A couple of months ago I picked up the plans of Glenfarclas to bottle a 40 year-old at a price level well below the market standard. Glenfarclas has a huge stock of old casks, some of which are quickly losing strength. This bottling is not just a solution for this problem, it’s also a welcome evolution on the market because most other 40 year olds are sold as collector’s items with fancy boxes and a lot of blah blah. This is clearly a no-nonsese drinker’s whisky!
Highland Park 40yo is valued € 900. Glenglassaugh 40yo and The Dalmore 40yo cost around € 1600. Glengoyne 40yo will set you back € 4000. This Glenfarclas 40yo costs around € 330… Even an independent release from a lesser known distillery would be difficult to find for this amount of money.
This 40yo mainly contains casks from the late 1960’s. When I tasted it as a work-in-progress, I felt it still needed some tweaking, so I’m eager to find out what the end result is like.
Glenfarclas 40 yo (46%, OB 2010)
Nose: rich sherry with big hints of prunes and oak polish. Quite sweet and deeply fruity, with just some hints of pine needles and resin to make it drier. Lush notes of blackcurrant marmalade, tobacco and cigar boxes. Roasted moccha. A wonderful whiff of mint and eucalyptus. An old gentleman: very elegant. Mouth: starts on dried fruits with resinous notes. Evolves in a more herbal and more winey / tannic way. Orange liqueur. Chocolate. Some black olives. Maybe missing a bit of round creaminess here. Finish: long, resinous but not too oaky. A bit of balsamic vinegar and hints of chocolate. Getting drier.
This Glenfarclas 40yo has an excellent nose and it’s certainly one of the best opportunities to try such an old whisky. An example of a great vatting, but a tad more creamy fruit on the palate could have lifted it even higher. Around € 330.
A direct comparison between similar casks is always fun. In this case, we have another Port Charlotte 2001 by Malts of Scotland, this time bottled from a sherry hogshead.
Port Charlotte 9 yo 2001 (61,6%, Malts of Scotland 2010, sherry cask #833)
Nose: after the bourbon version, this seems less peaty but more smokey, with soot and ashes . Quite winey at first. It takes some time and especially some hand warmth to balance it. It has meaty elements, rubbery elements, dried fruits and marmalade… Balsamic vinegar as well. This one seems more mature than its bourbon sibling, and the complexity is excellent. It’s certainly less clean (even faint hints of cow stable). Mouth: now the peat kicks in and counters the sherry. Big notes of chocolate and pepper. Plums. Liquorice. Water adds a bittersweet note, like black tea with a bit of sugar. Finish: sweet with tobacco and nutmeg.
I really enjoyed comparing them, it’s quite spectacular how both profiles seem to deconstruct each other completely. Once you’re used to one version and compare it to the other, you notice new things and vice versa. This sherried Port Charlotte is quite explosive, rougher and more complex than the bourbon cask. Around € 65 (nice!).
Port Charlotte is a name we don’t see too often, but releases always tend to attract the interest of peatheads. As you know, this peated spirit is distilled at Bruichladdich distillery.
Malts of Scotland released a first Port Charlotte 2001 (sherry cask #829) in March 2009 and now there are two new versions: a bourbon barrel (cask #967) and a sherry hogshead (cask #833).
Port Charlotte 9 yo 2001 (60,2%, Malts of Scotland 2010, bourbon cask #967)
Nose: very peaty. The smokiness is quite fragrant with whiffs of lemon. There’s kind of a synthetic fruitiness to it as well (banana, lovely tangerine). Rather oily. Some grassy notes. The marine side is quite distinct, with boat rope and dry kelp. Clean and relatively complex, especially after you add a few drops of water. It then shows almonds and vanilla and I’m even more surprised how fragrant and “feminine” the peat is. Mouth: quite hot. An overdose of peat with sugar candy, engine oil and desinfectant. Gets drier and quite bitter after a while (hints of tonic). Water helps to add fruitiness and overcome the bitter notes. Finish: very long, very ashy and quite sweet.
Don’t try this if you don’t like deep peat. But if you do, this is very clean and focused with excellent complexity. Play around with water to get the most out of it. Around € 65.
Bernheim Original is the only straight wheat American whiskey available. It is made by Heaven Hill and uses 51% soft winter wheat in its recipe to deliver a smooth, sweet taste.
Bernheim Original (45%, OB 2010)
Nose: butter croissant and other types of sweet pastry. Brown sugar. It shows more fruit than other Americans (apple, banana). Some spices. Light leather. Vanilla cake. Hints of mint. Very smooth and appealing. Mouth: starts very gentle, with the same buttered bread, caramel and menthol flavours. After that, the oak becomes more prominent with slightly bitter notes. Overall not as sweet as you would expect from the nose. Finish: rather short and oaky, not very smooth.
This Bernheim Original does not show a lot of complexity but it’s dangerously smooth and drinkable. Only the oaky bitterness towards the end was a bit of an off-note for me.
Ben Nevis whisky is very popular in Japan, where it ranks seventh among the single malt sales. This is not surprising as it is part of the Nikka concern. In Europe, it is popular in Germany and the Nordic countries, but releases are not very common.
I’m not sure what to think of Ben Nevis, I’ve had some great drams but also quite weird stuff. Let’s see how it works out for this 13 year-old Ben Nevis bottled by Malts of Scotland.
Ben Nevis 13 yo 1996 (57,1%, OB 2010, sherry cask #1466, 258 btl.)
Nose: interesting nose. Dark muscovado sugar and caramel. Burnt cake. Roasted chestnut. Very dense, it takes a while before other flavours become noticeable. Strawberries and cherries! Nice. Some liquorice allsorts. A buttery note that reminds me of old lipstick and toffee. Water makes it a bit fruitier but also slightly yeasty. Mouth: quite spicy with notes of ginger. Orange liqueur. Not as dark as the nose, but still lots of caramel notes. A bit rubbery as well. Walnuts. More accessible and less spicy with a few drops of water. Coffee in the aftertaste. Finish: nutty with a gingery finale.
The least you can say is that this Ben Nevis 1996 is an unusual, challenging dram with a bit of an outsider profile. Bonus points for being so unique.
Did you know the current Emperor of Japan met his wife on a trip to the city of Karuizawa (軽井沢)? It’s a popular summer day-trip for people living in Tokyo who want to cool off in the mountains.
This 24 (or 23?) years old Karuizawa 1985 was bottled last year but in this part of the world it only showed up a few weeks ago. I ordered it right away from LMdW, where it sold out very quickly.
(60,8%, OB 2009, cask #7017)
Nose: typical Japanese sherry influence. Bold and earthy with lots of gunpowder and fireworks. I’ve read ‘sulphur’ on different websites, but this is nothing like the dirty kind of sulphur that we sometimes discover in sherry casks. Really nice. Mushrooms (truffles?). After a while, more fruity notes come out (mainly blackberry and black cherries) with velvety vanilla, leather and tobacco. Hints of fresh tarmac. Extreme and archetypal. Mouth: very intense and thick. Smoky and earthy with hints of tobacco. Dark fruits. Savoury when water is added (meat, mushrooms) with herbs (mint, cardamom) but also more hints of fireworks. Finish: long, drying (slightly tannic) and leafy.
Huge is the right descriptor here. Big gunpowder notes throughout, but real fun to gradually add water and watch the flavours develop. Perfect example of the Karuizawa style. Around € 115.
I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Cambus until Raymond bottled this 24 years old Cambus 1986 for the Bladnoch Forum. It’s a Lowlands grain distillery that was part of United Distillers / Diageo before being closed in 1993. Cambus is used in blends like Famous Grouse. In 2009, Diageo announced it would open a new cooperage plant at Cambus.
There used to be a semi-official 15 year-old and a few independent bottlings were made available by Cadenhead and Signatory, but it’s very rare.
Cambus 24 yo 1986 (54,7%, Bladnoch forum 2010, hogshead #18988)
Nose: a lot of vanilla on a background of toasted bread. Crême de banane. Some apple. Sweet but rather high on alcohol and sharp wood. Hints of glue. Not too complex. I’ve tried this in different glasses because in some types it just doesn’t seem to express itself. Water helps to bring out coconut, which is nice. Mouth: not so typical. Big notes of caramel and lots of wood. Honey. Bittersweet notes of oranges. Overall quite nice but also quite neutral: grains, alcohol and plain oak or so it seems. Water helps to soften it again and make it more flavourful (vanilla and coconut again). Finish: rather short, with juicy oak and zesty oranges.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense to complain because Bladnoch Forum bottlings have extremely competitive prices, but still this was a slight disappointment. Available from Bladnoch – £ 35.
ps/ Perfect timing: Diageo’s plans for the Cambus cooperage plant have been accepted yesterday. It will be operational by 2011.
Another Glenmorangie, and probably the most popular among the wine finishes as this is a favourite of many whisky lovers. Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or is extra-matured in Sauternes wine casks, and we already know these Botrytis affected sweet wines can really lift up a whisky.
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
(46%, OB 2008, Sauternes finish)
Nose: apples and cinnamon. Apricots and tangerine. Hints of pineapple on syrup. Some kiwi. Quite warm with hints of cake and lemon pie. Honeysuckle. Very sweet. Mouth: indeed very sweet but it shows more spices from the oak now. Much thicker and richer than the Original. Big hints of marmalade and all kinds of yellow fruits. Honey. Lots of vanilla and white chocolate. Mocha in the aftertaste. Finish: medium length, creamy and firm enough thanks to the oak. Hints of ginger.
Certainly a big step up from the Glenmorangie Original and for me the best of the finishes. Very sweet but not cloying. Worth the extra money and a good after dinner choice. Around € 50.