Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This is a late 1980’s bottling of Ardbeg 1974 in the Connoisseurs Choice series from Gordon & MacPhail. Many expressions from this legendary vintage have been bottled with a CC label, but this is probably the first (youngest) of them all, with the classic brown label.

Until 1974, Ardbeg relied almost entirely on its own maltings to produce peated malt. After that it started to use more external malt and the maltings were closed down entirely in 1977. Therefore 1974 is widely considered the end of a style era.



Ardbeg 1974 - Gordon & MacPhail - Connoisseurs ChoiceArdbeg 13 yo 1974 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice +/- 1988)

Nose: typical raw tar and highly expressive maritime notes. Flax ropes, smoked fish, dried kelp… Also lots of tiny notes like eucalyptus, camphor, iodine, kippers, chamomile and wet hay. Classic lemon. Subtle hints of diesel and undertones of sweet pipe tobacco, which makes the whole very attractive and warm. Quite superb, I don’t like my Ardbeg too austere but this is just fine. Mouth: fairly sweet, again the pipe tobacco is really unique here. Cigar boxes. Sweet marzipan and maple syrup. Nice waxy notes. Plenty of sweet peat and Lapsang tea. Surprisingly flavoursome and smoky for this ABV. Fades on all kinds of herbal notes, a bit of Fernet-Branca and cough syrup. Finish: long, peaty and herbal, with smoked fish and tar.

The combination of a young age and the right vintage makes for a peaty, complex Ardbeg. Always a treat. Around € 600 in auctions.

Score: 92/100

I admit I don’t have much experience with official releases of The Glenlivet. I will try to remember this the next time I order a bunch of samples.

Anyway here’s the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, launched in March and named in honour of the distillery’s founder, George Smith. It is supposed to replace the pretty iconic Glenlivet 12 Year Old by summer. That means one of the best selling malt whiskies in the world is replaced, at least in a list of key markets!

When people lamented over this news, Glenlivet’s brand ambassador said the Founder’s Reserve is more vibrant than the 12 Year Old. People judge whisky by age, but you should judge it by taste. Please, not that stupid excuse again, especially when the age went down while the price went up!

It is a mix of predominantly first-fill and some refill American oak casks.



Glenlivet Founder's ReserveGlenlivet ‘Founder’s Reserve’
(40%, OB 2015)

Nose: full of very young whisky aromas. Banana, lots of pear drops and pineapple sweets. Orange cubes. Quite attractive, but a bit synthetic, with a hint of Revell glue to make it complete. Coconut flakes. Citrus notes, vanilla and light grassy / minty touches as well. Mouth: light and malty. The same pear sweets and oranges. Becomes more zesty and caramelly after a while. Hints of sawdust and nutmeg. Increasingly drier and spicier. Ends on a beer note. Finish: shortish and pretty generic (spicy oak, coconut and vanilla).

On its own, this is a thin, accessible malt whisky with no rough edges but no personality either. That may be an asset for some audiences, I guess. Most of all it is a highly symptomatic whisky. Around € 35.

Score: 76/100

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, the youngest expression in the core range, is a mix of young spirit matured in red wine casks with +/- 20 years old malt from sherry casks and some 12 years old malt from Mizunara casks.



Yamazaki Distiller's ReserveYamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
(43%, OB 2014)

Nose: quite attractive, a little on the soft side but nicely fruity (strawberries with cream, red berries, lemon candy) with some coconut flakes. A lot of vanilla ice cream. Interestingly there’s also the typical oriental touch, with sandalwood, floral notes, incense and ginger. Mouth: sweet and spicy. Peaches on syrup, raspberries and honey. Redcurrants. Again mixed with spicy oak, cinnamon and ginger. Becomes fairly zesty towards the end. Finish: the zesty notes are joined by some tannins but the honey is still there as well.

A really nice introduction to Japanese whisky, especially at this competitive price. Around € 60.

Score: 87/100

You all know Longrow is the double distilled, peated single malt from Springbank distillery. It’s been a while since I tried the 2011 edition, so let’s try the latest version.



Longrow 18 YearsLongrow 18 yo
(46%, OB 2014)

Nose: dry cigar ashes, with hints of flax and wet limestone. Some fruity notes (apples, maybe papaya) but they are a bit hidden behind a greasy / oily layer. A hint of vanilla. Tobacco leaves. Some wet earth too. Mouth: sweeter and more syrupy than expected, with stewed apples, plums and a hint of vanilla custard. Walnut cake. An uncommon combination with the mineral notes and kippers, but it works well. Peppery notes, a light meaty touch and deep soot underneath. Fades on waxy notes. Finish: long, peaty and ashy, with a leathery dryness but sweet berries as well.

Longrow 18yo is still a unique whisky, a combination of oldskool austerity and attractive rounder notes. Not easy, but very interesting. Limited but still available: around € 125.

Score: 90/100

The other day I was invited to a Mortlach press dinner in Brussels, where the three new core expressions of The Beast of Dufftown had their Benelux premiere. I was a bit surprised, as the revamped Mortlach have been available internationally since April 2014. Such regional differences are difficult to enforce when everyone has access to the internet and is buying pretty much everywhere, right?

See my post about the Mortlach 18 Year Old for more background information.


Georgie Bell (c) Mathias Roelants


It was a great experience with nice people and some good food pairing (I liked the coffee sauce with the guineafowl, okay?) and a charming presentation by the international brand ambassador Georgie Bell.


Mortlach Ice Stamp (c) Mathias RoelantsIt was interesting to try their new Mortlach ice stamp, a metal stamp that allows you to “burn” the family crest of the distillery founders George and Alexander Cowie onto a (big) block of ice, simply with the heat of your hand. A gimmick maybe, but it worked well.

The audience seemed to prefer the whisky without the ice, but I can imagine bloggers, bartenders and retailers are not representative for the general whisky drinker.



With its typical 2.81 times distillation, Mortlach is technically always a vatting of spirit produced in different stills, which results in different layers of character. The distillery has always been known for its meaty, savoury style but it can really go in different directions when coupled to certain cask types.

The new range was inspired greatly by history. For example the bottling strength of 43,4% refers to early 1900’s US bottlings of Mortlach that were 86.8 proof. Also the style of the bottles was inspired by Art Deco craftmanship, with specifically shaped glass combined with ornate metal elements.


Mortlach whisky (c) Mathias Roelants


For this review, we’ll focus on the top of the range, the Mortlach 25 Year Old. It is made up of refill American oak hogsheads. Like the other bottles in the range, it is only available in 50cl.



Mortlach 25 Year OldMortlach 25 yo (43,4%, OB 2014)

Nose: fresh and vibrant. A very fruity core, including oranges, apricots, honeydew melon and a faint hint of passion fruits. Also nice honey and floral scented candles. Then a little toffee and vanilla. Hints of exotic woods and incense. It seems the typical meaty side is less prominent here and we’re seeing more of the old American oak character here. Mouth: again not as fat as some other Mortlachs, but nicely energetic. Quite sweet, with peaches on syrup, plums and a hint of Turkish delight. Soft mint and eucalyptus (cough drops indeed). Still some honey and polished wood. Speculoos. Nice star anise too. Finish: rather long and honeyed, becoming more spicy and earthy now (pepper, liquorice).

A very rich, complex dram with a character that’s more classical and slightly less typical for this distillery. The perfect highlight in a very solid range, but now for the bad news: it’s around € 770 for 50 cl.

Score: 90/100

Another Aultmore, this time distilled in 1997 so roughly twice the age. It was bottled by Berry Bros & Rudd, who have bottled several sister casks in the past few years (3581, 3582, 3584…).



Aultmore 1997 - Berrys' Own SelectionAultmore 17 yo 1997 (46%, Berrys’ Own Selection 2014, cask #3591)

Nose: lots of freshly cut grasses at first. Slowly becomes more fruity, mainly common garden fruits. Pears, gooseberries, greengages. Also a hint of green banana. Hints of sweet barley and honey as well. Mouth: sweet and fruity again, with a buttery texture. Banana and vanilla. Apples. Nice hints of wild strawberries and melons as well. Picks up more grassy notes, one or two walnuts and a little toasted oak. Fairly simple and easy-going. Finish: good length. Herbal honey and thick fruity sweetness.

This is a different side of Aultmore, much more naked and a delight for blenders. Or single malt drinkers for that matter. Great cardplayers whisky. Around € 120.

Score: 86/100

The latest release in the Archives series is this Aultmore 2007, bottled at a whopping strength of 67,4%.



Aultmore 2007 ArchivesAultmore 8 yo 2007
(67,4%, Archives ‘Fishes of Samoa’ 2015, sherry butt #900016, 172 btl.)

Nose: sweet and spicy, like gingerbread. Red fruits (raspberry, strawberry). Caramel and molasses. Light vegetal hints (tomato plants) as well as some fresh oak shavings. Mouth: drinkable at full strength, but rather closed. Sweet, showing red fruit candy and pomegranate. Pepper. With water more jammy fruits, milk chocolate and fig syrup. Rum and raisins. Mocha. Noticeable oak, with a minty / peppery edge. Finish: long, sweet fruits and spicy oak.

Another high pressure youngster from a very active cask. I think the Daily Dram version was slightly better, this one needs some fiddling with water to get it right. Available from Whiskybase, around € 65.

Score: 85/100

Spey 18 Year Old

13 May 2015 | Speyside

SPEY is a brand created by Harvey’s of Edinburgh, a Scottish company with a history in whisky that goes back to the 18th Century. They owned Dundashill, Yoker, Bruichladdich and Aultmore and for instance. It’s still a family business with a presence that’s biggest in Asia (especially Taiwan).

A few years ago the family bought the Speyside distillery which is also responsible for the Cu Dhub whisky and brands like Drumguish.

The range seems to change according to your location. The core range seems to consist of a Spey 12 Year Old, this Spey 18 Year Old and the Port-finished Spey Tanné. I’ve also found references to a Spey Chairman’s Choice, Royal Choice, Lord Byron’s Choice, Golden Choice and a Michael Owen Limited Edition (this former football player acts as a global ambassador for the brand).

Spey 18 Year Old is a limited edition of 1500 bottles, matured in fresh sherry casks.



Spey 18 Year OldSpey 18 yo
(46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)

Nose: nice actually. Creamy fruits (gooseberries, pears, caramelized figs). A lot of honey as well as some pleasant waxy notes. Vanilla custard. Vanilla fudge. Sweet walnuts too. Mouth: again sweet and creamy, smooth and approachable. Vanilla cream, orange candy. Too bad it becomes a little bland and rough after a while, with spicy notes and a bitter edge. Finish: long, but the roughness remains.

All this Michael Owen marketing tends to have an adverse effect on me, but on the nose I was pleasantly surprised by by the simple, attractive aromas. The palate is a bit less convincing. Not bad but € 105 isn’t cheap of course.

Score: 80/100



August 2015
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Coming up

  • Highland Park 1995 (Whisky Mercenary)
  • Irish Single Malt 27yo 1988 (The Nectar of the Daily Drams)
  • Irish Single Malt 16yo 1999 (The Nectar of the Daily Drams)
  • Bunnahabhain 1987 (Maltbarn)
  • Glen Garioch 1993 (Maltbarn)
  • Glenlivet 42yo (Cadenhead)
  • Auchentoshan 1994 (Whisky Agency)
  • Blended Malt Extra Old (Whisky Agency)
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection
  • Teeling 26yo Vintage Reserve
  • Springbank 2001 vintage

1861 notes by Ruben

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