Grain Whiskies – Haig, Chita, Nikka, Cambus

Though the humble grain is mostly found in blends, the Whisky Ladies are no stranger to exploring grains…

Just a couple that come to mind include….

All of our earlier grain experiences were mingled with trying malts or blends, so when it came time to decide a theme anchored by Suntory’s grain whisky Chita, we decided to go all out with grains!

We put out the word and here is what turned up!

And here is a selection of other grain tasting experiences:

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Peat Unusual – Ledaig “Very Cloudy” 40%

Not all peat is your campfire smoky character…. In keeping with our “Peat Unusual” theme,  this Ledaig, specially bottled by Signatory, was not your ordinary direct peat Ledaig expression but instead something different.

What did we think?

Ledaig “Very Cloudy” 7 years (7 June 2008/15 Dec 2015) 40% Hogshead 700551 + 700552 Signatory Vintage 910 Bottles

  • Nose – Sweet and sour, that wet dish cloth element with lemon, ammonia yet restrained, as it opened more, a sweet wet hay
  • Palate – Super easy to drink then the peat peaks out from behind, becomes sweet and spicy
  • Finish – Peat and sweet

It was not heavily peated, more like an accent or splash of colour than the main act. One joked that it could be a peated whisky for non-peat lovers. We found it overall very easy to drink with its enjoyable light peat. Quite a contrast to other Ledaigs sampled over the years.

Given its ‘very cloudy’ moniker, we were curious enough to put it in a fridge to chill to see its effect. Did it make it cloudy? Not much, but it was rather nice chilled.

As this bottle came from a BMC guest, we don’t know where it was acquired, however we sampled it from a closed bottle in November 2017.

Interested in other experiences with Ledaig whiskies?  

Our “peat unusual” whiskies featured:

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Whisky Live 2017 – Signatory’s Linkwood 8 year and Cambus 24 year

The last in the Whisky Live 2017 sniff, swish and move on was a stop by the Signatory booth. While they had a range of offerings, two caught my eye…

Cambus 24 year (1991/2015) Cask No 55891, Bottle No 431/447 51.9%

  • Nose – Subtle, nuanced, floral with a light perfume, citrus, salted caramel
  • Palate – Simply delicious, nothing harsh, a lovely softness, perfectly executed, honey, vanilla
  • Finish – Herbal spice

Cambus is a discontinued distillery from the Lowlands… one I hadn’t before encountered but would be keen to try more…

Linkwood “Very Cloudy” 8 year (14 May 2008/15 Jun 2016) Bourbon Cask No 800029 – 8000031 40%

  • Nose – Don’t laugh but this had a fruity bubblegum aroma, then light oak, honey
  • Palate – Some spice, ginger bread
  • Finish – Woody, spice

While fleeting impressions, particularly the Cambus stood out… yet both where worthy drams.

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Krishna Collection – Glenlivet 19 year (1995/2015) 58.1%

India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula shared another dram… this time a Speyside from a well-known distillery – Glenlivet – from independent bottlers Signatory.


Photo: Whisky Exchange

Glenlivet 19 year (30 Oct 1995/9 Sep 2015) 58.1%

CS No 166951, Sherry Butt, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection 431526. 526 Bottles.

  • Nose – Banana spice, clean, lightly herbal, strong start then bursts into a kaleidescope of colours from tea to bright citrus
  • Palate – Cereals, nutty, tasty and utterly delicious – think toast and marmalade
  • Finish – Back to being clean, yet somehow a little less satisfying

This was one of those whiskies that had a delightful nose, quite enjoyable dram yet had less complexity than the other whiskies sampled on that particular evening. Overall though a fine dram indeed.

Others from the 2015 collection:

Other whiskies sampled with Krishna include:

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Affordable Adults – Blair Athol 27 year 55.7%

Last in our ‘no brainers’ set of affordable adult whiskies was a Blair Athol.

Now for some, spending $160 for a whisky is not actually affordable. However when you consider it was matured for 27 years and bottled at cask strength… well… in some folks books this remains in the realm of ‘reasonable’.

From the Highlands, Blair Athol  is by far the boldest of the bunch sampled, known for nutty, sherry and spicy whiskies.

What did we find?

Blair Athol 27 Year

Blair Athol 27 year (1988/2016) 55.7%

Distilled 14 Oct 1988, bottled on 16 May 2016, matured in refilled sherry butt Cask No 6845, outrun 565 bottles from Signatory’s Cask Strength series.

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Bold sherry elements – raisons, plums, rum toffee sweetness, musty old world oak, hint of mint
  • Palate – Heavy and full bodied, chocolate nuts & raisins bar, candied citrus orange peel, christmas plum pudding, let it settle and a more vegetal quality emerges from beneath all the sherry berry elements
  • Finish – Long and very dry with sweet spices
  • Water – A dash brought out a cinnamon spice

This is a robust whisky, no mistaking the clear sherry stamp. If such a style appeals to you, then this is indeed a solid example. For one member, sweet sherry whiskies is right up his ally. For another, he prefers less obvious drams, where there is a more subtle balance between the elements.

Here is what The Whisky Exchange folks share:

A 27-year-old whisky from Blair Athol, matured in a refill sherry butt, specially selected by The Whisky Exchange and bottled exclusively for us. It’s a rich and obviously sherried dram, with balanced fruit and spice.

Dense and dark and an exemplary Blair Athol –  Dave Broom,
  • Blair Athol 27 close-upNose: Sharp aromatics leap out of the glass immediately after pouring – green leaves, freshly cut grass, and sweet and sappy oak – but they quickly burn off to reveal more sweetness underneath. Toffee and butter shortbread are joined by lemon drizzle cake, mixed fruit jam, apple sauce and thickly buttered fruit loaf slathered with lemon curd.
  • Palate: Intense sweetness fades to reveal savoury notes – oatcakes and dry toast. Sweetness builds again, with toffee and spiced apple purée becoming almost overpowering, before revealing a core of sweet green leaves, caramel and citrus peel. The intensity softens, leaving floral and soft leafy notes.
  • Finish: Sharp spice fades to honey and green leafiness.
  • Comment: Intense but worth the ride – layers of sweet and savoury, focusing on the cask character.
Thanks Duncan at The Whisky Exchange for the recommendation!
Others in our ‘Affordable Adults‘ evening included:

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Affordable Adults – Imperial 20 year 54.8%

First up in our ‘no brainers’ set of affordable adult whiskies was an offering from Imperial distillery. Never heard of it?

That could be because it was closed much of its existence – four times, last in 1998 and then demolished in 2013.  Rumour has it the owners of the brand (Chivas Brothers aka Pernod Ricard) have plans of opening a new distillery at the ill-fated Imperial’s site in Carron, Speyside under a new avatar – Dalmunach.

That could also be because it seems to have had only one official bottling – a 15 year – with the balance going into blends or limited independent bottlings. Such as the one we acquired from Signatory.

And why Imperial? The name was inspired by the distillery’s construction in 1897  which coincided with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Yet it was clearly a ‘no brainer’ as how often can you buy a cask strength 20 year whisky from a discontinued distillery for under $100 that also happens to be rather drinkable?

Imperial 20 year

Imperial 20 year (1995/2016) 54.8%

Distilled on 18 September 1995, bottled on 04 Mar 2016 at cask strength, matured in hogsheads Casks No 50254 + 50256 and bottle 251 of 495, part Signatory’s Cask Strength Collection.

Here is what we found:

  • Nose – Immediate impression of a light, refreshing, floral whisky, meadows, honey, yet slightly astringent, think pear drops… however the beauty of this whisky is it did not remain in that space alone… With water, the sweetness was dampened making way for hint of spice, gooseberry, citrus, light new wood like balsa… let it air even longer and more woodsy, malty elements emerges with cereals, leaves yet still a freshness
  • Palate – Boiled sweets, all sweetness and light on the tip of the tongue with no depth, no body, no finish… initially… 2nd sip is a little harsher yet still sweet… then wait… as you settle in with this whisky is slowly reveals other dimensions, gently, a little tasty yet bitter sour quality emerged. With water, the almost too sweet candied element was dulled, making way for betel nut, lemon rind, dark bitter chocolate, toast and tea
  • Finish – Most remarkable transformation… first sip and most confidently pronounced ‘no discernible finish’. However let it open, add a few drops of water and voila! A seriously long finish, slightly bitter with a mix of lemon zest and a woody quality.

Overall this is a very approachable dram, subtle, yet with enough going on to keep you company for some time. One that you may initially dismiss as being too lightweight and sweet when first opened yet give it time to slowly unfurl… and you will not regret your patience.

Our opinion was slightly divided with some preferring it neat, not wanting to mess with the sweet sweet sweet quality in its natural state… Others felt its complexity and true character only surfaced with a few drops revealing beneath the gorgeous sweet a more nuanced creature with bitter edges.

In short, a brilliant discovery, one only a few can enjoy with under 500 bottles in existence. If I was popping to London any time soon, this would be the kind of whisky I’d snap up and keep – perhaps grabbing the Gordon & MacPhail bottle or the a related Signatory if this Signatory Vintage Cask Collection bottle is no longer available.

It may not be the most remarkable whisky ever but it is more than just a decent dram and a unique nip of whisky history worth appreciating.

Imperial 20 year closeup

Here is what The Whisky Exchange folks have to say about a related bottle (ours was Signatory Vintage – Cask Collection):

Soft, sweet and floral whisky from closed Imperial – complex and perfect for relaxed summer evenings. 
  • Nose: Honeysuckle, candy necklaces, Victoria sponge, rose water, Battenberg cake and hints of freshly cut grass. Biscuity notes build – Nice and custard creams vie for attention – along with resinous and sappy touches. Spicy candied ginger sits at the back.
  • Palate: The floral notes from the nose burst on to the palate, with a side order of toasted raisin bagels and creamy butter. Sharper and sweeter flavours develop, with autumn leaves, grass and bark balanced by golden syrup and lemon sherbert.
  • Finish: Woody spices fade to green leaves and sweet earthy notes.
  • Comment: Light, delicate and floral on the nose, with a kick of complexity on the palate.
Thanks Duncan at The Whisky Exchange for the recommendation!
Others in our ‘Affordable Adults‘ evening included:

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Signatory session take two with cigars!

Quick before oxidation did too much damage, I wanted to share with the BMC lads a sampling from my earlier Signatory session.

However as whisky gremlins (aka friends and I) got into the Edradour and the Bunnahabhain too, it was clear augmentation would be needed to have sufficient for my sipping companions as we puffed on our cigars, post initial tasting. With this group, tasting is not the end, merely the selection process to settle down to savour a further dram or two with a cigar, some nibbles and convivial conversation.

2016-02-19 Oak League1

So what did I do? First began with what our merry malt men had to say about the whiskies…

We kicked off with the Speyside – Glenburgie 18 year (13 June 1995 / 20 Feb 2014) Cask No 6451, 391 bottles 46%.

  • Nose – Flowers, perfume, summer meadow
  • Palate – Surprisingly robust
  • Finish – Spice
  • Water – Adds ‘wood’ brought out vanilla and moss
  • Overall – Light bright and sprightly

Then followed up with the Islay – Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%.

  • Nose – Varnish, lots of esters, pineapple, a flick of mint?
  • Palate – Smooth, a bit oily, tart granny apples…
  • Finish – Sits… very dry, black pepper
  • Water – Spicier, less acidic, brings out the peppers and even a medicinal quality on the nose. Then was that gasoline??
  • Overall – One commented the whisky made his lips numb! Certainly not a favourite (and yet the bottle was empty by the end of the evening… Oh the sacrifices these gentlemen will make!)

Closing our Signatory trio in the Highland‘s with the Edradour 10 year (2 Nov 2004/26 Mar 2015) Cask No 406, Bottle 440 46%

  • Nose – Very chocolaty, vanilla, prunes, fig newton, varnish, rum raisin
  • Palate – Very smooth, little pepper, lime?
  • Finish – Not long but rather pleasant
  • Water – Softens, mellows it out and makes it even sweeter
  • Overall – The kind of whisky to sip in a comfy chair, very palatable, well balanced and well rounded

Having tried all three before, I found the Edradour stood up best after being opened. Alas the Glenburgie had clearly lost some of its earlier nuances. And the Bunnahabhain? Let’s just say it is not one to sit in a bottle. The most expensive of the trio was also the most disappointing.

But what to sip with our cigars?

One already has clear sherry preferences. For him, he likes his whiskies robust and full of flavour. Aberlour just so happens to be a personal favourite, so it was only natural to introduce him to the gorgeous A’bunadh Batch 35.

For another, we earlier spoke of enjoying a good Irish dram – when in the mood for something a little simpler and sociable. He’d sampled Tyrconnel before – even has a bottle at home – however had yet to try the Madeira finish.

Now, another member knows his stuff and nothing less than a complex, nuanced and very special dram will do! I knew what remained in my whisky cabinet would not meet such standards. Closest was a few remaining rare Japanese whiskies yet only a single dram left – clearly insufficient to support a good cigar. So the Signatory trio would simply have to do.

And the last? I still haven’t pegged his preference beyond a desire to try something ‘different’. So added an unpeated Paul John Classic into the mix.

My experience pairing with the cigar? I initially thought the Edradour with its rich sherry notes would pair best with my robusto. Imagine my surprise to discover the delicate Glenburgie held its own.


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Signatory’s Edradour 10 year (2004) 46%

Last in our Signatory session was a complete change of pace. From older, more nuanced whiskies, we boldly stepped into younger sherry territory.

For those not familiar, Edradour is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, controlled by the independent bottler Signatory. Edraour has been busy with a lot of experimentation. For such a small distillery, it has a classic range, cask strength, then wine finishes and even wine matured whiskies plus their Ballechin peated line.
This particular bottle shows off what Edradour can do in only 1o years – part of its classic range – that clearly provides details on when it entered and left its specific cask.

2016-02-19 Edradour 10

As always, our original tasting group initially sampled this Edradour completely blind before revealing the whisky…
Edradour 10 year (2 Nov 2004/26 Mar 2015) Cask No 406, Bottle 440 46%
  • Colour – Deep ruby red
  • Nose – Holy moly! Rum soaked raisins, dried fruit, mincemeat Christmas tart, iodine, citrus lemon, port? Some toasted almonds, slightly sour, prunes
  • Palate – Smooth, sweet, very very rummy, caramel, a bit woody, thick and robust. One of those sherry bombs bursting with Christmassy character but a shade darker. Lots of rum soaked dried fruit particularly dates, nuts.
  • Finish – Rum finish, dry, slightly bitter and chewy
  • Water – Can add… but why bother. Most preferred it neat.
  • Speculation – Sense of being like an El Dorado rum. The colour was really quite unbelievable. Speculation it may even have gone through a force maturity with wood chips. Or possibly, could it be, a rum cask?
  • Overall – A complete desert whisky. The kind that would pair superlatively well with chocolate and oranges. And faaaar too easy to drink! As evidenced by it being the whisky most consumed that night.
And the unveiling? A complete surprise. Most of our tasting group previously had the pleasure of enjoying the robust Edradour 12 year Caledonia whisky. While it shared the rum-like quality, there was something quite distinctive about this 10 year and none made the connect.
It is such fun curating evenings like this – though we had all tried something from each distillery, sampling the selection of a single cask from Signatory made for a unique experience.
When I purchased the Glenburgie in 2014, I had no thought to hosting an evening that would focus only on Signatory whiskies. However when I bought the Bunnahabhain… the kernel of an idea began to germinate. The logical extension was to include Edradour.
Choosing the tasting order was also key.
In this case, I went by what I anticipated from the whisky profile rather than age. From the Glenburgie sampled til date, suspected it would be the most delicate, had high expectations that the Bunnahabhain would need more time and attention so perfect to follow and then closed with the boldest though youngest whisky.
It worked!
Our special Signatory session also featured:
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Signatory’s Bunnahabhain 26 year (1988) 48.6%

Next up in our Signatory set, is an unusual Islay… Bunnahabhain is known for going against the grain of smokey, peaty character. The friend who first introduced me years ago to Bunnahabhain joked it was known as a ‘ladies’ whisky for its fresh, aromatic seaside quality rather than bold peat monster.

This just so happens to be yet another bottle acquired during a trip to Singapore. When I have time, one of my favourite stops is La Maison du Whisky. You can count on having a good chat, sample some wares and always walk away with something a bit different.

They also have an arrangement with Signatory for a few special  ‘La Maison du Whisky’ bottles – including from their Cask Strength Collection. This particular Bunnahabhain just so happens to be a delightful example.

2016-02-19 Bunnahabhain 1988

As always, our original tasting group first samples completely blind, knowing nothing about the whisky… these are our impressions…
Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%
  • Colour  – Pale gold
  • Nose – “Yowza!” (in a good way) Iodine, quite vegetal, moss, forrest, a medicinal phenolic quality, dried orange peel, cardboard (think amazon parcel with scotch tape), walnuts then more citrus then a light sourness
  • Palate – Thick, sweet, muggy, that vegetal quality followed through on the palate, bitter zucchini, lentils, an earthy element, extremely dry, yet lots of body, lots of layers… chewy, peaty
  • Finish – A stubborn, long spicy, bitter finish – quite superb!
  • Water – Opens to sweet coffee
  • Speculation – Definitely an independent bottler, single cask, cask strength, likely in the 48% range, reminiscent of a superior Oban
  • Overall – The palate has far more character and substance than the nose – a reverse of what we find with most whiskies. Again for some – an absolute favourite for the evening.

And the reveal? A complete surprise!

None even one considered the region could be Islay – understandable as it was neither a characteristically peaty Islay nor a typical Bunnahabhain.

And the age? Not even one guessed we were sipping something laid to mature in 1988!

However when the whisky context sunk in, ‘click!’ it all made sense.

Some older whiskies have an interesting but slightly subdued nose with a superior palate, possessing multiple layers even in a whisky that overall isn’t massively complex. There is just something about hanging around in the cask a bit longer that gives a certain ‘weight’ to the whisky profile.

Alas as this is a unique Bunnahabahain, I could find relatively little additional information, though I do recall Diago from La Maison du Whisky sharing it was an experiment with light peat, making it quite a distinctive dram from this distillery.

Pour mes amis qui comprennent le Française, here is what La Maison du Whisky has to say about this particular bottle:

Single cask #1874 – Sherry Butt Éditionlimitée à 175 bouteilles – Une ExclusivitéLMDW

  • Profil : délicat et poudré. Notes minérales (terre, racines), cacaotées et fumées. Fruits exotiques qui se transforment en fruits secs. Très fine note de tourbe.
  • Nose : fin, onctueux. Derrière la fine âcreté de la fumée de tourbe, on perçoit des fleurs des champs (pissenlit, coquelicot) et des fruits exotiques (ananas, banane). Au fur et à mesure, l’empreinte tourbée se fait plus marquée. De la réglisse verte flirte alors avec des notes de terre et de racines. Plus tard, des fruits secs (noix, amande) leurs emboîtent le pas.
  • Palate : ample, riche. Son attaque est soyeuse, presque crémeuse (lait de coco). Une très fine note de tourbe sèche est présente de bout en bout. Puis des agrumes confits (citron), des fruits exotiques (mangue, goyave) et des plantes aromatiques (tilleul, laurier) procurent beaucoup de profondeur au milieu de bouche. Parfaite symbiose entre le nez et la bouche.
  • Overall : longue, duveteuse. Elle délivre avec profusion des notes de réglisse verte, de Havane et de noix verte. Ses tannins poudrés (cacao) prennent possession du palais avant qu’ils ne laissent place à de nouveaux fruits secs (datte, figue sèche) et aux épices (cardamome, curry, badiane). La rétro-olfaction est herbacée (lichen) et fruitée (citron jaune). Le verre vide est d’une remarquable fraîcheur fruitée (cassis, cerise noire).

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Signatory’s Glenburgie 18 year (1995) 46%

As we have already tried many of the ‘known’ and readily accessible distilleries, it is always a treat to add a less readily accessible distillery to our list!

So back in 2014, I proudly picked up a bottle of Glenburgie from the prodigious Speyside region. At the time, we never tried anything from this distillery, primarily as it is used in blends like Ballentine’s with no “official” distiller editions. I looked forward to showing off something ‘different’ when it came around to my turn to host!

The irony is by the time we cracked open the bottle in February 2016, it was no longer the ‘1st’ Glenburgie to cross my palate:

So much for bringing a little novelty to our tastings!!

2016-02-19 Glenburgie 1995

As always, our blind whisky tasting approach reigns supreme… so how did this one fare?

Signatory Vintage – Glenburgie 1995 46%

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Bright, fresh, clean fruit, sweet, hint of coconut, toffee, oily, no peat or was there a whiff? Fresh grass, much more fruit than spice or flower, lovely yet quite linear, no major surprises
  • Palate – Initially much sharper, sour and very different than we expected from the nose, sweet, spice and bitter, a tingling on the tongue, mild citrus. The bitter gives it character – in a good way. Has a very good palate, sits on the tongue and is well rounded.
  • Finish – Bitter – some initially thought it short, others found its like a punch that you still feel after some time topped with a  dash of cherry cough syrup
  • Water – Opens it up, makes it even more approachable, however loses the light coconut nose, though the syrupy element stays
  • Speculation – Immediately thought likely an independent bottler – possibly Gordon & MacPhail. Single Cask? Could it be a Highland Speyside? Perhaps younger? Speculation ran riff!
  • Overall – Approachable, one of those books that is easy to read, quite pleasant. For some this was the favourite of the evening.
The reveal was a surprise – both as it was older than most thought and we relatively recently sampled the G&MP 15 year Glenburgie. For comparison, I pulled out a Ballantine’s 17 year set which featured blends that ‘celebrate’ the characters of the different component single malts such as Glenburgie.
This Speyside may mostly go into blends however it is worth enjoying in both its independent bottler Signatory and G&MP avatars!

Here are the only details available about this Signatory Vintage:

Aged 18 years, distilled on 13 June 1995 and bottled on 20 Feb 2014. Matured in the Highland. Cask No 6451 with an outturn of only 391 bottles. No chill filtration, natural colour.

A bit of trivia I find interesting is Glenburgie was run for a time in the early 20th century by a woman – Margaret Nichol – reputed to be the first female manager of any whisky distillery.

Up next in our Signatory Session:

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