Duncan Taylor recently launched a premium blend, Black Bull, made up of 50% malt whisky and 50% grain, vatted in the 1970’s and matured for more than 30 years. This is highly unusual because blends are usually vatted after separate maturation. Its availability is rather limited.
Black Bull 30 yo (50%, Duncan Taylor 2009)
Nose: nicely integrated oloroso sherry with figs, chocolate and orange marmalade. Lots of raisins. Some cocoa and espresso. Cake. Hints of leather. The whole works very well with the grain, it really balances. Mouth: nice mouth-feel, nice spices (cinnamon, ginger) which give it the flavours of a christmas cake. Hints of “Mon chérie” (chocolate filled with a cherry and liqueur). Finish: roasted coffee beans, milk chocolate ganache, cinnamon and cherries again. A bit of tobacco.
This certainly is a blend that will appeal to many malt lovers (give it to them blind). Very smooth and gentle. It’s probably the best blend I’ve ever had. Around € 90.
This one is the second 16 year-old in this year’s selection of GlenDronach single casks (bottled at cask strength, non chill filtered and not coloured). This batch will be marketed in 15 countries worldwide.
Nose: More powerful than the 1992, a bit more prickly on the nose (the alcohol difference is not that big though). I don’t have to tell this has some heavy oloroso influence as well. The raisins, the dried fruits, the chocolate, they’re all here. Compared to the 1993, more notes of fresh leather and a bit of nail polish remover (more towards an old bourbon). Raspberries. I’m missing the added notes of toffee and vanilla here. More herbal notes (sage, mint). With water: hints of a dusty cellar, some beeswax and very light hints of a stable. Very nice. Mouth: good depth in the mouth. Spicy, fruity, slightly toasted. There’s papaya and dried figs. Prunes. Some rancio in the background. Hints of coffee. Quite sweet overall. Finish: very long and quite sirupy. Getting drier on oranges and figs. Less bitter notes in the end here.
The GlenDronach 1992 and 1993 are equally sherried and equally flawless, I would say. The differences in flavours are a matter of personal preference. I was amazed by the soft vanilla nose and the spectacular fruity effect of the 1992 (with water), so that one has a small edge for me. Around € 90.
Now that GlenDronach has been taken over by the Walker family, they are following the BenRiach tradition of yearly special releases. The new owners have shown what they can do for an undervalued distillery so we should have high hopes for these new releases.
Nose: big big sherry. Hints of raisins, milk chocolate, worn leather. Maraschino cherries / kirsch. Sweet notes of toffee, even some vanilla. Walnuts. Hints of roasted nuts and smoke in the distance. With water, bang, a fruit explosion: tangerine, lovely raspberry and red currant. Very sweet and juicy. Mouth: prunes, cherry liqueur, some balsamic vinegar. A bunch of fruit jams as well (figs, prunes, blackcurrant). Light cinnamon. In the aftertaste, there is some beef stock and more leather. Finish: amazingly long, on sherry, hazelnuts and spices (cloves and a bit of ginger). Evolves to very dark, slightly bitter chocolate.
Now you have to like heavy sherry of course, but if you do, you will love this GlenDronach. No nasty sulphur effect whatsoever, which can be a problem with heavy sherry bottlings. Clean and complex. Too bad for the oaky bitterness in the end, which I found a bit distracting.
Not available yet, but on its way to the stores as we speak. Around € 90.
I’ve had quite a lot of Malts of Scotland bottlings on this blog lately, but I know people are waiting for the first independent reviews of these usually very interesting bottles, so here’s another one.
Laphroaigis generally matured in bourbon barrels from Maker’s Mark. Sherry oak is only used as a short additional finish (e.g. Laphroaig Triple Wood) or for occasional (but usually exceptional) bottlings such as the legendary 1974/2005 for La Maison du Whisky. Based on the cask reference, I guess Malts of Scotland picked their own sherry cask to mature it.
Nose: great balance between peat smoke and sherry. The result is a big, fruity dram with notes of blood oranges, coffee beans and light hints of matchsticks. Sweet liquorice. Marzipan with a chocolate coating. Some hints of tropical fruits after a bit of breathing (mango) which can usually only be found in older Laphroaig production. Faint hints of cinnamon and insence as well. Mouth: sweet attack, again quite sherried. Fruit tea and almonds. The peat doesn’t win the fight here. A wave of salty liquorice as well. Chocolate. Finish: more classic Laphroaig now, on tar, sweet mint and caramel coated peanuts.
A bold dram but very drinkable at cask strength. Excellent stuff, certainly at less than € 60.
Now for the bad news: although this was released very recently (2nd half of July), the German economy has been rising again and our friends bought all of these bottles within a few days. Google results will only lead to “page not found” messages… If you’re into Laphroaig and you happen to find one for sale, don’t hesitate!
Highland Park is a regular in the independent bottlings by The Whisky Exchange. Let’s find out how this 13 year-old “duo cask” bottling compares to the OB profile…
Highland Park 13yo 1995 (46%, Single Malts of Scotland 2009, cask #470 & #471, 770 btl.)
Nose: very natural with a kind of mineral profile. Lots of typical heathery notes. Hints of fresh green tea with citrus. There’s a distinct waxiness as well. Very delicate wood smoke, peat and a little honey. Clean and youthful. Mouth: lemon juice with a green, vegetal edge (like chewing on a citrus seed by accident). Hints of marmelade, although not very sweet. A kind of lavender / soapy edge as well that I’ve never encountered in a Highland Park before (interesting but not entirely to my liking, I’m afraid). Getting drier and quite bitter (grapefruit, unripe oranges) towards the end. Finish: medium long, mostly on grapefruit with a peppery tang.
This is certainly not a usual Highland Park. Good nose, but it’s missing some trademark honey sweetness, and I’m afraid many people will find it a tad too bitter on the palate. If you want to broaden your view on HP however, this could be an interesting bottle. Around € 52.
A second single cask Glengoyne by Malts of Scotland, bottled in June 2009 and released a couple of weeks ago. It’s four months younger than the Glengoyne 1972 sherry cask and matured in ex-bourbon oak this time. Malts of Scotland bottlings are easily found in Germany, not so much in the rest of Europe, but I’m sure this will change if they keep up their high standards.
Nose: very fragrant (slightly flowery). Charles McLean identified it as “ladies powder” and although I wouldn’t have come up with this myself, it’s actually well described. Unique. Again lots of fruit jams (tons of raspberries). Some warm, yellow apple with whiffs of cinnamon. Honeysuckle (lovely). Juicy and sugary, with red candy and vanilla. More malty notes than the 1972. Mouth: the same fruity sweetness, but fresher and slightly more sourish. Oily mouth-feel and very balanced. Vanilla again. Fruit cake and tangerine. Finish: sweet, on apples and lots of spices. Hints of pink grapefruit.
The 1972 and 1973 share quite a lot of qualities even though they’re matured in different cask types (the sherry influence was less typical and leaning towards the bourbon cask). Also, none of the oak types interfere. They enable the distillery character to shine through, instead of overpowering the spirit. The 1973 Glengoyne is probably a tad more vibrant, but in the end they’re equally great. Same price: around € 180.
This Glengoyne is part of the second batch from German bottler Malts of Scotland. While independent Glengoynes are not very common, MoS managed to release three casks at the same time, a 1997 sherry butt, a 1973 bourbon barrel and this 1972 refill sherry butt.
Nose: beautiful sherry influence, which is not at all “in your face” but gentle and well integrated. Great hints of fruit candy (tangerines with more tropical fruits – guava, pineapple) and all sorts of jams. Some grapefruit. Notes of polished oak, vanilla and soft cinnamon. No signs of over-ageing or sulphury sherry whatsoever. Mouth: again very tropical and slightly candied. Prune jam. Tangerine. Passion fruit. Rich honey with more wood influence now and more spices (mostly cinnamon and cloves). With water, there’s some coconut. Getting slightly drier and tannic in the end. Finish: long, sweet, fruity and slightly nutty.
This Glengoyne has a lot to offer. The big fruitiness is terrific and the whole is remarkably fresh and lively after 36 years. Totally flawless. Not cheap though: around € 180.
This was the second blind sample from the Cask Six session.
There are quite some private owners of Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte casks. Most are small bloodtubs (32 liter) but this one is from a bigger cask (first fill sherry hogshead) shared by three Italian guys (Giorgio d’Ambriosio, Franco di Lillo & Nadi Fiori, who was behind Intertrade and is now behind High Spirits). The spirit was matured for 5 years and filled into 3x 134 bottles with 3 resembling labels.
Port Charlotte 5y 2002
(46%, Nadi Fiori 2009, first fill sherry)
Nose: peat and barbecue ashes but with a fruity, sherried side (citrus, tangerine, melon). Hints of wet stones, slightly burnt bacon and eucalyptus. Tobacco. Very powerful and expressive but I thought it was a tiny bit young (read new-makeish) maybe, in the same way PC7 was better than PC5. Mouth: quite clean smoke with a salty edge. Sweet peat, some pears covered in chocolate. Lemon juice with lots of sugar. Keeps getting sweeter. Finish: long, sweet and peaty. Notes of roasted peanuts with a sugar coating. Barbecue ash again.
The peat in this Port Charlotte is really countered by the very sweet sherry. If Glenfarclas was ever to produce a heavily peated bottling, could it be similar? An interesting battle between two powers. Around € 115.
Some may notice that this score is slightly higher than the blind score I gave earlier. I know most reviewers tend to pursuit “objective” scores (i.e. based on the liquid regardless of distillery, price, age, packaging or “uniqueness”) but personally I find it justified to give one or two bonus points if it turns out to be exceptional value for money or unusual / invidiual whisky compared to its region or age. Think of it as school results: a first grader can get the same score as a sixth grader, although “objectively” they don’t have the same level of knowledge of course.