Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Stranahan’s, located in Denver (USA) produces a strange spirit. They use 80% Colorado grown barley and 20% Rocky Mountains grown barley. Wait, that’s 100% barley! Exactly, just like Scotch. On the other hand it’s matured in charred new oak barrels, just like bourbon.

The Stranahan’s whiskey is only +/- 2 years old and is sold in batches composed of two to six barrels. As a consequence your specific bottle may be a little different than the one I’m about to taste.


Stranahan's Colorado whiskey Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (47%, OB 2010)

Nose: nice hints of ripe banana, syrup and vanilla. Great hints of red berries and melon. Actually, I think it’s closer to some rums than to most bourbons.  A bit of rye elements too. Some cocoa, tangerine and cinnamon. The light smoke / charcoal is noticeable as well. Smooth and highly seductive. Mouth: huge banana again (Pisang), and spices. Lots of vanilla and a bit of coconut. A bit of lime and eucalyptus. More oak than you wood expect after two years. Finish: quite short but nicely drying.

Well, I didn’t see this coming. Unlike any other American whiskey. You could think of Stranahan’s as a mix-up between bourbon and Scotch. It’s less sweet than bourbon, less complex than Scotch but overall very interesting, big and full of flavour. Recommended! Around
€ 75 (more than twice the USA price, but still interesting).

Score: 87/100


Sullivan’s Cove is the first Australian whisky I’ve tried. This single malt is distilled by Tasmania Distillery using Tasmanian barley and pure rainforest water. The Double cask version is a marriage of one American oak barrel (ex-bourbon) and one French oak barrel (ex-Port wine). Both are also available as separate bottlings at 60% ABV.


Untitled-1 Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask
(40%, OB 2010)

Nose: once it opens up, lovely sweet fruit appears (grapes, apple pie, gooseberry). Quite oily, with hints of scented candle wax and even hints of motor oil. Some cinnamon and subtle vanilla. White chocolate. Fresh wood chips and dusty cereals. Mouth: still quite an oily mouthfeel. Round, malty and fruity although the oak is a little heavy, with faint hints of varnish. A hint of leather. Not too complex. Finish: medium length, still heavy oak.

Sullivan’s Cove Double cask is a smooth single malt, but in today’s market it’s not exceptional. While the distillery claims this is their best so far, most reviewers seem to give higher scores to the other versions. The distillery definitely shows some promise. Around € 60.

Score: 76/100


Glenrothes (spelled Glen Rothes on some independent bottles like this one) has a big history in sherry maturation so it’s no surprise that this 1972 cask #12368 was a sherry butt. Based on the colour, I would say it was second or even third fill.

Glenrothes 1972 SV 12368 Glenrothes 33 yo 1972 (56,6%, Signatory Vintage 2006, sherry butt #12368, 549 btl.)

Nose: not so sure… On the one hand, there’s plenty of fruits (tangerine, banana) with honey, but on the other hand there’s a faint sulphury / rubbery smell that I don’t like (fortunately it’s almost gone after 20 minutes). Hints of roasted sesame and moss. Nutmeg. Old roses. Beeswax. Pine needles. A bit unusual but very complex. Mouth: quite a peppery attack. A lot of resinous oak and grapefruit. Tangerine again. Peppermint. Fades out on more gentle flavours like honeyed pastry. Finish: rather hot, spicy and fruity. Quite long and intense.

A highly expressive Glenrothes, but it takes some time before you discover its strengths. Better enjoyed neat. Still available in several stores. About € 165.

Score: 85/100


Diageo Special Releases 2010 

These are this year’s Special Releases from Diageo:Diageo Classic Malts

  • Brora 30yo
  • Caol Ila 12yo unpeated
  • Lagavulin 12yo
  • Port Ellen 31yo
  • Talisker 30yo

The Brora and Port Ellen are always highly anticipated of course. No Talisker 25yo apparently. This year we also see four uncommon releases:

 

  • Auchroisk 30yo
  • Cragganmore 21yo
  • Glen Spey 21yo
  • Glenkinchie 20yo

Although younger expressions of these distilleries are commonly found (expect for Glen Spey, that is), we don’t see them often as old official bottlings.


In 2005 some very old Ardbeg was accidently mixed with one fifth of 12 year-old Glen Moray. The result turned out to be very good, and it was bottled as Serendipity. Lady Luck is a similar vatting, this time made on purpose by independent vatting wizard John Glaser. It contains three casks:

  • Caol Ila 29yo 1980 cask #8165
  • Caol Ila 25yo 1984 cask #5384
  • Imperial 14yo 1995 cask #100049

Compass Box Lady Luck Lady Luck (46%, Compass Box 2009,
754 btl.)

Nose: elegant and gently ashy, like a fireplace that is cleaned the morning after. Some toffee, vanilla custard and sweet orange. Hints of cinnamon and cardamom. Coal and yellow apple. Nice to have the restrained Islay character together with the candied, fruity Imperial. Works really well. Mouth: oily mouthfeel. Peatier now with big tobacco notes. Again a nice sweetness but it’s mostly the Coal Ila talking. Quite briney and coastal with subtle lemon. Finish: long and dry on liquorice and olive juice.

After experiments such as Canto Cask, Compass Box is again proving that whisky doesn’t have to be single malt to be great. A bit expensive, but you do get old Coal Ila of course: about € 150.

Score: 86/100


The Ardbeg shop promises the Supernova 2010 edition to be deeper, stronger and earthier than the 2009 edition. Let’s see if the slightly higher ABV really makes it different. Be sure to compare with my Ardbeg Supernova review of 2009.


Ardbeg Supernova 2010 Ardbeg Supernova
(60,1%, OB 2010)

Nose: it shares a lot of elements with the 2009 edition of course: oily peat, pepper, tobacco and a touch of citrus and apple. There are bigger notes of graphite and phenols / gouache paint in the 2009 edition. On the other hand Supernova 2010 seems to boast more sweet apple, grass and camomile (some call it soapy because of this, but I don’t really mind). I would say 2009 is rougher and 2010 is smoother and better balanced. Mouth: very earthy and grassy now, with wet hay. Slightly less peaty than the 2009, or so it seems. Very bitter coffee. Some salty notes. Big big liquorice. Lemon zest. A bit of menthol and anise towards the end. A bit sharp and bitter maybe. Finish: hot and quite sharp. Liquorice and dry pepper.


Ardbeg Supernova 2010 is very powerful. Deeper, stronger and earthier than last year? Well, not quite. On the nose, I was charmed by the balance of the new one, but on the palate the added harshness and bitterness push me towards the 2009 edition. In the end both are very similar, so there’s no reason to alter the score.

Score: 85/100


For what it’s worth, here’s a rough comparison. Mind that the differences are much more subtle than the plusses may indicate.

  2010 2009
peat / smoke +++ +++
sweetness /vanilla +++ ++
citrus / fruit ++ +
graphite / phenols ++ +++
spices / earthiness ++ +++
lemon zest / bitterness +++ ++

Bruichladdich is regularly producing whisky made of traceable barley, grown by 14 Islay farms. It is 100% organic and local malt, with the Optic variety having the largest share nowadays (together with 7 other varieties).

The distillery already jumped on this “terroir” wagon in 2004, when whisky was distilled from Chalice barley grown on the Kentraw farm, less than a mile from the distillery. For Feis Ile 2010, this first Islay grown whisky was released as a five year-old.

Note that using local barley was obviously very common in the past, so this Bruichladdich is more precisely the first “remake” of local Islay whisky in the past few Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2004decades.

 

Bruichladdich Islay barley 2004 (57,5%,
OB for Feis Ile 2010, fresh sherry butt #1667, 1060 btl.)

Nose: sweet and sour notes. Redcurrant, gooseberry… Rhubarb pie. Pêches Louis with brown sugar. There’s also a burnt element in the background and a winey overtone. Mouth: sweeter now, with notes of red candy and milk chocolate. Quite sour and sharp nonetheless. Roasted peanuts and bittersweet notes of caramel. A hint of soft pepper. Finish: warm and sweet.

A Bruichladdich with a big malty profile and highly acidic fruit notes. Not too bad but a nice marketing concept rather than a nice drinking whisky.

Score: 76/100


This 30 years old Glen Grant is an unusual whisky. It has been matured in a brandy butt and finished in a sherry cask – I can’t think of similar malts.

It was bottled to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of independent bottler Douglas Laing.


Glen Grant 30yo Douglas Laing 60Glen Grant 30 yo 1979 (52,5%, Douglas Laing 2009, 60th Anniversary bottling, brandy butt – sherry finish, 282 btl.)

Nose: starts on notes of burnt sugar, smoke and honey. Bread crust. Caramelized apples. Slightly dusty. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Interesting but quite winey. Mouth: full and rather winey again. Sour apple cider, a sharp maltiness and a lot of oak. Tangy herbal elements (cough syrup, ginger). Sweet / sour combo, some cocoa. Gets very bitter in the end, rather difficult to enjoy. Finish: long, with liquorice and herbs.

I guess this cask was selected for its unusual maturation and equally unusual flavours. A shame really, I could think of a dozen other Glen Grants that are better suited to celebrate your anniversary. Around € 240.

Score: 77/100


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  • Dirk V.: I think Inge L. does a fantastic job with her whisky flavoured chocolates ;-)
  • SK: And just to prove a point, all of the bottles are still available in places where they usually run out. Lets see how many will be still available whe
  • SK: 2 years ago I tried the Caol Ila 1982 from Archives. What a fantastic whisky. Since then I always try to stock these Caol Ila from the 80s. Sadly no

Coming up

  • Octomore 6.3 258ppm
  • Peated Irish 1991 (Eiling Lim)
  • Ardbeg 1974 for Christmas
  • Spirit of Freedom 30 Years
  • Arran #3 (TBWC)
  • Auchentoshan 1990 (Archives)
  • Ben Nevis 1996 (Whisky Mercenary)
  • Elements of Islay Cl7
  • Benromach 5 Year Old

1682 notes by Ruben

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