Single malt whisky - tasting notes

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

The new releases from The Whisky Agency and the Liquid Sun series were also present at Spirits in the Sky. While the Liquid Sun labels have an astronomy / astrology theme, the TWA labels seem to depict scenes from early hot air balloons and other airships (update: it’s called Early Flying). We’ll start with this Glen Garioch 1989.

Also new from The Whisky Agency: Littlemill 1991, Linkwood 1980 and a fourth one that I don’t remember (update: Bunnahabhain 1980). The Liquid Sun series includes Littlemill 1988, Glen Spey 1988, Tobermory 1994 and Longmorn 1992.



Glen Garioch 1989 - The Whisky AgencyGlen Garioch 25 yo 1989 (50,3%, The Whisky Agency ‘Early flying’ 2014, refill hogshead, 246 btl.)

Nose: similar to the Glen Garioch 1989 in the Perfect Dram series, which is good news. A ripe fruitiness (stewed apples and melons), with a chalky, mineral side and something in between mint and pine trees. Some waxy notes. Surprisingly sweet and austere at the same time, with traces of Clynelish indeed. Mouth: more austerity now. Chalk, lots of (half burnt) grassy notes and grapefruits. One or two aspiring tablets. Ginger. More medicinal notes and a faint hint of smoke. Pretty raw but a style that’s rarely seen any more. Finish: medium long, grassy, with lemon zest and mineral notes.

Very much in line with the Perfect Dram bottling. Seductive on the nose, rather austere on the palate. Really interesting whisky. It should arrive in stores later this month. Around € 140.

Score: 88/100

Glenfiddich Excellence is a new 26 years old expression aged exclusively in ex-bourbon American oak casks sourced from the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky (which happens to be owned by a Scottish family). Actually it’s the first whisky in the core range of Glenfiddich to be entirely matured in bourbon casks.




Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Year OldGlenfiddich 26 yo ‘Excellence’
(43%, OB 2014)

Nose: delicate but very fruity and uplifting. It’s got some nice apricot and white nectarine aromas, pineapple, as well as some floral honey. Lovely bergamot, a little jasmine tea. Orange blossom. Vanilla biscuits. Soft mint and spices. A subtle leathery hint as well. Pretty great. Mouth: very gentle but not weak, quite creamy but definitely more spiced now (pepper, ginger) before coming back to the fruity notes. Pineapple and lemon sherbet. Some grassy notes, liquorice and toasted oak. Finish: not too long. You can still get the fruits and pepper but they’re fading quickly.


This Glenfiddich 26 Year Old is all about elegance. Especially the nose is great – on the palate it fails to deliver the same level of tropical fruitiness and it would have benefited from a bit of extra strength. It’s priced for prestige markets but you can’t deny it’s well-made. Around € 450.

Score: 90/100

Springbank whiskySpringbank has a few interesting things coming up, some of which were available to try at the latest Sprits in the Sky festival, still the best whisky festival we have in Belgium.

Springbank Green 12 Years Old



There’s Springbank Green 12 Years, an organic whisky although not entirely. It’s made from organic barley but the distillery doesn’t have the necessary certificates to release the whisky as entirely organic. So it’s called ‘green’ instead. It’s fully bourbon-matured and I thought it was quite good.

I’ve heard some rumours about a new, more heavily sherried Springbank 17 Year Old due in January, Springbank 18 Years Single Cask - The Nectarbut I couldn’t find that one at the festival.

There’s also a Springbank 18 Years Single Cask bottled for The Nectar in Belgium (58,7%). An exquisite version of this already really good dram, very fruity, with lots of oily notes and seemingly more smoky notes than expected.



Today we’ll review the new top expression for the core range: Springbank 25 Year Old. A few casks from the first batch of the new Springbank 21 Years have been kept back (four casks to be correct, a mix of bourbon and sherry casks) and finished in Port casks for a couple of months to form this 25yo. I can’t stop wondering why they would put such an old whisky in Port casks…

They can keep it available each year but batches will be very small (this year 1200 bottles, next year not even 1000 bottles). It follows the strange glossy style of the 21yo label, but with a silver background and red accents.



Springbank 25 Year Old (2014)Springbank 25 Years
(46%, OB 2014, 1200 btl.)

Nose: quite fruity (baked apples, oranges, lots of berries) with some waxy notes and a subtle dose of sherry and Port (going towards plums, strawberries and fragrant raspberries). Touches of paraffin, damp cellar and whiffs of brine. All quite subtle and slightly modern / winey. Not bad at all but not a match for old bottlings either. Mouth: a fair deal of wine again, but not exactly powerful and slightly vinous. Raspberries are back, some cassis, plums and candied oranges. Gingery notes, cinnamon and liquorice. Leathery and earthy notes too. Finish: medium long, on crystallized fruits, with oak and brine.

This new Springbank 25 is not bad at all, but it feels strange and a bit restrained – I expected more, especially when the price will be around £ 300. I was much more impressed with the excellent 18 Year Old Single Cask which I believe to be around € 140.

Score: 86/100

Earlier this year, Suntory launched two NAS expressions as part of the core ranges of Hakushu and Yamazaki, both named Distiller’s Reserve. Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve joins the 12 Year Old to form the standard range of this Japanese distillery.

As a NAS expression, the Distiller’s Reserve contains different spirits: young lightly peated malts (8 years and older), heavily peated malt and whisky matured in American oak for around 18 years. All the casks have been hand-picked by Suntory’s Master Blender, Shinji Fukuyo.


Hakushu Distiller's ReserveHakushu ‘Distiller’s Reserve’
(43%, OB 2014)

Nose: very fruity and aromatic with plenty of vanilla. Unripe pears and apples, melon and lemons. There’s also a grassy / minty note (slightly new-oakish) as well as something of cucumber. A subtle smokiness in the background. Pine wood. Mouth: again a bright fruitiness, but with more oak and more herbal notes now. Lots of zesty notes, slightly bitter, especially grapefruit. Again some pine wood and gingery notes, as well as earthy overtones. A little on the young side now. Finish: medium long, soft smoke, green fruits and wood.

One of the advantages of a NAS is the ability to bring together aromas that are normally linked to different ages. This is the first time that I think this idea actually works well, at least on the nose. On the palate you can’t stop thinking it’s young whisky trying to feel older. Nonetheless decent stuff, reasonably priced. Around € 50.

Score: 84/100



May 2015
« Apr    

Coming up

  • Irish malt 1991 (Whisky Mercenary)
  • Aberlour a'bunadh Batch #50
  • Bowmore Gold Reef
  • Tomatin 1997 (Liquid Library)
  • Springbank Vintage 2001
  • Mortlach Rare Old

1793 notes by Ruben

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