Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Happy 2012

01 Jan 2012 | * News

whisky 2012I wish everyone a happy 2012 and plenty of great drams!

Last year was terrific for this blog. The number of visitors went up from around 23.000 to 38.000 a month, that’s a 65% increase. Many thanks to all you loyal visitors.

 

Ever since 2009, Ardbeg and Laphroaig are the most visited brands. GlenDronach is now in third place (this used to be Port Ellen and Highland Park in previous years). Also noticeable is the increased interest in Japanese whisky (up by 300%).

When we look at individual whiskies, the most popular release was Ardbeg Alligator by far. Its review was the single most viewed page after the homepage. Although it has gone down, Laphroaig Triple Wood is still in second place. The Diageo special releases are taking third place.

 

Looking at my personal list of drams, I had the impression 2011 was one of the best whisky years I’ve experienced. We witnessed the birth and rise of new bottlers, the general tempo was very high and the average quality even higher. Unfortunately prices reached crazy levels (now also true for independent bottlers while it used to be mainly a problem of official releases). I wonder how this will evolve in the near future. Is there still enough high quality stuff available? Will consumers endure those prices?

The evolution in the market has two consequences that aren’t always positive: 1. you need very deep pockets to buy a decent selection of interesting bottlings and 2. most of the legendary things are sold out before they even reach the shelves – and on top of this the PE11 / eBay Germany scandal which I’m not going to repeat. I have the feeling more and more enthusiasts are being fed up with the whole market situation which is contradictory to the expansion and the high quality of course.

 

Enough already with the rambling, let’s continue the tradition to focus on a few highlights of last year. These would be my shortlists (in no particular order):

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I’ve saved this GlenDronach 1972 as the last review of 2011. You all know it was the big winner at the recent Malt Maniacs Awards and I’ve enjoyed many GlenDronach single casks before. Let’s hope it comes close to the GlenDronach 1972 single cask #719.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

GlenDronach 1972 cask 712GlenDronach 39 yo 1972 (49,9%, OB 2011, oloroso cask #712, 466 btl.)

Nose: strikingly fresh and floral – the first thing I get are lovely roses and passion fruit ganache. A nice addition to the usual raisins, dried berries, cocoa and leather we were expecting already. Raspberries and redcurrant jam. Cherry plums. Big oak polish. Hints of mint. Underneath is a layer of darker aromas, blackberries and something vaguely meaty with a hint of clean gunpowder. While I’m usually struggling with these notes, they are so tiny I’d say it’s an asset. Simply excellent: very wide, luscious and juicy. Mouth: starts in a classic way, with Christmas cake, dates, sultanas… Rather dry with a velvety mouthfeel. After a few moments, a wave of superb tropical notes comes rolling in. Tangerine, guava, passion fruits again. As if they poured a few litres of BenRiach 1976 in the cask. Wow! It doesn’t last too long though, it returns nicely on chocolate, liquorice and very soft spices. Tiny hints of camphor / mint. Finish: very long, still a tad fruity but it’s mostly leather and spices now.

What a great dram to round off this year. It definitely needs time to open up and unfold the deep, almost oriental fruitiness that was hidden in the first few sips. For me this deserves a bonus point, I’ve rarely seen sherry and tropical fruits combined so beautifully, not even in other GlenDronach single casks. I’m stunned Serge chooses a GlenDronach 15yo (WF92) over this masterpiece (WF91). Around € 380, still available in some places. Many thanks for the sample swap, Mars!

Score: 93/100


The latest series by The Whisky Agency is nicknamed Moody Lions and consists of four bottlings: this Glenallachie 1973, a Tomatin 1976, Clynelish 1989 and Caol Ila 1992. We’ll go over them in the next few days. They’ve arrived in stores by now.

 

Glenallachie 1973 Moody LionsGlenallachie 39 yo 1973 (50,4%, The Whisky Agency ‘Moody Lions’ 2011, ex-bourbon cask, 218 btl.)

Nose: fresh and fruity, but I’m missing some of the more uncommon notes which I loved in the MoS version (like strawberry or muscat grapes). Here it’s more focused on pears and apples. It also shows more grassy / leafy notes (could be just the higher alcohol). Soft waxiness. Water brings out some floral notes. Mouth: slightly hot with rather more oak. Again some leafy notes to accompany the otherwise sweet fruit cake, apple and almond flavours. Fairly dry in the end with a noticeable bitterness. Finish: long and dry with vanilla, apples and malt.

Funny how two whiskies can be so closely related with virtually the same flavour descriptors, yet this one lacks part of the magic of the MoS version. Bringing it down to more or less the same strength doesn’t quite fix it. Don’t get me wrong though – this is still very good stuff. Around € 175.

Score: 88/100


Hey, Benromach, why didn’t this distillery feature on this blog earlier? Maybe because I only tried some standard expressions in the past (Benromach Organic, Benromach Origins) and I wasn’t impressed.

The distillery is owned and operated by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail. It’s small (only 2 employees) and had a history of ups and downs – between 1983 and 1998 it was closed altogether.

This 1977, bottled for the Belgian importer Premium Spirits, is pre-G&M distillation, made with equipment that has been replaced in the 1990’s.

 

Benromach 1977 - Premium Spirits BelgiumBenromach 34 yo 1977 (48%, OB for Premium Spirits Belgium 2011, refill American hogshead #1470, 249 btl.)

Nose: elegant nose on raisins and honey with some polished furniture. Jammy, juicy fruits (peach, pear, melon) and some floral notes. Notes of honeysuckle. Distant hints of library dust, cinnamon and vanilla. Fresh and attractive, although not very complex. Mouth: smooth, fruity start (citrus, peach again) with some waxy notes – not as sweet as the nose suggested. Barley. Evolving quickly on spices from the oak (ginger and pepper). Roasted notes, even a vague hint of smoke. Finish: medium long, on natural caramel and a herbal touch of oak.

A nice surprise. Not much to complain although it’s not exactly unique. G&M is probably not doing enough to promote Benromach, this deserves some praise. Around € 165.

Score: 88/100


This is the first Bunnahabhain in the Elements of Islay series. It’s a peated version from an otherwise unpeated Islay distillery.

 

Bunnahabhain Bn1Bunnahabhain Bn1
(55,6%, Elements of Islay 2011, 50 cl)

Nose: peated, no doubt. Rather deep smoke with a hint of rubber. Very sweet too, especially when diluted: big notes of honey, barley and quite some vanilla, which make this a nicely warm nose. Sweet apples. Citrus candy. Almonds. Medicinal notes in the background. Mouth: big and oily with punchy peat again. That same hint of rubber to start off, quickly overtaken by sweet apple and pear (makes me think it’s not too old). Lemon. Big pepper, a little ginger and a few briny hints and tar towards the end. Finish: rather long and smoky with notes of salty liquorice and citrus zest.

This Bunnahabhain is fairly simple but packed with punch and it features a lovely nose. Even though peated spirit is not its core business, Bunnahabhain sure knows how to present this style. Check it out if you like a young, peaty profile. Around € 50.

Score: 85/100


In the recent wave of Glen Grant 1972 there’s also this interesting bottle by Whisky-Doris. Colour, age, provenance are similar, so let’s hope it’s on the same level as the Glen Grant 1972 for Spirits in the Sky.

 

Glen Grant 1972 Whisky-DorisGlen Grant 39 yo 1972 (48%, Whisky-Doris 2011, sherry hogshead #11395, 163 btl.)

Nose: This one has less alcohol and indeed it starts more like the Spirits in the Sky version with water. It seems more open – it doesn’t have as much cherry notes but its fruitiness is wider, like a red fruit compote with tropical touches in the background. Leather again. Maybe a little more spices and cocoa. Dates. Mouth: smoother but just as fruity and intense. Plums, blackberries, figs, all present. Extra raspberry (nice). Develops on cocoa, almost completely on chocolate in the end. Pretty much perfect strength and nicely supported by the spices without being oaky. Finish: long, sweet. Spices and chocolate.

I don’t have a favourite, both are equally great in my opinion. The lower strength certainly isn’t a downside and it’s 10% cheaper as well. Recommended. Around € 190. Available from Whisky-Doris.

Score: 92/100


This is the Glen Grant 1972 I was talking about last November when a group of people selected it as the Spirits in the Sky bottling in a Whisky Agency Masterclass. It arrived in stores last week and I’ve heard sales are roaring.

 

Glen Grant 1972 - TWA Spirits in the SkyGlen Grant 39 yo 1972 (53,2%,
The Whisky Agency ‘Perfect Dram’ 2011, ex-sherry cask, 119 btl.)

Nose: big big notes of cherries (dark cherries as well as Portuguese Ginjinha liqueur made from Morello cherries). Lots of dried fruits like figs. Bramble and plums. Dark honey. Precious woods and hints of leather and eucalyptus. Heaps of oriental spices as well (which blend into a kind of incense profile). A drop of water brings out beehive notes and makes the fruits a little more tropical. Just great. Mouth: more oak in the attack, but quickly the fruits take over. Still plenty of cherry notes, plums and mixed red fruit jam, this time combining nicely with a chocolate coating. Fruit cake. Finish: long and elegant, fading on Mon Cherie and soft spices.

This Glen Grant 1972 is clearly more sherried than the MM Awards winning Glen Grant 1972/2009 by Duncan Taylor or any other (mostly refill sherry) expressions of GG72. The oak is well controlled. A real beauty. Recommended. Around € 210.

Score: 92/100

Merry Xmas everyone!


Cutty Sark bookAlthough I’m generally not the biggest fan of whisky books, I’ve recently spent a few evenings reading the new Cutty Sark book. In many regions it’s one of the most popular brands of blended whisky and the story behind the brand is quite colourful and interesting to read.

This 192-page book was edited by Ian Buxton and features articles by Helen Arthur, Dave Broom, Charles Maclean, Marcin Miller and several other well-known names.

 

It starts by investigating the popularity of the brand in different key markets around the world: Madrid (where it is mixed with lemonade, I’ve witnessed that), Lisbon, Lithuania, India, China & Japan, Britain, etc. After that, different aspects of the brand’s history are placed in the spotlight.

One of the most important things is the link between Prohibition and Cutty Sark (you may have read about this in the Whisky Yearbook 2012 as well). It’s no secret that Cutty Sark was intended for oversees markets and Captain Bill McCoy provided the East of the USA with an important amount of Scotch, obviously a much better product than the illicit liquors at the time. No surprise the Americans stayed faithful to their brand even after the liquor ban was put to an end.

Also nice to read is the article about Kirsteen Campbell, the new Master Blender of Cutty Sark. Interesting fact: she makes around 120 batches a year, each composed of 103 butts of malt and grain whisky. Kudos for keeping all these batches consistent!

Of course there’s also a chapter about the components of the blend: Glenrothes (the “home” of Cutty Sark), Tamdhu, Highland Park, The Macallan and Bunnahabhain, as well as some information on cocktail making with Cutty Sark. And much more…

In short: a book that’s well written, with beautiful photographs. A great gift for the holidays, even for people who are normally not blend drinkers!

Cutty Sark: The making of a whisky brand
ISBN: 9781780270265
Ed. Ian Buxton
hardback, around € 35


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Coming up

  • Irish malt 1991 (Whisky Mercenary)
  • Aberlour a'bunadh Batch #50
  • Bowmore Gold Reef
  • Tomatin 1997 (Liquid Library)
  • Springbank Vintage 2001
  • Mortlach Rare Old

1793 notes by Ruben

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