Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This new Arran 1996 from Malts of Scotland was matured in a sherry butt for almost 18 years, but its colour indicates it’s not the usual Oloroso / PX influence. The same bottler already released a similar cask last year (ref. 13002).

 

Arran 1996 - Malts of Scotland - 14029Arran 17 yo 1996
(54,9%, Malts of Scotland 2014, sherry butt, ref. 14029, 612 btl.)

Nose: fresh but quite discreet at first, in the sense that you get grains and acacia honey at first, not much more. After a while there’s a lot of apple, some vanilla and soft spices. The best part is a nice grapefruit / mint combo. Pretty naked, with a chalky / waxy edge. A Fino butt? Mouth: more intense: fruitier (lemon, grapefruit, apple peel) and spicier at the same time (ginger, pepper, clove). Lemon sherbet and green tea. Bittersweet but also a little dry at some point (sawdust). Finish: long, surprisingly floral, with the omnipresent apples, a little honey and lemon zest.

A fairly neutral Arran, a bit of a Lowlands version. Is it me, or are the best Arrans bottled by the distillery these days? Around € 75.

Score: 83/100


Jura 1972 (SMWS 31.4)

18 Aug 2014 | Jura

Try to look for Jura 1972 and you’ll probably only find two casks distilled December 1972 and bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in March and August 1991. That’s about all there is. This is SMWS 31.4, the latter of the two. Rare Jura bottlings, hardly ever seen in auctions or collections.

 

Jura 1972/1991 SMWS 31.4Isle of Jura 18yo 1972
(55,5%, SMWS 1991, ref. 31.4, 75 cl.)

Nose: starts like a 1960’s-1970’s Islay whisky, with almost no peat but a camphory note, tobacco, cigar boxes and minty dental floss. Leafy notes. A superb fruitiness too, with mainly cavaillon, papaya and apricots that stand out. Half tropical, half maritime. Light toasted oak and soft spices. Mouth: hints of the wonderful 1960’s Bowmore fruitiness but with more complexity as there’s also an earthy sharpness and plenty of tiny nuances. Peppercorns, coriander seeds, liquorice. Cedar oak, soft resinous hints. Peat smoke and tiny medicinal notes. Amazing combination. Finish: long, again this fruity side with the Jura sharpness. Liquorice root and green pepper.

Delightful whisky really – easy to see that Jura is so close to Islay. And remarkable how it developed this kind of complexity - this is just 18 years old. A pretty unique find. Thanks Carsten.

Score: 94/100


Bowmore Tempest, the 10 years old cask strength expression, is a hit. A big part of this success was due to the excellent first batch released in 2009. There seemed a general consensus that subsequent batches were less cracking, though still really good.

Today we’re placing two batches head-to-head. In our left corner, there is Bowmore Tempest Batch 4, in the right corner is the latest Batch 5. Both of them were the first to be composed by master blender Rachel Barrie. While you’ll still find Batch 4 in most stores in Europe and the US, Batch 5 has just started to appear in stores, especially in the UK. Around € 60.

 

 

Bowmore Tempest - Batch 4Bowmore 10yo Tempest (55,1%, OB 2013, first fill bourbon casks, Batch #4)

Nose: medium entry, with sea air and brine. Even a slight spirity prickle. Lemon. Grows wider and sweeter: butter biscuits, vanilla cream, coconut flakes and the same fragrant strawberry notes I picked up in the first batch. Hints of canvas and oak dust. Mouth: a straightforward mix of citrus (lemon juice, grapefruit zest), spices (ginger and pepper) and brine. Slightly stormy indeed. Hints of leather. Great glimpses of tangerine and some vanilla in between, but everything seems to happen at the same time. Finish: still some fruity sweetness, alongside growing sooty notes and tobacco.

Slightly fierce in some places, but also one that shows the nice strawberry and mandarin fruitiness that I really like.

Score: 87/100

 

 

Bowmore Tempest - Batch 5Bowmore 10yo Tempest (55,9%, OB 2014, first fill bourbon casks, Batch #5)

Nose: starts a little more direct, with some added menthol on top of the briny notes. Soft aniseed, white grape juice and lime. The same biscuity sweetness and vanilla, but less of the interesting strawberry – more towards sweet oranges this time. Overall a little rounder, showing less of the dusty dryness. Mouth: a more gradual evolution, slightly rounder at first (mild vanilla, sugared corn flakes), then slowly going towards zesty bitterness and gingery sharpness. Also a floral note that comes out. Finish: long, sweeter than batch 4, with some honey but less smoke.

Batch 5 seems less full-bodied than batch 4, showing a little less complexity. I liked this one less, but keep in mind this is my personal preference, both are really nice whiskies.

Score: 86/100


The Abhainn Dearg distillery, founded by Mark Tayburn in 2008, is located on the the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, one of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Since 2011 they are selling a 3 years old Special Edition whisky (at a whopping £ 150), but this is their new make, a single malt spirit (not yet whisky) which is aged in sherry casks for just a few months before it’s bottled.

 

abhainn-dearg-spirit-of-lewisAbhainn Dearg ‘The Spirit of Lewis’ (46%, OB 2014, 50 cl.)

Nose: strange. Huge rubber and plastic comes out. Burning plastic. Pear syrup and honey pops. Burnt grasses and hay. Hints of grappa. Mouth: quite acidic and bitter, a kind of planky bitterness. Hints of burnt herbs. Rubber and gravel. Brrr… Again a berry / pear sweetness behind it. Finish: invasive, dry and bitter with some metallic notes.

Oh boy, oh boy, it has been a while since I tried something this bad. It’s maybe even the worst thing I ever tried that was labelled ‘whisky in progress’. Very disappointing, really off-track. Around € 50 for 50 cl.

Score: 25/100


This Kavalan Solist is a sister cask of the one bottled for TastToe. Both sherry casks were filled on the same day, 21st of August 2006 and bottled one day earlier in 2013.

 

Kavalan Solist Sherry (LMdW S060821047)Kavalan Solist Sherry (57,8%, OB for La Maison du Whisky 2013, sherry cask #S060821047, 497 btl.)

Nose: really profound, big yet elegant sherry. Prunes, dates, lots of cherries and raspberries. Toasted nuts and cinnamon. A big fruitiness covered with layers of turpentine, camphor and varnished oak. Chocolate and Balsamico. Mouth: big and powerful again. There’s still a fruity side (plum jam, blackcurrants, some exotic hints like baked banana) but also a dry and slightly bitter side. Dark chocolate with fleur de sel, cocoa powder and cloves. Pepper and liquorice roots. Very intense. Finish: long, slightly tannic, with coffee powder, cassis and tobacco.

Quite excellent, just like its sister cask. Slightly engineered and very overpowering but highly attractive. Around € 150. Still available from LMdW, although it’s unclear whether it’s actually the same cask.

Score: 90/100


Highland Park Dark Origins is a new addition to the core range. It refers to the origins of the distillery, a time when the founder Magnus Eunson had to pull ‘dark’ tricks to smuggle his illicit products and stay two steps ahead of the exciseman.

 

 

Dark Origins has no age statement, but it’s said to be a teenager which uses twice as much first fill sherry casks than the 12 years old (i.e. 80%, of which two thirds was European oak), hence with supposedly darker flavours.

 

 

Highland Park Dark OriginsHighland Park Dark Origins
(46.8%, OB 2014)

Dark doesn’t really refer to its colour, in any case. Mind that it’s a natural colour. Nose: sherry alright. Almonds and hazelnuts, soaked raisins and baked apple. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Some butterscotch. Oranges. A big smoked / charred note as well. A slightly fuller nose than the other youngster in the core range. Mouth: medium-sweet. Quite tarry and smoky for a HP expression, which means limited complexity. Slightly woody as well, with hints of mint, pepper and a bitterish edge. Earthy notes, liquorice and dark cocoa. Finish: long, smoky and oaky. Sweet cereals and herbal notes in the background.

This is a peatier, smokier kind of Highland Park. Darker indeed. The dark side works well with the sherry notes on the nose, but it’s a little harsh and oaky on the palate. Around € 75 – available from stores around Europe and the US later this month.

Score: 84/100


Middle-aged Ardbeg, especially matured in a sherry cask, is something every bottler wants to have. Malts of Scotland released a couple already and now there’s one in the occasional Amazing Casks series.

The cask has been selected by Malts of Scotland’s Thomas Ewers and Ardbeg collector Geert Bero.

 

Ardbeg 1998 - Amazing casks - Malts of ScotlandArdbeg 16 yo 1998 (58,2%, Malts of Scotland ‘Amazing Casks’ 2014, ref. Mos 14027, 222 btl.)

Nose: slightly rubbery (tires) and vegetal at first. Chocolate and mastic. Some liquorice and leather. After a while it becomes more classic, with tar and plum jam, but it stays too much on the dirty side for me. Mouth: sweet peat (though not THAT big), chocolate and ashes. There’s camphor and resin, some walnuts. A sourish side as well (raspberry and grapefruit). Nice balance of sweet and dry elements. Finish: long, ashy with salty hints and dried fruits.

Ardbeg and sherry can lead to a very nice marriage. The previous Ardbeg from Geert and Thomas was a great example. In this case I have some trouble with the beefy parts of the nose, but overall it keeps growing in the nice direction. Allow it to breathe. Around € 200.

Score: 88/100


I guess the eBay period is almost over for these Feis Ile bottlings, so let’s publish my take on the Lagavulin Feis Ile 2014. Like previous years, it’s taken from sherry casks.

 

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2014Lagavulin 1995 ‘Feis Ile’ (54,7%, OB 2014, European sherry oak butts, 3500 btl.)

Nose: excellent, focused nose with a backbone of coastal notes: shells, oysters, waxed rain coats, flints and brine. Big medicinal notes, mainly iodine. Plasticine. Also sweeter notes like oranges and berries, as well as some honey, although the sherry doesn’t overpower in any way. Smoky lemon juice. Rose pepper. Tobacco. More on the sharp, edgy side of sherried Lagavulins, but quite perfect really. Mouth: oily, with plenty of tar, ashes and soot. Highly medicinal again, salty and immensely full-bodied. Sharp but it mixes nicely with yellow and pink grapefruits, Seville oranges and dark Lapsang tea. Then some honey sweetness and hints of dried apricots. Sweet liquorice. A fair dose of oak as well. Finish: very long, with lots of wood smoke and cigars. Cinnamon. Tobacco. Still a striking balance of sharpness and sweetness.

Excellent Lagavulin, similar in style to the 2012 release of the 21 Year Old. Originally around € 125, which is really cheap for a near-20yo (considering the official 21yo was around € 500). Most of these Lagavulin Feis Ile releases are top-notch and this one in particular is just great. An instant classic.

Score: 93/100


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  • Roberto Sikora: This is really a great, great bottling. One of my favourite Littlemills so far... :-) Thank you, Ruben for this review!
  • george: i see you have tried st magdalene and say it is harder to find i am a collector of st magdalene and i have 40 bottles i am selling these date from 196
  • sjoerd972: I wish the guys at Bushmills would demand the labels to say "Northern Ireland" so we didn't have to speculate on the booze's origins.

Coming up

  • Bowmore Devil's Casks - Batch 2
  • Tomatin 1988 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Abbey Whisky)
  • Aberfeldy 12 Year Old
  • Blair Athol 2002 (Hepburn's Choice)
  • Fettercairn Fior
  • Bowmore Laimrig 15yo
  • Ben Nevis 2002 (Port cask #334)

1599 notes by Ruben

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