are blended malts, like the spice tree and the peat monster. Others are blended grains, like Hedonism . This one is a proper blended whisky (malt and grain), and it’s a bit of a cracker.

Here are the dramstats:



  • Price £26.50
  • ABV 43%
  • 50cl
  • Natural Colour

Nose: Soft vanilla, custard tart and madeira cake. Soft baking spices, nutmeg and mild ground ginger. Cocoa powder then furniture polish and milk chocolate notes from a sherry cask. After 20 minutes, lots of milk chocolate.

Palate:  Fruity initially with pear drops and pineapple cubes. Milk chocolate and vanilla custard.

Finish: White pepper, cinnamon and oak spice. Fruity fade  with strawberry milkshake and milk chocolate coins.

Verdict: I love the milk chocolatey notes and I’m really enthusiastic about this. Compass box make terrific whisky and I am a huge fan of theirs.

What is with the 50cl bottle though? I really hate getting only 50cl when I buy a bottle of whisky. Why is it done? I can only guess that it’s to do with keeping the price down. Maybe someone in marketing could enlighten me if there is a better reason. It’s like they are saying, “we know you’ll only want to pay this much, but it cost us that or more to make 70cl so we’ll just give you less for the money we want to charge”.

Fellow readers, please send some comments my way and let me know how you feel about this. Have you ever ordered a bottle of whisky thinking it was full size and it turned out to be 50cl? I have and I tell you what I DIDN’T think: “Oh, well never mind, I guess I bought it for a pretty good price”. When looking for whisky and selecting a purchase of a 70cl bottle, have you ever thought: “You know, it would be better if they did this in 50cl bottles instead”? I just don’t know what the selling point of 50cl bottles is supposed to be. Regarding this bottle, I had my hands on it in a whisky shop recently thinking it was well priced, got halfway to the checkout, noticed the 50cl and walked out in a huff. Maybe I’m just cantankerous, but this really winds me up. It may well be well priced, and it certainly is lovely. I just can’t decide how I feel about the price when I’m this angry about the bottle size!

Review: Michael Jackson Special Blended Whisky

The nose may be out of action for a few days, but blended whisky month continues and I have a few drams left in the locker.

This one is a Berry Bros and Rudd bottling blended from some of the samples left behind by the whisky legend Michael Jackson. Some of the proceeds of sales at the time went towards the Parkinsons disease society.

Here are the dramstats:



  • ABV 43%
  • Price £118

Nose: Lots of vanilla with quite an Irish character initially. Tangerines, brazil nuts and coconut shavings. Honey and camomile tea come through. Lots of marmalade. After a taste, fresh pine comes through, coconut mushrooms and a salty note that reminds me of Springbank.

Palate: Sweet vanilla and plenty of wood.

Finish: Slight oak spice then vanilla with faint chocolate covered turkish delight.

Verdict: This is really very nice! The nose particularly is very enjoyable. The legend is that this blend was concocted using all the whisky found in the legendary drinks writer’s office. I wonder how much springbank he had. One thing’s for sure, that man had some seriously good taste in whisky! However, too expensive for my tastes. Lovely sample though!