Whisky Review: Craigellachie 51 YO, Smokehead Sherry Bomb and Raasay Red Wine
Felipe is an award-winning London-based whisky writer, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He is also a musician and co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that fuses live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events and multimedia.
Last month, it was my pleasure to kick off a new monthly review of whiskies on this blog. So here’s the second edition, covering a whole new bunch of whiskies.
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 year, and that the bottles are available to buy for the general public, preferably to a global market.
I should also make clear that these reviews reflect my personal views on the whisky and that these are not requested nor considered official by Forbes in any way.
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
This month, I’m covering relatively new whiskies from the GlenAllachie as well as releases from some newer operations. I recently had a chance to try a few Craigallachies too so I’m throwing them in as well, including their new 51 year old.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
Description: Craigellachie began releasing its own single malts for the first time in 2014. This is their ‘core’ release. The distillery is known for its meaty profile that emerges from its distillation process and a piece of condensing equipment called a worm tub (read all about those here if you want to geek out.)
Nose: A sweet and rich nose, velvet and apples with a hint of struck match sulfur.
Taste: You really feel the beef and leather elements at the back of the tongue, though its deceptively smooth, waxy, and fruity at first.
Score: Big, rich, and leathery, but there’s a hint of sulfur that I don’t like too much here. 6.5
Description: The next step up in the Craigellachie range. This whisky is aged in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.
Nose: Rich and deep. Spicy (think cloves and ginger), malty, and syrupy.
Taste: First thought I had when I tasted this was ‘this is just like an espresso!’ and I can’t shake it off as I keep sipping. Not that I mind. There’s a sweetness and creaminess in there also that I’ll describe as a dark chocolate profiterole.
Score: If you replace my coffee in the morning with this, I probably won’t notice. Superb. 8.5
Description: You can’t get a bottle of this, but if you’re lucky you can try it for free as part of the ingenious global marketing campaign for this remarkable single cask whisky. It's closed for now (the U.K. promotion is now over) but will re-open again once the new campaigns for other countries kick off.
Nose: When I smell peaches that’s always a sign for me of a high quality whisky, and I’m getting that here. The main thing coming through for me is tropical fruit such as mango and papaya but there’s a lot more. Milk chocolate, toffee, and I’ll go with cooked zucchini to represent the slight vegetal tang.
Taste: Light for its age, yet bursting with flavor. The peaches are definitely in full regalia here. Pineapples, raw chocolate chip cookie dough. A hint of velvet. Vanilla and cream. Coconut and gorse. I could go on.
Score: An old whisky done correctly. What a pleasure. 9.5
Description: Formerly used for blended whisky by ex-owners Chivas Regal, GlenAllachie is now helmed by the legendary Billy Walker, who helped revive GlenDronach and BenRiach. The distillery released a new range of single malts this year, and this is their cask strength offering.
Nose: Pears, vanilla, citrus, cinnamon, and bread dough. Nice and light.
Taste: There’s a slight bitterness reminiscent of a lemon peel, but it’s not getting in the way of lovely vanilla and graham crackers. You can really feel the alcohol on this one though.
Score: This needs a bit of water as it really is quite hot. 7
Description: This 12 year old whisky forms a part of GlenAllachie’s new range of whiskies.
Nose: Buttery and doughy like a croissant. It’s also fruity but light, I’m getting pears and baked apples.
Taste: Lovely. As close to a continental breakfast as you’ll get in a whisky. The buttery croissant is still there, but so is the citrus from your fresh morning orange juice. Throw in some white chocolate and a nice caramel tang at the end too.
Score: I really like the buttery, creamy texture, it’s my favorite thing about this whisky. 7.5
Description: The 18 year old release from GlenAllachie’s new range of whiskies. Aged in American oak, and sherry casks (Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso)
Nose: The buttery element is here too, but it’s brought bigger friends. Dark chocolate, dulce de leche, and peaches.
Taste: There’s a slight bitterness like dark chocolate, but it comes after you enjoy fresh strawberries and raisins.
Score: An excellent rich and full-bodied whisky. 8
Description: Similar maturation as the 18.
Nose: I had a Thai dinner recently and had a tamarind dish that reminds me of the nose here. Passion fruit and a citrus tang, but with an earthiness that reminds me of roasted peanuts.
Taste: There’s a beloved chocolate candy here in the U.K called the ‘chocolate orange’. This whisky tastes like that. Awesome.
Score: Still excited about the chocolate orange. 8
Description: This new distillery, from the remote island of Raasay, isn’t producing its own whisky yet. So while it does, it has bottled this whisky from another highland distillery. It’s a mix of peated and unpeated malt aged in bourbon casks, but then finished in red wine casks, Tuscan Montechiari to be exact.
Nose: Melon and serrano ham. Some of that young whisky maltiness is also coming through, but I like it here. Cinnamon and vanilla also present.
Taste: Oranges, wine gums, and bacon. Very few whiskies taste quite like this.
Score: Delicious, well-balanced, and unique. 7.5
Description: There’s not many sherry-matured peated whiskies out there, so Smokehead have stepped into that gap with their latest release, matured in Oloroso casks.
Nose: The nose gives a strong hint of what you're in for. Dirty ashtray smoke, raisins and cherries.
Taste: A s'more being held on a stick on a bonfire. A syrupy texture. Dirty smoke. Delightful.
Score: A playground bully of a whisky, may not be for everyone. 8
By Felipe Schrieberg
Felipe is a London-based whisky writer, musician, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He writes for internationally renowned publications such as Forbes, Whisky Magazine and The Whiskey Wash. He has been awarded the Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year award at Whisky Magazine's 2022 World Whiskies Awards.
He is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. His past projects encompass performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of the band's own show Two Guys, Three Drams which combined live blues with whisky tasting, and building the world's first bass drum made from an entire Scotch whisky cask with a barrel of Lagavulin.
He is also a judge for the World Whiskies Awards and The Independent Bottlers Challenge. Through his online tastings hosted at The Virtual Whisky Masterclass, he has welcomed over 3,000 guests across 250+ tasting events.
His first book, London Cocktails, is now available worldwide. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @schriebergfr, or at www.felipeschrieberg.com