Single malt whisky - tasting notes

The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve is the first release from this distillery to be matured entirely in first-fill sherry casks – predominantly European oak. Unlike most of the others, it doesn’t have a vintage indication, nor an age statement.

Glenrothes, and the rest of the Edrington distilleries like The Macallan and Highland Park, have more or less a monopoly on new European oak casks, produced to their standards in Jerez from oak that is being cut in Galicia in the North of Spain.



Glenrothes Sherry Cask ReserveGlenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve (40%, OB 2014)

Nose: raisins and plenty of all-spice / gingerbread notes. Oranges with cloves. Cinnamon. Some nutty notes too (hazelnut, almond). Honey in the background. Mouth: woody in the sense that it revolves around ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices. Toasted oak, roasted nuts and a big sugary side, mainly caramelized sugar. Lacks a bit of a sparkle maybe. Finish: not too long with very similar flavours.

To me this should have been called European Oak Reserve. It does show the spicy side of these casks, but not the true glory of first-fill sherry in my opinion – it’s pretty flat. A missed opportunity. Around € 50.

Score: 76/100

James MacArthur is a Scottish independent bottler established in 1982. Although the original aim of the Old Masters series was to present casks from little-known or lost distilleries, this concept has been widened a little.

We’re trying a Macallan 1980 bottled in 2001. Although the label doesn’t mention the cask type, a sister cask #16447 was bottled by Jack Wiebers in 2010 and that was said to be a sherry butt.



Macallan 1980 - James MacArthur Old MastersMacallan 1980 (57,8%, James Mac Arthur Old Master’s 2001, cask #16457)

Nose: lots of yellow (slightly overripe) apples, mixed with dusty grains and old books. Quite some nutty notes (walnut husks) as well as hay and a little shoe polish (could be the time spent in glass). A vague sweetness underneath. Not the typical Macallan sherry profile in any case. Mouth: strange one. There’s a grainy harshness, walnuts again and this undefined sweetness (I’d still pick apple if you made me choose). Liquorice and damp wood. Something in between paraffin and shoe polish again. Finish: long, but slightly sharp, grassy and bitter. Ginger and grapefruit zest.

This is an interesting Macallan, but not something you associate with the classic profile. Not the most attractive profile either. Maybe these casks didn’t meet the official standards? Auction material. Thanks Joeri!

Score: 78/100

Mortlach whiskyIn April 2014 Diageo relaunched Mortlach. Until then, official bottlings were quite rare but that changed with the release of four new expressions at once: Mortlach Rare Old, a travel retail exclusive Special Strength, Mortlach 18 Years and Mortlach 25 Years.



Mortlach whisky: Rare Old, Special Strength, 18yo, 25yo


In marketing terms, Mortlach is positioned as a luxury brand, but not super-premium. That is reflected in nice, uncommonly shaped bottles. Mind that they are only 50 cl, which makes prices seem 40% more reasonable than they actually are.

The distillery, noted for its unusual almost-triple distillation style and meaty character, will also be doubled in size, with a new still house due to be operational in November 2015.

Mortlach 18 Years is a vatting of first-fill European oak sherry casks, American oak hogsheads and refill European oak casks.



Mortlach 18 YearsMortlach 18 yo (43,4%, OB 2014, 50 cl.)

Nose: earthy and nutty sherry notes up front, with a bit of cooked potato and wet leaves behind them. I’m usually not too fond of this side of Mortlach, but here it’s quite alright because there are also vibrant hints of sour apple, orange peel and ginger. A little leather. A few blossomy notes too. Mouth: dried fruits, raisins and orange peel again, with plenty of spices now. Gingerbread, soft pepper. Brown sugar and milk chocolate. Some roasted nuts as well. Finish: long, still showing roasted notes, chocolate and spices.

I find this quite interesting. Not all elements are entirely up my alley but it’s a multi-faceted dram I’d happily spend an evening with. As soon as you add the price to the equation, that feeling disappears though. Around € 250 and remember it’s only 50 cl.

Score: 86/100

Benromach is on a roll: the new Benromach 10 Years, the 100° Proof, recently also two wood finishes (Château Cissac and Hermitage) and now Benromach 5 Years.

Although it is not mentioned on the website (yet), this is said to replace the old Benromach Traditional which was roughly the same age. So far I’ve only seen it on sale in Germany and The Netherlands, maybe other markets will follow?

Like its older brother, Benromach 5 Year Old is a mix of 80% bourbon and 20% sherry casks.

It would be interesting to find out how the market reacts to such a young whisky. These days even premium releases are NAS, so Benromach is certainly going against the flow by mentioning the age in this case. I guess most distilleries would be scared because it’s uncommonly young? It reminds us of the Glen Grant 5yo that used to be famous in the 1960’s and 1970’s.



Benromach 5 YearsBenromach 5 yo (40%, OB 2014)

Nose: light and lemony, but with the same interesting old-style notes as the 10yo. Some dusty grains and hay. Very soft mineral / earthy / ashy notes. Hints of honey and bright white fruits as well. A light touch of peat in the background. Mouth: light but not exactly underpowered. Fairly sweet at first, really malty with lots of oily notes. Again a nice hint of peat smoke. Liquorice, some peppery wood, soft grassy notes. Soft nutty notes ans vanilla. Young but certainly not without character. Hints of roasted coffee in the aftertaste. Finish: long, dry, with almonds and very soft herbal notes. Echoes of charred oak.

It’s easy to notice the similarities between the Benromach 5yo and the 10yo. This is the same style of unconventional Speyside whisky. Very interesting, but the 10yo is only a few euros extra. Around € 30.

Score: 84/100

So, here’s the slightly controversial Clynelish… Controversial because it takes the NAS concept to a higher level, literally. You’re paying € 650-750 for a whisky that doesn’t have an age statement.

We know that Clynelish Select Reserve is made from five vintages (the youngest being 1999) and five types of casks: first-fill + refill American oak, rejuvenated casks, refill European oak and bodega sherry casks.



Clynelish Select Reserve (2014)Clynelish Select Reserve (54,9%, OB 2014, Special Release, 2964 btl.)

Nose: pretty great. Unsurprisingly you get a mixture of all things that Clynelish is famous for. Big fruity notes: mirabelles, grapefruit, lemon and lime. Tiny hints of tropical fruits like passion fruits – as if it had Irish ancestors, if you know what I mean. Haribo sweets and marshmallow in the background. Strong beehive notes and paraffin. Ginger lemonade with mint leaves. Fairly mundane grainy notes as well, which seem to grow stronger over time. Mouth: high strength, very creamy and rounded. Lemon, grapefruit, peach, pear. Zesty and zingy with a salty edge. Quite compact, the nice tropical notes are gone. The waxy notes return with a bit of water, and this also brings chlorophyll and a wider array of fruits. Shows typical peppery / mustardy notes towards the end. Finish: long, with lemon, ginger and hints of green tea, very much in line with the taste.


Clynelish Select Reserve is complex and entertaining, especially with a few drops of water. Yet it seems to offer little more than a slightly above-average, medium-aged Clynelish. Around € 650, in stock pretty much everywhere…

Score: 90/100

21 Drams is a Belgian collective of 21 whisky lovers. They are based in the area around the Sonian Forest, the biggest green lung in our country. In Dutch, the name of the forest sounds a bit like Zionwood, hence the name.

At the end of 2014, they decided to bottle their own whisky, from a selection made by The Whiskyman. A single cask Ardmore 2000.

Some of the 21 Drams members are running a web building company called Wieni, and they decided to take 40 more bottles from the casks as a gift for their clients. They’ve labeled it Wiensky.



Ardmore Zionwood 2000 - 21 DramsArdmore Zionwood 14 yo 2000 (53,3%, The Whiskyman for 21 Drams 2014, 25 btl.)

Nose: not as peaty as some other Ardmore. It’s mostly ashy, close to Caol Ila in that respect, especially when you add the fresh lemony notes. Some rounder notes: honey, a little candy sugar. Earthy notes, as well as some very subtle medicinal touches. Not too complex but nicely balanced. Mouth: fairly dry, earthy peat with a fierce peppery kick at first. Soot, grassy notes and some bitter grapefruit skin before it settles down and becomes much sweeter. Honey, citrus sweets and vanilla. Finish: medium long, peppery and zesty, with the earthy, peaty notes underneath and a hint of agave.

A nice Ardmore that’s better balanced than similar expressions that I’ve tried before. Around € 90, only available to club members if I’m not mistaken. They’re hoping to present wider (public) releases in the future. Thanks, Ike.

Score: 85/100

A couple of years ago, Mark Pendlebury started Whiskybrother in Johannesburg, possibly the first serious whisky shop in South Africa.

A few months ago, he selected a cask of Glenlivet 1998 from the Signatory stocks. This Oloroso butt has been bottled exclusively for his shop.



Glenlivet 1998 - Signatory Vintage for Whiskybrother SAGlenlivet 15 yo 1998 (54,8%, Signatory Vintage for Whiskybrother 2014, Oloroso sherry butt #128811, 413 btl.)

Nose: aromatic forest fruit jams (bramble, blackcurrant), alongside chocolate coated raisins, dates and candied orange. Cigar leaves. Some peppery oak and bread crust. Hints of ham, maybe a trace of rubber as well. Classic first-fill sherry, with the entire spectrum of sherry aromas. Mouth: a little hot and fizzy at full strength, but nicely flavoured. Lots of thick fruit jams again (raspberry, figs), countered by dry hints of coffee and pepper. Caramelized brown sugar. An intense oaky kick as well. Returns nicely to cassis candy. Finish: long, peppery and fruity, mainly oranges dipped in dark chocolate.

This is quite a high pressure sherry bomb, Glendronach style in a way. The oak had its say and delivered a nice, intense whisky. Around € 100, only available in South Africa.

Score: 87/100

Tormore 16 Years

22 Jan 2015 | Tormore

Tormore distilleryTormore 16 Year Old was recently released in ‘limited quantities’ after a restyling of the distillery range, which now includes a 14yo and 16yo.

I’ve always thought Tormore had an interesting distillery building (hesitating to call it beautiful). Built in 1958, it combines the traditional architecture with a certain 20th Century industrial look.

Did you know the clock on the distillery roof plays four different Scottish songs every quarter of an hour?



Tormore 16 YearsTormore 16 yo (48%, OB 2013, Batch #B1309, American oak casks)

Nose: quite nice actually, with lots of juicy fruits. Oranges and apples, melons, hints of kiwi. Soft nutty notes, mainly pecans. Sweet barley. Some honey and vanilla ice cream. Typical, fresh American oak aromas really. Mouth: quite fruity again. Melons and pears, with soft cinnamon and pepper from the white oak again. Oranges and sugar coated cereals. Soft hints of coconut and creamy vanilla. Finish: medium long, still fruity but drier and slightly sharper. Ginger, zesty citrus and a slight grainy edge.

It’s nice to see an official Tormore, especially when it’s not bad at all. Pretty fruity and rounded, I’d love to try older expressions in the future. Around € 65.

Score: 84/100



July 2015
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Coming up

  • Dos Maderas 5+3
  • Karuizawa 1988 (Whisky Fair)
  • Glenglassaugh 1972 (Carn Mor)
  • Laphroaig Lp6 (Elements of Islay)
  • Bruichladdich 1964 (G&M #3676-3677)

1840 notes by Ruben

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