Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Springbank whiskySpringbank has a few interesting things coming up, some of which were available to try at the latest Sprits in the Sky festival, still the best whisky festival we have in Belgium.

Springbank Green 12 Years Old

 

 

There’s Springbank Green 12 Years, an organic whisky although not entirely. It’s made from organic barley but the distillery doesn’t have the necessary certificates to release the whisky as entirely organic. So it’s called ‘green’ instead. It’s fully bourbon-matured and I thought it was quite good.

I’ve heard some rumours about a new, more heavily sherried Springbank 17 Year Old due in January, Springbank 18 Years Single Cask - The Nectarbut I couldn’t find that one at the festival.

There’s also a Springbank 18 Years Single Cask bottled for The Nectar in Belgium (58,7%). An exquisite version of this already really good dram, very fruity, with lots of oily notes and seemingly more smoky notes than expected.

 

 

Today we’ll review the new top expression for the core range: Springbank 25 Year Old. A few casks from the first batch of the new Springbank 21 Years have been kept back (four casks to be correct) and finished in Port casks for a couple of months to form this 25yo.

They can keep it available each year but batches will be very small (this year 1200 bottles, next year not even 1000 bottles). It follows the strange glossy style of the 21yo label, but with a silver background and red accents.

 

 

Springbank 25 Year Old (2014)Springbank 25 Years
(46%, OB 2014, 1200 btl.)

Nose: quite fruity (baked apples, oranges, lots of berries) with some waxy notes and a subtle dose of sherry and Port (going towards plums, strawberries and fragrant raspberries). Touches of paraffin, damp cellar and whiffs of brine. All quite subtle and slightly modern / winey. Not bad at all but not a match for old bottlings either. Mouth: quite rich with a fair deal of wine again, but not exactly powerful and slightly vinous. Raspberries are back, some cassis, plums and candied oranges. Gingery notes, cinnamon and liquorice. Leathery and earthy notes too. Finish: medium long, on crystallized fruits, with oak and brine.

This new Springbank 25 is not bad at all, but it feels a bit restrained – I expected a bit more, especially when the price will be around £ 300. I was much more impressed with the excellent 18 Year Old Single Cask which I believe to be around € 130.

Score: 87/100


Earlier this year, Suntory launched two NAS expressions as part of the core ranges of Hakushu and Yamazaki, both named Distiller’s Reserve. Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve joins the 12 Year Old to form the standard range of this Japanese distillery.

As a NAS expression, the Distiller’s Reserve contains different spirits: young lightly peated malts (8 years and older), heavily peated malt and whisky matured in American oak for around 18 years. All the casks have been hand-picked by Suntory’s Master Blender, Shinji Fukuyo.

 

Hakushu Distiller's ReserveHakushu ‘Distiller’s Reserve’
(43%, OB 2014)

Nose: very fruity and aromatic with plenty of vanilla. Unripe pears and apples, melon and lemons. There’s also a grassy / minty note (slightly new-oakish) as well as something of cucumber. A subtle smokiness in the background. Pine wood. Mouth: again a bright fruitiness, but with more oak and more herbal notes now. Lots of zesty notes, slightly bitter, especially grapefruit. Again some pine wood and gingery notes, as well as earthy overtones. A little on the young side now. Finish: medium long, soft smoke, green fruits and wood.

One of the advantages of a NAS is the ability to bring together aromas that are normally linked to different ages. This is the first time that I think this idea actually works well, at least on the nose. On the palate you can’t stop thinking it’s young whisky trying to feel older. Nonetheless decent stuff, reasonably priced. Around € 50.

Score: 84/100


The square or cube shaped bottles of Aberlour 8 Year Old have a great reputation for being relatively easy-to-get, nicely old-style whisky. From 1957 until 1985, most Aberlour was filled into this type of bottle, most importantly for the Italian market but also for France, Germany and the USA.

There’s definitely batch variation and it’s quite difficult to know which version you’re dealing with. Some of them have a distillation and/or bottling year on the front or neck label. Some of them say “8 Year Old”, others “8 Years Old”, “Over 8 Year Old” or “Over 8 Years Old”. Some of them have screw caps, others have a (small) cork stopper. Early bottlings say “Est. 1828” while later versions say “Est. 1845”. Some of them are bottled at 43%, others at 50%.

The one we’re trying today is supposedly one of the best versions. It says 8 Year Old, Est. 1828 and has a small cork stopper.

When I tried it at a recent Fulldram tasting I had a lot of difficulty with the aromas. Despite its fame, I thought it was the worst whisky of the evening. Very dirty at first, lots of sulphury notes and cooked cabbage which I personally hate in sherried whisky. Aeration helped, but somehow the dirty side didn’t go away before the evening was over. I decided to pour most of my dram into a sample bottle and take it home, where I tried it again two weeks later. To my surprise, the nose had almost entirely cleared up.

 

 

Aberlour 8 Years, square bottle, small corkAberlour 8 yo (50%, OB early 1970’s, Italian market, cube shaped bottle, small cork stopper)

Nose: very different indeed. Still old-style, with some shoe polish and a good deal of rubbery hints, but it’s mostly nice sherry now. Slightly greasy, with quite some fruity sweetness, marzipan and a surprising level of vanilla. Brown sugar, leather. Hay. Some smoky notes in the background. After a while, it becomes frankly tropical, such a great twist. Mouth: punchy and well-balanced. Sugar coated peanuts, smoked almonds, heather honey and dried fruits. A little mint. Vanilla cake. Then something in between liquorice and tar liqueur. Bitter oranges and herbal tea. Finish: long, with more oak. Sweet and sour notes with a salty edge.

This shows that old whisky needs more time to assess, and some bottles need days after opening to show their best expression. Anyway I can see why this earned its fame, it’s a good example of old-style sherried whisky.

Score: 91/100


In the Small Batch series from Cadenhead there is this 21 years old Clynelish 1992. In fact there is also a 50,4% version specifically bottled for The Nectar in Belgium (a ‘Christmas bottling’ of 222 bottles) but we’re now reviewing the general release.

We haven’t seen much Clynelish 1992 lately (1996-1997 is all over the place) but quite a few 1992’s have been bottled around 2005-2007. I wonder whether this is a leftover cask or the first of a new wave?

 

Clynelish 21yo 1992 - Cadenhead Small BatchClynelish 21 yo 1992
(51,6%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2014, bourbon hogsheads, 792 btl.)

Nose: powerful, even a bit spirity and closed at first. More open after a while, with almonds and lemons, a bit of orange honey and green apple peelings. Sweet lime juice. Vanilla cake. A very slight coastal side, as well as hints of chalk and waxed paper. In the background also echoes of dried herbs. Nicely balanced and increasingly complex. Mouth: oily mouthfeel, clean, very citrusy, mixed with waxy notes. Medium sweet with hints of vanilla and lime candy. Sweet oak. Then the herbal side returns, alongside peppery notes and a delicate earthiness. Finish: long, drier, with a slightly bitter edge and lots of citrus.

Simply a great Clynelish. The sweet touches and rounded waxy notes make it very seductive. Around € 110.

Score: 90/100


Ardmore Legacy

05 Nov 2014 | Ardmore

Most distilleries are going down the path of launching NAS expressions, usually by introducing new bottlings. Sometimes old expressions are discontinued at the same time and you keep thinking they’re simply lowering the bar a little…

In the case of Ardmore, it’s not just lowering the bar but also watering down. Ardmore Traditional Cask, a rather well-respected dram (kind of the underdog for Islay whisky), has recently been discontinued and replaced with Ardmore Legacy. The old one was bottled at 46% and unchill filtered, the new one is bottled at the bare minimum of 40% and comes filtered. On the other hand, it seems the Traditional Cask will reappear in another form in 2015 so maybe it’s all just a temporary complaint.

Ardmore Legacy is a mix of 80% peated malt and 20% unpeated.

 

 

Ardmore LegacyArdmore Legacy (40%, OB 2014)

Nose: malty sweetness (think breakfast cereals), with candy apple and toffee. Smoked almonds and marzipan. Vanilla. Hints of bread crust. Gentle peat and charcoal, easy to notice but not on the Islay level. Honeyed nuts and cinnamon. Mouth: fairly light, although I have to say it’s less noticeable because the peaty notes add weight. Some caramel sweetness and mocha, with nice charred notes and roasted coffee beans. Apples. Also light earthy notes and spices. Fades away really quickly though, leaving a thin impression. Finish: medium long, fairly dry and not too intense, with roasted notes and light spices.

Ardmore Legacy is not so different from how I remember Ardmore Traditional: overall a bit lighter but not the inferior product I feared it would be. Still recommendable as an introduction to peat. The price helps: under € 30.

Score: 81/100


This is the other release in the hard rock / metal-inspired series by The Whiskyman, a Bowmore 2003. Like the Glen Scotia 1992, it is nicknamed after an Iron Maiden song.

 

 

Bowmore 2003 - The Whiskyman 'Children of the Dramned'Bowmore 2003 ‘Children of the Dramned’  (47,6%, The Whiskyman 2014, 183 btl.)

Nose: starts very clean, coastal and sharp, but it grows wider and gains roundness. Still it’s quite minimal and focused on briney notes, olives and mezcal. Wet chalk. Some sugared lemon notes and a faint waxy sweetness. More coastal than peaty. A nice old-style metallic edge too. Mouth: again superbly clean and coastal. Perfect strength as well. Seawater, chalk, lots of cold ashes and soot. Sugared lemon juice, moving towards nice pink grapefruit (echoes of 1993 Bowmore). Kippers and mezcal. Soft yeasty notes as well. Finish: long, smoky, tarry, but surprisingly sweet.

We already knew the high standards of early 2000’s Bowmore, but this one raises the bar in terms of balance and tiny details. Around € 85.

Score: 88/100


SIA Scotch Whisky

03 Nov 2014 | * Blends

SIA Scotch Whisky - Carin Luna-OstaseskiSIA Scotch Whisky

SIA Scotch Whisky is the brainchild of Carin Luna-Ostaseski and the first whisky that I’ve heard of to be funded with a Kickstarter crowd-sourcing project. She managed to get more than $ 45.000 from 245 backers and realize her dream: create her own whisky. A really innovative concept, which we’ll probably see more in the future.

SIA (Gaelic for six) is a blended whisky, matured and bottled by Douglas Laing. It features a relatively high malt to grain ratio (40/60) with malts from Speyside (50%), the Highlands (40%) and Islay (10%). It is currently only available in the States. The first two batches are almost gone and the next batch will be twice as big.

There’s an emphasis on accessibility and mixability… a modern blend in a feminine packaging.

 

 

SIA Scotch blended whiskySIA Scotch Whisky
(43%, Spirit Imports 2013, 2500 btl.)

Nose: apples, vanilla and sugared cereals. Quite malty. Some toffee and butterscotch. Fresh citrus and floral notes as well. Mouth: very subtle (but not thin), by design I believe. It’s creamy, with vanilla, toffee and just a hint of toasted / smoky oak. The grainy notes are noticeable but in the background, so it doesn’t get too harsh. Soft spices and a vague berry sweetness and hints of honey. Finish: not too long, slightly spirity now with most of the flavours faded.

A decent blend, certainly good enough to have on its own without ice. Is this a game-changer in any way? I’m afraid not. SIA wants to counter the idea that whisky is always heavy and smoky. Well, if people think this is the first light or feminine dram, they’re just misinformed. On the other hand, if SIA is able to change this perception, then it’s a welcome product. On its own it is a fairly harmless blend, but well put together, like other Douglas Laing blends. Around $ 45-50.

Score: 75/100


This is the latest 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old. No need to introduce it: a yearly special release, aged in refill American oak. And always among the most affordable of Diageo’s Special Releases.

 

 

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (2014 edition)Lagavulin 12 yo (54,4%, OB 2014, 14th release, 31.428 btl.)

Nose: leafy peat with chalky notes, sour dough and hints of plastics. Sweet apples in the background, as well as some vanilla toffee. Lemon. Plenty of medicinal notes. Very much to the point, with fewer young notes than last year, I’d say. Mouth: oily, pungent, herbal and slightly rough but also surprisingly sweet. A jammy ashtray. Or pastry near a beach bonfire. Mocha. Grapefruits. Lots of coastal notes. Returns to sweet herbs. Finish: long, rather bitter / herbal, but always sweet as well.

The 12 Year Old has never been my favourite Lagavulin but I think this is one of the best releases I’ve come across. Around € 110.

Score: 88/100


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  • Tony: Well the 1401 batch 8 could be found easily in most places for £200 - indeed I got one for £180 with a discount. The £225 price was a bit high and
  • WhiskyNotes: Don't just look at the UK - it's not always representative for the rest of the world. The last 1401 for Europe was batch 8. I bought that one for €
  • Sam: Nicely written notes, not rated this myself yet. Just to confirm, it's nowhere near a 40% price rise though. The last 1401 released in the UK was at

Coming up

  • Macduff 1980 (Golden Cask)
  • Karuizawa 45 Year Old (cask #2725)
  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Craigellachie 13 Years
  • Port Askaig 19 Year Old
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)

1659 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.