This is the perfect representation of an Islay Single Malt. It's well balanced with the peat and smoke. Non- chill filtered and no caramel coloring. My only real criticism is I wish they had let it mature just a little bit longer. There is some rough edges to it. It has a nice long warm finish that is perfect for the winter time.
Bank Note 5yr
This blended scotch was a new one to me. Although it's very young, it comes across like other blends twice it's age. Whatever it is the blenders are doing, it works. It takes heavily from Speyside so it has a clean flavor and mild finish. I'm sure most people use it for mixing with soda but this one does a great job standing alone taken neat.
Balvenie Double Wood 12yr
This is a pretty average single malt. They think by maturing in 2 different casks that it will make the drink more exciting, but in the end it's still pretty comparable to any other Speyside 12yr old single malt. For those that like the Sherry flavored whisky's, it's worth trying once.
This is a blended scotch, seems to be heavily sourced from the Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay. It's a NAS so it has potential of being young but it has a very smooth and complex taste that seems to be in the 10-12yr range.
Bowmore 15yr Darkest
A more mature offering from Bowmore. They take the smoke and peat that Bowmore is known for and finish it with Sherry casks. They are trying to sweeten it, polish off the edges and seems to work for the most part. It gives you the best of both worlds. So if you enjoy Sherry finished whisky's then it is definitely worth your time.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte
I would say Bruichladdich is the most trendy of the Islay distilleries. Most of their offerings are unpeated with heavy graphic design marketing. They do have one "Heavily Peated" line which is the Port Charlottle. Heavily Peated does not mean smokey. It's still pretty light and delicate. Leave this one to the hipsters, there's better options out there.
This blend is a staple of the Mexican culture. To me the taste is pretty average for a speyside scotch. Good but not overly complex. This actually loses a few points because of the design of the bottle makes it very difficult to pour. There is some kind of ball bearing in the spout that you have to shake just right to get the whisky out. No idea why they would do this.
Buchanan's Special Reserve 18yr
There is something special about Buchana's. The 12yr is a staple of the Mexican culture. The 18yr is far better than it's 12yr counterpart. It has a smoothness and complexity that comes with maturing a whisky for 18 years. This is what I keep stocked for those extra special occasions.
This is one of the lighter whiskys from Islay. Not so much peat, lightly smoky. It relies more on the sweetness of the malt with a touch of saltwater from the air. For those that are fans of the Speyside single malts, this would be a terrific introduction to Islay without scaring anyone away. It should also be mentioned that this is the source for the majority of the blended Black Bottle brand. The moment I tried it I knew they were related and after some research found that indeed they are owned by the same company. I recommend both about equally.
Caol Ila 12yr
This is what I call really great scotch. This is what Johnnie Walker sources most of it's blend from, but here in it's original pure single malt form, it's above and beyond anything from them. It has the right balance of smoke and peat, and a nice long warm finish. I highly recommend this to every whisky drinker.
Chivas Regal 12yr
Chivas has changed over the years. When I first discovered it some years ago it had a strong oak wood flavor that appealed to me. But later bottlings lean more toward the grain spirits in the blend and less from the oak casks.
Clan MacGregor Blended Scotch Whisky
This is a delicious blend. It would make a delicious daily drink. Because it's blended it could be paired with a cola, but when consumed neat it stands on it's own merits quite well. Very similar to Chivas but with a bit more of the grain spirit influence.
Dewar's White Label
Why is this so popular? It's a blend, essentially made for cocktails. About the only way I would ever drink this again is if it was mixed into a big glass of Pepsi.
Finlaggan Old Reserve
I have been searching for this scotch for well over a year, without even knowing it. I am a big fan of the Islay single malts like Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, etc. What I've been searching for are the cheaper alternatives by the independent bottlers. For example Black Bottle from Bunnahabhain, White Horse from Lagavulin (not available here unfortunately!), Islay Mist from Laphroaig, McClelland's Islay from Bowmore, Hamilton's from who knows where (maybe Ardbeg but isnt very good). But here we have Finlaggan, sourced from Caol Ila. It's young. No age statement on the bottle, has the flavor of something around 6-8yrs. The only place this seems to be available is from Trader Joes, and thankfully not rebranded by Trader Joes. Extremely reasonable priced around $20-25, this is the best valued Scotch I have ever encountered.
This is a mass produced brand you will find at about any bar you visit. I had hopes that the 15yr would add some flavor or complexity but in the end it's rather unoriginal. On par with most Speyside whisky.
Hamilton’s Islay Blended Malt
Hamilton's is an independent bottler that created blends from the various regions of Scotland. I would love to know the source of this blend. Sadly that is a close kept secret. Based off the taste my guess would be either Ardbeg or Bowmore. It has the rough Islay peat flavor without any of the smoothness Caol Ila or Lagavulin has, and not as medicinal as Laphroaig. As such it is a good middle of the road sampling of Islay whisky.
Highland Park 12yr
From an island to the far north of Scotland and far removed from the scottish highlands sits the Highland Park distillery. I would say that this 12yr offering is superior to it's older brothers as more age tends to soften the edges. With plenty of smoke and peat, this 12yr is very comparable to the Islay brands to the far south.
James Brookes Blended 3yr
Sometimes you're at the store and you take a chance on something new. The bottle somewhat resembled Johnnie Walker, and the tasting notes at the store said Rich and Smokey. I've never thrown away alcohol before but I came close with this one. Nothing redeeming about it. It tasted like warm wet paper that had been stepped on by some muddy boots. I had a hard time finding reviews online about this one. If someone reads this one, STAY AWAY.
Johnnie Walker Red 3yr
The brand admits openly that this scotch is for mixing. I sure hope so because when taken neat, it's quite bad. I am a big fan of the 12yr Black Label. But the Red has none of the flavor or charm of that bottling. I would say skip it, though I'm sure most people have tried it already.
Johnnie Walker Black 12yr
I have a special place in my heart for JWB. Prior to this I thought most whisky was the same speyside boring scotch. This showed me how much more flavor there could be and eventually lead me to discovering the various Islay whisky's which I know and love today. It is a blend that is mass produced mostly at Caol Ila. They do soften the edges quite a bit to make it easier to swallow for the general public.
Johnnie Walker Double Black
This was a treat. Although it is technically a NAS whisky, they take the base 12yr Black label and step it up a lot. You get all those elements you want like peat and smoke and wood which has matured properly over time. Based on taste I would say it's closer to 16 years old [just a guess].
Johnnie Walker Green 15yr
This is a blend of 4 different single malts. It's much smoother than the Black Label because only a quarter is sourced from Caol Ila, where the rest is from Highland, Speyside, and Lowland.
This is the best there is. Lagavulin has the right balance of peat and smoke but without trying too hard like their neighbor at Laphroaig. The only down side is, thanks to some clever marketing and product placement by Nick Offerman, the price of this continues to skyrocket and has really crossed the line of now costing more than it's really worth. But if somehow you find a bottle for under $100, I recommend you buy it immediately, and save me a glass.
Lagavulin The Distillers Edition
This bottling of The Distillers Edition was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2014. What sets this apart from the standard 16yr offering is a finishing period in Pedro Ximénez(spanish wine) casks which sweetens it just a touch above the 16. There is no such thing as a bad Lagavulin. The smoke is intense, the flavor lasts long after the swallow.
Laphroaig is really something that just has to be experienced. I would almost say they are trying too hard to put as much peat smoke as possible into a bottle. But the end result works against them with a medicinal element that lingers during the finish.
Laphroaig Triple Wood
I used to think, the more wood, the better the drink. It's not the case. The triple wood breaks down simply: first aged in traditional bourbon casks they use for the 10yr but here only about 5-7yrs. Then it's moved over to the Quarter Cask which helps it along nicely. Then in my opinion, they ruin it by putting it into Sherry casks for an additional few months to a year. I would almost not recognize it as being from Laphroaig. Not worth the price or the effort.
McClelland's Islay 7yr
This is essentially an independent bottler reselling a 7yr Bowmore. It is young and it's true another couple years in the casks would help mellow it out. But for the price it really can't be beat. It has all the Islay elements you want in a whisky. Plenty of peat and smoke, nice finish. It's bottled at 40% but packs a punch that tastes more like 45.
Light and delicate. Really quite unremarkable. I am usually very strict about judging something strictly taken neat. For this however I did add just a few drops of water. It did help. Brought out a little sweetness that you get from the highland region. For being aged 14 year I expect a little more. This one did not live up to expectation.
Shieldaig Speyside 12yr
No complexity. It labeled as 12yr but the taste might as well be a 3yr. The initial sampling was the worst. Further samplings seemed to get a little better but not enough to recommend this to anyone.
Close your eyes and you might think this was an Islay Single Malt. Light on the peat, but plenty of smoke and a salty element makes Talisker really stand out as something unique.
It's salty and smoky. Being a NAS it gives me pause but it really does seem like an improvement over the base 10 year single malt. The price point is pretty high which makes me reluctant to buy any more. This is an expression based on marketing but it does have the richness and flavor to back it up.
The Arran Malt: The Sauternes Wine Cask Finish
This was a very nice surprise. I'm always on the search for smoke and peat. This offers something similar yet different and unique. It's NAS but don't let that stop you. This flavorful scotch from the Isle of Arran gives what I think is best described as a rich musk flavor. It's bottled at 50% which is always nice and non chill filtered which is important. Anyone that likes Islay and wants to try something new, check out the islands. It's worth your time.
The Glenlivet 12yr
This is the standard. This is the scotch that other scotches are always compared to. Everyone has had it, everyone knows it. It's recreational. I enjoy the clean flavor, and mild finish. The surprise is, buried deep in there, the oak flavor will show itself.
The Glenlivet French Oak Reserve 15yr
This is unmistakably part of the Glenlivet family. No peat but the finish has just the slightest hint of smoke. It's quite mellow from beginning to end. I was hoping for more complexity. I was hoping for something that might rival The Macallan Fine Oak series. Sadly it comes up short. Expectations aside, it stands up on it's own merits.
The Glenlivet Nadurra 16yr
It started out being everything I hoped it would be. Super smooth. But as I had more of it, there was a battle in the glass between the rich wood flavoring and the alcohol in the spirit. Granted this is because it is bottled at cask strength and non chill filtered which is everything we want from a single malt. But I never really found that balance I was looking for. It is a good step above the 12yr base offering.
The Glenlivet 18yr
My first impression was not a good one. All I could really taste was the alcohol burn. Bottled at 43% but sure seems much higher. A whisky aged for 18 years is supposed to be much smoother than this. If I had a blind taste test I don't know if I could tell much of a difference between the 12 and the 18. I had saved this bottle for a special occasion as many would do with 18yr old scotch, only to be greatly disappointed. Instead of this I would recommend keeping Buchanan's 18 stocked for those special occasions.
The Macallan Fine Oak 10yr
This one caught me off guard. I'm not a big fan of The Macallan 12yr base, I assumed something even younger would be even less tasteful. I was very wrong. The casks they use for the Fine Oak line really lets the flavor of the wood come through in the spirit.
The Macallan 12yr
The Macallan is such a well known brand and this is their core offering, but it disappoints in the long run. It's been aged 12 years but tastes much younger. It can serve as an introductory scotch, but there are far better choices out there.
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