The results of this year’s WWA09 have been announced:
Best Whisky Liqueur: Wild Turkey American Honey Best grain whisky: Compass Box Hedonism Best new release: Highland Park 40 years old Best blended malt: Taketsuru 21 years old Best American whisky: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Best single malt whisky: Highland Park 21 years old
This year, the crown jewels for best single malt have returned to Scotland, after being in Japan in 2008 (for their Yoichi 20y). I’m sure Highland Park 21y is a very decent malt, although I haven’t tried it. I have a bottle that’s still closed. This seems like a good opportunity to open it and see what the fuzz is all about. If you want one yourself, you’ll have to travel, since it’s only available in travel retail.
Other prize winners in some of the sub-categories: Tyrconnell single cask as the best Irish single malt, Lagavulin 16y as best Islay peated malt, Glenlivet Archive 21y as the best Speysider, Mackmyra First Edition as best “Other” single malt… In fact, there are so many sub-categories that your favourite malt has probably won some prize or another!
The third Bunnahabhain from The Whisky Agency is a 34 year-old matured in an oloroso sherry cask. You could have easily guessed that, this one is intensely copper coloured instead of the golden hue of the other two.
Oloroso sherry can be really sweet (e.g. Solera 1847 by Gonzalez Byass) or dry (e.g. Alfonso by Gonzalez Byass or the 30 year-old Apostoles).
Bunnahabhain 34y 1974 (59,3%, The Whisky Agency 2008, Perfect Dram I, 300 btl.)
Nose: whoaa, terrific sherry influence! Leather and dried fruits (prunes, dates). Chocolate. Tobacco, cigar box. Some hints of a dusty cellar with refreshing mint at the same time. Nutty flavours as well. Dark sugar. With some water, slightly floral notes appear. Very complex and extremely well balanced. Wonderful. Mouth: really intense and mouth coating. Starting sweet, with a bit of brown sugar and dried fruit. A tad herbal (is that thyme?). Walnuts. Clearly marked by the wine but very smooth. Getting drier in the end. Finish: long, lingering aftertaste on dark chocolate and dried apricots.
This kind of dram makes my day. I’m a fan of old, sherry matured whisky and it fits the Bunnahabhain perfectly. Easily the best whisky of the three. Also the most expensive at € 180.
ps/ If you want to try these sherried 1970’s Bunnahabhains yourself, Luc Timmermans’ Whiskysamples.eu can provide you with a 3cl sample. There are lots of wonderful offerings in his store, fairly priced and perfectly delivered. Worth checking out.
Nose: oh boy. While there are certainly nice aspects to this dram, like the sherry sweetness and notes of raisins and honey, I’m afraid I can’t get over the dirty notes. It smells like cooked cabbage, wet forest and mushrooms. Now I love mushrooms, but this is rather unpleasant. The thing is, once you notice it, it’s really hard to appreciate other flavours, because it doesn’t even disappear after 30 minutes in the glass. Mouth: better, starting sweet with floral notes and honey. But still a background of mushrooms. Growing more bitter towards the end. Finish: notes of tonic, like in the Bunnahabhain 1976, and some rubber as well.
I think this was good spirit matured in a less than perfect sherry butt. Second and third fill sherry casks are more prone to sulphur treatment, could that be the reason? Not my kinda dram anyway. Around € 175.
ps/ Serge at Whiskyfun seems to like it, even with the dirty notes.
This 32 year-old Bunna was matured in fino sherry casks. Fino is the lighter, fresher and usually bone-dry type of Jerez wine (think of the Tio Pepe brand). In contrast to the Oloroso or Amontillado sherry, fino develops under a layer of flor, a type of yeast that prevents it from oxydizing and adds a savoury, mineral tang to the wine.
It’s quite rare to find fino-matured whisky but Bunnahabhain seems to have used this type several times. I know of one other 1976 release in the Murray McDavid Mission series last year (maybe a sister cask?)
Nose: dry-sweet. Nicely floral and fruity. Guava, apple, tangerine. Some notes of wax. Pollen. Fresh sea breeze. Not extremely expressive, but still rather complex and delicate. Mouth: medium-sweet attack, starting on fruit (oranges), with some spices (cloves). Walnuts. After a while, getting drier with notes of tonic and even aspirine. Not entirely balanced, I would say. Grapefruit and more oak.
Good whisky, but the bitterness prevents it from being a real winner. Around € 150.
The Fettercairn distillery is not highly regarded and doesn’t have a history of great releases. It’s currently owned by Whyte & Mackay and only has one official release, the 12 year old Fettercairn 1824.
This bottling is part of The Whisky Agency’s ‘Perfect Dram’ series. It’s pretty unusual to find such an old bottling (33 years old). As a matter of fact, independent bottlings are rare altogether. It was matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead.
Fettercairn 33y 1975 (58,3%, The Whisky Agency 2008, Perfect Dram I, 143 btl.)
Nose: when I first opened my sample, I was surprised to find a few off-notes. Mushrooms, rancid butter, that kind of stuff. But they disappeared almost immediately after pouring it into my glass. Well, there’s still a buttery / nutty undertone, but that’s nice enough, so let’s forget about it. It’s also nicely fruity, grainy and spicy. A bit of cumin, some cinnamon and cloves. Hints of sour cream? Interesting. There’s also some speculoos and cookies. Apple and pear. Mouth: starting a bit sharp and sour (ginger, orange peel, tannins), but getting more powerful and fruity. Big, juicy grapefruit! Really nice. Some apricot, kumquat and tangerine. Still some cumin as well. Finish on grapefruit, again a bit sour and slightly bitter. Oranges. Christmas cake and unripe mango in the aftertaste.
A difficult dram, it goes in different directions which is confusing but interesting at the same time. It does have a unique character though. Around € 160.
Hag Rap Oil – Laphroaig 9y 1998
(56,7%, Daily Dram 2007, 450 bottles)
Nose: iodine, peat, phenols. Smoked fish. Fresh leather. More tobacco than smoke, pretty complex. If you place it next to the 10y CS, this one is much more buttery and oily, less oaky with fewer notes of lemon but more vanilla. I would say this one is more feminine. Mouth: more smoke now, more oil. Sweeter notes too. Vanilla again. Finish: drier, with a pinch of salt. Sweet smoke.
Very vivid, punchy Laphroaig. Especially the nose is wonderful. Sold out, but The Bonding Dram still seems to have some stock (€ 55).
I always had the impression that the Quarter Cask and 10y Cask Strength are the most popular Laphroaigs. Well, I haven’t tried them all, but the 10y CS definitely is a classic Laphroaig. It’s said the recent batches are really good, at the same level of the older (“Green stripe”) bottlings. Let me see…
Laphroaig 10 yo Cask strength
(55,7%, OB 2007)
Nose: lovely deep smoke with tarry notes and lots of phenol. Balanced with sweet vanilla, a bit of brown sugar and some fruity notes. Medicinal. Seaweed. A bit of lemon, burried somewhere underneath. Mouth: powerful start, very robust and quite peppery. The best ashtray ever! Becomes sweeter (toffee, caramel) with a salty edge. Finish: long and hot. Phenols again. Smoky with a hint of gasoline.
This is very very good whisky. Among the best standard bottlings on the market. This punchy classic is a must-have for every Islay enthousiast. Around € 45.
A small note: Laphroaig announced that they will release different batches of the 10yo CS in the future. So instead of trying to reproduce the same flavour profile over and over again, they will allow some variations in the profile and the alcohol volume. It seems to become trendy to do this (Lagavulin 12yo, Springbank 1997, Aberlour A’bunadh…), and one of the reasons may be that it may convince enthousiasts to buy all the different batches and see how they compare. Edition n°1 will be bottled shortly.