Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Nikka All Malt

25 May 2010 | * Blends

In general, blended whisky is created by mixing malt whisky (malted barley distilled in a pot still) with grain whisky (unmalted barley distilled in column stills, also known as Coffey stills).

For this Nikka All Malt, the Japanese group Nikka used only malted barley but distilled in both types of stills at their Yoichi and Miyagikyou distilleries. It’s quite unusual to distill malt whisky in a column still and the end result is a unique product.

In the Battle of the Stunners hosted in January, Nikka All Malt had a lot of fans and was even named the overall winner by some.

 

Nikka All Malt Nikka All Malt (40%, OB 2009)

Nose: a very candied profile with marshmallow and vanilla. Some lemon sweets. Ripe apples and cinnamon. Honey. A bit of creamy toffee as well (hints of Baileys). Some tobacco, leather and the lightest hint of smoke. Mouth: a shy attack, very mellow and again very creamy. Barley sugar. Notes of raisins. A bit too sweet maybe. Oily aftertaste. Finish: rather short with some honeysuckle, wood and coconut.

This Nikka All Malt is less simple than you would expect. It’s filled with flavour and highly drinkable. Check it out if you like sweeter malts or Irish whiskey. Around € 25 which means it’s definitely a stunner and a nice introduction to Japanese whisky.

Score: 82/100

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Laphroaig is rarely a bad buy, they’re all technically well made and they never seem to disappoint. The Whisky Agency has bottled a whole range of Laphroaigs over the last two years, and this ex-bourbon 1989 single cask is the latest addition to their list.

 

Laprhoaig 1989 Whisky Agency Laphroaig 21 yo 1989 (53,1%, Whisky Agency 2010, Perfect Dram V 197 btl.)

Nose: warm and smokey. Big notes of vanilla cream, marzipan and candy sugar. Sweet and rounded. Some maritime notes (fish on a beach barbecue, brine). Hay. Thyme. Hints of warm candle wax. Water makes it slightly sharper with hints of lemon and mint. Really good. Mouth: thick and oily, with bold peat that’s nicely balanced with notes of yellow apples. Some salty liquorice and seaweed. Quite sweet, but water adds sharper citrus notes again. It also brings out pepper and medicinal notes (more so than on the nose). Finish: rather long. Liquorice, smoked bacon and Lapsang tea.

A very fine Laphroaig, older than we usually see from independent bottlers, and more complex. An example of the distillery house style at this age. Good availability, good price, good whisky. Around € 120.

Score: 89/100


When you have a look at Whiskyfun’s distillery ranking, most of the 5-star ‘grand crus classés’ are well-known brands: Ardbeg, Brora, Lagavulin and Talisker. The fifth one is a name you don’t see very often: Glenugie. Instead of giving you more information, let me guide you to this website.

I’ve had one Glenugie 1982/2009 OMC before and it was pretty wonderful. Today I’m trying a single cask Glenugie 1977 31 years old.
What should you know about this one? 
– bottled by Signatory, 
– 24 years in bourbon oak + 7 years in oloroso sherry oak, 
– picked up a silver medal at the 2009 Malt Maniacs Awards.

I don’t think I’ve reviewed a Signatory Vintage Cask Strength release before, but they’re usually very interesting, and not only for their nicely shaped bottle.

 

Glenugie 1977 31y SV Glenugie 31 yo 1977
(58,1%, Signatory Vintage 2009, cask #7, 577 btl.)

Nose: starts on milk chocolate and lovely fruits (gooseberry, kiwi) with spicy oak. Honey. The sherry adds meaty / rubber notes which I find a bit of a bummer because it mutes the freshness of the fruits. Water helps to hide the rubber and bring out leather and more fruit though. Complex. Mouth: spicy, quite herbal and slightly resinous. Underneath there are fruity notes: strawberries, oranges, cassis this time. Not the classic old Speyside profile but not heavy sherry either. Water adds meaty notes and chocolate. Some nutmeg. Quite savoury and a bit half-hearted maybe but very powerful and confident. Finish: dry and slightly bitter. Slightly tannic with hints of tea.

I was less impressed than last time because the fruit basket is less exhuberant, and the powerful spicy oak keeps it out of the 90’s for me. But it’s certainly rewarding and anything but mediocre. Around € 160. A sister cask (cask #1 – same oloroso treatment) was released a few weeks ago.

Score: 87/100


There’s a tendency to release extremely old malts as exclusive bottlings in fancy boxes for outrageous amounts of money. Once in a while though, an old whisky is marketed as a drinker’s whisky at an affordable price. Master of Malt fits this description with their range of undisclosed old Speysiders. There’s a 30 year-old, a 40 year-old and now a 50 year-old!

 

Master of Malt 50 years Master of Malt Speyside 50 yo
(40%, Master of Malt 2009)

Nose: great nose, fruity and spicy. Apricot pie and yellow raisins. Oranges. Heather honey. Vanilla and a little cellulose varnish. Woody notes and pine needles as well, but actually less than expected for such an old malt. Some mint. Cinnamon. A lovely touch of candle wax and even engine oil. Quite excellent. Mouth: ah, here’s the wood. Immediately spicy with nutmeg and cloves. Quite phenolic as well which is a nice addition. Some chocolate. Hints of tea and olive oil. Getting quite tannic. Maybe a few extra degrees would have balanced it better? Finish: rather short, spicy and not too dry.

A stunning nose with beautiful fruit and smooth signs of age. On the palate it misses some punch, which means there’s more emphasis on the wood than on the fruits. Very nice. Around € 290 which is a lot of money but still relatively cheap considering the age.

Score: 91/100

ps/ Master of Malt now offers 3cl samples of more than 60 whiskies, including this 50 years old Speysider.


Another Glen Grant 5 years old, this time distilled in 1968. Samples of this bottle are available from whiskysamples.eu. I’m curious to see how this compares to the one distilled in 1974.

Glen Grant 5yo 1968This was bottled at a 40% while my 1974/1979 version was bottled at 43%. As far as I know, 1979 was the only year in which Glen Grant decided to bottle a higher strength version (in a cardboard box) together with a normal version.

 

Glen Grant 5 yo 1968 (40%, OB 1973, 75 cl.)

Nose: this one is a bit more spirity and mineral than the 1974 version. The apples are still here, but most of the fragrant fruitiness is missing. A tad flatter and more grainy. A bit more sooty maybe. Mouth: weak start again. Malty. Apples again, but less expressive than the 1974. Simple with a herbal development towards the finish. Finish: not too long and quite grainy.

These old Glen Grants share the same profile. They’re simple but not bad. I prefer the 1974 edition, the nose is more attractive and the higher strength makes it more flavoursome.

Score: 75/100

 

ps/ While these scores may seem rather low, I suggest to try them if you have a chance. They’re like oldtimer cars: to modern standards they may not be as complex or polished, but they have a character that we don’t see any more.


A couple of decades ago, whisky was bottled at a much younger age than today. This Glen Grant 5yo is a good example. The fact that it mentions a vintage year was less common, but a few of these Glen Grants have that, especially bottles sold in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

This is a good occasion to mention the Old Bottle Effect. While whisky will not change after being bottled, after many years the glass can start to interact with the spirit. There are a lot of doubts about this OBE (was it related to old distillation methods like direct firing, does the air inside the bottle have an effect or is it just the glass, does the light have an influence, etc.) but there seems to be a general consensus that there is an effect. Common OBE changes include lower peat levels, a certain dustiness / mushrooms and metallic notes.

Glen Grant 5 years Glen Grant 5 yo 1974 (43%, OB 1979
for Sileno Portgual, 75 cl.)

Nose: starts on porridge with a few mineral notes. Slightly metallic as well. Quite a lot of lemon. Wet books. Faint hints of motor oil. Interestingly, these notes are mixed with a nice tropical fruitiness of lime, apricot and passion fruit. Mouth: quite weak, with mostly the malt speaking. A few herbal notes come out, a few flowery notes and some liquorice (the wood, not the candy). Develops on apples. Not a high-flyer but not bad either. Finish: completely on apple juice (rather spectacular) but quite short.

Difficult to score. On the one hand, this is not up to modern standards in terms of density and flavour complexity. On the other hand I love those old noses and it drinks like lemonade. Sadly, I’m not living in Madrid any more, because this would have been perfect for a hot summer day.

Score: 79/100


Glen Scotia is the only distillery in Campbeltown apart from the two Springbank plants. It is probably the only distillery in Scotland to use washbacks made of Cor-Ten steel (kind of a pre-rusted steel). Its production is rather irregular which means it’s rarely found as a single malt.

This 18 years old Glen Scotia was matured in a sherry butt and bottled by Malts of Scotland.

 

Glen Scotia 1992 | Malts of Scotland Glen Scotia 18 yo 1992 (53,3%, Malts of Scotland 2010, cask #429, 199 btl.)

Nose: a bit weird. Rubbery sherry, with a bunch of roasted / burnt notes (burnt pastry, hints of sulphur, burnt grass). Some mint. Red fruit as well, evolving to raspberry vinegar. Wet newspaper and dusty old fabric. I kept changing my mind about this one, it seems to change constantly. In a way it’s really ferocious, but on the other hand that makes it interesting. Mouth: punchy and rather herbal (cloves). Caramel. Quite woody. Salty liquorice. Aftertaste on roasted coffee beans and cocoa. Water doesn’t change the profile. Finish: dying quite soon, but with a nice chocolate ending.

Quite extreme… Interesting but not really a drinker’s whisky. Around € 80.

Score: 78/100
(debatable score… make that 63 or 85 depending on your mood)


Whisky Exchange 10th Anniversary Another special edition bottled for the 10th Anniversary of The Whisky Exchange. It should be from a refill sherry hogshead.

In 2008, TWE bottled another 1978 Glenglassaugh under the Single Malts of Scotland label.


Glenglassaugh 1978 TWE Anniversary Glenglassaugh 31 yo 1978 (44,6%, The Whisky Exchange 10th Anniversary 2009)

Nose: dry sherry and dark rum notes mixed with a delicate fruity side (blood orange, some very ripe mango, whiffs of raspberry and banana). Rather big hints of shoe polish and menthol / eucalyptus. Orangettes (chocolates with a sugared orange filling). Showing savoury, meaty notes and dried fruits (dates, prunes) if you add some water (although it’s perfectly drinkable straight). Leather. Elegant. Mouth: heavy oak and heavy sherry with hints of dark tea and bitter oranges. Some toasted bread and cinnamon. Raisins dipped in dark chocolate. Lovely coffee in the aftertaste. Long finish on liquorice, cocoa and oranges. A bit dry.

A lovely start with a polished dry sherry influence. On the palate the oak begins to show its age. Classic Speyside sherry though. Available from TWE.
Around € 145.

Score: 89/100


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  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
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1635 notes by Ruben

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