Noh, or Nogaku, is a form of classical Japanese musical theatre with a history dating back to the 14th century. It is played by men. Many of them are masked as they also play female roles. By having a series of whisky with this name, No.1 Drinks (the European distributor of Karuizawa, Hanyu and Chichibu) pays tribute to this form of art, full of respect for Japanese tradition.
Is this 32 years old 1976/2009 Noh a new star among the highly praised Karuizawa 1970’s casks?
Nose: big sherry, yet less explosive than some previous Karuizawa. Very nutty with big hints of new leather, together with juicy tangerine and honey. Lots of fresh matchsticks (a common thread in 1970’s Karuizawa). Some figs. Ginger. Lovely raspberry jam. Water brings out hints of cigar cases and delicate smoke. So nice! Mouth: hot hot hot, but I pick up some oak, very dark chocolate and liquorice. Let’s add water. Cherry liqueur. Again quite nutty. A pinch of pepper. Gets slightly medicinal in the end, which is a great addition to the Karuizawa profile. Finish: dry with herbal notes and liquorice. Hints of Lapsang Souchong. Very long.
If anyone doubts the quality of Japanese sherried whisky, try this! Very big and flawless. Perhaps too wild and powerful to be hugely complex, but still a benchmark for heavily sherried whisky. More refined than Wait La Mazurka, with more delicate gunpowder notes and a better balance with the sherry. Around € 165 but sold out in the major shops.
Former Malt Maniac Luc Timmermans is one of the most active whisky personalities in Belgium. He has practically built his house around his huge collection, sells extraordinary bottles on www.whiskysamples.eu and selects interesting casks for his label Thosop. Yesterday he organized a tasting to celebrate his 42nd birthday.
As expected, the line-up was impressive. All of these whiskies are extinct expressions:
Ambassador blend 25 yo (43%, OB – Taylor & Ferguson pre-1974)
Cardhu 12 yo (43%, OB – Wax & Vitale pre-1974)
Miltonduff 13 yo (43%, OB – Salengo Import 1970’s)
Glenfarclas 42 yo 1966 (44,4%, SMWS 2008, 1.146, 76 btl.)
Caol Ila 1969 (54,6%, G&M for Meregalli 1986)
Longmorn 1969 (54,6%, G&M for The Whisky Fair 2008, cask #3724)
Ardbeg 18 yo 1974 (54,6%, Wilson & Morgan 1993, 285 btl.)
Without going into detail: awesome! Especially since the line-up was spiced up with a few comparison drams like the Ardbeg 1976/2002 cask #2390 or a legendary Springbank 12 yo for Samaroli which Whiskyfun scores 98/100. Thanks a million for sharing these beauties with us. I’ll review a couple of them later, but here’s one to start.
Nose: hints of glue and wood polish. Pineapple candy. Passion fruits. Wonderful notes of marshmallow. It goes from Turkish rosewater delight to orange water and actual flowers (which is probably why they called it Dusky Maiden – a rose variety). A candy store really, but a few background notes of spicy oak and dusty books tell you this is older than it may seem. Very special. Mouth: a rather oily mouthfeel, again very fruity with oranges and honey. The oak is also on the foreground now, with a spicy kick of cinnamon and ginger. Finish: long, exotic and spicy. Very elegant.
Old Glenfarclas from a bourbon cask is not very common, but this is a unique example full of exotic fruits. The nose is on a higher level than the palate. Around € 200 at the time but sold out now.
ps/ The rest of the bottle is available on his website
Glen Albyn is a distillery which we haven’t had before on this blog. That’s not really a surprise as it was closed in 1983 (just like the other two distilleries in Inverness) and demolished in 1986. Bottlings are very rare. Apart from a Rare Malts 26yo 1975, there never were official bottlings. Even independent releases can be counted on one hand.
Nose: starts on freshly cut grass and grains. After a while, it develops fruity notes of unripe mango, green apple, tangerine and lime. Faint strawberries. Quite “green”. A bit of leather and clean oak. After a while, an unexpected whiff of sea air can be detected. Quite smooth and harmonious. Mouth: good attack, again high on citrus with added spices (cinnamon, a bit of pepper). Big hints of unripe stone fruits and apples. Gets drier towards the end with some pine oak and resinous notes. Finish: long, lots of lemon with dry oak and a slightly bitter edge.
An unusual but very interesting dram that needs time. Nevertheless it convinced me completely. Great cask selection by The Clydesdale. Around € 150 if you’re lucky enough to find one.
Clydesdale is an independent bottler with a full range of whisky brands and offices in the UK and Sweden. It started in 1998, but it became better known after a redesign and new marketing strategy in 2006.
The casks are being selected by Robin Tucek, the man behind the Blackadder label (mostly known for the Raw Cask series in which burnt sediments of the cask are found in the bottle). Clydesdale whiskies are always single casks at cask strength, un-chill-filtered and uncoloured. That’s the way we like it!
Tomorrow I’ll review the Glen Albyn 33 yo 1974/2008 cask #0016/1601 that won a silver medal in the 2008 Malt Maniacs Awards.
It’s a nice concept: visitors of the Spirits in the Sky festival could attend a masterclass by independent bottler Duncan Taylor and select the next single cask bottling for Belgium. This Glen Grant 1974 was chosen over four other cask samples (Caperdonich 1972, Royal Lochnagar 1986, Glenlivet 1970 and Macduff 1969).
Duncan Taylor has a whole series of 1970/1972/1974 Glen Grant casks, and a lot of the subsequent numbers (#16569 up to #16582) have already been bottled (but apparently none of the 1974’s are as good as the excellent 1972’s and 1970’s).
Glen Grant 35 yo 1974 (55,2%, Duncan Taylor 2009 for The Nectar, cask #16582, 168 btl.)
Nose: a bit shy at first, it needs some hand warmth to show its full potential. Fruity of course, with tangerine, lemon, apples… Rich honey and a bit of marzipan. A nice oakiness. Not as much oak polish as in the Glen Grant 1972 for The Whisky Fair, as far as I can remember. Mouth: cooked fruits with hints of vanilla. Less tropical than I expected. Honey. Marmalade. Significantly more spicy than on the nose with the oakiness becoming very noticeable (but still within limits). Finish: rather long, drying with lots of spices.
This Glen Grant 1974 is not as great as I hoped it would be. It’s very good however, and based on reviews of its sister casks, I think this is the best of the series. It turns out 1974 was a slightly lesser year than 1972 or 1970 for this distillery maybe? Around € 130.
ps/ The box contains an error. The bottle says “cask 16582″ but the certificate says “cask 16882″.
Last year we saw the release of a new Springbank 18 years old. It was matured mainly in sherry casks and it was received very well by reviewers.
I was told it contained quite a lot of older whisky. In fact 21yo would have been a more accurate name. This year, there’s a new version limited at 9000 bottles with the same cask distribution (80% sherry, 20% bourbon). It’s likely to sell out really soon.
Springbank 18y (46%, OB 2010)
Nose: it takes a while to open up, but it’s clear the berries are the key element again. Blueberries, strawberries… an unusual but very enjoyable fruit mix. Underneath is a darker layer of roasted grains, very gentle smoke and hints of marzipan and vanilla. A slightly earthy / dusty edge as well, which makes it a classic Springbank. While it’s still very balanced and entertaining, I remember last year’s release to be more expressive and complex. Mouth: same remark, it seems rather tame. Quite oily with the sherry standing out a bit (dried fruits, some spices, nuts). Slightly bittersweet. A hint of smoke. Finish: medium length but really nice, with notes of blueberries, chocolate and spices.
While it’s still a good whisky, I was underwhelmed by this new version. Maybe it’s the power of imagination (I didn’t have a chance to taste them head-to-head), but the new version seems to be playing in a lower league. Quite expensive: around € 100.
In December 2009 a new batch of the acclaimed Redbreast 15 Years old was launched. Four years earlier, the first edition was bottled to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of La Maison du Whisky.
The new release caused a lot of joy (and high expectations) among the fans of Irish whiskey. This inspired me to do a direct comparison between the old and the new edition. The 2009 release is already available from European retailers and the US will get it towards the end of the year.
Nose: very crisp grapefruit with sweeter notes of peach and honey. Fresh and playful. Whiffs of cut grass. Vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon. Coconut and pineapple. Papaya. A slight waxiness. Very Irish. Mouth: gentle and accessible. Again very much on grapefruit, growing spicier with hints of caramel. Some banana and citrus. A bit floral as well. Not the most complex but certainly very sippable. Finish: medium length. Delicate fruits with vanilla and hints of cocoa.
Redbreast 15 yo (46%, OB 2009)
Nose: starts in a flatter way, the fresh grapefruit and tropical fruitiness of the 2005 edition is almost gone. More cereals, more dust, more toffee. Camomile? Quite rubbery as well. Hints of nougat. After a while, fruit confit comes through, but very restrained. Mouth: basically the same differences: more spices (gingerbread, cardamom), less fruit (some bramble maybe). The stunning clarity of the 2005 release doesn’t repeat itself in this 2009 version. More green, vegetal notes. Finish: medium length with hints of gooseberry and hints of vanilla.
One thing I’ve learned is that the original Redbreast 15yo is a perfect example of a fruity and accesible Irish whiskey. The new 15yo – although still enjoyable – fails to live up to the standard set by the previous edition. Around € 65.
Redbreast 15yo (2005)
– tropical fruitiness
– fresh and delicate
– stunning clarity
Jason at Guid Scotch Drink asked me to write a guest post in his excellent ‘Say what?’ series. I tried to explain how some whiskies expose farmy notes (as you may know, I’m a big fan of subtle cow stable and manure in whisky). I wanted to publish an example of a farmy whisky and Brora 30 Years old is a perfect illustration.
Brora 30yo (55,7%, OB 2007,
6th Edition, 2958 btl.)
Nose: what did you expect? Farmy! Soft peat smoke and charcoal but also cows, manure and interesting notes of goat cheese. Horse saddle leather. Tobacco. Fresh sea breeze. Sharper notes of balm, hay, a bit of yeast… Fern forest. Camphor. Not very fruity, although I pick up soft yellow apple and citrus. Water makes it rounder and brings out a hint of vanilla sweetness. Truly unique. Mouth: very powerful and immediately maritime, with a briney hint of liquorice. Quite dry and oily. A sharp hint of mustard. Much more peated and smoked now. Takes water very well, with added notes of apple, lemon pie and ginger. Finish: long, hints of liquorice, bonfire smoke and pepper.
I can’t stop loving this one, and the 2004 edition is even better. A powerful peaty palate and a complex, balanced nose. If you’re serious about whisky, Brora 30yo is something you should have tasted. Still available, around € 275.