Probably Islay’s least appreciated distillery? An outsider anyway, with less of the typical Islay characteristics. You can still detect the sea though.
Bunnahabhain 12y (40%, OB +/- 2008)
Fresh nose. Honey and ginger. Fruity with hints of dry sherry. Really mild, the smoke is only noticeable in the distance and peat is virtually absent. Mouth: mellow and really sweet. Just a tad smokey. Weak attack (it seems over-diluted) but it gets more powerful after a few seconds. More smoke and coffee in the aftertaste. A tiny bit of peat as well (or was that just imagination?).
Not bad actually. Nothing special either. Around € 30.
There are two Nikka malt whisky distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Yoichi produces rich, peaty and masculine malt. It is located on the Hokkaido island (Japan), with influence from the sea and cold climate, just like in Scotland. The whisky gets its aroma and body from direct heating distillation, in which the stills are heated with finely powdered natural coal (the traditional method that is hardly ever used today, even in Scotland – Springbank still uses it).
The Yoichi 10yo exists in different batches that share the same flavour profile, but there can be significant differences as well.
Nikka Yoichi 10y (45%, OB, batch 08G34B)
Fresh nose on apple, apricot and pineapple candy. Orange peel. Spicy notes as well (clove, ginger). It’s immediately fruity and attractive but it shows more depth after a while. Faint notes of new leather and subtle peat. Doesn’t tolerate a lot of added water. Mouth: some vanilla. The oakiness grows stronger and the peat influence is more powerful than on the nose. Lots of sweet and roasted notes, but there’s also a salty, peaty edge towards the finish. Long aftertaste.
This Yoichi is a well made, all-round single malt, with no rough edges whatsoever (you can think of that as a positive as well as a negative remark). It contains lots of common flavours found in different types of whisky, and combines them in a balanced way. Around € 60.
Well, after the Bowmore 1983 25yo (DL OMC) that seemed to be sponsored by Sunlight soap, let’s prove Bowmore made wonderful stuff as well. It’s always a previlege to taste really old whiskies. Especially a Bowmore from the Sixties, because it’s made in the “old style”. That is before they’ve changed their profile to the smoky, salty and slightly perfumed profile that we know today.
Bowmore 32y 1968 ‘Anniversary edition’ (45,5%, OB 2001, 1860 btl.)
Nose: very aromatic and an avalanche of fruits. You name it, it’s there. At first: delicious cavaillon (orange melon) and tangerine, but these notes fade rather quickly. Then grapefruit and apple. Excellent vanilla pudding. Back to the tropical fruit. More candy-like now: mango and passion fruit sweets. Pineapple too, again with a hint of vanilla and a bit of mint. This is like an exquisite ice cream with fresh tropical fruits. Strangely enough, hardly any Islay notes. Well, there’s something slightly maritime and smokey, but it’s hard to notice and gone before you know it. Absolutely wonderful.
Mouth: very big with the same fruits: passion fruit, grapefruit and tangerine. Some pear and lemon. A bit of peat now and more noticeable smoke, but still far from the current Islay style. A faint hint of coffee. Good balance between sweet and bitter fruit notes. Slightly peppered as well, but overall refined. Finish: beautiful. The tangerine and passion fruit fade slowly. In the end only the bitter grapefruit notes remain.
Wow, incredible whisky and the best fruit juice I’ve ever had! The most expensive fruit juice as well: the value of this bottle is around € 500. Not for Islay fans though, because it doesn’t have the Bowmore profile we are used to from recent bottlings.
Bowmore made some good stuff and some bad stuff. The youngest bottlings seem to have improved, but it’s safe to say Bowmores from the eighties are risky. There are more bad ones than good ones from that era. How about this Douglas Laing bottling?
Nose: relatively sweet, lemony. Oranges. Peaty for a Bowmore, with maritime notes. Ouch, after that it starts to become perfumy as well (lavender). Mouth: Sunlight soap. Violet candy, strawberry and strong peat. Slighty peppered. Finish: eau de cologne and grapefruit, getting quite dry. More perfume in the aftertaste.
Last year at the festivals of Liège and Gent, Douglas Laing brought us a few stunning malts, such as the OMC Banff 36y 1971. This year, their range was a bit of a disappointment. This Bowmore is a perfect example. So not worth € 150 in my opninion. I’m sure they have better stuff lying around.
Adelphi has a good reputation as an independent bottler. Their Inchgower 26y 1980 won a gold medal at the 2008 Malt Maniacs Awards, and their undisclosed ‘Breath of Islay’ and ‘Breath of the Isles’ bottlings are also highly regarded.
Now they’re launching another undisclosed whisky named Fascadale (meaning “ship’s haven”). It’s a limited release of 3797 bottles. Charles McLean’s tasting notes sound very interesting:
Tobacco pouch, Highland Toffee, smoked bacon, distant peat fires and salty rock pools with a rich creamy texture and a bracing kick of chilli pepper to finish.
Attention, spoiler coming up: it’s a Talisker. They’ve married five 1993 and five 1998 casks, reduced to 46% which is marginally higher than a standard Talisker 10. It will be priced around € 45 which seems good value.
The Balvenie (emphasis on ‘ve’, not on ‘bal’) is part of the William Grant group which also owns Glenfiddich and the new Kininvie distillery.
Normally the 10y Founder’s Reserve is bottled at 40% but in France (and apparently also in Belgian tax free shops, where I bought my bottle) there is a 43% edition.
The Balvenie 10y Founder’s Reserve
(43%, OB 2006)
Nose: peach, orange, some pineapple. Really fruity. Sweet honey. After a while: burnt caramel with a very light hint of peat smoke. Mouth: medium-bodied and sweet. Honey again, with vanilla. Not really punchy, so I wonder what the 40% would be like… Finish: enough punch after all. Very warming, perfect sweetness. Demarara sugar. Smooth aftertaste with wonderful complexity.
This one has a great finish. The mouth-feel is a bit weak though, even at the higher strength. Still one of the best standard 10-year-olds you can buy. Or better: you could buy… it’s a shame that they’ve decided to discontinue it a few months ago.
Bottling different batches under the same name is something we’re seeing a lot in recent years. These limited run batches are chosen to share the same flavour profile while at the same time allowing (sometimes significant) variations. The Aberlour a’bunadh is one of the famous whiskies following this strategy. A’bunadh was first released in 1997 and is matured in oloroso sherry casks.
Nowadays, batch n°25 is being sold, but I’m reviewing batch n°19 which is highly regarded and generally gets some of the highest scores of the series. There’s no age statement.
(59,9%, OB 2007, batch n°19)
Nose: big sherry, which is surprisingly integrated with the malty flavours. Raisins in rum, dry figs. Spicy chocolate. A bit of furniture polish as well. Mouth: this is what they call a ‘sherry bomb’: strong of course, but still drinkable without dilution. The same oloroso influence: raisins, cherries, a bit of balsamico. Coffee and toffee flavours. Gets more herbal if you add a bit of water. Finish: long. Warm and spicy (ginger), with a bit of cocoa and a distant touch of smoke.
Very good if you like big sherried malts. I do. If I compare this to my other sherry love, the Glenfarclas 105, then this shows less chocolate and more barley. I’m not sure which one I prefer, but I think this one is a bit more complex.
Last year, I met Susan Webster at a Dewar Rattray tasting in TastToe. As you may know, her father is working at the Glenrothes distillery. I have a decent Glenrothes collection, and she told me the 1979 vintage was one of her favourites. It was also one of the favourites of John Sutherland, the distillery manager until 2007.
The 1979 is special in the history of The Glenrothes because it was their first vintage ever to be launched, back in 1994. It was also by coincidence the centenary year of the first spirit distilled there.
It’s also special because in 1979, Glenrothes converted the old malt barn into a new, computerized still house and added a new pair of stills. In a way, it’s true that the vintages of 1979 and earlier are more hand-crafted. Around 50.000 bottles were made of the first batch (there were new releases of the 1979 in 2002, 2004 and 2005).
Glenrothes 14 yo 1979
(43%, OB 1994)
Nose: the label is right: this one is delicately peated which makes it a rather unique Glenrothes (in the 70’s, they still used some peat smoke to dry the malted barley). Really pleasant and complex. Fruity as well: cooked apples, moscatel, citrus, light honey. Some spicy notes (cinnamon, cloves). Marzipan. Mouth: very rich. Sweet and fruity (oranges). Honey. Some toasted flavours as well, and the smoke is still present. Finish: gets a bit drier but soon the candy takes over again. Roasted nuts. Fades away on vanilla, chocolate and smoked wood.
A real gem and a multi-layered Speysider. In fact, it’s a shame that they’ve lost this delicate, smokey profile in later years. The smoke makes it powerful and adds to the complexity of the dram.