Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Emperor Jade Pagoda - Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamReleased exclusively for the Taiwanese market, this was the second oldest Karuizawa ever (at the time), and the only cask left of the 1967 vintage.

It was presented at Whisky Live 2012 in Taipei and then released to the market at the beginning of 2013.

I’m sure visiting Asia makes you understand this kind of whisky even better.




Karuizawa 45 Years 1967 #2725 TaiwanKaruizawa Vintage 45 yo 1967 (59,6%, OB for Taiwan 2012, Aqua of Life, sherry butt #2725, 310 btl.)

Nose: typical solventy ebony, cedar and sandalwood. Old leather. Mild ashes / incense. Reminds me of Asian temples (the dark Emperor Jade Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh comes to mind). Dried herbs (ginger, aniseed). Cigars. Also bramble, black cherries, figs, prune preserve. High-end Oloroso. Lacquered barbecue meat. Excellent. Mouth: strong and concentrated. Heavy oak, pine resin, fruit stems, very dark pu-erh tea. Dry alright, a bit tannic, but there’s also plenty of chocolate chips, liquorice candy, raisins and toffee to bring a little roundness. Sandalwood and leather again. Green tea. Mint and menthol. Hints of ponzu acidity. Walnuts and hazelnuts. Finish: very long, dry with toasted oak, dark dried fruits but this hint of acidity as well.

Up there with the best Karuizawas I’ve tried. It’s quite stunning how they can combine extreme complexity with such an amazing strength. I’ve seen different prices ranging from € 3500 to € 8000. Thanks my Taiwanese friend!

Score: 94/100

The Golden Cask is a single cask series bottled by Cumbrae Supply – House of Macduff (incidentally also the name of the distillery, but pure coincidence with the fact that the owners have this family name).

Until now they had a standard bottle with a fairly dull label, but apparently they’ve been given a recent makeover. They’re now sold in Compass Box-like bottles with a nice cardboard case. Of course it’s the contents that counts, but you can’t deny this is way more attractive.

We’re trying a new Macduff 1980. Note that there was another Macduff 1980 from the same bottlers in 2012 (at 50%).


Macduff 1980 - Golden Cask - CumbraeMacduff 33 yo 1980
(47,5%, Golden Cask Reserve 2014, ref. CM210, 125 btl.)

Nose: this is a kind of profile that I really like and that’s rarely found on the market these days. Beautiful bananas with beeswax and coconut. Stewed fruits, apricots and mandarin. Hints of pineapple. A nice freshness of herbs and nice spearmint. Soft oak as well. A 1970’s profile really. Mouth: starts gentle, even though the resinous oak is on the foreground. Bags of mint and liquorice. In a second wave there are lovely hints of passion fruits and apricots, too bad they don’t last very long. Dried coconut again, as well as touches of Early Gray tea. Finish: long, with grapefruit, mint tea and cinnamon.

Nice stuff, although you have to like a bit of oak in your whisky. Not very surprising given the age of course. Around € 190. Sold through representatives in different countries, e.g. Kintra handles the distribution for The Netherlands.

Score: 90/100

Lindores Whisky Fest 2014 is taking place this weekend. There are two festival bottlings, both from the Malts of Scotland stocks.

The official one is a Laphroaig 1996 matured in a brandy (!) hogshead, the other one this Ardbeg 1991 from a sherry hogshead. While the label says bottled for Geert’s Whisky Bar @ Hotel Bero it is only for sale this weekend so you can call it a second festival bottling.

Mind that there has already been a similar Ardbeg 1991 for Hotel Bero in 2011.



Ardbeg 1991 - Malts of Scotland for Hotel Bero 2014Ardbeg 23 yo 1991 (48,9%, Malts of Scotland for Hotel Bero 2014, sherry hogshead, ref. MoS 14054, 185 btl.)

Nose: the sherry is less thick than last time, if I remember correctly. This usually means higher complexity. Lots of cold ashes and coal smoke, leather, hints of flax ropes and burnt chestnuts. A box of cigars, maybe two. Also a faint medicinal note, something like eucalyptus cream. Liquorice and soft brine. Oil lamps. Dark chocolate after a while, blackberries as well. Mouth: very oily and fairly dry, again much sootier and less sherried than its predecessor. Quite a lovely, old-school style – so far away from recent official Ardbegs and so much closer to old Port Ellen or 1970’s Ardbeg. Pipe tobacco. Little fruity notes, although there is a vague sweetness of (dark) chocolate. Leather and liquorice. Finish: very long, with liquorice, deep cigar smoke and smoked ham. Just enough chocolate roundness again.

Just excellent, even better than the previous cask. Good to see this style is still possible. Only for sale at Hotel Bero – € 345 a bottle and strictly one per person. This will be gone by Monday.

Score: 92/100

Balvenie Tun 1509 is the follow-up of the distillery’s success story Balvenie Tun 1401 which was released in nine batches between 2010 and early 2014. All of them were good whiskies, some of them even outstanding.

So now there’s this new 8000-liter marriage tun #1509 which is four times bigger than its predecessor. For Balvenie this is a way of upping the scale and reaching more people. Nothing wrong with that.

However not only did the scale change, the cask distribution is also clearly different. Tun 1509 batch 1 consists of 42 casks: 35 ex-bourbon casks and 7 sherry butts (all nicely listed on the label). Taking into account the different sizes of these casks, it means around 30-35% sherry matured whisky, whereas this was around 50-70% in the Tun 1401 releases. Wait a minute: slightly younger whisky, less sherry influence, larger scale and yet a considerably higher price…



Balvenie Tun 1509 - Batch 1Balvenie ‘Tun 1509’ (47,1%, OB 2014, batch 1, 11000 btl.)

Nose: honeyed, with elegant fruity notes. Oranges, apricot jam, some yellow raisins. A little unripe mango. Soft beeswax. Underneath is a subtle resin note, citrus blossom and old oak. Something vaguely earthy. Gentle but still in line with Tun 1401. Mouth: orange peel at first, then nutmeg and a clear oaky side. Warming cedar oak and tobacco leaves. Soft pepper, ginger and clove. Just enough grapefruit to make it brighter again, but on the whole it feels a little thin and (bourbonny) oaky. Finish: long, with a subtle bitterness of rhubarb and orange peel. Still some wood spices and waxy notes.

Really good whisky again, but it doesn’t fill the footsteps of its predecessor entirely. Whereas the old Tun 1401 batches always had these round sherry elements to balance the oak, the bourbonny side of Tun 1509 simply places more focus on the wood. Around € 300.

Score: 90/100

Bere is Scotland’s oldest cultivated barley. It was brought to the UK by the Vikings over 1000 years ago, and it was quite common in whisky production before the 20th Century. However over the last few decades it was hardly available because it is notoriously difficult to grow.

In 2004 Arran distillery worked with the Agronomy Institute of Orkney College (University of the Highland & Islands) to produce this high-quality grain and distill the Arran Bere Barley. After an initial release in 2012 (5800 btl.) there’s now a new edition, 10 years old and bottled at cask strength.



Arran Bere Barley - Orkney - Cask Strength 2014The Arran ‘Orkney Bere Barley’ 10 yo 2004 Cask Strength (56,2%, OB 2014, bourbon barrels, 4890 btl.)

Nose: strong gristy notes, some bread crust and lots of hay. Digestive biscuits. Oats. Joined by fresh citrus notes (lemon juice) and hints of floral honey. A few herbal / earthy hints as well. Becomes very lightly tropical after a while, an there’s just a hint of vanilla marshmallow. Rather ‘minimal’ but the specific grainy / dusty side is quite special. Mouth: a lot of zesty notes, with really punchy spices. Lemon curd, ginger and a sweet melon note in the background. Lemon candy. A slightly floral middle, with some apple and dried coconut. Grapefruit. Very peppery towards the end, again some earthy notes and always the strong presence of malt. Finish: very long, half earthy, half zesty, with clear oak and a sharp peppery edge again.

A friend of mine loves this and ordered two cases right away. I can see why: it’s an interesting variation and a uniquely old-school dram, but other Arrans have been rounder, fruitier and just more to my liking. Around € 75. Should arrive in stores over the next few weeks.

Score: 86/100

Yes, lots of Irish single malt whiskeys lately, but this one – an Irish single malt 1991 bottled by The Nectar of the Daily Drams – is different because it says ‘peated’ on the label. Now most of the recent releases are linked to Bushmills (and to the Teeling stocks) which have a reputation for using only non-peated barley.

Does this mean it would have been produced by Cooley then (who make the peated Connemara)? Not necessarily… Bushmills did effectively make some lightly peated whiskey in the late 1980’s (as confirmed by Michael Jackson’s 1987 ‘World Guide to Whisky’) and it is said to have been discontinued at the beginning of the 1990’s. So Bushmills is certainly not off the table. In that case this would be the first peated Bushmills I’ve tried so far – and it looks like this is a rare treat.



Irish single malt 1991 (peated) - Nectar of the Daily DramsIrish single malt 23 yo 1991 (47,4%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams 2014, peated)

Nose: it certainly has the typical triple-distilled characteristics. Plenty of exotic fruits (pineapples, maracuya, banana, lime juice) and floral honey. Hints of muscat. Big vanilla. Really enticing. The peatiness is just around the edges, light as in very old Islay whisky. It brings some ashy notes and a slightly earthy dryness that’s always clearly noticeable but never disturbs the joyful fruitiness. A wonderful marriage. Mouth: sweet start, with jelly beans and tropical fruit juices (tangerine, mango, passion fruits). Fragrant orange blossom. Some minty notes that fade into a light walnut dryness, liquorice and peaty notes that are slightly more prominent than on the nose. Finish: long, still echoes of fruits but there’s a little more oak, pepper and sweet peat now.

To me this is rather Bushmills, the peatiness has nothing to do with Connemara and the tropical fruitiness is unmistakable. It doesn’t matter – I think it is a rather superb combination of flavours. One of the most talked about drams at Spirits in the Sky 2014, for good reasons. Around € 180.

Score: 92/100

Velvet Fig is the latest NAS release from Wemyss. It’s a limited edition blended malt, matured entirely in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s also the first blended malt from Wemyss to be non-chill-filtered and bottled at 46%.



Velvet Fig - WemyssVelvet Fig (46%, Wemyss Malts 2014, blended malt, 6000 btl.)

Nose: starts just slightly meaty and too caramelly maybe, but it clears up nicely, leaving a thoroughly sherried whisky. Lots of blackberries, forest fruit jam, black cherries, Christmas cake and indeed… dried figs. Sticky toffee. Spicy notes too, mainly cinnamon and clove. Mouth: very thick, sweet and spicy. Lots of caramelized apple, rum-soaked raisins and cherry liqueur. Muscovado. Dates, dried apricots and fig bread. Light pepper and nutmeg. Fruit cake. Hints of glühwein. Some woody notes and walnut skin towards the end. Finish: long, warm, with roasted chestnut and

Despite the obvious youngness of the ensemble, this is packed with first-fill sherry cask flavours. A little on the sticky sweet side for me, but a suited dram for the upcoming Christmas season. On its way to stores. Around € 45.

Score: 82/100

Cù Bòcan is Tomatin’s latest (lightly) peated expression. With the standard Tomatin Cù Bòcan comprising sherry, virgin oak and bourbon casks, this is the first of three upcoming limited editions highlighting the flavours derived from each cask type.

Tomatin Cù Bòcan Sherry Cask is fully matured in first fill sherry butts.


Tomatin Cu Bocan SherryTomatin Cù Bòcan Sherry Cask (46%, OB 2014, 6.000 btl.)

Nose: a bit confusing at first, with lots of pastry dough and dominant toffee. Moves towards sugary malty notes, surprisingly big vanilla (American oak sherry… of course), candy apple, cinnamon and lots of sweet red plums (PX sherry maybe?). Not an immense dose of peat – the same is true for the amount of sherry. Mouth: sweet and spicy, again no massive peat. Sugared cereals, brown sugar and milk chocolate. Coffee coated Café Noir biscuits. Hints of pineapple cubes. A drier chili / paprika combo as well. Finish: rather short, with the spices and roasted notes keeping strong.

Quite good, it’s a sherry + peat combination that’s totally different from what the Islay distilleries tend to offer. Lighter in a way, much more fruity as well. Very drinkable. Around € 55.

Score: 84/100



May 2015
« Apr    

  • Taco: I'm about finished with a bottle of this and am still amazed at how good it is. It's much more subtle than the popular sherry finished whiskers, but
  • Tony: I guess they are not planning on selling much to the likes of us. "Premiumisation" gone mad...
  • Johan Andersson: I'm in Campbeltown right now for the Springbank Open Day on Thursday. This review is really spot on. I really love Longrow and especially the 18 it be

Coming up

  • anCnoc 24 Year Old
  • Aberlour a'bunadh Batch #50
  • Paul John Edited
  • Ledaig 42 Years Old
  • Bowmore Gold Reef
  • Tomatin 1997 (Liquid Library)
  • Springbank Vintage 2001
  • Mortlach Rare Old

1789 notes by Ruben

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