Last night I was at a tasting with an interesting concept named Battle of the Stunners. Two challengers (Malt Maniac Bert Bruyneel and The Bonding Dram owner Jeroen Moernaut) select one bottle for each of 5 categories (blends, non-Scotch, peated…) with a maximum retail price of € 50 per bottle. The audience evaluates each combo blind and singles out one of the two bottles. The challenger with the best set of bottles wins the battle.
The choices of the public are in bold, although I have to say I had a different opinion on the second and third combo. Jeroen, who selected the first bottle of each combo, won 4-1. Congratulations!
It was an entertaining evening. My personal conclusion would be that malts from outside of Scotland offer great value for money, certainly in this price range. Also, it seemed to me a general public prefers bottles that have common (easy) flavours rather than complex (more difficult, but for me more interesting) profiles. Anyway, I swooped a couple of samples and will revisit some of these whiskies over the next few weeks.
I was in a bar in Madrid recently where this Jameson 12yo Special Reserve (formerly known as Jameson 1780) was the most interesting dram on offer. I decided to take my chances. Jameson is an Irish single-distillery blended whiskey (Midleton distillery produces malt whiskey as well as grain whiskey, and they mix it), matured in bourbon and oloroso sherry casks.
Jameson 12 yo ‘Special Reserve’
(40%, OB 2009)
Nose: quite closed and not very expressive. Some oranges, caramel and hints of sherry. Notes of ripe melon. Mouth: bittersweet start, slightly grainy. Soft and smooth delivery. Hints of spices. A beautiful wave of peaches with honey and cinnamon towards the end, which I detected as pot still influence – probably the best aspect of this whiskey. Finish: rather short, with a bit more sherry and hints of chocolate.
Not bad but it lacks some character and punch. I’m afraid I expected too much from this. Around € 32.
Apart from bottling casks from known distilleries, Master of Malt also has a Secret Bottles series from undisclosed distilleries. These bottles only mention the region, Speyside in this case. It’s the second (dark sherry) release and currently also a third release (lighter) is on sale. There’s also a 40yo version.
Undisclosed Speyside distillery 30 yo
(40%, Master of Malt 2008, 2nd edition)
Nose: deep oloroso sherry influence, but very playful at the same time. Big notes of pear frangipane (not sure if that type of cake is known all over the world, but it’s delicious). Raisins. Honey and demerara sugar. Whiffs of furniture polish and pine resin. A drop of water brings out red candy. Some superb sherry at work here. Mouth: not the most powerful attack, but very creamy. Starting on pine resin and evolving on dark chocolate. Mon Cheri. Very fresh considering its age. Dried plums and figs. Orange skin. Spicy fruitcake. More oranges when you add water, but it quickly gets watery. Finish: medium length, warm and nutty with hints of cloves.
A stunning nose on this Speyside sherry bottling. It slows down on the palate, but on the other hand it’s very smooth. Too bad there’s no version at 46%, it could have been truly heavenly. If I were to place a bet, I would say Glenfarclas. Perfect for sherry lovers. Around € 120.
This is the most recent addition to the Master of Malt range.
When I see the combination of Bowmore and 1980’s, an alarm goes off inside my head. You can expect all sorts of things from that period, with lavender soap and eau de cologne probably being the worst. Have a look at this Bowmore 1983/2008 by Douglas Laing if you don’t know what I’m talking about. On the other hand, this 26 years old Bowmore was matured in a refill sherry hogshead, and I don’t think I’ve had many 1980’s vintages from that type of cask.
Bowmore 26 yo 1982
(53,4%, Master of Malt 2009, 195 btl.)
Nose: hmmm… what’s this? It’s not soapy Bowmore, but it’s not like their regular stuff either. Very candied, with some marshmallow and cherry fruit gums. Hey, I like this, although it’s still faintly floral and I wouldn’t possibly recognize this as a Bowmore. Soft vanilla / white chocolate underneath. With a drop of water it becomes very lightly peaty and quite grassy. Mouth: very sweet attack. Violet candy appears, balancing on the edge between fruity notes and hints of lavender. But it never crosses the line. Citrus. Some peat in the background, with whiffs of cinnamon. Finish: still quite candied, with vanilla and just a hint of peat.
Ever wondered how a Bowmore lollipop would taste like? Once you get over the prejudices, this is quite enjoyable. And I never thought I would write that about a 1982 Bowmore. In any case unique. Around € 120.
Tamnavulin is a young distillery built in the 1960’s as part of Invergordon Distillers. Currently White & Mackay are managing it. The distillery produces an impressive amount of malt whisky but most of it is used for blends. Single malt bottlings are quite rare.
This cask strength bottling is the third or fourth Tamnavulin release in the Master of Malt series.
Tamnavulin 16 yo (55%, Master of Malt 2008)
Nose: malty start with grapey accents. Some pears. Becomes significantly more flowery and sweeter after breathing. Vanilla. There’s also a vegetal side to it, like raw cabbage. That may seem strange, but it’s very enjoyable. Mouth: punchy attack. Starts very sweet but grows maltier. Apples and pears. Nice oak. Hints of pineapple sweets and violets. Lemon squash. Some notes of lavender. Getting slightly spirity and even perfumy in the end, but nothing too bad. More or less the same with water. Finish: long, grainy and very sugary. Loads of honey with hints of oranges.
Interesting Tamnavulin. It shows a few uncommon flavours, although it’s not overly complex. Maybe not my style of dram, but still quite nice, certainly if you have a sweet tooth. Around € 70.
Arran distillery was opened in 1995 and named Scottish Distiller of the year 2007. As you know, it’s a difficult situation for start-up distilleries, as they need to come up with all sorts of releases while at the same time invest in storage of casks for mature versions. Currently, 12 years is about the oldest Arran you will find.
I’ve tasted a 40% version of this single cask Arran, but the release currently being sold by Master of Malt is cask strength (55%). I’m not sure both are from the same cask.
Arran 12 yo (40%, Master of Malt 2008)
Nose: there’s a great maritime wave up front, that I’ve never experienced with Arran (a light sea breeze). It even hints towards farmy notes (yummie) that you can find in some Connemara, while at the same time integrating superb fruity notes like kiwi and lychee. All sorts of overripe fruits really. Marshmallows. Hints of spices in the background. With water some waxy vanilla emerges. On the nose one the most interesting Arran I’ve had. Mouth: the marshmallows evolve into rosewater lokum (Turkish delight, the candy invented by confectioner Haci Bekir). These fragrant notes take over the whole profile, up to the point where I wonder if I’m drinking whisky or alcoholic rosewater. Very uncommon but really enjoyable, alhough you could argue the complexity is very low. With water some notes of sweet pears appear, with added hints of citrus and barley. Finish: not too long. Still quite fragrant, even slightly perfumy.
Funny how a malt with a complex nose can have such a mono-dimensional palate. Anyway, the nose is great and the taste has a truly unique character. Haci Bekir would have loved this! Around € 50.
British actor Stephen Fry (known from his Oscar Wilde performance and The Discovery of Heaven, among others) likes whisky and his favourite dram is this 19 years old Tomatin bottled by Master of Malt. He says “This is one of the most magnificent yet approachable malts I’ve ever had the delight of sampling.” That may seem like marketing blah blah, so let’s figure out why he likes it so much.
This Tomatin was bottled at cask strength, but there’s also a version at 40%.
Tomatin 19 yo 1989 (57,6%, Master of Malt 2008)
Nose: very nice indeed. An entertaining battle between citrus (lots of oranges) and fresh oak. It seems like it has been aged in a very active cask, because it reminds me of Glenmorangie / BenRiach in virgin oak casks. On one hand, the spices (cinnamon) give it a lot of depth with a prickly edge, but on the other hand some flowery notes and soft vanilla give it a soothing feminine side. Water brings forward some tropical notes (mango? coconut?). Really good. Mouth: again very punchy. No shortage of oak, but enough fruity notes as well (pears, slightly bittersweet grapefruit). Hints of spices (ginger). Citrus. Towards the end it gets a herbal edge. Water emphasises the wood (maybe a tad too much?) and the herbal notes. Finish: long, on liquorice and nutmeg.
Fry is right, this Tomatin is a solid Master of Malt release. The only remark would be that it underscores the wood quite strongly and slightly overpowers the fruity notes. Recommended.