Alchemist (written Alc-hem-ist) is an independent Scottish bottler founded by Gordon Wright (member of the family behind Springbank, one of the people behind the resurrection of Bruichladdich and co-founder of Murray McDavid). There has been some momentum around this bottler a couple of years ago, but it seems to have faded quite soon. The website has never been updated since 2006 either.
Ben Nevis 42 yo 1966
(40,6%, Alchemist 2008)
Nose: old polished wood mixed with a slightly tropical fruitiness (melon, banana). Nice coconut / vanilla combo. Hints of old grain whisky, but this is better and certainly smoother. Hints of lipstick. Heather notes. Honey. Verbena tea. A little smoke as well. Great nose, as great as old Ben Nevis can be. Mouth: interesting combination of sweet, sour and oaky flavours. Seville oranges, a little sherry. Heathery notes again. Light coconut. Getting quite spicy and oaky after a while (nutmeg, cloves, ginger). Maybe a little too oaky but hey, it’s 42 years old. Finish: long, fruity and waxy with a sourish touch.
Always be on the lookout for old Ben Nevis. Their 1960’s spirit is getting rare, but usually of great interest. This one is still available in some shops, but it doesn’t come cheap. Around € 220.
The stills at Glen Keith have been compared with those of Bushmills, and indeed, in the 1970’s (after the addition of an extra pair of stills) double and triple distillation were altered. Glen Keith had its own maltings and was still
coal-fired back then.
Glen Keith was mothballed in 2000 but it still performs some tasks for Strathisla, a nearby distillery connected via pipes.
Glen Keith 40 yo 1970 (45,1%,
The Whisky Agency ‘Landscapes’ 2010,
bourbon hogshead, 215 btl.)
Nose: I think “voluptuous” describes this one. Juicy pears, sweet tangerine, apricots, pineapple… a very warm, honeyed fruitiness freshened by some flowery notes. Buttercups, pollen and flower honey. My beloved marshmallows! Marzipan. A suggestion of coconut / vanilla. After fifteen minutes, these notes are joined by some grassy / yeasty notes and even a medicinal tinge. Immediately attractive but very complex in case you want to dig a little further. Mouth: lovely pineapple / vanilla / coconut combination. Now almost completely on fruity notes, with a lot of fruit jam (apricot mostly). Fruit cake with a layer of soft spices and herbal notes in the background. Evolves on pink grapefruit. Finish: long, round and fruity with beehive notes and ginger.
Sweet and utterly fruity, slightly candied, with hardly any oak to be detected. Splendid and way too drinkable. Around € 180 but sold out now as far as I can tell.
Another bottle from the recent series of A.D. Rattray releases, a 28 years old Aultmore 1982. Two sister casks (#2216 and #2217) have been bottled for Bladnoch Forum in 2010.
Aultmore 28 yo 1982 (56,1%,
A.D. Rattray 2011, cask #2214, 150 btl.)
Nose: starts on hay and grass. A bit mashy and buttery as well, very natural I would say. Hints of lemongrass. Apple compote. Some milk chocolate. Whiffs of nutmeg. Water makes it slightly fragrant, even slightly soapy. Mouth: a bit sharp (ginger, cloves) with a slight alcoholic punch at first. Growing bitter (lemon skin, grapefruit). The bitterness is enhanced by the woody notes. Liquorice. Seville oranges with a nice but slightly hot afterglow on vanilla. Softer and rounder with a few drops of water. Finish: intense spices, vanilla and a chocolate coating.
This Aultmore has some good elements (fruity, firm spices) but also a few downsides (quite harsh and bitter). I suppose all is due to a (slightly over-)active cask. Not bad at all but I’ll pass because there are currently better releases on offer from this bottler in my opinion. Around € 100.
This dark-coloured Ardbeg was distilled in March 1975 and bottled in May 2002. It was distributed to the US market in the Old Malt Cask series by Douglas Laing.
Ardbeg 27 yo 1975 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC 2002, sherry cask, US market, 342 btl.)
Nose: soot and sherry in a great marriage as both are not trying to overpower. Some of the notes, in no particular order: camphor, chocolate, gentle peat, iodine, sea breeze, red berries, juniper, tar, dark leather, dried prunes… All of a sudden, it reminded me of the famous Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar praline invented by our Belgian shock-o-latier Dominique Persoone for Oud Sluis – it has the same chocolate smell combined with slightly sourish vinegar. Priceless. Mouth: big liquorice flavours now. Tar again, some tobacco as well. Nutmeg and pepper. Very intense. Earthy, ending on spices and pine needles. Finish: really long, rather oaky now. Pepper and liquorice.
An impressive Ardbeg, very intense. The tar is quite big but the chocolate sweetness from the sherry makes it special. Not unlike some heavily sherried Port Ellen actually (say PE1). Very hard to find now, and expect € 400 or more.
Zenith was an Italian importer of Caol Ila, Rosebank, Brackla (and maybe a few others) during the 1980’s, run by Bonfanti in Milan. In the 1970’s it was simply called Bonfanti Import.
This kind of ceramic decanter is quite rare. In the same period Zenith also imported Rosebank in common clear glass bottles (15yo and 20yo).
Rosebank 15 yo (50%, OB for Zenith Italy, 1980’s, 75cl ceramic decanter)
Nose: very fragrant, grassy en slightly perfumy. Big notes of lemons (juice, zest, marmalade…). Yellow apples. Hints of walnuts and wax. Very clean with just a hint of smoke. Mouth: starts a bit dusty and undecided but picks up its freshness after a while. Again all kinds of lemon notes: crystallized lemon, dried lemon, cleaning cream. Overall quite sweet and rounded. Then evolving towards sharper grapefruit with a slight bitterness. A grassy / salty twist in the end. Finish: medium length, more of the same (lemon, lemon, apple and lemon).
Very clean, typical Lowlands style exploring every shade of flavour in lemons. Very enjoyable but also a bit mono-dimensional. Not all that different from more recent Rosebank. Worth around € 400 in auctions.
Independent bottlers are bringing out so many interesting bottles that we could easily fill the whole blog with nothing more than new indy releases. I know a lot of people are interested in such bottles (rather than old stuff that you can’t buy any more), but let’s take a small break anyway and taste a few interesting oldies.
This single cask Caol Ila was distilled in October 1978 and bottled by Cadenhead in October 1990. A second cask (better known) was filled and bottled at the same time (65,5%).
Caol Ila 12 yo 1978
(64,4%, Cadenhead 1990, dumpy bottle, 75 cl)
Nose: a rather soft nose considering the alcohol volume. Great old-style coal smoke, fern and moss. Some graphite. Coastal notes as well: seaweed, soft iodine, wet wool. Eucalyptus. Hints of almond oil to round it off. With water: slightly more lemony and slightly more fruity / fragrant with hints of mint. Mouth: very intense of course, oily and quite warming without water. Mild peat, a lot of leafy notes. Evolving on brine, mushrooms and hints of ink. Water brings out lemon balm and sweet notes (not exactly fruity though) with more smoke in the background. Finish: long, smoky but relatively simple with lemon and a salty edge.
This Caol Ila shows an impressive power but smoothness at the same time. Great old-style coal smoke as well. Worth around € 400 now.
Tomintoul started production in 1965. It’s not sure whether there are many casks left from this era, but luckily a couple of 1967’s have popped up recently. A similar bourbon cask #2557 (44,3%) was bottled by A.D. Rattray in October 2010.
Tomintoul 43 yo 1967 (40,7%, A.D. Rattray 2010, bourbon cask #2559, 132 btl.)
Nose: fruity in a light and slightly reserved way. Tangerine, kumquat, papaya, yellow plums, melon. Vanilla cake aromas. Citrus green tea. Dried flowers and faint herbal notes. A beautifully weighted nose with gentle oak. Mouth: old-style, quite oily with higher amounts of oak. Nutty notes, oats and leather. Seville oranges with a pleasantly soft bitterness. Apples and pears. Nutmeg. Extremely delicate, slightly dusty, and a little underpowered I’m afraid. Finish: weakish and short, but it finds a nice balance between wood, citrus tea and spices.
I must say I had slightly higher hopes for this Tomintoul. I really like its profile and reserved fruitiness, but it’s a tad too soft to convince me completely. Around € 170.
Although Glenugie (also known as Invernettie) is not a popular brand, I seemed to like every expression I was able to try. Twenty years had gone by since the last official bottling, but a couple of months ago this new Glenugie 1977 Deoch an Doras was released.
‘Deaoch an Doras’ translates as ‘Dram at the door’ because the distillery was closed in 1983 and its spirit is on the verge of going away forever. It was matured for 32 years and is obviously from a sherry cask (maybe two).
Please note that it states 55,48% of alcohol. Did Chivas invest in a new Alcometer® UltraFine™ Professional?
Glenugie 32 yo 1977 ‘Deoch an Doras’ (55,48%, OB 2010, 500 btl.)
Nose: rich and fragrant with beautifully elegant sherry. It shows classic notes (raisins, chocolate) but they’re overtaken by fresh and bursting fruits: raspberry and other red fruits, oranges, gooseberries, guava… A little eucalyptus. All spiced up by precious wood, llibrary aromas and a floral element (whiffs of old roses and peonies). Remarkable for a 32yo. Rich and what a balance! Mouth: intense with different layers. There’s plenty of wood, but enough fruit to compensate (lots of orange cake, some apricot, raspberries again, prunes). Cinnamon, a little nutmeg. Almonds. Hints of cough syrup, but never crossing the line of becoming too oaky. Finish: fading very slowly on big chocolate notes and liquorice. Hints of tea.
In terms of luscious fruitiness, this Glenugie reminds us of the famous Longmorn 1972 by Whisky Agency or some of the best GlenDronach. A great nose with pretty well-controlled oak on the palate. Very expensive (€ 300) but part of a disappearing whisky tradition. Only available from the official Chivas shop (UK residents only) or TWE.