We’re not on the same level as Spain of course, but Belgium has quite a reputation in the field of food pairing and the molecular analysis of flavours and flavour combinations.
One of the key persons in this movement is Bernard Lahousse, a bio-engineer who runs a food consultancy company called Sense for Taste and organises The Flemish Primitives, a congress about new developments in gastronomy.
He also developed the Food pairing website where you can find a database of flavour molecules in ingredients and the combinations that go well with it.
Recently he has worked around wine & food pairing, but he also teamed up with Dave Broom to develop a new whisky wheel. While this was created primarily for the cocktail summit Bar.10, it’s still interesting for whisky lovers to have a look at it.
It’s based around the molecules in whisky, rather than the resulting taste. For instance you will find “mango” several times, depending on the different molecules causing this association. Great background knowledge, I would say.
There are two Virgin Oak releases (i.e. matured in new casks) in this year’s single casks from BenRiach. This one is a 1991 vintage which was finished in new American oak after the regular ex-bourbon maturation. The other one – a 1980 vintage – was fully matured in Virgin oak.
BenRiach 19 yo 1991 (54,9%, OB 2010, cask #4389, Virgin American Oak finish, 306 btl.)
Nose: nutmeg and orange peel. Tangerine. A few nutty notes and roasted grains. A little ginger, vanilla and heather. Hints of butter toffee and freshly sawn wood as well. No excessive oak though, since it’s only a finish. It seems to follow the BenRiach tradition, only spiced up a bit. Mouth: initially a sweet attack on fruitcake and toffee. Stewed fruits. Hazelnut paste. A lot of cinnamon and vanilla, with a peppery kick. Finish: dries out steadily with vanilla and warm oak.
This BenRiach is sweet and really spicy. It amplifies the classic Speyside character. Very punchy yet very drinkable. Around € 85.
Yesterday our friend Jeroen from The Bonding Dram organized an open bottle day presenting the new single cask series from BenRiach. They were bottled in July 2010 and they’re now available in most markets. Some of them have already sold out, especially the 1976 and 1980 are almost impossible to find.
This BenRiach 1984 is the only heavily peated release this time (the other 1984 seems to be peated as well, although it mentions “Classic Speyside style”). That same year already brought us a few enjoyable peated releases. A sister cask (BenRiach 1984 cask #4049) was bottled in 2007.
BenRiach 25 yo 1984 (51,7%, OB 2010, cask #4052, peated / Tawny Port finish,
Nose: rich, straightforward “Speyside” peat. It’s rounded, rich and smoky but not in the coastal / medicinal “Islay” way. Smoked tea with some resinous notes. After a while, a second layer shows up, with sweet oranges and a little grenadine. Faint hints of strawberry. Nice. A touch of eucalyptus / peppermint. Mouth: even more peat now, quite huge in fact. There’s a fruity edge but it seems to be drowned in the peat waves. Some resinous notes again. The spices are abundant: bags of pepper, a bit of nutmeg and getting really herbal in the end. Hints of liquorice. Finish: long, with a warm and peaty character.
This one is a little on the peaty side – it doesn’t feel like a 25 year-old and the fruits struggle to get the attention. I won’t say this often, but a little more wine influence could have helped to find a nicer balance on the palate. The nose is the best element for me. Around € 120.
Tamdhu has recently been mothballed. It was founded during the whisky boom of the late 19th century and was soon taken over by the Highland Distillers group (later Edrington), after a big fire in their Glenrothes distillery.
As a single malt, Tamdhu was most successful in the value segment. This is one of the reasons for its closure, as the other Edrington distilleries (Highland Park, Glenrothes, Macallan) are aiming a bit higher.
Nose: starts malty and very rubbery, with cereal grains and porridge. I can’t really appreciate this rubbery side, but it’s something I’ve come to expect from Tamdhu so it’s not a specific problem of this expression. After a few moments, it develops on fruit compote (apples, oranges) and big herbal notes (mint / verbena tea, ginger, a little nutmeg). Hints of pine resin and wax with a soapy edge. Mouth: in line with the nose: a fruity / malty centre with oranges, many pears, nutmeg and ginger. Pine wood and liquorice root. Quite herbal towards the finish. Finish: orange marmalade, a little dark chocolate and slightly bitter cloves.
I should probably add that I’ve rarely been impressed by a Tamdhu so far – it doesn’t seem to be my style. This 25 year-old is very expressive though, with a big emphasis on herbal notes and spices. Available from Whisky-Doris (Germany) for € 95.
Longmorn distilled in 1990 already surprised me once (Longmorn 1990/2005 by Berry Bros). After getting a nice review on Whiskyfun, this similar release in the Single Malts of Scotland series is now sold out.
Longmorn 19 yo 1990 (54,5%, Single Malts of Scotland 2009, cask #25003, 219 btl.)
Nose: immediately expressive, with big spicy notes on a background of slightly bubblegummy fruit. A lot of mint and nutmeg, some vanilla and eucalyptus. Kumquat. Apricot. Pencil shavings and sawdust. Floral notes as well. Quite modern in style – accessible but with a nice complexity. Mouth: clean, punchy and fruity, like a fruit liqueur, with hints of pear drops, very sugary barley and Frosties. Some honey. A little chlorophyl. Hints of moccha. Finish: long and malty, on sweet oak and icing sugar. A little mint again.
A punchy and modern Longmorn, with a creamy texture and fruity notes that made me think it was a couple of years younger. Nicely done. TWE now has a similar 1989 version on sale (around € 60).
Based on last year’s single cask series and the single cask for LMdW, 1972 seems to be a special year for GlenDronach, like 1976 for BenRiach. In the 2010 single cask series, GlenDronach bottled a sister cask (first GlenDronach 1972 cask #719, now #718). I hope to discover another gem.
GlenDronach 38 yo 1972 (51,5%,
OB 2010, Oloroso sherry butt #718,
Nose: wow, this is quite surprising. Plenty of fruits here, but not the obvious dried ones. There’s poached fruits (pears, yellow plums) but also overripe mango, blood orange, some passion fruit and notes that remind me of different sorts of fruit jelly (quince jelly, raspberry gums and cassis sweets). Some butter toffee. Faint hints of cardamom. It keeps developing. This is like a wicked genius: you don’t understand it completely, but you do realize that it has a special and totally intriguing character. Mouth: continues in the same direction, with slightly sour stewed fruits and soft vanilla, but slowly changes character to milk chocolate and all kinds of nuts (mainly walnuts and almonds). Oak as well, but less tannins than in the 1971 version. Finish: very long, slightly fruity but really dry with notes of walnut skin.
After the great reviews of last year’s 1972, this cask was highly anticipated. In my opinion it’s less flawless but slightly more unique. It’s different from cask #719 and certainly different from the rest of the series. I’m curious to know what happened in 1972 to achieve such outstanding casks? Around € 350.
At the end of the 1960’s, GlenDronach distillery was expanded from two to four stills. When the new owners took over, there were only a few 1968 / 1969 casks among the 9000 casks maturing in the warehouses. It’s not yet clear what the plans are for those casks, so for now the 1971 releases are the oldest.
GlenDronach 39 yo 1971 (48,8%, OB 2010, Oloroso sherry butt #489, 541 btl.)
Nose: compared to the 1978, it’s clearly darker and more candied. Its smell of strawberry / raspberry ganache (chocolate cream used to fill pralines) reminds me of the workshops of the famous chocolatiers here in Belgium. Lovely cocoa really. Sugared nuts (hazelnuts, almonds). Fresh figs. Raisins. Milk chocolate mendiants. Oranges. A very light meatiness as well. Balanced hints of pine wood with a soft hint of smoke. Really good. Mouth: rich and mouth-coating with big hints of coffee and bitter-sweet notes of dark chocolate. Intense dried fruits. Walnut skin. Clear oak now, a little tannic maybe, but overall the wood is not too invasive. Finish: very long, heavily sherried and a little dry.
Like last year, the GlenDronach 1971 has a more classic profile than its 1972 sister. Perfect balance with all the flavours you’d expect.
An interesting cask but a bit overpriced.
Around € 370.
The younger GlenDronach single casks were able to meet last year’s high standard. Let’s move on and check on the 1970’s casks. The 1978, 1972 and 1971 are all matured in oloroso sherry.
GlenDronach 31 yo 1978 (51,2%, OB 2010, Oloroso sherry puncheon #3315, 522 btl.)
Nose: elegance is the keyword here. There’s a juicy fruitiness to start with: sour cherries, bramble, soft raspberry. Hints of apple cake as well. Superb freshness of Seville oranges and pink grapefruit. A little mint. Very lively with an incredible smoothness. Water doesn’t seem to work here, the nose is too subtle to survive. Mouth: rich and vibrant. Raspberries, tangerine, some chocolate. Orange peel. Again some undertones of mint. A bit of oak. This time water works nicely and brings out walnut flavours. Finish: long, a tad nuttier.
A very crisp GlenDronach, high on citrus notes. When compared to the older 1970’s releases, it misses a bit of punch. But of course this one is less expensive. Around € 200.