Single malt whisky - tasting notes

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


The Whisky Agency has a big batch of Tomintoul casks from 1967 / 1968. This one was chosen for the premium Private Stock series, which is used for very limited and usually higher quality whiskies.

 

Tomintoul 1968 Private StockTomintoul 43 yo 1968 (43,2%, The Whisky Agency ‘Private Stock’ 2011, ex-bourbon hogshead, 78 btl.)

Nose: fruity and fragrant. Plenty of citrus and orchard fruits (apricot, tangerine, orange), mixed with slightly tropical fruits (melon, passion fruit). Soft nutty notes (sweet almond paste). Maybe some flowery notes in the background (buttercups). Very delicate. Mouth: starts very citrusy (pink grapefruit, orange), grows spicier over time (cinnamon, soft pepper, mint) and finishes with warm oak and a few tannins. Finish: not too long, with drying hints of citrus tea.

All these Tomintoul 1967 / 1968 casks seem to have lots of qualities, but they tend to lack a bit of punch. Very sophisticated but apart from the label I don’t really see why it costs more than the Tomintoul 1967 in the Liquid Sun series. Around € 215.

Score: 89/100


BroraOn Monday I wrote that I felt a little disappointed by the new Brora 32 years (part of the Diageo Special Releases 2011). I sniffed the glass at the festival and took a little sip. The disappointment was mostly because of the emphasis on mineral notes (typical for 1980’s Brora i.e. most independent releases) and the lack of farmy notes (typical for the 1970’s).

But you know how it goes, there’s not enough time and festivals don’t offer the right atmosphere for an in-depth tasting of complex whiskies, so I decided to take home the rest of my glass. Here’s the true assessment.

It’s from refill both American and European oak casks. Also, for the first time Brora is bottled as an official 32 years old while it used to be 30 years. I’ve been told stocks are running really low and there would only be one more release after this one, a Brora 40 years old.

 

 

Brora 32 years (2011 release)Brora 32 yo (54,7%, OB 2011, refill American oak & refill European oak, 10th Annual release, 1500 btl.)

Nose: mineral and dusty, even a little raw at first. Wet stones and cardboard. Then some ashes and coal. A pinch of salt. This is as far as I got at the festival, but after fifteen minutes a bunch of other layers start to come out. Nice tobacco. Quite some yellow apple, peach and vanilla as well (fruity / biscuity notes, honey, in high quantities for a Brora). Wax. More smoke and aha… farmyard! Maybe not the smell of goat stables and manure of earlier releases but still a good deal of stable hay and wet animals. A little mint / eucalyptus as well. High class! Mouth: much sweeter than expected. Tangerine, almonds, condensed milk, something caramelly even. Still rather peppery and slightly mustardy. Some liquorice. Some peat and coal. Leather. Going back and forth between sharper notes and sweeter notes. A fair amount of oak too, with a tiny bit of resin. Nicely returning to pastry flavours in the end. Finish: medium long and drying, with faint peat and ashes. Again a hint of mint in the aftertaste.

 

After having spent more time with it, I take back my first opinion. It needs time due to its impressive complexity, but this is not at all a disappointment – it’s much better than the last few years. Although there are some quirky elements (very sweet attack, only moderate farminess), overall it’s excellent. Too bad it costs around € 350 (it’s kinda worth it though – just look at today’s prices of earlier releases). Brora enthusiasts should seriously consider this one.

Score: 94/100


Dominiek Bouckaert is distributing Malts of Scotland in Belgium, he’s running the Thosop handwritten releases and since a couple of months he launches casks in his own series The Whiskyman.

This Clynelish 1997 is the fourth release in this series already. Time to review a few others in the near future.

 

Clynelish 1997 - The WhiskymanClynelish 14 yo 1997 ‘All you need is whisky’ (50,5%, The Whiskyman 2011, ex-bourbon, 160 btl.)

Nose: fruity and fragrant. A lot of juicy pear and gooseberry aromas. A little sweet oak and vanilla. Creamy banana. Lime candy. Very seductive, the usual mineral / waxy notes are certainly there, but they’re wrapped in a sweetness. Very nice. Mouth: oily and quite sweet again, with some pineapple sweets and apple / pear. Lime and grapefruit. Punchy and much spicier than the nose suggested (ginger and nutmeg). Some oak shavings and waxy notes. Finish: half fruity, half spicy with the trademark wax.

Great young Clynelish, especially the nose is spectacular for such a youngster. Better than the similar Whisky Fair bottling but also a little more expensive. Around € 65.

Score: 89/100


Daily DramStrathmill, the slightly obscure Speyside distillery operated by Diageo. We don’t see too many bottlings yet a lot of people thought this was the highlight of the Spirits in the Sky festival!

Released under the Daily Dram label in cooperation with The Whisky Agency.

 

 

Strathmill 1974 Daily DramStrathmill 37 yo 1974 (44,4%, Daily Dram 2011, joint bottling with The Whisky Agency)

Nose: excellent start – sweet and buttery (fresh croissant, vanilla) with huge beehive notes (honey, mead, beeswax). Very fruity as well – first ripe banana, melon and apricot, then moving to crispier oranges. Hints of praline, coconut and dried flowers. Great nose, very thick and honeyed. Mouth: gentle and elegant. Almost completely on honey and oranges (fresh and liqueur). Backbone of malt, medium oak and spices (soft pepper, cinnamon). Nice vanilla, apricot and coconut. Finish: slightly drier, with some tannins and spices, dried oranges and faint nutty notes.

What an excellent, luscious nose! The palate is less unique but certainly high quality. Soon in stores. Around € 150 if I’m not mistaken. Recommended.

Score: 92/100


Yesterday I went to Leuven for the Spirits in the Sky festival (5th edition if I’m not mistaken). It’s organised by our Belgian importer The Nectar so the brands in their portfolio (too many to sum up these days) are the main attraction. It’s a good place to find out about the new stuff that’s going to hit the shelves.

 

Cardhu 1984 Whisky Agency FunghiFestival highlights

Here are some of them most interesting new things I was able to try. Most of these will be reviewed in depth in the following weeks.

  • Strathmill 1974 (44,4%, Daily Dram)
  • Miyagikyo 1988 for La Maison du Whisky
  • Bruichladdich 5yo vatting by Jim McEwan for The Nectar’s 5th Anniversary, Château d’Yquem finish
  • Glenallachie 38yo 1973 (44%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon cask #11018)
  • Glen Grant 1972 (Whisky Agency “Private Stock”)
  • Cardhu 27yo 1984 (52,6%, Whisky Agency)
  • Port Ellen 27yo 1983 (55,5%, The Whiskyman)

 

 

Ardbeg 1974 / 1992 Cadenhead

And two excellent oldies:

  • – Talisker 1957 (53,3%, G&M Cask 1989)
  • – Ardbeg 18yo 1974 (57,7%, Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection 1992, 150th Anniversary bottling)

Of course there were also a few disappointments. Maybe not bad whisky, but expectations were higher than the actual result for the GlenDronach 21yo Parliament (clean but too sticky, too caramelly), the new Bruichladdich 10yo ‘The Laddie Ten’ and sadly also the new official Brora 32yo (see comments).

I was told there would be one more official Brora after this, a Brora 40 years old. Let’s hope it will be outstanding and not priced with Taiwan in mind.

 

 

 

The Whisky Agency masterclass “not yet bottled”

Carsten Ehrlich, the driving force behind The Whisky Agency, brought five samples to the festival from casks that were yet to be bottled. We had a chance to try them (blind) and select our favourite which will be bottled as a special edition Whisky Agency & Spirits in the Sky in the near future. Carsten doesn’t like to host tastings, so Mario Groteklaes had to take his place.

Whisky Agency masterclassThe first three samples were Bowmore 1999 (focused on oily peat, not complex but good drinking whisky), Glen Scotia 1992 (dirty sherry, old-style and definitely not my cup of tea) and a typical Glen Elgin 1984 (similar to the Daily Dram release of last year).

Then there was a terrific Glen Grant 1972 (sherry hogshead) with a superb fruity / jammy nose (cherries, apricot pie, honeysuckle) and a fruity albeit slightly tannic profile in the mouth. Similar to the Glen Grant 1972 bottled for The Whisky Fair 2009.

This Glen Grant was chosen by our tasting committee, although a lot of people preferred sample number 5, a Tomatin 1976. We’ve had quite a lot of these and it’s easy to recognize the tropical fruits. High quality again (some said the best Tomatin 76 so far, especially on the palate) – a close second place.

Keep in mind that all five will be bottled at one time or another (some probably with Liquid Sun or Liquid Library labels). I know many people will look out for the Tomatin but personally I still think the Glen Grant was the best choice!


This old Caol Ila 1981 is part of the second Liquid Treasures series with “Seabirds” labels. I’m always happy to see Caol Ila is still relatively cheap at such an old age.

 

Caol Ila 1981 (Liquid Treasures)Caol Ila 30yo 1981 (50%, Liquid Treasures “Seabirds” 2011, ex-bourbon hogshead)

Nose: starts lemony, briny and slightly resinous but quickly there are sweeter notes (clementine, marzipan) and a hint of vanilla – just enough to balance it. Quite some medicinal elements, cold ashes and gentle smoke. Seems younger than it is. Mouth: powerful. More peat now, a dry kind of peat. Then it grows typically austere and coastal, with walnut skin, medicinal notes, all kinds of citrus zest, hints of salmiak and big salty notes. Big flavours. Finish: long, zesty, briny with quite some ashes.

Quite a powerful Caol Ila, which hasn’t lost any of its youthful nervosity. Around € 125. Available from eSpirits in Germany.

Score: 88/100

 

ps/ There’s a similar Caol Ila 1981/2011 in the Liquid Sun series. That one’s a tad less rounded on the nose and even more powerful (not to say brutal) in the mouth.


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Coming up

  • Glenglassaugh 1972 (Carn Mor)
  • Danica whisky (Braunstein)
  • Laphroaig Lp6 (Elements of Islay)
  • Bruichladdich 1964 (G&M #3676-3677)
  • Scallywag Cask Strength
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection
  • Highland Park 1990 (Master of Malt)
  • Springbank 2001 vintage

1840 notes by Ruben

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