When I first became interested in whisky
(around 2004/05), Dewar Rattray was an independent bottler that quickly gained attention
(it was one of the first tastings I attended, with Susan Webster at that time). They seemed to have great and sometimes uncommon whisky at interesting prices, but due to some problems with their Belgian distributor, releases suddenly became hard to find around here.
Mid 2010 they were re-introduced in Belgium with a slightly different name: A.D. Rattray. Time to re-discover them – we’ll start with a 21 years old Tomatin distilled 1st of June 1988. Sister cask #1087 was bottled in 2009.
Tomatin 21 yo 1988 (55,2%, A.D. Rattray 2010, cask #1088, 213 btl.)
Nose: really sweet up front. Very fruity. Also a hint of grass and hay, but it fades quickly (and comes back with some water). Not the tropical fruits we expect from a 1970’s Tomatin, more like stewed fruits. Apricot. Apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Developing on oak spices (nutmeg, cinnamon). Mouth: oily and spicy attack. Quite some fruits again, now dried rather than fresh fruit. Vanilla. Nutmeg, ginger and soft pepper taking the lead. Water softens the spices and makes place for the fruits: butter pears, yellow raisins, mango crumble. Finish: long and spicy, with some herbal tea and oranges.
A solid Tomatin, full of fruits and spices. Water adds an extra dimension, so be sure to play around with it. Well priced: around € 80.
This limited edition GlenDronach Octarine (“the colour of magic”) was developed in May 2010, exclusively for the Carrefour supermarkets in France. As often with these “exclusive” releases, they turned up in other stores afterwards.
It is a vatting of bourbon and sherry casks, said to be 8 years old although there’s no age statement on the label.
GlenDronach Octarine (46%, OB 2010)
Nose: starts on marzipan / walnuts with some citrus notes and apricot compote, but quickly loses a lot of its freshness and moves to roasted almonds and old roses. Interesting smokiness which seems to mute the fruits. Some milk chocolate. A little mineral as well (limestone). Mouth: starts a little shy, with mixed fruits (apple, orange) and evolving to big notes of butter toffee and caramel. Some vanilla. Overall quite coating, with a creamy chocolate body. Finish: quite long, drying with more chocolate.
This Octarine is quite different from what we see in the core range or the GlenDronach single casks.
I may not be the biggest fan, but in this price range it’s very authentic. Around € 30 in France. Around
€ 40 if you manage to find a bottle in other countries.
There seems to be little deviation in the quality of recent Laphroaig distillation, so bottling young Laphroaig is a safe choice for an independent bottler: they sell out anyway.
The Whisky Agency has brought us some outstanding casks already, let’s check this new 11 years old ex-bourbon cask released in the Liquid Library series.
Laphroaig 11 yo 1998 (59,6%, The Whisky Agency 2010, Liquid Library, ex-bourbon)
Nose: clean Laphroaig with smoke and ashes and some antiseptic. A bit of grapefruit in the background. Some marzipan and fruit as well, but very subtle. Water works like a magic trick: it switches almost completely to engine oil and wet newspaper. Curious. Mouth: impressive strength, very very punchy. Starts slightly bitter and zesty, then getting “wider” with some citrus sweetness and pepper. Full of ashes. With water: more gentle and a lot sweeter. Not the most complex palate, but good. Finish: clean, smokey and slightly resinous. Hints of salted fish.
Laphroaig from this era is never deceiving, although there can be some differences in coastalness and sweetness. Still available in most stores – around € 70.
A bunch of samples are waiting on my desk, but I’m developing a cold so I may have to slow down the publishing tempo for a while…
The otherwise unpeated Islay distillery Bunnahabhain did some peated runs in 1997, and occasionally they make it into a limited release like Bunnahabhain Toiteach or Bunnahabhain Moine. Now there’s a peated expression for duty free shops (as often also available in a few regular stores). Cruach Mhóna is the name for a pile of drying peat bricks.
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhóna
(50%, OB 2010, travel retail, 100cl)
Nose: starts savoury with coastal hints of dried algae. Toasted bread. Then some herbs and something that vaguely reminds me of Maggi or – strangely – Worcestershire sauce. Smoke with sweet liquorice. Faint eucalyptus. Less peaty than previous peated Bunna, or so it seems. A few fruity notes in the background that grow stronger over time. Mouth: more peat now. Ash tray, tarry ropes. More malty sweetness than the nose suggested. Develops on pepper, liquorice and a little salt. A few herbal notes. Nose: slightly drying and smokey. Medium length.
Not a bad dram, but it suffers from a comparison with its Islay neighbours who offer similar (yet more mature) peated whisky for less money. Around € 65.
Greenore is the single grain Irish whiskey from the Cooley family. Previously there was an 8 years old and the highly praised 15 years old expression. Now they are accompanied by an 18 year-old, the oldest Irish single grain available. Well, not quite… there’s also a new Greenore single cask that’s 19 years old (cask #1798). But that one is only available at Dublin airport.
Greenore 18yo is bottled at 46% and the current batch is limited to 4000 bottles. In the UK it will be available soon, the rest of Europe will have to wait until mid February.
Greenore 18 yo (46%, OB 2011, 4000 btl.)
Nose: a mild nose (for a grain whiskey at least), with banana peel, apricot and sweet corn. Vanilla with a curious milky element, like a crème anglaise (custard sauce). A hint of cinnamon. Some honey and faint grassy / herbal notes. Overall quite smooth, oily but a little soft maybe. Hardly any synthetic notes that are common in other grain whiskies. Mouth: balanced between very sugary grains (think frosted cereals) and plenty of spices from the oak (nutmeg, pepper). Pineapple syrup, banana, some coconut cream. Quite some vanilla again. Finish: medium length, sweet but slightly harsh with spicy notes and oak.
Smoothness should be the keyword for this Greenore 18 Years. While it shows nice elements, it’s not perfectly smooth. Compared to Irish malt whisky, it’s also a little simple. Around € 80.
Saint Magnus is the second part of the Highland Park tribute to the Inga saga (the first release was called Earl Magnus). All of these releases are bottled in a hand-made brown bottle with a label design based on a 150 years old bottle of Highland Park.
Saint Magnus was matured mainly in Spanish sherry oak, of which 20% were first fill casks. It is bottled at 55%.
The third edition in this series, Highland Park Haakon, will be bottled as an 18 year-old. Expected in the second half of 2011.
Highland Park 12 yo 1998 Saint Magnus (55%, OB 2010, 12.000 btl.)
Nose: starts with a few unfresh smells, especially in comparison with yesterday’s 1986 by Daily Dram. Hints of rubber and meat. This is not uncommon for sherry releases, but I have troubles with it sometimes. After a while it fades and shows more classic dried fruits and honey lacquered meat (overall not very sweet though). A little yeast. Apples and cinnamon. Heather. Subtle peat. Some barbecue smoke, leather and plenty of spices. Mouth: very spicy (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg) with toffee notes, apples and a hint of wax. A little pepper. Some bitter liquorice. In the end there’s something like burnt oranges and still some rubber. Finish: rather long, dry / bitter and sherried with peat smoke.
I had high hopes for this, but they’re not entirely fulfilled. It’s nicely coastal and relatively peaty but I’m more a fan of fresh, juicy (second fill?) sherry influence. Quite expensive as well: sold for € 100.
This Highland Park 1986 is one of the most recent releases by The Nectar of the Daily Drams. Independent bottlings of Highland Park can go in different directions, let’s see where this is going…
Highland Park 24 yo 1986 (51,8%, Nectar of the Daily Drams 2010)
Nose: mixed fruity notes and coastal elements. Not wham-bam candied fruit but a nice, elegant sweet layer of oranges and ripe apple. More fruits than usually found in this distillery. Nice eucalyptus and wax. Vanilla. On the other hand quite some dry flinty notes and a hint of chalk. Very good. Mouth: oily, mineral and slightly resinous. A hint of peat as well. Quite dry, the sweeter layer with vanilla is now in the background. Grapefruit. Develops on leafy / grassy notes with a hint of bitterness and liquorice. Still pretty coastal (oyster, lemon). Finish: medium length, with hints of herbal liqueur, dry resin and earthy notes.
A high quality dram with different elements: very fruity but also mineral, waxy, coastal elements… An nice all-round Highland Park. Very different from distillery releases though, so be careful if you’re only searching for that kind of profile. Around € 105.
Jefferson’s Reserve is a small-batch, handcrafted bourbon. In fact it’s just a label for different whiskies bottled independently by McLain & Kyne in Kentucky. Only occasionally do they reveal the producer of the spirit.
There’s a regular Jefferson bourbon whisky (note that they don’t spell it the American way) and this higher-strength brother Jefferson’s Reserve. A previous batch was labeled “15 years old” but not this time, so we can assume this new batch is a little younger. Each batch is around 2400 bottles.
Jefferson’s Reserve (45,1%, OB 2010)
Nose: very smooth and gentle, with sweet corn, lovely notes of vanilla and a white chocolate bar filled with banana cream. Some raisins and apricots as well. Hints of black cherries, nice! A little mint. Not very complex but with a kind of “sherried” sweetness and great elegance. It suggests a higher age than regular bourbon. Mouth: medium-bodied, much more oak influence now, with spices, mint and nougat. Raisins again. Hints of cigar leafs. There are not many other flavours to be found. Finish: spicy and dry with hints of polished oak and tannins.
I really liked the sophisticated nose, but on the palate I think it switches too much towards oak and spices. Around € 60.