Dewars 12 Reloaded: "The Ancestor" 40%ABV 2017

Old faithful on the left, to the right, the usurper.

Old faithful on the left, to the right, the usurper.

Dewar's 12 did pretty well in last year's sub-$40 whisky comparison. Its distinctive character, decent nose and a judicious dollop of peat saved it from mediocrity.

Not content to rest on the 12's laurels, or perhaps unable to resist the urge to fix what ain't broke, Bacardi (the owner of Dewar's) has rebranded, and apparently reformulated, Dewars 12 as "The Ancestor". Just like changing the flavour of Coke, what could possibly go wrong? 

Colour: Deep gold. Not skimping on the E150 colour but a little lighter than its predecessor. 

Nose: Peach, Juicy Fruit gum, malt and grapefruit. A little almond but nowhere near as nutty or peaty (in fact there is no peat to be found) as the previous iteration. Very grain driven and much less interesting than it used to be.

Palate: Enters quietly; its presence barely noticed until mid palate whence it delivers a pleasant burst of vanilla, barley and malt, fading to honey and ripe peach with a touch of spice. Nice. Inoffensive. Bordering on insipid. 

I imagine most folks will find this version more appealing than the last. The peat is gone, the sweetness has been turned up until it smells like chewing gum and there is nothing remotely challenging about this whisky. It's more like Chivas than the Dewar's of old. Simple, sweet, mundane:

77/100

William Crampton

Hitch, distressed over the dumbing-down of Dewars, consoled himself with the whole bottle.

Hitch, distressed over the dumbing-down of Dewars, consoled himself with the whole bottle.

 

 

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 43% ABV 2016

Mortlach; not only a great Bond villain, but also my favorite distillery.* Founded in 1823, Mortlach was the first distillery in Dufftown, Banffshire. It was built around a well that had historically been used as the water source for production of illicit whisky. Forty years later, a Mortlach employee named William Grant left to build his own distillery; Glenfiddich.

Not content with two fine distilleries, the thirsty folks of Dufftown later built Balvenie, Kininvie, Pittyvaich, Dufftown, Convalmore and Glendullan. In 1964 Mortlach was rebuilt, leaving only its original exterior intact. Unfortunately, in 1971 direct firing of the stills was abandoned in favour of steam heating (giving longer still life and less maintenance at the expense of flavour). Mortlach still relies on its traditional dunnage warehouses however, as well as traditional worm tubs. These are basically large tubs full of big fat worms, that eat all the nasty sulfur like compounds naturally present in barley:

A worm tub in action.

A worm tub in action.

Or they could be coiled copper tubes, immersed in water, used to condense vapour from the still back into liquid. Whisky condensed in worm tubs has a distinct character as the worm tub is actually a less efficient method of removing elements like sulphur from the new make spirit than shell and tube condensers:

Shell and tube condensers, without the shells.

Shell and tube condensers, without the shells.

These consist of a copper shell containing dozens of small copper tubes. The greater surface area of copper in these condensers is better at removing heavy elements, more of which escape a worm tub to give a beefier flavour profile. At least that's what we hope will happen. If you have ever tried Johnnie Walker Black Label, you have tried Mortlach, which is a keystone of Black Label's flavour profile.  

The worm tub has far less available copper to bond with gunk. But we like gunk.

The worm tub has far less available copper to bond with gunk. But we like gunk.

Colour: Deep gold.

Nose: Rich chocolate, dates, figs, musty, damp hessian, caramel, maple syrup and old, sweet, sherry. A counterpoint of ripe orange zest and maraschino cherry. Superb.

Palate: Big, fat, chewy. Enters like Seal Team Six. Ka-Boom; flavour,flavour,flavour. Dark chocolate, malt, maple, caramel and delicately aged sherry. Dates, sweet raisins and Turkish Delight in a finish that will bring tears to your eyes, particularly if this is your last dram. A big, beefy, characterful malt with terroir so distinctive it could have come from nowhere else but Mortlach.  

92/100

William Crampton

* One of these statements is true.

Second opinion

 

My first experience with G&M Mortlach 15 was early in my whisky infatuation and it likely played a big part in furthering that infatuation. What I can say with certainty, is that I didn’t fully appreciate it. My Uncle had purchased a bottle of this unique Speyside whisky from Dan Murphy for the hefty sum of $39. He was hesitant to buy a bottle due to comments on their website such as “Worst whisky I’ve ever tasted” and “sits on my shelf as an example of truly terrible whisky” Maybe these poor folks were sitting at the dinner table and mixed up their glass of whisky with a candle or a bottle of Windex. Maybe they were just terribly unlucky and got shafted with a contaminated bottle or a poor cask. So what’s my take? Does it taste like the tears of a disappointed whisky enthusiast or something far less depressing?

This whisky comes from independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. What does that mean? Independent bottlers buy whisky from distilleries and bottle and/or age them themselves. Gordon & MacPhail purchase about 95% of their whisky as new make spirit and age it themselves, in their own warehouses. They have been doing this since 1895 and they’ve yet to disappoint me.   

Mortlach has a distinctive character due to its unique distillation process and the use of ‘Worm Tubs’. A “primitive” form of condensing whisky vapour into liquid, these small copper tubes have been replaced by modern condensers and, although worm tubs are outdated, they impart a very desirable character on whisky; a thick, meaty texture. Several distilleries still use worm tubs, including Edradour and Craigellachie. (You won’t find a single worm tub on Islay!). Mortlach will tell you their whisky is distilled 2.5 times. Confusing? Do they have an Irish and a Scottish distiller who can’t agree on whether to double or triple distil? No. What they mean by this is that one of the spirit stills, known as “Wee Witchie” distills the ‘charge’ twice. Resulting in a rich, robust and pungent spirit.   

Mortlach, Dufftown ahind.  

Mortlach, Dufftown ahind.  

Enough about what happens before it gets into your glass, if you’re not nerding out about the process and just want to know if it’s any good or not, the short answer is yes. Thanks for coming. 
Continue reading for the long answer. The colour is a rich amber in the glass and although they don’t claim it on the bottle, I don’t believe it is coloured. It has a bigger nose than Barbra Streisand, with notes of delicate sherry, sweet malt, hard candy, fig, dates, fruit cake, wet carpet and orange rind. The mouthfeel is superb, the worm tubs have done their job making this a thick, oily, mouth coating dram. On the palate, it’s surprisingly light and easy to drink but full of robust flavours of peach and nectarines up front, flowing into a little sweetness of vanilla and obvious sherry, soft oak and caramel. The finish has an oaky spice and tropical fruit flavours that mesh with typical sherry notes of toffee and dates ending with a very light aniseed influence. On paper it sounds like a strange glass of confusion but it works, fantastically. 

This is a beautiful whisky in every way. To me, this is what a Speyside should be. From start to finish, it is an exemplary whisky. It’s thick and velvety and has big, rich, complex flavours with an approachable sweetness, and more finish than Helsinki. This is a beautiful whisky that has no let downs. The price has more than tripled, from $39 to $120. But it is still a gem at this price.

94/100 

Stu Inger

Director

Whisky Business International

 

 

Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park 8 Year Old 43% ABV

Oooh an 8 year old Highland Park, and from independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail no less! Independent bottlers, at least the well established ones, are increasingly a reliable source of good whiskies. Adelphi, Gordon and MacPhail, Douglas Laing, van Wees, Cadenhead and others offer some great value, interesting bottlings. I have found them to be generally above average, characterful drams, punctuated by the occasional magnificent discovery or disappointing dud. If you'd like to see your favorite distillery from a different perspective, or unadulterated in all its potential glory, independents are where you should look. 

I picked up this bottle for the princely sum of $35US, which means it would cost about the same as a distillery bottled 40% ABV 12 year old Highland Park in Australia. This bottling though, has a higher octane rating (43%) and appears to be free from colouring. While I'd love to say it has not been chill filtered, there is no statement to that effect on the label and the addition of water creates no cloudiness or Scotch Mist in the glass, so we must assume the contrary is true. Although Highland Park is Scotland's most northerly distillery (less than a kilometer north of Scapa distillery) the climate of the windswept Orkney Islands is surprisingly homogenous, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. For those of you about to board a flight to Orkney, expect an average winter temperature of 4 degrees and 12 in summer.

The winds on Orkney are constant. In summer, darkness is never complete, while in winter, the days last as little as six hours.

The winds on Orkney are constant. In summer, darkness is never complete, while in winter, the days last as little as six hours.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Cashews, walnuts, leather, mango, apricot and sweet peat. 

Palate: A few drops of water will liberate subtle (but ever present) sweet peat, less subtle brine, toasted grains and sweet tropical fruit flavours. Decent, if not luxurious, mouthfeel. Sweet honey, smoky, salty, balanced. Interesting rather than complex, it develops a lovely vanilla bean influence mid-palate, finishing with the lingering smokiness of a good cigar, rather than peat. 

I'm thoroughly enjoying this. It isn't magnificent, but it is a good, straightforward dram that displays its youth with a delightful freshness of flavour rather than brashness. On the flipside, one dram is the same as the next; it develops little in the glass or as the level in the bottle diminishes. The latter will happen quickly though, as it is just so eminently drinkable. 

G & M Highland Park 8 year old isn't any kind of challenge or revelation. It's more like a comforting fireside chat with a friend.  

84/100

William Crampton

 

 

Label 5 Gold Heritage 40%ABV NAS 2017

Label 5 is owned by La Martiniquaise, who also own the Glen Moray distillery, allegedly the main contributor of malts to Label 5 blends. Gold Heritage is approaching the high end of garden variety blend pricing, if not quality. I'm going to jump ahead here for those of you in a hurry or reading this on your phone in the whisky aisle at Dan Murphy and just say, skip this blend and buy anything from Glen Moray instead. All of their single malts are considerably better and will save you up to twenty bucks. Nor will you have to put up with the ridiculous plastic bung in the neck of the bottle that makes it dribble incontinently rather than pour. The heavy rectangular bottle looks more French than Scottish, as one might expect given it is a La Martiniquaise product. With the plastic thing choking its neck a cork is out of the question, so it's a plastic screw cap atop this glass monument to marketing. According to Label 5, Gold Heritage contains malts of various ages, with some "aged for more than 20 years". 

Colour: Chestnut Oloroso. 

Nose: The sour/bitter scent of stale old casks. Grain, lemon, walnut, harsh spirit and...and nothing worth tarrying over, let's move on. 

Palate: Better than the nose portents but I struggle to find much flavour. Simple bordering on bland. Hints of pistachio, apricot and rosewater but a flourish of caramel and butterscotch is the highlight until a very grain driven finish when vanilla and cinnamon pop into the picture, fading quickly away to a somewhat metallic finale. There is a harsh little sting in its tail, but otherwise, it is an unchallenging and inoffensive blend that will, Ninja like, make it's way from bottle to gullet barely noticed. Perhaps that's what they wanted. Perhaps that's all they had to work with. 

Label 5 Gold Heritage is a less than average blend at the cost of many a decent single malt. For the price of Gold Heritage, Glenmorangie 10, Glenfiddich 12, Glen Grant 10 and numerous other malts offer much better value.

It's not a bad whisky; but, with much improvement, perhaps it could be.

69/100

William Crampton 

Edradour Bourbon Cask Distilled 2003 Bottled 2014 56.5% ABV

The first release of the 2003 Bourbon Cask Edradour was magnificent. A whisky best described as intense, it packed three litres of flavour into a 700ml bottle. Then came the 1999 Sherry Cask. The first bottle I bought was unpleasant. Undaunted, I tried again but the second bottle didn't live up up to the low standard of the first. If you would like to know more about that debacle in particular or the Edradour Distillery in general, you may like to click here

Edradour, I have found, is an inconsistent Malt. The first release of the 2003 Bourbon Cask was a powerful dram that many would rate in the low to mid 90's. The 1999 Sherry Cask was either the victim of a batch wide contamination that would make Union Carbide proud or just bloody awful. In any case, the buck stops with Edradour. 

Colour: Yellow gold. Nary a hint of artificial colouring here. Far too hot to drink neat; water, a lot of water, is its friend.

Nose: Grassy, green apples, lemon essence, grapefruit and peach. Yeast, grain and vanilla. 

Palate: Intense, young, (tastes much younger than its 11 years). Lashings of spearmint, vanilla, sour pineapple and marzipan. Lovely, creamy mouthfeel. Developes into a spicy, hot, spirit driven dram, not much cask influence. Spirit competes with vanilla for dominance of the lingering finish, and finally, some oak. 

I opened this bottle six months ago. Squeals of delight from the malt lovers present that evening (recalling the magnificence of the first bottling) quickly turned to howls of disappointment. And so the bottle sat undisturbed for some time. Six months later things are much improved. Time in the glass also helps; letting it sit, watered, for at least ten minutes, will reveal more flavour and less heat. If the original release was kinda Cate Blanchett; intense, complex, seductive and memorable, this bottling is more Emma Watson; young, hot, rich, and utterly forgettable. 

84/100

William Crampton

Ie Island Distillery, Okinawa

So much for quarantine...

So much for quarantine...

Iejima is an island of a mere 23 square kilometers, a half hour ferry ride from the port of Motobu, Okinawa. Most folks go there for its crystal clear waters, the multifarious marine life, the rich history, to admire the chrysanthemums and lilies that flourish on the island or to climb the island's central peak; Gusuku-yama. Not this little black duck. I was there following up on intel gained from a local the day before. 

The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

I will digress briefly at this point to say that the Okinawan people are among the most friendly, helpful and engaging souls one could ever hope to meet. One of those helpful souls recommended a visit to the Iejima (jima = island) Distillery. Good advice indeed.

Alright,I was there for the diving as well. What a magnificent creature! The Whale Shark was moderately impressive too. 

Ie Island Distillery offer a tour of the facility and if you have any interest in distillation I suggest you take them up on it. Don't expect English to be spoken but with or without Japanese language skills it's an interesting experience. From 2006-2009 the distillery (owned by the Asahi beer company) was used for the production of ethanol using sugar cane grown on the island. Fortunately for us all, the distillery was then refitted to produce a product designed to enhance our existence rather than destroy our fuel systems.

The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

That product is marketed as Santa Maria Rum. The distillery produces three core products under the Santa Maria moniker; a white rum they call Crystal, a Scotch Whisky barrel matured Agricole Rum they call Gold and a cane syrup used as a flavourful sugar alternative and colourant.  

Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

The casks fall into two groups; those that are topped up with water every six months (this is a tropical island and heat means the angels get their share) and those which remain unsullied to be bottled at cask strength. Alas, the cask strength version sold out shortly after it went on sale. I know this because I offered to buy whatever they had after a sip of the Gold. The next cask strength release is due in November 2016.  

csr.jpg

After a brief period of mourning for the T9 cask strength, I accepted my lot would consist only of the 37%ABV Gold, and forked out a few thousand Yen for a bottle of mostly water. Sigh. 

Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

   Santa Maria       Gold Rum     NAS 37%ABV 2016

   

 

Colour: White wine; a refreshing lack of artificial pigment.

Nose: Lime cordial, grapefruit and kiwifruit, young spirit, bread and butter pudding and vanilla. Young, fresh, complex and delicate. 

Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Palate: A complex, exotic, tropical fruit basket. Peaches and vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly mouth filling given its low ABV. Finishes with a hint of passionfruit and lingering vanilla; lovely. A lively, engaging tropical treat that combines youthful exuberance with a complex web of fresh fruit. With time a deeper layer emerges; those whisky casks don't overtly assert themselves but subtly bind the whole fruit shop together. Once recognised though, the Scottish influence on this fine spirit is always apparent. 

Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

That Ie Island Distillery has extracted this much flavour from only 37% ABV is both amazing and tragic (I can't wait to try the cask strength version). It exemplifies the terroir of its idyllic home, it's flavours concordant with the floral paradise in which it was created. The Scotch Whisky barrel influence entwines seamlessly with this tropical freshness to produce a spirit unlike any other. And it's right at home on Iejima. 

Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Should you be fortunate enough to visit Okinawa, the ferry ride to Iejima and it's distillery will be well worthwhile. You should at least pick up a bottle of Santa Maria Gold for those steamy evenings on Okinawa; it's a great tropical apéritif. 

So, what is the point of reviewing a rum that isn't available locally on a blog about whisky? The point is, comrades, that experiment leads to discovery. A whisky drinker not bothering to visit this distillery because it only produces rum would have missed a great experience. A whisky drinker who doesn't experiment with other spirits will not only miss out on some amazing malt alternatives but will never fully appreciate the magnificence of Scotch Whisky. Ie Island distillery has plans to export worldwide. Should you see a bottle, it will be worth your consideration. 

85/100 

William Crampton

Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....

Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....

 

 

 

More Rabbit Tales.... Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 4 54.7% ABV

Our favorite Bartender has a some great whiskies....and a rodent problem. 

Glendronach's fourth batch of their Cask Strength series was unveiled in April 2014, with a release comprising of 17,806 bottles presented at 54.7% ABV.  Comprised of whisky drawn from Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso Sherry casks, then bottled without chill filtration, batch four is gorgeously intense with notes of walnut and coffee cake, gingerbread and ripe plums.

Glendronach, one of my favourite distilleries, is now owned by  BenRiach; another distillery, I'm quite fond of, for their experimental casks. 
No age statement is of slight concern, given they state the age of the rest of their standard range, (12, 15, 18, 21) which are all exceptional whiskies.  
When I first opened this whisky, I had enormously high hopes, given my love for Glendronach, highland distilleries, sherry casks, cask strength whisky and Christina Hendricks bosom (that's not relevant to the whisky, I just thought it was worth a mention). I was terribly disappointed when I found it to be a hot, too young whisky with a finish as interesting as a 100m dash between Usain Bolt and Stephen Hawking (without the chair)

 

Fast forward 6 months. White Rabbit Cocktail Room, Canberra, I've all but forgotten this is on the shelf. It's a quiet night, the cold has scared off all the customers, so I tell my staff that we're going to do a blind tasting (as training of course). I volunteer to go first and head out to the kitchen, so as not to cheat. James calls me out front, I go through the motions. I look at the colour, I nose it (there's not a lot going on there) Not expecting much, I take my first sip... it's amazing! It tastes like... everything! Too much going on for my casual approach.  I get my serious whisky tasting face on. It's still amazing! An array of flavours, huge intensity and a finish that shows up late but strong. It tastes like Glendronach! But it's too big. And then I open my eyes and see a lonely, neglected, almost full bottle of Glendronach cask strength. l immediately get the same feeling as when I come home to find my puppy, stuck outside in the rain, staring at me through the window. I vow to never let this happen again. So I buy my dog a kennel. I'm kidding, I'm reminded of the beauty of scotch whisky and spend a large sum of money  acquiring more of it. Worth every cent. 

Nose: Very light, reminiscent of a low rye Rye whiskey, lemon peel, slightly floral, damp towel, soft vanilla notes, cinnamon and white pepper, soft but typical Oloroso sherry notes towards the end.

Taste: Honey, sweet sherry, toffee, fresh espresso, over ripened sultanas, Oloroso more dominant than PX, floral, more lemon peel and chamomile tea

Addition of water (Roughly reduced to 45-48% ABV)

Nose: Honey, cinnamon, malt, bigger Oloroso notes

Taste: Figs, very slight soapiness on early finish, toffee and fudge

The finish comes late but is full of complexity. This whisky will take a while to get your head around, but well worth it. 

Hitch, unable to get his head around the whisky, gets the whisky around his head.

Hitch, unable to get his head around the whisky, gets the whisky around his head.

A magnificent whisky. I would love to see it with just a few more years in a cask. The nose lets it down slightly and the addition of water is almost unnecessary and slightly detrimental to this whisky. Not a beginners whisky but a great malt, none the less.  
89/100

Stu Inger

Bar Manager, White Rabbit Cocktail Room 

Down to your last forty bucks?

So, you have a mere forty dollars in your pocket and yet find yourself in the whisky aisle, longingly surveying its well stocked shelves. The kids can probably do without their antibiotics for a couple more days. The dog will dig up something previously stashed to eat. You really wanted to see just how far the car will go after the fuel light came on and, now that the euthanasia bill has passed, Gramps won't be needing his pills. So that $40 is free and clear to trade for a whisky. The shelves are minefields though; more disappointment lurks there than revelation. Those little notes of recommendation left by the staff here and there are sure to guide you to the most insipid liquid ever bottled. Your teeth spontaneously commence grinding when a helpful idiot offers his suggestion of something "really smooth". Thankfully, this evolving nightmare may be avoided, if you read on....

Of course, I write this from an Australian perspective. Those of you in Japan or the US of A will face no such budgetary dilemmas but here in Australia, where the government feels obliged to bend over backwards to reward people for breeding and to bend the rest of us over in the other direction to pay for it, spirits are heavily taxed. A whisky I paid $11 for in Tokyo costs $79 here. While there are whiskies to be had in Australia for well under $40 dollars, they aren't worth drinking. Fortunately for you, comrades, the $40 price point sees a lot of competition and also the regular appearance of more expensive whiskies on sale. Since the decline of Vat 69, Teachers, White Heather, Black Bottle and others and the current absence of the lovely Bailie Nicol Jarvie, the field has thinned somewhat. Still, the following drams are, at least, pleasantly drinkable. 

Suntory Kakubin Blended Japanese Whisky
40% ABV 2016

From Suntory, the whisky equivalent of Godzilla, this no age statement blend is simply presented in a medicine-style bottle of the type that the Japanese seem fond. 

Colour: Amber. Not a lot happening on the nose but a wee whiff of smoke, freshly sliced bread, citrus, cinnamon and vanilla. Very polite on the palate yet a slightly creamy mouthfeel. Banana custard, vanilla, marzipan and sour dough give way to pear, dried fruits and a faint hint of tobacco. Very light, polite and inoffensive while avoiding insipidity. 

79/100

Chivas Regal 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

Regular Chivas 12 year old. Available everywhere from around $39. Owned by Pernod Ricard, who hold dominion over Ballantines, Jamison, Glenlivet, Scapa, Royal Salute, Aberlour and many others including Strathisla, which is prominent in this blend.

Colour: Deep gold. This one is more aromatic; Camomile tea, sultana and caramel. Sweet, earthy and familiar. Caramel, malt, tea, honey, orange and toffee on the palate. Heavy on the sweet caramel flavour profile; nothing to dislike. Again, very light, pleasant and forgettable. 

76/100

Dewar's 12 Blended Scotch Whisky  

40% ABV 2016

The standard 12 year old blend from Dewar's, successor to Dewar's "Double Aged" 12 Year Old. The 12 is still "Double Aged"; marketing jargon describing a period of six months the whisky is left to "marry" after its blending.

Colour:Amontillado Sherry. A nose of light peat, Brazil nuts, black tea and hot toast. Rather pleasing. The promise of the nose goes unfulfilled on the palate, which is quite pleasant nonetheless; Honey, grain, toast, brown sugar and thyme. More substance than the Chivas and Suntory. A safe bet but a little frustrating due to its unrealized potential. Please mister Dewar, can I have some more ABV?

79/100

Ballantine's 12 Blended Scotch Whisky
40% ABV 2016

 Ballantine's  is composed of over fifty different whiskies (that's only 80 cents each then) but Miltonduff and Glenburgie allegedly are the primary contributors. Given it sells for around $50 in the UK, it's pretty good value here at $40-$55. It has also been quite consistent of late.  

Colour: Deep gold. Smoke, malt, dark fruits and white pepper nose. A well balanced, mouth filling dram of butterscotch, tobacco, cherry, vanilla and nuts and honey. Finishes only slightly longer than the others here, which is to say, barely. Still, quite a decent whisky for forty bucks.

80/100   

Dimple 12 Blended Scotch Whisky
40% ABV 2016

A product of Haig, the distinctive Dimple "Pinch" bottle may feel awkward in the hand but is immediately recognisable. No doubt its selection as Walter White's drink of choice in Breaking Bad hasn't harmed it's popularity either. The Haigs are among the oldest of whisky families; the church recorded the sanction of Robert Haig in 1655 for operating his still on the Sabbath. In 1824 his descendant, John Haig, built the Cameron Bridge distillery in the Lowlands. His daughter, Margaret, married John Jameson who founded the Jameson Irish Whiskey Company; must have been one hell of a reception. Cameron Bridge began producing grain whisky in 1830. The distillery produced both grain and malt whisky using a combination of pot and column stills until 1929, when it shifted exclusively to the production of grain whisky. Cameron Bridge now has an enormous capacity of over thirty million litres annually. They also bottle a single grain whisky under the name Cameron Brig. This bottle of Dimple set me back $38 but if I had Walter White's cash, I'd look at a higher shelf. 

Colour: Deep copper. I've been waiting for the unfortunate nose on this to improve; it hasn't. Paraffin wax, ginger biscuits, spicy fruitcake and smoked ham. Doesn't show it's age. Caramel, vanilla, sweet ginger and white pepper. Grain whisky dominates. Generic, unremarkable, unchallenging and relatively inoffensive. As such it will appeal to many. 

75/100

Glen Grant The Major's Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

The Glen Grant distillery is named after founders, James and John Grant, who built the Speyside distillery in Rothes in 1840. After the deaths of James and John, James' son James inherited the distillery and built another across the road. Channeling his father's imaginative naming ability, James named the new distillery Glen Grant II (today known as Caperdonich). The only single malt in this comparison, this no age statement malt set me back the princely sum of $39. 

Colour: Yellow gold. Nose: Apples and pears. Fresh baked bread and malt. Green tea. Young and light on the palate with more red apples, vanilla, tea and caramel custard. This one even has a finish, be it ever so short, reprising the ripe red apple with which it began. A light, fresh single malt for the cost of a cheap blend. Bargain. 

81/100

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

Twenty million cases, give or take a few. Twenty million nine litre cases. That's how much whisky Johnnie Walker sells every year. What amazes me is how consistent JW products are, given that volume of production. Much like McDonald's. While JW products are the antithesis of the craft presentation that makes for characterful whiskies, they are masters of marketing a very refined (literally and figuratively) range of products. In 1820 John Walker started selling whisky in his grocery shop in Ayrshire. After his death in 1857, it was his son Alexander and grandson Alexander II who were responsible for establishing the popularity of the brand. In 1908, the company name was changed from "Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies" to Johnnie Walker Whisky. Black Label is said to be a blend of over forty whiskies (given how much of it they make I'm not surprised) but Caol Ila and Talisker are apparently the main contributors (where did they hide the peat?). JW also introduced the no age statement whisky Double Black a few years ago. A cynic may conclude this was to take supply pressure off the twelve year old Black Label. Having suffered through a bottle of Double Black, I found it a contrived and inferior version of Black Label which should be cheaper, not more expensive.

Colour: Burnished. No lack of E150 colour in any of these whiskies, save perhaps the Glen Grant. Nose: Sherry, vanilla and oak. The merest hint of peat. Liquorice, coconut and black pepper. Already a beautiful balance is apparent. Surprisingly velvety mouthfeel. Water is Kryptonite to its flavour so nary a drop! Peat is easier to find on the palate than the nose and is certainly reminiscent of Talisker but JW are not going to let any potentially customer-alienating heavy peat flavours loose. Just enough peat to add another flavour dimension but less intense than it was in the Ballantine's. Sweet sherry. Brown sugar. Sweet, subtle, peat, vanilla, anise and oak. This is actually quite delicious. It's subtle, elegant. Light but but not vapid. For the $39.95 I paid, a remarkably good whisky; a budget-blending masterpiece. 

84/100

The Paper Bag Please....

The Suntory, Dewar's and Ballantine's stand appart from the lesser blends. The Glen Grant is inexpensive for a single malt and eminently drinkable; it's light, sweet and lively flavours are easy to like. But the Johnnie Walker Black Label is the only one that doesn't taste like a cheap (albeit decent) whisky. It's refinement and subtle complexity make it the stand out winner here. The question remains though, are these whiskies worthy of your palate? Well, if you find them satisfying, yes. If you use them as  palate-priming entrées to more substantial whiskies, yes. In the case of the Black Label, definitely yes. For me though, life is too short; drink less whisky, drink better whisky. Savour your whisky and the budget does not have to be large. As to this lot though, follow the example of Jon Snow: Take The Black. 

 Johnnie Walker Black was the favourite whisky (or, as he described it "delivery method") of the late Christopher Hitchens. One of the great thinkers of our time, Hitchens not only possessed a wit of surgical precision and devastating efficacy but the means to enjoy whatever whisky he desired. I had wondered why JWB was the drink of choice of such a man until I read this in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian:
"Be careful about upgrading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available". Consistent indeed, Mr Walker. 

William Crampton