Single malt whisky - tasting notes

CragganmoreThis was released as part of the second wave in the controversial Manager’s Choice series. It was a collection of rare single casks from the Diageo brands. While some of them seem to be of high quality, there was little interest because of the high prices considering the young ages.

I’m glad I could try this, as official Cragganmore releases have been few and far between. It was distilled in May 1997 and bottled in May 2009 from a European oak Bodega sherry casks.


Cragganmore 1997 Managers ChoiceCragganmore 12 yo 1997 ‘The Manager’s Choice’ (59,7%, OB 2009, cask #2398,
246 btl.)

Nose: white fruit aromas and citrus, summery and quite floral. Some vanilla and biscuits. Faint waxy notes and some oil. A hint of mint and undertones of smoke. Really nice but hardly any sherry. In line with the standard 12yo, only more complex and punchy. Mouth: strong and powerful, a bit hot even. Very thick and full of flavour. Rather sweet, with honey, vanilla and plenty of spices (mint, ginger, a little pepper). Oranges. Spicy fruitcake? Perfect amount of wood. Water rounds it off and makes it smokier in the aftertaste. Finish: spices (mostly ginger) and a hint of smoke.

A great Cragganmore that I enjoyed a lot. On the other hand there’s no way I can recommend a 12 year-old that costs around € 280.

Score: 90/100


Big Peat

13 Dec 2010 | * Blends

Big Peat is a vatting of four Islay distilleries: Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. The fact that it contains older whisky from Port Ellen, makes this an unusual offering. While other bottlers can’t afford to use Port Ellen in a vatting or a blend, for Douglas Laing it’s not a problem as they have one of the largest stocks of this legendary distillery.

Note that Big Peat is such a success that they’re now somewhere around batch number 7 or 8, probably with (small) differences between them. As far as I know, there’s no way to recognize which batch you’re buying.

 

Big PeatBig Peat (46%, Douglas Laing 2010)

Nose: a summary of Islay, with salty peat, some vanilla and a great aniseed note. Some mocha. Overall rather sweet with a big emphasis on tarry notes. On top of this, I get some youngish fruit like pear and peach, which reminds me of Ardbeg Rollercoaster in a way. Nice ambiguity of younger and older elements. Mouth: very smokey and ashy. Quite explosive with a rubbery edge. Big peat indeed. Sweet liquorice and again some vanilla. Not much fruit here. Finish: peat and smoke. Slowly drying.

A benchmark Islay vatting. You get heavy peat but a charming vanilla sweetness as well to round it off. A bottle should cost around € 40 which is very good value.

Score: 86/100


Glenrothes 1991

12 Dec 2010 | Glenrothes

A middle-aged Glenrothes that sits between the 1970 – 1980’s vintages and the younger 1990’s vintages (1994 and 1998).


Glenrothes 1991Glenrothes 1991 (43%, OB 2008)

Nose: honeyed and buttery aromas (butterscotch, mocha). Caramel. Roasted nuts. Vanilla. Quite some heather. Cooked fruits with gentle spices. A hint of leather. Mouth: similar toffee / mocha notes. Baked apples and a lovely hint of coconut cream. Roasted nuts and barley sugars in the aftertaste. Fading on spices (ginger, cloves). Finish: not too long, with cocoa and subtle oak.

For me, this is one of the most archetypal Glenrothes expressions because of the buttery qualities, nutty flavours and spices. Of course the old versions offer more complexity and roundness, but this one is considerably less expensive.
Around € 55.

Score: 83/100


Following the success of last year’s Scottish Merchants’ Choice, Glengoyne has now invited some of England’s best known whisky retailers to select a single cask from their warehouses. It’s a 13 years old whisky from a European Oak sherry hogshead, distilled in June 1997 and bottled at the end of September 2010.

It’s available from the six participating English merchants: Master of Malt, Royal Mile Whiskies, Milroys, The Vintage House, Nickolls & Perks and Constantine Stores.


Glengoyne English Merchants ChoiceGlengoyne 13 yo 1997 ‘English Merchants’ Choice’ (54,6%, OB 2010, cask #2716,
291 btl.)

Extremely dark colour. Nose: sherry galore. Heavily influenced by the wine but perfectly faultless. Raisins, chocolate & raspberry ganache, balsamic syrup, caramelized ginger, dried prunes… Some leathery notes as well. Reminds me of the most juicy GlenDronach single casks. Mouth: lively impact, again very much on liqueur pralines. Kirsch or raspberry liqueur. Gingerbread and Christmas cake, orange peel, dried fruits… Just a tad drying in the end, with hints of walnuts. Finish: long, still very bold. Now turning a bit more herbal.

Great stuff, just in time for Christmas. Around
€ 120 which is expensive compared to (older) GlenDronach single casks, but certainly up there.

Score: 89/100


Even though there has been a lot of controversy about Jim Murray’s “World Whisky of the year” award in the 2011 Whisky Bible, it surely raised some interest for the Ballantine’s 17 Years old. A blended whisky that is better than all those wonderful single malts?

Ballantine’s Finest, the basic version of the range, was not worth writing about when I tried it at a party last year. In the same Whisky Bible, that one picked up the award for best blended Scotch NAS, so let’s hope for a better experience this time.


Ballantine's 17 yearsBallantine’s 17 yo (43%, OB 2010)

Nose: smooth start with pancake aromas, vanilla and creamy milk chocolate. Soft fruity aromas (lemon / lime), almonds and cinnamon. Hints of smoke. Cedar wood and a touch of leather. Mouth: honeyed and spicy start, slightly peppery and gingery. Elegant peat smoke again. Oak and toffee notes. Developing on fruit cake. Not complex but well balanced. Finish: circling around the same core of chocolate, delicate smoke and spices.

Indeed an enjoyable dram and a big step up from Ballantines Finest. It’s still quite a stretch to call this the whisky of the year, but it’s a valid choice if you’re looking for a Christmas present for your dad. Good notes for a blend. € 60 around here.

Score: 81/100


A Coffey still is a column still or continuous still which is normally used to distill grain whisky. Simply put, they behave as a series of pot stills. The resulting spirit is higher in alcohol and usually contains more contaminants than pot still whisky.

Apart from the usual Coffey grain whisky, Japanese distillery Nikka had this limited release of malt whisky distilled in Coffey stills, which is quite unusual.

 

 

Nikka Coffey malt 12yoNikka 12 yo ‘Single coffey malt’ (55%, OB 2008, 3027 btl.)

Nose: very similar to grain whisky with a few bourbonny notes. Plenty of vanilla. Some white chocolate. Almonds and nutmeg. A little honeyed sweetness. Not too complex, and it shows a raw alcohol kick. A little better when diluted – it gets more fragrant and delicate. Mouth: again too close to plain alcohol for my taste, like eau-de-vie or vodka. Sweet vanilla again, some coconut and banana. Sugared cereals. More enjoyable with water, although the advantage over grain whisky is very small. Finish: quite long, in the same vein.

A one-dimensional experiment with a big emphasis on alcohol. I prefer many grain whiskies above this Coffey malt. Around € 120 at the time but sold out.

Score: 73/100


Dalmore 1980

06 Dec 2010 | Dalmore

While surprising the world with older and more limited premium expressions every year (Candela, Selene, Sirius), The Dalmore is working hard to strengthen the name of their regular range (check the recent Dalmore Mackenzie for instance).

This Dalmore 1980 vintage was launched in 2009 as a limited edition.

 

Dalmore 1980Dalmore 1980 (40%, OB 2009)

Nose: impressive fruity aromas to start with, mainly fresh tangerine and orange cake. Orange squash. Some peach liqueur. Very aromatic. Developing on nutty notes: walnuts, hazelnuts. A hint of ginger and wax. Sherried in very elegant way. I’m impressed. Mouth: just as smooth. More walnuts now and a bit of oak which makes it drier than expected. A bittersweet note (orange peel). Grapefruit. A dash of honey. Some spices (cinnamon, a little pepper, quite some cloves). Overall not too big – I won’t repeat the remarks about the bottling strength this time. Finish: not too long, with dried orange peel, a little pepper and dry oak.

Almost as sophisticated as the Dalmore Master Blender himself. If only the price was a bit softer. One of the best Dalmores I’ve tried so far. Around € 300.

Score: 89/100


We already know Glen Garioch distilled in 1971 can be quite stellar (think of the Duthie’s for Samaroli or the one for Oddbins). This version was bottled in 2004 and distributed in Taiwan. It’s long gone of course, but it was available at the latest Lindores festival.


Glen Garioch 1971 cask 2041 TaiwanGlen Garioch 32 yo 1971 (44,6%, OB, hogshead #2041 for Taiwan)

Nose: very rich. Almost impossible to describe in an orderly way, so let’s just give you a bunch of the aromas in a random order. Wet leaves, coal and soot (rather than plain peat), dusty books, dried fruits (quite delicate), roasted meat, fat, a gas station, some honey, incense, spearmint (great). Wonderfully farmy as well (wet fur, some fern). Tobacco. After half an hour, when I thought I had discovered everything, it suddenly became fruity with wonderful passion fruit syrup and berry candy. Oh my! Mouth: medium bodied. Not oaky but it does show some resinous notes. Hints of citrus and orange peel. Some nutmeg. Leather. Subtle peat and cocoa in the aftertaste. Finish: not too long, slightly drying with resin and light peat. Dark chocolate. Faint pepper.

Superb nose really. Also a great example of subtle old-style peat. A little lightweight on the palate maybe, but great.

Score: 93/100

Side note… I’ve read that some festivals don’t like the fact that you take home samples. While I understand this to a certain extent, I don’t see how you can possibly get to the bottom of such an incredible whisky in the environment of a festival.


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Coming up

  • Benriach 1991 (MoS for QV.ID)
  • Craigellachie 17 Year Old
  • Glen Scotia 1992 (The Whiskyman)
  • Lagavulin 12yo (2014 release)
  • Balblair 2000 single casks
  • Ardmore Legacy
  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Clynelish 21yo 1992 (Cadenhead)
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)
  • Aberlour 8yo (cube, small cork)

1639 notes by Ruben

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