Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen

Johnnie Walker Ghost and Rare Port Ellen.jpg

Last year, Johnnie Walker launched what turned out to be one of my favorite whiskies of 2017 – the Blue Label Ghost and Rare series. The introductory blend was built around Brora, a distillery that closed in the early 1980s.  I loved the whisky so much that, upon tasting and writing my review, immediately bought a bottle.  I probably should have bought two…

For the second edition of Ghost and Rare, Johnnie Walker Master Blender Dr. Jim Beveridge started this blend with malt from another classic distillery – Port Ellen. Beveridge also used grain whiskies from the closed distilleries Caledonian and Carsebridge.  The three whiskies comprise the “ghost” portion here.  Additionally, rare malts from Mortlach, Dailuanie, Cragganmore, Blair Athol, and Oban are included.


Though there’s no age statement on the label, press materials state all whiskies used in this blend are at least 20 years old.  The whole thing’s bottled at 43% abv and available for a suggested retail price of $349.99, which is less expensive than the first release.

The nose is rich and full of stewed orchard fruit, tropical fruit, and brine alongside some salted caramel and fresh herbs. This whiskey is velvety and a bit oily on the tongue. More salted caramel on entry, with sweet smoke and spice building. Fresh and candied fruit give way to a sprinkling of herbs, minerals, and tobacco leaf. The long finish sees grilled pineapples and seaweed.IMG_4014-2.jpgTalk about an enjoyable pour! Johnnie Walker Ghost and Rare Port Ellen sort of reminds me of a fruitier version of John Walker King George V. It starts off sweet and becomes less so as the whisky swirls around the palate. Great development of flavors and complexity. The Port Ellen in the blend stands, adding its signature smoke and maritime notes. The old grain whiskies add a sturdy background, allowing the malt whiskies to shine.  Again, a delicious and intriguing blend from the House of Walker. Highly recommended! 9/10


Thanks to Diageo for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Review: Highland Park The Light Single Malt Whisky

Celebrating the summer solstice, Highland Park crafted the limited edition The Light. The 17-year-old single malt matured in refill bourbon casks, a stark contrast from its sibling, The Dark, which matured in first-fill sherry casks.

To say I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark is an understatement. It remains one of my favorite single malts of the past year, if not the past few years. The whisky is a perfect wintertime pour with its dried fruits, spice, and overall richness.

With its refill bourbon cask maturation, The Light is meant to be enjoyed in warmer weather. The nose on The Light is vibrant and zesty, with hints of lemon peel, vanilla, and honey sitting alongside the distillery’s signature heathery peat. A floral top note adds to the mix. The palate stays close to the nose with initial notes of honey, vanilla bean, and lemon custard. Heather and a light dose of earthiness develop mid-palate. A light smokiness sits in the background throughout. Herbs and soft bittersweet dark chocolate notes reveal themselves towards the back-palate as does slightly astringent oak. The finish is long, bittersweet, citrusy, and a touch smoky.

While The Light is the complete opposite of The Dark, the Highland Park DNA runs through both releases with familiar honey and heather notes. The use of refill bourbon casks allow for the distillate to shine, whereas sherry casks sort of define The Dark’s aroma and flavor. I like that The Light isn’t necessarily a sweet malt. Those bittersweet and herbaceous notes balance things out nicely.

The Light is another enjoyable release from Highland Park, giving fans another side of the distillery’s releases that are typically sherry cask-matured. Priced the same as The Dark at about $300, The Light comes highly recommended. 8.5/10


Thanks to Highland Park for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Review: 2017 Diageo Special Releases

Diageo Special Releases 2017 Full Range

With the release of the 2018 Diageo Special Releases a few months away, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to take a quick look at last year’s bottlings.  Better late than never, I say!


The oldest whisky in this year’s collection, Port Dundas 52-year-old was distilled in 1964 and bottled at 44.6% ABV.  It matured in refill American Oak hogsheads.  Only 752 bottles were made available.  $900

The nose is robust, with hints of buttered toffee, vanilla cream, baking spices, and well worn leather. The whisky coats the mouth with rich caramel and aged vanilla bean. A slight musty character is also present. Old oak brings some spice and slight astringency. Some leather, dark roast coffee and fudge appear on the back palate and into the long finish, leaving behind dark toffee and anise on the long finish. Beautifully matured. A fine example of an old single grain whisky.  9.5/10


Distilled in 1993, Blair Athol 23-year-old matured in ex-bodega European Oak butts.  It is bottled at 54.8% ABV.  5,514 bottles available. $460

Lots of dried fruit on the nose, along with some bananas foster, cinnamon sticks, candied ginger, and allspice. There is a lovely basenote of brioche. Some airtime reveals menthol. Flavorwise, this whisky starts off with rich toffee, dried fruit, and spice. A licorice note develops soon afterwards. The whisky becomes a bit dry, revealing oak notes as it reaches its medium finish. Nice enough, but not distinctive.  8/10


This Convalmore release was distilled in 1984 and aged in refill American Oak hogsheads.  It comes in at 48.2% ABV.  3,972 bottles available. $1,400

Pineapple preserves play heavily on the nose. Some spice and grapefruit peel add character. The palate consists of a bittersweet fruit cocktail with a light drizzle of toffee. Some herbs come into play, followed by fresh ginger and black pepper, as well as a bit of cedar in the background. The finish is long, semi-sweet and spicy.  8/10


My favorite of the the 2017 Special Releases, Brora 34-year-old was distilled in 1982 and matured in refill American Oak hogsheads.  It has an ABV of 51.9%.  3,000 bottles are available at an SRP of $1,700.

Not as much peat on the nose as past releases here.  This release is fruit forward on the nose with complementary aromas of cardamom and leather.  There is a slightly savory quality buried here as well.  The palate has that big waxy fruit quality for which the distillery is known.  Full-bodied and well rounded, the whisky develops notes of dark chocolate, tobacco, spice and old oak.  A notable long, leathery finish also features lingering notes of honeyed fruit and aromatic bitters. 9/10


This rare release from Teaninich was distilled in 1999 and matured in refill American Oak hogsheads.  It was bottled at 55.9% ABV and available at an SRP of $310.

A sweet, grain-forward profile describes the nose on this single malt, featuring hints of fresh baked bread, lemon zest, coconut shavings and toffee.  The palate has a buttered Hawaiian sweet roll characteristic, followed by nutty toffee and a splash of freshly squeezed citrus juice.  A small amount of spice hits the back palate, but it’s ever so slight. The long finish features more of the same flavors.  7.5/10


Distilled in 1998, Glen Elgin 18-year-old spent its life in ex-bodega European Oak butts.  It’s bottled at 54.8% ABV, with 5,352 bottles available at a price of $340

The aromatic nose features honey, dried fruit (especially raisins), sweet malt and some floral top notes.  This is not a heavily sherried whisky, as the light color also indicates.  The creamy palate reveals a nice balance of malt and refill sherry cask with hints of yeast rolls, dried fruit, some spice and a touch of dried herbs.  The finish has a lingering spicy & sweet malt, becoming slightly bitter a few moments after swallowing.  This one’s nice. 8.5/10


This annual bottling from the Lagavulin distillery was matured in refill American Oak hogsheads and bottled at 56.5% ABV.  At $130, this is the most affordable of the 2017 Special Releases.

Classic Lagavulin is on display here.  Brine shines on the nose.  Notes of caramel, seaweed and a general earthiness can be found right underneath.  Seaweed and chocolate chews hit the palate first, followed by waves of campfire smoke.  A bit of brightness can be found courtesy of lemon oil.  A bit of creamy vanilla pudding adds another layer of complexity.  The finish is long and oily, with hints of herbs, caramel, and smoke. 8/10


This fan favorite release was distilled in 1979 and was matured in refill American Oak hogsheads and refill American Oak butts.  It was bottled at 51% ABV, with only 2,988 bottles made available.  It’s not cheap – a bottle retails for $3,500.

One sniff of the oldest expression of Port Ellen ever released and I’m in heaven.  The earthy nose features hints of salted caramel, hay and smoked meat as well as some fruit. The palate starts with sweet tropical fruit, with ashy smoke developing soon after.  Herbs and grass, leather and tobacco… the development here is most impressive.  Like on the nose, the full-bodied whisky’s palate carries an earthy quality as a base.  The long, smoky finish has a lingering sweet fruity note.  9/10

Thanks to Diageo for the samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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