To be honest I lost track of all these Highland Park expressions named after Norse gods, so I had to look up the specific details of Highland Park Sigurd.
Below is a diagram of the Warrior series. While the first three releases (Svein, Einar, Harald) revolved around American oak casks, the most recent offerings (Sigurd, Ragnvald and Thorfinn) use an increased quantity of European oak sherry seasoned casks.
Highland Park Sigurd (43%, OB 2013)
Nose: a complex, very refined nose, with plenty of layers and no dominating aromas. Moss, dried grasses and eucalyptus oils. Ginger and cinnamon. Light fruity notes (apples, melons) and a soft smoky overtone. Mouth: oily texture and a salty attack. Dutch liquorice. Honey sweetness underneath, as well as a hint of vanilla custard. Plenty of spices: nutmeg, pepper and ginseng. Becomes oaky and sappy as time goes by, with a smoky edge. Finish: soft, with the oaky notes building and just vague shadows of the fruit. Honeyed tea.
I really liked the delicate, almost soft but nonetheless complex nose. The palate was a little less smooth and had some loud oak. Really nice but expensive, around € 150.
Like anCnoc 22 Years, this brand-new anCnoc 24 Year Old is a combination of ex-bourbon casks and sherry-seasoned casks.
anCnoc 24 yo
(46%, OB 2015)
Nose: aromatic, with a nice interplay of fruits (baked apple, grapefruit, orange marmalade) and honey with a bit of sherry influence (toffee and a Christmas cake kind of spiciness). After a while mint sets in and keeps growing. Dried flowers. Mouth: vanilla custard, raisins and toffee. Malty notes and candied orange. A light hint of popcorn. Quite some citrus again, as well as a hint of toasted, almost smoky oak. A nice leathery note too. Finish: medium long, with honey, pepper, raisins and a hint of cake.
A really nice dram, not necessarily a step up from the 22 Year Old, but good depth and maturity. Around € 160. Limited availability for now, it’s not even on the anCnoc website.
This is a late 1980’s bottling of Ardbeg 1974 in the Connoisseurs Choice series from Gordon & MacPhail. Many expressions from this legendary vintage have been bottled with a CC label, but this is probably the first (youngest) of them all, with the classic brown label.
Until 1974, Ardbeg relied almost entirely on its own maltings to produce peated malt. After that it started to use more external malt and the maltings were closed down entirely in 1977. Therefore 1974 is widely considered the end of a style era.
Ardbeg 13 yo 1974 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice +/- 1988)
Nose: typical raw tar and highly expressive maritime notes. Flax ropes, smoked fish, dried kelp… Also lots of tiny notes like eucalyptus, camphor, iodine, kippers, chamomile and wet hay. Classic lemon. Subtle hints of diesel and undertones of sweet pipe tobacco, which makes the whole very attractive and warm. Quite superb, I don’t like my Ardbeg too austere but this is just fine. Mouth: fairly sweet, again the pipe tobacco is really unique here. Cigar boxes. Sweet marzipan and maple syrup. Nice waxy notes. Plenty of sweet peat and Lapsang tea. Surprisingly flavoursome and smoky for this ABV. Fades on all kinds of herbal notes, a bit of Fernet-Branca and cough syrup. Finish: long, peaty and herbal, with smoked fish and tar.
The combination of a young age and the right vintage makes for a peaty, complex Ardbeg. Always a treat. Around € 600 in auctions.
I admit I don’t have much experience with official releases of The Glenlivet. I will try to remember this the next time I order a bunch of samples.
Anyway here’s the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, launched in March and named in honour of the distillery’s founder, George Smith. It is supposed to replace the pretty iconic Glenlivet 12 Year Old by summer. That means one of the best selling malt whiskies in the world is replaced, at least in a list of key markets!
When people lamented over this news, Glenlivet’s brand ambassador said the Founder’s Reserve is more vibrant than the 12 Year Old. People judge whisky by age, but you should judge it by taste. Please, not that stupid excuse again, especially when the age went down while the price went up!
It is a mix of predominantly first-fill and some refill American oak casks.
Glenlivet ‘Founder’s Reserve’
(40%, OB 2015)
Nose: full of very young whisky aromas. Banana, lots of pear drops and pineapple sweets. Orange cubes. Quite attractive, but a bit synthetic, with a hint of Revell glue to make it complete. Coconut flakes. Citrus notes, vanilla and light grassy / minty touches as well. Mouth: light and malty. The same pear sweets and oranges. Becomes more zesty and caramelly after a while. Hints of sawdust and nutmeg. Increasingly drier and spicier. Ends on a beer note. Finish: shortish and pretty generic (spicy oak, coconut and vanilla).
On its own, this is a thin, accessible malt whisky with no rough edges but no personality either. That may be an asset for some audiences, I guess. Most of all it is a highly symptomatic whisky. Around € 35.
Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, the youngest expression in the core range, is a mix of young spirit matured in red wine casks with +/- 20 years old malt from sherry casks and some 12 years old malt from Mizunara casks.
Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
(43%, OB 2014)
Nose: quite attractive, a little on the soft side but nicely fruity (strawberries with cream, red berries, lemon candy) with some coconut flakes. A lot of vanilla ice cream. Interestingly there’s also the typical oriental touch, with sandalwood, floral notes, incense and ginger. Mouth: sweet and spicy. Peaches on syrup, raspberries and honey. Redcurrants. Again mixed with spicy oak, cinnamon and ginger. Becomes fairly zesty towards the end. Finish: the zesty notes are joined by some tannins but the honey is still there as well.
A really nice introduction to Japanese whisky, especially at this competitive price. Around € 60.
You all know Longrow is the double distilled, peated single malt from Springbank distillery. It’s been a while since I tried the 2011 edition, so let’s try the latest version.
Longrow 18 yo
(46%, OB 2014)
Nose: dry cigar ashes, with hints of flax and wet limestone. Some fruity notes (apples, maybe papaya) but they are a bit hidden behind a greasy / oily layer. A hint of vanilla. Tobacco leaves. Some wet earth too. Mouth: sweeter and more syrupy than expected, with stewed apples, plums and a hint of vanilla custard. Walnut cake. An uncommon combination with the mineral notes and kippers, but it works well. Peppery notes, a light meaty touch and deep soot underneath. Fades on waxy notes. Finish: long, peaty and ashy, with a leathery dryness but sweet berries as well.
Longrow 18yo is still a unique whisky, a combination of oldskool austerity and attractive rounder notes. Not easy, but very interesting. Limited but still available: around € 125.
The other day I was invited to a Mortlach press dinner in Brussels, where the three new core expressions of The Beast of Dufftown had their Benelux premiere. I was a bit surprised, as the revamped Mortlach have been available internationally since April 2014. Such regional differences are difficult to enforce when everyone has access to the internet and is buying pretty much everywhere, right?
It was a great experience with nice people and some good food pairing (I liked the coffee sauce with the guineafowl, okay?) and a charming presentation by the international brand ambassador Georgie Bell.
It was interesting to try their new Mortlach ice stamp, a metal stamp that allows you to “burn” the family crest of the distillery founders George and Alexander Cowie onto a (big) block of ice, simply with the heat of your hand. A gimmick maybe, but it worked well.
The audience seemed to prefer the whisky without the ice, but I can imagine bloggers, bartenders and retailers are not representative for the general whisky drinker.
With its typical 2.81 times distillation, Mortlach is technically always a vatting of spirit produced in different stills, which results in different layers of character. The distillery has always been known for its meaty, savoury style but it can really go in different directions when coupled to certain cask types.
The new range was inspired greatly by history. For example the bottling strength of 43,4% refers to early 1900’s US bottlings of Mortlach that were 86.8 proof. Also the style of the bottles was inspired by Art Deco craftmanship, with specifically shaped glass combined with ornate metal elements.
For this review, we’ll focus on the top of the range, the Mortlach 25 Year Old. It is made up of refill American oak hogsheads. Like the other bottles in the range, it is only available in 50cl.
Mortlach 25 yo (43,4%, OB 2014)
Nose: fresh and vibrant. A very fruity core, including oranges, apricots, honeydew melon and a faint hint of passion fruits. Also nice honey and floral scented candles. Then a little toffee and vanilla. Hints of exotic woods and incense. It seems the typical meaty side is less prominent here and we’re seeing more of the old American oak character here. Mouth: again not as fat as some other Mortlachs, but nicely energetic. Quite sweet, with peaches on syrup, plums and a hint of Turkish delight. Soft mint and eucalyptus (cough drops indeed). Still some honey and polished wood. Speculoos. Nice star anise too. Finish: rather long and honeyed, becoming more spicy and earthy now (pepper, liquorice).
A very rich, complex dram with a character that’s more classical and slightly less typical for this distillery. The perfect highlight in a very solid range, but now for the bad news: it’s around € 770 for 50 cl.
Another Aultmore, this time distilled in 1997 so roughly twice the age. It was bottled by Berry Bros & Rudd, who have bottled several sister casks in the past few years (3581, 3582, 3584…).
Aultmore 17 yo 1997 (46%, Berrys’ Own Selection 2014, cask #3591)
Nose: lots of freshly cut grasses at first. Slowly becomes more fruity, mainly common garden fruits. Pears, gooseberries, greengages. Also a hint of green banana. Hints of sweet barley and honey as well. Mouth: sweet and fruity again, with a buttery texture. Banana and vanilla. Apples. Nice hints of wild strawberries and melons as well. Picks up more grassy notes, one or two walnuts and a little toasted oak. Fairly simple and easy-going. Finish: good length. Herbal honey and thick fruity sweetness.
This is a different side of Aultmore, much more naked and a delight for blenders. Or single malt drinkers for that matter. Great cardplayers whisky. Around € 120.