Cadenhead’s is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler. Some of their ‘dumpy’ bottlings (in strangely shaped, dark-coloured glass) from the 1970’s and 1980’s are legendary. Nowadays, they’re still a very respected bottler.
In March 2009, for the seventh time already, Cadenhead’s launched its yearly Single Malt Nosing Challenge.
The concept is simple: in return for
€ 15, you get a sample pack (4×5 cl) of undisclosed whisky. You have to name the region, distillery, age and wood type of each of the samples.
I decided to join the contest. Just for fun, I’m not pretending to have a chance at all. Yesterday, I tried them and made a guess (I found two of them pretty recognizable – or at least those were distilleries I’m quite familiar with, the other two are a guess really). Whatever they may be, they were good quality anyway and I hope they get bottled afterwards.
The winner will be announced on the 7th of September.
About a year ago, The Dalmore revised its core range. The Dalmore ‘Cigar Malt’ was replaced by this ‘Gran Reserva’. It is a combination of Gonzalez Byass sherry matured spirit (60%) and bourbon matured spirit (40%). There’s no age statement, but it is said to be between 10 and 15 years. As a possible partner for a good Havana, it should be robust, rich and aromatic. Now where did I leave those Montecristo’s…
The Dalmore ‘Gran Reserva’
(40%, OB 2008)
Nose: heather and dark chocolate. Rather malty. Orange marmelade. Cake. Hints of sherry and oak. Roasted coffee beans. Mouth: slightly weakish but rich enough. Heather again. Orange notes. Caramel as well (too bad). Vague smoke. Finish: mixture of coffee, dry oloroso sherry and hints of vanilla.
This Dalmore has a nicely roasted, sherried and robust character but it could gain extra points with a higher strength. A point of criticism that’s not new, but still valid in times when other distilleries are switching to 43 and 46% for standard bottlings. Around € 40.
Balblair, one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, renewed its complete range in February 2007, with a new branding and bottle design. The age statements were replace by vintages (1975, 1979, 1986 (duty free), 1989 and 1997). Around 15% of the production is bottled as single malt.
This Balblair 1997 is a mixture of mostly ex-bourbon barrels with a few 2nd fill sherry butts.
Balblair 1997 (43%, OB 2008)
Nose: clean barley with soft vanilla. Really fresh and minty, with quite a lot of fruity notes (apple, orange, lemon, pineapple). Honey. Also spicy notes (cinnamon) from the oak. I quite like the nose. Mouth: sweet attack, again really fruity (pineapple, apricot, grapefruit). Vanilla. Subtle oak. Very light hints of peat. Evolving on spices and liquorice. Finish: a bit too simple and maybe a tad too bitter (ginger).
Well, I have to say this dram exceeded my expectations. Good introduction malt. Around € 40.
Glenfarclas 39 yo 1970 (54,4%, The Perfect Dram 2009, first fill oloroso butt, 240 btl.)
Beautiful oloroso colour! Nose: classic sherry influence. 1+1 is definitely more than 2 here. Very big, dark chocolate smell with raisins, oranges and dry figs. Some toasted flavours (coffee, roasted nuts). Hints of matches but far away from the sulphur alarm. Just terrific. You might argue this is closer to sherry than whisky though. Mouth: very powerful and still very sherried, developing on dry fruits (figs, prunes, cherries) and going towards balsamic syrup. Slightly bitter hints (cafe cortado or over-infused tea) with a faint salty edge. Really mouth-coating and very concentrated. Finish: medium long and very elegant.
Amazing how sherry maturation can result in such an integrated dram (like only Glenfarclas can produce). A real sherry bomb. Actually, when diluted, this is getting really close to some of my best sherry bottles… Price unknown.
This Balvenie Roasted Malt is made from malt that has been germinating for only 1 day (instead of 5) and dried a bit heavier than usual (at 200°C). Roasting is measured in EBC (European Brewing Colour) units, and this malt reached up to 1800 EBC whereas normal malt reaches 30 EBC. Roasted malt is commonly used for the production of stout beer but not for whisky.
This is a limited edition, made from a batch of 43 casks, but it’s still available.
Balvenie 14y ‘Roasted Malt’
(47,1%, OB 2006)
Nose: Surprisingly dusty, like wet cardboard or even some church with some lingering incense. Hints of smoke and toasted bread. A bit prickly and spirity as well. After a while, hints of apple. Uncommon for a Balvenie, although there are more common notes of honey and vanilla as well, but more on a second level. Mouth: ah, much more typically Balvenie: marmalade, vanilla sweetness, crême brulée. Lots of oak influence. Slightly peppered. A bit harsh though. Finish: rather dry and nutty. A tad bitter. Subtle hints of coffee.
I’m afraid this is one of the lesser Balvenies I’ve had. Not bad, but I prefer the usual, gentle profile. Around € 70.
Baker’s is made from the recipe preferred by Baker Beam, the great grand-nephew of the legendary Jim Beam. It uses a yeast first developed in the 30’s to provide a smooth texture and consistency from batch to batch. This type of whiskey is called “sour mash” bourbon.
It is said to be appreciated by cognac afficionados as a replacement for their favourite after dinner dram.
Baker’s 7y (53,5%, OB 2007)
Nose: new leather, mint. Rye. Fresh oak. Caramel, vanilla and some cinnamon. Flowery notes as well, which is not really common in bourbon but quite nice indeed. Less powerful than other cask strength bourbons maybe, drier and a tad more complex. With a splash of water: hints of banana and ripe plums. Maple syrup. Mouth: rich and mellow. Peppermint, ginger, vanilla. Oranges. Some caramel and toasted peanuts. Spicy, although the alcohol may help to exaggerate this. Pine wood. Finish: banana with a dark chocolate coating. Ginger. Sweet and long.
It’s always nice to have a dram from a distillery you haven’t tasted before. This will be my first Glenugie. It used to be the easternmost distillery in Scotland, founded in 1831 but closed and dismantled during the whisky crisis of 1983. There are no official bottlings and independent ones are scarce.
Glenugie 27yo 1982
(50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 2009, DL ref. 5040, 216 btl.)
Nose: starts on vanilla and flowers. Quite a sweet but fresh nose, reminds me of a good (flowery) moscatel wine. Hints of bergamot and pollen. Developing on fruit candy. Pineapple, orange marmalade, peach. Caramelized apples. Pears on syrup. Slightly waxy as well. What can I say: wow! Mouth: here we go again… all sorts of fruits or fruit liqueurs, candy sugar, hints of cake and marmalade. Vanilla. Marzipan. The oakiness is well controlled for the age. More herbal notes towards the end. Finish: very creamy, soft vanilla. Medium length.
Glenugie is often ignored and getting difficult to find, but I think this one is a hidden gem. The previous cask of Glenugie in the Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask series was quite popular, and I can see why. TWE has an interesting price (£ 100) whereas the rest of Europe seems to charge around € 140. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about this one!
Duncan Taylor, like many other independent bottlers, sometimes bottle casks for certain stores or distributors. This cask was the second Caol Ila that they’ve bottled for The Nectar in 2008. Both were distilled in 1982 and the previous one was very good (I was able to taste it in a store, so no actual tasting notes).
The Nectar is the Belgian importer of Arran, Springbank, Samaroli… and Duncan Taylor. They also bottle their own casks in the Daily Dram series.
Caol Ila 26yo 1982
(54,6%, Duncan Taylor 2008, for The Nectar, cask #2738, 279 btl.)
Nose: nice and clean. Rather ashy but quite fruity as well. Lemon and lychee. Vanilla. Hints of smoked bacon, liquorice and bonfires. After a while, it starts getting slightly farmy (wet wool, stables) which is something I really appreciate. Some coastal notes as well. Complex with a subtle balance. Mouth: big invasion of peat, mineral notes and citrus. Quite salty and very powerful, more than you would expect at this age. Develops on sweeter notes. Finish on liquorice with a salty edge. Sweet peat smoke and lemon pie.
Like the previous cask: high quality Caol Ila with a large range of flavours to be discovered. Since it was bottled for a local distributor, it will be hard to find outside of Belgium. Around € 125.