To raise awareness for ALS in Belgium, a cask of Old Pulteney 1997 was bottled for the fundraising organisation of Alain Verspecht, a whisky enthusiast who is suffering from the disease.
The first fill bourbon cask was provided by Gordon & MacPhail and distribution is done through two Belgian shop: The Bonding Dram and De Clercq & Zoon. Sister casks have been bottled for LMdW and The Whisky Castle by G&M in the past.
Old Pulteney 1997 (57%, Gordon & MacPhail for Alain Verspecht, first fill bourbon barrel #1199, 224 btl.)
Nose: starts in a fruity way that we don’t see too often in Old Pulteney (a certain pineapple / coconut combo, nice). A little vanilla as well. After that it becomes floral and very malty, which means the fruitiness doesn’t manage to stay in the front row. Typical coastal whiffs too. Hints of nutmeg and herbal tea. Mint. Mouth: focuses on its fruity side again, nicely sweet pear and peach aromas. Some coconut oils. Then a wave of wood shavings and bitter oranges. Fades on coastal dryness. Finish: medium long, with liquorice and slightly tangy oak.
Although it may not be perfectly balanced, I definitely prefer this kind of fresh bourbon cask (à la Pulteney 17yo) over the sherried officials. Around € 65 (including a complementary Glencairn) of which € 4 is donated to the ALS Liga. Click here to buy it online.
As you know, independent Glenfiddich is extremely rare. Among the available releases is this 1964 cask bottled by J. & J. Hunter, a beer, wine and spirits wholesaler near Belfast. In 1992 they also bottled a second cask #10790 (at 58%).
(56%, J. & J. Hunter 1992, cask #10802)
Nose: loud sherry with all the bells and whistles. Prunes, raisins, demerara sugar, pear syrup. Plenty of chocolate notes. Blackcurrant jam. Christmas cake. Rather perfect. Maybe even a hint of coal smoke in the background. Mouth: intense with a development that I’ve rarely encountered. It starts sherried and full, quite rummy, but after a few seconds it develops something I would describe as a mix of library dust, old roses and diesel? Something metallic as well. Then it grows really tannic (grape seeds, walnut skin) with a bitter edge (dark chocolate with aspirin notes). Obviously not so perfect any more, but highly individual. Finish: still dusty with hints of cold coffee and aspirin.
What started really well on the nose, got a bit out of hand in the mouth. Maybe this Glenfiddich was not in perfect condition (bottled 1992 and open for some time now) but I’m sure the bottled spirit must have been a little past its due date already. Lovely nose though. The Whisky Exchange in London is selling a bottle of the 58% version for around € 450.
Nose: balancing between sharper notes (wet sand, lemon juice, a little peat) and rounder notes (apricots and vanilla). Honeydew melon. Hay. A peppery herbal note in the background, which keeps the whole punchy and assertive. Mouth: nicely candied citrus, plenty of pink grapefruits, then growing warming and sweeter towards papaya, strawberry and creamy vanilla. Some mineral / coastal notes and a spicy wave to finish it off (pepper, cinnamon). Nice evolution. Finish: long, with the spices in the foreground, a hint of peat and some coffee beans in the background.
All-round Littlemill. Coastal, fruity, zesty notes… it goes in different directions but it’s very rewarding overall. I still like the sherried versions better but this is very high quality as well. Around € 100.
They’ve now introduced a new member in their core range: Cutty Sark Storm. It’s an entry-level blend (under the 12yo and 18yo) based around North British grain whisky but with a higher malt content and considerably older malts than before.
Cutty Sark Storm (40%, OB 2012)
Nose: fresh and vibrant, with many fruity notes. Think peach, pineapple, banana and gooseberries. Some oranges as well. A little vanilla. Hints of polished oak in the background. Indeed not very grainy. Mouth: sweet, light, not too powerful but remember we’re dealing with a different kind of target customer here. Quite a nice, creamy texture anyway. Again peaches and pears on the foreground. Popcorn. Icing sugar and vanilla. Then some fresh oak and very light spices like pepper. Finish: okay length, still quite sweet and popcorn-like, with a softly drying oaky touch.
This was a preview sample, and I have no information about pricing yet. I suppose it will be sold for a very low price (the current Cutty Sark NAS is around € 15). If you take this into account, it’s a very good offering with decent complexity and a big step up from what our uncles and other blend drinkers are used to. An opponent for Bailie Nicol Jarvie when it comes to value for money.
I brought some leftovers from the BenRiach 1976 tasting. I’ll make proper notes of some of the highlights, the rest will probably be blended into a kind of 1976 super blend. Here’s the overall winner, BenRiach 1976 cask #3033 bottled for the Taiwanese maket.
BenRiach 34 yo 1976 (48,2%, OB for Taiwan 2011, cask #3033, 216 btl.)
Nose: a quintessential BenRiach 1976, with a luscious tropical fruitiness. Among others: mango, guava, passion fruit, lychee, tangerine… a very aromatic fruit basket. Some lokum and rosehip syrup. Nice oily notes (coconut oil, beeswax). Honey. A distinct creaminess as well, like strawberries with cream. Some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) which make it less summery than cask #3029 (Shinanoya) for example, but add more depth and vibrance. Develops perfect mint over time. Mouth: again deeply fruity, with similar aromas. Mango, pineapple, tangerine, big notes of pink grapefruit with honey. Perfect balance of warm, vanilla fruits and greener, fresher citrusy notes. All this with a veil of polished oak and spices. Very interwoven, smooth and delicate on the outside but full of sparkles and tiny nuances further down. Some chocolate and nutty notes towards the end, hints of toffee, what a nice evolution. Finish: very long, creamy and jammy with a light herbal edge and oily mint.
A deserved winner at the BenRiach 1976 single cask tasting. This is probably the best we’ll ever see from this particular distillery and legendary vintage. Too bad they were shipped so far away.
We’ve safely returned from a wonderful day of BenRiach 1976 goodness.
As an aperitif, we had the BenRiach 1985 Liquid Sun, one of the first bottlings with this label (still a minimalistic white label at that time). I knocked over most of my glass, but I had already tried it at Mara’s whisky cellar one day and knew it’s a deeply malty, fruity, naked BenRiach.
The other aperitif was the BenRiach 1995 cask #5968 for South Africa. That one’s port finished and not really my kinda dram: raspberry and rosehip syrup on the nose (as well as some musty cellars) and winey blood oranges with big oak on the palate. Too much wine.
The actual tasting line-up was broken down into four flights of drams. Originally they were put together based on cask numbers, but a few last-minute changes were made based on the fame some casks had already gained from certain reviewers and maniacs.
Our host Serge Reijnders explained he had been collecting these bottles since 2006. Especially the Asian versions were hard to get, as some of them spent weeks in customs and only came out after several e-mails and telephone calls. Not to mention the shipping costs to get them directly from Shinanoya or “his Japanese guy” as he puts it. During the tasting, Jürgen Vromans showed a few nice videos with highlights of the year 1976.
Traditionally the expressions bottled for La Maison du Whisky and The Whisky Fair are seen as the best of the 1976s. Of course they gained this status before the Asian casks were released, so we were eager to find out whether they still deserve the crown.
Now let’s dive in…
Flight 1: The two Signatory’s and three peated versions
Unsurprisingly, this was a rather low-level flight. Although you could already find some elements of the true 1976 profile, none of these casks made a very good impression right away, and even after half an hour of breathing some of them failed to show a balanced profile.
Cask #4469 was much better than the previous port version and shows both dried fruits, fresh tropical fruits and soft peat. A nice 3-in-1, but pretty dry in the end. Cask #9441 was closed and slightly alcoholic and very citrusy / minty. Fresh but not very expressive nor very typically 1976. Cask #8084 had a bit more polished oak and therefore failed to show much fruits. The soft peat and its balance were really nice though. A simple dram maybe, but enjoyable. The group picked it as their winner. Cask #9442 had a nice nose with old polished oak, subtle sherry. It had a nice burst of pink grapefruit on the palate but turned towards oak spices a bit too much. Cask #8081 was the winner of the pack for me. It has sweet fruits and light camphor on the nose but certainly on the palate it showed typical tropical fruits, lovely pink grapefruit and very soft peat.
Flight 2: A bit of everything
BenRiach 1976 cask #6942, 34yo, butt
BenRiach 1976 cask #8079, 28yo, peated, Craigellachie Hotel
BenRiach 1976 cask #8795, 33yo
BenRiach 1976 cask #8080, 30yo, peated, The Nectar
BenRiach 1976 cask #2014, 32yo
This flight contained the first official 1976 single cask ever to be bottled, cask #8079 for Craigellachie hotel. I reviewed that one before but I’m now obliged to add an extra point, it’s better than I thought it was. I also really liked cask #2014, which was very expressive but slightly “greener” than most 1976s. More complex as well, more like some 1975s in fact. One of the first highlights of the evening and our favourite of this flight. Cask #6942 stood out as well; it’s much more sherry-influenced so less typical, but man, that’s deeply fruity, luscious sherry! Cask #8795 was the only letdown, with considerably less fruits, more dry oak, and less evolution. Cask #8080 for The Nectar is the best choice if you want to try one of the (subtly) peated 1976s but overall I had higher expectations for it.
As a nice surprise, Serge had also arranged a cask sample drawn from cask #2013 a couple of days ago. It’s one of 16 casks of BenRiach 1976 that are still waiting in the distillery warehouses (six of which are marked good enough for single cask bottling). It’s definitely nice, but it failed to match its sister cask #2014 in terms of fruitiness and complexity.
Flight 3: Asian casks (#30xx) and two #355x
Some of the latest 1976 releases were bottled for Asian distributors and although we can rarely try them in Europe, there were some rumours about high quality.
BenRiach 1976 cask #3551, 33yo, La Maison du Whisky
This was a big step up from the first flights. Each of these was higher quality than (almost) all of the previous bottles. Only for cask #3010 for Auld Alliance it was not the case in my opinion. It had the typical 1976 qualities but in a shy way, and the oak was quite loud. Cask #3551 for LMdW stood out as a nice, more vanilla / frangipane version, with a tad more polished oak. Cask #3041 for BBI Japan had a great, typical nose (with slightly overripe fruits) but was quite soft on the palate. Cask #3550 for The Whisky Fair was excellent, very fresh, with a nice citrusy acidity first and then a tropical warmth. Cask #3029 for Shinanoya was even better, with probably the best nose of all 1976s. Very direct and expressive. Even though it’s not the most complex version, and the palate is less punchy, it’s my number 2 in the overall ranking.
Flight 4: Best of the best from Germany, France and Asia
BenRiach 1976 cask #3032, 35yo, Japan
BenRiach 1976 cask #3033, 34yo, Taiwan
BenRiach 1976 cask #3557, 30yo, La Maison du Whisky
BenRiach 1976 cask #3558, 33yo, The Whisky Fair
Note that this flight was poured as blind samples. Especially cask #3557 has quite a reputation (nicknamed “The One” by some people) and Serge wanted to avoid any preoccupations.
By now we had lost our hopes to identify a clear winner. This must have been the most difficult tasting ever, as the differences between these casks come down to subtle nuances at best. I will happily take a bottle of each of these four, they’re all exceptional whiskies.
Initially cask #3557 for LMdW stood out. On the nose it shows some exquisite, silky, polished oak and notes of eucalyptus and mint that’s not present in any of the other casks (at least not in the same way). But as soon as you taste it, the oak is too loud in comparison to the other casks. Cask #3033 for Taiwan on the other hand had a great, creamy nose with lovely strawberry notes (I’m only naming the more uncommon notes here). On the palate it’s the most complex whisky in the line-up: lots of citrus and tropical fruits of course, but also toffee sweetness, mocha, soft herbs, you name it. Cask #3558 and cask #3032 are both excellent but they’re just one step behind. Again, really nit-picking here.
In conclusion, cask #3033 for Taiwan was named the best BenRiach 1976 ever by our group of +/- 30 experienced whisky enthusiasts. Cask #3029 for Shinanoya was in second place, with a lot of votes and a special mention for its immaculate nose. The group chose cask #3032 in third place, but I’m still leaning towards #3557.
Surprisingly, nobody picked The One for La Maison du Whisky as their favourite expression. It is indeed a great dram, but it has been surpassed by some of the Asian releases. Or as someone put it: The One is now The Two.
Many thanks to Serge for his dedication in bringing the complete series of BenRiach 1976 single casks together and sharing them with us! A unique tasting that’s unlikely to be reproduced in the future.
I’m off to a BenRiach tasting this afternoon, trying to spot the best BenRiach 1976 among +/- 20 expressions. A nice initiative of our friend Serge Reijnders who has been collecting these legendary bottlings for years now, including some of the rare ones for Taiwan and Japan. I could have prepared by reviewing a 1976, but I’ll have a younger one if you don’t mind.
You don’t see too many independent BenRiach bottlings. This one was bottled in the upmarket Mo Òr Collection.
BenRiach 19 yo 1991 (46%, Mo Òr Collection 2011, bourbon hogshead #110681, 300 btl.)
Nose: 75% grassy notes and 25% fruits. On the fruity side we have sherbet fruits, apple and pear and white peach. The grassy notes as stronger and they’re combined with minerals, even whiffs of sea air. Overall rather dry, closer to some Old Pulteney than to most other BenRiach. Mouth: malty, oily and waxy with an earthy herbal character. Some liquorice and a grapefruit bitterness. Quite dry again. There’s still something maritime to it. Finish: pretty long, mainly on grassy notes with hints of heather honey.
An uncommon BenRiach, no big fruity sweetness but a coastal / herbal character instead. Not my favourite BenRiach, but an interesting surprise nonetheless. Around € 80.
Macduff 2000 is something we’ve seen from several bottlers (most of them pretty good), and now there’s one in the “classic label” series by The Whiskyman. It was selected by our local whisky store Pin’Art.
Macduff 12 yo 2000 (51,7%, The Whiskyman & Pin’Art, refill sherry hogshead)
Nose: nicely fruity and youthful sherry. Lots of oranges, cooked apples, figs, a little walnut liqueur and fudge. A few flinty notes as well. Some leather. Cinnamon. Mouth: sweet and quite fruity again. Very raisiny, with figs and oranges again. Fruitcake and berries. Powerful and graceful at the same time. Evolves on chocolate notes, nuts and spices (pepper, ginger). Hints of coffee. Smoother and fruitier with a drop of water. Finish: long, still quite sweet with berries and plenty of drier spices now.
Another warm, juicy and spicy Macduff. A good daily sherry bottling, similar to the ones we’ve seen before. Buy it now and save it until the winter returns. Available for € 55 from Pin’Art in Mechelen.