Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Ben Nevis whisky is very popular in Japan, where it ranks seventh among the single malt sales. This is not surprising as it is part of the Nikka concern. In Europe, it is popular in Germany and the Nordic countries, but releases are not very common.

I’m not sure what to think of Ben Nevis, I’ve had some great drams but also quite weird stuff. Let’s see how it works out for this 13 year-old Ben Nevis bottled by Malts of Scotland.

 

Ben Nevis 1996 - Malts of Scotland Ben Nevis 13 yo 1996 (57,1%, OB 2010, sherry cask #1466, 258 btl.)

Nose: interesting nose. Dark muscovado sugar and caramel. Burnt cake. Roasted chestnut. Very dense, it takes a while before other flavours become noticeable. Strawberries and cherries! Nice. Some liquorice allsorts. A buttery note that reminds me of old lipstick and toffee. Water makes it a bit fruitier but also slightly yeasty. Mouth: quite spicy with notes of ginger. Orange liqueur. Not as dark as the nose, but still lots of caramel notes. A bit rubbery as well. Walnuts. More accessible and less spicy with a few drops of water. Coffee in the aftertaste. Finish: nutty with a gingery finale.

The least you can say is that this Ben Nevis 1996 is an unusual, challenging dram with a bit of an outsider profile. Bonus points for being so unique.

Score: 83/100


Did you know the current Emperor of Japan met his wife on a trip to the city of Karuizawa (軽井沢)? It’s a popular summer day-trip for people living in Tokyo who want to cool off in the mountains.

This 24 (or 23?) years old Karuizawa 1985 was bottled last year but in this part of the world it only showed up a few weeks ago. I ordered it right away from LMdW, where it sold out very quickly. 

 

Karuizawa 1985 #7017 Karuizawa 1985
(60,8%, OB 2009, cask #7017)

Nose: typical Japanese sherry influence. Bold and earthy with lots of gunpowder and fireworks. I’ve read ‘sulphur’ on different websites, but this is nothing like the dirty kind of sulphur that we sometimes discover in sherry casks. Really nice. Mushrooms (truffles?). After a while, more fruity notes come out (mainly blackberry and black cherries) with velvety vanilla, leather and tobacco. Hints of fresh tarmac. Extreme and archetypal. Mouth: very intense and thick. Smoky and earthy with hints of tobacco. Dark fruits. Savoury when water is added (meat, mushrooms) with herbs (mint, cardamom) but also more hints of fireworks. Finish: long, drying (slightly tannic) and leafy.

Huge is the right descriptor here. Big gunpowder notes throughout, but real fun to gradually add water and watch the flavours develop. Perfect example of the Karuizawa style. Around € 115.

Score: 89/100


I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Cambus until Raymond bottled this 24 years old Cambus 1986 for the Bladnoch Forum. It’s a Lowlands grain distillery that was part of United Distillers / Diageo before being closed in 1993. Cambus is used in blends like Famous Grouse. In 2009, Diageo announced it would open a new cooperage plant at Cambus.

There used to be a semi-official 15 year-old and a few independent bottlings were made available by Cadenhead and Signatory, but it’s very rare.

 

Cambus 1986 24yo Bladnoch Cambus 24 yo 1986 (54,7%, Bladnoch forum 2010, hogshead #18988)

Nose: a lot of vanilla on a background of toasted bread. Crême de banane. Some apple. Sweet but rather high on alcohol and sharp wood. Hints of glue. Not too complex. I’ve tried this in different glasses because in some types it just doesn’t seem to express itself. Water helps to bring out coconut, which is nice. Mouth: not so typical. Big notes of caramel and lots of wood. Honey. Bittersweet notes of oranges. Overall quite nice but also quite neutral: grains, alcohol and plain oak or so it seems. Water helps to soften it again and make it more flavourful (vanilla and coconut again). Finish: rather short, with juicy oak and zesty oranges.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense to complain because Bladnoch Forum bottlings have extremely competitive prices, but still this was a slight disappointment. Available from Bladnoch – £ 35.

Score: 79/100

ps/ Perfect timing: Diageo’s plans for the Cambus cooperage plant have been accepted yesterday. It will be operational by 2011.


Another Glenmorangie, and probably the most popular among the wine finishes as this is a favourite of many whisky lovers. Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or is extra-matured in Sauternes wine casks, and we already know these Botrytis affected sweet wines can really lift up a whisky.

 

Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
(46%, OB 2008, Sauternes finish)

Nose: apples and cinnamon. Apricots and tangerine. Hints of pineapple on syrup. Some kiwi. Quite warm with hints of cake and lemon pie. Honeysuckle. Very sweet. Mouth: indeed very sweet but it shows more spices from the oak now. Much thicker and richer than the Original. Big hints of marmalade and all kinds of yellow fruits. Honey. Lots of vanilla and white chocolate. Mocha in the aftertaste. Finish: medium length, creamy and firm enough thanks to the oak. Hints of ginger.

Certainly a big step up from the Glenmorangie Original and for me the best of the finishes. Very sweet but not cloying. Worth the extra money and a good after dinner choice. Around € 50.

Score: 85/100


v57 The third Glenmorangie in our little overview of the standard range: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban. A Port wine-finished malt this time.

 

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
(46%, OB 2008, Port finish)

Nose: instant notes of pears poached in wine. Tangerine and cinnamon. Hints of raspberry and pink grapefruit. Angelica fruit cake with a few floral hints. Not far away from the sherry version. Quite good, but again a bit ‘designed’. Mouth: sweet and sugary with milk chocolate and molasses. More spices than the other wine finishes (cinnamon and cloves). Not really expressive and definitely too winey overall. Finish: dying really soon, quite noticeable compared to the others. Oranges and dry oak.

Not my favourite Glenmorangie. The nose was better than expected but it lost some points for the winey palate. Around € 45.

Score: 80/100


Glenmorangie Lasanta is part of the finished range of Glenmorangie (together with Quinta Ruban and Nectar D’Or). All of them are essentially the same as the Original with an additional finish of 2-3 years. Lasanta is matured in ex-bourbon casks and enhanced in oloroso sherry casks.

 

Glenmorangie Lasanta Glenmorangie Lasanta
(46%, OB 2008, Oloroso finish)

Nose: sweet like a dessert wine, with lots of honey and caramel. Quite elegant hints of crème brûlée and cinnamon. Some milk chocolate. Not as lush and vibrant as its sibling Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX, but they’re definitely members of the same family. Mouth: medium-bodied, warm and honeyed. Starting on raisins and toffee but growing darker with burnt sugar and walnut aromas. There’s a gingery aftertaste that’s a bit out of key for me. Finish: quite long with hints of ginger, dried oranges and cocoa.

This Glenmorangie Lasanta is quite simple but beautifully designed and very good value. Still I prefer the Sonnalta PX even though it costs a bit more. Around € 45.

Score: 83/100


Sometimes it’s easy to forget that most people are not interested in € 200 bottles which they can’t find in their shop anyway. So let’s review a brand that’s very popular in bars and supermarkets: Glenmorangie.

Glenmorangie Original is their entry malt. It’s 10 years old and the only release in the current range that’s bottled at 40%.

 

Glenmorangie Original Glenmorangie 10 yo Original
(40%, OB 2008)

Nose: malty/fruity start with tangerine, ripe gooseberry, lots of pear and honey. Vanilla cream. Some caramel. There’s a buttery side to it that I don’t like too much, but overall not bad. Mouth: weak delivery. Again fruity. Apples, pears, oranges, but with less appealing flowery, even perfumy hints as well (geranium?). Slightly spicy and zesty. Almond. Dry oak. Finish: short but quite warm, with apple and nutmeg.

Not bad as an entry level malt with a sharp pricing. Not something I would actively recommend though. Around € 30.

Score: 77/100


Duncan Taylor Duncan Taylor & Co is one of my favourite independent bottlers. They have a wide collection of high-quality bottlings with a stylish no-nonsense approach to packaging and labels. Especially their Rare Auld Collection (single cask whisky over
30 years old) is something I always look out for.

The company was founded in 1938 and two years ago, they celebrated their 70th Anniversary with a special Anniversary Malt. It’s a vatting of 1967 whisky distilled at Glenfarclas and Highland Park, the personal favourites of the company.

Duncan Taylor 70th Anniversary Malt Duncan Taylor 70th Anniversary Malt 41 yo 1967 (46,3%, Duncan Taylor 2008, 375 btl.)

Nose: it starts like a fruity old Speysider but it soon gets pretty special. There are hints of camphor and clear notes of old wax and dusty churches. I guess this is where the HP starts talking. Lots of flints, heather, some honey and (shy) peat. Quite a lot of mint mixed with other spices (pepper and nutmeg). Then it goes back to fruity notes, with apricot marmalade, oranges and apples. Lovely pastry and almonds come out when you warm it up a little. What a wonderful marriage of two distinctive distilleries. Mouth: dry and mineral, with camphor, cloves, a bit of pine resin and oils… Hints of lemon balm and stone fruit but I’m missing a bit of a sweet coating to round it off at the edges. More HP than Glenfarclas on the palate I guess. Finish: long, warm and dry with woody notes, lemon and ginger.

What an excellent birthday present! Be sure to try this one if you have a chance. Still available in some places – around € 140.

Score: 92/100


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  • Benromach 1976 vintage
  • Jura 1972 SMWS 31.4
  • Balblair 2002
  • Jura Origin
  • Kavalan Solist sherry (for LMdW)

1574 notes by Ruben

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