Single malt whisky - tasting notes

We’ve recently passed the 300 posts mark, and even then there are a bunch of distilleries which we’ve never reviewed on this blog. At this moment, there are whiskies from 73 distilleries but let’s take it to a higher level.

During the next ten days, we only allow “new” distilleries. A few names? Littlemill, Coleburn, Aultmore, Glenburgie, Dallas Dhu, Glen Elgin, Kilkerran, Cardhu… Stay tuned.

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We don’t need to repeat that Ardbeg Rollercoaster is a vatting of Ardbeg casks from all years between 1997 and 2006, both bourbon and sherry casks. After some e-commerce troubles on the launch day, 15000 bottles are currently on sale through the Ardbeg website.

 

Ardbeg Supernova Ardbeg Rollercoaster 
(57,3%, OB 2009, Committee release)

Nose: briney and coastal, with notes of smoked sardines with a few drops of lemon. It’s easy to detect the youthful power and the sweet notes that go with it (pear, artificial hints of banana) but there’s enough older stuff in there to get the balance right. A lot of iodine. A few musty elements. Nutmeg and cumin. Mint. Quite industrial in a way. Water brings out vanilla and fragrant notes. Mouth: not the most impressive mouth-feel given its strength, but the big wave of peat smoke is certainly present. The first things I get are signs of its youth which are then overtaken by liquorice, lemon and coal. Gets curiously vegetal and herbal after a while (aniseed, eucalyptus, coriander leaves?). Some very dark chocolate. Water makes it slightly grassier and more rubbery.  Finish: long on chilli peppers and briney smoke. Slightly bitter cloves.

I’m not sure what to think. On the one hand, I’m impressed because the effect of its immature age is well hidden. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem unique at all and it’s probably a bit over-hyped. But hey, Ardbeg fans will love this anyway. Around € 55
(a high price for a 3 year-old, but enough bang for your buck).

Score: 85/100

 

I poured a glass of Ardbeg Supernova and quickly tasted them side-by-side. Supernova shows more peat but more vanilla and camomile at the same time. Still it seems the Rollercoaster is more expressive with its added layer of sweetness, hints of musty earth and more balanced peat. For me, the Rollercoaster has the edge.

What surprises me is that they are so similar despite the different composition. If you could add just one or two casks of 3yo spirit to the Supernova, I’m sure it wouldn’t be far away from the Rollercoaster. The current Ardbeg range is quite narrow if you think about it. How long before they release wine finishes…?


The 16 years old with Sauternes finish is one of the wood finish expressions in the standard BenRiach range. In November 2009, the Belgian whisky shop Pin’Art in Mechelen bottled its own single cask with the same specifications. It was very popular and there are only a few bottles left.

 

BenRiach 1993 Sauternes Pinart BenRiach 16 yo 1993 (55,6%, OB 2009 for Pin’Art, hogshead – Sauternes finish, cask #2587, 295 btl.)

Nose: starts rather curiously buttery on toffee and nuts. Hints of marzipan. Not as tropical as I thought it would be, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After a while the expected sweet and fruity notes shine through. Grapes, peaches on syrup, soaked raisins, hints of dried figs. A little water brings out Cavaillon melon. Nice balance. Mouth: thick mouth-feel with a little vanilla. Sugar coated nuts. Quite a refined sweetness although the spices soon take over (pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg). The fruits are pushed aside by the power of the spices. Water doesn’t change this. Finish: dry and peppery, with lots of spices from the oak.

The combination of the spirit with the Sauternes influence is not at all cloying nor overly sweet. It’s well balanced (although a little on the spicy side) and very enjoyable. Around € 70.

Score: 85/100

Thanks for the sample, Serge.


Single Malts of Scotland bottled three 1989 / 1990 casks of Glenrothes last year: one bourbon hogshead and two refill sherry casks. This Glenrothes 1990 cask #3331 (refill sherry) was the first in the row.

It’s interesting that SMoS chooses Glenrothes casks with a very light sherry influence since nowadays most of the independent bottlings seem to be heavily sherried.

 

Glenrothes 1990 SMOS #3331 Glenrothes 18 yo 1990 
(46%, SMoS 2009, cask #3331, 785 btl.)

Nose: a characteristic Glenrothes nose with butter toffee and some dry flowers but punchier than most official releases. Freshened by big hints of orange juice. Nectar. Something that reminds me of Swedish mustard. Hints of roasted nuts. Cake. The sherry influence is certainly there, but it’s very subtle. Mouth: not too bold. Quite malty and sweet. Spicy (nutmeg, herbal sweets) with hints of liquorice. Interesting roasted / bread crust notes in the aftertaste. Finish: rather long and spicy, with beautiful candied notes, even hints of violets.

This bottling shows a slightly different side of The Glenrothes. An all-round charmer. Around € 50.

Score: 82/100


Plantation rum Plantation is a premium series of rum produced by small independent distilleries in different Caribbean countries (Barbados, Trinidad, Panama… which all have their own style of rum).

They have a unique “double aging” technique: first the rum is matured in small ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks in the humid Caribbean climate, but after that, the casks are shipped to France where they are matured for another year in the cellars of the Château de Bonbonnet to give them more refinement and roundness. This technique was common in the 18th and 19th century, but it had almost disappeared.

This Plantation single cask rum was distilled in Barbados and is 11 years old. It has been selected by The Nectar (our Belgian whisky distributor).

 

Plantation 11yo The Nectar Plantation 11 yo (45%, OB 2009,
single cask #01 for The Nectar)

Nose: lots of molasses, sort of a caramel smell. Unrefined Demerara sugar. Some vanilla and cinnamon. Great depth with smooth flavours but also notes of slightly burnt sugar. After 15 minutes in the glass and some hand warmth, a wonderful ripe banana smell comes through (Pisang Ambon) with beautiful notes of coconut cream. Mouth: the coconut is taking the lead now (Malibu) with caramelized banana. A flowery element that is quickly overtaken by the oak. Tropical fruit juice. Some raisins. Sweet and smooth. Finish: medium length, basically the flavours of the palate that fade slowly.

One thing is for sure: this Plantation single cask is a rum for savouring rather than mixing. It’s a lot sweeter than your regular Scotch whisky, but it’s definitely worth looking for. Whiskies are usually more complex than rum, even this kind of rare vintage rum, but they’re priced a lot higher as well. Around € 40.


World Whisky Awards 2010 The results of this year’s WWA10 have been announced:

Best Single Malt Whisky: Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Best Blended Whisky: Hibiki 21 Years Old
Best Blended Malt Whisky: Taketsuru 21 Years Old
Best American Whiskey: Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 proof
Best Whisky Liqueur: Wild Turkey American Honey
Best Grain Whisky: Greenore 15 Years Old
Best New Release: Parker’s Heritage Collection Golden Anniversary


This year’s winners are probably less common than in previous editions. Rittenhouse is a rye whiskey, Greenore 15yo normally doesn’t get high scores (apart from Bert Bruyneel who gives it a consistently high score) and most of the American whiskeys can be pretty hard to find in Europe anyway.

Is Ardbeg Corryvreckan really the best single malt whisky of last year? I’m afraid not (at least not for me), but bear in mind that the World Whisky Awards only score high yield releases with a big focus on official bottlings. It would have been nice to publish a list of all the entries to get a better idea of the competition.


Noh, or Nogaku, is a form of classical Japanese musical theatre with a history dating back to the 14th century. It is played by men. Many of them are masked as they also play female roles. By having a series of whisky with this name, No.1 Drinks (the European distributor of Karuizawa, Hanyu and Chichibu) pays tribute to this form of art, full of respect for Japanese tradition.

Is this 32 years old 1976/2009 Noh a new star among the highly praised Karuizawa 1970’s casks?

 

Karuizawa 1976 Noh #6719 Karuizawa 32 yo 1976 Noh (63%, No.1 Drinks 2009, sherry butt #6719, 486 btl.)

Nose: big sherry, yet less explosive than some previous Karuizawa. Very nutty with big hints of new leather, together with juicy tangerine and honey. Lots of fresh matchsticks (a common thread in 1970’s Karuizawa). Some figs. Ginger. Lovely raspberry jam. Water brings out hints of cigar cases and delicate smoke. So nice! Mouth: hot hot hot, but I pick up some oak, very dark chocolate and liquorice. Let’s add water. Cherry liqueur. Again quite nutty. A pinch of pepper. Gets slightly medicinal in the end, which is a great addition to the Karuizawa profile. Finish: dry with herbal notes and liquorice. Hints of Lapsang Souchong. Very long.


If anyone doubts the quality of Japanese sherried whisky, try this! Very big and flawless. Perhaps too wild and powerful to be hugely complex, but still a benchmark for heavily sherried whisky. More refined than Wait La Mazurka, with more delicate gunpowder notes and a better balance with the sherry. Around € 165 but sold out in the major shops.

Score: 92/100


Luc Timmermans Former Malt Maniac Luc Timmermans is one of the most active whisky personalities in Belgium. He has practically built his house around his huge collection, sells extraordinary bottles on www.whiskysamples.eu and selects interesting casks for his label Thosop. Yesterday he organized a tasting to celebrate his 42nd birthday.

 

As expected, the line-up was impressive. All of these whiskies are extinct expressions:

  • Ambassador blend 25 yo (43%, OB – Taylor & Ferguson pre-1974)
  • Cardhu 12 yo (43%, OB – Wax & Vitale pre-1974)
  • Miltonduff 13 yo (43%, OB – Salengo Import 1970’s)
  • Glenfarclas 42 yo 1966 (44,4%, SMWS 2008, 1.146, 76 btl.)
  • Caol Ila 1969 (54,6%, G&M for Meregalli 1986)
  • Longmorn 1969 (54,6%, G&M for The Whisky Fair 2008, cask #3724)
  • Ardbeg 18 yo 1974 (54,6%, Wilson & Morgan 1993, 285 btl.)

Without going into detail: awesome! Especially since the line-up was spiced up with a few comparison drams like the Ardbeg 1976/2002 cask #2390 or a legendary Springbank 12 yo for Samaroli which Whiskyfun scores 98/100. Thanks a million for sharing these beauties with us. I’ll review a couple of them later, but here’s one to start.

 

Glenfarclas SMWS 1.146 Glenfarclas 42 yo 1966 ‘Exotic Dusky Maiden’ (44,4%, SMWS 2008, 1.146, 76 btl.)

Nose: hints of glue and wood polish. Pineapple candy. Passion fruits. Wonderful notes of marshmallow. It goes from Turkish rosewater delight to orange water and actual flowers (which is probably why they called it Dusky Maiden – a rose variety). A candy store really, but a few background notes of spicy oak and dusty books tell you this is older than it may seem. Very special. Mouth: a rather oily mouthfeel, again very fruity with oranges and honey. The oak is also on the foreground now, with a spicy kick of cinnamon and ginger. Finish: long, exotic and spicy. Very elegant.

Old Glenfarclas from a bourbon cask is not very common, but this is a unique example full of exotic fruits. The nose is on a higher level than the palate. Around € 200 at the time but sold out now.

Score: 92/100

ps/ The rest of the bottle is available on his website


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Coming up

  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Benriach 1991 (MoS for QV.ID)
  • Blair Athol 1991 (Wemyss Malts)
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)
  • Ardbeg 15yo 1973 (Sestante)
  • Aberlour 8yo (cube, small cork)
  • Balblair Millennium

1638 notes by Ruben

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