For their 17 and 21 years old expressions, Old Pulteney uses a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. For the 17 this is mostly oloroso and PX sherry (European oak), while the Old Pulteney 21 years relies mostly on the drier, sharper fino sherry (American oak). The amount of sherry casks versus bourbon is around one third.
Old Pulteney 21 yo (46%, OB 2010)
Nose: on a first level, quite spicy (ginger, mint) while showing the coastal character of the distillery. On a second approach, it turns out to be more complex than younger expressions, with notes of cereal bars, some vanilla, leather, a little wax and faint phenols. Not exactly fruity, but there’s plenty of nice apple notes. Mouth: sweet start but again not a fruity sweetness – more like toffee and honey. The centre is full of malty flavours. Turning to dry flavours, spices and a little salt. Some ginger and orange peel. Finish: long and warming, with malt, pepper and smooth oak.
All the typical Old Pulteney elements are here, but they’re muted by the age. The emphasis is on the spices and sweet malt which makes me prefer the younger versions. Around € 110.
This Old Pulteney 21yo has just won the World Whisky of the Year award in the 2012 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Do I agree with his record-equaling 97.5 points? I’m afraid not. Although it’s definitely a fine whisky, and although Old Pulteney is taking big steps forward in terms of recognition, I’ve had better drams this year.
Ardmore, a sister distillery of Laphroaig in the Beam Global portfolio,is one of the non-Islay distilleries that produce peated spirit (around 14 ppm). This expression was distilled in February 1990 and matured in a “wine treated barrel” (a newish or revived cask that was quickly impregnated with (sherry) wine instead of actually holding the wine for maturation purposes – a practice that we often see with Signatory lately).
Signatory Vintage released a series of similar casks in the past. They seem to have a significant stock of Ardmore 1990 and 1992.
Nose: pungent, clean peat, without medicinal notes, as often with peated Speysiders. Earthy notes of dry hay, heather and chalk. Some vanilla and apple. A bit herbal as well. Mouth: starts quite salty and peaty with cereal notes and liquorice. A floral touch as well which clearly marks this as non-Islay again. Then gaining a bit of sweetness with almonds and heather honey. Hints of bread crust. Finish: clean, bittersweet with some iodine.
Heavily peated in a very clean way. An alternative to Islay whiskies that doesn’t make me wild –
I would have guessed it was much younger.
Around € 70.
Port Charlotte was revived by Bruichladdich in 2001. After having seen mostly 2001 bottlings (including all the Port Charlotte PC5, PC6, PC7… releases), Whisky-Doris has now bottled a 2002 bourbon cask.
Port Charlotte 7 yo 2002 (63,5%, Whisky-Doris 2010, cask #1171, 298 btl.)
Nose: a very strong, high density nose of ashes and soot. Some pencil shavings and graphite. Biting alcohol as well (oh really?). Also nice hints of cigars. Water adds a little vanilla, iodine and wet wool. Slightly farmy. Sweet grassy notes as well. Mouth: too aggressive for me, at least when undiluted. Very peaty, very raw – a throat burner. More accessible with water. Lemon and salt combo. A bit of sweetness as well (sugared cereals, grapes, a hint of vanilla). Very smokey. Finish: long, like an ashtray.
I’m not a big fan of whisky that’s so peaty that it becomes difficult to detect other aromas. Peatheads will be delighted though! Available for € 60.
Scottish Castles is a range of whiskies bottled for the German company Jack Wiebers Whisky World. Each expression features a famous Scottish castle on the label (Crathes castle in this case). This Longmorn 1974 was part of the 8th series.
Its sister cask #3494 was a bourbon hogshead bottled for The Whisky Fair in 2006, so it’s probably safe to think this was an ex-bourbon cask as well.
Longmorn 28 yo 1974 (46%, Jack Wiebers
Scottish Castles 2003, cask #3495, 132 btl.)
Nose: starts on varnish and a little turpentine. After fifteen minutes of breathing, it has developed an excellent fruity profile with ripe honeydew melon, peaches, and soft vanilla. Great hints of strawberries and cream! Pleasant resinous notes without being oaky. A little mint. Lovely nose. Mouth: good impact, rather oily and very smooth. Showing some pink grapefruit and sweeter marmalade fruits. Some heather honey. Then a cocoa note. A little mint again. It must have been superb at cask strength. Finish: long, with spices as the main ingredient. Not dry though. Plenty of vanilla in the end.
An elegant Longmorn. Both bourbon and sherry versions of this distillery can be great at such an age. Difficult to find now – around € 200.
Mara is a special place for whisky enthousiasts. Founders Roland Puhl and Carsten Ehrlich are whisky legends and walking encyclopaedias.
Their basement in the nice German town called Limburg an der Lahn is part whisky store (only classics, many of them not yet discovered by the whisky community), part “pilgrimage place” where whisky lovers from Germany (and further away) come to spend a nice evening. I was lucky enough to join Luc Timmermans (thanks again) so most of the time I was simply listening to what all these experienced connoisseurs had to say.
Most of the evening was filled with an extensive overview (and tasting) of Carsten’s recent bottlings in the Whisky Agency series. It’s amazing how many expressions he has released in the last couple of months. The tasting tempo was too high to take notes, but all I can say is they are all worth a try. Not one of them is below par, and some are absolutely stunning.
Here are just five of my personal highlights, in no particular order:
Glenallachie 39 yo 1971 (51,2%, Perfect Dram)
Not the most popular distillery. Very good albeit a little quirky. Fruity with old-style elements.
Brora 28 yo 1982 (52,3%, Perfect Dram)
All-round Brora with wax, smoke, citrus, herbs… Also available in a Daily Dram version.
BenRiach 34 yo 1975 (50,6%, cask 3061)
Classic 1970’s BenRiach fruits, quite tropical and honeyed. A good match for the renowned 1976’s.
Ben Nevis 42 yo 1968 (40%, Private Stock)
This can only come from Ben Nevis. Nougat, soft fruits, leather, wax… Stunning and very (very) limited.
Glen Scotia 38 yo 1972 (40,1%, Private Stock)
Old-style fruitiness, beehive notes and pleasant dust. A little soft on the palate maybe, but a unique expression.
All of these would score well into the 90’s. The downside of the eminent quality is clear: the demand is extremely high and most of the Whisky Agency releases are sold out in a couple of days. Some of them don’t even reach major retailers outside of Germany, and reviewing them doesn’t make much sense – the advice will be too late anyway.
After the recent stuff and a lovely pizza (tradition, you know), we went into the cellars to crack open a few oldies. No matter how broad your whisky knowledge, a large part of the collection is unknown to anyone, so there’s always some doubt about what to choose.
Port Ellen 11 yo 1981 Wilson & Morgan (stunning young Port Ellen, so different from current releases)
Longmorn 28 yo 1974 Scottish Castles (review coming soon)
Caperdonich 35yo 1972 for The Whisky Fair (excellent nose, very rich)
A head-to-head of two old Bowmore 8yo’s (although apparently similar, they showed major differences – only one of them was convincing to me)
a 1970’s bottling of Bunnahabhain 12yo
We ended the evening with an out-of-this-world dark sherry Islay whisky of which the name is top secret (sorry). It’s a very old bottle anyway and chances are very low that another one would show up. Too bad, but good Lord, what a magnificent whisky!
I was told there are plans to sell most of the collection and close the cellar down. That’s a logical decision given the time-consuming activities for Whisky Agency and The Whisky Fair, but it’s still a important chapter that will disappear from our whisky book. I’m glad I was able to experience it.
This was released as part of the second wave in the controversial Manager’s Choice series. It was a collection of rare single casks from the Diageo brands. While some of them seem to be of high quality, there was little interest because of the high prices considering the young ages.
I’m glad I could try this, as official Cragganmore releases have been few and far between. It was distilled in May 1997 and bottled in May 2009 from a European oak Bodega sherry casks.
Cragganmore 12 yo 1997 ‘The Manager’s Choice’ (59,7%, OB 2009, cask #2398,
Nose: white fruit aromas and citrus, summery and quite floral. Some vanilla and biscuits. Faint waxy notes and some oil. A hint of mint and undertones of smoke. Really nice but hardly any sherry. In line with the standard 12yo, only more complex and punchy. Mouth: strong and powerful, a bit hot even. Very thick and full of flavour. Rather sweet, with honey, vanilla and plenty of spices (mint, ginger, a little pepper). Oranges. Spicy fruitcake? Perfect amount of wood. Water rounds it off and makes it smokier in the aftertaste. Finish: spices (mostly ginger) and a hint of smoke.
A great Cragganmore that I enjoyed a lot. On the other hand there’s no way I can recommend a 12 year-old that costs around € 280.
Big Peat is a vatting of four Islay distilleries: Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. The fact that it contains older whisky from Port Ellen, makes this an unusual offering. While other bottlers can’t afford to use Port Ellen in a vatting or a blend, for Douglas Laing it’s not a problem as they have one of the largest stocks of this legendary distillery.
Note that Big Peat is such a success that they’re now somewhere around batch number 7 or 8, probably with (small) differences between them. As far as I know, there’s no way to recognize which batch you’re buying.
Big Peat (46%, Douglas Laing 2010)
Nose: a summary of Islay, with salty peat, some vanilla and a great aniseed note. Some mocha. Overall rather sweet with a big emphasis on tarry notes. On top of this, I get some youngish fruit like pear and peach, which reminds me of Ardbeg Rollercoaster in a way. Nice ambiguity of younger and older elements. Mouth: very smokey and ashy. Quite explosive with a rubbery edge. Big peat indeed. Sweet liquorice and again some vanilla. Not much fruit here. Finish: peat and smoke. Slowly drying.
A benchmark Islay vatting. You get heavy peat but a charming vanilla sweetness as well to round it off. A bottle should cost around € 40 which is very good value.
A middle-aged Glenrothes that sits between the 1970 – 1980’s vintages and the younger 1990’s vintages (1994 and 1998).
Glenrothes 1991 (43%, OB 2008)
Nose: honeyed and buttery aromas (butterscotch, mocha). Caramel. Roasted nuts. Vanilla. Quite some heather. Cooked fruits with gentle spices. A hint of leather. Mouth: similar toffee / mocha notes. Baked apples and a lovely hint of coconut cream. Roasted nuts and barley sugars in the aftertaste. Fading on spices (ginger, cloves). Finish: not too long, with cocoa and subtle oak.
For me, this is one of the most archetypal Glenrothes expressions because of the buttery qualities, nutty flavours and spices. Of course the old versions offer more complexity and roundness, but this one is considerably less expensive.
Around € 55.