Hazelwood, Octomore, Rare Japanese Whisky, And More

This batch of reviews features new releases from Bladnoch and Bruichladdich’s Octomore range alongside rarer fare, including a special historic Japanese whisky, luxury blends from House of Hazelwood, and small batch offerings from Edinburgh indie bottler Lady of the Glen.

Here’s my usual disclaimer. These reviews reflect my personal views on the whisky and that these are not requested nor considered official by Forbes in any way. Often, but not always, I’ll be sent a sample or have a chance to try it at a tasting, but opinions are always my own.

A quick note about my (loosely applied) criteria. In choosing whiskies to review, I don’t have much of a requirement beyond the fact that the whisky ideally should have been released within the last few months, and that the bottles are available to buy for the general public, preferably to a global market. Also keep in mind the prices I include here may also not be the same in other places you might find the bottle.

I’ll also include some links at the bottom of this article to my past review roundups as well.

Here’s a guide to my scoring system. I grade whiskies out of 10 to the nearest half-point:

0-4 – Avoid this bottle

5/5.5 – Barely passable

6/6.5 – Decent enough, not really for me, but you might like it

7/7.5 – Good

8/8.5 – Extremely good

9-10 – Absolutely superb

The whiskies are listed in alphabetical order:

Bladnoch Liora, $80.50, 52.2% ABV

Description: The most recent addition to lowland distillery Bladnoch’s ‘Classic Collection’ combines ex-Bourbon and virgin oak casks. ‘Liora’ as a name has Hebrew origins meaning ‘light’.

Nose: Caramel, apples and pears forms the core of the nose, additional rich tones take the form of cherries and demerara sugar, while a softer creamy note as well as a touch of maltiness provide some balance.

Taste: The stereotypical notes from American oak are certainly here – take your pick of vanilla, coconut, croissants and toasted almonds, they’re all there. There’s a bit of additional earthy grit too.

Overall: Enjoyable but a little one dimensional. 7

Bruichladdich Octomore 13.1, $162, 59.2% ABV

Description: The first offering of the 13th release of Bruichladdich’s mega-peated Octomore series, all Octomores with the ‘.1’ decimal mark that the whisky is produced from Scottish barley and matured in ex-American oak casks that previously held Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey. In this case, this particular whisky has been matured in first fill ex-Bourbon barrels for five years.

Nose: A fragrant green curry packed with lemongrass stands in the way of the enormous amount of smoke. When it does arrive, it’s wonderfully multilayered – rotisserie chicken slathered in barbecue sauce then gives way to the typical mineral freshness found in Bruichladdich’s smoke – here it is a mix of chlorine, ginger and turmeric, before the carbolic and wood bonfire embers take control.

Taste: Honey, butter, marshmallow vanilla and Bounty chocolate bars begin to emerge before it is all brutally swept aside by the peat smoke, which combines meat (smoked ham) wood (pine, eucalyptus, and plenty of burning bonfire), and petrichor.

Overall: What you’d expect of an Octomore doing its thing with American oak, though that smoke is brutal. 8.5

Bruichladdich Octomore 13.2, 58.3% ABV, $172

Description: Where ‘.1’ denotes American oak, the ‘.2’ decimal point signals whisky made from Scottish barley matured in European oak. Here, it’s five years in ex-Oloroso sherry butts from Fernando de Castilla.

Nose: Rich and beefy, like a briscuit. The smoke is very meaty and leaves space for dark fruits, black pepper and sambal sauce to emerge.

Taste: It’s leathery, dry and tannic, but it’s all unbalanced. The tannins dominate too much and take away from the enjoyment of the smoke and dark fruit.

Overall: This is one of the worst Octomores I think I’ve tried. It’s still Octomore, so it’s not too bad. It’s a shame because it has a great nose. 6

Bruichladdich Octomore 13.3, $213.50, 61.1% ABV

Description: If ‘.1’ is matured in American oak, and ‘.2’ in European oak, where does that leave the ‘.3’ releases? These always are made out of barley grown locally on Islay where Bruichladdich is based. For this Octomore, a combination of ex-American whiskey and European oak casks holding five year old whisky were blended together.

Nose: Malt and caramel merge well with fruitier notes including apples, apricots, and lemon peel. The heavy carbolic smoke complements rather than dominates the profile.

Taste: While non-smoky elements of walnuts, raspberries, oatmeal, and key lime pie come through nicely it’s the peat smoke that shines, fusing iodine and carbolic notes into something unstoppable.

Overall: The best balance of the bunch. 8.5

Dalgety Tamnavulin 2009 13 Year Old, $80, 51.9% ABV

Description: For most of its history, the excellent indie bottler Lady of the Glen released single cask whiskies, but more recently began blending casks together into small batch releases under its Dalgety range. This release combines two Tamnavulin casks, a refill and a virgin oak barrel. It also is one of the oldest Tamnavulins available on the market at the moment.

Nose: Fried butter and demerara sugar are the springboard for a host of other sweet and fragrant aromas including caramelized onions, baked pears, tamarind, teriyaki sauce, and oregano. Really luxurious.

Taste: The palate gets fruitier and tropical. Mangoes, papyas and melons are supported by Dutch syrup waffles, toasted rye bread, and peanut butter. Cinnamon and nutmeg provide some spicy depth.

Overall: Gloriously luscious. 8.5

Dalgety ‘An Islay’ 2009 12 Year Old, $80, 51.8% ABV

Description: Though we don’t know specifically which Islay distillery this comes from, Lady of the Glen mixed together three refill Oloroso hogsheads, which resulted in 722 available bottles.

Nose: Before the smoke comes in, it feels like a vegetarian daal lentil curry, with additional roast potatoes and black pepper, as well as coriander and a touch of lime. The smoke from the peat is meaty and fatty though.

Taste: It’s a very well balanced palate but the nose was more interesting. The fatty notes come through and combine well with dark fruit, almost like a Peking duck dipped in plum sauce with cucumbers. Roasted carrots, fried bacon, and plenty of bonfire smoke also come through.

Overall: If you need to show someone what a ‘stereotypical’ Islay whisky can taste like, this is a good choice. 8

House of Hazelwood 36 Year Old Legacy Collection: The Lowlander, $1090, 46% ABV

Description: The latest launch from luxury blenders House of Hazelwood features two different collections of four whiskies, each showcasing the blender’s art. The Lowlander features aged whiskies drawn from distilleries in the Scottish lowlands.

Nose: A nice combination of floral, fruity and herbal. The oak is present but doesn’t interfere with the peaches, watermelon, coriander and basil. A soft fragrant note of jasmine sits above this mix.

Taste: This is delicious. It’s a robust profile led by the oak but it’s supported well by an oily texture. Toasted rye bread, roasted red peppers, mangetout, and the soft finish has a superb combination of mint and bonfires.

Overall: A top quality blend. 9

House of Hazelwood 44 Year Old Charles Gordon Collection: The Unknown, $3,444, 43.3% ABV

Description: The whisky in this blend was distilled in 1978, blended together in 1989, and then laid to rest in a single sherry butt for 33 years.

Nose: Fruity and softly musty. Melons, cut grass, and loose leaf green tea that’s been left brewing for a little too long.

Taste: Bananas and roasted zucchini are joined by tropical fruit, while the citrus notes tend towards grapefruit. The strongest note that emerges, however, is the oak alongside a healthy helping of chocolate covered coffee beans.

Overall: Classy. 8.5

The Lakes Whiskymaker Editions Infinity, $115, 52% ABV

Description: I’m a massive fan of this series, which I think represents some of the best whisky made in England so far (release #4 won the last World Whiskies Awards too). The Infinity was matured in a combination of different kinds of ex-Sherry casks: Palo Cortado, Manzanilla, fino, and oloroso.

Nose: Very candied. Strawberries and cream sit alongside cherry tylenol and stewed plums. I’m also reminded of watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers.

Taste: Aromatic. Roses and Turkish Delight account for perfume-like notes but there’s also plenty of space for demerara sugar, carrot cake, and cherries to provide additional depth. The finish is not unlike black tea loaded with sugar.

Overall: The candy sweetness blends well with the drier sherried notes. 8

Shirakawa 1958, $28,710, 49% ABV

Description: The Shirakawa distillery was built in Fukushima in 1939 and demolished in 2003. Between 1951 and 1969 it was one of the first distilleries in Japan to produce malt whisky. This liquid was discovered in a steel tank tucked away in a warehouse, and is the earliest-known single vintage Japanese whisky ever bottled.

Nose: Complex and multilayered. The oak forms the base for many other elements to come through. Leather, vanilla, cherries and peaches, popcorn and cream are all there, as well as just the right amount of tannins to darken the overall profile, which is very fragrant.

Taste: A nice combination of nuts and sweet vegetables. Almonds, pecans, cream and vanilla feature as well as pumpkin, sugarsnap peas and coconut. More subtle are the notes of basil, mint and tropical fruit notes. The oak is heavier here than on the nose, but combines well with the dark chocolate on the finish.

Overall: What a spectacular, if expensive, piece of Japanese whisky history. 9.5

Past reviews: October 2022, September 2022, August 2022

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