Single malt whisky - tasting notes

The Whisky Exchange 10th Anniversary The 10th Anniversary of The Whisky Exchange in London has brought us a series of rare Anniversary whiskies. We’ve already reviewed an excellent Longmorn 1969/2009 and now it’s time for a 37 years old Clynelish. They don’t mention it on the bottle, but there’s a high chance that this was distilled in 1972 because there have been mostly 1972 and 1992 bottlings in their Single Malts of Scotland range. Around 200 bottles have been bottled.

 

Clynelish 37yo TWE Clynelish 37 yo (46%, The Whisky Exchange 10th Anniversary 2009)

Nose: beautiful start on beeswax and honey. Very fruity, with a basket of fresh tropical fruits (mango, pineapple) and more indigenous fruit (pear, orange, tangerine). Haribo bears. Lovely paraffin. Vanilla. Whiffs of oak spices to top it off (cinnamon and light pepper). A little olive oil and camphor. I don’t like to use the word ‘perfect’ but this is close! Mouth: a bit more resinous now. Still fruity (orange, peach, banana) but less exhuberant. Some Turkish delight. Hints of smoke and dust. In the end it shows ginger and a slightly salty hint of liquorice. Finish: very long and waxy with hints of orange skin and resinous dry oak.

Compared to the recent wave of 1982 Clynelish, this is oakier (of course), with more citrus and a more delicate profile. There have been some questions about the fact that it was diluted to 46% instead of earlier cask strength releases, but I can confirm that the end result is a good mix of complexity and drinkability. One to cherish! Available from TWE. Around € 175.

Score: 92/100


Laphroaig Double cask 20yo About two weeks ago, an interesting new Laphroaig was announced. I haven’t seen this news on any of the major whisky websites, so I’m happy to pass it on.

Laphroaig 20 years old ‘Double Cask’ is a limited edition that will only be sold by the French Duty Free retailer Aelia. Essentially it is the recent bourbon matured Laphroaig 18 years with an extra maturation in small quarter casks and bottled at 46,6%. We can expect it to be slightly sweeter and probably a bit richer than the original.

750 individually numbered bottles will be made available at € 225 later this month. Something to look out for if you’re passing through Paris-Charles de Gaulle.


GlenDronach Grandeur is the newest offering from one of the distilleries whose trademark is sherry maturation. Grandeur is a limited vatting (1013 bottles) with majestic packaging.


GlenDronach Grandeur GlenDronach Grandeur 31 yo
(45,8%, OB 2010, 1013 btl.)

Nose: the first things I pick up are faint sulphury notes, from the same family as the 15 yo Revival. Let’s wait for fifteen minutes. Okay, much better now, dried fruits and coffee come out. A little mint. Some oranges and hazelnuts. Lovely hints of Café Noir biscuits. Cut herbs. Blueberries. Quite rich, but rather high on nutty mocha and maybe not the explosion of red fruits I had hoped for. When compared to the exquisite fresh fruits of the GlenDronach 1972 cask #719 (one of my favourite releases of last year), it’s clearly muted and playing in a slightly lower league. Mouth: chocolate coated oranges. Spicy honey. Some tobacco. Roasted nuts. Leather. Finish: nice fade on orangettes and cherries.


GlenDronach Grandeur is rich, smooth and perfectly drinkable (I didn’t feel the need to add water). It’s good to know GlenDronach can present different styles. It’s flawless but when compared directly with the 1972 and 1972 for LMdW single casks, I have the feeling something is missing. I guess last year’s single casks have really spoiled us. Around € 400.

Score: 88/100


Douglas Laing probably holds the record for the highest number of independent Port Ellen bottlings. Fred & Stewart bought a large stock of casks to add to their blends, at a moment when Port Ellen was not particularly popular as a single malt.

This Port Ellen 1982/2009 was bottled for last year’s Whisky Fair in Germany. It was matured in a refill hogshead. A few months ago a similar cask was bottled for Daily Dram / The Nectar.

 

Port Ellen 27yo 1982 OMC Whisky Fair Port Ellen 27 yo 1982 (55,2%, Douglas Laing OMC 2009 for The Whisky Fair, ref. DL 4904, 133 btl.)

Nose: powerful but quite round with lots of vanilla and a bit of nougat. The peat smoke is relatively delicate. Then there’s a wave of dentist cabinet. Yellow apples. Coastal / tarry notes as well (seafood, harbour smells). Hints of rubber but in a nice way (think of fresh balloons). Very faint hints of fruits and citrus zest. Very good. Water brings out fragrant oranges but also wet newspaper. Mouth: again round and creamy, starting on sweet notes and evolving towards the peat smoke. Lemon marmalade and honey which make it rich and flavoursome. Hints of pepper. Very profound smoke and bonfire. Finish: long and balanced. A tad sharper with liquorice and clean peat.

As you know by now, I prefer this type of (relatively) gentle, vanilla infused Port Ellen over the sharp / mineral / grassy type of Port Ellen. This is a perfect example! Nothing to complain about. Around € 180.

Score: 91/100

 

This concludes our ‘ten days of Port Ellen’. I hope it’s clear why Port Ellen is one of my favourite distilleries. Now it’s time to review a few promising new releases. Glendronach Grandeur is one of them.


Luc Timmermans’ company Thosop released a couple of interesting Port Ellens lately, selected from the Old Bothwell stocks. This Port Ellen 1983 (cask #221) is a sister cask of the previous cask #220 bottled by Thosop a couple of months earlier.

Port Ellen 1983 Thosop Port Ellen 26 yo 1983 (53,5%, Old Bothwell for Thosop 2009, cask #221)

Nose: a nice mixture of iodine, salty smoked fish, leafs and seaweed but softened by a thin layer of fruit. Lemon candy. Sugared almonds. Juicy yellow apples. Hints of vanilla cream. Water shows a kind of biscuity side. Wonderful how it balances between this fragrant fruitiness and a peaty coastalness. Very classy. Mouth: a bit sharper now, much more peat and herbs. Lemon. Water brings out earthy smoke and hints of liquorice and ginger. Finish: long, with an excellent dryness and a bunch of salty notes.

A beautiful Port Ellen with a terrific nose. Among the best ones bottled by Thosop so far, I think. Sold out. Around € 150 at the time.

Score: 92/100

 

ps/ Thosop will present its newest bottling (a bourbon matured Speyside 33 yo 1976) at the upcoming Wild West Whiskyfest in Kortrijk (Belgium).


This Port Ellen 1978 (6th release – 2006) was part of an Islay sampler pack as well. The 20cl version is filled at 54,3% whereas the full bottles are filled at 54,2%. I don’t think the differences are substantial.

The 6th was the most limited release by the way (4560 bottles).

Port Ellen 6th release Port Ellen 27 yo 1978 ‘6th release’
(54,3%, OB 2006, 20cl)

Nose: quite shy at first and rather simple. Lemon and coastal notes, but it doesn’t seem to open up or show more layers. With some hand warmth, a certain fruitiness does come out: yellow apple, some melon. It seems slightly more sherried than the other two (hints of prunes). Very gentle. Very lightly grassy. Mouth: less coastal than the other two and certainly less salty than the 3rd. Spicy hints of nutmeg and pepper. A nice layer of honeyed sweetness, but in the end it seems to fall between two stools. It’s not as sensual as the 7th release and not as powerful as the 3rd. Finish: slowly fading, holding the middle between earthy peat, pepper and softer vanilla notes.

On the nose, you could name this “the fruity one”. With a little help, it shows beautiful fruity notes that are not to be found in the 3rd or 7th release. Yet, on the palate it’s more like “the undecided one”. Not bad at all, especially when assessed on its own, but it suffers from the direct comparison and it’s less expressive than the other two. Around € 275 but quickly rising.

Score: 89/100

ps/ Please mind that the 6th release gets quite a high score in the Whiskybase community. In the end, it’s all a matter of personal preference of course. What’s undecided for one person is balanced for the other.


Buying an Islay Collection pack is a popular way to get hold of an official Port Ellen bottling without braking the bank. However, these 20cl versions don’t contain the same whisky, and most of them are bottled at a different strength. In this case, the 20cl bottle contains 54,7% alcohol instead of 53,8% for the 70cl bottles. The reason is that they’re probably bottled at a different moment in time.

 

Port Ellen 7th release Port Ellen 28 yo 1979 ‘7th release’
(54,7%, OB 2007, 20cl)

Nose: this one seems to be more floral, with much more vanilla. A great balance between the coastal notes (tarry ropes, seaweed) and candied notes. Big big vanilla. Lots of almonds and marzipan. Sweetened lime juice. Whiffs of mint. I adore this combination, it’s like peated candy. Mouth: this is the most complex Port Ellen in this trio. The candied notes remain, but they’re mingled with herbal notes (ginger, soft pepper), liquorice, Lapsang Souchong… Rather delicate peat. Some notes of cocoa. Finish: long, a tad more coastal now. Dry hints of oak and walnut skin.

A nice crescendo, starting soft and feminine (close to the Port Ellen 9th release in that respect) but growing stronger on the palate. Outstanding composition and one of the best (explicitly) peated drams I’ve come across.

My personal favourite because of the wide flavours and the stunning nose. Still available in some places. Around € 275.

Score: 94/100


Ah, official Port Ellen releases… They’re expensive but usually very good. Quite solid as an investment as well (a first release will fetch almost € 1000).

The annual releases are always 1978 casks for pair release numbers and 1979 casks for odd releases. These 1970’s Port Ellen casks are becoming rare these days – most independent bottlings are from 1982 or 1983. I personally have the impression 1970’s casks show more complexity although exceptions exist of course.

So far, nine annual releases have been made available and this year there should be a 10th release which will probably be the last one. For now, I did a direct comparison of the 3rd, 6th and 7th release. I already published my notes of the excellent 9th release in the past.

 

Port Ellen 3rd release Port Ellen 24 yo 1979 ‘3rd release’ 
(57,3%, OB 2003, 9000 btl.)

Nose: this is the sharper, flinty / mineral kind of Port Ellen, although it’s not an extreme example. It has a slightly pungent profile that I associate with wet limestone, lemon and cut grass. Ethereal hints of nail polish as well. Quite some alcohol. It misses the feminine side of vanilla that softens the 7th or 9th release. Evolves on antiseptic, diesel oil and candle wax. Walnuts as well. Faint farmy notes in the background. Hardly coastal. Water makes the grassy and ethereal notes stand out. Mouth: strong attack with sharp peat and lemon juice. Quite salty now, a bit too salty even. Some peppery notes (the spiciest of the three OB’s I’m comparing). Water brings out the oak and adds grassy notes. Finish: long, smoky, quite dry and salty.

I would call this “the grassy one”. Its mouth-feel is hotter than the other two (could the extra 3% really make such a difference?) and you feel a certain powerful roughness, even at 24 years. It shows more peat than the other two which could be a plus for some people. An extra point for the farminess. Extinct.

Score: 91/100


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Coming up

  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Old Pulteney 1990 (lightly peated)
  • Blair Athol 1991 (Wemyss Malts)
  • Benromach Traditional

1635 notes by Ruben

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