Murray McDavid – Versailles

A few weeks ago, I was visiting Nijmegen and I couldn’t resist dropping by Versailles Dranken, a liquor store known for its wide selection of whiskies. As I was browsing the shelves the owner walked up to me and asked me if I cared to try a few samples. Now that’s something I love when I visit a liquor store, the ability to try before you buy. And it works because I usually go home with a couple of bottles!

The owner of Versailles clearly has a huge passion for whisky, which showed when we got to talking and he pulled one bottle after the other to tell me about it. Not as a sales pitch, but just to share the passion with a fellow whisky lover. I ended up trying five drams or so and went home with two new bottles for my collection. One of them was this Murray McDavid, which was bottled exclusively for Versailles.

This Murray McDavid Benchmark is an 8-year-old Caol Ila finished in a PX-Spínola cask. On the label it says it is the first edition, and with Versailles being a flagship store for Murray McDavid this might indicate we may see more exclusive bottlings for the store in the future. But for now, this Caol Ila already stood out amongst the line-up I got to try in the store, and I’m eager to give it a go again today!

Tasting Notes: Murray McDavid Benchmark – Versailles Bottling

ABV: 55,7% (111,4 proof)

Age: 8 years old

Distillery: Caol Ila

Owned by: Diageo

Category: Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Chill-Filtered: No

Natural Colour: Yes


It’s a lovely sunny Sunday and after playing around in the yard with my tools for a bit (catching up on some much-needed chores) it’s time to sit back and relax with a nice dram. I poured myself a glass of this Murray McDavid Versailles bottling neat into a glencairn, put some light jazz on in the background (in anticipation for a concert I’ll visit later today) and set about writing.


Even at arm’s length the scents of peat are already very apparent and like the sirens of old folktales they beckon me towards the glass. Vegetal notes of moss, grass and dirt mix with briny coastal influences. Burning driftwood clearly comes to mind. But there’s also some salted liqourice and when you look closely enough, you’ll find some vanilla and orange zest. The complexity is there, but it’s hiding behind a wall of intensely peated flavours. That’s not a bad thing though, it’s just the way I like it. Adding water reveals a very strong, yet pleasant, bacon note on the nose. Reminiscent of the smell you’ll get while baking a few strips.


From the get-go the palate is thick, dense and intense. The first thing I wanted to write down is that you start to notice the influence of the PX cask here, and you do but it got swept away by a tidal wave of peat before I could finish the sentence. I’m clearly getting honey, but also tons of liquorice root. And there’s soot, ashes and charred meat in there as well. All the flavours come at you with great force and all you can do is sit back and listen as they all shout for attention. If whisky was a tv-program, this dram would be the Jerry Springer show… or Jackass.

As you swallow, you’ll notice the ABV very clearly, and even though sometimes I feel like I want a dram to slap me around a little, I think this one could use a few drops of water. But once I do just that, I find that it in fact tames the dram very little. It does shift it more towards the sweeter honeyed influences of this dram. But it’s still ever so intense.


The finish is a lot shorter than you might expect from a sherry finished, heavily peated, cask strength dram. At first flavours of liquorice root, honey and maple glazed bacon linger in a very pleasant way. But it all fades away quite fast. A shame when the flavours are as mouth-watering as the finish on this dram. But then again, I’ve had drams where the finish was plain awful as well. And I’ll choose a short yet delicious finish over a long unpleasant one any day. Adding water seems to focus the finish on a candied honey note, and that note does seem to linger a fair bit longer. It’s still no more than a medium length finish though.


This is an excellent whisky if you’re a peat head. It brings all the flavours you’ll know and love in full force, not a single punch will be pulled. And I for one love that, albeit from time to time. For me, this is an occasional whisky. Not one I’d sip three or four glasses in a row from and definitely not one to try at the beginning of a flight. It’s also not very suited as a nightcap, because if anything this dram will wake you up. But if you’re looking for an intense experience, something that fits well with a walk on the beach during a storm. This is a dram for you. If you live in the Netherlands and you are a peat head? Then I can highly recommend dropping by Versailles and scoring a bottle for yourself before they run out. I paid roughly 85 euro for this dram, and for a cask strength single cask whisky I think that’s a fair price.





Click here to learn more about how I come up with my tasting notes. And how I determine rating and value.

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