Single malt whisky - tasting notes

I’ve reviewed 13 whiskies this week, from 10 bottlers and always in a direct comparison between similar vintages / ages. It was more or less an experiment. Most bloggers (like me) do one whisky at a time, but others (most notably Serge) totally rely on direct comparisons. I’m not saying one method is better than the other, but I’d like to share some thoughts. Feel free to comment.



Comparisons highlight the differences

True enough: whenever you try similar whiskies head-to-head, the differences stand out more. However I’m not sure this is an advantage. Of course it makes the reviews more interesting: casks from the same batch can really be close together and reviews can be boring if you publish them separately.

It is also a nice way to present multiple profiles from the same distillery: unpeated, lightly peated and heavily sherried Bunnahabhain. But then the differences are obvious.

On the other hand, I think direct comparisons make you exaggerate things. Take yesterday’s Bunnahabhain from Whisky-Doris for instance. When sipped on its own, the rubbery sherry notes didn’t really bother me, but once they are highlighted next to a fresh bourbon cask, it’s hard not to focus on it. I’m convinced it even prevents you from picking up other aromas.

After all, I mostly drink only one whisky per evening, so I’d like to know how it is like that. A specific tasting line-up certainly shapes the appreciation, and what are the odds that you’ll end up trying the same line-up as me?



Forced tendency to differentiate

I think there’s also a tendency to differentiate in scores. When you have four Glen Keith, some better than the others, then you’re trying to express a little ranking in the score. It may separate the different expressions more than they actually deserve. More often than not, they evolve in the glass, they take the lead for a while, each has its own qualities and in the end you’re left with a feeling they’re all good and it’s nearly impossible to choose. Nonetheless you want the score to express your final preference, and it might end up a little distorted.


Glen Keith comparison


Less attention?

Visitor statistics of the past few days weren’t spectacular. It may have been a coincidence (after all there were no stunners or big surprises) but I’ve also noticed the average time spent on the website was the same as before. People spend two minutes to read one review, and it turns out they also spend two minutes if you review four whiskies in a row. I’d prefer to give one whisky all the attention (and hope they read it entirely in two minutes).



Back to normal

I might do direct comparisons in the future, especially between bottlings of the same whisky (e.g. Springbank 10yo bottled in different years). For regular reviews though, even of whiskies from the same batch, I prefer singular reviews.

What style of reviewing do you prefer? What do you like to read on a blog?

ps/ Kudos to Serge. Reviewing one whisky a day is hard enough already. I couldn’t possibly review 10 or 15 every week.

Three Bunnahabhain bottlings. I first thought they were all 1989 but it turns out one of them was actually from 1990. Three really different whiskies anyway.



Bunnahabhain 23yo 1989 - Abbey WhiskyBunnahabhain 23 yo 1989 (44%, Abbey Whisky ‘Rare Casks’ 2013, refill bourbon barrel, 96 btl.)

Nose: peated Bunna. On its own this doesn’t come out that much (it’s rather a heathery, softly smoky style) but in a direct comparison it’s definitely peated. Also moderately fruity: oranges, pear, subtle hints of roasted pineapple. Light vanilla. Honey and hints of pastry dough. Mouth: a nice, creamy mix of sweet marzipan, yellow apple and very mild pepper. Sweet lemon again. Hints of apple seeds. The smoky / sooty notes are gentle, with a faint maritime edge. Finish: medium long, smoky, with a vague fruity sweetness and subtle pepper.

Quite a perfect starter: it’s very gentle (maybe a tad too soft) and very balanced, with plenty of all-round qualities (maritime notes, sweetness, gentle peat) that are typical for Bunnahabhain in my opinion. Very similar to a 1989 from Around € 100 back then. Sold out.

Score: 87/100



Bunnahabhain 23yo 1990 - Whisky-DorisBunnahabhain 23 yo 1990 (53,6%, Whisky-Doris 2013, sherry butt #10805, 252 btl.)

I thought this was a 1989 as well. It is only while looking up the details that I found out the bottle says ‘distilled in 1990’ although my sample (provided by Whisky-Doris) says ‘distilled 12/1989’.

Nose: unpeated Bunna. It seems more quiet than the Abbey Whisky release, with more dusty notes and some hints of rubber and gunpowder (probably amplified in this direct comparison). I do get plums and hints of melon, but not the exotic fruits that Whisky-Doris suggest in its own notes. Quite some acacia honey and aniseed. Dusty malt and damp earth. Waxy notes as well. Rather restrained. Maybe a Fino butt? Mouth: stewed fruits, berries, yellow raisins, indeed with a couple of tropical touches now (guava). Again hints of butter pastry. It then becomes slightly drier and spicier (pepper, ginger), moving to liquorice and mildly salty, maritime notes. Finish: Medium long, half sweet, half spicy, never loosing its maritime “terroir”.

Different story: less peat, more sherry notes, but in a Fino way rather than the classic Oloroso dried fruits. I’m not the biggest fan of the nose, but I have to say it picked up nicely on the palate. Sold out.

Score: 85/100


Bunnahabhain 1989 - Duncan Taylor #388337Bunnahabhain 25 yo 1989 (46%, Duncan Taylor ‘Single’ 2015, sherry cask #388337, 90 btl.)

As far as I can tell, the cask number and the yield of the Duncan Taylor bottling suggest an Octave cask finish.

Nose: yet another style. More classic, aromatic sherry now. Red berries, hints of stewed raspberries and plums. Melons. Nicely combined with Bunnahabhain’s flowery honeyness. Add a few minty / eucalyptus note and subtle maritime hints. Pretty excellent. Mouth: sweet and fruity, like the others, but with more dried fruits like apricots and prunes. The balance of fresh fruits and Oloroso fruits is just right. The marzipan and toffee notes are there as well. However towards the end it becomes a tad too winey (like a red wine finish) with hints of clove. Finish: medium long, a bit winey and oaky again. Lingering red fruits and soft pepper as well.

I really like the added hints of (Oloroso) sherry on the nose, but on the palate you sense the “high-pressure” wine influence of an Octave cask which cools down my initial impression. No stunner after all. Around € 290 (is that the box?). Still available in a few places.

Score: 87/100

Two Auchentoshan bottlings. Not from the exact same vintage, but I don’t think that’s the reason for their big differences anyway. Read on.



Auchentoshan 1992 - SansibarAuchentoshan 22 yo 1992
(50,7%, Sansibar ‘Samurai’ 2015, bourbon cask, 119 btl.)

Nose: quite classic in the sense that it’s rather fruity (lemon, peach, banana, a slightly Irish combo) while also adding mineral notes (limestone) and whiffs of coconut oil. Floral honey. Wood shavings. Light grassy touches as well as a vegetal edge. Mouth: again quite an Irish profile. Banana and citrus notes, (pink) grapefruit. Vanilla custard. Lightly bittersweet hints of ginger and green oak. Faint waxy notes. Finish: medium long and rather oily, with grassy notes, oak spices and lingering fruits.

Around € 140.
Score: 87/100




Auchentoshan 1990 - The WhiskymanAuchentoshan 1990 ‘Cold hearted stillman’ (52,7%, The Whiskyman 2015, 169 btl.)

Nose: similar lemon notes, but in this there are more buttery notes. Hints of sweet muesli. Marzipan. Traces of smoke underneath, almost a Caol Ila touch. Light minty notes. The vegetal side is also present here, more prominent than in the Sansibar, making this the slightly dirty one. Mouth: this is funny and rather unique with the obvious smoky notes. This is in fact similar to (sweet) Coal Ila. Hints of sweet engine oil, something gingery, something acrid and light liquorice before it develops nice mocha / coffee flavours. Not the obvious Auchentoshan, great fun. Finish: medium long, mostly on sweet roasted flavours.

Around € 145.
Score: 86/100


I can’t deny the Irishness of the Sansibar bottling works a treat.  But then again the 1990 from The Whiskyman is much more unconventional, slightly nervous and deviant (which suits this label well). Both really interesting and so not what you get from official releases.

Two Inchgower 1991 bottlings today. When independent bottlers share a cask, one of them bottles it and sells part of the bottles which are then labeled by both. In this case the colour of the cap foil is identical.



Inchgower 1991 - SansibarInchgower 24 yo 1991 (51,8%, Sansibar 2015, bourbon cask, 132 btl.)

Nose: initially a bit closed. Malty notes and muesli. Dusty grains. The alcohol seems to block some aroma. More fruits after a while, garden fruits like pears, apples and peaches. Grassy notes, light chalky hints too. Mouth: again some mineral and chalky notes at first, then overtaken by ripe fruits. Apples, pears and greengages. Lots of eau-de-vie notes. Picks up spices along the way (pepper, ginger) and mineral notes. The fruity aftertaste reminds me of some (younger) Irish malt whiskey (very light maracuja). Finish: medium long, loosing its fruity notes and fading on spices and mocha.

Around € 170.
Score: 82/100




Inchgower 1991 - Liquid LibraryInchgower 23 yo 1991 (51,8%, Liquid Library 2014, refill hogshead, 242 btl.)

Nose: maybe a bit sweeter and fruitier, maybe not. Same mix of grainy notes, common fruits, hay and subtle minerals. Touches of Haribo. Maybe identical whisky (although the age is different) anyway so far very hard to set apart. Mouth: rather more spirity at first, or make that more eau-de-vie-like. More punch, more spices, or so it seems. Nice unripe pineapple, then some lemon zest and these minerals. Slightly more oak perhaps, which makes it hotter and more closed. But very tiny differences, if any. Finish: same.

Around € 130.
Score: 82/100



We’ve had some excellent old Inchgower (1974 and 1982 spring to mind) but these two don’t come anywhere close. I see a couple of really nice touches but overall they’re rather closed and spirity. Probably identical (or very very similar) whiskies.

Three sister casks of Glen Keith 1992 in a direct comparison today. All of them are 21 years old and bottled in 2013-2014. I had some other 1992s lined up but I feared it would become too boring, so I decided to throw in the new Glen Keith 1995 in the Liquid Treasures series.



Glen Keith 1992 - The NectarGlen Keith 21 yo 1992 (50,9%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams 2013)

Nose: half fruity, half grassy. Pear, apple and gooseberries. Soft vanilla and marzipan. Then some hay and dried yellow flowers. Hints of clay as well. The grassy touches are joined by mild spices from the oak. Mouth: the wood becomes more prominent now. It’s still fruity but there’s also ginger, pepper and liquorice. A bit of a tangy alcoholic kick as well, which limits the space for other aromas. Fruits and grasses. Finish: medium, with sweet herbs, marzipan and lemon candy.

Around € 115. Maybe still available if you look around.
Score: 85/100





Glen Keith 1992 - The Whisky FairGlen Keith 21 yo 1992
(48,2%, The Whisky Fair 2014, bourbon barrel, 201 btl.)

Nose: slightly warmer, more honeyed and beehivey, with less of the dried grasses. As if a little Caperdonich 72 was added to the Daily Dram. Hints of tropical fruits and vanilla. Traces of strawberries and mirabelles. Nicer but maybe a bit simpler. Mouth: shopping in the fruit department. Banana, juicy pear, tangerines, papaya. Slightly Irish actually. Vanilla marshmallows. Melon candy. Light ginger and pepper from the oak. Great surprise, utterly fruit. Finish: quite long, still very fruity en seductive, with a hint of drying oak.

Around € 120. Still available in some places.
Score: 89/100



Glen Keith 1992 - Tasting FellowsGlen Keith 21 yo 1992
(49,5%, Tasting Fellows 2013, bourbon barrel #120610, 180 btl.)

Nose: again a warmer, fruitier version. Apricots, yellow plums, a little pineapple and papaya even. Nice beeswax and oak polish in the background. Touches of bubblegum as well. Great fruit basket. Mouth: a mix of the above, which means a lot of warm fruity notes, with a bit more oak spices. Mocha and a hint of caramel too. Vanilla cake. Nutmeg  and pepper towards the end. The fruits becomes slightly more zesty / grapefruity now. Finish: long, fruity and spicy, with the return of grassy notes and firm oak.

Around € 100 back then. Sold out.
Score: 88/100



Glen Keith 1995 - Liquid TreasuresGlen Keith 20 yo 1995 (48,6%, Liquid Treasures ‘Travel to Mars’ 2015, bourbon hogshead)

Nose: quite different. There’s some pear and yellow apple, but it’s missing the warm fruits of the others. Instead it’s full of malty notes, coupled to unripe banana and some vegetal notes, as if it hadn’t lost it new-make notes yet. Funny how maturation can work out so differently. Lemon peel as well. Mouth: similar green, unripe fruits. Pears and green banana. Icing sugar. Malt cookies. Barley sugar with hints of pepper and ginger. Finish: medium short, grainy, with candied lemon and pepper.

Around € 120. Still available.
Score: 81/100




The Daily Dram bottling comes last in the trio. It’s the most alcoholic and it misses the exotic touches of the other 1992s. The other two are virtually the same on the nose, but the Whisky Fair bottling seems the fruitiest on the palate. Both excellent whiskies though, if you fancy fruit bombs.

The 1995 is entirely different, it seems so much more immature although it’s only one year younger.

This week we’ll have a direct comparison each day: two or three bottlings from the same distillery and age / vintage, recently released by different independent bottlers.

As you know, casks are often sold in large lots and they are then shared / distributed among related bottlers. My Malt Maniacs article from 2011 is still relevant, I guess. Maybe even more so: as (older) whisky becomes ever more rare and expensive, smaller bottlers are struggling to find available (decent) casks, so they are increasingly forced to jump on the same wagons.

We’ll start with BenRiach 1990, bottled by Sansibar and Liquid Treasures.



BenRiach 1990 - SansibarBenRiach 25 yo 1990 (50,8%, Sansibar ‘Samurai label’ 2015, 239 btl.)

Nose: very bright and fruity. Kiwi, tangerines, Granny Smith. Hints of passion fruits as well. Crystal clear really. Over time this becomes more neutral and ‘modern’ with emerging vanilla. Mouth: punchier than I expected. A malty core, with additional fruity notes (oranges and strawberries, but especially grapefruits) and some barley sugars. As the grapefruit gets the upper hand, spices kick in. Pepper and liquorice with some herbal honey. Zesty lemon and subtle mineral notes. Finish: medium long, still a zesty freshness and bittersweet notes. Fruit eau-de-vie.

Around € 200.
Score: 86/100




BenRiach 1990 - Liquid TreasuresBenRiach 25 yo 1990 (47,9%, Liquid Treasures ‘Travel to Mars’ 2015, bourbon barrel)

Nose: a slightly flatter nose. Still really fruity, but more on pears, melons and berries, with a lower acidity. More honey. Hints of marzipan and vanilla. While the Sansibar bottling seemed to loose some of its sparkle over time, this one gradually improves. Mouth: slightly more honeyed at first. More oranges, a hint of strawberry, less grapefruits. The zesty bitterness seems to arrive later. The spices are still well noticeable though, mainly pepper and ginger. Finish: medium long, bittersweet and slightly mineral, with a similar alcoholic touch.

Around € 155.
Score: 85/100



Both of these whiskies are honest, fairly neutral BenRiach bottlings that comes accross quite a bit younger than they actually are. They have a nice fruitiness but also firm spices and an alcoholic kick. One extra point for the (initial) nose of the Sansibar release, but the Liquid Treasures is clearly better value for money.

GlenDronach Madeira finish / peated / Cask Strength

GlenDronach released three new bottlings earlier this week. The most unusual expression of the trio is the new GlenDronach Peated which has been distilled using peated malted barley and matured in Oloroso and PX sherry casks.

The GlenDronach 19 Years Old Madeira Cask Finish was initially matured in European oak casks and thereafter finished in a very small batch of Madeira hogsheads, giving the final whisky its own range of flavours and aromas.

The trio was completed with the GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 5. See our reviews of Batch 1, Batch 2 and Batch 4 to get an idea of its profile.

The very new Port Askaig 16 Year Old is a combination of bourbon- and sherry-cask-aged whisky. Replacing the popular 15 year old, this should be big, bold and peaty Caol Ila. Remember there are multiple distilleries in the current Port Askaig line-up, so you never know.



Port Askaig 16 Year OldPort Askaig 16 yo (45,8%, Speciality Drinks 2015)

Nose: rather excellent. The peat seems more mature and subtle than the age suggests. Herbal honey, hints of tobacco and leafy / mossy notes. Sweet, fruity notes (dried figs) and almonds from the sherry casks. Hints of barbecue embers and sweet olives. Excellent indeed. Mouth: a sweetish profile again: Turkish coffee, marzipan, similar fruity notes. The peat is a little louder now, which matches the sweetness perfectly. Drier towards the finish, with lots of ashes and tobacco. Finish: long, smoky, with toffee and a hint of smoked fish.

It may not be the cheapest undisclosed Islay whisky but boy this is impressive whisky! Reminds me of some Ardbeg 1998, and even the age would match, but not the price, I’m afraid, so let’s keep it at Caol Ila. Around € 110.

Score: 90/100



December 2015
« Nov    

Coming up

  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1934 notes by Ruben

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