Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012Yesterday I got my hands on the new Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012. Since its first publication in 2006, this has become one of the most anticipated releases among whisky books.

Editor Ingvar Ronde’s recipe is still the same: gather up-to-date information about the people, the news, the facts and the stories in the whisky industry, add beautiful photos and compact tasting notes and what you get is essentially the best summary of the whisky year.

 

The 2012 edition adds 24 pages over last year and covers three main sections:

  • A number of interesting articles about Prohibition, the new wave of blenders, emotions in whisky, Irish whiskey… written by well-known whisky writers like Charles MacLean, Ian Buxton, Gavin D. Smith, Dominic Roskrow, Neil Ridley and Colin Dunn.
  • An overview of all active whisky distilleries, each with their own profile, short history and their new releases in 2011. The section about closed distilleries seems to have grown this year and there are several interviews with distillery managers again.
  • Lots of facts and figures: a whisky production primer, lists of interesting websites (WhiskyNotes among the old favourites already…), new whisky books, whisky shops around the world, the latest sales and consumption statistics and much more.

 

The success of this must-have book is due to the mixture of accurate encyclopaedic data and more philosophic reflections on where the industry is going. You’ll want to read it from A to Z, but afterwards you’ll regularly pick it up as a reliable source of whisky knowledge. A treat for whisky enthusiasts.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook has been published a couple of days ago and is sold through whisky shops all over Europe, distillery visitor centres and their own website www.maltwhiskyyearbook.com. It costs £ 14 / around € 15.


This Bunnahabhain 1973 was bottled by Malts of Scotland in May 2011 but it didn’t arrive in stores until the summer. It already won a silver medal in the 7th edition of the Independent Bottlers Challenge by Whisky Magazine.

 

Bunnahabhain 1973 Malts of ScotlandBunnahabhain 38 yo 1973
(50,2%, Malts of Scotland 2011,
sherry butt #3463, 216 btl.)

Nose: starts a little dirty, with lots of mushrooms, damp forest notes and a little cooked cabbage. Similar to the Bunnahabhain 1973 (Shark series) by Whisky Agency. Some caramel and beurre noisette. The whole reminds me of certain pre-war blends. After plenty of breathing, it shows sweeter fruity notes and some chamomile. Mouth: sweet and caramelly. Apples and honey. Toffee. Then it turns to yeasty and softly bitter notes (Triple beer?). A veil of smoke. Hints of oranges. Round oak and soft spices. Finish: long, sweet and rather herbal with more than a hint of rubber.

I always find it difficult to score a dram like this. Do I focus on the nose during the first half an hour (not very good) or do I give points for the profile after a while, which is much better? A mixed bag in my opinion – but I seem to appreciate it less than others. The palate is quite unique and pleasant though, just remember that you’ll need to get over the unfresh elements of the nose to get there. Airing is the key. Around € 170.

Score: 80/100


The oldest ‘Classic’ BenRiach in the core range (the 25yo, 30yo and 40yo are part of a Premium range). Generally well received and very reasonably priced. When I tried it, I was told that half of the batch is actually 23 to 26 years old whisky (matured in first fill bourbon casks). 40% is 20 years old whisky and 10% of peated 21 years old BenRiach. I’m not sure whether the recipe is still the same for current batches.

I tasted this one at the Whisky Festival in Gent a couple of years ago and since I didn’t write down any notes at that time, I really wanted to taste it again.

 

BenRiach 20 years BenRiach 20 yo (43%, OB 2009)

Nose: something of a potpourri: orange, pear, peach, pineapple candy, berries. Some lavender. White chocolate. Bourbon wood. Vanilla. Something dusty and farmy, but very nice. Also light peat and subtle smoke. Mouth: vanilla and honey. Malt. Tobacco. Slightly vegetal and acidic, but pleasant. Getting spicier after a while. Finish on melon and vanilla. Overall sweet but with some bitter oranges. Light smoke.

Compared to the BenRiach 16y, this one is more complex, with less caramel toffee and more fruit. More punch as well. It really stands out from the rest of the core range. It’s the most expensive but by far the best value for money. Around € 65.

Score: 87/100


This Clynelish 1972 was nicknamed “Friar’s balsam and cigar boxes” by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It was bottled in 2004 at 31 years of age.

 

Clynelish 1972 SMWS 26.33Clynelish 31 yo 1972 (57,8%, SMWS 2004, 26.33)

Nose: lovely fruit in generous quantities… mango, pineapple sweets, kumquat, banana. The expected beehive notes as well: honey, beeswax and balm, light pollen. Buttercups and honeysuckle. And a faint minerality / austerity, maybe even a phenolic note, in the background. After some time: soft cedar oak – cigar boxes indeed. Mouth: fruity marmalade and citrus with more spicy notes now (ginger and pepper). Orange zest and lemon oil. Leathery notes. Pepper and oak. The peaty edge  is more pronounced (still very soft though) which makes it a little more austere than on the nose. Mineral notes again. Finish: long, still beautifully fruity. Orange cake, and spices.

Very, very high quality, but we couldn’t expect any less from Clynelish 1972 of course. Long gone. Thanks Dominiek.

Score: 92/100


Apart from the peated Caperdonich 1998 SMoS, I’ve never tried such a young Caperdonich. Signatory and Gordon & MacPhail released some 1994’s and 1996’s and now Malts of Scotland bottled a 17 years old 1994.

 

Caperdonich 1994 Malts of ScotlandCaperdonich 17 yo 1994 (53,3%,
Malts of Scotland 2011, bourbon hogshead #625, 232 btl.)

Nose: fresh and youthful with clean barley, hay and pleasant estery notes (fruity but hard to pin down, pineapple or pear candy maybe). Yoghurt cake. Crisp floral notes as well. A few lightly roasted grains. Mouth: peppery at first, then growing creamier with some vanilla and apple. Again a sweet and fruity core. Lemon peel. Oak. Aniseed and liquorice. Hints of violets. Surprisingly spicy I would say. Finish: fairly long, spicy with hints of apple cores and ginger tonic.

It may not have the luscious fruitiness or honeyed thickness of older Caperdonich, and it’s difficult to say whether it has the same potential. Anyway it’s still a solid and punchy dram albeit with a naked maltiness and some strange twists. Around € 80.

Score: 83/100


BenRiach 1976 is now quite legendary and a large part of this fame was initiated by this single cask bottled for Craigellachie Hotel in September 2005.

 

BenRiach 1976 8079 CraigellachieBenRiach 28 yo 1976 (57,6%, OB for Craigellachie Hotel 2005, cask #8079,
144 btl.)

Nose: a sweet and surprisingly creamy 1976, with peach yoghurt and strawberries with clotted cream. Lots of banana aromas. Hints of coconut and vanilla. Some guava and melon. A very seductive fruit salad which gets more tropical by the minute. Hints of marshmallows. Soft oak and very gentle spices with a very faint earthy / mossy undertone as well. Maybe not the most complex, but warmer and more velvety than I remember other 1976’s. Mouth: plenty of oak now, with some pine resin and spices. Then it develops the creaminess again with coconut oil and vanilla. The tropical fruitiness is less impressive now and has changed into fruit tea rather than a fruit salad. Some green, leafy notes as well. Liquorice and eucalyptus. Some late toffee. Finish: stretches the wood resin a little further, with some bitterness now. Liquorice. Maybe traces of smoke?

A great nose on this BenRiach 1976 for Craigellachie Hotel, but I found it slightly disappointing on the palate because of the subdued fruits and fierce oak. Later 1976 bottlings were better in my opinion – this one doesn’t reach 90 points in my view. Slightly over-hyped (and over-paid at auctions) maybe, but still a nice classic. Long gone of course.

Score: 89/100


It’s amazing that 1972 is such a good whisky year for several distilleries. Caperdonich (the “backup” distillery for Glen Grant by the way), GlenDronach, Longmorn, Glengoyne and Clynelish spring to mind. We’ve seen a few very good 1972 Glen Grants as well.

 

Glen Grant 1972 Malts of ScotlandGlen Grant 38 yo 1972
(48,2%, Malts of Scotland 2011, sherry hogshead #8235, 148 btl.)

Nose: no sherry bomb, just a very big and ripe fruitiness with melons, yellow plums, quince marmalade, gooseberries, apricot pie… very jammy and honeyed. Precious polished wood. A little maple syrup, marzipan and toffee. A little ginger and mint. Very elegant. Mouth: a tad more oak now, but still plenty of oranges, tangerine, fruit cake and lovely honey to withstand the wood. A nice combo of dried fruits and exotic notes. Develops some toffee and mint as well. Very refined and even more jammy with some water. Finish: not very long, with cinnamon, tangerine and frangipane.

Old Glen Grant is quite reliable and this one is no different with its jammy fruitiness. Recommended. Around € 170.

Score: 90/100


This Glenburgie 1997 was bottled from a first fill bourbon cask by Gordon & MacPhail for Bert Bruyneel’s label Asta Morris.

I’ve never seen this bottle design on a G&M Exclusive bottling before, it has a distinctive shape and the G&M letters are embossed on the neck. Must be a new styling.

 

Glenburgie 1997 Asta MorrisGlenburgie 1997 (57,6%, Gordon & MacPhail Exclusive for Asta Morris 2011, bourbon cask #8551, 212 btl.)

Nose: youthful and aromatic. Starts relatively narrow on apples, barley and waxy notes, but it keeps developing and widening. Vanilla and cinnamon. Traces of honeysuckle. Almonds. Hints of pineapple. A few floral notes. Paraffin. Fresh oak shavings. Modern but really nice. Mouth: powerful attack, sweet and spicy. Slightly hot even. A jammy fruitiness (apples, pears, gooseberries, apricots) with vanilla, white pepper and ginger. Traces of coconut? Finish: long with fruits, spices and a lingering hint of moccha.

Remember how a Glenburgie 1988 surprised us recently? This younger Asta Morris release is just as nice and it’s cheaper as well. Perfect drinking whisky from a distillery that’s often overlooked. Around € 60.

Score: 89/100


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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

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

1792 notes by Ruben

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