Darkness 8-Year-Old (AtB) vs Glenmorangie Milsean

I’m nearly finished with the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar presented last year by Drinks By The Dram. Yesterday, I was impressed with the inclusion of The Macallan 12-year-old Double Cask, and today’s 23rd dram of this journey is a mysterious Darkness 8-Year-Old with a Sherry Finish. I seem to recognize this label and quickly jump to Atom Brands, who, I confirm, is the owner of this range, along with the Drinks By The Dram collection. Ah, I see what they did here. I wonder what the final dram will be [opens the box to find out – aha!]. Okay, so let’s discover this together, alongside the Glenmorangie Milsean, but first, we need music! Now playing: Stationary Travels – Annum 2021.

This Darkness 8-year-old is indeed a single malt, apparently from Speyside, although from an unnamed distillery. I won’t begin to guess its origin, but it is indeed a little young, even though, after its initial rest in bourbon casks, it has been “express-matured” for 6 months in “sherried octave casks”. I’ll go ahead and guess that “sherried” here just means “seasoned”. And an “octave cask” is about one-eighth of a sherry butt (hence the ‘octa-‘ in the word), holding only 50 litres of spirit. All that means is that the spirit had plenty of “sherried wood” to interact with for six months, absorbing flavours and aromas relatively quickly. And although while sipping, I may taste the sherried flavour and compare it to an older, smoother Scotch with notes of caramel and sherry, at 47.8%, it’s still a relatively immature and slightly rugged dram, with alcohol just cutting through that veil of fruity sweetness on the palate. The bottle goes for £50 [or somewhere around there], and it’s charming in design. It’s non-chill filtered baring 100% of its natural colour and is a pleasant dram, but slightly unrefined and simply could use the extra time in either barrel. Perhaps it’s better over ice or in a cocktail with some fruit.

I compare it with the Glenmorangie because, well, it’s been a while since I’ve tried this one. I’ve had this bottle for a time (probably 5 years!), and when the cork dried out had to move it to a decanter on a shelf. I keep forgetting what’s inside and feel that now is as good a time as any to revisit. Glenmorangie is a highland distillery with the tallest stills in all of Scotland. Besides its Original (10-year-old), 18-year-old and 25-year-old bottlings, it often releases special editions and “finishes” alongside its standard range. This Milsean [pronounced “meel-shawn”, which means “sweet things” in Gaelic] is one of those, a “Private Edition” single malt created from a non-age statement spirit aged in bourbon casks [okay, it’s the same original Glenmorangie 10-year-old] and then “extra-matured” in Portuguese wine barrels [for another two-and-a-half years], which have been re-toasted for this purpose. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and claims to deliver “intense candied fruit and mouth-watering sweetness.” Unfortunately, my decanter let it go – since I do not detect any “intenseness”. That being said, perhaps next to the Darkness, which also claims to be a range of “intensely sherried whiskies“, it’s the same and doesn’t punch with all that sweetness on the palate. Should I explore it next to something not so ardent? Perhaps I would detect more notes of candied fruit and sugared almonds. It’s clearly older than the 8-year-old, as I can tell in all its smooth and round corners in the finish.

So what’s the verdict here, friends? I have to say, I’m slightly disappointed by the promise. The powerful and “in-your-face” campaign set for the Darkness got my expectations high! It’s DARKNESS, don’t you see? I wanted it to seep inside and make my soul all dark and trembling! But it has come up very short and, frankly, gimmicky at best. I wasn’t much convinced that Darkness was the theme here. Meanwhile, Glenmorangie’s “limited edition annual release” has also under-delivered. This bottle, released in 2016, is now sold for close to £130 in the collector’s market (if you can find it) but probably is worth the same as the $99 that I paid. It’s a great whisky, please don’t fret, but it does not particularly stand out next to the Darkness. So which one wins this round, you say? I’ll have to say that it’s Laphroaig 20-year-old, independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company (also owned by Atom Brands), which I’ve been sipping on a side after the above, a little unimpressive pairing.

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