Single malt whisky - tasting notes

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


Oban is the second smallest distillery in the Diageo portfolio, but also one of the oldest (1793). It was chosen to represent the Western Highlands in the Classic Malts of Scotland range.

The expressions in the Distiller’s Edition series are finished in different types of sherry casks, in this case Montilla casks. Montilla is a wine region in the Spanish province of Córdoba, and although it is not officially a part of the sherry region, they produce the same style of dry (fino) wine.

 

Oban 14yo Distillers Edition Oban 1992/2006 ‘Distiller’s Edition’
(43%, OB 2006, ref. OD 155.FR)

Nose: elegant. Malty start, alternating between sweet, fruity flavours (peaches on syrup, honey) and drier, more maritime associations (seaweed, manzanilla sherry). Hints of smoke. Palate: good attack, oily mouthfeel. Rather sweet. Rich nutty and malty flavours, with notes of tobacco, chocolate and spices (nutmeg). Finish: medium length, on chocolate, vanilla, pepper. Getting drier and slightly peaty in the end.

Nice interaction between sweet, fruity and dry, maritime notes. Much better than the regular Oban 14yo. Around € 60.

Score: 83/100


A Cragganmore distilled only a few days after my birth (September 1978) and bottled in November 1996.

It’s part of a batch of three sister casks that were distilled on the same day and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in their CASK series in 1996.


Cragganmore 1978/1996 G&M Cask 4959 Cragganmore 18 yo 1978
(60,1%, G&M CASK 1996, cask #4959)

Nose: starts on flowery notes and subtle fruit (apples, soft peach, grapes). Hints of white wine. Whiffs of wax and what we call “hotel cake” around here. After a while, there’s interesting coal smoke and gas coming through, which is rather typical for really old whisky (let’s say 1940’s-1960’s) but less common in the late 1970’s. Some hints of latte. Very nice combination overall, even more so with a few drops of water. Mouth: powerful. Starts flowery again and slightly herbal. Too much lavender now, which brings out a soapy element that quite frankly I’ve noticed with Cragganmore a bit too often. Other than that: almonds and spices. Water highlights fruity notes (pears and apples mostly) but it’s never really convincing. Finish: slightly smoky, definitely spicy, and quite long.

Again a Cragganmore with a soapy edge. The old-style coal smoke and fruity/spicy body makes up for part of it though. A bottle was sold for € 107 at WhiskyAuction recently.

Score: 83/100


Glenfarclas 1968 Thosop Last year, a cask of Glenfarclas 1968 was selected by collector Luc Timmermans to celebrate a couple of anniversaries (of his club Lindores, of his website whiskysamples.eu and of himself). This bottling got excellent reviews across the board.

Now there’s the announcement of a new cask from the same year. It is a vatting of two sherry casks, one oloroso and one fino cask. By mixing them, the specific aromas from both cask types were extracted and the result turned out to be exponentially better than the individual casks.

Interestingly, the Grant family agreed to have a special label, with elements of both the classic Family Cask labels and the specific hand-written labels of the Thosop bottlings.

It will be bottled on August 18th, with the first impressions published on WhiskyNotes that very same day!


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  • Roberto Sikora: This is really a great, great bottling. One of my favourite Littlemills so far... :-) Thank you, Ruben for this review!
  • george: i see you have tried st magdalene and say it is harder to find i am a collector of st magdalene and i have 40 bottles i am selling these date from 196
  • sjoerd972: I wish the guys at Bushmills would demand the labels to say "Northern Ireland" so we didn't have to speculate on the booze's origins.

Coming up

  • Kininvie 23yo 1990 - Batch 002
  • Bowmore Devil's Casks - Batch 002
  • Tomatin 1988 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Abbey Whisky)
  • Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
  • Blair Athol 2002 (Hepburn's Choice)
  • Fettercairn Fior
  • Bowmore Laimrig 15yo
  • Ben Nevis 2002 (Port cask #334)

1598 notes by Ruben

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