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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Head over to the Cask Strength blog (by Neil & Joel) for this month’s Whisky Round Table. The twelve of us are discussing a perfectly timed question:
The festive season sees the big players in the spirits business heavily discounting some of our favourite whiskies in the supermarket chains with a view to entice the ‘once a year’ buyer and to grab some healthy market share. But does it de-value the product? Or do you think by discounting decent malts, it allows those with a curiosity to develop their palates further, albeit at a discounted rate?
This Karuizawa 1968 is the successor of the Karuizawa 1967 which was received very well last year. As far as I know, another (bigger) part of this cask was bottled for Whisky Live Taipei.
Karuizawa 1968 (61,1%, OB 2010 for LMdW, sherry cask #6955, 210 btl.)
Nose: starts on notes of sandalwood, plum liqueur and oak polish. Quite huge. Very fragrant with some solvent notes and wax. Very Karuizawa, yet unmistakably different from the 1967. This one is smoother, more elegant but also less wide, less of a labyrinth. After a while, it shows fabulous notes of tangerine and apricot and it becomes quite floral. Some leathery hints. Great with some water too: the fresh, slightly sour fruity notes stand out. Mouth: immediately quite dry, with hints of black tea. Very high on tannins. Then a remarkable wave of (light) tobacco comes out, with cedar wood and other oaky associations. Orange peel. Cinnamon. Some vegetal / forestal notes. Overall the oak is a little too firm for me. Finish: long, still very dry with a little pepper, clove, dark chocolate and Seville oranges.
Excellent nose, on par with the 1967. On the palate, it shows a lot of oak and tannins which takes down the overall complexity. This leads to a rather conservative score, but Karuizawa has a due date too, you know. Around € 285 – sold out.
Of 262 entries, 219 received a medal. Yes, I also find that a high percentage but remember that bottlers and distilleries are sending their “best of the best”.
The conclusions are remarkably similar to last year: GlenDronach came in first with one of its (already legendary) 1972 releases. Congratulations to them, it’s clear that they have some stunning 1970’s casks waiting to be bottled. Also, it’s obvious that Karuizawa (as well as other Japanese brands) is still very popular. Note that the new Karuizawa 1968 came in below a few 1970’s bottlings. La Maison du Whisky is still the king of proprietary independent releases.
Kudos to Glenfarclas for its 40yo! It’s not very common for a (large batch) standard bottling to get such a high score.
I’m glad I already picked up the Caperdonich 1972 by Duncan Taylor – by far the cheapest option in this list, which gives it the best quality / price ratio (as often with old Caperdonich).
Nose: clean sherry with hints of walnut liqueur, lovely mirabelles and figs. Nice balance between sweet and sour notes and a faint yeasty undertone. Cinnamon. A floral note as well. Mouth: sherry but not really thick or heavy. A lot of nutty aromas shine through, as well as a fair amount of wood, which makes it a tad dry and herbal. Big notes of (slightly bitter) orange peel and orange water. Finish: medium length, dry, herbal yet still with a faint sour edge.
An interestingly different Glengoyne. I really like the profile even though the oak is very powerful. Available from Whisky-Doris for € 44.