Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Belgian Owl is a another Belgian whisky. This single malt was created by Etienne Bouillon who also owns a fruit liqueur distillery near Liège. The recent 53 months old release is the oldest Belgian Owl currently available. A slightly younger version (44 months) received a whopping 95,5 points in the latest Whisky Bible by Jim Murray.

Note the enormous 74% alcohol. It’s probably the strongest drink I’ve ever had. By the way, are there rules about maximum strength or can you just distill 99% of alcohol and claim it’s whisky as well?

 

Belgian Owl 53 monthsBelgian Owl 53 months
(74,1%, OB 2010, cask #4275986)

Nose: freshly cut oak and hay, lots of mint and lemon. Some vanilla custard. Spiced honey. Hints of apricot sweets and dried banana. Water brings out a slightly dusty muesli aroma. Mouth: sharp, grainy / grassy attack. Develops a bubblegummy flavour after the alcohol fades. Difficult to taste straight of course, so let’s add water. Much more creamy, but still quite grassy and gingery, with a bitterness that I find a little disturbing. Citrus again. Oak and nutmeg, other spices as well. Pears and vanilla. Not the fruity spirit I expected. Finish: long, half fruity, half bitter. And grainy.

Not bad, but no highflyer either (not yet?). Around € 65 but very limited so it’s hard to find.

Score: 71/100


Gouden Carolus whiskyBrewery Het Anker is located in my home town Mechelen and produces renowned beers like Gouden Carolus and the vintage Cuvee van de Keizer. In 2003, they decided to do an experiment: distill the beer mash of Gouden Carolus Triple and mature it in Jim Beam casks.

While the first batches (like the 2009 release) were made in column stills, they’re now reconstructing an old genever distillery which features pot stills from Forsyths (at a mere 200 meters from the place where I’m about to build a house, what a coincidence). It’s the first dedicated pot still distillery in our country and we can expect the new single malt somewhere around 2013.

 

Gouden Carolus whiskyGouden Carolus ‘2009 release’
(40%, OB 2009)

Nose: indeed very reminiscent of the Gouden Carolus Triple beer. Big banana aromas (slightly synthetic though) with coriander seeds. Rather flowery. Hints of lemon and lemon grass, on the edge of becoming soapy. Faint yeast. Mouth: artificial citrus and pear. Tinned lychee. Coriander seeds and orange peel. Gumball. Now also lavender soap I’m afraid. A shame. Finish: short, with plain alcohol and banana skin.

At first I was charmed by the distinct smell of beer mash, which I found unusual and interesting. But once tasted, the same beer associations become a big disadvantage. A curiosum at this point, but I’m sure the pot stills have a bright future ahead.

Score: 60/100


Kilchoman Spring 2011 is the sixth seasonal release already. It’s a vatting of 70% 3 year old and 30% 4 year old casks. Both were matured in first fill bourbon barrels, but the 4 year old spirit has been finished in oloroso sherry butts for five weeks. This means the formula is similar to the Autumn 2009 release although the colour suggests there should be less sherry influence.

As stocks and batches are probably getting bigger, this will be available for a longer time and there won’t be other seasonal releases in 2011. Kilchoman made a few other announcements for the rest of this year:

  • a 100% Islay version available in June
  • a 4,5yo fully sherry matured version in September
  • the first 5 year old (first fill and refill bourbon) in November

 

Kilchoman Spring release 2011Kilchoman 3 yo ‘Spring 2011 release‘ (46%, OB 2011)

Nose: sweet peat mixed with fruity notes. The peat is maybe not as heavy as you would think. Ashes and tarry ropes. Soaked grains. Pear drops and kiwi. Pencils. Quite good. Mouth: sweet and oily, but the attack is remarkably “open”, as if it only starts to speak after ten seconds. Not much grip, so to speak. After that, it gets briney and peaty. The aftertaste is more fruity again. Finish: smoky and rather earty, with hints of olives.

Well, it seems to go up and down with these seasonal releases. I like the bourbon releases better, no doubt about that. Especially the attack of this release disappointed me.
Around € 45.

Score: 81/100


We’re seeing a lot of Littlemill bottlings distilled in 1989/1990/1991 lately. Today we’re trying a new release in the Grotesque Crocs series by The Whisky Agency.

 

Littlemill 1989 - The Whisky AgencyLittlemill 21 yo 1989 (51,3%, Whisky Agency ‘Grotesque Crocs’ 2011, refill sherry hogshead, 239 btl.)

Nose: starts on warm oak with cinnamon, sherry notes and some grainy / grassy notes. This evolves to “wet” notes (gravel after the rain, a little wet newspaper) and a little wax. A sweet layer of dried apricots, fresh tangerine and honeydew melon. Mint. Gets a bit rounder and more sherried with water. Mouth: punchy and thick, quite sweet with dried fruits from the sherry cask (prunes), even a tropical hint of mango. Then the sweetness makes place for nervous grassy notes and spices (pepper, ginger, mint). Toffee and caramel towards the end. Finish: sweeter again, slightly malty with pepper and ginger.

These Littlemills distilled around 1990 are really building up a reputation, and this one is probably my favourite
so far. It adds some subtle sherry character to the classic grassiness and spices. Around € 120.

Score: 90/100


Ardbeg - Geert BeroLindores member Geert Bero holds one of the world’s biggest Ardbeg collections. He started collecting in 2003 and now owns more than 200 different OB Ardbeg bottles.

The collection includes the expensive Ardbeg 1965 and the different editions of the Double Barrel case, but also less common releases like the clear glass Ardbeg 10yo bottled in the 1970’s (black label, white letters).

I recently designed a new website for his collection. Bottles are still being added as we speak, but please head over to www.ardbeg.eu already to get an idea.


This market house Auchentoshan 1978 was created in 1997 by blending
13 casks. Half of them were distilled on 04/09/1978, the other half on 21/11/1978. Recently a new 1978 vintage was bottled (30 years old).

 

Auchentoshan 1978/1997Auchentoshan 18 yo 1978
(58,8%, OB 1997, 13 casks
#295x + #436x + #437x)

Nose: fresh malt and sweet gooseberries. Buttercups and dandelions. Marzipan. Quite intense, with a spicy prickle and fresh oak. A little caramel. There’s a lovely dusty / leathery element as well. Mouth: punchy with a rather oily mouthfeel. Great mixture of toffee, dark honey and traces of smoke. Fruit tea. Roasted nuts. Orange peel, spices, oak, vanilla… quite complex. Finish: malty and spicy, with leather and hints of lemon.

Not the usual Lowlands whisky, with a bold profile and uncommon (oily, smoky, leathery) elements.
A bit too strong when neat, but really nice with a drop of water.

Score: 87/100


Millstone is one of Holland’s whisky brands. The Zuidam distillery uses traditional Dutch windmills to slowly grind their malted barley and stills with an unusually large contact surface. Both techniques should ensure a specific profile. Maturation of the spirit is done in new oak or first fill casks in a rather warm and dry warehouse. This forces the whisky to age quickly with a double amount of Angel’s share.

For the first 6 years of this expression, they used Jack Daniels barrels. After that, it was finished for 2 extra years in new French Oak.

 

Millstone whisky - French oakMillstone 8 yo 2000
(40%, OB 2009, French oak finish)

Nose: fruity, soft and quite elegant. Apricot notes and apples. Fresh wood as well with plenty of spices. Interesting, on the one hand the fruit makes it really summery, on the other hand the spices make me think of Christmas. Mouth: less full than I had hoped for and a little flat. Like a spicy lemonade. Oranges and cinnamon. Nutmeg and vanilla. Some honey. Hints of mint. Finish: not too long, spicy and oaky.

Pleasantly fruity whisky with nice spicy notes in the tradition of a Glenlivet 15yo French Oak. It doesn’t come near to the original though and you’re paying almost twice the price. Around € 60.

Score: 75/100


Around this time, the new batch of Malts of Scotland is being presented in tastings all over Belgium. This Highland Park 1986 concludes my reviews of the new series.

 

Highland Park 1986 - Malts of ScotlandHighland Park 24 yo 1986 (50,7%,
Malts of Scotland 2011, bourbon hogshead #2296, 234 btl.)

Nose: plenty of typical heather notes. Aniseed and ginger, a little eucalyptus and mint. Grass and pine needles. Very “green” you could say. A muted fruitiness of garden fruits (mainly apples), pushed aside by mineral and waxy notes – even hints of bandages. Mouth: waxy with more peat than usual. Lemon zest, grapefruit, rhubarb, some grass again. A little coastal. Again some pine needles and resin. Gets slightly bitter towards the end. Finish: medium long on lemon, dry resin and a salty edge.

The grassy / bitter / salty notes take away some of the fruits and roundness of this Highland Park, but it does have plenty of Islands character. Also, this is interestingly different from the officials. Around € 120.

Score: 85/100


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  • Roberto Sikora: This is really a great, great bottling. One of my favourite Littlemills so far... :-) Thank you, Ruben for this review!
  • george: i see you have tried st magdalene and say it is harder to find i am a collector of st magdalene and i have 40 bottles i am selling these date from 196
  • sjoerd972: I wish the guys at Bushmills would demand the labels to say "Northern Ireland" so we didn't have to speculate on the booze's origins.

Coming up

  • Bowmore Devil's Casks - Batch 2
  • Tomatin 1988 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
  • Blair Athol 2002 (Hepburn's Choice)
  • Fettercairn Fior
  • Bowmore Laimrig 15yo
  • Ben Nevis 2002 (Port cask #334)

1600 notes by Ruben

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