Single malt whisky - tasting notes

I’ve just returned from the whisky festival in Gent. While it’s still a major festival in our (small) country, I can’t help but feeling a bit disappointed for two reasons.

First, because the festival in Gent was held at the same time as Whisky Live in Spa. If festivals want to compete over such a small country, they have to realize that eventually both will lose. Some interesting distributors chose to go to only one festival (e.g. Malts of Scotland was present in Spa, not in Gent). Other distributors didn’t even go to either of the two this year!
The Nectar, one of Belgium’s most interesting distributors and independent bottlers, was not present. Neither were the brands they represent, such as Arran, Karuizawa, Springbank, Duncan Taylor or GlenDronach. There were no Moët Hennesey brands either (Ardbeg & Glenmorangie). Where will this end?

Second, because the organisation decided not to give 5 complimentary coupons with each entry ticket but instead have one free bottle available at every stand. Of course, these were only entry level malts (Macallan 12yo, Glenrothes Select Reserve, etc.) which just made the festival more expensive for whisky lovers who already know the standard stuff. This also meant I couldn’t use the coupons of my girlfriend (who drinks water) – how about a “driver’s ticket”? Overall I had the feeling more cash was needed to buy less quality whisky this year.

As a side note, there seemed to be less new bottlings than other years. Anyway, let’s summarize the things we’ve tasted… (no real tasting notes, because the environment is just not right for it).

 

Old Ballantruan (50%, OB 2009)

The peated version of Tomintoul. Very malty, quite floral and gently peated. Not sure who this is aimed at… fans of Speyside whisky will probably not like the peat but there’s not enough peat to entertain peatheads. Around € 30.

 

BenRiach 18yo Moscatel Tullibardine 1993 Sauternes finish (46%, OB 2009)

Sweet nose with hints of apricots. On the palate very coating and candied with lots of honey. Most of the Sauternes shines through in the finish. Not bad, but we already knew Sauternes can work very well. Around € 45.

 

BenRiach 18 yo Moscatel finish (46%, OB 2009)

Another sweet wine finish, maybe even more succesful than the Tullibardine.  Fruity, sweet. Very round and candied. A perfect match for the toast with haggis that was served at the festival. Around € 60.

 

Yamazaki Sherry cask Yamazaki Sherry cask (48%, OB 2009)

From first fill sherry butts only, said to be 12-15 years old. Very punchy with raisins, cocoa and slightly sourish red fruits (raspberry). Big whisky and the first glass I actually emptied. Around € 70.

 

Connemara Sherry finish (46%, OB 2009)

A limited Small Batch bottling. Sweet notes of dried fruits, balanced with smoke and a light farminess. Rich and promising. A detailed review of this one will follow. Around € 55.

 

Banff 1976 Connoisseurs Choice Benromach Organic ‘Special Edition’ (46%, OB 2009)

Bio whisky. Quite simple with huge hints of breakfast cereals and muesli. Quite a lot of wood as well. Rather mono-dimensional. Not my kinda whisky. Around € 45.

 

Banff 32 yo 1976 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Conoisseurs Choice 2008)

A good Banff with different flavours: flinty notes, fruity notes, toffee, burnt wood… Quite rounded overall. Around € 100. Recommended.

 

Glen Grant 1985 - First Cask - WIN Highland Park 16 yo Calvados ‘Drouin’ finish (46%, Alchemist 2008)

Finished for 2 years in a calvados cask. Honeyed with hints of baked apples. Not much smoke. Uncommon for a Highland Park.

 

Glen Grant 23 yo 1985 (55,8%, First cask – Whisky Import Netherlands 2009, cask #10182, 187 btl.)

Glen Grant the way we like it: very balanced, very fruity with the right amount of spices. Fruit marmalade galore. Around € 130. Highly recommended.

 

Greenore 8 years whiskey Bunnahabhain Toiteach (46%, OB 2007)

A young profile, quite some peat and smoke but very simple. Hints of pears? A bit uninspired. Around € 40.

 

Greenore 8 yo (40%, OB 2009)

Single grain Irish whiskey. Sweet with vanilla and banana. Uncomplicated, light and elegant. A summer’s day whiskey? Around € 30.

 

 

 

I also bought a sample of the legendary Bunnahabhain 1968 Auld Acquaintance and a Macallan 12 Years old HKDNP, a Hong Kong exclusive distilled in the 1970’s. These two will be reviewed in depth. Thanks to Marc Segers for making available his impressive collection of oldies.


SMWS Scotch Malt Whisky Society This 20 years old Glen Garioch 1988 is my first review of a SMWS bottling. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was founded in 1983 in order to promote whisky by bottling casks of nearly every distillery in Scotland. They’re all single casks at cask strength, and every bottling has a unique number (distillery code + bottling number).

19.44 is the 44th cask of Glen Garioch (distillery n°19) by SMWS.

 

Glen Garioch 1988 - SMWS 19.44 Glen Garioch 20 yo 1988 ‘Old Grandad Whisky’ (53,4%, SMWS 2009, 19.44, 251 btl.)

Nose: sweet start with a winey touch. Rum / raisins. Dried apricots. Strawberries with white chocolate. Vanilla. The ‘old granddad’ should come from notes of tobacco and leather. The hints of pipe tobacco are certainly there but the leather is less detectable. Very nice overall, although there are also some savoury / herbal notes (cup-a-soup powder with whiffs of sweet mustard) that I found a bit distracting. Mouth: candied start, growing surprisingly floral. Lots of flowery notes, in the direction of lavender and geraniums (both of which I don’t like). A bit too close to perfumy notes for my taste. Lots of toffee. Again some tobacco. Finish: rather short with toffee and pine wood.

Quite an unusual dram. Strawberry notes are not very common and the combination with herbal notes is strange but interesting. I was a bit disappointed by the flowery profile on the palate. Around € 90.

Score: 81/100


The next Ardbeg is called Ardbeg Rollercoaster. I can’t say I really like the name, but as long as the whisky itself is good, I don’t mind.

Ardbeg Rollercoaster Anyway this document listed a number of brand registrations owned by Moet Hennessy USA… Corryvreckan is there, Supernova is there,  and Ardbeg Rollercoaster was registered just two months ago.

Ardbeg Rollercoaster

In the meantime, we already have some details. It’s made from one cask of each year between 1997 and 2006 and it will be launched on February 15 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the committee. Price: around € 60.

Update/ Here it is


This Arran 1998/2008 single cask was chosen over the Glenmorangie Astar in the recent Battle of the Stunners tasting.

 

Arran 1998 single cask 700 Arran 1998 (56,5%, OB 2008, bourbon cask #700, 223 btl.)

Nose: clean and fruity. Vanilla with some honey. Yellow apples, pineapple and kiwi. Violet candy. Lemon marmalade. Very light oak influence. Sweet and very enjoyable. Mouth: good attack. Citrusy with hints of plums. Hints of cherry liqueur and peaches. A bit of lemon. Slightly spicy (ginger, pepper) with a bittery edge (liquorice?) towards the end. Finish: medium length, on creamy moccha and fruits with hints of saffron.

A solid Arran with a sweet vanilla nose. Not very complex but really drinkable.

Score: 84/100


Compared to the size of our country, Belgium has a surprisingly high number of (micro-)distilleries (mostly beer or gin distilleries making whisky as an experiment). Goldlys, produced by the gin / wodka / liqueur distillery Filliers was the first to mature Belgian whisky and it’s the only one able to market a standard 10 Year old and even older single casks.

Let’s be honest, most of the Belgian whiskies are curiosities hardly worth buying, but a couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Bert Bruyneel telling me I would be surprised by this one!

Limousin is a French region around the city of Limoges. It’s not a great wine producing area but Limousin is well known for their oak barrels, used in other regions for maturing white wine.

 

Goldlys 1994 Limousin Goldlys 1994 ‘Single cask Limousin’ 
(55%, OB 2009, 440 btl.)

Nose: starts on white wood glue but it gets better. The oak stays very present, but it is balanced by fruity notes (yellow apples, unripe banana). Burnt sugar. Vanilla. Some waxy notes. Nice but there’s something artificial that kind of spoils it for me. Mouth: certainly not as sweet as I would have expected. Very very resinous, is this liquid pine tree? Similar to some bourbons in that respect (Pappy Van Winkle 20 years old pops to mind). Herbal notes. Lots of spices (nutmeg, ginger and pepper). Some notes of burnt caramel as well. The fruit seems to be buried somewhere. Finish: rather short and dry, mostly the wood that’s talking.

My fellow reviewers really like this and there’s not a single bottle left in stores. Still I don’t really get the hype. Sure, it’s different and probably the best Belgian whisky to date, but when tasted blind I would say this is closer to a mediocre bourbon than to a quality Scotch. € 30.

Score: 77/100

Thanks for the sample, Bert!


BenRiachJust in: The BenRiach has a brand-new website.
Visit www.benriachdistillery.co.uk and have a look.

By the way, why are the yearly limited releases so well hidden? These are the crown jewels.

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Duncan Taylor is one of these independent bottlers with impressive stocks of superb old whisky. The last few years, they’ve released lots of high quality Caperdonich, Glenrothes, Strathisla, Bowmore, Glenlivet… all from the late 1960’s / beginning of the 1970’s.

Glen Grant from the beginning of the 1970’s can be outstanding. This one is 36 years old and bottled for the German Whisky Fair.

 

Glen Grant 1972/2009 - Whisky Fair Glen Grant 36 yo 1972 (56,3%, Duncan Taylor 2009 for The Whisky Fair, sherry cask, 209 btl.)

Nose: an exotic fruit basket. Tangerine and kumquat followed by mango, fresh figs. Ripe gooseberries. Dried apricots. Superbly candied, with hints of honeysuckle. Whiffs of vanilla (crême patissiere). Not unlike a Bowmore from the late 1960’s. Very round and polished, but it’s not all fruity because there are subtle undertones of oak polish and coal smoke, even something that reminds me of gas. Mouth: still very fruity (lots of grapefruit now, tangerine, passion fruit, papaya). Much more wood than on the nose which gives it a drier, slightly bitter profile. Still really exotic. Cake with honey. Chocolate. Very refined sherry. Finish: medium length, on oak polish, tangerine and the lightest hint of mint.

Around € 150 at the time, but sold out soon after the publication of the Malt Maniacs Awards. Quite a lot of wood (not surprisingly) but very very good!

Score: 92/100

ps/ It’s safe to say all of the Malt Maniacs Gold medal winners are stunning whiskies (we didn’t think otherwise of course). This Glen Grant and the Yoichi are top of the bill for me, with the Yoichi being the nicest surprise. Also, these two turn out to be the cheapest of the pack. Woohoo!


In the 2009 series of GlenDronach single casks, the GlenDronach 1972 cask #719 was my favourite (in fact, it was one of the best bottlings I’ve tasted last year). A few months later, this sister cask #705 was bottled for La Maison du Whisky and won the Malt Maniacs award for Best Sherry Cask 2009 in the Ultra premium category.

It’s a 37 year-old, matured in an oloroso sherry butt.

 

Glendronach 1972/2009 LMdW 705 GlenDronach 37 yo 1972 (53,3%, OB 2009 for LMdW, oloroso cask #705, 399 btl.)

Nose: pretty similar to the markethouse bottling. More red fruits (raspberry rather than blueberry / blackcurrant. Citrus as well (blood orange). Water brings out hints of exotic fruits (papaya, mango). Dark chocolate. Some toasted notes. Less oak polish than the OB. Less farmy notes, more the meaty kind of sherry. Ginger, pepper. The LMdW nose is great but compared directly with the OB, it is slightly less complex and less expressive. Mouth: still those very nice red fruits but they are almost drowned by big waves of resinous notes and mentholated oak. Chocolate coated oranges. Tobacco leaves. Getting  quite tannic and dry with a salty hint of liquorice. Finish: woody and dry but very rich with notes of tangerine and milk chocolate.

I guess 1972 already is a legendary year for GlenDronach, in the same way  BenRiach 1976 are all great. I prefer the original bottling though. Still available from La Maison du Whisky at around € 310.

Score: 89/100


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Coming up

  • Glen Grant 1992 (Old Particular)
  • Glen Grant 1992 (Le Gus't)
  • Auchentoshan 15yo (Kintra)
  • Lagavulin 1997 Distillers Edition
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Maltbarn)
  • Tomatin 1978 (Cadenhead / Nectar)
  • Aultmore 2007 (Daily Dram)
  • Glenglassaugh 1978 (Madeira)
  • Karuizawa 45 Year Old (cask #2925)
  • Glengoyne 1999 (Palo Cortado)

1503 notes by Ruben

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