Compared to the size of our country, Belgium has a surprisingly high number of (micro-)distilleries (mostly beer or gin distilleries making whisky as an experiment). Goldlys, produced by the gin / wodka / liqueur distillery Filliers was the first to mature Belgian whisky and it’s the only one able to market a standard 10 Year old and even older single casks.
Let’s be honest, most of the Belgian whiskies are curiosities hardly worth buying, but a couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Bert Bruyneel telling me I would be surprised by this one!
Limousin is a French region around the city of Limoges. It’s not a great wine producing area but Limousin is well known for their oak barrels, used in other regions for maturing white wine.
Goldlys 1994 ‘Single cask Limousin’
(55%, OB 2009, 440 btl.)
Nose: starts on white wood glue but it gets better. The oak stays very present, but it is balanced by fruity notes (yellow apples, unripe banana). Burnt sugar. Vanilla. Some waxy notes. Nice but there’s something artificial that kind of spoils it for me. Mouth: certainly not as sweet as I would have expected. Very very resinous, is this liquid pine tree? Similar to some bourbons in that respect (Pappy Van Winkle 20 years old pops to mind). Herbal notes. Lots of spices (nutmeg, ginger and pepper). Some notes of burnt caramel as well. The fruit seems to be buried somewhere. Finish: rather short and dry, mostly the wood that’s talking.
My fellow reviewers really like this and there’s not a single bottle left in stores. Still I don’t really get the hype. Sure, it’s different and probably the best Belgian whisky to date, but when tasted blind I would say this is closer to a mediocre bourbon than to a quality Scotch. € 30.
Duncan Taylor is one of these independent bottlers with impressive stocks of superb old whisky. The last few years, they’ve released lots of high quality Caperdonich, Glenrothes, Strathisla, Bowmore, Glenlivet… all from the late 1960’s / beginning of the 1970’s.
Glen Grant from the beginning of the 1970’s can be outstanding. This one is 36 years old and bottled for the German Whisky Fair.
Glen Grant 36 yo 1972 (56,3%, Duncan Taylor 2009 for The Whisky Fair, sherry cask, 209 btl.)
Nose: an exotic fruit basket. Tangerine and kumquat followed by mango, fresh figs. Ripe gooseberries. Dried apricots. Superbly candied, with hints of honeysuckle. Whiffs of vanilla (crême patissiere). Not unlike a Bowmore from the late 1960’s. Very round and polished, but it’s not all fruity because there are subtle undertones of oak polish and coal smoke, even something that reminds me of gas. Mouth: still very fruity (lots of grapefruit now, tangerine, passion fruit, papaya). Much more wood than on the nose which gives it a drier, slightly bitter profile. Still really exotic. Cake with honey. Chocolate. Very refined sherry. Finish: medium length, on oak polish, tangerine and the lightest hint of mint.
Around € 150 at the time, but sold out soon after the publication of the Malt Maniacs Awards. Quite a lot of wood (not surprisingly) but very very good!
ps/ It’s safe to say all of the Malt Maniacs Gold medal winners are stunning whiskies (we didn’t think otherwise of course). This Glen Grant and the Yoichi are top of the bill for me, with the Yoichi being the nicest surprise. Also, these two turn out to be the cheapest of the pack. Woohoo!
In the 2009 series of GlenDronach single casks, the GlenDronach 1972 cask #719 was my favourite (in fact, it was one of the best bottlings I’ve tasted last year). A few months later, this sister cask #705 was bottled for La Maison du Whisky and won the Malt Maniacs award for Best Sherry Cask 2009 in the Ultra premium category.
It’s a 37 year-old, matured in an oloroso sherry butt.
GlenDronach 37 yo 1972 (53,3%, OB 2009 for LMdW, oloroso cask #705, 399 btl.)
Nose: pretty similar to the markethouse bottling. More red fruits (raspberry rather than blueberry / blackcurrant. Citrus as well (blood orange). Water brings out hints of exotic fruits (papaya, mango). Dark chocolate. Some toasted notes. Less oak polish than the OB. Less farmy notes, more the meaty kind of sherry. Ginger, pepper. The LMdW nose is great but compared directly with the OB, it is slightly less complex and less expressive. Mouth: still those very nice red fruits but they are almost drowned by big waves of resinous notes and mentholated oak. Chocolate coated oranges. Tobacco leaves. Getting quite tannic and dry with a salty hint of liquorice. Finish: woody and dry but very rich with notes of tangerine and milk chocolate.
I guess 1972 already is a legendary year for GlenDronach, in the same way BenRiach 1976 are all great. I prefer the original bottling though. Still available from La Maison du Whisky at around € 310.
Bunnahabhain with a dark sherry finish can be great. Last year we already tasted a similar cask, the rather excellent Bunnahabhain 1974 by The Whisky Agency. This one (bottled by Adelphi) is even darker, let’s see if it tastes different.
Nose: very meaty sherry. In fact, the first notes I got were of gravy with a “bouquet garni” (a classic mixture of herbs – rosemary and sage among others). Hints of mushrooms. Soy sauce. Quite peculiar but nice, and if you like old, slightly musty sherry, this is excellent. Prunes as well. Some chocolate coated marzipan. Mouth: rich and mouth-coating. Slightly prickly and mentholated at full strength. Cinnamon. Kirsch. Demerara sugar. Drying towards very dark chocolate and liquorice. Water brings out traces of smoke. Finish: long and slightly grapey. Very much on coffee and cocoa.
This Bunnahabhain is an impressive sherry bottling with various savoury and herbal notes on top of the usual deep fruity notes. Unique but rather expensive (€ 300),
Yoichi (written 余市)won the 2008 edition of the World Whisky Awards so we already know they deliver great stuff. Yoichi is a Nikka distillery known for their peated bottlings.
This 18 Years old Yoichi 1991/2009 was matured in a virgin oak cask, which should make for a spicy dram.
Nikka Yoichi 1991 (58%, OB 2009 for La Maison du Whisky, new oak cask #129374, 453 btl.)
Nose: Houston, we have a winner! Really, just smell this and you’ll be instantly intrigued. Very waxy and honeyed, with floral notes as well as sweeter notes of peaches. Vanilla scented candles. Big big notes of honeydew melon! There’s also a woody side to it (sawdust), with spicy notes of cinnamon and ginger lemonade. Curiously farmy as well. Hints of leather armchairs. Mouth: rather hot at first and very spicy, with a peppery kick. The peat is more noticeable now, but not predominant at all. A touch of smoke. Salty undertones. Getting sweeter with nice hints of yellow raisins. Well balanced with the wood. Finish: long and warming. A round chocolate sweetness with tangerines and the lightest hint of peat.
Very complex and beautiful. It’s intense in different ways: the sweetness, the spiciness, the wood… they’re all very powerful and coated with gentle peat. Impressive. Around € 120.
Hakushu (written 白州 and pronounced Hak-shoo) is part of the Suntory group and was built in 1973 in the Southern Japanese Alps. It’s high above sea level, twice as high as Scotland’s highest distillery (Dalwhinnie).
This Hakushu 1989 single cask comes from a sherry butt, which is very rare (it’s probably the second single cask sherry release ever). It has a very dark, mahogany colour.
Hakushu 20 yo 1989 (62%, OB 2009 for The Whisky Exchange, sherry butt #9O 50021)
Nose: a bit restrained at first, but it opens up with big sherry notes of course. Excellent plums and raisins but also lovely fresh, sweet/sour notes of tangerines and bramble liqueur. Fragrant honey. Balanced wood influence: it’s certainly there but it never overpowers. Water brings out a hint of smoked wood. Mouth: hot and woody at cask strength but very rich. Spicy cake (some cinnamon and ginger). Plums again. Definitely from a clean sherry cask (why do the Japanese always seem to pick perfect casks?). The sandalwood gives it a dry and tannic edge, maybe even a few rubbery hints. Finish: quite long and smooth. Warming sherry with a sweet aftertaste.
A perfectly balanced sherry bomb – a Japanese Macallan, as it were. On the other hand, I still prefer the Longmorn 1969, which is just as sherried but less dry and more complex (although it’s older). This Hakushu 1989 is one of the Gold Medal winners that is still available from TWE (around € 200).