Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Last year several independent bottlers released one or more Inchgower 1974 casks (Whisky-Doris and Thosop as well as Dewar Rattray, The Whisky Agency, Douglas Laing, Daily Dram…).

You may say Master of Malt is coming late with their Inchgower, but it has to be applauded their version was available for around € 85 while the others were around € 150!

 

Inchgower 1974 Master of MaltInchgower 36 yo 1974 (53,4%, Master of Malt 2011, refill sherry hogshead)

Nose: nice old-style Speyside, with a little more vanilla than other 1974 releases. A lot of lemon balm and paraffin. Honey. Old oak. Dried flowers and soft spices (cinnamon, mint). A little leather. There’s also a lovely chalky dampness to it, even some coastal hints. Great complexity. Mouth: starts with a zesty fruitiness (oranges, lemon) and punchy spices (pepper, ginger, aniseed, mint). Big citrus notes. Still some waxy notes and leather. Hints of herbal tea towards the end. Even better (slightly rounder) with a drop of water. Finish: long and warming with citrus and spices standing out.

A high quality Inchgower again, very complex and certainly on par with the ones we’ve seen before. Think about the price and you know this was an unbelievable bargain! It was sold out, then it came back (06/08/2011), now I’m pretty sure it’s sold out completely…

Score: 90/100


Here’s another sherried Laphroaig, distilled March 1989 and bottled last year by Douglas Laing in the Old & Rare Platinum Selection range. In March 2011 another 1989 cask was bottled in the same series (58,5%).

 

Laphroaig 1989 Douglas Laing PlatinumLaphroaig 21 yo 1989 (56,9%, Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum 2010, refill sherry hogshead, 212 btl.)

Nose: the tar seems to be a little softer here, but apart from that, the nose is very similar. Big tobacco notes and cocoa. Dark fruity notes. Cigar boxes. Of course also the usual coastal notes, sweet peat and antiseptic. Some graphite. This one leaves a slightly sharper impression than the Liquid Sun bottling. A little mint maybe. Mouth: quite dry, with big peat, some walnuts and hints of olives. Pepper and lemon zest. Big smoke. Seaweed. Certainly less fruity, which makes it less unique (but perhaps more classically Laphroaig). Liquorice. A little ginger. Finish: long, dry and leafy, with salty and bitter touches.

From the nose I though this would be nearly identical to the Liquid Sun release, but on the palate it turns out less rounded and balanced, less sherried and more extreme. Not bad of course, but at this price? Around € 230 – now sold out. This year’s cask is still available but it will cost you over € 300, that’s just ridiculous. Thanks for the sample, Johannes.

Score: 88/100


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


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  • SK: And just to prove a point, all of the bottles are still available in places where they usually run out. Lets see how many will be still available whe
  • SK: 2 years ago I tried the Caol Ila 1982 from Archives. What a fantastic whisky. Since then I always try to stock these Caol Ila from the 80s. Sadly no
  • WhiskyNotes: The real problem is that Caol Ila isn't selling (mature) casks to independent bottlers any more, from what I've heard, so chances are low we'll see mo

Coming up

  • Inchgower 1975 (Maltbarn)
  • Octomore 6.3 258ppm
  • Peated Irish 1991 (Eiling Lim)
  • Ardbeg 1974 for Christmas
  • Spirit of Freedom 30 Years
  • Elements of Islay Cl7
  • Benromach 5 Year Old

1681 notes by Ruben

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