Now that Amrut has straightened the path for Indian whisky, Paul John is quickly gaining recognition.
The company has been running since 1992, but their single malt production didn’t start until 2008. Distilled in Goa in copper pot stills, two single cask releases were introduced in 2012. They’re now followed by two regular expressions: Paul John Brilliance (unpeated) and Paul John Edited (a combination of peated and unpeated spirit). Brilliance is matured in ex-bourbon casks for about 3 to 5 years.
We already know Indian barley (Himalayan 6-row grain) and their extreme climate can produce an attractive “high-pressure-cooked” whisky that is certainly different from classic Scotch.
Paul John Brilliance (46%, OB 2013)
Nose: a peculiar nose, not as warm and sweet as expected. It starts almost entirely on apple jenever and freshly cut green apples. Some malty notes. Burnt grass and sawdust. Also a weird hint of buttermilk, as well as a refreshing minty / floral aroma. Mouth: fairly simple. The same overload of apple flavours, but again a slightly mineral / sour profile rather than the expected tropical sweetness. Sawdust, cinnamon and ginger. A little coconut. A couple of disturbingly raw, woody notes towards the end. Finish: not too long, focusing on new oak with hints of grass and vanilla.
I had been looking forward to trying Paul John for over a year. Maybe my expectations were too high. It has some great elements, but it’s not entirely convincing (yet?). Around € 45.
Travellers Liquors is a distillery in Belmopan, Belize. They have a whole range of rums, brandies, vodka, gin… I must admit I had never heard of them, but apparently they have 60 years of experience as importers / blenders and 25 years as distillers.
Travellers produces double-distilled rum in column stills, which is aged in charred casks. Their best known brands are One Barrel, Five Barrel and Don Omario. This one is a single barrel filled in 2005.
Travellers 8 yo 2005 (49,5%, The Whisky Agency 2013, single barrel rum, 282 btl.)
Nose: clean and aromatic, with a surprisingly dry profile (considering rums in that area can be very sweet). In fact its woody profile reminds me of some bourbon whiskeys. Vanilla and caramel. Sweet berries and peaches. Some latte notes. Roasted chestnuts. Mouth: again not too sweet. Nutty and spicy, with cinnamon, nutmeg and just a hint of roasted coconut. Hazelnut. Showing some bitter oranges towards the end. Finish: medium long, still rather dry and oaky. Leathery notes and tobacco leaves, with some tannins and alcohol heat.
It’s surprising to see such a dry rum with decent complexity from a seemingly commercial distillery. It’s not the best rum I’ve had, but it’s definitely worth a try and I can imagine it appeals to bourbon drinkers as well. Around € 55.
The General is an uncommon blend. In fact it’s a ‘blend of two blends’. It consists of casks from two parcels, of unknown provenance but both containing malt and grain whisky, blended at a very young age and then matured together for many years. One parcel was 33 years old (ex-sherry butts), the other supposedly around 40 years old (ex-bourbon barrels).
These super-mature blends were recently offered to Compass Box and John Glaser worked to find the right balance of both. The General has a very high price tag for a blend, but remember it’s an old, ‘small batch’ blend and the story is just as awesome as the packaging.
(53,4%, Compass Box 2013, 1698 btl.)
Nose: a rich, old nose with plenty of finesse. Reminiscent of a 1970’s Glenfarclas. Lots of polished furniture, dried figs and toffee. Medium sherried. Sultanas and red fruits. Some mint and cinnamon. A faint whiff of toasted oak in the background. Fruit cake. Hints of coconut. Complex and elegant. Mouth: some sweet fruits, oranges and a gingery kick at first. Soft floral notes. A little varnish. Aniseed. From the nose you would never have guessed this was a blend, but now the grains are louder. Soft pepper and nutmeg. Fades on lemons and eucalyptus. Finish: medium long, very minty with a slightly peppery heat and zingy oak.
There’s something aristocratic about this blend. It has a lot of personality and almost manages to make you forget it’s not a single malt. Around € 230.
It’s been a while, but you might remember my report of a legendary birthday party in Ostend. This is one of the morning-after drams. There were too many beauties for one evening, so we had a couple of “leftovers” the next day right after breakfast. Some party…
It’s a Clynelish 1974 bottled by Signatory Vintage.
Nose: starts waxy and mineral, a little closed even, but then moves to bags of guava. Some oranges and apples as well. Dried yellow flowers, hints of charcoal and a bit of library dust. Faint peaty notes and leather in the background. Quite great. Mouth: perfect balance of peat and fruits again. Lots of waxy and fatty notes, some frankly salty notes and hints of mustard. Fresh herbal notes. Holding the middle between Clynelish and Brora, but the fruity hints that keep coming back are fantastic. Finish: long, slightly resinous, with lingering fruits, salted liquorice and hints of pepper.
Another great 1970’s Clynelish. Waxy, peaty and slightly farmy, but showing a big fruitiness as well. Just great. Rarely seen in auctions.
Auchentoshan has a small series of 1970’s expressions. There has been a 1975 bourbon, a 1977 sherry and now this 1979 from oloroso sherry butts. The casks have been filled in October 1979 and bottled after more than 32 years, at natural strength.
Auchentoshan 32 yo 1979 (50,5%, OB 2012, first fill Oloroso butts, 1000 btl.)
Nose: very aromatic. It’s nice to see a classic sherry influence alongside the fresh, citrusy spirit. Lovely tangerines, pink grapefruits and passion fruits. Orange zest. Moving towards golden raisins and bramble jam. Beeswax and leather. Cinnamon sticks and mint. Great stuff, hinting towards the fruity profile of BenRiach 1976. Mouth: a little light but very elegant. Again a lovely bright fruitiness, the sherry goodness is certainly not overpowering the delicate spirit. Honey, orange marmalade and pink grapefruit, before turning to cigar leaf, dried figs and chocolate. Fruit cake. Then quite some tannins, nutmeg and liquorice, a little on the dry side. Finish: long, again fairly dry, with mostly liquorice, spices and tobacco standing out.
A delicious Auchentoshan. I love its subtlety and bright character combined with the juicy sherry. I would have gone higher if only the oakiness on the palate were a little less pronounced. Expensive though: € 400.
Laphroaig 15 yo 1998
(52,7%, The Whisky Agency ‘Reflections’ 2013, refill hogshead, 261 btl.)
Nose: clean and sharpish Laphroaig. Very coastal (seaweed, wet beach, some smoked fish). Hints of antiseptics. Some camphor. Wet wool and hints of canvas. Little fruitiness or roundness, apart from some lemon in the background. Ferns. Mouth: oily, chiselled and focused again, though sweeter and definitely rounder than on the nose. Marzipan and more fruits. Salted almonds. Liquorice. Kippers. Again quite medicinal. Finish: very long, peaty, grapefruity and salty.
A Laphroaig of the slightly sharper type. Just really faultless. Not that we’re surprised, mind you. Around € 110, still available in most shops.
Cadenhead has a nice revival with its retro Small Batch series. They’ve got stock from 102 different distilleries, ranging from 2 to nearly 50 years old. It’s no surprise they have plenty of things in the pipeline, a 40 years old Glenfiddich for example…
Mortlach 21 yo 1992 (55,2%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2013, sherry cask, 228 btl.)
Nose: the fruity kind of sherried Mortlach. Pears, raisins, fresh figs. Candied red apples. Caramelized peanuts and almonds. There’s a spicy tingle as well as a balsamic edge. Milk chocolate in the background. Leather. Hardly any meaty notes, no dirtiness either. Mouth: now the slightly heavy character of Mortlach moves forward, although the fruity sherry is still there to support it. Raspberries, Mon Cheri, a little cassis jam. Cinnamon. Chocolate and leathery notes again. Kirsch. Liquorice and more woody dryness towards the finish. A faint hint of eucalyptus. I like it even more with a drop of water. Finish: dry, with orange zest, cough syrup and chocolate.
Very good, actually one of the best Mortlach expressions I’ve come across lately. Around € 80, but it seems to be sold out.
The regular Sheep Dip is a vatted malt, a marriage of 16 malt whiskies brought together by Richard Paterson. The name refers to a time when farmers hid their homemade whisky in casks that said “Sheep Dip” (a kind of fungicide for sheep) to avoid having to pay taxes to the revenue man.
This Sheep Dip 1999 Amoroso is a funny experiment. The whisky inside had been matured in Scotland for 3 years in ex-bourbon hogsheads, and was then shipped to Jerez, Spain – the capital of the Sherry triangle. The renowned Bodegas Romate poured it into Amoroso sherry butts (a sweetened type of Oloroso). Originally it was only supposed to stay there for two years, but something went wrong, the cask was forgotten about and the whisky stayed there for an extra 9 years.
It’s not Scotch whisky anymore, as SWA rules dictate Scotch whisky needs to spend its whole maturation period in Scotland. Needless to say Andalusia’s climate is slightly different from Scotland, which makes this experiment quite interesting.
Sheep Dip 1999 (41,8%, OB 2012, Amoroso Oloroso, matured in Spain)
Nose: utterly sweet, like a freshly opened bag of strawberry marshmallows. Amarena cherries. Plenty of vanilla as well as some honey. Limoncello. A buttery hint of white chocolate. Bramble preserve. Very candied. Mouth: very sweet again, with lots of marshmallow notes, big big vanilla and something of bubblegum. Pears in syrup. Raspberry candy. Toffee sweetness. Soaked raisins and sweet rhubarb compote. Liqueur bonbons. And pretty much everything that you can find in a candy store. Finish: the same overwhelming sweetness, although there’s a growing spicy warmth in the background.
This is almost like a fruit liqueur or a marshmallow infusion. A children’s dram? No seriously, it’s really not too bad as a post-dinner drink, even though it’s unlike any other whisky. It’s great to convince inexperienced whisky drinkers, especially women, but you shouldn’t approach it like a traditional single malt whisky. Around € 45.