Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This Laphroaig 1991 is part of the recent series by Liquid Sun. It was matured in a sherry hogshead, which is always an eye-opener. The distillery itself never uses sherry wood to mature its normal production, but independent sherried Laphroaig can be really good.

 

Laphroaig 1991 Liquid SunLaphroaig 20 yo 1991 (53,3%, Liquid Sun 2011, sherry hogshead, 279 btl.)

Nose: impressive notes of tar and smoked meats: cecina de Léon, grison, barbecued streaky (pork belly)… nicely mixed with muted medicinal notes and gouache paint. Coal smoke. Quite sweet as well, with tobacco and some dried fruits. Blackberry jam? Nice balance. Water brings the spices out. Mouth: again very smoky and ashy, with burnt toast and plenty of liquorice, a little pepper and salt. Then the sherry comes through, still showing sweet notes of ripe dark fruits (cassis especially) and chocolate. Nice tobacco notes and espresso. Finish: long, drier, smoky and a bit salty with a little coffee. And back to the smoked bacon.

As I said, sherried Laphroaig can be really good. This one has quite an excellent combination of deep smoke and dark fruits. Recommended. Too bad the rarity makes the price slightly heavier than I hoped for… Around € 150.

Score: 91/100


White Oak is a Japanese distillery near Kobe, run by a company named Eigashima. Although the company has a long history in distillation (mainly sake and shochu but also whisky since 1919) their first single malt was not released until 2007, an 8 years old now replaced by a 12 years old. They’re labelled Akashi after the town the distillery is in.

In Europe we can now find limited quantities of three White Oak versions: a blended version at 40% and the 5yo and 12yo single malt versions.

 

Akashi White Oak 5yoAkashi White Oak 5 yo (45%, OB 2011)

Nose: smooth with lots of yellow apple, powder sugar and angelica fruits. A bit synthetic. Honeyed tea. Corn flakes. Unfortunately there’s also a yeasty / rubbery side to it which doesn’t seem to fit, a strange mixture of plastics and cookie dough. Mouth: sweet with a rather weak attack. A simple malty core, with plenty of apple flavours again (cider) and grainy notes. Ginger maybe, but that’s about it. Not exactly raw but pretty immature and synthetic nonetheless. Finish: very short and rather grainy.

Although Eigashima is proud of its oldest Japanese license to distil whisky, this White Oak is a far way from more experienced producers like Yamazaki or Karuizawa. Around € 45.

Score: 67/100


Here’s the other “steady cracker” I was talking about when reviewing the Glen Grain Class by Malts of Scotland. It’s supposed to be a vatting of Glenrothes distilled in 1992 and matured in bourbon hogsheads, but remember the contents can change when batches are renewed.

 

Glen Speyside ClassGlen Speyside Class 18 yo
(50%, Malts of Scotland 2011, batch n°1)

Nose: fruity and honeyed. Baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon. Pear syrup. Apricot jam. Some great pastry notes. Demerara sugar. Heather and hay. Mouth: similarly sweet and fruity, very honeyed. Apple pie with raisins. Fructose. All sorts of fruit jams. Sugar coated nuts. Heather and light pepper in the end. Even a faint hint of smoke. Finish: sweet, softly spiced.

This Glen Speyside Class is much better than the Glen Grain Class in my opinion, and more typical for its type of whisky. Sweet, rounded, with decent complexity. Good to see it’s still possible to find a tasty 18yo single malt under € 50, bottled at 50%, uncoloured and un-chillfiltered. Around € 45.

Score: 84/100


Blanton's whiskeyBack in 1984, Blanton’s was the world’s first single barrel bourbon. It means every batch will be slightly different and each of the characteristic bottles bears a bottling date, barrel number and warehouse indication. Did you know there are eight different signature stoppers, featuring a racing horse in different strides, each with a single letter of the name Blanton’s?

The range is made up of the Special Reserve (40%), Original Single Barrel (46,5%), Gold Edition (51,5%) and Straight from the Barrel (cask strength). Regardless of the bottling strength, all versions have the same mash type, cask charring and maturation.

 

Blanton's Original Single BarrelBlanton’s Original Single Barrel (46,5%, OB 2007, barrel #158, warehouse H, dumped 1/2/2007)

Nose: fairly dry for a commercial bourbon and quite spicy (cinnamon, pepper), with leather and maple syrup standing out. Almonds and marzipan. Burnt sugar. If you swirl it around, sweet marmalade and toffee appears. Fresh oak and hints of mint as well. Less sweet and less vanilla than I expected, but very good. Mouth: a weak and rather vague attack, smooth but not as full as I hoped (maybe a higher strength could solve this). Very minty with other spices following quickly (pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg). Cough sweets. Big (charred) oaky flavours. Tobacco. Missing some roundness. Finish: dry and spicy.

Pleasantly dry, oaky and spicy on the nose, but maybe a tad too much of all that on the palate. Still a nice bourbon. Around € 35.

Score: 80/100


Apart from their single cask releases, Malts of Scotland also launched a “budget series” called the Glen Classes. These bottles have a different design and try to offer high quality for a small amount of money. Most of them are still single malts (grains) but the distilleries are not mentioned on the labels, so they might change as batches sell out.

When launched last year, there was Glen First Class (a Glenfarclas distilled in 2000) and Glen Peat Class (17yo vatted Islay malt). Recently they were joined by Glen Speyside Class (18yo Glenrothes) and this Glen Grain Class, a vatting of 4 sherry butts filled at the North British distillery in 2000.

 

Glen Grain ClassGlen Grain Class 2000
(50%, Malts of Scotland 2011, batch n°1)

Nose: not the vanilla / coconut combo I was expecting. Lighter, definitely mintier and less warm. Hints of grapes and green banana. Sawdust. Fresh herbs. Overall a bit alcoholic, like wodka or schnapps. Hints of unlit matches. Not bad actually, just not the expected grain profile. Mouth: sweet start (powder sugar, grain cookies), evolving to herbs again (gin or schnapps) and finally moving in the direction of drier, slightly bitter flavours. Pepper. Apples maybe. Where’s the sherry? Finish: slightly hot, bittersweet with spices.

Clean grain whisky without much sherry influence. It may be pure but also quite atypical and slightly disappointing. I’ve heard the Glen Speyside Class is much better, I should really try that one as well. Around € 30.

Score: 72/100


When you ask someone to name a brand of single malt whisky, they’ll probably say Glenfiddich (unless they think Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker is a single malt). Glenfiddich 12 years old is the entry malt, easily found in supermarkets around the globe and one of the most popular single malts.

I had this several times before I seriously got interested in whisky. So apparently it wasn’t good enough to really spark a fire – I had to wait until Lagavulin 16 and Suntory Hibiki for that to happen.

 

Glenfiddich 12 yearsGlenfiddich 12 yo (40%, OB 2010)

Nose: fresh, with pears everywhere and a malty, cereal centre. Cooked apples. Freshly sawn wood. Some lime, hints of white grapes. Buttercups. Soft vanilla. Mouth: rather light and bittersweet. There’s a sugary side (honey, vanilla, apple juice) as well as a bitterish side (apple seeds, nutmeg, oak juice). A light sugar coated nuttiness and a faint spicy wave. All of this fairly muted and too mono-dimensional to be really interesting. Not much evolution either. Finish: not too long, on apple cider and a few spices.

You can say Glenfiddich 12 is uninspiring and a little flat but on the other hand it’s a widely available product without flaws. I would even say it’s slightly underrated if you think about the price: around € 25 or € 30 for one litre. Of course you could also hunt down one of the quality blends, like Bailie Nicol Jarvie, or a higher strength, entry-level bourbon like Buffalo Trace for the same price and get something more interesting.

Score: 76/100


There’s a new batch of A. Dewar Rattray releases and two of them fit our € 50 requirement, so let’s have the first one right away.

 

Macallan 1995 A.D. RattrayMacallan 15 yo 1995 (46%, A.D. Rattray 2011, bourbon cask #11251, 334 btl.)

Nose: caramelized apple with cinnamon. Heather honey. Apple cake. Muesli bars. Nice duality of sticky sweet (almost greasy) butterscotch notes and a more fresh and sour fruitiness. Traces of toasted cereals. Herbs in the background. Nice. Mouth: starts a little soft. Not the amount of sweetness I expected, more like a herbal fruitiness. Cider apples, peaches and citrus. Honey and caramel. Sweet grains. Soft liquorice. Not bad but lacking some punch in the middle. Finish: not too long but nice chocolate notes and hints of Turkish delight. Still some apple flavours.

This Macallan started with an inviting and interestingly different nose, but the palate wasn’t totally convincing. Should be € 50 round.

Score: 83/100


The Icons of Arran is a limited series of 12yo releases which highlight different typical elements of the island. First there was Arran Peacock, next Arran The Rowan Tree and now Arran The Westie, a tribute to Ruaraidh, the West Highland Terrier of the distillery manager.

It is composed of 22 oloroso sherry hogsheads from 1998.

 

Arran WestieArran 12 yo 1998 ‘The Westie’
(46%, OB 2011, 6000 btl.)

Nose: fruity and slightly acidic, with sour cherries, orange zest and lemon sherbet. Something of a soda lemonade as well. Hardly any oloroso influence if you ask me. Fresh oak. Hints of honey. A few floral notes too. Mouth: a malty centre with spicy and nutty overtones. Again a zesty kind of citrus flavour. Growing warmer with vanilla, apricots and more noticeable oak. Lemon pie. Finish: medium long, drier, with leather and spices. Traces of mocha.

Quite a smooth Arran, this Westie. Fresh, fruity and convincing as a whole. The oloroso casks must have been second fill or rather third fill, because there’s hardly any sherry to be found. Around € 40.

Score: 84/100

 

ps/ There’s another limited edition Arran ‘The sleeping warrior’, 10 years old and released to help The National Trust for Scotland. It’s more expensive (around € 60) but it’s cask strength and remember part of your money goes to Scotland’s natural heritage.


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Coming up

  • Benriach 1991 (MoS for QV.ID)
  • Craigellachie 17 Year Old
  • Glen Scotia 1992 (The Whiskyman)
  • Lagavulin 12yo (2014 release)
  • Balblair 2000 single casks
  • Ardmore Legacy
  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Clynelish 21yo 1992 (Cadenhead)
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)
  • Aberlour 8yo (cube, small cork)

1639 notes by Ruben

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