Single malt whisky - tasting notes

You know how much I like the (sometimes very quirky) profile of Banff. The distillery had a slightly tragic history of fires and WW2 bombings. Even after it had been closed in 1983, the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1991.

Note the updated label design of the new Malts of Scotland bottles.


Banff 1975 Malts of ScotlandBanff 36 yo 1975 (43,8%, Malts of Scotland 2012, bourbon barrel, MoS 12015, 165 btl.)

Nose: peculiar and interesting, typical Banff so far. Wet paper, quite some paraffin and grease. Dried grassy notes and a little mustard. Hints of newly sawn oak. Chamomile. Chalk. Shoe polish. Spicy and aromatic, a little unsexy as well, but after a long wait, a faint fruitiness (oranges, pineapple) comes through, as well as some warm vanilla which is less typical. Great evolution. Mouth: fresh and relatively creamy, a nice combination of sweetness, soft bitterness and spices. Some lemon zest, a little herbal liqueur and chili pepper. Hints of dried fruits, chocolate and vanilla. Finish: long; with sweet vanilla growing stronger besides the grassy, drier notes.

Excellent Banff, exemplary yet slightly more rounded than other expressions, thanks to the soft vanilla notes and fruits. Recommended but so sold out as far as I can tell. Around € 185.

Score: 91/100

anCnoc Peter Arkle

22 May 2012 | AnCnoc

Peter Arkle caskAnother recent release from anCnoc is a limited edition designed by Peter Arkle, a Scottish illustrator based in New York. I think it’s a great idea to invite an artist and to let him express his views on the brand. The resulting packaging is great: minimalist black & white with subtle orange accents.

The whisky itself is said to be between 6 and 12 years old and fully matured in sherry casks (Fino sherry), which is quite uncommon for anCnoc. It’s available in the UK, USA and Sweden, plus “selected European markets”.




anCnoc Peter ArkleanCnoc ‘Peter Arkle’
(46%, OB 2012, ex-sherry casks, 6000 btl.)

Nose: rich with honey and sticky toffee as well as some nutty notes and burnt sugar. Not an overpowering type of sherry, which is good, but unfortunately it is also quite meaty and sulphury, something that is already present in the spirit and which is amplified by the casks. Mouth: quite fruity, an apple / raisin combo, fruit cake and caramel. Hints of vanilla. Again a meaty / sulphury undertone. Finish: medium long, with chocolate, toffee and spices.

Not a bad dram, but I was a little disappointed by the amplification of its innate sulphury character. It didn’t seem to bother me that much in earlier expressions, but here it slightly crosses the line (for me personally). Around € 55.

Score: 79/100


ps/ Peter Arkle also designed an inverted tube (black background, white figures) which is used as a limited packaging for the standard 12 year-old in Sweden. I’ll have that one!

Knock DhuI should have written Knockdhu distillery of course (or Knock Dhu), but the name anCnoc is better known. Knockdhu is the distillery and anCnoc the name of the whisky. I believe it was introduced a couple of years ago to avoid confusion with Knockando.

Knockdhu, like many other distilleries, started as a typical farm distillery in 1893. There’s still a kiln with malting floor on site, but it isn’t used any more, as most of the plant is now fairly modern and highly energy-efficient.

In the near future, it will also be more ecological, thanks to the creation of a couple of ponds that will filter the different kinds of liquid residues of the distillery. Specific plants will make sure they are turned back into clear water. It’s cost-saving and good for our planet, a win-win situation!


New warehouses at KnockdhuTwo of their warehouses collapsed during the winter of 2010 and had to be knocked down completely. They’ve now been rebuilt in a traditional way (dunnage style, wooden structure), they look quite stunning and they’re ready to be filled.

Distillery manager Gordon Bruce (always surrounded by his dogs Meg and Tosca) is a very dedicated man. He may seem a bit silent at first but once you get him started – especially on all kinds of technical bits and pieces – he’ll happily give you every little detail you wanted to know.


anCnoc 35 yearsJust like at Balblair distillery, more and more peated spirit is produced at Knockdhu, well over 25% this year. With the current single malt hype, Islay distilleries are increasingly reluctant to sell their newmake to third parties, and most blenders require a certain amount of peated spirit to spice up their products. Gordon wasn’t very clear on this, but I think a peated anCnoc expression could see the light in the future (though maybe not the immediate future). We were able to try some peated cask samples (e.g. a heavily peated 5yo) and they were really good, too good to be blended away actually.

The best surprise was a sample of a 1982 bourbon cask, very fresh and full of gooseberries, coconut, honey-coated barley and ginger. Some vanilla and floral notes as well. Simply excellent.

A couple of days ago, the new anCnoc 35 years old expression was released, bottled at cask strength 44,3%, matured in both bourbon and sherry casks and available for around € 250. I’ve heard it’s quite good, let’s hope we’ll be able to taste it in the near future.

Here’s the limited Speyburn Solera Cask I was talking about yesterday. It was launched in 2008 after 25 years of maturation.

As you know, solera is the famous system of gradually blending (sherry) casks (in layers or criaderas) and it seems this Speyburn release was inspired on this type of maturation.

Now when I read “Solera” I would expect that it was mixed from a range of younger / older casks or at least the whisky was matured entirely in sherry casks, but in this case I think it was just some sort of “inspiration”. Even at the distillery they weren’t very clear about the actual reasoning behind the name.


Speyburn 25yo Solera caskSpeyburn 25 yo ‘Solera cask’
(46%, OB 2011)

Nose: quite mashy with a lot of waxy notes, heather and grasses. A surprise as I was expecting oloroso sherry and this doesn’t have an obvious sherry influence (well… there’s some dry manzanilla character). Dry walnuts. Quite fragrant but its style is more akin to the Highlands than to the traditional Speyside theme. Faint hints of vanilla and some toffee help it not to become too austere. Mouth: more rounded and a little sweeter, with a full taste and pleasant texture. Again quite some malty notes together with hints of herbs / grasses / tea. Oak spices. Waxy notes. A little lemon zest. Finish: long, with more malt, herbs and dry walnuts.

Certainly a confident malt, with a pleasant character, but the ‘Solera’ title might be disappointing when you’re expecting to find an obvious sherry influence. Around € 100 which is an interesting price of course compared to other 25 year-olds.

Score: 83/100

Speyburn distillerySpeyburn is one of four remaining distilleries in Rothes. It’s not open to the public which is a shame because it’s a charming plant located in a beautiful valley of the Spey.

One of the main assets for visitors could be their steam-driven pneumatic drum maltings. Instead of spreading the barley on a malting floor, it was brought into big perforated cylinders through which hot air was blown. That way the barley could be dried quicker and in a much smaller space but energy-wise it turned out not to be particularly efficient. The process was abandoned six years after installation. It’s rather unique though and now protected as whisky heritage.


Speyburn drum maltingsThere are only two warehouses on-site and the location doesn’t allow for a lot of further expansion so most of the spirit is tankered away to other Inver House facilities.

Speyburn boasts only one standard bottling, a Speyburn 10 years old. It used to be one of the most popular malts in the United States (still its biggest market by far) but in Europe you’ll rarely bump into it.

The occasional limited releases (Speyburn 25yo Solera Cask and Speyburn Bradan Orach) haven’t caused much of a stir either, although I’m sure many people will have their eyes opened by the Speyburn 10 yearsupcoming Speyburn 1975 Clan Cask. It will be interesting to see the effect of such a high quality (and relatively high priced) bottling for a distillery with an essentially entry-level profile.


Speyburn 10 years old
(40%, OB 2012)

Nose: a classic Speyside youngster with pears and apples, citrus, vanilla and plenty of malty notes. Not bad. Mouth: sweet, very malty and cereally (Frosties). Finish: sweet, still focused on malty notes.

A fresh and very harmless whisky for blend drinkers who want to take a little step up. Around € 30.

Balblair distilleryWhen approaching Balblair distillery, the oldest Highlands distillery still in operation, it was immediately clear that it’s set in a more traditional landscape than Old Pulteney.

It’s a charming plant surrounded by the ever-present Highlands meadows that hold a standing stone within the premises. After its foundation in 1790, the whole equipment was moved in the 1890’s to be closer to the railway, but the water source is still the original well.


We caught Balblair at a special moment as they were doing heavily peated runs and the aromas at the distillery were clearly smoky. The peated spirit is intended for blending purposes only, so don’t expect a peaty expression anytime soon.

John MacDonald in the Balblair warehousesAfter a tour through the distillery, with its 2 stills plus one peculiar riveted still, and a quick stroll through one of its eight dunnage warehouses, we were taken to the brand-new visitor’s centre completed late 2011. It’s a great space with a glass box at its centre, holding a long tasting table and projection facilities inside. Distillery manager John MacDonald introduced us to the latest editions of the vintage releases: Balblair 2001, Balblair 1989 and the soon to be replaced Balblair 1978.

I usually don’t write tasting notes when I’m not in the controlled environment of my desk, but I’ll give my quick impressions.



Balblair 2001Balblair 2001
(46%, OB 2011, 1st release)

Now at 46%. Nose: extremely fresh and fruity. There are obviously young notes (pear drops, banana and gooseberries) but it doesn’t feel immature really. It shows lovely notes of marshmallows which I personally like very much. Vanilla and coconut as well. Mouth: quite full and punchy, still very juicy and fruity. Now there’s citrus candy joined by subtle cinnamon, honey and light oak. Clean barley. Vanilla. It takes water well, staying full-flavoured but gaining smoothness. Finish: medium, still with the same juiciness and citrus zest.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one, it’s a lovely bright and youthful dram, clearly better than the Balblair 2000 it replaces. In fact this might even be the optimum age for this distillery in my opinion. Really. Around € 40.



Balblair 1989Balblair 1989
(46%, OB 2012, 3rd release)

Now at 46% as well. Nose: the typical bananas and apples are still here, but it’s a more mature (not to say slightly overripe) flavour which I don’t like that much. Caramel. Hay. Also more wood and spices (ginger, cloves). Mouth: sweet, honeyed, with toffee, chocolate and some cinnamon and nutmeg. Hay again. All this means slightly less fruits, although there are still some oranges and pears. Finish: quite long and rich, with malt and a bit more spices.

This one is not my favourite Balblair expression, but that’s a personal thing, in the end it’s still a well-made product. Around € 65.



Balblair 1978Balblair 1978 (46%, OB 2008)

Nose: this one is much more spicy from the start. The oak brings the classic ginger / clove / nutmeg combo. Honey, vanilla and stewed fruits are now on a second level. Mint. Some nutty aromas. Mouth: complex, with oranges and lingering pears. Plenty of spices. Nice balance for such an old malt. Finish: not too long, half citrusy / half spicy.

A beautifully elegant Balblair, really good but it’s also a lot more expensive of course.
Around € 165.

Old Pulteney Isabella FortunaThis morning I arrived at Wick airport for the first distillery visit in our little Inver House trip: Old Pulteney, the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland (until the plans for the reopening of the 19th century Wolf Burn distillery are granted).

Wick is a fairly small town nowadays, but it used to be the busiest herring fishing harbour in Europe. We stopped a moment to visit the Isabella Fortuna, a herring boat that inspired the distillery for its WK499 release. After the series’ second release WK209, we’ll probably see other duty free releases in the near future.


Old Pulteney still roomPulteney distillery itself is fairly compact and has a peculiar urban style: it lacks the typical pagoda roof and it’s quite discreet from the outside. It’s not until you go into the inner courtyard that you see the operations. Distillery manager Malcolm Waring gave us a very pleasant tour, showing us the old mash tun (to be replaced in June 2012 together with some other refurbishing), the uncommon dry yeast that is used (as their location up North wouldn’t allow the delivery of liquid yeast during heavy winters) and the huge ball on the wash still.


Old Pulteney warehouseWe also visited some of the five warehouses (three dunnage and two racked) where approximately 25.000 casks are maturing. In one of them we tasted most of the range (Old Pulteney 17 years, Old Pulteney 21 years and Old Pulteney 30 years) as well as the current “distillery only” offer, a very interesting and uncommonly waxy 1997 single bourbon cask #1086 (£ 70) that I could bottle myself and proudly brought home.

In the near future an Old Pulteney 40 years old will be released, a marriage of two 1968 casks. It will hit the market as soon as the exquisite packaging is ready.

It’s great to see a distillery that’s a little uncommon in some ways, producing a spirit with a unique character, growing ever more popular. The ratio of single malt production vs. blending spirit is now 50/50 and they know their future is really in Old Pulteney as a single malt distillery.

It has been a great starting point for this trip. Thanks Malcolm.

At this very same moment I’m visiting Pulteney distillery in the very north of Scotland. I hope to find some time and an internet connection to post my report in the next couple of days.

Back in 2008, this Old Pulteney 23 years old was a limited edition for the World Duty Free market. There were two versions, one matured in ex-bourbon casks and the other fully matured in ex-sherry casks. It was one of the first efforts to put Old Pulteney on the map of single malt whisky through single casks and limited releases.


Old Pulteney 23yo SherryOld Pulteney 23 yo ‘Sherry casks’
(43%, OB 2008)

Nose: a broad array of fruity flavours. Starts on gooseberries and green apples but goes on with fragrant raspberry and lime. Almonds and vanilla, a little uncommon for sherry maturation. Undertones of leather and soft spices. In the background there’s also the typical Pulteney coastal note and a delicious waxy veil. Very fresh, with very delicate sherry and lots of juicy fruits. Mouth: quite fruity again (yellow raisins) although there’s a bigger dryness to it as well. Apple seeds. Ginger and cardamom. A tad floral. Some briney notes. Even a hint of peat? Finish: quite long, spicy and oaky. Fairly dry again, like a Fino.

Nice balance of Fino dryness and fruity freshness. Maybe not the most typical Old Pulteney nor the most typical sherry bottling, but a great result, no doubt. Around € 180.

Score: 89/100



November 2015
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Coming up

  • Lindores 2015 festival bottling
  • Amrut 2009 (cask #2701)
  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1932 notes by Ruben

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