Grant’s Ale Cask is probably the only Scotch whisky to be finished in barrels that have previously held ale, something from Caledonian brewery as far as I know. It was finished for 30 days.
The Ale Cask is part of a combo called Grant’s Cask Editions, together with a sherry cask edition. Launched in 2001, it contains around 40% single malt whisky from 20-30 distilleries and 60% grain (mainly from Girvan).
Grant’s Ale Cask (40%, OB ‘Cask Editions’ +/- 2013)
Nose: very grainy, lots of muesli and sugared cereal notes (Frosties). Nicely honeyed like other Grant’s, almost syrupy at times. Yellow apple. Hints of overripe melon in the background. Really not bad, but not very expressive, no obvious beer notes either, apart from some yeast. Mouth: again malty and very sweet, almost biscuity, with a bit of a synthetic apple sweetness and a hint of cheap liqueur. Something of stale beer now, or is that imagination? Vanilla cream. Finish: even more grainy, with cereals and a few yeasty hints.
Unusual whisky, not the best blend but still quite drinkable if you like them simple, sweet and malty – with a twist. Usually less than € 20.
Sansibar has a new series as well. Contrary to most other bottlers, they seem to have secured a couple of oldies as well: Glenturret 1977, Balmenach 1979 and Bunnahabhain 1980. Among the younger expressions there’s Mortlach, Glen Keith, Glenrothes and Glen Garioch distilled in the 1990’s.
Nose: a slightly restrained sherry profile. Dried flowers at first, then some subtle praline, followed by sherry cellars. Tobacco leaves and walnuts. Soft herbal notes and honey. No wham-bam sherry, this is elegant with balanced oak. Mouth: definitely more oak now, with translates as strong tea and dried herbs, but there’s still honey and apple juice to keep a nice balance. Orange peel. Yellow raisins. A slight coastal tang as well. Cinnamon towards the end. Finish: long, dry, on ginger, aniseed, orange peel and oak.
A dry, herbal Bunnahabhain that’s oak-infused in a rather nice way. Maybe a little pricy but interesting nonetheless. Around € 210.
This Bruichladdich 1964 was distilled November ‘64 and bottled October ‘93 – this is just about the furthest back in time you can go with this distillery (there’s a Cadenhead 1958/1984 and a 1960/1996 by Master of Malt as well).
One year later Gordon & MacPhail bottled another three sister casks #3673, 3674 and 3675.
Bruichladdich 28 yo 1964 (50,6%, Gordon & MacPhail 1993, cask #3670, 3671, 3672)
Nose: a very fruity nose, albeit with an Islay twist. Fairly tropical: mango, guava, banana and apricot. Nice honey notes, as well as a silky touch of beeswax. Leathery notes. Vanilla. A very subtle maritime edge, as well as light peat smoke. Mouth: so beautiful. Round and fruity, with enough punch. Tropical fruits again (more mandarins now, but also pineapple and strawberry), lots of fruit jams. Honeyed, almost liqueur-like at times. Cake. Again some smoke and sandalwood in the background. Hints of ginger and pepper to spice it up. Very soft peat, leading to a medium long finish that’s oily and still full of sweet fruitiness. A minty edge in the very end.
A wonderful whisky. It’s rare to find this combination of succulent, exotic fruits, subtle peat and all these tiny notes which make this into a complex, stunning dram. We all know the excellent late 1960’s Bowmore – this is playing in the same league.
It’s clear that the sherry industry, in this case the governing body called the Consejo Regulador, realizes that their casks help to give some whiskies more prestige and help to support the current boom of whisky and brands like Macallan. Distilleries are trying to maximize this profit and are sometimes stretching the boundaries, trying to avoid the very high price of an authentic sherry cask.
What is a sherry cask anyway? In general sherry casks are specially prepared, “seasoned” casks. Nowadays most sherry casks are new barrels made from American oak, which are put together and then sent to a bodega to be filled with (inferior) sherry for a couple of months. The sherry absorbs most of the nasty oak tannins and the cask will be impregnated with the flavours of the wine. It’s a secondary business that has little to do with the actual soleras that hold the authentic sherry wines.
Though relatively small, this is a flourishing business and there’s high demand, so the Scots are looking for (cheaper) alternatives. There have been reported cases of improper use of the name sherry. Other wine regions in Spain produce very similar wines, but they can’t put the name sherry on their labels as the use is limited by law to the small sherry triangle.
The best example is the neighbouring area Montilla-Moriles which produces the vast majority of Pedro Ximénez wines already. Oban is using Fino casks produced in Montilla for its Oban Distillers Edition. There have been examples of “South-African sherry” matured whiskies as well (Clynelish, Mannochmore among others). Hey Diageo, is it a coincidence that your brands are my best examples? In any case, those are only the ones that openly mention other kinds of sherry (Diageo doesn’t mention ‘sherry’ on the Oban by the way), whereas the real problem are the ones that tell you it’s sherry when technically it’s not. Because you can’t really tell.
When you’re using these wines to season casks, can this be called a sherry cask if you’re not allowed to call the wine sherry?
The Consejo Regulador is making plans to get more control on these practices. One of the suggestions is to start a registry of allowed “seasoning companies”. Only these would be allowed to sell proper sherry casks.
In the end it’s a complex matter and I doubt full control is possible. The Consejo Regulador can limit its own producers, but who will control the distilleries? Who is going to track these casks and say whether a certain whisky fully applies to the “sherry matured” regulations? I fear it’s not a priority for the Scotch Whisky Association. Moreover you can probably use a “fake” sherry cask first, and then re-rack into a proper sherry cask. To be continued…
I already mentioned the likeliness of peated anCnoc expressions after I visited the distillery in May 2012. We even got to try a sample of a batch distilled around 2005 and I was pleasantly surprised by its qualities. In 2012 more than 25% of the distillery production was peated spirit, so we can expect more of this.
Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar may seem strange words for outsiders, but they relate to traditional tools used in peat cutting – types of shovels that are also pictured on the labels. Each tool is used to take away different layers of peat and these separate types of peat result in different flavour profiles.
Although they don’t carry age statements, most of the casks used were laid down between 2004 and 2006.
None of them follow the trend of extreme peating levels, even Tushkar is only medium smoky. I think this is the right choice: anCnoc has a typically gentle profile that could be easily overwhelmed by too much peaty power.
anCnoc Rutter and anCnoc Flaughter will be available world-wide while anCnoc Tushkar will only be sold in Sweden.
anCnoc Rutter (46%, OB 2014, 11 ppm)
Matured in ex-bourbon casks.
Nose: Initially lots of lemon, with smoky notes in the background. Rather fruity with some barbecued pineapple. Nice minty notes and spicy gingerbread. Orange peel and fragrant hints of bergamot oil. Some youngish notes (pear drops). Mouth: quite oily and fairly light-bodied, with fruit candy (apple and banana sweets), moving towards bubblegum. Biscuits and spicy notes (ginger), with just enough peat to keep you happy. Honey and creamy vanilla from the wood. Very creamy overall actually. Finish: medium long, with most of the flavours fading a bit too soon maybe.
A nice whisky, good balance between the light, creamy distillery character and subtle smoke. Above average complexity as well (even though the typical pear drops and bubblegum can’t hide its youth). This is summer peat, not the usual winter. Around € 65.
(46%, OB 2014, 14,8 ppm)
Matured in American oak casks, including rejuvenated hogsheads (de-char / re-char).
Nose: this one comes across much tighter. A lot of the juicy fruits and vanilla are taken out and replaced with more mineral notes. More earthy sharpness rather than more warm smoke. Linseed oil and aniseed. Lemon peel. Buttered toast. Floral notes again. Some honey. Mouth: more peat now (and it keeps growing in the glass) which seems to limit the complexity. Plenty of malty notes and mint. Still some fruit candy (going towards lokum). Honey. Lightly burnt meaty notes over time. Finish: long, with more of the sweet peat keeping strong.
This one is less to my liking. It’s more narrow and more robust. For me, it also shows less of the typical anCnoc character. Peatheads may prefer this one, but I don’t see the point in faking Islay whisky. Same price. Score: 82/100
anCnoc Tushkar (46%, OB 2014, 15 ppm)
A Swedish exclusive.
Nose: yet a different kind of peatiness. More complex and integrated again. Warm smoke without the minerality and much subtler again. Trademark honey and fruity notes (pear jelly and mixed fruit tea). Hints of dried coconut flakes and wax. Something of wheat beer. Very interesting. Mouth: back to the creaminess of butter popcorn. Fruit jellies. Big vanilla. Some almonds. A slight meatiness as well as refreshing lemon sherbet. Simple but really enjoyable. Finish: long, with warm peat and gentle spices.
A well-deserved second place. It’s more like Rutter in highlighting the distillery character, but it integrates more peat at the same time. Probably slightly more expensive due to the Swedish tax policy?
Let’s try one of the base whiskies again: Auchentoshan 12 Year Old, which replaced the old 10 Year Old as the youngest expression in the core range of this Lowlands distillery (except for the new NAS releases like Auchentoshan American Oak and the many travel retail products).
Auchentoshan 12 yo (40%, OB +/- 2013)
Nose: a slightly dusty nose (a rye kind of dustiness) with leafy notes and walnut or hazelnut husks. Peanut butter. Sugared cereals, light honey and lots of yellow apple. It’s actually quite nice. Mouth: slightly weak entry, too watery and not a lot going on, I’m struggling to pin down flavours. Apples again, malty notes definitely, and a vague honey / brown sugar sweetness. Quite flat, at least until the nuttiness comes back towards the end, together with some spices. Finish: smooth, not too long, sweet and slightly nutty again.
No need to bring out the trumpets, but this Auchentoshan 12 is still a nice entry-level whisky. Too bad the palate is three steps lower than the nose. Around € 45.
The festival Whisky in Leiden, organised by Whiskysite.nl, is coming up on April 12. This year’s festival bottling is a Kilchoman 2007, one of these Private Cask releases with a red label. It’s the first independent Kilchoman for Holland (after a series of bottlings for the importer).
Kilchoman 6 yo 2007
(60,4%, OB for Whisky in Leiden 2014, bourbon cask #142, 245 btl.)
Nose: nougat at first. Then smoked pineapple and litres of sweet pear juice. Kiwi. Some walnuts and waxy notes. Obviously peat as well, but not as loud as in other expressions. Relatively soft antiseptics this time too. Mouth: smoky again, still sweet but less than the nose suggested. Peppery heat. Citrus, briny notes, a little oak and liquorice. Sweet peat and light camphor. Finish: long, clean, with deep peat smoke and grapefruit.
Kilchoman is starting to lose its youngish notes, but I can’t say complexity is high already. Great nose though. Around € 80. Already available on their website and free to try at the festival.
Master of Malt must be the king of creative bottling. Leftovers, distillation experiments, rebottlings… they’ll pop a label on it and hit the market.
The Lost Distilleries Blend is a blended whisky exclusively made up of whiskies from distilleries that have sadly closed over the years. In this case Rosebank, Littlemill, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Keith and Port Ellen, with a splash of Port Dundas grain.
Batch 4 is the lightest in colour so far. It recently captured the ‘Best Blended Whisky’ award at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards – an award that is won by a Suntory Hibiki blend more often than not. What I don’t understand, is that it won ‘Best Blended Whisky’ while there’s also a specific category for blended malts, and this is supposed to be a blended malt. Update: it includes Port Dundas.
The Lost Distilleries Blend
(50,9%, Master of Malt 2014, 97 btl.)
Nose: starts quite fruity, mostly garden fruits but with a faint tropical edge that comes and goes. Vanilla pods. Then there’s an unmistakable hint of Port Ellen – mineral notes, hints of plaster and leather. Quite some lemon notes as well – not surprising with these components. Mouth: just as elegant as the nose. The minerals are still there but the whole is very creamy as well. Sweet, juicy flavours. Apples, faint hints of guava. Very subtle peat in the background. Almond paste. Some exotic woods and soft pepper. A very nice combination of styles, with both austere elements and luscious roundness. Finish: long, warming, with plenty of sweetness (brown sugar), baked apple and very light smoke.
Around € 420. For what’s essentially a NAS blended whisky, that’s quite heavy considering Port Ellen and Rosebank are the only whiskies that you can’t find as a single malt for less than € 200 a bottle. But the quality is very high and the elegance quite stunning.