I have to admit I didn’t have William Grant’s blended whisky before. Their ambassador Ludo Ducrocq was kind enough to let me try the whole range but I didn’t go for the basic expressions right away – let’s start at a decent level with the Grant’s 18 Year Old. It used to be nicknamed ‘Classic Reserve’.
As a reminder, William Grant & Sons is a top-5 producer of Scotch whisky. They own Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie and Alisa Bay malt distilleries and the grain distillery Girvan. They also produce Hendrick’s Gin among other drinks.
After a separate maturation, the malt and grain whiskies for this 18 Year Old are brought together and finished in Port casks.
Grant’s 18 yo (40%, OB +/- 2013)
Nose: a rich nose, very honeyed, with figs and red berries. Raisins. Orange zest and fresh lemon. A nice Port influence, a little on the winey side but it works well here, with some intriguing grape notes. Toasted almonds and soft earthy notes as well. Mouth: again a dried fruits / sherried kind of dram, with caramelized pear and citrus zest before a light bittersweetness sets in. Nice hints of smoke and toasted nuts. Raisins and heather honey. Vanilla and warm spices. Finish: decent length, quite elegant, with oaky notes, chocolate sweetness and pepper.
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Some would say the Port influence makes it winey, but on the other hand I prefer this to the grainy harshness of other blends. It’s thick, honeyed, and well composed. It doesn’t seem to be widely available, but worth a try. Around € 65.
Kintra has three new bottlings: a 6 years old Aultmore, a 15 years old Auchentoshan and this Inchgower 1990. Nice to see they’re going against the flow: these expressions don’t seem to be very popular among bottlers these days.
Nose: starts creamy with hints of almond milk. Or coconut water? Moves towards nougat and soft vanilla. Then green tea with citrus. Overall quite subdued, you need to work in order to get the flavours out. Mouth: creamy and very sweet, as if someone added powder sugar. Other than that, a bit silent again. Malty flavours, sweet lemon and pear. Some vanilla. Goes on with marzipan and a kind of vague fruitiness. In the end a bitter edge from the oak sets in. Finish: medium long, sweet like lemonade, with pepper and other spices from the oak.
A mixed bag. The hints of tropical sweetness are charming, but it lacks focus and depth. The nose was the best part. Kudos to Kintra for presenting something different. Around € 105.
Nose: young, fairly malty, with sweet berries and apple. Lemon candy. Creamy notes too, soft white chocolate and almond paste. Nice enough. Mouth: very sweet, with yellow apple and lemon candy again. Modern vanilla notes. Yellow raisins. A peppery note in the background. Finish: medium long, citrusy but still very sweet.
A young, sweet Braeval. I feared it would be too neutral and generically modern, but the creaminess is quite pleasant. Slightly harder to find, or so it seems. Around € 55.
Nose: rather great, typical Littlemill, with the classic fruity notes that we expected. Lime, sweet oranges, mango and lots of tangelo. Quite some banana and vanilla as well, nice. Hints of pink marshmallows. Subtle hints of grass and gravel. Mouth: still quite fruity, although there’s a much bigger minerality and grassiness this time. More classic Lowlands style if you like. Citrus zest, a bittersweet variation on the fruits. Grapefruit juice. Leafy notes and hints of liquorice root. Ginger as well. Finish: medium long, clean, zesty with a bitter edge.
Good stuff, although the juicy fruits are countered by a ‘green’ bitterness on the palate, which makes it a lot sharper than some other expressions. Similar to the Littlemill 1988 Liquid Sun in that respect. Around € 140.
A Speyside single malt produced at a mystery distillery (there’s reason to believe it is Glenfarclas) and matured in a Port cask. In fact it is a marriage of two casks, filled in December 1967 and bottled March 1993. Sister cask #8923 was bottled the year after.
Undisclosed Speyside 1967 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail 1993, port cask #8921 – 8922)
Nose: pretty aromatic being 40%, slightly vinous but in a nice way. Starts on toffee apples and a lot of red plums. Redcurrant jam, over time also very nice strawberries. Hints of oranges. Mild oak, some dried flowers. Soft raspberry vinegar. Just a hint of herbs. Mouth: sweet start, quite creamy, with blackcurrant and strawberries again, soft honey and hints of kirsch. Plums and raisins. Gradually more oak and drier, herbal notes. Liquorice. Also slight rummy notes in the very end. Finish: long, still a bit rummy, with a growing leathery dryness.
This could have been a sherry cask, which is a good thing. Maybe the strawberries and the rummy notes give away the Port cask? In any case it’s impressively vivid. Nice stuff that will be easily overlooked as it lacks a distillery name.
Nose: could this one be slightly more aromatic than the Bowmore 2003 selected by Whisky-Fässle? Slightly bigger lemon notes, including the nice aroma of lemon balm (I mean the herb, not the waxy stuff). Same mineral notes, wet stones, chalk and olives. Very very difficult to set them apart after a while. Mouth: same perfect mixture of brine, lemons, peat and sweetness. Punchy but nicely drinkable. Maritime notes. Sour fruits. Hay and pepper. Finish: long, tequila-ish, or mescal given the smoke. No worm though.
So, let’s repeat that recent production at Bowmore was good, clean and enjoyable. Not too difficult either. Around € 80. Sold out.
Balblair 2003 is a recent release, launched at the end of 2013 together with the 1990 (2nd release) and 1983 (1st release) vintages. It was composed from 18 bourbon casks.
Balblair 2003 (46%, OB 2013, first release)
Nose: really young and a tad undescriptive. The usual pear drops and apples, mixed with a bit of vanilla. Soft lemon. Meadow flowers, say buttercups. Hints of orange blossom. Very light honey. Mouth: smooth, decent body, still largely characterized by the barley. A young profile again. Slightly less sweet than expected, with more grassy notes, pepper and heathery notes. Muesli. Oranges and zingy lemons. Finish: not too long, fading on the same elements. Sparkles of ginger.
Too young for me, too naked. Even the new-make notes aren’t completely gone. I think the early young vintages (Balblair 2000) were a bit better. Around € 40.
Bowmore 10 yo 2003 (50,2%, Whisky-Fässle 2013, bourbon hogshead)
Nose: chiselled, modern Bowmore which means moderate but ultra-clean peat, seaweed and lots of briney notes. Quite some nice leafy notes, wet ferns and damp cellars. Some wet chalk and olives. But also fresh citrus and traces of sweetness and pepper in the background. Impeccable spirit. Mouth: briny, lemony. Perfect strength, with lots of punch but also a nice silkiness. More peat than on the nose, though still no peat blast. Again a chalky note and crystallized lemons. Ginger and a zesty bitter touch. Sandy beaches. A little pepper. Finish: smoky and zesty, with some sweet herbs showing up.
Recent production at Bowmore was of high standards. At just 10 years old, the result is fairly simple (much more so than 1990’s production) but very difficult not to like. Around € 80.