We are into May now, and you can partake in a virtual tasting for every day of the week, should you so desire. The London whisky club has itself ramped up to a tasting every Wednesday. It is hard to know where to look for all the choice, however my liver and wallet are grateful that my whisky budget is forcing me to be picky. Having said that, as soon as I heard talk of an Adelphi tasting I knew immediately that it would be one to pique my interest, even without knowing the lineup.
This is because, I have not had much exposure to Adelphi prior to this. While they have a range of offerings for all tastes and budgets, their single casks are the ones that command a lot of attention. As a result, they tend to be more exclusive and elusive than your average whiskies. The way I see it, Adelphi have unashamedly taken a stand at the more premium end of the market, with an attitude that you get what you pay for. Bargain hunting is a tricky business. While we revel in the winners we find, we will also naturally come across a few duds. In my mind, Adelphi is like a whisky concierge, offering a cask selection service to eliminate the guesswork, for a small extra fee of course. I think even their minimalist, no-nonsense labels play up to this; what matters is the whisky itself. It is enough for the bottle to say ADELPHI, a mark of assurance that the quality is guaranteed. A quote on the plush website will tell you that Adelphi is to whisky as Aston Martin is to motoring. While a little clichéé, the message I get is one of commitment to quality and craftsmanship. I see nothing wrong with offering a slightly more upmarket service for those wanting to pay for guaranteed quality, however exclusivity does naturally reduce accessibility to the average whisky drinker.
The real issue, though, is that even if you are looking for a little extra luxury, you can always test drive the Aston before committing. The same cannot be said for Adelphi bottles, which fly off the shelves faster than toilet paper in a global pandemic. To complicate matters, it appears that many of the bottles allocated to retailers are actually sold off even before hitting the shelves. I will not criticise the close relationships that local shops have built with loyal customers, especially not during these trying times, however it does mean that most of us do not even have the fighting chance of seeing who can hit ‘add to cart’ fastest. Should you want to buy an Adelphi bottle, it seems you either need to know the right people, or you need to be in the right place at the right time, in which case do not think, do not blink, and pull out your wallet. If nothing else, the exceptionally high demand is surely proof of the underlying quality. A leap of faith is needed; however, I find this easier said than done when it comes to the sherried releases.
I love whisky in its many different forms; however, I am not ashamed to say that I am one of those suckers particularly drawn to the sensual, sexy, Coca-Cola-dark whiskies that many bottlers favour these days, Adelphi included. Unfortunately for me, I also fall into the camp that enjoys a more balanced style of sherry bomb, where enough of the whisky’s character remains to keep things interesting. I find the flavours of overly sherried whiskies perfectly delicious, however I would rather save my money and do some home blending with a good quality supermarket sherry, and some of my existing collection. Where a sherry bomb falls for each of us along the spectrum is very subjective, and colour alone is not necessarily a good indicator; it allows a rough guess at best. As such, without getting to test drive the Aston first, I have been very hesitant to take a gamble on whether these more premium sherry bombs manage to pull off the delicate whisky-sherry balancing act.
This feeling has only been compounded by the only two sherried whiskies I have tried from Adelphi so far. It took a considerable amount of effort to get hold of a sample of last year’s famous Benrinnes 13, after striking out in several of London’s bars; Milroy’s of Spitalfields carried it, however it was only available to members upstairs. This whisky must taste like ambrosia, I thought to myself. Thankfully, a fellow London whisky club member came to my rescue, just one of the many reasons to join such a club. The Benrinnes was luxuriously silky and decadent, like drinking boozy liquid figs in the hanging gardens of Babylon, and it was everything that I do not want from an £80 bottle of whisky. Call me crazy! My second experience was also facilitated by the club. Armed with the support of a glowing recommendation from one member, and two others joining in for splits, I felt bold enough to roll the dice on a fractionally less terrifyingly dark Teaninich exclusive to Denmark. It treads the line between sherry and whisky like a masterful circus performer on a tightrope.
I have waffled on long enough, however with a bit of context on my personal thoughts approaching this tasting, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the very welcome opportunity to test drive several expressions from this sought-after bottler. Thanks, as always, to the club, Adelphi and Connal for arranging this for us. As a bonus, the asking price was only £37.50 for the five samples, which I think is more than reasonable; £2.50 from each tasting pack is also donated to charity. As luck would have it, I have ended up with a few extra drams through some sample swaps, and so I have included tasting notes and thoughts for these also. Let the assemblage of Adelphi begin!
The Glover Batch 5 – review
A vatting of 4 casks, all first fill bourbon. 2 x 4yr peated Ardnamurchan and 2 x 6yr Chichibu. Priced around £115 and bottled at 54.7%.
Colour: Raw pine.
On the nose: Wet grass, crisp white wine, earth and flint are the first impressions. It becomes fruitier with ripe pears and apple peelings. Barley sugar and menthol. Just the faintest hint of peat in the background. With water I get some caramel sweetness and bread notes.
In the mouth: Reasonably rich and oily. White peaches, ripe apples and pears with a little lemon rind. Earthy peat and spices kick in: white pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon. A pleasant finish with a bit of walnut, oak and a return of apple. This takes well to water, smoothing the transitions between flavours. It also brings a doughy quality that mixes with the spices and fruit to remind me of apple pie.
There is one glaring problem with this whisky for me, and that is price. Forget premiums and exclusive cask selections for a moment, this is a 4yr old whisky for a serious chunk of change. Does it warrant such a hefty price tag just because it has Chichibu in the mix? Probably only if you are a fanboy, which I am not. At the end of the day the bottle contents have to live up to the price tag, and for me that is quite a way off. The flavours are pleasant enough, a nice easy drinking summer whisky I thought; however, I have had to dock a point for that price.
Adelphi Dalmore 21 year old – review
From refill bourbon cask #8217, bottled at 57.2%. Priced around £215.
On the nose: Quite sweet and floral at first with honeysuckle, runny honey and barley sugar. Some welcome sharpness cuts in with granny smith apples, white grapes and gooseberry. With water I get icing sugar and almonds.
In the mouth: Sweet, crisp apples and barley sugar. Orange peel and sourdough bread. A very floral and long finish filled with orange blossom. Water brings some marzipan and highlights the floral notes even more.
I cannot say that I have ever been drawn to Dalmore with their hideous bottle designs and coloured liquids selling for ridiculous amounts, so it is a real treat to be able to taste an untanned and natural Dalmore, from a refill cask no less. A chance to really taste the distillate. The price might strike you as high on first glance, however I think this is in line with independent prices, and very reasonable compared to official offerings. To give you some perspective, it is only £40 more than the NAS King Alexander III at 40%. That aside, from a flavour perspective I do not think I would ever reach for this if I had a bottle in the cupboard. A lot of people enjoyed this during the tasting event, however I did not find myself getting particularly excited. It is not bad whisky, just lacking complexity for me.
Adelphi Jura 21 year old – review
From refill oloroso cask #2146, bottled at 54.2%. Priced around £185.
Colour: Beef stock.
On the nose: Really oily and dirty, which I am loving! Forest floor, mushrooms, soy sauce and engine oil. The dried fruits start to come through, figs, raisins and baked plums. A little cinnamon and a gentle pepper prickle. Burnt toast in the background. With time and water, I get a little barley sugar and wet hay.
In the mouth: Big oily mouthfeel. Burnt toast covered in fig jam. Umami next, maybe a stock cube? Soy sauce and marmalade. An earthy and musty peat comes through, followed by a black pepper prickle and meaty fried mushrooms. In the finish coffee grounds and musty warehouse. Water brought some wet hay but not much else.
Jura gets a lot of flak in the whisky community, including here on Malt. I do not have a lot of experience with their offerings, however from what little I have tasted I think there are many worse offenders in the business. I would personally take a Jura 10 over a Macallan sherry 12 without hesitation. As a result, I was really looking forward to tasting this indie example with Adelphi’s selection pedigree. On the night this was a marmite whisky and split the room. As a fan of ‘dirty’ whisky, for want of a better word, I found this fantastic. I really enjoyed the mixture of savoury and sweet notes throughout the nose and palate, with some background earthy funk and a punchy, oily delivery. It is a big, bold slap in the face whisky. Great use of a refill cask here too. In terms of price this is not far off the official 21yr old, and in line with other indies. I think this whisky perfectly demonstrates what that premium for an Adelphi cask pick is for, and in this case, it is absolutely worth it.
Adelphi Benrinnes 13 year old – review
From first fill oloroso cask #305385, bottled at 55.5%. Priced around £80.
On the nose: Cherry, eucalyptus, and something medicinal. Tunes cough drops! Blackcurrant jam, dulce de leche and rye bread. A hint of earthy tarragon in the background. Water brings more caramel sweetness and dried cherries. Big Red chewing gum also.
In the mouth: Rich, sticky and oily. Black cherry syrup, cherry cough drops and menthol. Tart redcurrant and undiluted ribena. Pepper and cinnamon spice with a hint of earthiness on the finish. Water brings more dried fruits with dried cherries and figs. A hint of rye on the finish.
I did not realise at first that this was a sample of that same Benrinnes described above. It was only after taking my notes and score that I was chatting to Connal and he pointed it out. While I enjoyed that previous sample casually, here I was diving deeper for notes. It is interesting that where I previously remembered figs being the dominant component, on this occasion it was all about the cherries. It is telling also that even without knowing they were identical; my final conclusions were the same. The flavours are pretty spectacular, and the luxurious mouthfeel is difficult to describe fully, however the first fill cask has completely taken over here, and I am left wanting a little more whisky with my sherry. The saving grace is the background earthiness and sharpness that just about temper the sticky sweetness. I can completely see how this would be perfect for those who love the big sherry bombs, however for those who enjoy a more balanced style this is a bit too much.
Adelphi Caol Ila 13 year old – review
From first fill oloroso cask #301264 bottled at 50.8%. Priced around £82.
On the nose: Wood varnish, soot, black cherry pipe tobacco and prunes wrapped in crispy bacon. Antiseptic, more coal dust and sea spray. Iodine and preserved lemons. Roast brisket with a five-spice rub. Dark roast coffee beans. With water a little more dried fruit sweetness, dark chocolate and toasted oak.
In the mouth: Sticky glazed burnt ends, spicy BBQ rub and sooty peat. Lemon and grapefruit zest. Iodine and TCP come through mixed with tangy cherry juice. A very long finish with coffee grounds, dark chocolate and barbecued meat. Water does not get me any further.
The winner of the evening for me by a country mile. If there is anything that beats sweet peat, it is the umami you get from meaty sweet peat. The holy grail for me, and this Caol Ila delivers by the barbecue load in that department. Where the Benrinnes was swamped by the first fill cask, here the robust sooty peat, citrus and medicinal notes help the distillate stand up to the sherry onslaught. In terms of price, accounting also for the Islay premium, I think this one is actually a bargain. I would gladly purchase a bottle, if I could find one that is! These sold out in minutes on RMW, preallocations to other smaller retailers were mostly sold off behind closed doors, and within days these were being flipped at auction. In this case it seems that getting to test driving the Aston backfired massively, as everyone wants one now!
Adelphi Mortlach 25 year old – review
From refill oloroso cask #4469 bottled at 56%. Priced around £235.
Colour: Light copper.
On the nose: A dried fruit medley with raisins, dates and figs. Christmas spices and a heavy cakey note. Baked apples, almonds and walnuts. A little caramel fudge in the background. Water brings mixed peel and cloves. Buttery salted caramel, barley sugar and marzipan.
In the mouth: Tart and sweet orchard and stone fruits: apples, peaches, apricots. Dried fruits come next with raisins and dates. Christmas spices, particularly cinnamon, and a very gentle black pepper. The almonds and walnuts come through and lead a lingering nutty finish with returning dried fruits. Water highlights the peaches and apricots. Orange zest develops alongside the fresh fruits and lasts into the finish. The spices are stronger now and mix with the black pepper to almost give spicy stem ginger. Stewed tea leaves in the finish.
This was a sample given to me by a friend to taste blind. My first impressions were that this was a speysider from a refill sherry cask. It had a lovely gentle sherry layer on top of quite a dense and heavy spirit, however I could not put my finger on the distillery. I also completely misjudged the ABV on this, thinking it well under 50%, which really surprised me when I learned that this was 56%. The alcohol is unbelievably well integrated here. After being put out of my misery with regards to the identity of the sample, I dived back in with the remainder to complete my notes. It is a layered and complex whisky with a lovely mixture of fresh and dried fruits, citrus and spice. I could easily nurse a dram of this all evening, which is exactly what I ended up doing. It was teetering on the verge of an 8, but I cannot say what exactly was missing to nudge it over the line. Regarding value, this is well priced when compared to other similar independents, and an absolute bargain when you compare it to anything official; for the price of one official Mortlach 26yr you could buy six of these Adelphis, and still have some change. Sadly, this would be well outside of my budget regardless, so I am very grateful to have tried it. Another great cask pick from Adelphi.
Score: 7/10 (creeping towards an 8)
Adelphi Laudale Batch 3 – review
A vatting of 4 first fill oloroso casks, Dailuaine 12yr, 46%. Priced around £55.
Colour: Prune juice.
On the nose: Sherry! Prunes, figs, raisins and black cherries. Faint Christmas spices, a hint of rye toast and dark chocolate. With time some wood varnish and lemon zest appear. A touch of salted caramel also. With water it becomes less sweet, sharper and less defined. A lot more oak and spice.
In the mouth: Not oily, but a reasonable mouthfeel. All the sherried fruits and spices from the nose. Cinnamon and clove are more defined now. A little pepper heat. Burnt toast with cherry jam into a long finish with walnut, apple cores and dark chocolate. I do not find water beneficial. Some orange and lemon zest emerges, but sweetness and body are replaced with a lot of added bitterness.
An enjoyable whisky! It is certainly well sherried, however there are elements that keep this interesting and lively for me, with notes of varnish, citrus and rye. Reduced to 46%, this does lose some of the body you get with the cask strength options, nevertheless it still retains a nice mouthfeel. I did not find adding any extra water improved things though. I think the idea behind these Laudales with larger vattings, reduction and competitive price points is to try and meet increasing demand with a good value, go-to sherried whisky. It fulfils that role perfectly, though sadly it still could not slake the fans’ thirst, and many of these have already been flipped for double the asking the price. I am lost as to why, as this is clearly meant to be an uncomplicated crowd pleaser. I will definitely be on the lookout for the next Laudale.
Adelphi Teaninich 12 year old – review
From first fill oloroso cask #301264, bottled at 55.9%. Priced around £80.
Colour: Peach iced tea.
On the nose: Quite tight and muted at first, all I get is some rye spice and cherry juice. This needs a lot of time and patience. Malt and barley sugar start to come through with a light grassiness also. Burnt sugar, cinnamon and cola bottles. With even more time (about an hour) I get dense malt loaf with salted butter and blackcurrant jam. Water brings heaps of fresh mint and some rye bread.
In the mouth: Rye bread, blackcurrant jam and cherry cola bottles. Quite fragrant and spicy with eucalyptus oil, cinnamon, sandalwood and lots of cracked black pepper. More sweet and sticky dried fruits, prunes, figs and macerated raisins. The finish I find quite short with a little orange zest and some returning rye bread. Water brings no new flavours. It tones down the spices and makes everything even sweeter.
This is well over my sherried limit, all sticky sweetness and little else. As a result, it is also extremely stubborn, and while I enjoy sitting with a dram and letting it unfold over time, this really tested the limits of my patience. Again, there is not much to fault, no glaring errors or off notes, however I want more from an £80 whisky. Even though a 5 is not a bad score, I could not help but feel disappointed by this one. Granted, this is probably also because I have some of that Dutch exclusive to compare it to, and that is a completely different animal.
Adelphi Breath of the Isles 11 year old – review
Cask unknown, bottled at 58.7%. 1 of 662 bottles. Priced around £70.
On the nose: Toffee apple, floral honey and toast slathered in salty butter. A whiff of woodsmoke. Orange and lemon oil. A very light background peat. Very light sherry notes come through with raisin bread and cinnamon. With water it becomes even more buttery, verging on clotted cream. Some more dried fruit notes, raisins and prunes. The peat is highlighted a little more and becomes earthy. Chocolate covered cranberries appear out of nowhere with burnt sugar.
In the mouth: Rich and oily mouthfeel. The sherry notes are more pronounced on the palate; raisin bread, prunes and cherry juice. Lemon zest and marmalade. Salt and black pepper. Cask char and burnt toast take over into the finish with just a hint of peat, salty liquorice, crisp apple and walnut. Water smooths the transitions between developing flavours. Amongst the dried fruits I am now also getting apple pie. The citrus notes last all the way through into an even longer finish.
Though the distillery and cask remain anonymous, I would guess we have Highland Park from a refill sherry cask, which suits this delicate style of peat perfectly. Again, a dram that could keep you occupied all evening, and playing with water and time brought really unexpected and interesting changes in flavour. I was teetering on the brink of an 8 with this one also, however the complexity of flavours, and particularly that moreish buttery quality, clinched the deal. Price was also a factor, as always. Anonymity comes with a small reduction in premium. As a drinker I care only about the quality in the bottle, so if that comes with a reduction in price, then even better! Highland Park is one of my pet peeves, a subject to tackle in a future piece, however I find the discrepancy between official and independent quality hugely frustrating. Independent bottles like this one show what spectacular quality the distillery is actually capable of. You never know though, perhaps I am wrong and it is not Highland Park after all.
Adelphi Bunnahabhain 10 year old – review
From first fill oloroso cask #900023, bottled at 59.3%. Priced around £100.
Colour: Dr Pepper.
On the nose: Needs time to settle the strong initial alcohol. Sultanas, creamy cashew butter and prunes. Cinnamon and sea salt. A little menthol comes through in the background. Tart cranberries, orange oil and a bit of warehouse funk. With more time redcurrants and dark chocolate. Takes to water well, revealing molasses, cinder toffee, wine gums, rye spice and milk chocolate covered peanuts.
In the mouth: Very oily and sticky with unexpectedly sweet dried fruits: dates, raisins, prunes. Then some welcome tangy cranberries cut through along with creamy marzipan. Dark chocolate with sea salt and orange zest leads into a finish where the spices really come to the fore, with pepper heat and cinnamon. Some walnuts appear too. Water reveals caramel sauce, however also adds some more sharpness in the form of tangy cherry juice and extra citrus that lasts through into the finish.
There are lots of wonderful flavours here, and thankfully the first fill cask has not completely taken over. The nose is the real star of the show for me, beautifully balanced and revealing more and more with time and water. Sadly, the palate does not quite live up to the expectation of the nose, delivering too much sweetness and less balance than I was expecting. Water does help to restore a bit of acidity; however, you lose some of the lovely creaminess. The biggest issue for me here is price. Caol Ila may be the runt of Islay, unfairly I think, however even that commands some extra premium. Even so the recent 13yr old above still manages to not break the £90 mark. At £100 for a 10yr old this is a step too far for me, especially with the slightly unbalanced palate.
In essence, it seems that I have provided myself, and hopefully some of you, with some rough guidelines when it comes to future Adelphi purchases. When it comes to the bourbon casks, I am reserving judgment before tasting a few more examples. If the release is from refill sherry, then I am almost certainly in for a treat. Three out of four of the whiskies I enjoyed most were from refill sherry casks, regardless of age or region. With confidence on the back of this tasting I have purchased the Glen Elgin refill sherry from the latest outturn. If, however, the origin is first fill sherry, then I need to proceed with serious caution, as the casks tend to dominate the whiskies too much for my tastes. I will still continue to sample releases based on recommendations, and I was also impressed with the value and quality provided by the Laudale. The notable exception, of course, is the Caol Ila. For my tastes at least, a more robust distillate is required to stand up to the powerful cask influence of a first fill cask, however as I have already pointed out, meaty sweet peat will always be a winner for me regardless. This was my favourite sample of all those I tasted and, if I could only own one, I would choose it without hesitation.
As I read back through all that looking for spelling mistakes, I realised that these tasting notes probably give you far more insight into my own tastes than they do into Adelphi itself. All whisky reviews are, by definition, highly subjective, however I think none more so than those for sherried whiskies. It feels as though there is only a hair’s breadth, or a drop of sherry even, that separates a whisky that will be deemed either balanced or over sherried. One drinker’s disappointment will be another’s delight. Whether your tastes align with mine it is impossible for me to say. As such, I would urge you to focus more on the tasting notes above, and less on the actual scores.
Apart from the lead image, all photographs from Adelphi.