Dram Review 53.135 ‘Ambush by the sound of Islay’

I’ve had this sample from Tom Thomson (of Toms Whisky Reviews) for a while and only recently found it.

It’s SMWS and the code means the 135th cask bottled from Caol Ila Distillery on Islay. You can’t pick this one up any more, but SMWS get plenty of Caol Ila and the younger stuff can often be relatively inexpensive. Here are the dramstats:

  • ABV 66.0%
  • Age 9yo
  • Distillery Caol Ila

Nose: Peat and citrus. Sweet with honey and lavender but all the while the peat is dominant and huge. Lovely Islay nose for the peat heads!

Palate: Sweet smoke then a huge pepper/peat explosion. “Ambush”? More like “Punch in the face by the sound of Islay”, or “ABH in Port Askaig” This is a huge huge peat monster. Water makes this less of a violent dram and releases some fresh fruit salad and apple.

Finish: Huge peat, smoke, sweetness and some spice. Water leaves a mild fruit juice note in the finish.

Verdict: This is a really cool dram. 9 year old Caol Ila is worth checking out but be warned, it’s not for the faint hearted!


Dram review: Balblair 1990 Islay Cask 1466

This was the final part of the 3 dram Balblair tasting I was invited to. This is single cask Balblair that was transferred to an ex-Islay cask. Interesting stuff. Here are the dramstats:

  • ABV 50.40%
  • Price £124.95
  • Age 23 years

Nose: Very mildly peated dram with the smoke not coming through at first. Instead there is vanilla, pineapple cubes and white pepper. Lemon pith and a touch (and I mean a touch) of smoke. Melon boiled sweets and sea kelp shower gel when water is added.

Palate: Not so fruity initially. Oak, vanilla and pepper dominate. After time there is lemon oil and a herbal note. Melon and much fruitier with the addition of water as some mild peat smoke comes in.

Finish: Woody with white pepper. Drying. Water extends the finish adding more fruit in the form of Kiwi.

Verdict: I like it with water but I prefer the Balblair 1997 that they’ve just released. I’m not sure Balblair needs 20+ years or the addition of peat. As I said before, people have disagreed with my views on the older Balblairs, though everybody I’ve spoken to really loved the 1997 and so did I. This is way to pricey for my wallet.

Dram Review: anCnoc Peter Arkle ‘Bricks’

I was sent this sample by anCnoc, and you may be the judge of whether or not this has affected the impartiality of my review.

Peter Arkle describes himself as a “freelance illustrator of books magazines and ads” (this from his website), and he was apparently inspired when visiting the home of anCnoc single malt, Knockdhu distillery. This has led to a range of limited edition “Peter Arkle” releases, of which “Bricks” is the 4th. Each time, Peter Arkle designs the bottle sleeve.

The thing is, I just can’t seem to get the connection between the illustrator and what is in the bottle. I have tried 3 of the 4 of the series now, and whilst they are all reasonable whiskies, there is no story I can find (even reading the descriptions of the whiskies on the anCnoc website) that links the whisky in the bottle to either the illustrator or the illustrations. I understand that the bottle designs each reflect something interesting about the distillery, but then why can’t these be limited edition designs for the standard 12 or 16 year old expressions?

The lack of interesting story behind each new liquid makes me somewhat apathetic when I hear about each new release. Perhaps this is just the view of one consumer that is more interested in the story of the liquid than the story of the bottle, and I may well not be in the majority on this. I buy whisky for what is in the bottle and whether the idea of it, or the taste (if I have had it before), excites me at the right price.

So, with that in mind what are the bottle contents like? Here are the dramstats:


  • Price £50
  • ABV 46%
  • No colouring
  • Non chill filtered

Nose: Rubber balloons at first, some raisin and cereal notes as well. After 5 minutes, fig rolls come through and these are really nice. Nutrigrain cereal bars with date filling. The rubber keeps distracting me between sniffs though. With water some apple comes through as the bourbon fights to be heard, then blood orange and lime with vanilla cream.

Palate: Juicy raisins on the delivery and the fig rolls really come through. Water brings out vanilla and some white chocolate.

Finish: Spicy and biscuity, a touch of white chocolate vanilla with drying oak and some orange pith bitterness.

Verdict: Can’t decide if I prefer this with water or without. Without it’s all raisins and fig rolls, which I love, and with the bourbon notes come through and it’s much more interesting. The rubber notes are annoying but I would still enjoy a bottle of this and £50 is an OK price, though maybe more than I am really happy with.

Whilst the whisky is enjoyable enough, two problems stand out. (1): The bar set by the standard 12 year old (£34) and the standard 16 (£62) is extremely high and this limited edition struggles to reach it. (2): I just can’t find a connection between the drawing of a brick wall on the carton and label and the whisky in the bottle or the uniqueness of the distillery it comes from. The quality of the standard 12 and 16 (particularly the 16 which I absolutely love) is such that I would not buy a bottle of this limited edition over either of those.

Dram Review: SMWS 26.92

This is a 28 year old Clynlish called “Hard Glazed Pretzel Sticks” that I tried down at SMWS queen street. At the time of writing there are 56 bottles left so it’s a relevant review.

Here are the dramstats:

  • Price £91.90
  • Age 28
  • Cask type: refill sherry

Nose: New make in a still room, spirit safes and very clean sherry with raisins, wort, hay, green apple peel, wood. The colour is light but the raisin note is very clear and unctuous. Great stuff!

Palate: Woody, hay, raisin apples and light vanilla cream.

Finish: Spicy oak and pine wood with a hint of raisin.

Verdict: I love the nose on this, I could sniff it all night. The palate and finish was a touch woody for my tastes, so I’m not picking up a bottle. It’s excellent, but I decided to buy 31.26 (Jura reviewed here) instead and I’m not made of money 😉

Dram Review: Balblair Vintage 1975

This was part of the Balblair tweet tasting I missed due to delayed postage. Still I kept up with the tweet tasting and the general consensus was that this 38 year old vintage Balblair was excellent.

Here are the dramstats:


  • Price £207.40
  • ABV 46%
  • Non coloured
  • Non Chill-filtered

Nose: Very fresh at such an old age. Pineapple cubes, pine forrest, apples, pears and jelly beans. It really opens out and turns fruity after 5 minutes in the glass. Incredibly fresh. After 30 minutes some peat smoke comes through with lots of oak.

Palate: Vanilla and kiwi and apple before lots of oak wood influence and spice. With water it is less woody with more kiwi fruits.

Finish: Woody with drying oak, bark and vanilla and a hint of peat smoke. There is also a nice note of peach cordial.

Verdict: It always worries me when my experience is not the same as fellow experienced tasters and bloggers. However, I have my own olfactory system, my own tongue, brain and sensitivities and likes and dislikes, and this is a report of my experience. I found it too woody. I loved the nose, but the amount of wood in the finish meant that i enjoyed the Balblair 1997 more. I’ve noticed “too much wood for me” on a lot of the older drams I’ve had recently. This could mean I’m more “sensitive” to wood notes, a cheaper date (so to speak), or I’m just wrong, but there you go. Many other bloggers raved about it, but I felt that I could buy a lot of whisky that I really love for £200+ and that I would get a lot more out of those experiences than from a bottle of this.

Dram Review: Bruichladdich Black Art 3

I got this sample as part of a swap with my friend Adrian Barnett. Can’t remember exactly what I sent him in return, but I hope he enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed this baby from one of my favourite distilleries.

I first heard about Black Art on the whiskycast podcast. Back when Mark did his Feis Ile series, he famously had a lot of Black art 1 and ended up playing a 4am game of crochet by car headlight. If you havn’t listend to that series, go back and do it. Inspired me to go to Islay the next year.

I tasted black art 2 at the distillery (1 of 8 drams there, so no notes,) but I gave this one due care and attention. Here are the dramstats:


  • ABV 48.7%
  • Price ~£100 (if you can find it)
  • Age 22 years

Nose: Raisins, oloroso, treacle crumble, dates. Reminds me of sticky warm date pudding soaked in oloroso. Chocolate (the kind you get in the filling of lindor) comes through. Nom.

Palate: Cola cubes and cough mixture with oloroso. Very thick, cola syrup almost.

Finish: Cough syrup and cola.

Verdict: It’s not as fruity on the palate as the nose promises, but it is lovely all the same. If you bought it, you would enjoy a lovely whisky. It’s not special enough for £100 of my money though. You could buy 3 Bruichladdichs for that 🙂

Dram Review: SMWS 125.58 “A picket fence around an orchard”

For those not familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) numbering system, the format is x.y where x is the code for the distillery and y is the number of the cask released from the distillery. So, 125.58 means the 58th cask bottled from distillery 125, which happens to be Glenmorangie. They choose the distillery codes in the order of the first cask bottled. The first cask they ever bottled was from Glenfarclas, so this has distillery code 1. 2 is glenlivet, 3 Bowmore, 4 Highland park and so on.

This dram was in my members pack. In the pack you get 4 100ml “miniatures”, a pin badge, a members card and some literature. My miniatures included this Glenmorangie, a Glenfarclas, A Port Charlotte and a 20 year old Rosebank! I’ve not opened the others yet.

You can’t buy a bottle of the whisky I’m reviewing. However, there will be other Glenmorangie releases of a similar age by SMWS in the future. Plus, it might be useful to get an idea of the overall quality of SMWS drams by comparing multiple dram reviews. Plus, and most importantly, this blog is my personal record of drams I’ve had and I wanted to add this one!

Here are the dramstats:

  • Age 11 years
  • ABV 57.1%
  • Ex-bourbon cask

Nose: Icing sugar, apples, slightly floral and delicate. Water releases parma violets.

Palate: Sweet apples and icing sugar. Toffee sauce and banana. Water brings pepper, some ginger and blackened banana.

Finish: Banoffee pie and toffee sauce. Water releases a spicy finish with pepper and ginger.

Verdict: Delicate and delicious and needs water. It’s unlike any Glenmorangie I’ve ever tasted, and yet some of the notes are very “Glenmorangie”. It’s almost a lesson in “elements of Glenmorangie”, which is pretty cool by itself.