The latest Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014 arrived on my doorstep the other day. Without doubt one of the books that I look forward to most.
It is packed with information about the recent whisky year. Which new releases have hit the market, which evolutions did we see in distilleries, what’s the situation like in other countries than Scotland, etc. Apart from the data and statistics, there are +/- 60 pages with articles written by renowned whisky writers (Buxton, Maclean, Roskrow…).
Here are some of this year’s themes:
Emerging markets: how is whisky doing in China, India or Africa?
How did Scotch conquer the world during the last 150 years?
What’s the effect of the recent mergers and acquisitions?
A short history of finishing
Experimental small distilleries like Teeling Whiskey, Zuidam or the Italian Puni distillery
A social look on whisky and whisky festivals
Some of these articles are quite ‘industrial’ – overviews of people, companies, figures – not always easy reading for outsiders but very insightful nonetheless. And even when you’re not interested in the industry news, it’s an essential list of distilleries, bottlings and events.
Most books are read once and then gather dust on your shelf, but this is the kind of book you’ll keep picking up, to look up some facts and figures or simply read the interviews and articles. Ingvar Ronde does a great job editing such an in-depth overview of today’s whisky industry.
The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014 is sold through whisky shops all over Europe, distillery visitor centres or you can buy it online for £ 14.
I have a large amount of old samples waiting in my whisky cupboard, a few hundreds at least, brought together over the last eight years or so. Some magnificent single cask Ardbegs as well, and sometimes I simply don’t find the time to enjoy them (always waiting for a special moment, you know). Here we go with an excellent dram, for no special reason: Ardbeg 1974 cask #5666.
Ardbeg 31 yo 1974 (51,8%, OB 2006, bourbon cask #5666, 168 btl.)
Nose: walnuts and gentle peat up front, but it develops almond milk (horchata) and lemon sweets as well. Turkish delight! Rosehip syrup? Sweet marzipan. Butter pastry and vanilla. Quite a round nose. Nice turpentine and camphor underneath. A little herbal syrup. Back to vanilla latte. Beeswax. Even hints of musk? Grand. Mouth: less rounded now, highly mentholated. Marzipan again, aromatic pepper, lemon pie and bergamot. Heather. Cinnamon. Still a hint of Turkish delight. Something in between Pu-Erh and Jasmin tea. Sweet liquorice. Hints of Benedictine. The best cough syrup ever. Finish: very long, still sweet, herbal and leathery.
A magnificent Ardbeg. Surprising sweet notes, floral notes and some of the best herbal liqueurs. Those were the days, my friend. So, you want one? Expect to pay around € 1400 now.
For now this 25 year old Bowmore 1987 is the diamond on the crown of the new Old Particular range by Douglas Laing. Wait, what’s that sound? Right, my 1980’s Bowmore alarm went off.
Bowmore 25 yo 1987 (50,2%, Douglas Laing Old Particular 2013, refill hogshead, 234 btl.)
Nose: a very creamy profile, with strawberry sweets and some goji berry notes. A lot of sweet barley with relatively subtle smoke and brine. Some oranges and lemon. Some floral notes too, but not the perfumy style. Really okay so far. Mouth: soap, soap, soap. Also lavender and parma violets. I won’t make an effort to pick up other flavours – soap is one of these total blockers. Peppered soap with hints of perfume. Finish: ruined.
The tasting notes on the label say:
Parma Violets in the mouth (typical for old Bowmore)
They’re pretty honest about it, but the fact that most Bowmores from this era have it (here’s a 1983 version), doesn’t make it a feature. Just to get this straight: it’s not typical for old Bowmore, it’s only typical for the period between +/- 1981 and 1988. It’s also found in Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch, coincidently all part of the Morrisson Bowmore group. Really old Bowmore is totally different and sometimes utterly fantastic.
This soapy Bowmore is a style on its own and I’m allergic to it. Like sulphur though, not everyone will be sensible, some will even like it. Mind that it’s not representative for the overall quality of the Old Particular range. Around € 320 – better wait for the interesting Port Ellen that is also in the pipeline.
Old Ballantruan is distilled at Tomintoul distillery. This peated version was first launched in 2009 without age statement, and the 10 year old followed in 2012.
Old Ballantruan 10 yo
(50%, OB 2012)
Nose: sweet and a little light, with plenty of oak spices, both soft vanilla and sharp ginger. Sharpish peat as well, the yeasty / leafy kind. Sweet bread. Some hints of banana and vanilla, signs of its youth. Mouth: tangy peat with a very sweet, malty core. Grain biscuits. Liquorice and kippers. Vanilla again. Lots of pepper and ginger. Punchy, young and a little rough. Finish: long, slightly hot and tangy with ginger and grassy notes.
Old Ballantruan 10 is pretty much okay. It’s peaty and rough, kind of a brash youngster. Around € 55.
We’ve seen a lot of Tomintoul 1967-1968 in the last few years, but only one or two Tomintoul 1972’s that I can think of: the Perfect Dram and one in the Private Collection by Gordon & MacPhail, with a ridiculous price.
This one is part of the new releases by Maltbarn. Only available from Maltbarn directly or Whiskybase in the Netherlands, there is no more importer for Belgium.
Nose: like most old Tomintouls, very subtle. Fresh lemony notes, waxed oak and hints of floral honey. Underneath are warm fruity notes, say whitecurrant and dried banana. Hints of buttercups and light mint. Very good but soft. Mouth: nice fruits at first. Melon, orange sweets, lime and quinces. Almond notes. Apple pastry. Sweeter than expected actually. Nice Mānuka honey. The oak slowly appears, but the amount of nutmeg and liquorice is well controlled. Soft herbal touches in the end. Finish: medium long, minty and spicy. Still lots of honeyed notes.
This is a nice Tomintoul, a little fuller and sweeter than most of the other oldies. Highly drinkable – good selection. Around € 220.
Johnnie Walker Double Black is supposed to be a more extreme version of Johnnie Walker Black Label which I reviewed before. Some of the spirit used was matured in deeply charred casks, and the proportion of peaty Islay malt should be higher.
It’s a fairly recent addition to the Johnnie Walker range. It used to be a Duty Free exclusive but it’s now widely available.
Johnnie Walker Double Black
(40%, OB +/- 2013)
Nose: indeed this is clearly Islay influenced. Smoke and ashed, even a slightly medicinal touch. Mineral notes too. Toasted almonds. The citrus and malt of the regular Johnnie Walkers are still there, as is a hint of vanilla and something of a pine wood air freshener. Mouth: oily, lots of Caol Ila character here and hardly noticeable grains. Plain peat. Some salty butter, surprisingly briney actually. A vague sweetness. Mint. Finish: long, fades on salty liquorice and malt. Some cold ashes as well.
I don’t think this is Johnnie Walker Black Label in an amplified version. It’s a style on its own. I think Black Label is too smooth and sweet to be called a smoky blend, but Double Black really is smoky. It’s much closer to single malt Islay whisky than I expected. A blend that’s really well put together – too bad this isn’t at 43%. Around € 35 in my local supermarket – sometimes under € 30 if you look out. Good value for money.
Coopers Choice is a Scottish independent bottler founded in 1992. I can’t say I’ve tried a lot of their whiskies but we’re familiar with the distillery of course, and the simple fact that The Whisky Fair selected this Caol Ila 1982 already means something.
Caol Ila 30 yo 1982
(52%, The Coopers Choice for Limburg Whisky Fair 2013, bourbon hogshead #4721, 275 btl.)
Nose: hello there! Lovely nose, starts off in a fruity way (ripe bananas, tangerines). Very oily, greasy peat. Waxy crayons and plasticine. Leather. Almond oil. Not too sharp, nor too briney, very well balanced. Subtle hints of petrol and seaweed. Really elegant. It even becomes slightly farmy (stables, wet wool). Actually it comes quite close to the latest Brora 35yo’s. Enough said. Mouth: clean and well rounded. Again a sweet peaty layer but less prominently fruity now (maybe crystallized oranges). Gets slightly punchier and more coastal. Lots of medicinal notes: camphor, iodine. Wax again, garage aromas, wet gravel, aniseed and liquorice. Salted almonds. Finish: long, coastal and leathery.
Caol Ila can be boringly good, if you know what I mean. This one is special, it stands out with its waxy old-style profile and its Brora-esk farmy hints. Not the cheapest Caol Ila but not as insanely priced as Brora either. A wonderful dram, I love it. Around € 200.
You may have seen my ‘mystery sample’ posts about this on my Facebook page. It is the upcoming Glen Garioch Vintage 1999, a small batch release matured in Oloroso sherry casks, which is not too common for Glen Garioch.
Glen Garioch 1999
(56,3%, OB 2013, sherry matured)
Nose: very aromatic, with orange zest and mint. In the middle there is lots of toffee. Hints of red berry candy and plums. Butter caramel and hazelnuts covered in milk chocolate. Some pepper and cinnamon. Subtle hints of hay. This kind of sherry reminds me of Glenrothes and Dalmore, with a few hints of rubber. Mouth: punchy and spicy, with lots of toffee again. Figs and dates too. Oranges. Plenty of spices like ginger and pepper. Some resinous notes and eucalyptus, even a light salty edge. Better than the nose. Finish: long, on liquorice, Seville oranges and toffee.
This Glen Garioch takes the path of ‘modern’, spicy and slightly tangy sherry influence. I may not be the biggest fan, but it does represent the Highlands style pretty well. Not sure when it will be available and how much it will cost, Glen Garioch will probably reveal more details later.