Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Baràbas BoechoutBaràbas is one of the trendy bars / restaurants in the centre of Boechout near Antwerp. They’re focusing on wines by the glass (40 wines from one of these enomatic machines) and whisky.

Their range features a lot of common brands (Glenmorangie, Bruichladdich, Balvenie, Laphroaig, Highland Park, almost the complete range sometimes) but also foreign names like Mackmyra, Belgian Owl, Amrut or Yamazaki. The most expensive ones are Royal Lochnagar 30yo 1974 Rare Malts and a Nikka Yoichi 20 years old.

Apparently the person responsible for whisky wasn’t there (on a Saturday evening), so the waitress spent 15 minutes trying to match her (phonetic?) notes to something from the menu. At first she brought me a white wine that also started with “fi” and it took another 15 minutes to get an actual Glenmorangie Finealta. Let’s suppose it was an off-day.

 

Location: St. Bavoplein 19, Boechout
Range: +/- 100 single malts
Price: € 5 to € 40 (for a 3cl dram)

What I’ve had: Glenmorangie Finealta (€ 12 – attractive nose, disappointing palate) & Bruichladdich 16yo Bourbon (€ 10 – a good, natural dram)
Glass: Schott Wiesel Pure (ice in a separate glass)

Pros: balanced selection, nice atmosphere, friendly
Cons: slow service, no product knowledge, no music?


Today we’ll try a very recent bottling for Germany, a 23 years old Glenrothes 1988 in the Liquid Treasures range (third series with “Lighthouses” label).

 

Glenrothes 1988 Liquid TreasuresGlenrothes 23 yo 1988 (48,9%, Liquid Treasures 2011, ex-bourbon hogshead)

Nose: sweet start on buttercups, dandelions and a fair dash of honey. Some sweet oranges and a moscatel aroma. Baked apples. Hints of vanilla and caramel. Nice combination of sweet fruits and flowers. Mouth: sweet and creamy, with malt cookies, vanilla and quite a lot of honey again. Orange marmalade. Fruit cake. Evolves on soft spices (cinnamon, subtle pepper). Finish: medium long, with the same malty / honeyed character.

Quite a typical Glenrothes (albeit without sherry). Rounded, sweet with soft spices. Available from eSpirits. Around € 90.

Score: 85/100


A primeur for the Elements of Islay series. This is the first ever independent bottling of Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on Islay. There’s no age statement, but obviously it can’t be older than 5 years.

 

Kilchoman Kh1Kilchoman ‘Kh1’
(59,7%, Elements of Islay 2011, 50 cl)

Nose: very peaty of course with a rather dry start. Mainly ex-bourbon casks? Gentian. Oily notes and soot. Ashes. After a while it develops faint notes of bandages, then some brina and buttered toast and finally some nice, rounded notes of vanilla. It gets better by the minute. Overall clean and focused, without any of the (too) youngish notes of past official bottlings. Mouth: a little sweeter / maltier. Powerful with quite some peppery hotness. Sweet peat and soot. Medicinal notes. Soft vanilla again. Nice notes of baked apple towards the end. Finish: rounder, still some of these apple notes. Very long and peaty. Slightly grassy in the very end.

One of the best Kilchoman releases I’ve had so far, with a balanced sweet touch alongside the heavy peat. Around € 60 – available from TWE.

Score: 86/100


Let’s compare yesterday’s Port Ellen 1983 by The Whiskyman to this similar release bottled a few weeks ago by Malts of Scotland. Dominiek Bouckaert, the man behind The Whiskyman, is also the importer of Malts of Scotland in Belgium.

 

Port Ellen 1983 Malts of ScotlandPort Ellen 28 yo 1983 (58,9%, Malts of Scotland 2011, bourbon hogshead, MoS 11011, 267 btl.)

Nose: it shows the same balanced mixture of briny coastal elements, sooty smoke and rounded fruitiness. Lemon and walnuts. It would be difficult to differentiate between the two, but maybe this MoS version develops a tiny bit more sweet vanilla / dried fruits over time, which is nice, but differences are really small. Both excellent. Mouth: powerful on the palate again. In no particular order: peat, smoke, bags of lemons, sweet grapefruit, pepper, brine… Similarly nervous. Again a tad more candied or is this my imagination? In the end there’s a hint of bitterness. Finish: similar length, similar flavours, similar quality.

Another Port Ellen of very high quality, difficult to pick a favourite so let’s not do that. Good news for those who missed out on the Whiskyman release. This Malts of Scotland version has just arrived in stores. Around € 200.

Score: 92/100


This is probably the most popular release by The Whiskyman so far, a Port Ellen distilled in 1983. Bottled about two months ago but gone from stores soon after.

 

Port Ellen 1983 WhiskymanPort Ellen 27 yo 1983 ‘While my whisky gently weeps’ (55,5%, The Whiskyman 2011, 120 btl.)

Nose: a very balanced expression. Plenty of mineral and coastal notes (seaweed, brine), soft medicinal notes (camphor) and charcoal smoke, but also sweet and fruity citrus aromas (candied lemon and green apple). Hints of marzipan as well, which makes the whole rounded and crystal sharp at the same time. Excellent balance indeed. Mouth: oily with a lot of peat, brine, spices (pepper and ginger) and bitterish lemon zest. The sweetness returns towards the end (especially almonds now, less fruity notes) but it stays kind of sharp. Finish: long, spicy and peaty, with liquorice and lemon zest.

A great bottling showing all the typical Port Ellen qualities. Definitely on par with many official bottlings in terms of complexity and balance. Around € 200. Sold out.

Score: 92/100


This Glen Garioch 1971 is an official single cask bottled for The Whisky Exchange and released at The Whisky Show in 2011. I’ve been impressed by this vintage before, so I’m really looking forward to it.

 

Glen Garioch 1971 TWE Whisky ShowGlen Garioch 1971 (43,9%, OB for The Whisky Exchange 2011, cask #2038, 194 btl.)

Nose: gentle but also very complex. First there’s a discreet and slightly tropical fruitiness (passion fruit, grapefruit) mixed with fresh eucalyptus, hay and a velvety, sooty smokiness and soft peat. Quite some leather, wax and mineral notes. Wet leaves. A smooth and worthy 1971. Mouth: not extremely punchy but quite boldly peated for a Glen Garioch (closer to Port Ellen than Brora for instance). Hints of mustard cress and bitter oranges, as well as some sourish oak juices that are a little too prominent maybe. Heather. Lapsang tea. Liquorice. A little austere although there are traces of sweeter citrus fruits. Finish: very long with plenty of sooty peat, liquorice and bitter oranges.

With its relatively heavy peat, waxy nose and a slightly austere and mustardy palate, this comes really close to the late 1970’s – early 1980’s Brora profile in my opinion. You have to like this style and spend a lot of money though. Available from TWE for around € 470.

Score: 91/100


Cardhu is a distillery focused on the lower part of the single malt market. In Spain for example, it’s one of the best known brands and even worldwide it boasts one of the largest volumes. But they are rarely seen in higher end independent versions.

Duncan Taylor surprised us with a lovely Cardhu 1984 a couple of months ago. Now there’s a similar release in the new Fungi series by The Whisky Agency.

 

Cardhu 1984 (TWA Funghi)Cardhu 27 yo 1984 (52,6%, The Whisky Agency ‘Fungi’ 2011, ex-bourbon, 199 btl.)

Nose: starts oily (plain vegetable oil). After a while it evolves to vanilla, hay, gooseberries and yellow apples. Lovely furniture wax. It’s not overly sweet, it’s warm but there are earthy and mineral qualities to it as well. I even detected tiny hints of medicinal notes. Quite special. Mouth: mouth-coating and rather unique. Again very oily (lemon balm) but also quite spicy / herbal (aniseed, mint, ginger, liquorice) and mildly fruity (grapefruit, oranges, blackberries). Some chocolate notes and toffee. Great complexity, anything but boring. Finish: slightly drier and grassier. Still some citrus and cocoa. Quite long.

This Cardhu has more to offer than just an “easy” fruitiness like some other old Speysiders – it has plenty character and it’s still really balanced. Around € 150.

Score: 91/100

 

ps/ If you’re surprised to see so many 90+ reviews recently, it’s simply because I’m scanning the highlights among the new releases for November-December. Always an interesting time of the year.


The latest batch from Malts of Scotland was bottled a few weeks ago and we had a preview at Spirits in the Sky. For me this Glenallachie 1973 is one of the most interesting new releases.

Note that Malts of Scotland recently started to use proprietary cask references: a simple ascending numbering of every release instead of the actual cask number. While I still prefer to know the proper cask number, I guess it’s useful to differentiate similar releases.

 

Glenallachie 1973 Malts of ScotlandGlenallachie 38 yo 1973 (44%, Malts of Scotland 2011, bourbon hogshead, MoS 11018, 125 btl.)

Nose: a rich burst of fruit potpourri. Lots of yellow apples, melons, strawberries, raspberries, apricots, mango…  Lovely fruitiness, great combo of exotic fruits and a cotton candy sweetness. Hints of (premium) moscatel wine. Some oily / waxy overtones and honey. Also a little vanilla and touches of sandalwood. Mouth: oily, drier and oakier. More fruit cake or fruit tea than actual fruits. Mixed with marzipan and waxy notes. Soft touches of pepper. Less expressive than the nose. Finish: rather long with lemon, vanilla, malt and oak.

Like nearby Caperdonich, old Glenallachie seems so much more interesting than younger versions. This is the best version from this distillery I’ve tried so far.
Around € 170.

Score: 90/100


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  • Taco: I'm about finished with a bottle of this and am still amazed at how good it is. It's much more subtle than the popular sherry finished whiskers, but
  • Tony: I guess they are not planning on selling much to the likes of us. "Premiumisation" gone mad...
  • Johan Andersson: I'm in Campbeltown right now for the Springbank Open Day on Thursday. This review is really spot on. I really love Longrow and especially the 18 it be

Coming up

  • anCnoc 24 Year Old
  • Aberlour a'bunadh Batch #50
  • Paul John Edited
  • Ledaig 42 Years Old
  • Bowmore Gold Reef
  • Tomatin 1997 (Liquid Library)
  • Springbank Vintage 2001
  • Mortlach Rare Old

1790 notes by Ruben

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