Single cask Ardbegs are hugely popular, even though they are usually priced quite high. But old Ardbeg can be stunning so let’s investigate this 31 years old Ardbeg 1975 cask #1378, matured in a sherry butt and bottled at cask strength on the 8th of November 2006.
Ardbeg 31yo 1975
(53,7%, OB 2006, cask #1378, 453 btl)
Nose: great ‘old style’ Ardbeg with much less peat than we’re used to today. Big notes of camphor. A certain mellow sweetness from the sherry butt, with hints of cocoa and wonderful fruits (mainly berries and papaya). Some cinnamon and ashes. Slightly coastal as well, with hints of boat rope and wet sand. Great integration overall and very complex. Mouth: sweet start, perfect strength. Very chocolaty. More peat now than on the nose. Quite some oak too. Hints of salted nuts and raisins. Elegant and balanced. Getting drier and quite tannic towards the end. Finish: dry and very long, smokey, nutty and oaky. Waves of sherry and cocoa in the background.
If you want to try this one, you’ll have to pay over € 600. Too much for my wallet, but surely an Ardbeg masterpiece, complex with superb balance.
Exactly one year ago, the first whisky review was posted on this website, the Balvenie 30 Years Old. Since then, almost 200 other drams were published and more than 40 news item were covered. Let’s celebrate with a week of 90+ drams!
No need to introduce Karuizawa after the recent Malt Maniacs Awards. There were two of them and both obtained a medal. A few weeks ago, our Belgian bottler Daily Dram released its own Wait La Mazurka, a 31 year-old Karuizawa 1977 vintage. I was told this cask was selected in an impromptu tasting session in the back seat of a London cab…
Karuizawa ‘Wait La Mazurka’ 31 yo 1977
(62,7%, Daily Dram 2009, cask 6994, 200 btl)
Nose: sherry in overdrive. Starting on matchsticks (don’t worry, no sulphur involved) and barbecued meat, quickly overpowered by lots of dried fruits (figs, apricots) and coated with honey. Very beautiful. Reminds me of my grandmother’s red mirabelles on syrup. Some cinnamon and dark chocolate. Hints of pipe tobacco and delicate whiffs of roasted nuts. Delicious. Slightly mentholated. Hints of dill. Old leather! There’s a dusty side to it, but that’s just great, it adds to the complexity. The sherry is all over the place, but it’s absolutely high-class. Damn good! Mouth: quite strong without water of course. Very rich and fruity. Big notes of coffee and cherries. With water: roasted nuts, wonderful chocolate. Dry walnuts, plum jam again. Delicate hints of mint. Finish: long, slightly drying, on smoked almonds and still that beautiful sherried chocolate.
This Wait La Mazurka is one of the best Daily Dram bottlings ever and it confirms the qualities of Karuizawa (my favourite Japanese distillery). An instant collectors item. A nose to die for and a great palate. It deserves its place in the wonderful 1967 / 1971 / 1972 line-up.
One small remark: Karuizawa is usually too hot to be had neat, even at 30 years old it anaesthetises your tongue. I think that’s a downside, because you need to find the balance with water yourself which is difficult sometimes and changes the experience. I prefer cask strength bottlings under 60% that are perfect as they are, but hey, now we’re really nitpicking!
Another one I discovered at the recent Whisky Festival in Madrid. I had a chat with Willie Tait from Jura distillery and he offered me a dram of the latest “profoundly peated” Isle of Jura Prophecy. It’s a limited release of around 10.000 bottles with new batches expected every year.
It’s a mixture of casks with different peat levels and peat styles, finished off by a 1989 oloroso sherry butt from Gonzalez Byass. It’s non-chill-filtered but coloured with caramel, I’m afraid.
Isle of Jura Prophecy (46%, OB 2009)
Nose: good integration of the sherry and the peat. There’s smoke (burnt leaves) but it’s not as profoundly peated as I would have expected. Slightly tarry and even some medicinal notes. Everything’s rounded off by dried fruits, chocolate, hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges. A bit uncommon as a whole maybe, but very enjoyable. Mouth: much more peat now. Starting slightly sweet with fruity notes but soon getting (a lot) drier and spicier (pepper, cinnamon). A good deal of smoke. Overall punchy and clean. Finish: dry smoke coated with liquorice and spices. Medium length.
This new Jura Prophecy is a nice dram and although it’s typically Jura, it presents a new profile at the same time. Around € 55.
Woodford Reserve is a small batch bourbon from one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky. It’s made in old-fashioned copper pot stills and matured in 100 year-old warehouses made from stone instead of the usual wood. This means temperature changes will occur less sudden as the stone buffers the heat and cold. Woodford Reserve is at least 6 years old.
(43,2%, OB 2009, batch 54)
Nose: tons of vanilla with beautiful undertones of cedar wood, varnish and peppermint. Almonds. Crême brûlée. Some pear and floral notes. There’s even a hint of charcoal. It’s very rich and certainly has an individual character, different from other bourbons. Mouth: immediately woody (maybe a tad too much, slightly tannic) and spicy. Mint again. Burnt caramel and maple syrup. Something metallic as well (like licking a battery). A little tobacco towards the finish. Finish: sweet and spicy. Echoes of vanilla. Medium length.
A very attractive and rather complex nose, but on the palate it doesn’t live up to the expectations. The wood kicks in a bit too hard. Well priced: around € 35.
At the Whisky Festival in Madrid last week, it turned out the Sherry Oak bottlings of The Macallan are not available in Spain. I even felt sorry for the representative who had never tried a sherried Macallan! Yes, but the Macallan Fine Oak 30 Years Old is partly matured in sherry casks, he replied. True, but still… next time I’ll make sure I get him a sample.
The Macallan Fine Oak 30 Years old
(43%, OB 2009)
Nose: very very smooth. Quite aromatic, but a lot maltier and granier than I expected. Oranges. Honeyed and slightly exotic, with a very soft sherry influence. Mouth: again very round, silky and malty. Some apples, peaches, vanilla, and quite some oak as well. Sweet honey. Getting sweeter (caramel) over time. Finish: medium-length on sweet toffee.
The oldest Macallan (in the core range) is really elegant but it lacks a bit of punch. I would have liked a bit more sherry influence as well. At around € 400 maybe not the best price vs. quality.
30 Nov: As you probably know, we can expect the results of this year’s Malt Maniacs Awards any moment now.
There are 7 gold, 64 silver and almost a hundred bronze medals. The gold medals are 3 Japanese whiskies (well well), 3 old Speysiders and one old Islay malt. We’ll discuss it further as soon as we get the votes from the jury!
1 Dec update: indeed, the Karuizawa 1972 did receive the Non-Plus-Ultra Award with the BenRiach 1976 cask 3558 getting the Best Natural Cask Award. Too bad I forgot to place my bets with the bookmakers… The overall winner is the Glen Grant 36yo 1972 (Duncan Taylor for TWF) which received 91/100 and overtook many malts that are a lot more expensive.
Six out of seven Gold medals are won by (heavy) sherry bottlings
Few remarkable scores for peated whisky (except for the awards in strictly peated categories of course – is this separate treatment still relevant by the way? Why is sherry not placed in specific categories?). Also, it should be noted that the best Islay releases are from independent bottlers
Japanese distilleries (Karuizawa, Yoichi, Hakushu) and other countries (India’s Amrut and even France’s Glan Ar Mor) are responsable for a lot of high scores
La Maison du Whisky is doing a great job selecting casks (3 Gold medals, 6 Silver and 3 Bronze)
The second cask of Port Ellen 1982/2009 by Old Bothwell. It’s funny how Old Bothwell labels often say “cask type: oak”. What a surprise!
Port Ellen 26 yo 1982 (55,7%, Old Bothwell 2009, cask #2473)
Nose: a bit dirty I’m afraid. Maybe not real sulphur but something like plastics and cooked cabbage. Cask #2545 didn’t have this at all, but overall it’s not too bad. It goes out of focus after a few minutes. Now there’s liquorice and gunpowder (great), quite some leather too. More smoke than cask #2545, more wood as well. Beefy notes, some tobacco and nice forest fruits. Mouth: sweeter than the other cask, with a sort of honey coating around the peaty center. Just as peppery though (not unlike a punchy Talisker). Much more on dried fruits and sherry. Getting more salty in the end with hints of grapefruit, but the bitterness is much better under control here. Finish: very long, the saltiness disappears slowly and the fruitiness takes over.
I guess the oak type can be identified as a refill sherry cask. Don’t mind the dirty notes, as long as you don’t compare it directly to other whisky, you’ll easily get over it. Or maybe you simply like that particular profile. The good side of the sherry coin is the fruitiness and the lack of bitter notes. Around € 150.
ps/ No need to tell you this, but preferences and opinions may differ of course. Both releases were a huge hit at the Spirits in the Sky festival and practically the whole stock has been sold. It seems a lot of people liked them even more than I did. Check The Bonding Dram if you want one of the last bottles.