Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Clynelish distilleryWhile the legendary vintages of most distilleries appear to be in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Clynelish has recently earned a lot of praise for its 1997 production. Diageo seems to have sold off a large batch of casks which are now being shared / distributed among virtually all independent bottlers (my article about the hierarchy of independent whisky releases is still up-to-date in this respect). These middle-aged expressions are all very good and some are excellent, so let’s try three new versions head-to-head.



First up is the latest bottling in the Liquid Art series, released today. The label is designed by a highly respected artist, Jef Geys. His name may not ring a bell but he has worked with Jan Hoet, Panamarenko and the likes and he’s considered one of the greatest living Belgian artists. There’s a big retrospective coming up in the Ghent Museum for Modern art. I’m just saying this is world class and it’s interesting to see his work on a whisky label.



Clynelish 1997 - Liquid ArtClynelish 1997
(53,3%, Liquid Art 2014, 132 btl.)

Nose: I picked up a slight farmy side at first, but it seemed to disappear really quickly. After that, a surprisingly zesty-fruity Clynelish, in which the typical waxy notes are on a lower level. Instead it has a big yoghurt-like side, something of butter milk even. Quinces, banana candy, oranges and even hints of pineapple. Sweet and sour, rather creamy and rounded, with a nice minty / grassy freshness on top. Huge notes of lemon meringue. There’s a delicate greasy note but a little different from others. Mouth: a big zesty fruitiness again, although there’s now a wider array starting with lemons and pink grapefruits going all the way to lime, almonds and passion fruits. A little green tea. Traces of vanilla, toffee and menthol. A slightly bigger mineral and salty side as well now. Finish: long, with a mineral twist.

Not entirely what we’ve come to expect from Clynelish 1997. It’s fruitier but also milkier, including some nicely different touches, which add another dimension. One of the most interesting Clynelish bottlings from this era. Good choice. And I love this label. Price: € 95.

Score: 90/100




Clynelish 1997 - The Whisky Mercenary / Cask SixClynelish 1997 (50,9%, The Whisky Mercenary for Cask Six 10th Anniversary 2014)

Nose: maybe slightly warmer and definitely a notch waxier, but other than that, also one of the fruitier, rounder 1997’s. Pears, sweetened lemon juice and pink grapefruit. Touches of honey. A bit more mineral / earthy notes here as well. Mouth: a tad more classic, with more lemons and lemon peels, as well as some oranges and a faint hint of passion fruit. A little warmer than the Liquid Art release, but maybe slightly less complex as well. Finish: long, keeping an excellent balance of zestiness and fruity roundness.

A bit more typically Clynelish 1997, this one. The nose of the Liquid Art release definitely has something extra, but on the palate I may prefer this bottling. Both very high quality though. Sold out.

Score: 90/100




Clynelish 1997 MaltbarnClynelish 1997 (52,4%, Maltbarn 2014, bourbon cask, 166 btl.)

Nose: again quite a bit warmer and definitely more honeyed than the Liquid Art. Clementines, pears and peaches. The most jammy of the trio. Hints of pastry and beeswax. A faint hint of smoke as well. Mouth: starts sweet, with a tad more vanilla and more American oak influence. This also means a bigger spiciness (pepper, liquorice). After a while, the citrus zest comes rolling in and takes over the entire palate. Grapefruit skin, lemon peel. A bit of an oaky tang towards the end. Finish: long, zesty and spicy. Lemons and a pinch of salt.

Maltbarn selected the warmest, most luscious nose in my opinion, warmer than usual. On the other hand, it gets a little bitter on the palate. Price: € 90. Sold out.

Score: 90/100



I tried n°1 and n°2 head-to-head first. I thought the first one was more special and less conventional, and I liked it better for that. A couple of days later, I revisited both and added the third sample… On the nose alone, n°3 would be my favourite, but the palate is less convincing. It becomes hard to reflect these differences in a score.

Conclusion: Maltbarn has the nicest nose. Cask Six has the nicest palate. Liquid Art is nicely different and quite special. Whichever you can find, they’re worth the money!

WhiskyNotes follower Wim recently told me he had been impressed by this recent young Miltonduff 2005, so we decided to set up a sample exchange.

You can find a series of similar releases from Duncan Taylor, all bottled from small recoopered Octave casks. All these casks contain only 80-90 bottles, which means they’re sold out very quickly.



Miltonduff 2005 DT 837112Miltonduff 9 yo 2005
(54,2%, Duncan Taylor ‘The Octave’ for The Nectar 2014, reconstructed ex-sherry octave cask #837112, 81 btl.)

Nose: a sherried nose with lots of baked apples and apricot pastry with cinnamon. Some overripe melons and oranges. A warm fruitiness, albeit with a faint musty side. Some hay. Also plenty of spices from the oak, mainly ginger. Almonds too. Mouth: immediate woody notes, a peppery kick and cinnamon. Then the fruitiness returns, with dried apricots and plums. After a while there’s a funny sour / salty combination. Finish: medium long, spicy and oaky, with hints of dried coconut.

These Octave casks can be really interesting: this one couples a youngish, fruity spirit to big wood spices and a kind of sherry influence that you normally associate with older expressions. It’s as if you’ve poured together two totally different things that don’t blend entirely. Pretty good but rather experimental. Thanks, Wim.

Score: 85/100

Langatun is a Swiss whisky (Swissky?) with a long history. In 1857, Jakob Baumberger took over a small brewery in Langenthal (a village formerly known as Langatun). He started brewing and distilling there, quite a successful business that was taken over by his sons. They also ran a malting plant and a peat cutting activity.

I’m not sure why there was a gap after that, but in 2007, Jakob’s grandson Hans reignited the family tradition and started producing unpeated whisky (Langatun Old Deer), peated whisky (Langatun  Old Bear), whisky liqueur, rum, vodka, rye, bourbon and fruit spirits.

While Old Deer is matured in Chardonnay and Sherry casks, the peated Old Bear is aged in Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine casks. We’re trying the cask strength version.



Langatun Old BearLangatun Old Bear 5 yo 2009 (62,3%, OB 2014, peated, Châteauneuf-du-Pape casks)

Nose: fresh wood, young but nice. Berry fruits and candied oranges. Honey. Clear smoke, but well integrated. A faint spiciness too. Mouth: powerful, very sugary and very smoky now. Lots of caramel and candy sugar sweetness. Red berries, raspberry candy from the red wine casks, but also less impressive, plain winey notes. Sweet grape juice. Some tannins too. The peat stays stronger than on the nose. Finish: long, a tad more bitter and herbal now, but still sweet and deeply smoked.

This Langatun Old Bear is a fairly simple, very sweet, but enjoyable whisky. The wine influence is just right. Around € 60.

Score: 84/100

The third and last sample for now: Karuizawa 1981 cask #6207, which was part of the 2012 Collection from La Maison du Whisky.



Karuizawa 1981 #6207 LMdWKaruizawa 1981 (58,3%, OB for LMdW 2011, sherry butt #6207, 543 btl.)

Nose: nicely aromatic. A lot of sandalwood and sweet pipe tobacco (slightly vanilla’d), a bit of eucalyptus and chestnuts. Some fragrant touches, like old roses. Oranges. Chocolate fudge. Black prunes. Hints of damp wood as well. Mouth: spicy and slightly hot, but with a nice fruity sourness underneath. Black cherries, cinnamon cake, raisins in rum. Becomes drier over time, showing liquorice, pepper, ginger and leather. A bit of herbal bitterness (cough syrup) towards the end, as well as traces of smoke. Finish: long, with forest fruits and plenty of spices.

A good Karuizawa again, although not stellar like casks #158 or #162 from the same year. Originally sold for € 250, now closer to € 1300 in auctions.

Score: 89/100

Forgotten sample n°2. This Karuizawa 1984 cask #3692 was bottled in 2012. A big part was allocated to Sweden but it was also found in other countries.



Karuizawa 1984 cask #3692Karuizawa 1984 (61,6%, OB 2012, sherry butt #3692, 359 btl.)

Nose: dark prunes and dates, with a box of chocolates that has just been opened. Unfortunately it also shows heavy gunpowder notes and matchsticks, dried mushrooms and a bit of marmite. Sulphur, yes. Beef jerky. Leather. Roasted nuts. A few heady notes too, in between soy sauce and wine vinegar. Not really my style. Mouth: again quite heavy, with less fruity notes than we’d like. Smoky wood, flints and some gunpowder again. Dry herbal notes, chestnuts and toasted bread. Dark prune jam. Cinnamon. Drying leathery notes. A meaty touch. Finish: long, oaky and spicy, with dark chocolate and ashes.

This is not my favourite Karuizawa. Of course they’re all intense and oaky, but this one is slightly over the top and not as fresh as some others. Fetches around € 1300 in auctions.

Score: 87/100

Blimey. I have so many samples that I tend to forget some of the interesting ones that are hidden in my drawers… how stupid is that? Not that I mind discovering three Karuizawa expressions that I hadn’t tried, of course. One of them is this Karuizawa 1981 Sakura cask #158, a release of only 45 bottles! The rarest Karuizawa ever?

Sakura is the typical Japanese sherry blossom. It was a special release for Prineus, the German distributor for No.1 Drinks and Karuizawa.



Karuizawa 1981 Sakura #158Karuizawa 31 yo 1981 (62,8%, OB 2012, Sakura series, sherry cask #158, 45 btl.)

Nose: the fruity, sweet kind of Karuizawa. Lovely black cherries, prune jam and blackberries. Fig compote – all typical, but also frankly tropical notes, like papaya and passion fruits. Tobacco-infused pralines (yes, they exist). Lots of pipe aromas actually. Precious exotic woods (sandalwood, thuja). Oil paint. Cinnamon. Soft hints of camphor and menthol. Wet forest soils. Just exquisite. Water brings out waxed papers. Mouth: very big. There’s a big mentholated / peppery heat that almost numbs your palate. Let’s add a few drops of water. Sweeter and fruitier now (plums, figs), but still peppery and gingery. Dry ashes, mixing with tobacco, earthy tea and dry wood, including a bit of sourness and smoke. Coffee. Finish: very long, with lots of herbal notes, almost medicinal hints. Tannins too.

Stunning Karuizawa, with one of the fruitiest noses I’ve come across from this distillery. The palate is significantly drier though, but still really impressive. Originally around € 350 but I don’t think it actually arrived on the shelves. Now around € 7500 (!) in auctions.

Score: 94/100


Glenlivet 25yo 1973/1998 Signatory #3307Glenlivet 25 yo 1973 (57,2%, Signatory Vintage 1998, sherry butt #3307, 570 btl.)

Nose: heavy sherry, GlenDronach-style. Raisins, figs, some orange peel. Quite oaky, with peppery notes, menthol and eucalyptus, as well as bit of smoke. Hints of cedar and pine needles. Mouth: the mentholated hints now become frankly medicinal, bringing cough syrup and antiseptics. Also big toasted wood and ashes. Charred meat. Walnut cake, bitter chocolate and plums in brandy. Oak polish, pepper and nutmeg. Quite firm, even a little aggressive but water helps. Finish: long, herbal, with liquorice and burnt sugar.

This Glenlivet has seen some very active wood, inducing a bold, medicinal profile with lots of dry notes. Impressively powerful, almost too much. Thanks, Joeri!

Score: 87/100

Chichibu On The Way is the work in progress of Ichiro Akuto. He founded his distillery in 2008 at the foot of a mountain in the region of Saitama, and he is on the way to release his first 5 years old whisky.

The current Chichibu On The Way is a vatting of three casks:

  • one Mizunara oak hogshead filled in 2008, in fact this was the second oldest cask in the distillery
  • one American oak ex-bourbon barrel filled in 2009 (used for ‘The Floor Malted’ batch 2009
  • another American oak ex-bourbon barrel filled in 2010 (used for ‘The Floor Malted’ batch 2010

Although the packaging says five years old, this refers to the oldest whisky in the vatting – Japanese rules are different from Scottish. Despite its high alcohol volume, it is not entirely cask strength.



Chichibu On The WayChichibu ‘On The Way’ (58,5%, OB 2013, 9900 btl.)

Nose: a brightly oaked profile, showing grassy notes, fresh oak shavings and hay. Sweet malt, youngish pear and vanilla. Quite a lot of herbal notes too: fennel seeds, menthol and pepper. New leather. Mouth: lots of sweet pears and apple pie, sweet breakfast cereals and a thick, syrupy side. Lychee juice. Popcorn. Apricot jam. A wide array of spices again, giving it an oriental touch as well as a potpourri-like edge. Some green, oaky notes on top. Finish: long, drier, with lots of wood spices and a hint of incense.

A really interesting Chichibu, showing the powerful aromas of Mizunara oak. All those spices make it quite oriental. I hope the real 5 year-old finds a better balance, but this is certainly promising. Around € 135. Thanks, Angelo.

Score: 83/100



August 2015
« Jul    

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.