Canto Cask was an experiment in which the same malt whisky was finished in different cask types (American & French oak) with varying toasting levels (each cask was flamed during a different period). The result is a series of 16 variations and each of those was sold by its own distributor.
The original whisky was a “triple malt”, a blend of just three single malts: Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teaninich, all 12 years old. After 18 additional months in the different casks, they were bottled at cask strength (52-55%). It’s interesting to see that only new oak was used, which is rather unusual for scotch whisky. The one I’m reviewing here was matured in an American oak cask, toasted to level 5 on a scale of 10.
The nose starts on vanilla, apples and a bit of wax and varnish. Some spicy notes as well (nutmeg and cloves). Smooth oakiness. Mouth: really powerful, gets quite hot and toasty but stays elegant and sweet at the same time. Seems older than it actually is. The same spices return, oak and toffee as well. Warm finish with some bitter notes (cloves, walnuts, liquorice). The slightest hint of smoke. Score: 85/100.
I like this a lot, it’s complex yet accessible and I support the idea of experimenting, especially when we’re invited to evaluate the different results. I have a Canto Cask 15 (bought in Spain) as well, matured in French oak with a higher toasting level. I’m hoping to open it soon and do a head-to-head.
In Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2008, The Black Grouse was chosen as the best blend of the year. This recently introduced and peated version of The Famous Grouse was well received by critics. It’s true that only a few blends put peat and smoke in the spotlight.
The Black Grouse (40%, OB)
Powerful nose with lots of malt and cereal. Smoke is nearly absent. Fruitiness (apple, peach). A bit more smoke in the taste, but still very subtle. Oak wood with some fruity notes. Creamy delivery. Very sweet finish on brown sugar and citrus. Score: 75.
I’m not really impressed by this. The smoke is quite faint and is certainly not in the spotlight. Most of all, I miss the deep warmth that I associate with peated whiskies. A decent dram considering the price (around € 20), but in the end it’s still a small grouse, not a powerful black falcon.
When it comes to American whiskey, there are three major types: those made from rye, from wheat and the ones that use corn, called bourbons. In fact they all use a mixture of grains, but they have to contain at least 51% of the main ingredient.
Buffalo Trace is bourbon from the distillery with the same name, based in Kentucky . It was the first brand to release ‘single barrel’ bourbon and ever since, they are trying hard to be seen as a progressive, ‘connoiseurs’ distillery of high quality.
Apart from the flagship ‘Buffalo Trace’ they have a couple of other products with different names: Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Sazerac…
Buffalo Trace (45%, OB)
Nose: both grains and sweet corn can be clearly distinguished. Some caramel and pine wood as well. With a drop of water, citrus fruit is coming out. Taste: very spicy, with notes of sweet honey and brown sugar. Mint and vanilla too. Hints of leather. Finish with sweet vanilla and dry oak notes, nicely balanced.
A quality bourbon with an unbelievably low price (€ 25). I’d rather get this bottle as a gift than any Scottish supermarket malt or blend of the same price. Don’t expect huge single malt complexity, but still a very interesting range of flavours.
There are magnificent jewels in the Rare Malts collection from Diageo. Twelve years ago, this was the first Caol Ila release in the series. Information and tasting notes about this bottling are now very scarce.
Caol Ila 1975 20y (61,18%, RM 1996)
Nose: seaweed, peat, grassy notes, faintly medicinal. A touch of sweet apples. Not a lot of smoke here. With water: wax. Not exactly surprising for a Coal Ila, but still impressive and refined. Palate: hello smoke! Rather peppery. Overpowering attack, very robust. Spicy taste, liquorice and a sweet layer of honey. Finish on almonds, pear and chocolate. Slightly bitter notes as well. Very long.
It seems that most whisky afficionados are no big fans of the Macallan Fine Oak series, but this one does get pretty good reviews. The spirit is matured in a combination of “only the best” bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. There’s no age statement and bottles are only available in duty free shops.
Macallan Fine Oak ‘Whisky Maker’s Selection’’ (42,8%, OB)
Nose: vanilla and peach. Some pineapple and a light hint of coconut. Oak as well. Spicy taste (liquorice), vanilla again, praliné and dry sherry. Less fruity and not overly sweet. Aftertaste on chocolate, apple cake and a little coffee. Nice balance. Good stuff.
Glen Moray is owned by the people from Glenmorangie. The addition ‘Glenlivet’ on the bottle was pretty common until the 1970-80’s, it’s just a reminder that the distillery is located near the Livet river (other distilleries used the same addition, e.g. Glenrothes, Dailuaine, Glenfarclas…). Not to be confused with the distillery ‘The Glenlivet’ which isn’t related to this bottle.
Glen Moray 1967 25y (43%, OB 1993, 395 btl.)
Fruity nose. Apricot, vanilla and honey. The sherry cask is easily recognizable. Something of freshly baked bread as well. After a while, it opens up with hints of red fruit and kirsch. Mouth: notes of wood (subtle though), vanilla again, and cooked fruits. The nose was more interesting, but still no faults whatsoever. The finish is more spicy (clove) and tends to chocolate and black tea.
This is a textbook example of good Speyside whisky. It has a perfectly classic profile: soft, round, sweet-fruity and a great balance. Well made.
This whisky was distilled in spring 1983, a few months before they mothballed the distillery. It was bottled in the winter of 2007 (hey, shouldn’t it be 24y then?)
Port Ellen 23y 1983 (46%, DL McG Provenance 2007, refill butts #3402-3403)
Nose: salty sea air, peat and smoke, mineral notes. A bit of lemon juice and apple with vanilla. Mouth: sweeter, with some pepper. Again apples, a little almond flavour. Definitely oil as well. No distinct tar or asphalt this time, just soft smoke. With water: clearly grassier and slightly salty. The finish is quite assertive and peppery, with sweet peat and smoke.
Not a bad Port Ellen at all (are there any?), but no match for the (cask strength) OB’s either. It reminds me of Caol Ila in some way, although the Port Ellen is more robust and flavoursome.
Two classics. I bought them in a Classic Malts Islay Pack (5x 20cl) so I decided to try them head to head.
Caol Ila 12y (43%, OB)
Very clean nose, not very complex but nice anyway. Smoke, peat, motor oil and fresh hints of apple, lemon and grass. Overall rather salty (oysters), you can taste the sea. Very oily, grassy taste in which the slightly sweet smoke only breaks through towards the end. As if the compact taste cannot fully express itself. Powerful, long finish with notes of pepper, barbecue and peat.
Caol Ila 18y (43%, OB)
Softer nose, less salty and less smoky. Instead sweeter notes of flowers, apricot and marzipan. More grass as well. Mouth: development of vanilla, peat, some smoke and a bit more salt than on the nose. Finish: coffee with liquorice and that salty touch again.
Score: ook 83/100.
I can’t really say I have a favourite. The 12y is cleaner, with a powerful (after)taste. The 18y is more balanced, has a broader range of flavours and has more body.