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Keepers of the Quaich

Single Malt Ambassadors
Brother Bluff Brother Bluff
Class of 01Q2


Lagavulin 16
Highland Park 18
Laphroaig 30
Talisker 18
Ardbeg 1977
Strathisla 35 (Peerless)
Clynelish 14
Laphroaig 10
Ben Nevis 10
Balblair 16

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Did anyone pick up a bottle of this year’s limited edition NAS to celebrate Ardbeg Day? Bottles are now readily available at most Binny’s (but NOT Highland Park for whatever reason.) Priced at $119, I don’t suspect that they will be fast movers given that I can still find Dark Cove at Binny’s too. But, I hear it’s a pretty worthwhile release.   This release contains spirit that has been aged in virgin oak casks from the Black Sea area of Russia along with the traditional ex-Bourbon casks.   These Black Sea casks provide deep flavors not found in the typical ex-bourbon casks.   I think a head-to-head against Dark Cove and Ardbeg 10, is necessary.

I will try to remember to post my offline tasting notes tomorrow.   Looking forward to this one!

Here is a recap of our KOTQ meeting in Las Vegas January 16-17th, 2016.   First, thank you for allowing me to serve as Fear ‘an Tigh for this special event.  I had a blast picking out the tasting lineup and making the arrangements.   Also, I’d also like to thank everyone that was able to make the trip.   In total, 7 members of the KOTQ Chicago Chapter were present, and we also had 6 guests join for the festivities.   So, in total we had 13 that were able to attend the tasting, and although it sounds like an unlucky number, I would say that our trip was anything but unlucky.    All of our single malt scotches survived the flight, and I think most of us ended Saturday evening on the positive side in the casino!    I remember yours truly on a heater at the Venetian craps table that most of us were able to ride.   Unforgettable!

To recap, the tasting lineup for the evening included six well-received, other-worldly expressions of at least 18 years of age.   After 1/2 oz tastings and a discussion of each distillery, I asked each of the guests in attendance to rank sort the expressions in order of preference from 1 to 6.   The lowest cumulative score will be crowned the favorite of the night.   The rating scale is more a reflection of our matter of preference than a deep evaluation about the quality or taste profile of the spirits.    Each whisky has a different taste profile, and I wanted to see how our group profiles against these six outstanding single malts.

The 6 single malts in the lineup, in order of tasting, were:

  1. Springbank 21 (2015 Release)
  2. Ledaig 18
  3. Talisker 18
  4. Balblair 1983
  5. Glenglassaugh 30
  6. Macallan 1989 18 yo


In the end, the group favored the Ledaig 18 most.  It also garnered the most first place votes with Macallan 18 right behind.  However, Glenglassaugh 30 wins second place in the tasting this evening based on having the most second place votes.    The Macallan 18 takes 3rd place.

To my surprise, Balblair 1983 fell a distant 6th.   Balblair may have suffered from being stuck in the middle of the tasting and following Talisker 18.   In fact, I suspect that the complexities and subtle fresh and floral nose of the Balblair were washed away by the prior three big-nosing whiskies.    Nearly everyone who came back for a secondary tasting on day 2 were stunned by how different and enjoyable the Balblair was when not competing in this lineup.   It’s an exceptional complex whisky that lost out to bolder expressions for our challenging evening, but given a different day and tasting order, the results could have been reversed.

The Ledaig 18 was really the only heavily peated whisky of the evening, and combined with the oloroso sherry cask finish, it was an immediate winner with our group.     It was a bit of a surprise that the Ledaig 18 came out on top over all the others, but I would contend that it was because the taste profile of the Ledaig 18 was exciting and the most memorable.   None of us had experienced the 18 before.  Did the ‘discovery’ of the Ledaig 18 sway your vote?       I would not be surprised if there is a run on Ledaig 18 at the Chicago-area Binny’s while they are on sale for $120.

Mostly, what we found is that it is terribly difficult to rank sort these particular single malts because the ordinal ranking does not do these equally important single malt scotches any justice.   The distance between 1 and 6 really isn’t fair….maybe more like 1st is 1, 2nd is 1.1, 3rd is 1.2, etc.    Again, just a reminder that these results are not intended to be a measure of spirit quality but instead an attempt to profile our group preference.     You’d be a fool to pass up on the Balblair 1983 or a Talisker 18!

My only regret of the evening is that we did more of a ‘speed tasting’ than a methodical evaluation before we voted on our favorites.   We could have spent a little bit more time analyzing each whisky and taking meaningful tasting notes.   That’s not to say that we did not analyze the taste profiles, but I think we would have taught the guests of the KOTQ a little bit more about nosing and discovering palate notes had we tasted fewer expressions and discussed them more methodically.    If there’s anything I learned from this, I’d say that we should return to the discipline of taking better tasting notes so that we can share our experience online and offline.

Now that you have had time to reflect, do you have any comments about the results of the tasting that you’d like to share?   What did you like best about the Ledaig 18 or the Glenglassaugh 30 that justified their ranking within the lineup?

Earlier this month, I attended a scotch tasting with Brother Lakeview and Brother Ville….well, I didn’t really attend for long but before leaving placed an order for a relatively new offering from Signatory—an 18 year old Bruichladdich, vintage 1989.

I got the chance to open the bottle tonight, and was somewhat surprised by the scotch.   The nose is floral and perfumy then followed by a whiff of alcohol pad.   The palate is sweet and oaky with a warm finish.   The sweetness is more of a citrus fruit than chocolate or caramel.   I found it easy to drink although for an 18 year old, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of complexity in the palate.    It definitely does not follow the typical Islay characteristics.

But, while searching for other tasting notes for this release, I came across this blog:

Check it out sometime if you’re looking for a female’s perspective on some of our favorite scotches.

This story caught my eye and is news-worthy for our KOTQ page.

Apparently a British explorer in the early 1900s, Sir Ernest Shackleton, had a crate of McKinlay & Co whisky on hand during his 1909 expedition in the Antarctica. The expedition was abandonded at some point, and the explorer left behind his stock.

Whyte & MacKay, who currently owns McKinlay & Co, has commissioned New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust to use special drills to retrieve these 100+ year-old bottles. The intent is not so much to drink the spirit, but rather to determine if reproduction of the storied whisky is worthwhile.

Here’s a link to the original story

I was actually surprised to find little information about Signatory available on the Internet. While I know that they are an independent bottler, I could find little ‘official’ history about Signatory. However, the following are some details that I was able to pull together, and I think we should consider speaking with the Signatory rep, Ed Kohl, possibly for future tastings.

Signatory was founded in 1988, and originally wasn’t a fully independent bottler. By April 1992, they had received the approval to bottle casks they owned, and now along with Wm. Cadenhead and Gordon & McPhail, are supposedly the only fully independent bottlers of scotch whisky.

By being able to bottle their own product, they keep greater control over what is output. Whatever they choose not to bottle is given (sold, I presume) back to the blends. They also tend to bottle single casks, and consequently, they get to claim that their bottlings capture more of the unique flavor of each cask. While the bottling process is semi-automated, each bottle is hand-numbered and hand-labeled, containing cask details such as date of distillation and date of bottling. Consequently, their labeling practice gives a bit of exclusivity to their offerings.

Additionally, there is only light filtration to enusre 86 proof malts that maintain their natural flavors. In fact, Signatory had recently released un-chilfiltered bottlings in the past few years.

It’s important to note that a common practice for Signatory is to get their older casks through batering. Signatory will buy casks from distillers, and occasionally, master blenders find themselves short in casks for their blend. They call Signatory, and arrange a barter for some rarer whiskies. They also will buy parcels (25-50 casks) and choose the best for independent bottling, and later sell the rest back to blenders.

Incidentally, Signatory originally was supposed to carry signatures of famous people on their labels…hence the name “Signatory”. But, by the time their first cask was purchased and bottled, they had sold all their product before they obtained the signature.

Signatory has also purchased ownership of the Edradour distillery, and has run the operation since July 2002. From what I recall when talking with Ed Kohl at Whiskyfest, Edradour is kept fairly separate from Signatory’s independent bottling business.