According to Ulf Buxrud’s RM website, there were 10 Brora’s in the Rare Malts series and most of them get high scores (although they have different characters). I bought this Brora 1982 on eBay a couple of years ago. At that time, I wasn’t very familiar with the distillery but I really enjoyed it and the level in the bottle quickly lowered.
Together with the Glenury Royal 23 yo 1971 (IWSC Gold Medal 1996), this Brora is one of the few Rare Malts releases that received an award (IWSC 2004 – Best Cask Strength Whisky).
Brora 20 yo 1982 (58,1%, Rare Malts 2003)
Nose: very attractive Highlands style, fruity (peach, apple, lemon), a bit perfumed even but slightly austere at the same time. A few salty notes (sea-air, iodine, oysters). Some smoke and peat but quite subtle and on par with the fruitiness. Hints of shoe polish and paraffin. Some leather. Very balanced, you can just sip this and enjoy or really get into it and unwind its complexity. Mouth: malty and spicy, with a firm kick at cask strength and an oily texture. Bittersweet with a touch of vanilla. Lightly peated again. Tobacco and dark chocolate as well (sweeter than other Brora). Finish: rather long and warm, slightly peppery, drying and smokey.
Certainly different from the 1970’s Brora style. I miss the farmy notes and the peat is quite subtle, but overall the 1982 still has a very nice coastal profile. What a shame my bottle is going to be finished soon. Quite rare now. Expect to pay around € 200 for a bottle.
This Glenury Royal 1971 was part of the first Rare Malts releases in 1995. Two other bottlings would follow. In recent years, mostly spectacular versions have been released, like a 50 year-old and a couple of 36 year-olds. The distillery was closed in 1983 and later demolished, just like most of its neighbours (Glenesk, Lochside, Nort Port).
Glenury Royal 23 yo 1971
(61,3%, Rare Malts 1995)
Nose: delicately fragrant. Sweet nectar. Apples, pears and Seville oranges followed by spices (cinnamon, hints of ginger, nutmeg). Quite sweet and fruity but there seem to be delicate drops of peat in the background. Good balance with the waxed oak, which is definitely present but not overpowering. Some vanilla. At times it even had a medicinal edge (iodine? menthol?). Complex and quite unique. Mouth: mouth-coating, with even more wood influence now, very warming. Some honey and plenty of jammy fruit. Lots of spices again. Still hints of peat but overall maybe a little less convincing than the nose. Finish: slightly drying (wood you know) with lingering spices (cloves, salt).
A high quality malt with a full, fruity and spicy presence. Very rare. Worth around € 250-300.
Mortlach distillery uses stills of different forms and types, some of which are really uncommon and weird. They were never changed though, because the results were surprisingly good and complex.
Apart from a couple of Rare Malts versions and a 1971 vintage bottled in 2004, there is just one official release, a generally highly regarded 16 year old bottling in the Flora & Fauna range, although that one’s hard to find sometimes since there’s not much 16yo stock available. Most of the production is used for the Johnnie Walker Black label blend, which means it’s uncertain if and when there will be a single malt Mortlach again.
Mortlach 22 yo 1972
(65,3%, Rare Malts 1995, 75cl.)
Nose: interestingly different. Grainy, with hints of freshly baked bread, and very waxy. Something that reminds me of bee pollen. Some flowers. A bit buttery. Mashed potatoes. Yeast. Rather smokey for a Speysider. Complex and very nice. Mouth: rather dry at first. Flowery citrus and lots of nutty flavours. After a few seconds, it suddenly gets sweeter (honey) and a whole lot hotter. Develops on apricot jam, spices (nutmeg, pepper), honey. Great evolution. Finish on caramel and slightly nutty, smokey notes. Again quite grainy.
A good one. Certainly not the sherry bomb we now from the Fauna & Flora release. Multi-layered and very warming. Currently worth around € 350.
This Banff 21y is the only official expression, as far as I know, before the distillery was demolished in 1983.
Banff 21y 1982 (51,7%, RM 2004)
Nose: clean and nutty, with notes of citrus and new oak. Something of dry straw as well. Overall quite acid and a bit metallic, but this is better when it warms up. Mouth: agressive attack, quite alcoholic and sharp. Starts on oranges and malt. Vanilla notes. Develops some really interesting notes of cape gooseberries (physalis fruit), too bad they fade quickly. Finish on marmelade, becoming more bitter, with some walnuts in the end. Light smoke in the background. Too bitter in the end, starts to taste like aspirin…
Well, it’s not a bad whisky, but it isn’t the most balanced either. It shows more or less the same flaws as the previously reviewed Banff 25y 1980 by Duncan Taylor. We’re convinced this distillery made much better stuff. For example, the absolutely stunning Banff 36y 1971 which was released by Douglas Laing in 2007.
Do I really need to introduce the Rare Malts Selection?
It was launched by Diageo (named United Distillers at that time) in 1995 for Tax Free markets but later on, it became available through regular retail shops as well. The aim of the collection was to present rather uncommon single malts. All of the bottlings had to be of high quality but also had to represent a typical distillery style.
The Rare Malts were not single casks, but small batches with a yield between 2000 and 6000 bottles (occasionally up to 12.000). Releases may have occurred at different times in different markets, sometimes also with a different alcohol volume. It’s difficult to say how many Rare Malts bottlings there are, but it should be somewhere between 100 and 125. Nowadays, most of them are true collector’s items. Check out Ulf Buxrud’s website for detailed information.
The Rare Malts series was discontinued in 2005. Over the next ten days, I’ll review a bunch of Rare Malts: Banff, Mortlach, Glenury Royal, Brora…
Inchgower is overlooked quite often, although it’s one of the few distilleries with a continuous production since the opening in 1871 (expect for WW II). Apart from the Flora & Fauna bottling, they don’t have regular releases; most of the production goes to the Bell’s blend.
Nose: warm and fruity. Lots of melon and kiwi. Apples. Quite some oak polish, sweet sawdust and paraffin. Big notes of vanilla and cinnamon. Leather. Honey. Hints of eucalyptus as well. Very subtle sherry, very fresh and fruity considering the age. Immensely complex really. Gets a bit more floral with a few drops of water. Mouth: sweet start, quickly getting mentholated. More plain oak now. Pear. Grapefruit. Hints of camomile and mint. Big notes of cloves and ginger. Slightly chocolaty. Showing some herbal notes, strong green tea and liquorice towards the end. About the same with water. Finish: drier, warm, spicy and oaky.
An Inchgower with a glorious nose that I sniffed maybe a hundred times before deciding to pour it. On the palate it’s mostly the spicy wood extracts that do the talking. Only 42 bottles but I’ve heard a few are still available. Price: € 150.
Benrinnes is known to use worm tubs instead of the more modern condensers to cool the spirit vapours and it’s using that as an argument for unique quality. At this moment, only 13 distilleries maintain this tradition.
With this 23 years old Benrinnes 1985 we conclude our series of the Diageo Special Releases for 2009. It was distilled in 1985 and matured in sherry casks.
Benrinnes 23 yo 1985
(58,8%, OB 2009, 6000 btl.)
Nose: what seems to start a bit meaty / sulphury actually stays clear of really bad aromas, with just some notes of gunpowder and a case of matchsticks. I don’t like sulphur but this is okay, especially since there are lots of nutty aromas (Nutella) and nice fruits (berries, prunes, cherries) to counterbalance it. Surprisingly sweet (demerara sugar). Hints of heather. Mouth: hazelnuts again. Raisins with a chocolate coating. A big spicy kick as well. Something slightly metallic. Beefy notes. Getting rubbery towards the end. Finish: spicy (nutmeg) with dry oak and hints of leather and tires.
Not exactly a clean sherry monster but not bad either. I know many fans will love this for its interesting notes of matches. Still too much “on the edge” for me, and I’m not convinced to pay € 140.
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!