Later today, I should be able to taste them and post my first findings. Which one should I open first…?
Update: The Port Ellen review has been published. On the nose, the Glenburgie seems to be slightly disappointing, but the Glen Elgin is very interesting. The Clynelish shows a lot of violet candy and the Longmorn is a bit bubblegummy. But these are just quick impressions, an in-depth review will follow!
Nearly two years ago, I’ve got the Scotch Whisky Aroma Nosing Kit as a gift for my birthday. It contains a booklet, a tasting record sheet and 24 samples of pure aroma chemicals, selected and developed by a Scottish perfumer and a whisky expert. The nosing kit is presented in a nice wooden box.
After two years, I think I can evaluate.
The aroma samples
The aromas are well chosen and well made. There is vanilla, hay, caramel, citrus, fruity, flowery, malty, nutty, peaty, smoky, sherry, woody… and even ‘decay’ (the dirty kind of sulphur). Although more than 300 aromas are found in whisky, they provide a basic map for the possible directions.
Some of them are vague though: “fruity” is just one sample but in the real world there are lots of different fruits that are quite easy to discern. The same goes for “spicy”. Other aromas are left out. I suppose you’ll have a hard time defining a typical Brora or Springbank using only these 24 ‘obvious’ aromas.
Since they are basically alcohol solvents, the makers suggest to use a tasting strip and let the alcohol evaporate before nosing. I think it’s better to nose the bottles, because your whisky will also include alcohol that will not evaporate. The biggest challenge in learning how to nose, is to filter out the alcohol smell from a whisky and detect only the subtle flavours underneath. Nosing straight from the bottles would be a lot easier if they had a bigger opening.
It’s worth noting that some of my samples are half empty after less than two years, even though I’ve used the tasting strips only once. The alcohol will slowly evaporate just by opening the bottles every now and then. It’s safe to say some samples will be useless after three or four years, even when you don’t use the kit intensively.
The aroma guide and box
The wooden box is a nice touch but the execution is a bit poor (notice the big air bubbles under the sticker on the lid? some of the wooden dividers were broken as well). The 40 page booklet contains an introduction to the kit, the nosing process, the vocabulary of nosing, etc.
Most of the information can be easily found in books or online. The most interesting part of the guide are 10 pages with explanations of the actual aromas. A bit of background information is given about the molecular composition or similarities between aromas, but often I’m missing the link to whisky itself. Which distilleries or regions are likely to show a certain aroma? Why does a certain aroma show up in whisky? What about wood types and their associated aromas? I feel the guide is a bit too generic and only really useful when you have a certain level of experience already.
The kit is sold for € 130 (EU customers) or $ 214 (non-EU), shipping included. Most people I’ve spoken to seem to think this is too much, but maybe you can share the cost with a couple of friends and pass the box around.
Compared to wine aroma kits such as “Le nez du vin”, it seems a correct pricing, although I must admit these wine kits look much more attractive with a professional layout and full colour booklets.
The Scotch Whisky Aroma Nosing Kit is quite an interesting tool for whisky enthusiasts who want to sharpen up their detection skills. The samples are generally good which is the most important element. The price may be relatively high but there simply isn’t an alternative.
For beginners, I fear this won’t actually learn you how to nose a whisky. The guide is too limited to achieve this, and you’ll need interaction with more experienced people who can learn you how to apply the knowledge about the basic aromas to a variety of real-world whiskies. I think a few miniatures of different types of whisky (selected as a typical example of a specific aroma) could be an interesting improvement for beginners, or at least a certain written guidance to the profiles of different distilleries.
Apart from their own Lowlands spirit, Bladnoch distillery has a packed warehouse with casks from all over Scotland. They are bottled regularly and sold through the Bladnoch online shop, with a discount for Bladnoch forum members. Most of their bottlings have an unbeatable quality / price ratio!
Invergordon is a grain distillery located in the Northern Highlands (it shares its grounds with Ben Wyvis) and is part of the White & MacKay group. This Invergordon is 36 years old, distilled on the 14th of November 1972.
Invergordon 36 yo 1972 (41,4%, Bladnoch forum 2009, cask 95390, 184 btl.)
Nose: creamy vanilla with big hints of coconut (as expected). Reminds me of certain rums in that respect. Very sweet with notes of Demerara sugar. White chocolate. Some exotic fruits (pineapple, guava). A bit of sourish oak polish. Less complex than an old malt whisky, but very good as a grain. Mouth: completely in line. Coconut cream, vanilla. Kind of a malibu drink without the stickiness. Rather gentle. Finish: short and light with a very faint hint of perfume.
A typical old Invergordon, very enjoyable albeit a bit too mellow and mono-dimensional. Sold out. Around € 60 at the time.
Black Bull 30 Years old was a terrific blend. Now it has been surpassed by an older brother, Black Bull 40yo. It is made up of 90% malt whisky and 10% grain (a lot more malt than other blends). It contains whiskies from nine distilleries: Glenfarclas, Bunnahabhain, Glenlivet, Highland Park and Springbank among others.
Black Bull 40 yo (40,2%,
Duncan Taylor 2010, batch #1)
Nose: starts fresh on vanilla and grapefruit. A complete fruit basket unfolds: zesty orange, pineapple, apple. Quite a lot of beeswax and honey. Lovely hints of peppermint / eucalyptus which really lift this dram. Nice integration of oak. Incredibly refined. Mouth: a creamy texture with loads of vanilla again. More hints of dried fruits now (raisins, dry apricots). More spicy oak as well, but perfectly acceptable. Hints of liquorice. Feeling very mild, even slightly weak maybe, it doesn’t seem to linger long. Finish: medium length. There’s a faint grassiness mixed with vanilla and coconut. Returns to grapefruit. Very clean.
This is a delicious piece of blending art at an amazingly low price compared to 40 year-old single malts or other premium blends such as White & Mackay 40yo. Still I had the feeling it’s a bit on the tame side. I prefer the 30 year old version for having more punch and more sherry influence. Around € 170.
The Caol Ila distillery underwent a major renovation and upgrade between 1972 and 1974 and reopened with an increased number of stills (six instead of two). Pre-1974 Caol Ila is a must-try if you ever have the chance.
I had the chance to compare this with the Caol Ila 1969/1984 (G&M for Intertrade) (WF96) and although I agree that one is better, I don’t think the difference is very big.
Caol Ila 1969 (54,6%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregalli 1986, Celtic label)
Nose: a sharp kickoff with quite a lot of alcohol. It takes some time before it’s tamed. Rather mineral. High on wet carton and wet dogs. Distant smoke. Lemon juice. Oysters. Very medicinal as well, with iodine and disinfectant. With a few drops of water it becomes slightly flowery and when warmed up it even shows hints of white chocolate and thyme. Impressive complexity. Mouth: first there’s a wave of lemon juice. A second wave brings loads of smoke and ashes. A third wave is much sweeter with marzipan and marmalades. Some coffee. Really excellent and superbly balanced. Finish: sweet with salty notes, smoked tea and cloves, Very long.
I won’t say much more about this bottle. It’s simply a great old Caol Ila.
Glen Keith is a very young distillery (1957) that has been mothballed in 1999. All the equipment is still in place, so maybe one day Chivas will restart production. Releases are rare.
About a year ago a similar Glen Keith distilled in March 1990 was bottled by Douglas Laing in their Old Malt Cask series.
Glen Keith 19 yo 1990 (52,1%, Malts of Scotland 2010, cask 13678, 232 btl.)
Nose: mild and fruity with mostly white fruits: pear, nectarine, white grapes. Some lime. Reminds me of vinho verde, very fresh with a mineral touch. Quite some beeswax. Marmalade. Develops on green notes (grass and sage maybe?) Hints of chamomile and wheat flour as well. The whole has a slightly bubblegummy fruit profile – quite uncommon but very attractive, and it keeps developing over time. Lovely. Mouth: honeyed attack. The same fruits show up (+ apple and pineapple) and they’re backed by spices from the bourbon cask. Hints of ginger and pepper, some cinnamon. Hints of mocha in the aftertaste. Finish: medium length, round with milk chocolate and spices.
The name Glen Keith does not have much fame, but this will open your eyes (and mouth). Fresh and mature at the same time. Dangerous stuff because it drinks like lemonade. Around € 75. Recommended.
Hey, didn’t we have a Glengoyne 1998 by Malts of Scotland yesterday? Yep, but that was the cask next to this one (and next to the #1130 and #1133 Glengoyne casks released in 2009).
Glengoyne 11 yo 1998 (55,2%, Malts of Scotland 2010, cask 1132, 272 btl.)
Nose: totally different from the #1131 cask. Much more dirty, with notes of mushrooms and beef stock. Hints of soy sauce and moss. I’m afraid this isn’t free from sulphur. I know a lot of people like this kind of profile, and it seems to be filtered out after some breathing, so let’s move on. There are hints of walnuts but the red fruits are much more subdued here, although there are hints of candied fruit and water helps to bring out fragrant raspberry. Mouth: interesting and very much in line with the old Macallan 18’s. No sulphur, just beautiful chocolate, coffee, figs and dried orange skin. Raisins. A touch of menthol. Not as dry as its sister. Cloves and cinnamon. It also shows hints of dusty oak with light whiffs of smoke. Finish: long, drier now, and very chocolaty. Some spicy notes.
At the beginning of my tasting, I smelled both whiskies side-by-side and because of the sulphury notes, I never thought this #1132 cask would come close to #1131. But once you’ve tasted them, and once you add water, it becomes clear that the palate of this cask is really interesting and makes you forget about the nose. In the end they both have their qualities. Same price: around € 60.
Malts of Scotland is releasing Glengoyne casks at a high pace. So far, there have been two 1972 casks, a 1973 cask, a 1997 cask and two 1998 heavily sherried casks. All of this in just over six months, and remember independent Glengoyne bottlings are very rare (Whiskyfun reviewed 34 official Glengoynes and only 3 independent bottlings).
A few weeks ago, two new casks were bottled, both sister casks of the former Glengoyne 1998’s. Their colour is again quite remarkable.
Glengoyne 11 yo 1998 (54,8%, Malts of Scotland 2010, cask 1131, 295 btl.)
Nose: very much on dried apricots, tangerine liqueur and toffee. Some raspberry candy. Overripe cherries and plums. Nutty notes. Hints of coffee and mint. Very soft vanilla as well. Very big with the oloroso in the front row. Adding water makes it fresher and fruitier. Mouth: again some heavy sherry but perfectly palatable without water. Starts rather fresh and dry with plum cake, red fruits and dark chocolate. The dryness gets in overdrive after a while, with the kind of mouth-feel you get from eating walnut skins. A bit of water helps to make it rounder. Finish: dry and persistent, with notes of chocolate, oak, tangerine and spices.
You need to love heavy sherry influence to appreciate this, and even then some people will probably find this slightly overdone. I think it’s really good, especially if you add a bit of water. Around € 60.