Single malt whisky - tasting notes

It wouldn’t make sense as a direct head-to-head, but let’s have a medium-aged Glen Grant 1993 after yesterday’s excellent 38 year-old. It’s part of the latest releases by A.D. Rattray and bottled from a bourbon cask.

 

Glen Grant 1993 A.D. RattrayGlen Grant 17 yo 1993 (55,6%, A.D. Rattray 2011, bourbon cask #121916, 292 btl.)

Nose: pear, slightly artificial orange, banana… I would have guessed this was a lot younger. White peach. Soft garden flowers and grass. Just a tiny hint of oak. Simple, quite lightweight but not bad at all. Mouth: sweet fruits (pears, citrus, apple) but enough tingling spices to emphasise its 17 years of age this time (pepper, ginger, liquorice, soft aniseed). Quite some vanilla as well. Malt. Freshly sawn oak. Roasted almonds. Finish: slightly hot and spicy (something curry-like?). Rather long.

Is it young, is it old? It’s an in-between malt. It’s interesting enough and quite modern in style. I wonder how this would evolve if you kept it in wood for another 20 years. Readily available. Around € 65.

Score: 82/100


The 2009 Malt Maniacs Awards were won by a Glen Grant 1972 from a sherry cask. The newest series by The Whisky Agency, labeled “Grotesque Crocs”, contains a sherried 1972 Glen Grant as well.

 

Glen Grant 1972 TWA CrocsGlen Grant 38 yo 1972 (52,8%, The Whisky Agency ‘Grotesque Crocs’ 2011, refill sherry hogshead, 215 btl.)

Nose: a jammy and syrupy nose (Maple syrup and Belgian “Sirop de Liège”, made of pears). Lots of dried fruits (apricots, prunes) and honey. Quite some oak and spices (nutmeg, mint). Roasted nuts. A little wax. After breathing and the addition of a few drops of water it gets fruitier and more toasted at the same time. Very nice. Mouth: punchy and thick, with orange zest, citrus and heavy spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger). Again a roasted element (coffee?) and some bitter chocolate. Drying towards the end. I prefer the palate without water as it seems to highlight the spices even more. Finish: long, with the spices a little louder. The fruits are less assertive by now.

This Glen Grant may be spicier and a tad less fruity than the award-winning 1972/2009 for The Whisky Fair. It certainly delivers, but the reaction to water (nose / palate) make it difficult to play around with. Currently on its way to a store near you. Around € 180.

Score: 88/100


Alchemist (written Alc-hem-ist) is an independent Scottish bottler founded by Gordon Wright (member of the family behind Springbank, one of the people behind the resurrection of Bruichladdich and co-founder of Murray McDavid). There has been some momentum around this bottler a couple of years ago, but it seems to have faded quite soon. The website has never been updated since 2006 either.

 

Ben Nevis 1966 AlchemistBen Nevis 42 yo 1966
(40,6%, Alchemist 2008)

Nose: old polished wood mixed with a slightly tropical fruitiness (melon, banana). Nice coconut / vanilla combo. Hints of old grain whisky, but this is better and certainly smoother. Hints of lipstick. Heather notes. Honey. Verbena tea. A little smoke as well. Great nose, as great as old Ben Nevis can be. Mouth: interesting combination of sweet, sour and oaky flavours. Seville oranges, a little sherry. Heathery notes again. Light coconut. Getting quite spicy and oaky after a while (nutmeg, cloves, ginger). Maybe a little too oaky but hey, it’s 42 years old. Finish: long, fruity and waxy with a sourish touch.

Always be on the lookout for old Ben Nevis. Their 1960’s spirit is getting rare, but usually of great interest. This one is still available in some shops, but it doesn’t come cheap. Around € 220.

Score: 90/100


The stills at Glen Keith have been compared with those of Bushmills, and indeed, in the 1970’s (after the addition of an extra pair of stills) double and triple distillation were altered. Glen Keith had its own maltings and was still
coal-fired back then.

Glen Keith was mothballed in 2000 but it still performs some tasks for Strathisla, a nearby distillery connected via pipes.

 

Glen Keith 1970 TWAGlen Keith 40 yo 1970 (45,1%,
The Whisky Agency ‘Landscapes’ 2010,
bourbon hogshead, 215 btl.)

Nose: I think “voluptuous” describes this one. Juicy pears, sweet tangerine, apricots, pineapple… a very warm, honeyed fruitiness freshened by some flowery notes. Buttercups, pollen and flower honey. My beloved marshmallows! Marzipan. A suggestion of coconut / vanilla. After fifteen minutes, these notes are joined by some grassy / yeasty notes and even a medicinal tinge. Immediately attractive but very complex in case you want to dig a little further. Mouth: lovely pineapple / vanilla / coconut combination. Now almost completely on fruity notes, with a lot of fruit jam (apricot mostly). Fruit cake with a layer of soft spices and herbal notes in the background. Evolves on pink grapefruit. Finish: long, round and fruity with beehive notes and ginger.

Sweet and utterly fruity, slightly candied, with hardly any oak to be detected. Splendid and way too drinkable. Around € 180 but sold out now as far as I can tell.

Score: 93/100


Another bottle from the recent series of A.D. Rattray releases, a 28 years old Aultmore 1982. Two sister casks (#2216 and #2217) have been bottled for Bladnoch Forum in 2010.

 

Aultmore 1982 A.D. RattrayAultmore 28 yo 1982 (56,1%,
A.D. Rattray 2011, cask #2214, 150 btl.)

Nose: starts on hay and grass. A bit mashy and buttery as well, very natural I would say. Hints of lemongrass. Apple compote. Some milk chocolate. Whiffs of nutmeg. Water makes it slightly fragrant, even slightly soapy. Mouth: a bit sharp (ginger, cloves) with a slight alcoholic punch at first. Growing bitter (lemon skin, grapefruit). The bitterness is enhanced by the woody notes. Liquorice. Seville oranges with a nice but slightly hot afterglow on vanilla. Softer and rounder with a few drops of water. Finish: intense spices, vanilla and a chocolate coating.

This Aultmore has some good elements (fruity, firm spices) but also a few downsides (quite harsh and bitter). I suppose all is due to a (slightly over-)active cask. Not bad at all but I’ll pass because there are currently better releases on offer from this bottler in my opinion. Around € 100.

Score: 82/100


This dark-coloured Ardbeg was distilled in March 1975 and bottled in May 2002. It was distributed to the US market in the Old Malt Cask series by Douglas Laing.

 

Ardbeg 1975/2002 DL OMCArdbeg 27 yo 1975 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC 2002, sherry cask, US market, 342 btl.)

Nose: soot and sherry in a great marriage as both are not trying to overpower. Some of the notes, in no particular order: camphor, chocolate, gentle peat, iodine, sea breeze, red berries, juniper, tar, dark leather, dried prunes… All of a sudden, it reminded me of the famous Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar praline invented by our Belgian shock-o-latier Dominique Persoone for Oud Sluis – it has the same chocolate smell combined with slightly sourish vinegar. Priceless. Mouth: big liquorice flavours now. Tar again, some tobacco as well. Nutmeg and pepper. Very intense. Earthy, ending on spices and pine needles. Finish: really long, rather oaky now. Pepper and liquorice.

An impressive Ardbeg, very intense. The tar is quite big but the chocolate sweetness from the sherry makes it special. Not unlike some heavily sherried Port Ellen actually (say PE1). Very hard to find now, and expect € 400 or more.

Score: 92/100


Zenith was an Italian importer of Caol Ila, Rosebank, Brackla (and maybe a few others) during the 1980’s, run by Bonfanti in Milan. In the 1970’s it was simply called Bonfanti Import.

This kind of ceramic decanter is quite rare. In the same period Zenith also imported Rosebank in common clear glass bottles (15yo and 20yo).

 

Rosebank 15yo Zenith BonfantiRosebank 15 yo (50%, OB for Zenith Italy, 1980’s, 75cl ceramic decanter)

Nose: very fragrant, grassy en slightly perfumy. Big notes of lemons (juice, zest, marmalade…). Yellow apples. Hints of walnuts and wax. Very clean with just a hint of smoke. Mouth: starts a bit dusty and undecided but picks up its freshness after a while. Again all kinds of lemon notes: crystallized lemon, dried lemon, cleaning cream. Overall quite sweet and rounded. Then evolving towards sharper grapefruit with a slight bitterness. A grassy / salty twist in the end. Finish: medium length, more of the same (lemon, lemon, apple and lemon).

Very clean, typical Lowlands style exploring every shade of flavour in lemons. Very enjoyable but also a bit mono-dimensional. Not all that different from more recent Rosebank. Worth around € 400 in auctions.

Score: 85/100


Independent bottlers are bringing out so many interesting bottles that we could easily fill the whole blog with nothing more than new indy releases. I know a lot of people are interested in such bottles (rather than old stuff that you can’t buy any more), but let’s take a small break anyway and taste a few interesting oldies.

This single cask Caol Ila was distilled in October 1978 and bottled by Cadenhead in October 1990. A second cask (better known) was filled and bottled at the same time (65,5%).

 

Caol Ila 12yo 1978 Cadenhead dumpyCaol Ila 12 yo 1978
(64,4%, Cadenhead 1990, dumpy bottle, 75 cl)

Nose: a rather soft nose considering the alcohol volume. Great old-style coal smoke, fern and moss. Some graphite. Coastal notes as well: seaweed, soft iodine, wet wool. Eucalyptus. Hints of almond oil to round it off. With water: slightly more lemony and slightly more fruity / fragrant with hints of mint. Mouth: very intense of course, oily and quite warming without water. Mild peat, a lot of leafy notes. Evolving on brine, mushrooms and hints of ink. Water brings out lemon balm and sweet notes (not exactly fruity though) with more smoke in the background. Finish: long, smoky but relatively simple with lemon and a salty edge.

This Caol Ila shows an impressive power but smoothness at the same time. Great old-style coal smoke as well. Worth around € 400 now.

Score: 88/100


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  • Roberto Sikora: This is really a great, great bottling. One of my favourite Littlemills so far... :-) Thank you, Ruben for this review!
  • george: i see you have tried st magdalene and say it is harder to find i am a collector of st magdalene and i have 40 bottles i am selling these date from 196
  • sjoerd972: I wish the guys at Bushmills would demand the labels to say "Northern Ireland" so we didn't have to speculate on the booze's origins.

Coming up

  • Bowmore Devil's Casks - Batch 2
  • Tomatin 1988 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Abbey Whisky)
  • Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
  • Blair Athol 2002 (Hepburn's Choice)
  • Fettercairn Fior
  • Bowmore Laimrig 15yo
  • Ben Nevis 2002 (Port cask #334)

1599 notes by Ruben

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