Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.


40 Whiskies Under $40: Isle of Skye 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky

Isle of Skye with a roaring fire

The name “Isle of Skye” would make any whisky lover think immediately of Talisker.  But this isn’t some cute-named independent bottling of Talisker, it’s a blended whisky containing elements of Speyside, Isle of Skye and grain whisky that make up a nicely balanced dram.  It comes from Ian MacLeod distillers, a family owned whisky company that owns the GlenGoyne Distillery.  Thanks to the folks at JVSImports, we got to try a little bit for our 40 under $40 series.

Isle of Skye 8 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Cost: ~$30

ABV: 43%

Color: orange gold

Nose: heather. brine. a tinge of smoke in the backseat and stone fruits. fruitcake and honey

Palate: a light mouth feel with a nice maltiness and faint citrus. a light honey and fruity sweetness with a swirl of smoke.  so far, not what i’m expecting from a peaty scotch.  you can find the pepper, but you also have to look for it.

Finish: the tinge of smoke builds a little, but in general still balances with the sweetness that has turned to cherries and honey with cracked pepper.

Overall: Isle of Skye is a good whisky.  It’s not really complex, but it does what blends should do - provides a nice balanced whisky to drink.  Despite the name Isle of Skye, it doesn’t have this huge peppery kick.  The smoke and the pepper hang back, letting the malt and the sweetness of speysides do most of the heavy lifting.  This is a good, light whisky.  Worthy of sharing with friends who might not be into whisky yet.  It won’t turn them off of smoke but it won’t necessarily encourage them, either.  Definitely worthy of a purchase, and a good value to have around for yourself or for folks who usually get scared off from whisky.

A Golden Compliment to a Cold Night

Other Opinions:

  • John Hansell finds the balance and the citrus and the honey in his review.
  • Peter at the Casks winds up liking it, but it takes him a while.  In his review, he doesn’t find the sweet and smoke as balanced as I did.
  • On Isle of Skye’s site, they have a quote from Jim Murray recommending the whisky to Islay-philes, which judging from what I and others got, doesn’t make much sense.  So it goes.

Finlaggan Old Reserve Islay Single Malt Whisky - Now in a store near you!

In browsing the shelves of New York’s  beloved Warehouse Liquor over the holidays, I came across something interesting: Finlaggan’s Old Reserve. It might have been a bit more expensive than I was able to get it for in California, but it was there, at a regular store, for $25.

As the picture to the right shows, I have not much left.  And last night, I went to Trader Joe’s to purchase some more. They were fresh out, with the tag removed! They no longer carry it!  I thought I was special before, and now I am, just in a worse way!

So, word to the wise, if you want to get your hands on a delicious bottle of whisky that is under $40, Finlaggan’s could very well be in a store near you.  And even if it’s not, you can always buy it online from Binny’s or ask your storekeeper to stock it.  Something that, as Trader Joe’s has now abandoned me, I might have to do.


Tagged: #Finlaggan #islay

40 Whiskies Under $40: Finlaggan Islay Single Malt Whisky Old Reserve

Trader Joe’s in California have to live up to a pretty impressive reputation.  There’s decent, healthy, cheap food.  There’s 2 buck chuck.  And there are great deals on liquor.

I posted previously on their current line up of Trader Joe’s single malt bottlings, and unfortunately, though I think it’s great to have them at a price point of $30 (and pretty cool to be able to try silent distilleries like Imperial), they weren’t really all that tasty.  They were boring.  Uninteresting.  Definitely something I’d pass on, especially since TJ’s sells Laphroaig 10 (oh, how we droogs at  love our Laphroaig 10) for $33.

But for today’s 40 Under $40, I purchased another single malt that seems exclusive (at least in the US) to Trader Joe’s.  I purchased Finlaggan Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Old Reserve.  This dram, made by the Vintage Malt Whisky company, is not expensive.  I purchased this 750ml bottle for a price of $17.99.  That’s right.  Single malt whisky for less than $20, it’s going to be bad.  Even McClelland’s Islay Single Malt which we reviewed here wasn’t terrible, but it was $4 more expensive at $21.99.  This was going to be Scottish, and it was going to be Crrrapp.

But wait - what’s that sticker on the bottle?  Is that?  Really?  Why, yes, it is.  This whisky, that sells for $17.99, won a Gold Award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (in 2000)?   And after tasting it, it’s easy to see why.

Finlaggan Old ReserveFinlaggan Old Reserve

Price: $17.99

Abv: 40%

Color: light gold, almost like a watered down apple juice.

Legs: small and slow.

Nose: coal, a tinge of maritime saltiness, an almost chalky, sticking burning smell that gets a bit medicinal underneath.

Palate: burnt barley with a foundation of mellow sweetness.  A good amount of peat that doesn’t coat.  I’m failing a bit at grasping the sweetness.  It’s almost candy-like, though not at all too sweet.  I want to say there’s a faint burnt caramel flavor in there, but only the burnt part, no caramel.   There’s a bit of wood, but the peat overpowers a bit.

Finish: the build is nice, but it doesn’t crescendo to where I thought it might reach.  It fades fairly quickly leaving some smoke, but also a bit of a bad aftertaste.  It’s not completely bad, it’s just not as great as the palette promises.  It becomes sort of a reedy burn.

Overall: So the finish isn’t long.  Go suck an egg.  This is a fantastic Scotch.  Seriously.  It would be a fantastic Scotch at a price point more than twice what it costs.  It’s got smoke, it’s got sweet, and the nose is just right.  It’s not terribly complex, but neither was The Big Lebowski, and that didn’t stop it from being spectacular.  There’s a reason why my bottle has only about two drams left in it, and I’m just getting to this review now.  Delicious.  If you’re at a Trader Joe’s that sells liquor, you have no excuse not to pick this up.  Also, to speculate, I would say that this is an independent bottling of Caol Ila, but nowhere is that identified on the bottle.

On the bottle it says: ”Many centuries ago, the Lords of the Isles ruled Scotland from their stronghold of Finlaggan Castle on Islay, but today it’s Malt Whisky of which legends are made.”

Other Reviews:

  • Jim Murray, as quoted on the bottle, says “BRILLIANT…This is simply awesome.  If you don’t get a bottle of this, You’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”
  • Reviews on Peat’s Sake are mixed.  The bottle there is different.  Though the first guy that says you might as well drink gasoline should go back to his Zimas.
  • The Whisky Exchange has no reviews, but they sell the bottle for about the equivalent of $36 USD.  So, I’m just posting it because there are many things that I want from the Whisky Exchange and can’t get over in the states.  This is obviously not one of them.
  • Badger and Blade is positive.  Folks there posit it’s either a young Lagavulin or a young Bowmore (7 years).
  • Whisky-Distilleries suggests that it’s either Lagavulin, Caol Ila, or Laphroaig.
  • Whisky Intelligence enjoys it and concludes that it’s “a great dram for the peat heads in a social setting with friends.”
  • Luca at MaltManiacs gives it an 88.

The Whisky Travels: Hong Kong, The Pawn, Port Ellen Tasting Notes and Oliver Stone

An absolutely breathtaking sight.Hong Kong at Night: An absolutely breathtaking sight.

The last official stop on our trip was Hong Kong, and I absolutely loved it.  When you fly into the airport, you basically fly into rural jungle on an island, and then after passing lots of motorbikes and construction-looking vehicles hauling materials or things (I’ve tried hard to come up with a word here.  ‘Things’ is the best I got to describe the amalgamation of building materials, chickens, furniture, boxes, etc. that on my later travels realized could be summed up as Asian transport and travel, but for Hong Kong right now, especially since it was to a lesser extent than I saw on later travels, I’m going to use ‘Things’), you take a bridge over a lengthy amount of water and arrive in a just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the jungle, thriving city.  At night, the city reflects on the surrounding sea, and though English is spoken, wander down any back alley and the most you’ll get is a few english words, but mostly Chinese.  The city is like New York in that it’s alive at 5 in the morning all the way up to 3 in the morning - it’s just the characters who are out and about that change.

Trolleys at Night : Like miniature double deckers!Trolleys at Night : Like miniature double deckers!

It was in wandering one of these back alleys with some friends that I came upon The Pawn.  As had happened the night before and the night before that, we were finishing up our evening with a foot massage.  I had never heard of a foot massage before Hong Kong, and was slightly weirded out when it was first suggested, but let me tell you, it’s amazing.  Putting your dogs up after a long day of walking around and having someone massage the living hell out of them (and your calves) for an hour after soaking them in a hot bath all for about $15 USD is a luxury I wish I could have all the time.  Plus, like Taco Bell, the massage parlors stay open until late.   So, on this particular night, the foot massage purveyor we had been frequenting was all booked up.  We had about 30 minutes before we could experience foot nirvana.  So, we walked down the street to try and find a bar and we came upon some white lanterns hanging on stone and a simple yet well designed sign mounted to the stone presenting “The Pawn.”

And Wow!  From the upbeat jazz music that greeted us upon entering, to the waiters all dressed in the same, baggy striped pants and solid shirts that were more Ratatouille then Footlocker, this place and its candlelit tables and soft couches ruled.  After surviving most of Asia with nothing but Johnny Walker Red to drink and viscous-y tapioca and corn starch covered meat and vegetables to eat, I was ecstatic.  We sat down at a slightly lumpy couch, I asked for a menu.  It was then that I was really floored.  I reproduce the menu here, if only to demonstrate how exceedingly rare it was/is to find a place like this in America let alone Asia.  The menu had 54 single malt scotches listed.  The prices were also pretty reasonable - it’s about 7 Hong Kong dollars to 1 US dollar.

The Pawn's Single Malt Menu - An Oasis in Hong KongThe Pawn’s Single Malt Menu - An Oasis in Hong Kong

Speyburn 10 Years Old (Highland)  45
Balblair 10 Years Old (Highland) 46
An Cnoc 12 Years Old (Highland) 46
Tomatin 12 Years Old (Highland) 48
Highland Park 8 Years Old (Orkney) 50
Macallan Sherry Oak 12 Years Old (Speyside) 54
Talisker 10 Years Old (Island) 55
Glenmorangie 10 Years Old (Highland) 58
Glenfarclas 12 Years Old (Highland) 59
Old Pulteney 12 Years Old (Highland) 59
Dalmore 12 Years Old (Highland) 60
Laphroaig 10 Years Old (Islay) 60
Isle of Jura 10 Years Old (Island) 64
Springbank 10 Years Old (Campbeltown) 66
Brackla 10 Years Old (Speyside) 72
Auchentoshan 10 Years Old (Lowland) 74
Royal Lochnagar 12 Years Old (Highland) 76
Glenrothes 14 Years Old (Speyside) 77
Linkwood 15 Years Old (Speyside) 78
Clynelish 16 Years Old (Highland) 79
Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old (Highland) 83
Glen Ord 12 Years Old (Highland) 84
Bruichladdich 15 Years Old (Islay) 86
Ardbeg 10 Years Old (Islay) 90
Tullibardine 1988 18 Years Old (Highland) 94
Laphroaig 15 Years Old (Islay) 96
Aberlour 15 Years Old (Highland)
Deanston 17 Years Old (Highland) 98
Auchroisk 10 Years Old (Speyside) 102
Bowmore 18 Years Old (Islay) 110
Oban 14 Years Old (Highland) 114
Glenfarclas 21 Years Old (Highland) 118
Glenglassugh 22 Years Old (Speyside) 127
Lagavulin 16 Years Old (Islay) 132
Glenmorangie 18 Years Old (Highland) 127
Benromach 21 Years Old (Highland) 132
Longmorn 25 years old (Speyside) 149
Bruichladdich 20 Years Old (Islay) 154
Macallan Fine Oak 18 Years Old (Speyside) 171
Gordon & Macphail Rare 34 Years Old Distilled at Tomintoul (Speyside) 182
Port Ellen 28 Years Old (Islay) 193
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old (Islay) 215
Glen Grant 1965 38 Years Old (Speyside) 220
Old Malt Cask 26 Years Old Distilled at Macallan (Speyside) 226
Glengoyne 32 Years Old (Highland) 231
Bowmore 25 Years Old (Islay) 242
Signatory 1964 26 Years Old (Highland) 286
Benromach 39 Years Old (Speyside) 319
Girvan 1964 37 Years Old (Lowland) 330
Talisker 30 Years Old (Island) 360
Lagavulin 25 Years Old Cask Strength (Islay) 395
Glenburgie 1964 41 Years Old (Highland) 410
Isle of Skye 1952 50 Years Old (Island) 450
Glenglassugh 1960 44 Years Old (Speyside) 495

After reading through the menu, there was no doubt what I was going to get.  I ordered a dram of the Port Ellen that I had wanted to try for so long.  The waiter then brought me a glass of port.  Really.  No exaggeration.  After explaining to him what I wanted and pointing at the menu, I then asked for the bottle to be sure.  The picture of my dram and the bottle are at right.  The tasting notes on the Port Ellen are below.  They are from when WhiskyParty and I finished off his 20cl bottle from the Islay Collection.

Port Ellen 7th Release - Tasting at The PawnPort Ellen 7th Release - Tasting at The Pawn

c: copperish yellow
l: medium, slow
n: smoke from a bonfire, some phenol, tinge of vanilla
p: strong smoke from both a coal fire and a brush fire, burnt sugar, little seaweed, little pork
f: long, smoke til the end
0: this is just delicious.  the smoke is there, but it doesn’t overpower.  it’s just amazing.  95

The next night I went back to The Pawn to get dinner there (as I said, vegetables covered in corn starch and tapioca thickener are not my thing).  The meal, like the bar menu, was amazing.  Really great.  I enjoyed a dram of Highland Park 8 year old on this night along with some nice British lagers.  Interestingly enough, the place is apparently not as much of a back alley joint as I had thought.  Oliver Stone was eating there with some ludicrously good looking women.  Three of them to be exact.  I tried to follow Oliver into the bathroom to ask him how it was hanging, but they were single rooms only.  He also left before I could ask him to take my picture (with the video function on, obviously), so I could have an Oliver Stone directed film of myself.  Oh well.  When our time in Hong Kong was done, I continued by boat to Macau where I expected to really see what luxurious was.  That will be the next episode.

Batman Climbed This Tower.  Then Jumped Off of it.Batman climbed this tower. Then jumped off of it.

Other Opinions:

  • ScotchHobbyist loved it and basically only wished that the nose was less muted.  He likened it to a vatting of Caol Ila 12, Laphroaig 15, and Talisker 18.  Not bad.
  • Here’s WhiskyParty's tasting.  Both he and scotch hobbyist got more heat than I did, but I guess since it's above 50% ABV, that's expected.  He also loved it though, and is quite happy that he has a full bottle stashed away.
  • Serge at WhiskyFun gives it 92 points and 5 stars.  He also gets some orange and marzipan on it that I didn’t get, but I’m guessing his palate is way more developed.  He does think that the finish isn’t as much of a monster as it could be (says its a vampire) and I guess I’ll have to disagree.  I found it to be strong yet subtle.  Delicious.
  • And John gave it a seemingly unenthusiastic 90, thinking that it paled in terms of vibrancy to earlier bottlings, thus showing its maturity.

40 Whiskies Under $40: McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky

McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Whisky McClelland’s Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky, distilled and bottled by T.A. McClelland Limited, Glasgow (a subsidiary of Bowmore which is itself a subsidiary of Suntory) This is the Islay Region representation put out by McClelland as part of their Single Malt Range. Included in this range are the Islay, a Lowland, Speyside, Highland, Highland Sherry Finished 12 Year, and an Highland 16 year. From what I can find, the whisky in this representation is 5 years old, but I am unable to locate from which distillery this whisky actually comes (though it is rumored to be Bowmore - I just question that based on the quality of this whisky). Andrew Jefford has a very interesting article on the origins of this whisky here. I applaud the price points on this whisky, but wish there were more information out there. The bottle and case designs, done by British artist Kathy Wyatt are quite pretty, though. Price: $21.99 Abv: 40% Color: copperish gold. Legs: medium large, pretty quick. Nose: brine, chlorine, saltwater taffey, and a grassland brush fire just started. Palate: a blunt dullness up front, sort of obscures the tastebuds for a while. It opens up after a second into a peppery bitterness. A little bit of smoke there but not too much. More pepper than smoke, but the smoke builds throughout. Finish: it’s there, continuing to build from the palate. Surprisingly strong considering the weakness of the palette and the initial nothingness. Once again, it’s more pepper than smoke, though. Overall: this is a pretty good drinker. I wouldn’t say it’s a great representation of an Islay, though. There’s not enough smoke, more bitterness than sweetness. But to get a single malt from Islay for $22? Seems like it would be a great bottle to bring out when friends are over wanting to finish a bottle. Or, maybe even a great bottle to demonstrate how ice ruins your tastebuds. I just know that I like some blends better, and when it comes down to it, this tastes pretty much like a “scotchy” blend, rather than an Islay single malt. Which, come to think of it, might not turn many people onto single malt, so maybe don’t serve it… However, check out Finlaggan Old Reserve for a great value ($18!) on a quality Islay single malt. Other Reviews: All you really need is For Peats Sake. Lots of reviews here. McClelland’s website gives some tasting notes itself here. Though, I really can’t quite get where they got their citrus notes, malted vanilla, or burnt oak.


On becoming a Friend of Laphroaig

Recently, I became a “Friend of Laphroaig” at the urging of my fellow Whisky Party writers.  I’m not one to usually sign up for a marketing list of a company and I don’t like being solicited for products.  This is different.  I’m happy I signed up.  You should too.  Sign up here. All you need is the upc barcode number from the back of a bottle of Laphroaig.

Friend of Laphroaig LeaseFriend of Laphroaig Lease

At the right is one of the things you get when you sign up to be a “Friend of Laphroaig”.  You get your own one foot by one foot piece of land on the distillery property, near the water source of Laphroaig, the Kilbride stream.  By “get” I mean you actually own it for your lifetime.  They lease you the square foot of land, and entitle you to a yearly rent.  Guess what the rent is?  A dram of Laphroaig whisky.

This is ingenious marketing.  They would be giving away drams of Laphroaig on distillery tours anyway, but this way, it’s more encouragement for people to come (like people needed more encouragement to come taste Laphroaig for free).  The lifetime lease itself is on a nice piece of vellum paper and explains the terms of rent.

Another cool part of this is that when you visit the distillery, they’ll give you a map, directions to locate your plot of land (your square foot) and stuff like wellingtons, a tape measure, an overcoat, string, and a towel so that you can visit your plot of land and be protected from any errant weather the islands throw at you.  Really, really smart.  The document is signed by the master blender, John Campbell.

John Campbell (@laphroaigwhisky on twitter) also includes a letter with the lease, welcoming you into the Friends of Laphroaig.  There are some interesting tidbits in his letter, too.  His father worked at the distillery, and John is the first native of Islay to manage Laphroaig in its 190+ year history.

The Friend of Laphroaig club boasts over 260,000 members (or plot leasers, if you will) from 150 different countries around the world.  There’s also a community on the website where people can interact, post reviews, and “build” a home on their virtual plot of land.

My Plot of LaphroaigMy Plot of Laphroaig

This marketing is wonderful.  It’s well thought out, it rewards you for purchasing their brand, draws you in to purchase more by giving you not only increased access online, but a facilitated real world relationship at the same time.  Since joining I have noticed I have purchased more bottles of Laphroaig than I usually do, and I have even shown my lease to several friends and family members.  This marketing has done what all marketing should do - it has made me into a peer to peer brand ambassador, for little more than some postage and paper.  Smart.  I feel part of the family and community of Laphroaig, and I look forward to whatever the smart people who came up with this, come up with next.

Other Blogs Posting about being a Friend of Laphroaig

  • ScotchAddict gives a short quip and responds to comments about “magic smoke”
  • Jungle-Bar blog talks about Quarter Cask (a favorite of the WhiskyParty Editors) and gives a satellite image of his plot from being a Friend of Laphroaig
  • Vivi Capeta really displays the giddy excitement of unexpectedly getting to become a friend.
  • Good Libations talks about claiming his yearly rental dram and has some great pictures and a beard of which we all should be envious.
  • And just to display the many countries that are part of this, check out this blog post from Japan.  His pictures are way more artistic.  But, pretty neat that people from so many different cultures can have a unifier that reflects their similar loves and tastes.

40 Whiskies Under $40: Black Bottle NAS

It’s tough economic times, and whisky can be an expensive habit. Now more than ever it’s important to be able to find a good dram on the cheap. To help you in that endeavor, we’re launching a new series here at Whisky Party: 40 Under $40 - tasting notes on single malts and blends that can typically be found in a local grocery or liquor store (depending on where you are) for under $40. These are not miniatures or quarter bottles - these are full-sized bottles of 750 milliliters to full liters. That kind of bottle that’s going to sit on your shelf for a month, but won’t make you feel guilty or drain your pocket book if you and your friends decide to kill a bottle during a late night session.

I’m a huge fan of Islay whiskies, so to inaugurate our new series I thought I’d crack open some Black Bottle - a blend of many of the single malts of Islay. In 2008, Black Bottle finished second in the Drammy Awards in the “Best Bang for the Buck” category.  Unlike most Islay whiskies, this isn’t a peat monster. The base of the blend is composed mostly of Bunnahabhain, one of the least peated of Islay whiskies. This proved to be a little jarring to me as it bucked my expectations, which admittedly might have been high since I’ve heard some buzz about Black Bottle recently.

Black Bottle, no age statement: 40% ABV

Cost per bottle: ~$25

Color: golden

Nose: Honey sweet. More reminiscent of a speyside like Balvenie than a Laphroaig or Ardbeg.

Taste: It’s a very light, almost thin whisky, and again the honeyed sweetness comes through upfront and seems to dominate the dram. There is a hint of smoke at the end, which is not quite as “clean” as the honey upfront. The more I drink, the more pronounced this smoke on the end becomes, but the dram is gone almost as soon as it is consumed. There is very little taste lingering in the mouth, which adds to the elusive quality of the smoke on the finish.

Overall: A little disappointing - I was expecting a much more smokey, peaty dram than what I got. I’m not too familiar with Bunnahabhain, the base Islay of the blend, which I’ve only sampled once or twice. I’m much more familiar with Ardbeg and Laphroaig, both much more smokier, phenolic, and salty scotches.  Those tastes were not in evidence to the degree I desired. That said, it’s still a tasty scotch and certainly a highly drinkable whisky, and I think it still lives up to it’s “bang for the buck” reputation.  Definitely worth the time to try once or twice, but don’t expect Black Bottle to become your cheap, go-to bottle when you are craving that traditional Islay taste.

Note: There is also a Black Bottle 10 year. It costs about $10 more, but also generally receives better reviews than the No Age Statement Black Bottle. That might be worth checking out.

Other Opinions: