After the Caol Ila 1998 cask #12374, this 1980 vintage is the second Caol Ila released by Malts of Scotland. The new one is much older (29 years old) and from a sherry hogshead. Caol Ila of this age is quite rare and sherry matured Caol Ila even more so, which means expectations are high.
Caol Ila 29 yo 1980 (54%, Malts of Scotland 2009, cask #4935, 175 btl.)
Nose: let’s start by saying the smoke is rather light for a Caol Ila. It’s mostly new leather that shines through at first with some fruity notes, like warm apples, tangerines and even chocolate bars with a tropical fruits filling (mango). I don’t think I’ve ever had a Caol Ila with such a tropical side. Lots of spices as well (mint). A bit of paraffin. Just light waves of typical coastal / smokey / medicinal notes. A bit shy maybe, if you’re used to powerful (younger) Caol Ila, but most elegant and very smooth. Mouth: rich and slightly more typical with linseed oil, camphor, grapefruit juice and some pepper, although it stays rather sweet. Much more smoke now. Cherry liqueur. Liquorice. A very slight bitterness underneath the sweet sherry (like pink grapefruit). A few resinous notes as well. Finish: long, growing saltier and drier.
A very good old Caol Ila with a profile that we don’t see very often. The sherried sweetness works well, and the result is really smooth while at the same time showing the typical Caol Ila power. Very fair price: € 130. Recommended!
Pittyvaich was established in 1975 to support the Bell’s blend, but it was neglected and closed in 1993 already (demolished in 2003). There was only one official release in the Fauna & Flora range, and a few months ago this 20 year-old version was bottled by Diageo as part of the Special Releases 2009.
Pittyvaich 20 yo (57,5%, OB 2009, 6000 btl.)
Nose: fresh, rather light for a 20 year-old, but pleasant. Holding the middle between a malty, mineral and a fruity profile. Pears, biscuits. Some pineapple. Quite creamy. Subtle hints of oak polish and fresh, new leather. Vanilla. A touch of freshly cut grass. Mouth: a rather sharp attack with grassy notes and zesty fruit. Apples and orange skin mostly. Soft hints of vanilla. Then there are a few earthy notes, with toast and a little tobacco. Coffee. Finish: medium length on oranges, with very faint hints of salt. Again waves of cut grass.
A Pittyvaich that seems 10-15 years old rather than 20. Apart from that, it shows a pleasant, unique character which proves that even neglected distilleries can produce beautiful stuff. But at around € 120 the price vs. quality ratio is rather weak.
Nose: sweet and flowery with a nice balance of big sherry and fruits. Vibrant notes of apple pie and kumquats. Whiffs of heather and moss. A bit of toffee, clean wood and melted caramel. Coffee. A light spiciness as well. Mouth: again a mix between sherry and fruits, with more expressive liquorice now. A slight nuttiness and more oak. Toffee, sultanas, prunes. Spices (ginger, a little white pepper). A bit of kirsch in the aftertaste. Finish: quite dry, oaky and really spicy.
If you’re familiar with the Aberlour a’bunadh bottlings, then this shows a fruitier, more playful kind of sherry influence. More balanced but just as powerful. Simply very good. Around € 80.
Brora, Brora, Brora… They’ve made absolutely stunning whisky, so I’m always eager to taste something with that name on it. Although Brora has lots of fans, there’s little information about this specific Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum bottling.
Brora 30 yo 1976 (55,1%, Douglas Laing
Old & Rare Platinum 2007, 104 btl.)
Nose: It doesn’t take long before you know this is special. Oh. My. God. The farminess is a bit restrained but it’s certainly there (the hugely pleasant dirtiness that only Brora can produce: horse stable, wet leaves, sheep). Moreover, it’s mixed with silky peat smoke and juicy sherry notes, even strawberry marshmallows and pear candy. Marzipan. And back to the coal smoke. And back to the fruits. And back. Old leather. Soft oak. Everything is coated with a fat waxiness and a slightly maritime edge. Superb complexity, excellent development and just soooo good… A perfect score. Mouth: in line with the nose. More smoke now, still some farminess. The fruit comes out towards the end together with some big herbal notes. Cardamom. Citrus. Liquorice. Pepper. It’s sweet, sour, herbal and slightly bitter (think grapefruit) at the same time. An aromatic rollercoaster! Yet so delicate. Even if it’s not as perfect as the nose, it’s still magnificent. Exactly to my liking. Finish: very long. Smokey (with a little tar even) and farmy. Citrus notes with hints of walnuts.
Although I’m always hesitating to write this, this is probably the best whisky I’ve tasted so far. Enough said. Around € 450 if you’re lucky enough to find one.
Oh, I forgot to mention the hay.
And the wet dogs.
And the mocha.
And the dust.
And the salty almonds.
There have been a couple of interesting Ben Nevis releases lately. There was the official 41yo Ben Nevis 1967 for Germany (cask #1281) and this Prestonfield release, bottled for La Maison du Whisky. It was matured in a bourbon cask and received a silver medal in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2009.
Ben Nevis 34 yo 1975 (63%, Prestonfield for LMdW 2009, cask #7439, 146 btl.)
Nose: quite bubblegummy at first. There’s also a waxy side to it, but a rather sharp one (like hair spray) but this seems to evaporate very quickly. Excellent development on coconut milk, tropical fruits and honey. Lots of vanilla. Superb raspberry jam. Gooseberries. Intense and warming. Mouth: very powerful (duh) and spicy. Some citrus. Coconut and vanilla again. Raisins. Oranges with cloves in the aftertaste. A drop of water brings out herbal notes and something bourbonny (pine resin). Overall a tad too sharp maybe. Finish: long on vanilla, cloves and a touch of menthol.
A great Ben Nevis that combines elements of Scotch, Irish and American whisky and creates an interesting mix. This particular cask is sold out, but La Maison du Whisky now has a second cask that should be closely related (I’ll review that one head-to-head in the future). Price: € 180.
Glen Spey is the least common of the five distilleries in Rothes. It’s part of the Diageo portfolio and most of the production goes to the J&B blend. Apart from a mediocre 12 year old Fauna & Flora bottling and a recent 30yo by Single Malts of Scotland, Glen Spey releases are extremely rare. The sister cask #3655 was bottled by Adelphi three years ago.
Glen Spey 31 yo 1977 (55,8%, Malts of Scotland 2009, cask #3656, 210 btl.)
Nose: sweet profile with fragant aromas of flowers, peach marmalade and yellow raisins. Smooth vanilla, almonds. Fruit gums. Blueberries? Good balance with a warm oak smell (slightly reminiscent of New Oak bottlings with lots of resin and spices). Hints of freshly cut grass and wax. Some mint. Very nice! Mouth: firm, grassy and minty attack with other spices taking over after a while (ginger, cloves, a little white pepper). Quite herbal. The sweet honeyed oak is again on the foreground. Not too overpowering for me but I suppose some people may have difficulties with it. Rather candied. Some aniseed. Unusually drying finish on apples and spices. Long and woody.
It may not be a huge achievement but this is one of the best Glen Spey bottlings ever. A wonderful nose but beware if you don’t like heavy oak on the palate. Well priced: € 125.
The Whisky Exchange, one of the most important whisky resellers in the world, is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. They’ve selected a couple of rare and interesting whiskies for this occasion. One of them is this cask strength 39 years old Longmorn 1969. One thing is certain: the refill sherry butt gave it a stunning colour.
Longmorn 39yo 1969 (57,7%, Gordon & MacPhail for TWE 2009, cask #5305)
Nose: very rich and intense. Excellent old sherry (chocolate, figs, rancio). Surprisingly fresh notes as well. Violets. Bramble. Black cherry. Furniture wax. Hints of blood oranges. Spicy christmas cake with notes of cinnamon and cardamom. Mint. Mouth: starting mostly on coffee. A bit sour at first and overall rather dry. Figs again with dark chocolate. Developing on spices and strawberry jam. Very intense. A drop of water helps to loose the alcohol and brings out hints of passion fruit. Finish: long with predominant cocoa / coffee. Strong fig notes.
A great Longmorn for intense sherry lovers. The sherry character is spot on and the power is impressive at such an age. It’s even better with a small drop of water. Around € 240, available from TWE of course but other shops as well.
Single cask Ardbegs are hugely popular, even though they are usually priced quite high. But old Ardbeg can be stunning so let’s investigate this 31 years old Ardbeg 1975 cask #1378, matured in a sherry butt and bottled at cask strength on the 8th of November 2006.
Ardbeg 31yo 1975
(53,7%, OB 2006, cask #1378, 453 btl)
Nose: great ‘old style’ Ardbeg with much less peat than we’re used to today. Big notes of camphor. A certain mellow sweetness from the sherry butt, with hints of cocoa and wonderful fruits (mainly berries and papaya). Some cinnamon and ashes. Slightly coastal as well, with hints of boat rope and wet sand. Great integration overall and very complex. Mouth: sweet start, perfect strength. Very chocolaty. More peat now than on the nose. Quite some oak too. Hints of salted nuts and raisins. Elegant and balanced. Getting drier and quite tannic towards the end. Finish: dry and very long, smokey, nutty and oaky. Waves of sherry and cocoa in the background.
If you want to try this one, you’ll have to pay over € 600. Too much for my wallet, but surely an Ardbeg masterpiece, complex with superb balance.