Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Another rare oldie brought to us by Sansibar. There seem to be different strengths and bottle amounts on the internet for this Balmenach 1979. I can only tell you what’s on the label.

 

Balmenach 1979 SansibarBalmenach 35 yo 1979 (53,4%, Sansibar 2014, bourbon cask, 127 btl.)

Nose: dry and herbal, with lots of forest associations. Dried flowers, moss and leafy notes. A proud nose but a little unsexy, although there’s a subtle fruity side of yellow apple and overripe banana. A little chalk, as well as milky cereals. Last but not least: a nice, dry layer of 35 years old dust. Mouth: thick and sweet, slightly milky / creamy again. The grassy notes are back, some grapefruit skin, apples… Dried coconut flakes. A good deal of old oak, with pepper and nutmeg coming along. A very subtle hint of sweet coffee. I’m missing a bit of fruits here, but they do get stronger when you add a bit of water. Finish: long, oaky, zesty, grassy and spicy. You can’t blame this one a lack of punch.

I really like the old-style charm on the nose, but on the palate it does start to show its lengthy time in wood. Slightly shy on the fruits. Around € 210.

Score: 88/100


Stagg Jr.

11 Apr 2014 | * USA

Stagg Jr. was the highly anticipated younger version of Buffalo Trace’s power bourbon George T. Stagg. Its age is still above average though, and they share the same recipe and strength, so ‘Junior’ may have an adverse effect of making it seem more approachable.

This American bourbon has no age statement, although the label says it was aged for nearly a decade. We’ve heard it’s slightly over 8 years old. Contrary to the yearly senior version, Stagg Jr. will have three to four batches a year.

 

 

Stagg Jr. (bourbon)Stagg Jr. (67,2%, OB 2013, first batch)

Nose: I believe my nostrils are gone. A very fierce ethanol kick. After some settling down, indeed quite similar to a senior George T. Stagg. Very rich, with lots of dry, oaky notes and rye spices like pepper and clove. Wood varnish. Toffee and honey sweetness as well. Chocolate. A lot of vanilla notes as well, if you let it breathe. Mouth: a nice combination of honey and bags of mint. Then some cinnamon bark and really dry wood. Quite hefty, alcoholic and tannic. A few drops of water make it slightly citrusy but the powdery dryness becomes even louder – I find it difficult to get a good balance with drinkability. Finish: long, dry with burnt notes and vanilla.

Good, but it goes downhill. The nose is rich and complex, but the palate is a slightly harsh oak infusion with a surprising thinness if you think away the alcohol. Around $ 50 in the US, or around € 90 if you find a bottle on this side of the ocean.

Score: 82/100


Highland Park Freya spent 15 years in first fill bourbon casks. After Highland Park Thor and Highland Park Loki, it’s the third release in The Valhalla Collection which unites whiskies named after Norse Gods.

This whisky was originally made for blending purposes. The barley was malted with mainland peat and then matured nearby Glasgow in bourbon casks. It’s technically not even Orkney whisky this way, but the result turned out too nice to be blended.

 

Highland Park FreyaHighland Park 15 yo ‘Freya’
(51,2%, OB 2014)

Nose: quite honeyed for a HP, with juicy pear, melon, pink grapefruit and a soft tropical touch of papaya. A lot of vanilla. Soft heathery notes and a little mint. There’s something more pungent (ashy / peaty) in the background. A subtle coastal note too. Mouth: quite fruity again. Apple, lemon pie, going towards biscuity notes. Some fresh oaky notes with accompanying spices (ginger, pepper). Some uncommon flavours as well: cardamom, something plastic-like, pine sap, lemongrass… Strangely bitter-sour in places, but there’s still a tropical edge (coconut) at the same time. Finish: long, still ‘green’ and zesty, even slightly perfumy, with very soft peat smoke.

I rather liked this one, but mostly because it’s different, even though this also makes your eyebrows raise at times. Thor is still my favourite. Between € 170 and € 270 depending on how greedy your retailer is when it comes to overhyped releases. Thanks Jack.

Score: 87/100


I must admit I haven’t tried many whiskies from the Zuidam distillery in the South of Holland (very near to the Belgian border). I hear some are good. For me, the Millstone 8yo French Oak was not quite there yet.

This Millstone 1999 was matured in a refill bourbon cask for 8 years (Kelvin Cooperage and Jack Daniels?) before being transferred to a Pedro Ximénez cask for a 5-year finish. It was bottled in August 2013.

 

Millstone 1999 PX CaskMillstone 1999
(46%, OB 2013, Special cask #1, PX)

Nose: a pleasant surprise. A slightly oriental mix of sandalwood, rose pepper and cumin, alongside a juicy sherry influence. Red berries, fig syrup and raisins. Some dried apricots and honey. Not totally classic but very entertaining. Mouth: very sweet, in a slightly strange way. It starts in a caramelly / syrupy way (brown sugar and preserved cherries) and then turns towards gingerbread and sweet liquorice candy. Lots of Dutch liquorice really. Plenty of spices again, mainly pepper and some aniseed. Bittersweet evolution. Finish: quite long, some bitter notes but the sticky sweetness overtakes them. Cough syrup.

A bit quirky again, extremely sticky, a bit too much liquorice for me as well. Not sure whether the spirit or the PX cask was responsible for this result. Around € 75.

Score: 77/100


Grant’s Ale Cask is probably the only Scotch whisky to be finished in barrels that have previously held ale, something from Caledonian brewery as far as I know. It was finished for 30 days.

The Ale Cask is part of a combo called Grant’s Cask Editions, together with a sherry cask edition. Launched in 2001, it contains around 40% single malt whisky from 20-30 distilleries and 60% grain (mainly from Girvan).

 

Grant's Ale CaskGrant’s Ale Cask (40%, OB ‘Cask Editions’ +/- 2013)

Nose: very grainy, lots of muesli and sugared cereal notes (Frosties). Nicely honeyed like other Grant’s, almost syrupy at times. Yellow apple. Hints of overripe melon in the background. Really not bad, but not very expressive, no obvious beer notes either, apart from some yeast. Mouth: again malty and very sweet, almost biscuity, with a bit of a synthetic apple sweetness and a hint of cheap liqueur. Something of stale beer now, or is that imagination? Vanilla cream. Finish: even more grainy, with cereals and a few yeasty hints.

Unusual whisky, not the best blend but still quite drinkable if you like them simple, sweet and malty – with a twist. Usually less than € 20.

Score: 73/100


Sansibar has a new series as well. Contrary to most other bottlers, they seem to have secured a couple of oldies as well: Glenturret 1977, Balmenach 1979 and Bunnahabhain 1980. Among the younger expressions there’s Mortlach, Glen Keith, Glenrothes and Glen Garioch distilled in the 1990’s.

 

Bunnahabhain 1980 SansibarBunnahabhain 34 yo 1980 (45,4%, Sansibar 2014, sherry cask, 220 btl.)

Nose: a slightly restrained sherry profile. Dried flowers at first, then some subtle praline, followed by sherry cellars. Tobacco leaves and walnuts. Soft herbal notes and honey. No wham-bam sherry, this is elegant with balanced oak. Mouth: definitely more oak now, with translates as strong tea and dried herbs, but there’s still honey and apple juice to keep a nice balance. Orange peel. Yellow raisins. A slight coastal tang as well. Cinnamon towards the end. Finish: long, dry, on ginger, aniseed, orange peel and oak.

A dry, herbal Bunnahabhain that’s oak-infused in a rather nice way. Maybe a little pricy but interesting nonetheless. Around € 210.

Score: 87/100


This Bruichladdich 1964 was distilled November ‘64 and bottled October ‘93 – this is just about the furthest back in time you can go with this distillery (there’s a Cadenhead 1958/1984 and a 1960/1996 by Master of Malt as well).

One year later Gordon & MacPhail bottled another three sister casks #3673, 3674 and 3675.

 

Bruichladdich 1964 G&M 3670-3671-3672Bruichladdich 28 yo 1964 (50,6%, Gordon & MacPhail 1993, cask #3670, 3671, 3672)

Nose: a very fruity nose, albeit with an Islay twist. Fairly tropical: mango, guava, banana and apricot. Nice honey notes, as well as a silky touch of beeswax. Leathery notes. Vanilla. A very subtle maritime edge, as well as light peat smoke. Mouth: so beautiful. Round and fruity, with enough punch. Tropical fruits again (more mandarins now, but also pineapple and strawberry), lots of fruit jams. Honeyed, almost liqueur-like at times. Cake. Again some smoke and sandalwood in the background. Hints of ginger and pepper to spice it up. Very soft peat, leading to a medium long finish that’s oily and still full of sweet fruitiness. A minty edge in the very end.

A wonderful whisky. It’s rare to find this combination of succulent, exotic fruits, subtle peat and all these tiny notes which make this into a complex, stunning dram. We all know the excellent late 1960’s Bowmore – this is playing in the same league.

Score: 93/100


Earlier this week, the local Spanish newspaper Diario de Jerez published an article about the sherry casks used in the whisky industry.

 

Sherry seasoned casksIt’s clear that the sherry industry, in this case the governing body called the Consejo Regulador, realizes that their casks help to give some whiskies more prestige and help to support the current boom of whisky and brands like Macallan. Distilleries are trying to maximize this profit and are sometimes stretching the boundaries, trying to avoid the very high price of an authentic sherry cask.

What is a sherry cask anyway? In general sherry casks are specially prepared, “seasoned” casks. Nowadays most sherry casks are new barrels made from American oak, which are put together and then sent to a bodega to be filled with (inferior) sherry for a couple of months. The sherry absorbs most of the nasty oak tannins and the cask will be impregnated with the flavours of the wine. It’s a secondary business that has little to do with the actual soleras that hold the authentic sherry wines.

 

Oban sherry caskThough relatively small, this is a flourishing business and there’s high demand, so the Scots are looking for (cheaper) alternatives. There have been reported cases of improper use of the name sherry. Other wine regions in Spain produce very similar wines, but they can’t put the name sherry on their labels as the use is limited by law to the small sherry triangle.

The best example is the neighbouring area Montilla-Moriles which produces the vast majority of Pedro Ximénez wines already. Oban is using Fino casks produced in Montilla for its Oban Distillers Edition. There have been examples of “South-African sherry” matured whiskies as well (Clynelish, Mannochmore among others). Hey Diageo, is it a coincidence that your brands are my best examples? In any case, those are only the ones that openly mention other kinds of sherry (Diageo doesn’t mention ‘sherry’ on the Oban by the way), whereas the real problem are the ones that tell you it’s sherry when technically it’s not. Because you can’t really tell.

When you’re using these wines to season casks, can this be called a sherry cask if you’re not allowed to call the wine sherry?

 

The Consejo Regulador is making plans to get more control on these practices. One of the suggestions is to start a registry of allowed “seasoning companies”. Only these would be allowed to sell proper sherry casks.

In the end it’s a complex matter and I doubt full control is possible. The Consejo Regulador can limit its own producers, but who will control the distilleries? Who is going to track these casks and say whether a certain whisky fully applies to the “sherry matured” regulations? I fear it’s not a priority for the Scotch Whisky Association. Moreover you can probably use a “fake” sherry cask first, and then re-rack into a proper sherry cask. To be continued…


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Coming up

  • Glen Grant 1992 (Le Gus't)
  • Auchentoshan 15yo (Kintra)
  • Lagavulin 1997 Distillers Edition
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Maltbarn)
  • Tomatin 1978 (Cadenhead / Nectar)
  • Aultmore 2007 (Daily Dram)
  • Glenglassaugh 1978 (Madeira)
  • Karuizawa 45 Year Old (cask #2925)
  • Glengoyne 1999 (Palo Cortado)

1506 notes by Ruben

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