Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Ezra Brooks 15 years

24 Jun 2014 | * USA

Ezra Brooks is a sour mash Kentucky straight bourbon. It was first produced in the 1950’s by the Medley distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. The brand has been sold a number of times and today it is marketed by Luxco and distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries (Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Parkers Heritage, Bernheim Original, Georgia Moon, Rittenhouse…).A “rare old sippin’ whiskey” according to the label. While it was typically bottled at 90 proof, this one is an older version bottled in the 1970’s at 101 proof (50,5%).

Nowadays the brand has degraded a little, with a 12yo and a cinnamon flavoured version as the top expressions, but back then it was a premium bourbon.

 

 

Ezra Brooks 15 yearsEzra Brooks 15 yo (101 proof, OB 1970’s, Italian import)

Nose: quite superb, almost a sherried bourbon. Dried prunes, figs, quite some coffee and milk chocolate… Baked apple and cinnamon sticks. Cigar leaves. Lots of nutty notes as well as waxed furniture. Mint, eucalyptus and pine resin (I think this cures a blocked nose). Verbena and other herbs. Excellent complexity. Very oaky but this is just great. Mouth: really herbal. At first there are still fruity notes (apple and plums) but they quickly make place for cardamom, mint, cinnamon and pepper. Some balsamic notes, then also gentian, heavy liquorice and a medicinal (cough syrup) theme. Bittersweet burnt caramel. Makes me think of the lovely Fernet Branca and other vermouth. Overinfused chamomile tea. Finish: long and dry, spicy oaky notes and a vague sweetness.

A lovely bourbon really. Dried fruits and big oaky notes, up to the point where it becomes medicinal. Rarely seen in auctions but one to watch. Thanks Johan.

Score: 90/100


Enough independent Bunnahabhain 1987 to fill my bathtub these days. Here’s one of my personal favourites.

 

Bunnahabhain 1987 (The Whisky Agency)Bunnahabhain 26 yo 1987 (50,4%, The Whisky Agency ‘Mollusc & Medusa’ 2014, refill hogshead, 210 btl.)

Nose: nice to see so many fruit notes. Orange wine gums, Cointreau, apricot and Cantaloupe. Some yellow flowers and beeswax. Floral honey. There’s a soft edge of linseed oil and coastal references. Really nice, its style hints towards the 1980 casks (and much older ones). Mouth: rich, very bright and fruity again, slightly candied. Apricot jam, plums, apple peel, rhubarb, maybe a little nectarine, although the coastal side caps a few of the tropical hints. Impressive freshness, and a nice combination with gentle brine and a gingery sharpness. Finish: quite long, with honeyed notes, brine and liquorice.

These Bunna’s from 1987 can be totally different. I’ve had austere and briny Fino casks, Karuizawa-style dark sherry casks and now a bright, rather fruity version – which is my favourite. Check it out, I find it quite excellent. Around € 165.

Score: 90/100


We already tried Bowmore Small Batch with its accompanying chocolate made by Montezuma’s.

Montezuma's chocolateBowmore 15 Year Old Darkest was released in 2007. I tried it back then and wasn’t really impressed, as the sherry was not entirely fresh. But this is a totally different batch of course.

Bowmore Darkest is finished in Oloroso sherry casks for three years. It’s also coloured with caramel to make it darker than it actually is.

 

Bowmore Darkest 15 YearsBowmore 15 yo ‘Darkest’
(43%, OB 2013)

Nose: quite nice, a classic combination of smoke and sherry. Subtle smoky bonfire rather than heavy peat. The sherry is slightly bigger, I would say. Raisins, hints of coffee beans, caramelized nuts. Clean sherry, if slightly winey. Subtle coastal notes too. Mouth: fruity, lots of berries and forest fruits. Sweet and sour. Leathery notes. Nuts and treacle. Also a slightly floral (not to say fragrant) hint, not quite FWP but you see where it comes from. Subtle smokiness again. Finish: long, with tar and walnuts.

As for the chocolate, I have the same remarks as with Bowmore Small Batch. The chocolate is really nice, the combination is nice, but I wouldn’t say it has special advantages over a standard dark chocolate bar. And the chocolate tends to overpower the whisky.

 

On its own, you should remember Bowmore Darkest is not all that dark, it’s not as smoky as other Bowmore, much sweeter and there’s a hint of violets on the palate. A fair entry-level sherried Islay whisky. Around € 50.

Score: 80/100


In the Singleton series that was originally made for travel retail, the Singleton of Dufftown offers three expressions: 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old and 18 Year Old. This year, two new NAS expressions were launched: Tailfire and Sunray.

 

The Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year OldSingleton of Dufftown 15 yo
(40%, OB 2013)

Nose: much nicer than expected. There’s an uncommon mix of lipstick wax, orange blossom and a dark beer-like malty sweetness. Works surprisingly well. Apple pie and toffee, oranges and honey. Also a certain dustiness. Maybe soft tobacco. I quite like this. Mouth: fairly soft, too bad, with a generic sweetness. Bummer. The profile is still rather nice though. Sweet nuts, pears and a balanced oaky spiciness. Honey. Finish: long, sweet and malty, with lots of mocha and honey.

I have to say the nose of this Singleton of Dufftown 15yo was a nice surprise. Nice character, interesting aromas. A really nice entry-level malt. If only it were bottled with a little bit more power. Around € 45.

Score: 83/100


After the Glen Grant 1948, here’s another side of Gordon & MacPhail…

The Belgian retailer The Bonding Dram picked this Caol Ila 2006 from the Gordon & MacPhail stocks. It was a joint bottling with the Flemish Malt Whisky Society, a whisky club based in the same region.

 

Caol Ila 2006 (Gordon & MacPhail - The Bonding Dram)Caol Ila 7 yo 2006 (56,5%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Bonding Dram & FMWS 2014, refill sherry hogshead #306202, 309 btl.)

Nose: very straightforward. Lots of coastal notes, deep soot, burnt heather. Also quite some medicinal notes, iodine, camphor, a little asphalt. Intense peat. But there’s also a loud sweetness that fights back. Baked apple, molasses, peaches on syrup. Powerful ensemble. Mouth: again sweeter than expected, although the peat is hard to tame. Baked bananas, candy apple, caramel (burnt). Overtaken by soot, camphor and punchy chilli peppers. Some gingery heat. Heather, herbs, slowly getting drier (cayenne pepper tea and liquorice confectionery). Yes, lots of black liquorice candy really. Finish: very long, herbal, camphory and smoky.

A slightly extreme dram – screaming and kicking around. Luckily the sherry cask brought enough sweetness to maintain the balance. Around € 55.

Score: 87/100


Most people have this romantic idea that sherry casks used for the maturation of whisky have been used for years in the soleras of Spanish bodegas first and are then sent to Scotland. In reality this is an exception rather than a general rule, nowadays the vast majority of casks are actually new – they are made on request and filled with “seasoning wine” (which sits a couple of steps below the regular sherry wines) for a relatively short period.

Bodegas TradicionIn this case it’s different. Bodegas Tradición, a highly respected supplier of (very old) sherries, provided Glengoyne with two casks that were actually part of their soleras: one Palo Cortado and one Pedro Ximénez cask.

The Palo Cortado cask was part of a 12 butt solera and had been in use for around 50 years. The sherry was bottled in Spain by Tradición and the cask was shipped to Glengoyne. They filled it with 12 years old bourbon-matured spirit and left it to mature further for an extra year.

Note that Glengoyne is one of the only distilleries that regularly work with Palo Cortado casks (as well as Amontillado) while most whisky is matured in either Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez or sometimes Fino. I’ve heard both Tradición casks have now been passed on to Bruichladdich for a similar experiment.

 

This Glengoyne 1999 was bottled for Germany (a major market for sherried whisky) and it was sold in a wooden box “whisky meets sherry”, containing a bottle of both the whisky and the sherry. Head over to my sister blog SherryNotes for my review of the Palo Cortado VORS from Bodegas Tradición.

Glengoyne 1999 Palo Cortado - Bodegas Tradicion

Glengoyne 13 yo 1999 (53,8%, OB for Germany 2012, Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado finish, 477 btl.)

Nose: clean, sweet and fairly malty. It does show some of the Palo Cortado characteristics, but there’s an underlying theme of fresh bourbon oak as well. Honey sweetness. Grape skins and golden raisins. Some butter and sugared almonds. Maybe dates. Overall quite round, with a minty and lemony edge. Not bad, but the sherry influence is rather shy. Mouth: sweet to bittersweet, still some grape skin alongside cloves, pepper, brazil nuts and apples. Orange zest. Dark chocolate. Some tannins and sourish winey notes. It seems slightly disjointed: it’s really spicy, a tad bitter as well, and lacking something to balance it. It reminds me more of French wine finishes than of what we tend to call a typical sherry finish. Finish: some honey sweetness, but the zestiness of grapefruit is much bigger. Quite peppery again.

Not the best marriage, if you ask me. I think the Palo Cortado in itself is excellent (one of the best examples of its kind, and Palo Cortado is my favourite type of sherry anyway) but maybe it didn’t have enough time to impart its character. Or maybe using actual solera casks is not always a great idea after all. Around € 140 for both bottles.

Score: 81/100


The latest superwhisky brought to us by Poland’s investment company Wealth Solutions is a Glen Grant 1948, sourced from the Gordon & MacPhail stocks. It’s a stunning 66 years old and bottled at cask strength.

The 160 decanters had already been sold before the presentation in May 2014, for an undisclosed (which probably means really high) amount.

 

 

Gordon & MacPhail, as one of Scotland’s oldest independent bottlers, have always had long-standing contracts with major distilleries to buy new make and mature them either at the distillery, or more commonly in their own warehouses in Elgin. Their portfolio contains some of the oldest whiskies around.

Glen Grant is one of the few distilleries capable of presenting such extremely old whiskies, together with Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Macallan, Dalmore and maybe a couple of others. In any case it will be the oldest whisky we’ve been able to try so far.

 

Glen Grant 66yo 1948 Gordon & MacPhail for WealthSolutions

 

 

Glen Grant 66 yo 1948 (46,6%, Gordon & MacPhail for WealthSolutions 2014, first fill sherry butt #1369, 160 btl.)

Nose: smoother, richer and sweeter than expected. It’s quite subtle, very much bound together, but really exquisite. Lots of oily notes: precious old woods, hints of teak oil and eucalyptus. Soft fruity notes, like apples and orange blossom honey. Bergamot. Beeswax. Apricot jam. The polished oak is always there, but in a striking harmony. Lots of fresh mint. Faint toasted / smoky notes, almost hidden in the background. Mouth: almost immediately a gentle peppery heat coats the palate. Softly spicy rather than oaky. Huge notes of pipe tobacco and cigar boxes. Herbal tea. Still hints of bergamot oils and apricots. Cardamom and walnuts. Mint and eucalyptus. More savoury than the nose. Early Grey tea. Soft resin. Some toasted notes in the background. Finish: very long echoes of the spice mix, with a little liquorice and menthol.

Of course it’s oaky – but that doesn’t mean it’s dry or tannic. It’s a polished, exotic oakiness that works well alongside the rounder notes. I think the nose is delicious and the sappy palate surprisingly balanced. Even if you’ve tried 30 or 40 years old whiskies, this is hardly comparable. It’s a different drink, a different experience altogether and a style on its own.

Score: 94/100


Abbey Whisky is a Scottish whisky retailer founded in 2008. They focus on rare, collectable and old whisky and they’re also working on two series of own bottlings: The Rare Casks (with limited edition single malts) and The Secret Casks (a trio of undisclosed 30yo, 40yo and 50yo Speyside whiskies).

One of their latest releases is this Glencadam 1991.

 

Glencadam 1991 Abbey WhiskyGlencadam 22 yo 1991
(55,3%, Abbey Whisky ‘The Rare Casks’ 2014, refill bourbon cask, 96 btl.)

Nose: very fruity and aromatic. Lots of meadow flowers. Barley sugars and juicy plums. Frosted cereals, warm vanilla, with hints of marshmallows, but also bright notes like lemon and mint. Waxed oak. Feels slightly older than it actually is, in a good way. Mouth: creamy, still very fruity. A classic ex-bourbon profile, I would say, with Highlands power. Greengages, peaches, plenty of honey. Hints of green banana. Some malty / biscuity notes and a balanced peppery kick from the oak. Subtle bitter ‘sappy’ notes. Finish: quite long, warming and sweetish. Half fruity, half spicy. Some liquorice in the very end.

In a way, this Glencadam is quite discreet yet powerful at the same time, focusing on the quintessential qualities of bourbon-matured Highlands whisky. It has a slightly modern profile, but well succeeded. Around € 95.

Score: 88/100


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Coming up

  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Benriach 1991 (MoS for QV.ID)
  • Blair Athol 1991 (Wemyss Malts)
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)
  • Ardbeg 15yo 1973 (Sestante)
  • Aberlour 8yo (cube, small cork)
  • Balblair Millennium

1639 notes by Ruben

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