White Oak is a Japanese distillery near Kobe, run by a company named Eigashima. Although the company has a long history in distillation (mainly sake and shochu but also whisky since 1919) their first single malt was not released until 2007, an 8 years old now replaced by a 12 years old. They’re labelled Akashi after the town the distillery is in.
In Europe we can now find limited quantities of three White Oak versions: a blended version at 40% and the 5yo and 12yo single malt versions.
Akashi White Oak 5 yo (45%, OB 2011)
Nose: smooth with lots of yellow apple, powder sugar and angelica fruits. A bit synthetic. Honeyed tea. Corn flakes. Unfortunately there’s also a yeasty / rubbery side to it which doesn’t seem to fit, a strange mixture of plastics and cookie dough. Mouth: sweet with a rather weak attack. A simple malty core, with plenty of apple flavours again (cider) and grainy notes. Ginger maybe, but that’s about it. Not exactly raw but pretty immature and synthetic nonetheless. Finish: very short and rather grainy.
Although Eigashima is proud of its oldest Japanese license to distil whisky, this White Oak is a far way from more experienced producers like Yamazaki or Karuizawa. Around € 45.
Here’s the other “steady cracker” I was talking about when reviewing the Glen Grain Class by Malts of Scotland. It’s supposed to be a vatting of Glenrothes distilled in 1992 and matured in bourbon hogsheads, but remember the contents can change when batches are renewed.
Glen Speyside Class 18 yo
(50%, Malts of Scotland 2011, batch n°1)
Nose: fruity and honeyed. Baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon. Pear syrup. Apricot jam. Some great pastry notes. Demerara sugar. Heather and hay. Mouth: similarly sweet and fruity, very honeyed. Apple pie with raisins. Fructose. All sorts of fruit jams. Sugar coated nuts. Heather and light pepper in the end. Even a faint hint of smoke. Finish: sweet, softly spiced.
This Glen Speyside Class is much better than the Glen Grain Class in my opinion, and more typical for its type of whisky. Sweet, rounded, with decent complexity. Good to see it’s still possible to find a tasty 18yo single malt under € 50, bottled at 50%, uncoloured and un-chillfiltered. Around € 45.
Back in 1984, Blanton’s was the world’s first single barrel bourbon. It means every batch will be slightly different and each of the characteristic bottles bears a bottling date, barrel number and warehouse indication. Did you know there are eight different signature stoppers, featuring a racing horse in different strides, each with a single letter of the name Blanton’s?
The range is made up of the Special Reserve (40%), Original Single Barrel (46,5%), Gold Edition (51,5%) and Straight from the Barrel (cask strength). Regardless of the bottling strength, all versions have the same mash type, cask charring and maturation.
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel (46,5%, OB 2007, barrel #158, warehouse H, dumped 1/2/2007)
Nose: fairly dry for a commercial bourbon and quite spicy (cinnamon, pepper), with leather and maple syrup standing out. Almonds and marzipan. Burnt sugar. If you swirl it around, sweet marmalade and toffee appears. Fresh oak and hints of mint as well. Less sweet and less vanilla than I expected, but very good. Mouth: a weak and rather vague attack, smooth but not as full as I hoped (maybe a higher strength could solve this). Very minty with other spices following quickly (pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg). Cough sweets. Big (charred) oaky flavours. Tobacco. Missing some roundness. Finish: dry and spicy.
Pleasantly dry, oaky and spicy on the nose, but maybe a tad too much of all that on the palate. Still a nice bourbon. Around € 35.
Apart from their single cask releases, Malts of Scotland also launched a “budget series” called the Glen Classes. These bottles have a different design and try to offer high quality for a small amount of money. Most of them are still single malts (grains) but the distilleries are not mentioned on the labels, so they might change as batches sell out.
When launched last year, there was Glen First Class (a Glenfarclas distilled in 2000) and Glen Peat Class (17yo vatted Islay malt). Recently they were joined by Glen Speyside Class (18yo Glenrothes) and this Glen Grain Class, a vatting of 4 sherry butts filled at the North British distillery in 2000.
Glen Grain Class 2000
(50%, Malts of Scotland 2011, batch n°1)
Nose: not the vanilla / coconut combo I was expecting. Lighter, definitely mintier and less warm. Hints of grapes and green banana. Sawdust. Fresh herbs. Overall a bit alcoholic, like wodka or schnapps. Hints of unlit matches. Not bad actually, just not the expected grain profile. Mouth: sweet start (powder sugar, grain cookies), evolving to herbs again (gin or schnapps) and finally moving in the direction of drier, slightly bitter flavours. Pepper. Apples maybe. Where’s the sherry? Finish: slightly hot, bittersweet with spices.
Clean grain whisky without much sherry influence. It may be pure but also quite atypical and slightly disappointing. I’ve heard the Glen Speyside Class is much better, I should really try that one as well. Around € 30.
When you ask someone to name a brand of single malt whisky, they’ll probably say Glenfiddich (unless they think Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker is a single malt). Glenfiddich 12 years old is the entry malt, easily found in supermarkets around the globe and one of the most popular single malts.
I had this several times before I seriously got interested in whisky. So apparently it wasn’t good enough to really spark a fire – I had to wait until Lagavulin 16 and Suntory Hibiki for that to happen.
Glenfiddich 12 yo (40%, OB 2010)
Nose: fresh, with pears everywhere and a malty, cereal centre. Cooked apples. Freshly sawn wood. Some lime, hints of white grapes. Buttercups. Soft vanilla. Mouth: rather light and bittersweet. There’s a sugary side (honey, vanilla, apple juice) as well as a bitterish side (apple seeds, nutmeg, oak juice). A light sugar coated nuttiness and a faint spicy wave. All of this fairly muted and too mono-dimensional to be really interesting. Not much evolution either. Finish: not too long, on apple cider and a few spices.
You can say Glenfiddich 12 is uninspiring and a little flat but on the other hand it’s a widely available product without flaws. I would even say it’s slightly underrated if you think about the price: around € 25 or € 30 for one litre. Of course you could also hunt down one of the quality blends, like Bailie Nicol Jarvie, or a higher strength, entry-level bourbon like Buffalo Trace for the same price and get something more interesting.
There’s a new batch of A. Dewar Rattray releases and two of them fit our € 50 requirement, so let’s have the first one right away.
Macallan 15 yo 1995 (46%, A.D. Rattray 2011, bourbon cask #11251, 334 btl.)
Nose: caramelized apple with cinnamon. Heather honey. Apple cake. Muesli bars. Nice duality of sticky sweet (almost greasy) butterscotch notes and a more fresh and sour fruitiness. Traces of toasted cereals. Herbs in the background. Nice. Mouth: starts a little soft. Not the amount of sweetness I expected, more like a herbal fruitiness. Cider apples, peaches and citrus. Honey and caramel. Sweet grains. Soft liquorice. Not bad but lacking some punch in the middle. Finish: not too long but nice chocolate notes and hints of Turkish delight. Still some apple flavours.
This Macallan started with an inviting and interestingly different nose, but the palate wasn’t totally convincing. Should be € 50 round.
The Icons of Arran is a limited series of 12yo releases which highlight different typical elements of the island. First there was Arran Peacock, next Arran The Rowan Tree and now Arran The Westie, a tribute to Ruaraidh, the West Highland Terrier of the distillery manager.
It is composed of 22 oloroso sherry hogsheads from 1998.
Arran 12 yo 1998 ‘The Westie’
(46%, OB 2011, 6000 btl.)
Nose: fruity and slightly acidic, with sour cherries, orange zest and lemon sherbet. Something of a soda lemonade as well. Hardly any oloroso influence if you ask me. Fresh oak. Hints of honey. A few floral notes too. Mouth: a malty centre with spicy and nutty overtones. Again a zesty kind of citrus flavour. Growing warmer with vanilla, apricots and more noticeable oak. Lemon pie. Finish: medium long, drier, with leather and spices. Traces of mocha.
Quite a smooth Arran, this Westie. Fresh, fruity and convincing as a whole. The oloroso casks must have been second fill or rather third fill, because there’s hardly any sherry to be found. Around € 40.
ps/ There’s another limited edition Arran ‘The sleeping warrior’, 10 years old and released to help The National Trust for Scotland. It’s more expensive (around € 60) but it’s cask strength and remember part of your money goes to Scotland’s natural heritage.
Here’s an accessible Clynelish 1997 launched in Germany. It was part of a whole series bottled to celebrate The Whisky Fair 2011.
Clynelish 13 yo 1997 (48,9%, The Whisky Fair 2011, bourbon hogshead, 170 btl.)
Nose: typical round Clynelish, with sweet apples and pears, some vanilla and a few flinty / waxy notes. A little leather. Fresh lemon. Fresh oak shavings. Faint grassiness. Unsurprising but that’s not a bad thing! Mouth: even sweeter than expected, with pineapple sweets and pear drops. Some rounded oak which gives way to a little pepper and ginger. Wax. Then moving to grassy notes and softly bitter notes (grapefruit). Finish: medium long and zesty with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Young and solid Clynelish. Around € 50, readily available. Good value for money.