Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Finlaggan Old Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I carry on quite a few email exchanges with people around the world.  Some people email me with questions like what would I recommend as a gift for someone.  I also get into conversations just about scotch and other whiskies in general.

Yochanan (his real name is Jon) is a regular contributor to comments on my reviews and so one day I thought, Jon if you write up a tasting note, I'll post it on this blog.  He agreed and so here we are.

Jon is a big fan of this independent bottler's offering.  It is a very affordable single malt scotch.  There is no age statement, but people in the industry tell me that it is probably a six year old Lagavulin.  Others say it is a six year old Laphroaig or Caol Ila.  As an independent bottler, the owner's of the Finlaggan Old Reserve brand, are not the owner's of a distillery, but rather simply buy the single malt of one and bottle and label it themselves.  So, one year it could be Lagavulin, while another year it may be Laphroaig.  Nevertheless, the bottom line is that if you like Islay scotch, that is to say, if you enjoy peat, you will enjoy this little gem.  Please read on:

Finlaggan (Old Reserve)- Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky

by Jon S.

Notes about the bottle: This whisky has won “gold” in the International Wine and Spirit Competition, according to the bottle. Additionally, there is quote containing praise from none other than Jim Murray, as
taken from his “whisky bible.” It goes on, “BRILLIANT,…this is simply awesome. If you don’t get a bottle of this, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”

Now, onto the dirty deed.

Nose (neat)
Fairly big, semi-sweet peat, some smoke, a little petrol, and seaweed.  Lacks the medicinal “edge“ one might find in the peatiest of the Islays. I also detect pears and anise, I believe, faintly behind all the peat. Nice nose. Strikes me as being relatively subdued whilst maintaining a stern, and probably quite young, classic Islay character.

Anyone who has experienced a particularly peaty Islay knows the kind of atmosphere a dram can create in a room. The peat-fires lit at the whiskeys development are seemingly rekindled, and the room can become a
tiny little peat bog. This is pleasing to the Islay enthusiast, as well as an annoyance to the non-fan who must also be in the room. The strength of the bon-fire nose on the Islay at hand in this review is little different, albeit a tad less strong than the likes of the three “peat monsters” (is it?) that our host Jason has detailed: Laphraoig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin. I consider the Finlaggan something borderline to this.

Palate (neat)
The palate flows through in a nearly perfectly parallel fashion from the nose. Right away: Big peat attack, with a large, spicy puff of cigar smoke following the tail-end of the increasingly sweet peat. I actually had a Romeo Y Julieta Habana Reserve (cigar) after my first night’s tasting of this scotch, and judging from the not-so-extreme complexity of the OR, makes it an ideal cigar-scotch, or scotch to sip with a cigar. The pears from the nose return mid-palate. I also even pick up a teensy bit of honey and sherry! This is nice, even if it is far from the most complex or sophisticated malt one could have: The flavors are mostly straight-forward off of the nose, and the more subtle flavors are nearly drowned out from the robust ones. Not a real flaw, though. This is, however, a no-age stated entry Finlaggan. I would be interested in trying out the cask strength of this whisky as well.

Finish (neat)
Lingering, persistent smoke, oak, and a little hot pepper. The finish is long.

Palate (diluted)
If one wants to experiment, feel free, but diluting any bit seem to only mute the more subtle notes and tame the peat a tad. This scotch is to be had neat, and only neat.

I have heard a very prevalent theory that this “mysterious” scotch is actually a young Lagavulin, and I suppose I can see this. Regardless, this is young scotch, perhaps between 6-8 years. While it tastes young,
it is actually relatively gentle (by Islay definition), a kind of interesting juxtaposition.

So, is there value for money here, Jon!?
You betcha. Once again, this isn’t the most complex scotch, but it is still thought-provoking to an extent and very enjoyable. In one regard, this whisky is robust. In another, it’s considerably gentler than a lot of other Islays. That, coupled with it’s smoothness, sweetness, and lack of medicinal character make this perhaps an ideal entry to Islay single malt scotch, and a little more appealing to newbies than, say, an Ardbeg 10 yr. Around my neck of the woods, a bottle runs around $30.  In less tax-hiked areas in the U.S, I have also heard of it running as low as $17. Very economical, and clearly a steal. I highly recommend the Finlaggan Old Reserve! Cheers!


  1. Hey Jon - thanks for the contribution, nice job! I'm going to try this little gem as soon as I find it around here.

  2. Thanks, Ripley! Finlaggan OR is a fantastic value, and even though I have heard of other locations having it for under $20 (!), I still think it was a big bang for the buck for the $32 and some odd cents I payed for my bottle. The more I drink it, I am thinking less of a resemblence to Lagavulin, and more to Caol Ila. But that is in my case here, with my bottle, and with my set of taste buds!

    Hats off to Jason for keeping up a quality blog. I am humbled and excited to have contributed, and look foward to what he has up his sleeve for the future with his blog. This blog has for me become among my top points of whiskey (and whisky!) reference.
    -Jon "Yochanan" S.

  3. $17 at trader joe's

  4. I'm kind of convinced what I had at that time was a young Caol Ila. The peat was Fairly strong, but not quite explosive. The smoke and the seaside character...Solid! For $30, I was satisfied quite well. I'm going to buy another bottle soon, and I wonder what my impressions will be this summer, about a year from now, a palate a wee more seasoned, and what is possibly...a different bottled whisky! Oh, Finalaggan, you mysterious tease!
    -Jon "Yochanan" S.!

  5. Thanks for the review Jason. For nearly a decade, I find the Finlaggan ($18 US) a terrific choice for low-cost cool weather sipping, as well as for mixing on warm days with ice and tonic. While many folks reach for the gin or vodka in Spring, the Fin is actually my "go-to" to bring some malt and peat flavors home year-round in a tumbler, mixed. The price is right, and it's definitely got enough "go" to stand up to the mix for me, and is far more interesting than typical branded blends as well. Come May or June, give a try !

  6. Only $72 in British Columbia! Thank you BC liquor taxes!!!

    1. Total rip-off price! Do not buy it. Wait till you get to the States or have a friend bring it back. Not worth that price.

      I know all about too much tax and state controlled liquor stores as I live in New Brunswick.

      I am currently on vacation in New Hampshire where a bottle Knob Creek goes for $23 and many single malts are in the $30's. I just shake my head at the taxes paid by us up north.

  7. thank you guest post!! recognizably similar..
    fun informative read & relate-able!! **thumbs

    personally quite enjoy this malt at the fore-mentioned priced <18>

    jason, would be interested on your take on this~ so if you get a chance... :)

  8. Jason, Do try to visit this malt sometime, as it's a cracking good malt what it's thought to be among our group: seven year old Laphroaig. We think it's been aged off island and lacking the medical/iodine elements ! Priced $18 here in SoCal, it's a great value too. JK

    1. I will do my best! Always love discovering a bargain priced scotch!

  9. Hello Jon and Jason and thank you for an excellent review on Finlaggan Old Reserve. We just finished comparison between two bottles of this whiskey. One was bottled in a green bottle about 5-6 years ago and one was delivered just today (most likely was bottled in 2013). The "2013" version was bottled in a clear bottle and judging from its color has a lot of caramel added to it, while the older version is quite pale and most likely has no any colorant in it. More interestingly, old bottle's nose and palate have a lot of Lagavulin character and looks like a dilute version of the Lagavulin 12 yo cask strength. The new "2013" version, on the other hand, has a lot of Laphroaig 10 yo character although is much, much less intense on both nose and palate. So, it seems that folks at Finlaggan indeed purchase whatever they can from Islay and distribute it as a single malt Finlaggan whiskey after short maturation process. Again, although both versions looks like a baseline/single profile whiskeys and have much less intense nose and palate compared to the regular Islay single malts, I think that both of them are good malts for the money ($25.99 for the old version and $23.99 for a new one)... Since I got several bottles of a new version of Finlaggan - it will be interesting to see how this malt will mature in a small 1L virgin American oak barrel. I will keep you posted on a progress in a month or so. Sorry for my English - not a native speaker.