Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Earlier this week, the local Spanish newspaper Diario de Jerez published an article about the sherry casks used in the whisky industry.

 

Sherry seasoned casksIt’s clear that the sherry industry, in this case the governing body called the Consejo Regulador, realizes that their casks help to give some whiskies more prestige and help to support the current boom of whisky and brands like Macallan. Distilleries are trying to maximize this profit and are sometimes stretching the boundaries, trying to avoid the very high price of an authentic sherry cask.

What is a sherry cask anyway? In general sherry casks are specially prepared, “seasoned” casks. Nowadays most sherry casks are new barrels made from American oak, which are put together and then sent to a bodega to be filled with (inferior) sherry for a couple of months. The sherry absorbs most of the nasty oak tannins and the cask will be impregnated with the flavours of the wine. It’s a secondary business that has little to do with the actual soleras that hold the authentic sherry wines.

 

Oban sherry caskThough relatively small, this is a flourishing business and there’s high demand, so the Scots are looking for (cheaper) alternatives. There have been reported cases of improper use of the name sherry. Other wine regions in Spain produce very similar wines, but they can’t put the name sherry on their labels as the use is limited by law to the small sherry triangle.

The best example is the neighbouring area Montilla-Moriles which produces the vast majority of Pedro Ximénez wines already. Oban is using Fino casks produced in Montilla for its Oban Distillers Edition. There have been examples of “South-African sherry” matured whiskies as well (Clynelish, Mannochmore among others). Hey Diageo, is it a coincidence that your brands are my best examples? In any case, those are only the ones that openly mention other kinds of sherry (Diageo doesn’t mention ‘sherry’ on the Oban by the way), whereas the real problem are the ones that tell you it’s sherry when technically it’s not. Because you can’t really tell.

When you’re using these wines to season casks, can this be called a sherry cask if you’re not allowed to call the wine sherry?

 

The Consejo Regulador is making plans to get more control on these practices. One of the suggestions is to start a registry of allowed “seasoning companies”. Only these would be allowed to sell proper sherry casks.

In the end it’s a complex matter and I doubt full control is possible. The Consejo Regulador can limit its own producers, but who will control the distilleries? Who is going to track these casks and say whether a certain whisky fully applies to the “sherry matured” regulations? I fear it’s not a priority for the Scotch Whisky Association. Moreover you can probably use a “fake” sherry cask first, and then re-rack into a proper sherry cask. To be continued…


anCnoc whiskyI already mentioned the likeliness of peated anCnoc expressions after I visited the distillery in May 2012. We even got to try a sample of a batch distilled around 2005 and I was pleasantly surprised by its qualities. In 2012 more than 25% of the distillery production was peated spirit, so we can expect more of this.

Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar may seem strange words for outsiders, but they relate to traditional tools used in peat cutting – types of shovels that are also pictured on the labels. Each tool is used to take away different layers of peat and these separate types of peat result in different flavour profiles.

Although they don’t carry age statements, most of the casks used were laid down between 2004 and 2006.

None of them follow the trend of extreme peating levels, even Tushkar is only medium smoky. I think this is the right choice: anCnoc has a typically gentle profile that could be easily overwhelmed by too much peaty power.

anCnoc Rutter and anCnoc Flaughter will be available world-wide while anCnoc Tushkar will only be sold in Sweden.

 

 

anCnoc RutteranCnoc Rutter (46%, OB 2014, 11 ppm)

Matured in ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Initially lots of lemon, with smoky notes in the background. Rather fruity with some barbecued pineapple. Nice minty notes and spicy gingerbread. Orange peel and fragrant hints of bergamot oil. Some youngish notes (pear drops). Mouth: quite oily and fairly light-bodied, with fruit candy (apple and banana sweets), moving towards bubblegum. Biscuits and spicy notes (ginger), with just enough peat to keep you happy. Honey and creamy vanilla from the wood. Very creamy overall actually. Finish: medium long, with most of the flavours fading a bit too soon maybe.

A nice whisky, good balance between the light, creamy distillery character and subtle smoke. Above average complexity as well (even though the typical pear drops and bubblegum can’t hide its youth). This is summer peat, not the usual winter. Around € 65.

Score: 86/100

 

 

anCnoc FlaughteranCnoc Flaughter
(46%, OB 2014, 14,8 ppm)

Matured in American oak casks, including rejuvenated hogsheads (de-char / re-char).

Nose: this one comes across much tighter. A lot of the juicy fruits and vanilla are taken out and replaced with more mineral notes. More earthy sharpness rather than more warm smoke. Linseed oil and aniseed. Lemon peel. Buttered toast. Floral notes again. Some honey. Mouth: more peat now (and it keeps growing in the glass) which seems to limit the complexity. Plenty of malty notes and mint. Still some fruit candy (going towards lokum). Honey. Lightly burnt meaty notes over time. Finish: long, with more of the sweet peat keeping strong.

This one is less to my liking. It’s more narrow and more robust. For me, it also shows less of the typical anCnoc character. Peatheads may prefer this one, but I don’t see the point in faking Islay whisky. Same price. Score: 82/100

 

 

anCnoc TushkaranCnoc Tushkar (46%, OB 2014, 15 ppm)

A Swedish exclusive.

Nose: yet a different kind of peatiness. More complex and integrated again. Warm smoke without the minerality and much subtler again. Trademark honey and fruity notes (pear jelly and mixed fruit tea). Hints of dried coconut flakes and wax. Something of wheat beer. Very interesting. Mouth: back to the creaminess of butter popcorn. Fruit jellies. Big vanilla. Some almonds. A slight meatiness as well as refreshing lemon sherbet. Simple but really enjoyable. Finish: long, with warm peat and gentle spices.

A well-deserved second place. It’s more like Rutter in highlighting the distillery character, but it integrates more peat at the same time. Probably slightly more expensive due to the Swedish tax policy?

Score: 85/100


Let’s try one of the base whiskies again: Auchentoshan 12 Year Old, which replaced the old 10 Year Old as the youngest expression in the core range of this Lowlands distillery (except for the new NAS releases like Auchentoshan American Oak and the many travel retail products).

 

Auchentoshan 12 YearsAuchentoshan 12 yo (40%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: a slightly dusty nose (a rye kind of dustiness) with leafy notes and walnut or hazelnut husks. Peanut butter. Sugared cereals, light honey and lots of yellow apple. It’s actually quite nice. Mouth: slightly weak entry, too watery and not a lot going on, I’m struggling to pin down flavours. Apples again, malty notes definitely, and a vague honey / brown sugar sweetness. Quite flat, at least until the nuttiness comes back towards the end, together with some spices. Finish: smooth, not too long, sweet and slightly nutty again.

No need to bring out the trumpets, but this Auchentoshan 12 is still a nice entry-level whisky. Too bad the palate is three steps lower than the nose. Around € 45.

Score: 80/100


The festival Whisky in Leiden, organised by Whiskysite.nl, is coming up on April 12. This year’s festival bottling is a Kilchoman 2007, one of these Private Cask releases with a red label. It’s the first independent Kilchoman for Holland (after a series of bottlings for the importer).

 

Kilchoman 2007 for Whisky in Leiden 2014Kilchoman 6 yo 2007
(60,4%, OB for Whisky in Leiden 2014, bourbon cask #142, 245 btl.)

Nose: nougat at first. Then smoked pineapple and litres of sweet pear juice. Kiwi. Some walnuts and waxy notes. Obviously peat as well, but not as loud as in other expressions. Relatively soft antiseptics this time too. Mouth: smoky again, still sweet but less than the nose suggested. Peppery heat. Citrus, briny notes, a little oak and liquorice. Sweet peat and light camphor. Finish: long, clean, with deep peat smoke and grapefruit.

Kilchoman is starting to lose its youngish notes, but I can’t say complexity is high already. Great nose though. Around € 80. Already available on their website and free to try at the festival.

Score: 86/100


Master of Malt must be the king of creative bottling. Leftovers, distillation experiments, rebottlings… they’ll pop a label on it and hit the market.

The Lost Distilleries Blend is a blended whisky exclusively made up of whiskies from distilleries that have sadly closed over the years. In this case Rosebank, Littlemill, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Keith and Port Ellen, with a splash of Port Dundas grain.

Batch 4 is the lightest in colour so far. It recently captured the ‘Best Blended Whisky’ award at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards – an award that is won by a Suntory Hibiki blend more often than not. What I don’t understand, is that it won ‘Best Blended Whisky’ while there’s also a specific category for blended malts, and this is supposed to be a blended malt. Update: it includes Port Dundas.

 

The Lost Distilleries Blend - Batch 4The Lost Distilleries Blend
(50,9%, Master of Malt 2014, 97 btl.)

Nose: starts quite fruity, mostly garden fruits but with a faint tropical edge that comes and goes. Vanilla pods. Then there’s an unmistakable hint of Port Ellen – mineral notes, hints of plaster and leather. Quite some lemon notes as well – not surprising with these components. Mouth: just as elegant as the nose. The minerals are still there but the whole is very creamy as well. Sweet, juicy flavours. Apples, faint hints of guava. Very subtle peat in the background. Almond paste. Some exotic woods and soft pepper. A very nice combination of styles, with both austere elements and luscious roundness. Finish: long, warming, with plenty of sweetness (brown sugar), baked apple and very light smoke.

Around € 420. For what’s essentially a NAS blended whisky, that’s quite heavy considering Port Ellen and Rosebank are the only whiskies that you can’t find as a single malt for less than € 200 a bottle. But the quality is very high and the elegance quite stunning.

Score: 91/100


Maltbarn has released four new expressions: Ledaig 2005, Longmorn 1992 (what a surprise), Ben Nevis 1997 and this Bunnahabhain 1987 matured in a sherry butt.

 

Bunnahabhain 1987 MaltbarnBunnahabhain 26 yo 1987 (49,9%, Maltbarn 2014, sherry butt, 121 btl.)

Nose: very coastal but quite fruity at the same time. Sweet grapefruit, apple peel, hints of peaches. The some walnuts and lemon, as well as faint verbena and linseed oil. Maybe a Fino butt. Some leafy notes and wax. Gets fruitier (slightly tropical) with water. Mouth: relatively fruity again, gooseberries, apples and lemon sweets. Mid-palate there is a big boost of brine and mineral notes, accompanied by ginger and peppery oak, even some curry and mint. Comes down nicely on vanilla custard with lingering fruits. Again a slight earthy touch. Finish: long, fairly neutral, with cereal notes, soft cinnamon, lemon and banana.

A complex Bunna, fruity and coastal at the same time. It looks like most of these 1987 casks have a relatively low sherry influence (not the usual Oloroso type in any case). Around € 150.

Score: 88/100


I’m always happy when I get to try one of these dumpy bottles from Signatory Vintage. They have some ups and downs, but the ups can be truly heavenly. Fingers crossed.

This Deanston was distilled October 1967 and bottled October 1991.

 

 

Deanston 1967 Signatory #1785Deanston 23 yo 1967 (55,4%, Signatory Vintage 1991, cask #1785, 300 btl.)

Nose: pretty great after some breathing. Lots of marzipan and oranges, coupled to pretty huge notes of warm, polished oak. Some waxed leather. Dried coconut. Apricots in the background and warmer fruity notes. A dusty element. Some eucalyptus as well. Really nice. Mouth: starts with the same kind of old-style fruitiness that we found on the nose, but it quickly turns upside down. Becomes quite hot and very bitter / herbal, even slightly chemical. Orange skin, tonic, wormwood… Hints of nasty cough syrup. Growing astringency with airing, I didn’t see that coming! Finish: long, medicinal and bitter.

A really nice nose (90) and a palate that’s way too bitter to be enjoyable (75) which always results in a rather meaningless final score. Educational whisky. Long gone of course, but the Whiskybase shop has a bottle on offer for around € 400.

Score: 84/100


The Glenlivet 18 Years sits in the middle of the Glenlivet core range, in between the 12/15 and the 21/25 yo. It is a combination of first fill American and second fill European oak casks.

 

The Glenlivet 18 yearsThe Glenlivet 18 yo
(43%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: quite a robust nose with fruits (yellow apples, oranges, golden raisins, plums) and a good dose of sherry. Also honey and a minty overtone. Some blossomy notes and subtle oak spices. Something vaguely tropical comes out after a while. Mouth: more punchy now, more oak-driven as well. Malty notes, honey and lots of sweet apples. Oranges and raisins. Toffee. The oak brings cinnamon, ginger and liquorice. Maybe a tad too grainy / harsh towards the end, with some tannins. Finish: not too long, quite dry but clean, with some toasted oak and grains.

A solid all-rounder. The nose is elegant, relatively complex and with the typical floral touch of Glenlivet. After that it goes downhill, with a harsher palate and a short finish. Between € 50 and € 70.

Score: 83/100


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  • WhiskyNotes: It says 'single cask Scotch whisky' on the label, so yes, technically it can even contain a bit of Girvan grain. Not that it matters a lot though.
  • kallaskander: Hi there, could be a teaspooned blenders cask... technically not a single malt then.... that seems more probable than letting an IB bring out the fir
  • Glenn Vanbellingen: If you put the 12 y origin at 40% head to head with the 12 y origin 46% you see it immediately or better you taste it immediately.

Coming up

  • Ardbeg 1972 (Douglas Laing OMC)
  • Jura 1972 SMWS 31.4
  • Balblair 2002
  • Kavalan Solist sherry (for LMdW)
  • Tullibardine 1980 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ardbeg 1998 (Malts of Scotland)

1579 notes by Ruben

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