So, here’s the slightly controversial Clynelish… Controversial because it takes the NAS concept to a higher level, literally. You’re paying € 650-750 for a whisky that doesn’t have an age statement.
We know that Clynelish Select Reserve is made from five vintages (the youngest being 1999) and five types of casks: first-fill + refill American oak, rejuvenated casks, refill European oak and bodega sherry casks.
Clynelish Select Reserve (54,9%, OB 2014, Special Release, 2964 btl.)
Nose: pretty great. Unsurprisingly you get a mixture of all things that Clynelish is famous for. Big fruity notes: mirabelles, grapefruit, lemon and lime. Tiny hints of tropical fruits like passion fruits – as if it had Irish ancestors, if you know what I mean. Haribo sweets and marshmallow in the background. Strong beehive notes and paraffin. Ginger lemonade with mint leaves. Fairly mundane grainy notes as well, which seem to grow stronger over time. Mouth: high strength, very creamy and rounded. Lemon, grapefruit, peach, pear. Zesty and zingy with a salty edge. Quite compact, the nice tropical notes are gone. The waxy notes return with a bit of water, and this also brings chlorophyll and a wider array of fruits. Shows typical peppery / mustardy notes towards the end. Finish: long, with lemon, ginger and hints of green tea, very much in line with the taste.
Clynelish Select Reserve is complex and entertaining, especially with a few drops of water. Yet it seems to offer little more than a slightly above-average, medium-aged Clynelish. Around € 650, in stock pretty much everywhere…
21 Drams is a Belgian collective of 21 whisky lovers. They are based in the area around the Sonian Forest, the biggest green lung in our country. In Dutch, the name of the forest sounds a bit like Zionwood, hence the name.
At the end of 2014, they decided to bottle their own whisky, from a selection made by The Whiskyman. A single cask Ardmore 2000.
Some of the 21 Drams members are running a web building company called Wieni, and they decided to take 40 more bottles from the casks as a gift for their clients. They’ve labeled it Wiensky.
Ardmore Zionwood 14 yo 2000 (53,3%, The Whiskyman for 21 Drams 2014, 25 btl.)
Nose: not as peaty as some other Ardmore. It’s mostly ashy, close to Caol Ila in that respect, especially when you add the fresh lemony notes. Some rounder notes: honey, a little candy sugar. Earthy notes, as well as some very subtle medicinal touches. Not too complex but nicely balanced. Mouth: fairly dry, earthy peat with a fierce peppery kick at first. Soot, grassy notes and some bitter grapefruit skin before it settles down and becomes much sweeter. Honey, citrus sweets and vanilla. Finish: medium long, peppery and zesty, with the earthy, peaty notes underneath and a hint of agave.
A nice Ardmore that’s better balanced than similar expressions that I’ve tried before. Around € 90, only available to club members if I’m not mistaken. They’re hoping to present wider (public) releases in the future. Thanks, Ike.
A couple of years ago, Mark Pendlebury started Whiskybrother in Johannesburg, possibly the first serious whisky shop in South Africa.
A few months ago, he selected a cask of Glenlivet 1998 from the Signatory stocks. This Oloroso butt has been bottled exclusively for his shop.
Glenlivet 15 yo 1998 (54,8%, Signatory Vintage for Whiskybrother 2014, Oloroso sherry butt #128811, 413 btl.)
Nose: aromatic forest fruit jams (bramble, blackcurrant), alongside chocolate coated raisins, dates and candied orange. Cigar leaves. Some peppery oak and bread crust. Hints of ham, maybe a trace of rubber as well. Classic first-fill sherry, with the entire spectrum of sherry aromas. Mouth: a little hot and fizzy at full strength, but nicely flavoured. Lots of thick fruit jams again (raspberry, figs), countered by dry hints of coffee and pepper. Caramelized brown sugar. An intense oaky kick as well. Returns nicely to cassis candy. Finish: long, peppery and fruity, mainly oranges dipped in dark chocolate.
This is quite a high pressure sherry bomb, Glendronach style in a way. The oak had its say and delivered a nice, intense whisky. Around € 100, only available in South Africa.
Tormore 16 Year Old was recently released in ‘limited quantities’ after a restyling of the distillery range, which now includes a 14yo and 16yo.
I’ve always thought Tormore had an interesting distillery building (hesitating to call it beautiful). Built in 1958, it combines the traditional architecture with a certain 20th Century industrial look.
Did you know the clock on the distillery roof plays four different Scottish songs every quarter of an hour?
Tormore 16 yo (48%, OB 2013, Batch #B1309, American oak casks)
Nose: quite nice actually, with lots of juicy fruits. Oranges and apples, melons, hints of kiwi. Soft nutty notes, mainly pecans. Sweet barley. Some honey and vanilla ice cream. Typical, fresh American oak aromas really. Mouth: quite fruity again. Melons and pears, with soft cinnamon and pepper from the white oak again. Oranges and sugar coated cereals. Soft hints of coconut and creamy vanilla. Finish: medium long, still fruity but drier and slightly sharper. Ginger, zesty citrus and a slight grainy edge.
It’s nice to see an official Tormore, especially when it’s not bad at all. Pretty fruity and rounded, I’d love to try older expressions in the future. Around € 65.
From the latest series Early Flying, released by The Whisky Agency, comes this Littlemill 1991.
Littlemill 23 yo 1991
(48%, The Whisky Agency ‘Early Flying’ 2014, refill hogshead, 275 btl.)
Nose: an oily one, with paraffin, wax and hints of porridge up front. Some muesli and oak shavings. Hints of (wet) hay, as well as some herbal notes (dried thyme). Fair enough, but not really the tropically fruity kind of Littlemill that we’ve come to adore. Mouth: more to my liking, I must say. Plenty of citrus notes, grapefruit juice, tangerines, hints of papaya. A little green tea and lemon grass. Rather excellent now: fresh and zesty with a subtle bitterness. Finish: medium long, still very much on the same zesty notes and green tea.
This is not the best Littlemill from this bottler in my opinion. Very fine on the palate, less interesting on the nose, I think. Around € 155.
Eight years ago, Heaven Hill distillery launched a yearly release called Parker’s Heritage Collection (named after Master Distiller Parker Beam), which offers a look into the best of their production at different ages and with different mash bills (though usually a bourbon).
In 2014 they presented a 13 years old cask strength wheat whiskey, taken from the first batch of Bernheim Original ever produced in September 2000. Being a straight wheat whiskey, it uses at least 51% of soft winter wheat in its recipe, alongside 39% corn and 10% barley.
Parker’s Heritage Wheat whiskey 13 yo 2000 (63,7%, OB 2014, 8th edition)
Nose: really nice, despite the alcohol. Big notes of brown sugar and maple syrup, as well as a lot of vanilla and honey. Biscuity notes too. A bit of char underneath, as well as some spices like cinnamon and clove. Touches of fragrant oak. Mouth: buttery and sweet at first, but it quickly becomes spicy and dry. After all not as sweet as the nose suggested. Bready notes. Loads of burnt sugar and vanilla. Menthol. Plenty of oak, giving it a slightly acidic and bitter feel. Cinnamon and pepper. Finish: very long, bittersweet and fairly oaky. Maple syrup and smoky oak. A few drops of water really help this whiskey, especially towards the end.
This is a big, bold wheat whiskey that takes some fiddling with water to get the most of it. Despite its impressive strength, there’s a certain smoothness and roundness to it as well. Originally around $ 90 in the US (a no-brainer) but a lot more on this side of the ocean: up to € 250. It’s great but maybe not that great. Thanks, Angelo!
Ardbeg Kildalton is the latest release from this Islay distillery. The name refers to the famous 1200 year-old cross and Ardbeg already used it for 1980/1981 vintage expressions released first in 2004. It was known for having an unusually low peat level.
The Kildalton 2014 release follows the same rules as most distilleries lately: no age statement, fancy packaging and a lot of story-telling to support it. It is created from bourbon and sherry casks.
Ardbeg Kildalton (46%, OB 2014)
Nose: quite rounded. There’s clean soot and earthy smoke, but also honeyed notes and a slight vanilla edge to make it more gentle. Hints of dried apricot. A menthol / lemon combo in the back. Warm leather. Very subtle floral notes too. Definitely peatier than the original Kildalton, but you could say they share an idea of smoothness. Mouth: fairly gentle and creamy, with the same biscuity sweetness. Then quickly more smoky and peaty, with some coal tar soap and earthy notes. Smoked pork. A few herbal notes before it is taken over by a big sweetness: caramel and latte with vanilla syrup. It does make it a bit flat and too sweet. Finish: drier, with kippery notes, liquorice and soft medicinal notes.
I really like these smoother, gentler Ardbeg expressions, especially when they bring a hint of sherry to the mix. This new Kildalton has a great nose but looses some points on the palate. Originally around € 160. Not cheap at all for something that’s probably fairly young. Of course you could pay a lot more if you were trying to buy it a bit later. Now around € 250 in auctions.
After the success of the GlenDronach 1993 cask #33, a shop bottling for Abbey Whisky, they were looking for a successor. This was found in a cask from the next vintage: GlenDronach 1994 cask #3400 which was a large PX puncheon.
GlenDronach 20 yo 1994 (54,8%, OB for Abbey Whisky 2014, Pedro Ximénez puncheon #3400, 672 btl.)
Nose: slightly winey but very forthcoming. Baked apples, fig syrup, rum & raisins (tons of raisins really). Hints of vanilla – American oak sherry cask. Sticky toffee pudding. Hints of strawberries with milk chocolate. Soft oriental spices underneath: cinnamon and cardamom, as well as a fragrant touch that holds the middle between potpourri and metal polish. Very similar to cask #3397 that was part of the official releases, but without the dirty edge. Mouth: big, with plenty of spices now (well, pepper mainly). Also dates, demerara sugar and plum compote. Evolves on the darker side of things, with dark chocolate, hints of coffee and roasted nuts. Leather. A little plain oak with a bitterish edge. Finish: very long, very dry, with herbal notes, cloves and maple syrup.
A really good GlenDronach, better than its sister cask which was released by GlenDronach itself. Around € 130 from Abbey Whisky.
If you ever have a chance to try a Spanish Brandy de Jerez, please do so and think of this bottling. Brandy de Jerez is a cognac-style spirit, made from distilled grape juice that is matured in casks that previously held sherry wines, often Pedro Ximénez sherry. Contrary to actual sherry wines, which are matured in inactive old casks (sometimes in use for 100 years or more), their brandies are matured in fairly new casks that are specially prepared for the maturation of brandy. The aim is to impose sherry flavours as quickly as possible.
When trying this Glendronach, it immediately reminded of some brandies matured in PX casks. The kind of sherry influence is strikingly similar, the whisky is almost a higher strength version of the brandy. In fact these brandies are made in the same bodegas that also provide casks for the whisky industry so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. What we now call a “sherry cask” is simply the type of cask they had been preparing for brandy for ages.