Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This story starts a few months ago, when Glenfarclas collector and connoisseur Luc Timmermans poured me a dram from a sample bottle and told me it would be the successor of his rather legendary Glenfarclas 1968 cask #699, bottled last year. Luc is following the 1968 casks (his birth year) for a long time and it was clear that he had found another Glenfarclas gem, albeit with a rather heavy sherry influence. The former cask was very sensual and silky and to appreciate this new one you really had to be a sherry lover. Still I was looking forward to the bottling date.

 

Glenfarclas cask samples Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received four mystery samples with no further information. “One of them will be my next bottling”, Luc said, “I’m considering different options again, let me know what you think”. So I tasted them all and had two clear favourites.

 

Afterwards, it turned out to be a nifty selection (left to right in the picture):

  • The first sample had lots of chocolate truffle, dried figs, forest fruits, mint and walnuts. Very intense but not really subtle. It reminded me of the one I had tasted before and indeed, it was the same cask #702, a first fill Cream sherry hogshead (February 1968).
  • Sample n°2 clearly had a different maturation. It showed old roses, wax, precious wood and a whole range of herbs and spices (sage, thyme, cloves). This was just as intense but in another direction, with more obvious woody notes. It was drawn from cask #5240, a first fill Fino cask (which is not very common). Distilled December 1968.
  • The third sample was the most vivid one. It showed dried fruits as well as fresh red fruits, mixed with nice touches of oak polish and spices. After half an hour in the glass, this one really stood out. It was clearly the most balanced so far. Afterwards it turned out to be a vatting of the two others. One and one is three, no… four!
  • Finally there was a placebo: it was last year’s cask #699. I didn’t recognize it, but I discovered some new elements, which proves that it surely was a complex whisky.

 

No need to tell you that I preferred n°3 and n°4 in the blind tasting. Another great Glenfarclas was ready to be bottled!

The casks will be bottled as we speak, on this very day, and we can expect the bottles to be available soon. It’s great to see that Glenfarclas was willing to modify the official Family Cask label and blend in the hand-written style of the other Thosop bottlings. Very clever!

 

Glenfarclas 1968 ThosopGlenfarclas 41 yo 1968 (49,7%, OB 2010 for Thosop, cask #702 & 5240, 318 btl.)

Nose: the sweeter sherry is easy to notice, but it shows much more layers. There’s a fresh layer of sweet fruits (mirabelles, redcurrant marmalade, lovely ripe tangerine and even raspberry jelly) and a darker layer of dried fruits (dates, raisins), chocolate and toffee. And a third layer of spices, oak polish, cigar boxes and some mint and eucalyptus. Just a hint of dusty oak and old leather book covers in the background. After some time it gets more playful, the fruits becomes bigger and the masculine side of the sherry makes place for a feminine softness and sweetness. A thrilling nose with awesome complexity. Mouth: a firm attack. There are woody notes, prunes, lots of dark chocolate and some cold coffee. A few notes that remind me of a meat sauce with wine (must be the mix of sherry with the herbal elements). A little mint and soft pepper. Fig and blackcurrant jam. A tad less wide than on the nose but really impressive at this age. Finish: long, drying, with lingering fruits.

 

In a way, this is like a richer, more powerful version of the official Glenfarclas 40yo: it shows different types of Glenfarclas style (with just two casks!), mixed together to create an even better result. Not nearly as elegant as last year’s cask #699, but just as good in its own style. Now let’s stop typing and simply enjoy…

Score: 93/100


Glenturret is a small distillery, part of the Edrington group and the spiritual home of the Famous Grouse blend. Apart from the markethouse 8 and 10 Years Old, single malt bottlings are scarce. Overall, the distillery doesn’t seem to have much fame.

This 1990 vintage was matured in German Oak (not sure what to expect).


Glenturret 1990 Chieftains 91781 Glenturret 18 yo 1990
(46%, Chieftain’s 2009, 
cask #91781, 312 btl.)

Nose: notes of lemon and cake. Tinned fruits on syrup. Ginger lemonade. So far so good, but then there’s wet newspaper and disturbing notes of brown liquid soap. Once you’re focused, it’s hard to get over them. Mouth: lemon candy, with some sour orange moving in. A slightly bitter note of gin tonic with the same soapy bias again. A bit weird and not totally enjoyable. Finish: sharp and very short.

I try to avoid this type of whisky.
Around € 90.

Score: 69/100


The fact that Glencraig has SMWS number 104 indicates that it’s a rare distillery. In fact it’s not even a real distillery, the name was used for the Lomond stills that were operating inside the Glenburgie distillery.

I’ve only been able to taste one Glencraig before, and interestingly it was from the same year: Glencraig 1974 (Duncan Taylor cask #2922). I still have that sample so I’m using it as a benchmark. This Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling was tagged “Church incense in naughty dungeons”.


Glencraig 1974 SMWS 104.9 Glencraig 34 yo 1974
(50,5%, SMWS 2008, 104.9, 204 btl.)

Nose: certainly in the same vein as the other 1974. Very much on garden fruits. Flower blossoms, green apple and nice hints of wax. Light, grassy notes and some cereals. Quite oily. This one is a bit more expressive and more complex. Incense? Well, if you taste them side by side, then yes, there are hints of dusty cellars and churches, but it would be difficult to notice on its own. Mouth: close to the other one at first, but then growing sweeter and evolving on pink grapefruit, apple candy and spices from the oak. Cinnamon and liquorice. Finish: half fruity, half spicy. Quite long.

Compared to its Duncan Taylor sibling, this Glencraig 1974by SMWS is better across the board. It’s more complex on the nose and wider on the palate. Very pleasant whisky with a nice development. Two extra points. Worth around € 150 in auctions.

Score: 86/100


As you may know, one my favourite drams so far is a 30yo Brora 1976 by Douglas Laing. It goes without saying that I’m on the lookout for similar bottles. This is one of them, although 1981 is usually a lesser year than 1976 for the distillery. Like the other one, this sherry cask is released in the Old & Rare Platinum series of Douglas Laing, and there are just 93 bottles!


Brora 1981/2009 DL Platinum Brora 28 yo 1981 (57,4%,
Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum 2009, 93 bottles)

Nose: starts rather prickly and sharp. Wet dogs, leaves, drying hay, walnuts… A vegetal kind of farminess this time, no sheep involved… Anything but sweet, although this changes over time with some dried fruits, ginger ale and even coconut shining through. There’s also a Karuizawa kind of gunpowder, quite uncommon. Complex yet different from the 1970’s style. Gets more grassy with water, and it shows hints of tobacco. Mouth: again very vegetal, with leaves and sharp peat. Lemon balm. Hints of tobacco. Very herbal and grassy now. A lot less subtle than how I remember the 1976. When water is added, there’s wax to be found. Finish: long, on sharp peat and some pepper. Hints of gunpowder again.

This Brora is not as brilliant as its older brother, but it’s still excellent with a few unique touches. A bit too austere for me to get a higher score, but maybe you like this type of Brora more than I do. One problem: it’s around € 450 which I find quite hefty - the official Brora 30 yo’s are better value.

Score: 91/100


GlenDronach cask in a van Last year, GlenDronach malt whisky selected a single cask and took it round Belgium in the back of a van! The Cask in a van tour proved so successful that they’re repeating it this year.

The current offering is a young GlenDronach 2002 vintage, which has been matured in a Bourbon barrel. I’m not sure if it’s going to prove as popular as the widely praised sherry casks… but let’s wait and see.

Want to fill your own bottle by hand, straight from the cask? Here’s the schedule:


Moonshine, white dog… new spirit is marketed in different ways and quickly becoming a product on its own. While age used to be an important indication of quality in whisky, nowadays it’s not a necessary element anymore to sell a spirit.

Georgia Moon is a Kentucky corn spirit with an ageing period of less than thirty days. “Guaranteed!” says the label – that’s a relief then. It’s “jarred” rather than bottled. There are peach and lemon flavoured versions as well.


Georgia MoonGeorgia Moon (40%)

Clear like vodka (no, the jar on the picture is not empty). Nose: liquid popcorn. Quite funny. Sweet sugared corn with a slightly sour overtone. Hints of Dutch “jenever” and a slightly flowery / plummy note. Peanuts also. Mouth: popcorn again. Peanut butter. Roasted corn. Highly diluted though, which makes it a bit bland. Whiskey lemonade, American style. Finish: what finish?

On this blog, we give high rates to what we appreciate as being good whisky. If anything, this is not good whisky. As a spirit drink, it’s more palatable than you may think, but very mono-dimensional. I think it has cocktail potential as well.

Score (from a whisky perspective): 30/100

But that’s not a dissenting vote, believe me.


John MacLellan, former distillery manager at Bunnahabhain (now Kilchoman), pioneered the idea of releasing special bottlings for Feis Ile. This year they offered an unpeated 18 years old single cask with a Pedro Ximenez finish.


Bunnahabhain 18yo PX Feis Ile Bunnahabhain 18 yo (51,4%, OB for
Feis Ile 2010, PX cask, 384 btl.)

Nose: a relatively light nose. Obvious PX influence, but less fresh and fruity than some previous experiments from other distilleries (this or this). Caramelized banana and a bit of cinnamon. Sweet nuts. Sourish berries. A little mint and ginger. Mildly maritime. Mouth: sweet, with dry fruits. Sweet but not too sugary. Hints of chocolate and kirsch. Balanced spices (pepper, clove) and dried herbs. Finish: medium length, drying, with the same flavours.

Recipe: 70% Bunnahabhain 18yo and 30% fortified wine. Although the wine is not subtle, the end result is quite good (but not exceptional). Sold for € 100 at the distillery.

Score: 81/100


While looking over my recent reviews, I realized that I hadn’t tasted anything exceptional in the last few weeks. So I looked up a sample of a Strathisla bottled for The Whisky Fair a couple of months ago and which was received very well.

Gordon & MacPhail have the largest collection of old Strathisla casks, no doubt about that. Most of them seem to be ex-sherry casks, but this is a bourbon matured Strathisla.


Strathisla 49yo 1960 Whisky Fair Kells Strathisla 49 yo 1960 (53,2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Fair 2010, Book of Kells)

Nose: wow, great start packed with aromas. Sweet notes of honey, apricot marmalade and dates. Lovely. Almonds. Orange peel. Balsam and pollen. A bit of pine wood. There’s also a superb “un-freshness” to it: old cellars with whiffs of diesel. Works perfectly here. Outstanding complexity. Mouth: oily and oaky. Dried herbs. Bitter oranges and liquorice. Quite some resin again. Walnuts. Just enough fruit to stay interesting, but certainly less complex than on the nose. Also a faint phenolic / tarry edge which gets stronger when you add water. Its minty side is amplified as well. Finish: long with oak and oranges.

An excellent Strathisla that is worth discovering if you have a chance. The oakiness is pretty well controlled for a 50 year-old (well, almost 50…) and the dusty elements make it really worthwile. Sold out – worth around € 300.

Score: 92/100


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Coming up

  • Glen Flagler (70° proof)
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Abbey Whisky)
  • Blair Athol 1993 (First Editions)
  • Blair Athol 2002 (Hepburn's Choice)
  • Braeval 1994 (Tasting Fellows)
  • Tomatin 1988 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ben Nevis 2002 (Port cask #334)

1593 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.