Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This is the latest 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old. No need to introduce it: a yearly special release, aged in refill American oak. And always among the most affordable of Diageo’s Special Releases.

 

 

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (2014 edition)Lagavulin 12 yo (54,4%, OB 2014, 14th release, 31.428 btl.)

Nose: leafy peat with chalky notes, sour dough and hints of plastics. Sweet apples in the background, as well as some vanilla toffee. Lemon. Plenty of medicinal notes. Very much to the point, with fewer young notes than last year, I’d say. Mouth: oily, pungent, herbal and slightly rough but also surprisingly sweet. A jammy ashtray. Or pastry near a beach bonfire. Mocha. Grapefruits. Lots of coastal notes. Returns to sweet herbs. Finish: long, rather bitter / herbal, but always sweet as well.

The 12 Year Old has never been my favourite Lagavulin but I think this is one of the best releases I’ve come across. Around € 110.

Score: 88/100


Last night I had a chance to try three cask samples from Balblair distillery in an online Twitter tasting. Three single casks filled at the start of the Millennium.

One of them was a classic ex-bourbon barrel (#1350), a second one #0191 was a bourbon cask as well, but one that had been used to mature peated whisky before. The last one was a first-fill sherry butt #1345, a sister cask of #1343 that was bottled exclusively for The Whisky Exchange about a month ago. Balblair doesn’t fill much sherry casks – the official Balblair 2000 vintage was entirely matured in first fill American oak for example.

As it turns out, they were simply cask samples and “you may see one of them bottled in a not so distant future”. Given the fact that TWE’s cask sold out so fast, releasing #1345 would make a lot of sense, but personally I think both number 1 and 3 deserve to be bottled.

 

 

balblair-2000-single-cask-0191Balblair 2000 (53%, OB 2014, second fill barrel #1350)

Nose: really fresh – this kind of estery bourbon maturation is what Balblair does best. Some banana and pear, after a while also pineapple and tangerine. Floral notes and lots of peaches. Quite some lactic notes, like creamy coconut and horchata milk. Subtle hints of vanilla and mint. Mouth: really punchy, almost fizzy, with lots of vanilla and coconut and a firm spicy, oaky side. Reminds me of grain whisky in a way. Apples. Lemon sherbet and marzipan on a second level. Pepper and ginger. Better with water in a way, although it also makes it slightly fragrant (say orange oil). Finish: long, oaky, with aniseed and ginger.

Great nose on this one, an überclassic example of Balblair’s profile. The palate brought the final score down quite a bit. It needs water to take away the graininess and make the nicer notes stand out more.

Score: 86/100

 

 

 

balblair-2000-cask-1350-peatedBalblair 2000 (52,4%, OB 2014, second fill peated cask #0191)

 

Nose: the total opposite. Much drier, less freshness and less fruity pleasure. Not much peat as such, but some earthy notes, a bit dirty. Wet leaves. Buttery popcorn and pencil shavings. Dusty apples. Mouth: oily texture, much more peaty hints now, alongside liquorice, pepper and ginger. Hints of buttered toast. verall rather earthy. Finish: medium long, dry, slightly ashy with a slight grapefruit note and cinnamon powder.

Well, this is not for me. Using a peated cask is an experiment that Balblair did before with much better results (Balblair 1990 cask #1463).

Score: 79/100

 

 

 

Balblair 2000 single cask #1345Balblair 2000 (53,1%, OB 2014, first-fill European oak Oloroso butt #1345)

Nose: like a double-fortified Oloroso sherry actually. Very nice dry Oloroso profile, figs and dates. Juicy sherry, with blackberry jam and stewed prunes. Nice gingerbread. Black cherries. Cinnamon syrup – a lot. Dark chocolate. A great nose, not dry in any way, with nice touches of waxed furniture. Mouth: sherry galore again, with a good balance between fruity notes and spices. Mexican chocolate. Rancio. Leathery notes, cinnamon powder, hints of walnut cake. And bags of brambles. Finish: long, with the bramble keeping strong, some clove and surprisingly little plain oak.

This is a style rarely seen from Balblair, but the fruity spirit works very well with a quality sherry cask and still manages to have its say.

Score: 89/100


As mentioned earlier, the Bacardi group has big plans for its five single malt distilleries, with new core expressions for each of them, as well as single cask releases and other high-end expressions next year.

 

Craigellachie - new whisky range

 

We’ve already had the repackaged Aberfeldy 12 Years, now we’ll look at the brand-new Craigellachie range, which consists of a 13 Year Old, a 17 Year Old and a 23 Year Old. There’s also a 19 Year Old for travel retail. A 31 Year Old will be launched next year. So far we’ve only tried Craigellachie from independent bottlers.

First up is this Craigellachie 17 Year Old, supposedly the most interesting expression from a price / quality perspective. It was matured in American oak casks.

 

Craigellachie 17 Year OldCraigellachie 17 yo (46%, OB 2014, Batch 98-ZC21)

Nose: bright and fruity, lots of pears, gooseberries and grape juice. Lots of vanilla, a bit of plain oak. Soft floral notes, some cinnamon. A light waxiness. Very fresh and summery. Mouth: again really refreshing. Lots of citrus, slightly tart but balanced by some honey and vanilla cream. Pineapple. You can tell this is newish American wood, but well done. Spices too of course, light pepper, ginger and cinnamon. The citrus notes become more zesty towards the end. Finish: medium long, spicy, with an almondy aftertaste and lemon.

This is a slightly modern but very good Craigellachie. Absolutely nothing to complain, it’s just that almost every distillery has well-made whisky these days. Arriving in stores – around € 90.

Score: 85/100


The Whiskyman ReturnsThe Whiskyman was already known for his ‘guitar label’ (among others) which featured ‘whiskyfied’ titles of legendary rock songs, like Sympathy for the Whisky or Peat fighting man.

In the same tradition there’s now a brand-new series with black labels inspired by hard rock / metal songs. The first two releases refer to Iron Maiden: a Bowmore 2003 ‘Children of the Dramned’ and this Glen Scotia 1992 ‘Run to the Stills’.

 

Glen Scotia 1992 - The WhiskymanGlen Scotia 1992 ‘Run to the Stills’
(51,3%, The Whiskyman 2014)

Nose: old-fashioned whisky, with lots of leather and coal. Some ink and hints of paraffin. Hay. Linseed oil. There’s a sweeter layer underneath (apples, lemon, oats, almond milk even). Picks up more toasted notes over time, nice and complex. Mouth: again a little weird actually, but in a good way. It’s earthy and herbal, with a distinct bitterness (walnuts, gentian) but also a balancing sweet side (chocolate coated pears). Roasted coffee beans. Smoky, ashy notes again. Pepper and mint. At first I even found a slightly fishy side (something like tasty smoked sardine) but after a while I seemed to get used to the profile and this didn’t stand out any more. Finish: long, with some chocolate, spices, salt and earthy notes.

A slightly controversial whisky maybe, not for beginners in any case. I love it for its complexity, its surprisingly anti-modern profile and unusual flavours. Around € 110.

Score: 90/100


QV.ID, the Belgian drinks shop between Leuven and Brussels, has a family history of 115 years, but the makeover and focus on whisky took place exactly five years ago.

To celebrate, Koen selected an anniversary bottling, a Benriach 1991 from the Malts of Scotland stocks.

 

BenRiach 1991 for QV.ID - Malts of ScotlandBenRiach 23 yo 1991 (50,8%, Malts of Scotland 2014, bourbon barrel, ref. MoS 14031, 177 btl.)

Nose: quite a typical, fruity Benriach nose. Summer fruits: watermelon, peach, sweet pear. Hints of marshmallow. A coconut / vanilla combo. Honey and marzipan. A soft grassy / minty edge as well. Nice and clean, really aromatic. Mouth: very bright and fruity again. Honey, vanilla cream, pears and tangerines. Hints of cake. Added weight is achieved through pepper and liquorice from the oak. Quite some floral hints as well. Ginger. Even a very light saltiness. Finish: long, still fruity (some grapefruit now), plus some spices.

Good, fruity Benriach. Pretty naked and with a balanced influence from the oak. Available from QV.ID of course. Good news for foreign visitors by the way: they’ll open a web shop in November.

Score: 88/100


There are different versions of Ardbeg 1973 bottled by Sestante in Italy. They’re all 14 or 15 years old, some are bottled in clear glass, others in green glass. The best ones are bottled at cask strength, this one is at 43%.

 

Ardbeg 15yo 1973 SestanteArdbeg 15 yo 1973
(43%, Sestante 1988, 75cl.)

Nose: very very gentle, like a herbal tea (chamomile, tilia). Some wet paper, dusty books, old chalk. Soft fruity notes like apples and melons. Sweet almonds. Dried seaweed, hints of canvas. Coastal hints as well. Mouth: incredible smoothness with more cold ashes than actual peat. Very sweet, almost pastry-like notes and mint syrup. Marzipan and nougat. Something of cough drops. Sweet liquorice root and honey. Some anise seeds and candied ginger. Quite lovely but not the peaty kick you might expect from Ardbeg (even for 1970’s standards it’s very suble). Finish: not too long, on mint and cocoa. Return of the chamomile.

Such a gentleman’s Ardbeg, with the soft ashes and plenty of honey. Rather atypical but really lovely. I can see why the higher strength versions became legendary. Around € 1000.

Score: 92/100


There are three new Maltbarn releases: Clynelish 1997, Ledaig 2005 and this Burnside 1989. Three references that lots of independent bottlers are offering these days.

Most of these teaspooned Balvenies seem to come from a batch of #1244x and #1245x casks filled in June 1989.

 

Burnside 1989 MaltbarnBurnside 25 yo 1989 (50,9%, Maltbarn 2014, bourbon cask, 167 btl.)

Nose: aromatic whisky, very fresh and vivid. It has taken quite a lot from the wood, but nicely so. Lots of garden fruits and light honey. Greengages and pear. Gooseberries. Yellow flowers. Vanilla. Lovely waxy notes and varnish too. Mouth: totally revolves around peaches, plums and honey again. Then some pepper and liquorice from the (active) oak, as well as a certain ‘greenness’. Vanilla and ginger. Pollen. Nice twist towards toffee and mocha in the end. Finish: medium long, similar green, grassy notes. Some green tea and echoes of fruits, mainly apples now.

Really enjoyable, fresh whisky from active casks. Simply well-made Balvenie. Around € 125.

Score: 88/100


The Manager’s Dram series was selected by and bottled for distillery managers of the United Distillers group (now Diageo), but it came to an end when a lot of employees started selling their rare bottle to gain some extra income. I’ve already reviewed the Caol Ila 15yo Manager’s Dram in the past.

Last Monday I had a whisky tasting with the Fulldram club and this Glen Ord 16 Years ‘Manager’s Dram’ (distilled around 1975) was my favourite of the evening (and the group winner). Just to give you an idea: it defeated an Ardbeg 1973 and a Caperdonich 1972.

 

Glen Ord 16 Years - Manager's DramOrd 16 yo ‘Manager’s Dram’
(66,2%, OB 1991, refill cask)

Nose: starts fairly neutral, vaguely fruity, on sweet malt and pears. My first thoughts were ‘I really like this, but I can’t really tell why’. It opened up nicely, with polished leather, subtle pineapple cubes and Toblerone Fruit & Nut. A little heather honey and eucalyptus. Bergamot oil. Membrillo. Becomes much fruitier over time. Lots of subtleties eventually. Mouth: very drinkable at cask strength, with a burst of fruitiness (melon, oranges, apricots) and leather. Chocolate notes. A noticeable saltiness as well. Some herbal notes before turning back to fruits and toffee sweetness. Finish: maybe not the longest ever, but very nice.

A great surprise (well, not really). A benchmark bottling for Glen Ord, simple as that. The Whisky Exchange has it available for around € 500.

Score: 93/100


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Coming up

  • SIA Blended Scotch
  • Ardmore Legacy
  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Clynelish 21yo 1992 (Cadenhead)
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)
  • Aberlour 8yo (cube, small cork)

1644 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.