In a couple of weeks, the brand-new Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 will be available in most book stores and whisky shops. This yearly overview of the whisky industry is an essential read for dedicated whisky lovers.
Obviously it is still the most accurate list of new releases that appeared over the last year, an overview of distillery profiles and at least 200 pages of data and statistics. I’d say this is the reference part.
Like other years, there’s also a reading part with in-depth articles by renowned writers like Charlie McLean, Gavin D Smith, Ian Buxton, Dom Roskrow and Neil Ridley.
Here are the themes that are discussed this year:
The microcosmic view on maturation, investigating the physical, biological and chemical laws of ageing whisky, warehouse characteristics, etc.
Pimp my whisky, an article about serving trends (highballs, specific waters and other things that may be a little shocking to purists)
Proud to be Irish, a look into the Irish whiskey market and why it is the fastest growing category in the world.
The last decade in Scotch, an interesting view on a decade of roaring sales, premiumisation, super-distilleries, micro-distilleries, small batches and NAS expressions.
Whisky’s next decade, the crystal ball… with special attention to the growing wealth and the growing lack of aged whisky.
The tyranny of twelve, a comparison of views on age statements since the 1930s.
What’s another year, another article about age statements and NAS.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 – 10th anniversary
This is the tenth release of the Malt Whisky Yearbook, so looking back on the last decade and looking forward to the next is an obvious choice. On top of this, it’s not a big surprise that age statements and the NAS trend are featured in several articles. The book provide a good insight into the problems of today’s whisky industry.
I will keep repeating this: if you’re interested in whisky, whatever your level of knowledge, this should be considered your yearly bible. It’s more up-to-date than any other book and it is fed by articles from the best writers. It’s an interesting era for whisky, and it shows.
The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 is sold through whisky shops all over Europe, distillery visitor centres or you can buy it online for £ 14.
The idea is beautiful and simple, yet no other distillery seems to have done it before: Tomatin prepared a batch of whisky distilled on the same day (January 15th 2002), initially matured for nine years in traditional ex-bourbon casks, and transferred in June 2011 to different kinds of first-fill sherry casks for another three years.
Four different kinds of sherry, hence the name of the range: Tomatin Cuatro. Two biologically aged sherries (Manzanilla and Fino) and two oxidatively aged sherries (Oloroso and the sweet Pedro Ximénez) were used. This is a wonderful occasion to witness the unique characteristics of each cask and see the effect on the identical base whisky. Educational whisky!
Being a sherry aficionado as well, I asked Tomatin for more details about the sherry, most importantly: are these American oak sherry casks, were all casks / wines supplied by the same bodega, and which bodega would that be? It could have had an extra educational value, but unfortunately this was considered commercially sensitive information…
A limited amount of 1500 bottles is available from each expression. They’re sold for around € 55 each. Too bad there’s no tasting box with 10-20 cl. versions, this would have been a real no-brainer.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Manzanilla (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)
Nose: initially this came accross a little unfresh and porridgy, but it settled down nicely. A rather neutral Tomatin nose, with cereals, soft spices and waxy overtones. Yellow plums, pear and white grapes. Mouth: rather sweet (grapes, oranges, apples), hints of lemon cake, with a firm oaky spiciness (white pepper). Soft salty notes. Very smooth and enjoyable, the most natural of all? Finish: medium long, sweet (pastry-like) and peppery.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Fino (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)
Nose: really similar, the same base notes of sugared cereals, but more biscuity notes (vanilla). This one seems a little dustier and sharper at the same time. Zesty lemon, a little almond paste and walnut. More wood in general. Mouth: less sweet and less fruity. More lemon, slightly more tannins as well. The white pepper has become a chilli. If I had to choose, I would say this is the more coastal overall. Finish: medium long, less smooth than the Manzanilla, with a slight graininess and more spices.
It may seem surprising that I think the Fino is more coastal than the Manzanilla (although Manzanilla wine is produced closer to the Ocean). However a young Manzanilla can be close to a white wine sometimes, which may impart a certain roundness, and the savouriness of a Fino can also be perceived as slightly salty.
In the end it’s obvious that both whiskies are very close together – I don’t think you could guess the sherry type when tasting them blind. Also the influence of the sherry is relatively subtle here: you’re still close to a regular bourbon-matured whisky.
Now on to the oxidative sherries:
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Oloroso (46%, OB 2014)
Nose: a spicy profile rather than the dried fruits galore you may expect from Oloroso. Hints of Christmas cake and red plums. Bramble. Also a slight waxiness that reminds us of the Manzanilla version, mixed with rubbery notes. Mouth: really sweet, almond paste and plenty of Christmas cake now. Caramel and milk chocolate coated nuts. Growing more and more candied. Still hints of rubber. Finish: long, sweet, candied notes but also heavy spices from the wood.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Pedro Ximénez (46%, OB 2014)
Nose: a slightly more candied, more syrupy sherry influence. Molasses, red candy, blood orange, as well as a sweet liquorice theme. Plum pie. Big hints of cloves and herbal bitters. There’s a kind of vermouth or Manhattan-like element in this whisky, I like that. Mouth: still quite candied, although it’s on par with the Oloroso. Some fruit cake and chocolate but also spices like ginger, clove and pepper. A little fruit tea. Toffee and caramel underneath. Finish: long, heavy sweetness, dark chocolate and a slight oaky bitterness.
No surprises from these two whiskies: if you know these sherries, I’m sure you can deduct a lot of characteristics. Keep in mind though that most Olorosos are dry wines and PX is hugely sweet. This difference doesn’t really show in the whiskies (unless they’ve used sweet Oloroso – it does exist).
In general, a very interesting experiment, but I would have hoped for an even bigger difference between the four. Personally I was already convinced that the actual type of sherry is only of minor importance to the end result (oak type, biological / oxidative, treatment length… are more important) and the Tomatin Cuatro series underlines this.
Sure, there are differences between the four casks (especially between the first two and the last two), but there are also lots of similarities, which is surprising if you consider how far apart the actual wines are. I guess this comes down to the same wood and a relatively limited finishing period.
We hope the same experiment can be done with full-time maturation in the future, or maybe Tomatin kept back a couple of casks and they can release the same whisky with a lengthier finish? Anyway keep ‘em coming, these kinds of ideas!
The Wemyss family (pronounced Weems) has been in the quality wines and whiskies for a very long time. Back in the 19th century, John Haig, the founder of Haig’s, built his first distillery on Wemyss land. At the moment Wemyss is building its own single malt distillery at Kingsbarns in Fife.
Their nosing panel, which selects the casks and gives them a nickname, is assisted by the well-known Charlie Maclean. At first, the whiskies only had this totem (e.g. Red berry cream) – it’s only since a couple of years that they started to mention the distillery on the label.
In the brand-new batch of single casks from Wemyss, which includes 12 bottlings, there is this Bunnahabhain 1991, nicknamed A thread of smoke. Check my Facebook page for a full list of bottlings (and other news of course)
Bunnahabhain 1991 ‘A thread of smoke’ (46%, Wemyss Malts 2014, hogshead, 302 btl.)
Nose: rather excellent, with Bunnahabhains typical honeyed / fruity profile. Honeydew melon, peaches, redcurrant, yellow apples. Plenty of sweet honey. Also fresh almonds and hints of mint. After a while it displays subtle grassy notes and soft coastal notes. Maybe some damp earth. A nice balance of roundness and sharper notes. Mouth: citrusy, a little sharper now, with more zesty notes and some smoky notes indeed. Grapefruit, sweet lemon juice, a little salty liquorice and grasses. Pears in the background. Green tea and spices. Finish: long, grassy, with some salty notes and a balanced herbal bitterness.
A beautiful all-round Bunnahabhain, with fruity notes, coastal notes and traces of smoke. Around € 100. Should arrive in stores soon.
Batch 10 of the GlenDronach single casks also brought a 1993 expression: Oloroso cask #494. I already mentioned the high quality of the casks filled on the 15th of January, but this one was filled a bit later, February 19th.
GlenDronach 21 yo 1993 (55,8%, OB 2014, Oloroso butt #494, 635 btl.)
Nose: a very classic nose, exactly how we like it. Lots of fig bread, walnuts and chocolate. Some juicy raisins, but maybe not as fruity as some others. It does have a nice floral / waxy side. Leather. Just a hint of vanilla. Heather honey. Peppercorns. It also has a dusty side, but I wouldn’t call this dirty. Mouth: sweet and sour, burnt sugar, pepper and all-spice. Dry leather again. Chocolate, moving towards roast coffee beans. Liquorice and herbs. A subtle salty edge as well. Finish: long, good but a bit on the dry / herbal side.
Maybe not the best 1993 ever (I seem to prefer the January casks), but still a very good one – among the top choices in this batch, I’d say. Around € 165.
Here is the latest release from The Whisky Mercenary, a Ledaig 2005. His most heavily peated selection so far.
Ledaig 8 yo 2005
(51,3%, The Whisky Mercenary 2014)
Nose: big, sooty peat. Wet wool. Smoked sardines. A little tar and hints of petrol. A fierce peaty side, but it’s a sweet, buttery kind of peat, which makes it more rounded than some other Ledaigs. A hint of vanilla and pear, even white cherries and prune eau-de-vie. Mouth: creamy mouthfeel, very sweet and very peaty. Pears and melons. Sugared lemon juice and sweetened Lapsang tea. Soot and ashes, but the sweetness is bigger. Candied ginger and sweet liquorice candy. Finish: long, smoky, half sweet, half briny.
A nice Ledaig, surprisingly sweet and drinkable, even though it doesn’t compromise the intense peatiness. Around € 70, available in several Belgian / Dutch stores.
Old Pulteney 35 Year Old is a brand-new addition to the core range. It sits in between the 30 Year Old and the wonderful 40 Year Old. The spirit has been matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks selected by distillery manager Malcolm Waring.
Old Pulteney presents itself as the ‘genuine maritime malt’ so it comes as no surprise that the 35 yo is housed in a wooden box with a porthole.
Old Pulteney 35 yo
(42,5%, OB 2014, 2700 btl.)
Nose: a gentle starter, pleasantly old-style, taking off on oily notes and waxed papers. A bit of mint and exotic spices. The it moves towards fruity notes (tangerines, whitecurrants, hints of pineapple). Also echoes of vanilla cake and floral honey, with some leathery undertones. Soft and subtle, you shouldn’t rush this one. Mouth: quite fruity, mainly on oranges (fresh and marmalade) and raisins. Even more leathery notes now. Hints of old wood, mint and eucalyptus. After a while almonds and walnuts, dipped in chocolate. Nutmeg and a subtle coastal edge. Finish: quite long, rather on the dry side now, with oak spices and a few tannins, although the juicy raisins are still present as well.
An excellent dram again. I prefer the even more exotic fruitiness of the 40yo but this is playing in the same league. Around € 650 – a lot of money but some other distilleries ask more for their 30yo.
Fettercairn Fior is the entry-level expression of this distillery. Fior is Gaelic for true or pure.
It’s made up mostly of 14-15 year old spirit, most of which is sherried, with about 15% of heavily peated five year old whisky from first-fill bourbon barrels.
Fettercairn Fior (42%, OB 2014)
Nose: very rich, with a wide range of aromas. Sweet oranges, some dried fruits from the sherry, as well as some milk chocolate. Toffee. Hints of sourish red berries (akin towards balsamic) and walnut skin. A veil of smoky notes, but the ‘heavily peated’ whisky seems absent on the nose. Mouth: starts on cocoa and espresso notes, with clearly defined peat now. Some all-spice as well (pepper / ginger mainly), lemon zest and soft mineral notes. Liquorice. Much courser than on the nose, and I have trouble with some fragrant touches and echoes of wet paper. Finish: medium long, dry, spicy and slightly bitter.
Based on the nose, I had high hopes, but there are a few less convincing elements on the palate. Not a bad entry-level malt though. Worth a try. Around € 40.
Nose: fresh, plenty of gooseberries, vanilla cake and apple. Also a nice lime / mango combination. Beehive notes (beeswax, honey) and subtle oak and leather. After a while more floral notes come out, as well as mint. Mouth: fairly soft attack, revolves more around spices, mainly ginger and aniseed, with a little vanilla and the fruity notes at medium intensity now. Some grassy notes. A slight metallic edge. Plenty of waxy notes again. Finish: not too long, with some coconut oil and ginger.
On the nose, this Glen Elgin is an impressive example of bourbon maturation. Fresh, fruity and aromatic. On the palate, as expected, the oak spices come out more. A nice dram. Around € 150.