Isn’t that a lovely sight? It’s the full range of this year’s Diageo Special Releases, which includes a few very interesting bottles. There are two groups. First, the usual stuff that we’re looking forward to every year:
Stratyhclyde is a Lowlands grain distillery. Within its plant, there was also the Kinclaith malt whisky distillery which was closed in 1975. Strathclyde is now part of the Pernod Ricard imperium. The spirit contains 70% maize.
Nose: lots of varnish / paint notes. Not unpleasant but too harsh maybe. Some hints of toasted oak and a little mocha. Tropical fruits as well, but they’re burried somewhere deep inside. Too bad, because the balance is a bit gone. Some mint. Mouth: very very strong and equally strange. Heavy alcohol, an overload of wood resin, then some grains… quite ethereal on the whole with hints of after shave. Rum, burnt cake. Honey maybe? Water doesn’t do any good either. Finish: quite long but a bit too alcoholic and bitter.
I’ve never had this kind of experience with grain whisky. Way too much focus on the varnish notes and the alcohol. Still available in some shops. Around € 80. You’re warned though!
Balmenach is a little-know Speyside distillery. It was mothballed in 1993 and changed owners in 1997. Production was restarted with traditional machinery and methods. As there’s no official (old) stock, only independent bottlers can release bottlings at this moment.
This Balmenach 1975 was matured in first fill sherry casks. It was distilled in April 1975 and bottled by G&M in its Connoisseurs Choice range.
Balmenach 31yo 1975
(43%, Gordon & MacPhail 2007)
Nose: special. A sherry profile but quite unique. Earthy, with notes of hay and a fern forest. Nuts. Something of soy sauce. Apples. Coffee. Some heather. Rather strange, quite herbal, with interesting notes of pine needles! Very complex really. Mouth: oily mouth-feel but slightly underpowered at 43%. Big notes of dried fruits (figs, raisins), candied orange peel, very dark chocolate. Hints of roasted nuts / smoke as well. Some banana. Ginger. Rich and intense. Finish: very long, very sherried. A pinch of salt in the aftertaste. Excellent espresso.
This Balmenach feels old, in a good way. Well, it is old of course… but first fill sherried whisky at this age is not always drinkable. This one doesn’t have that problem and the result is intense, old-school sherry. A contemplative whisky that would have been even better at 46% or cask strength. Some bottles left at around € 90.
I plea guilty. Although I try to avoid blind purchases at all times, sometimes I am tempted and I buy a bottle without tasting it beforehand. I decided to buy this 39 year-old Glenrothes 1969 by Duncan Taylor after reading Bert Bruyneel’s whisky diary. He’s also the one who gave me a dram yesterday – my own bottle is still closed.
Lonach is a series of bottlings by Duncan Taylor meant for “under proof casks” i.e. casks of which the alcohol volume dropped below (or just above) the limit of 40%. The usual remedy is to mix two casks in order to obtain a final volume of more than 40%.
Glenrothes 39yo 1969
(42,7%, Duncan Taylor Lonach 2008)
Nose: very fruity, tropical even. Ripe apricots, tangerines, oranges. A fruit basket in a great mix with creamy vanilla. Not weak at all. Subtle hints of wax, almonds and white pepper. Wonderful notes of guimauves (marshmallow candy). Mouth: this is where you notice the lower alcohol volume. A subdued start, although it picks up very well. Again very fruity (orange marmalade). Honey. Vanilla. Perfect oak influence now, with spices (nutmeg, pepper) and a bit of tannins. Finish: not too long, but fruity and spicy in a near-perfect balance.
As Bert told me the other day, there’s a huge difference between a cask strength whisky of 43% and a higher strength whisky that has been diluted to 43%. He’s absolutely right. This is wonderful old whisky, aromatic, complex and perfectly gentle. One of my best Glenrothes ever. Still to be found in some places. Around € 140. Thanks Bert!
This is basically the same Clynelish as yesterday’s Daily DramSynch Elli, but without dilution. It comes from a bourbon cask.
Clynelish 27 yo 1982 (53,9%,
Whisky Agency 2009, 240 btl.)
Nose: as expected, the same aromas: wax, stones, limes, leather, dry white wine… It seems a bit sweeter though (yellow apples, acacia honey). Added hints of grapefruit. Mouth: wax, lemons. Very rich. Slightly warmer, more biscuity. The oak seems smoother and the sea associations are subdued. More difficult to notice the aspirin now. Slightly peppery. Finish: long, less dry and a bit less bitter.
Well, I didn’t expect big differences but still it’s interesting to see how the extra 8% intensifies some aromas and makes others less prominent. I prefer this version, but I think the austerity of the Daily Dram release is slightly bigger. Around € 120. Sold out.
Sharing casks is a common practice these days. Lots of independent bottlers know each other and bottle the same cask for different markets.
This 27 years old Clynelish is bottled by Daily Dram at 46% but also by The Whisky Agency at cask strength (53,9%). Let’s find out if it makes a difference.
Clynelish ‘Synch Elli’ 27yo 1982
(46%, Daily Dram 2009)
Nose: big hints of wet limestones and wax. Wet newspaper. Fresh leather. Slightly tart apples and limes. Razor clams. A wonderful profile that’s very typical of Clynelish but that may seem strange if you’re not used to it. In fact, there are few immediately attractive aromas but it’s very unique and quite excellent. Mouth: lemon / lime again with slightly more candied notes. Wax again (I’ve never tasted a lemon candle but this may be close enough). Very mineral. Hints of aspirin. Quite some oak in the aftertaste. Finish: long, zesty, dry and a tad bitter.
This Clynelish is a very tight and uncompromising dram. You’ll love it or hate it. Around € 100 – excellent value for money.
The Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX is the first expression in the “Private Collection”, a range of limited editions sold in travel retail (although by now it’s available in regular shops as well). It was finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks after maturation in white oak ex-bourbon casks.
Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX
(46%, OB 2009)
Nose: aromatic and luscious. A very complex play of chocolate, raisins and toffee. Vanilla, cinnamon, ginger. Richly sherried but it respects the original spirit, with hints of apricots, honey and oranges. Wonderful notes of roasted nuts. Sweet, rich and quite magical. Mouth: good mouthfeel with vanilla, lovely coffee beans and blood oranges. Sweet and coating but never too sugary. Soft pepper. Tobacco. Plums and berries. Nice balance between malty flavours and the sherry again. Very polished. Finish: long and creamy, on demerara sugar and spices.
I must admit that until now, Glenmorangie had a rather commercial image in my opinion, with a well composed but harmless profile. This is totally different though, quite unique and very drinkable. Very modern and meticulously designed but the result is great. Around € 70 for 1 liter.
It’s funny that the distillery named Speyside is technically not located in the Speyside region, because the river Spey is running on the wrong side of the distillery. But anyway, it’s the closest distillery to the source of the river, hence the name.
Apart from their malt whisky production (bottlings are very rare), the distillery is home to the Scott’s Selection independent bottlings, as well as the Cu Dhub black whisky (basically caramel with a dash of Speyside whisky).
Nose: quite tingling (well, not surprising at this strength). Hints of rum raisin (molasses, very dark raisins) and natural caramel. Cereals. Toasted bread. Plums. With water, notes of red berry jam emerge. Mouth: sweet, almost sugarish. Plums again, a little pepper. Slightly grainy, hot and not very expressive. Water doesn’t help much, I’m afraid, it stays rather flat. Finish: plums, malt, caramel. Another variation on the same theme. Still hot, even with water. Lots of camomile tea in the end.
This Speyside is quite alcoholic, rather closed and it doesn’t open up with water. Basically it displays the same aromas from the beginning until the end. It’s going in the right direction, but there’s not enough depth for me. Around € 70.