A trio from the Whisky Barrel

The whisky boom is certainly continuing way beyond what I thought was realistically possible. Whether it’s the auctions, new distilleries, official or independent releases, things are escalating and at retail, we’re inundated.

Rcently, I’ve stepped away from many releases or even the opportunity to purchase another bottle as things have become rather crazed. I can imagine a virtual high street with frenzied individuals running from one shop to another screaming with delight. Bottles rattling in their hipster bags alongside the sound of the ringing checkouts. Who is buying all this stuff? I’ve previously stated we have a new whisky loch and unlike the 1980’s it isn’t in warehouses or retailers, the emphasis has moved onto consumers who have piles of the stuff they’ll never drink.

The crash will come. The fallout will be spectacular and the industry is in danger of believing its own sales targets and hype. Eventually, something will give, it has to for all our sakes. Hence why I’m knuckling down on my spending and whisky journey. Bottlers that interest me will remain key, as will a handful of distilleries, vintages and cask types. After that, you can go for a swim in the Forth.

Save up for the crash. The falling sales, the dumping of excess inventory into retail with large discounts. The realisation that some common sense and restraint has arrived in the whisky realm. Perhaps some of our foreign friends might join in as well? Economically flush and frankly loaded, they have become part of the problem on the secondary market alongside companies investing in their portfolios.

All of this has nothing to really do with the trio of Whisky Barrel releases we are sitting down with today, but sums up my current mood. On Malt, we’ve certainly reviewed most of their exclusive bottlings in recent times and whilst there have been a couple of holes in the road, its been generally smooth and enjoyable driving.

In the run-up to Christmas, they’ve just released 6 more exclusives and we have a trio to review today, with Phil primed to do the mysterious Orkney bottling once he’s shaken off the dreaded man flu. An intriguing mix of 2 lost grain distilleries and a young bruiser from Islay. This I reckon is going to be quite a whisky ride. How do you sort out a trio of releases? The only fair way is in alphabetical order.

Cambus 1988 30 year old – review

This refill hogshead #14857 was distilled in September 1988 and was bottled at 45.2% strength, producing an outturn of 313. This will set you back £104.86 online.

Colour: Dried straw.

On the nose: A creamy but light vanilla and an airy freshness. Rich tea biscuits followed by a sandy quality and a fleeting plastic aspect. A very quiet dram in reality. Towards the end a flash of raspberry.

In the mouth: Very neutral and not as spirit focused as the Dumbarton. A thin texture with a drying finish. It does improve with time and patience especially in the mouth as limescale and lemon peel reveal themselves.

Score: 4/10

Dumbarton 1987 31 year old – review

This lowland grain was distilled in March 1987, having resided in a refill barrel #15477 for 31 years. Before being 207 bottles were produced at 50.5% strength with an asking price of £119.08.

Colour: Sunrise.

On the nose: A creamy corn vibe and vanilla for sure but in harmony. A touch of dill? Pencil shavings, marzipan and a synthetic vanilla custard. A light honey, cereals and almonds. Perfume on the finish that hints at its strength and banana chews.

In the mouth: Well, there’s plenty of life and punches in Dumbarton yet! Definitively grain with a simple vanilla married with wood flavours. Nothing here to wow or even annoy, it has a neutral aspect. Balsa wood, almonds, Maille Dijon original mustard, a touch of vinegar and a lot of spirit. Sharp green apples before the vanilla manages to resurrect itself on the finish.

Score: 4/10

Laphroaig 2010 8 year old – review

This 8 year old has been bottled at 63.4% strength, with the hogshead producing 284 bottles and is available for £66.53.

Colour: A splash of lemon.

On the nose: A classic presentation salty brine, coastal notes and the TCP is in the house. Candy floss, sea shells underpinned by a sweet peat. Rice Crispies, honeycomb, hickory chips and smoked almonds, a household zest residue after cleaning and talcum powder.

In the mouth: Smoky ham and smoked haddock in one pot. Salty certainly, the brine and the powerful interplay. Eucalyptus oil, chilli flakes, chocolate, charcoal, a dirty vanilla with more smoked notes with bacon. A claying nature and I didn’t add water as its quite drinkable at cask strength. What a finish! Epic in length with the earthiness, smoke and pepper playing dodgeball with one another.

Score: 8/10


The Dumbarton grain is interesting from the perspective that we have a refilled cask of numerous times, that over 31 years has influenced the aromas of the spirit yet failed somewhat to really evolve with the liquid. A difficult release to recommend apart from showcasing that even after 3 decades grains can still retain a sense of neutrality. Possibly a good candidate for a cask finishing exercise.

The Cambus suffers from similar limitations. It offers a really light, thin perspective that might accommodate an opening dram at a tasting or a palate cleanser. The flavours are very slight and you do have to focus to allow these time to present themselves. A difficult one to recommend even as a fan of the distillery myself.

The Laphroaig is excellent and reminds us that the distillery can still produce a robust and flavoursome dram at a young age. What happens officially between the warehouse and bottling hall is one of the great mysteries in whisky. In recent years, this is up there with the Laphroaig distillery exclusive 10 year old and the Williamson 6 year old batch one release. Actually, in retrospect, I believe this 8 year old has the edge.

You could baulk at the price of £66.53, but I believe that’s fair given the current market. It is only just above the travel retail price of the god-awful Four Wood Laphroaig. A litre of nothing but tepid peated water. This 6 year old bar brawler that walks into your local and beats up the hipster imposters such as the Laphroaig Lore, the Laphroaig Select and the meh Laphroaig PX cask. This is a Laphroaig to remind you of the good old days, almost. I’m seriously considering a bottle, put it that way.

We’ve included links for each of the bottles for your convenience – there is no commission influence. Thanks to the Whisky Barrel for the opportunity to try these new releases.

CategoriesGrain Single Malt
  1. Ed says:

    Smoky ham. The Williamson sounds like a Ledaig. You’re right I nearly got sucked in to the black Friday madness but a cursory look at my shelf reminded me that it is already heaving with bottles.

  2. Kian says:

    Picked up a bottle of the Laphroaig a few weeks back . 8 years old at cask strength and at a sensible price whats not to like? This is exactly how I like Laphroaig a proper bruiser of a peat monster, had to tame mine with a tiny splash of water though, youre a brave man drinking this neat. Buy yourself a bottle its one of those thats too good to let it pass you by and you sadly dont say that too much about Laphroaig these days.

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