The last BenRiach 1976 in the ninth batch was a peated expression bottled from hogshead #8804.
BenRiach 35 yo 1976 (54,9%, OB 2012, hogshead #8804, peated, 232 btl.)
Nose: quite dry and earthy, and rather more peated than expected. Chamomile tea, some mineral notes and heather. Ferns. A little eucalyptus. Almonds. Develops a softer side with coconut and unripe mango, especially with a drop of water, but the austerity knocks over the fruity notes. Mouth: again rather peaty, even slightly tarry, but luckily the fruity notes are more open now as well. Some guava, mango and grapefruit. Dry and leathery but it achieves a nice balance with mellow peat. Oak in the background, just a peppery wave in the front row. Finish: long, slightly peaty, slightly peppery. Still a tad dry.
Funny how this seems more peated than cask #8079or #8080, the nicer peated casks which we’ve tried in the big BenRiach 1976 comparison. More peat influence also means less tropical fruits I’m afraid. Around € 350.
Maybe a Pedro Ximénez cask can add a bit of sweetness and make us forget 35 years of oak influence? This is BenRiach 1976 cask #5317, also part of the 9th batch of single casks bottled July 2012.
BenRiach 35 yo 1976 (54,1%, OB 2012, PX sherry finish #5317, 204 btl.)
Nose: nice, still some oak but a more polished type, with whiffs of turpentine (I personally like that). Plenty of plums, raisins and dates. Here the layer of tropical fruits is more noticeable. There’s apricot and pineapple cubes. Oranges and redcurrants. A little wax. Nice hints of hibiscus tea. Quite ethereal and a little volatile, again not very typical but I really enjoyed it. Mouth: again a mixture of both styles. There’s the classic pink grapefruit / apricot / pineapple combination but also the big sherry character of dried fruits. Yes, noticeable oak again, but within limits and without excessive dry notes – it’s more a leathery oak. Mint and dark chocolate too. Some nutmeg and cinnamon. Finish: long, slightly sourish, on mint, cocoa and oak.
Note that I wouldn’t recommend this as a typical 1976 BenRiach, nor as the best heavily sherried version, but it comes close and it’s a very enjoyable variation on the theme. The best of the 1976 casks in this batch, but not worth the asking price of around € 350 in my opinion.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the latest batch of BenRiach bottlings (batch n°9) was not a big hit. At first we were delighted to see three casks from the legendary vintage 1976 (peated cask #8804, Pedro Ximénez cask #5317 and this classic Speyside cask #6967) but quickly the rumour went round that there were very few highlights. Let’s find out. This release was distilled 14th of October 1976 and matured in a sherry butt.
BenRiach 35 yo 1976 (59%, OB 2012, sherry butt #6967, 339 btl.)
Nose: it plays the card of sherry very openly. A lot of plums, cherries and toffee. Polished cedar wood. Cinnamon. Eucalyptus and tobacco notes. Nice but far away from the tropical fruitiness of the best 1976s – although we have to say it’s close to cask #6942 which was very good in its genre. Some sour oranges, leading to a sourness of balsamic vinegar. Mouth: very oaky, just spicy oak at first but quickly taken over by tannic, bitter oak. Some espresso and herbal tea. Bitter chocolate. Too leafy really. Not much fruit, only bitter grapefruit, and overloaded with cough syrup. Oversherried I’m afraid. Finish: dry and fairly bitter, with too many herbal notes and not enough fruitiness.
Not a classic fruity 76 style, and even when you compare it to the other heavily sherried cask #6942, it’s clearly on a lower level. The otherwise strong nose can’t save it, on the palate there’s simply too much oak. Mind that the score is rather forgiving and focusing on the nose. Around € 350.
ps/ Last year’s 1976 was € 230 a bottle… No comment.
Next up in our little discovery of the First Editions bottlings: a 24 years old Linkwood 1987.
Linkwood 24 yo 1987 (51,2%, The First Editions 2012, sherry cask, ref. ES 011/01, 588 btl.)
Nose: fruity (apple, peach) with a big minty freshness. Also a nice vanilla cake sweetness. Orange blossom and other flowers. All this covered by a layer of fresh oak shavings and ginger. Quite beautiful and refreshing. Mouth: very punchy attack, with plenty of spices (ginger, white pepper). Rather sweet at first with apple candy. Quickly evolves on “green” notes of oak, heather and liquorice. Lemon zest. Some nutmeg and anise. Overall a bit hot without water. Finish: medium long, gingery, with a slight bitterness of tonic and herbs.
Quite a minty / gingery expression. Lacks a bit of fruitiness (or a more pronounced sherry character) to balance it out, in my opinion. Better with a few drops of water. Mind you, I’m not the biggest Linkwood fan anyway. Around € 125.
The fourth batch of Liquid Treasures was nicknamed “Ocean residents”. This Bunnahabhain 1990 features a clownfish on the label.
Bunnahabhain 22 yo 1990 (49,2%, Liquid Treasures 2012, sherry hogshead)
Nose: big sherry, a classic mix of raisins, figs and chocolate. Also fruity hints of raspberry / strawberry jam. A hint of smoked ham without the traces of sulphur that sherried Bunna can sometimes show. A few herbal overtones and hay. Leather. First fill sherry well executed. Mouth: again big sherry, lots of chocolate notes, raspberry ganache, Christmas cake and prunes. Cinnamon and soft pepper. Sultanas. A classic profile. Finish: more of the same, which is not bad news.
After a lot of rumours, it turns out I was right about Ardbeg Galileo. This 12 years old vatting of bourbon casks and Marsala casks was launched at the beginning of September and sold very well, even though some retailers were playing tricks like “you can only get Galileo if you also buy a 10yo and Uigeadail for a special ensemble price”. Most of these retailers are still trying to sell their bottles. Now let’s see what the space hype was all about.
Ardbeg Galileo 12 yo 1999 (49%, OB 2012, first fill ex-bourbon and ex-Marsala casks)
Nose: relatively soft peat, with lots of sweet elements. Pineapple, banana and tangerine. Don’t expect a fruit basket though, it’s still clearly Ardbeg. Hints of sugared popcorn. Behind the sweetness is a classic lemon / verbena touch. Subtle seaweed and tarry ropes. Some vanilla. I really like its round and slightly tropical character. Mouth: surprisingly smooth, with creamy, toffee-like flavours and apricots on the one hand and a sharper, lemony peat on the other. Nice to find both sides but they don’t seem to go hand in hand entirely – there’s also an empty middle and a slight lack of punch. Evolves on liquorice, sweet pepper, lacquered bacon and coal. Finish: long, creamy and ashy with some green leafy notes in the end.
I really like peaty whisky that’s rounded by sweeter notes, so this is a welcome type of Ardbeg after a tendency to produce more heavily peated versions. While the nose is great, on the palate it could use a little tweaking. Around € 95.
A last review in this little series for Nonjatta (more to come in the future of course). Spirit of Asama is a vatting of European oak sherry casks from the last years of Karuizawa production, 1999 and 2000.
There seem to be different versions. A first one is simply named “Asama” and popped up in Asia early this year, and soon after also in the Swedish Systembolaget and LMdW. It was bottled at 46% but now there’s a higher strength “Spirit of Asama” version bottled for The Whisky Exchange. It’s supposedly the same vatting – I’ve heard they used 77 casks in total – but now at 48% and 55%.
Karuizawa 11yo ‘Spirit of Asama’
(48%, The Whisky Exchange 2012, vatting)
Nose: not extremely punchy and the first thing that does come out is a sharpish winey note. The sherry is slightly vegetal, with mushrooms and rubber before it evolves to raspberry jam, dates and prunes. A hint of earthy smoke in the background. Mouth: medium fruity notes (oranges, apples), a burnt sugar note / toffee and a light smokiness. The sherry is quite winey and dry – a bit of extra sweetness would have been welcome. Quite some ginger and pepper. Fades away on exotic wood and mint. Finish: medium long, fairly oaky, with some herbal tea and oranges.
Karuizawa 11yo ‘Spirit of Asama’
(55%, The Whisky Exchange 2012, vatting)
Nose: essentially the same aromas, but the higher strength leaves a slightly more volcanic, spirity impression. It’s a little more closed but it also seems to block the mushrooms a little. Dried fruits again. Slightly more spices. Tobacco and leather too. Cigar boxes. Mouth: more punch, more weight and more flavour altogether. First some fruits like raisins and figs. Then some chocolate. Ginger and cinnamon, and fruit cake. A little tobacco. Finish: medium long, a classic orange / chocolate combination with spices.
This is a slightly thinner style of Karuizawa that holds the middle between older, more flavoursome Karuizawa and traditional sherried Scotch, say a cask-strength Glenfarclas or A’Bunadh. Both bottlings are slightly rubbery and mushroomy, but the 55% version gets away with it more easily and has more diverse and intense flavours to balance it.
The 46% Asama is € 60-75 in France and Sweden, we’ve heard the UK Spirit of Asama version will have a similar price tag. Given the inviting price level it’s a correct introduction to the Karuizawa style in my opinion.
Another The Whisky Exchange exclusive, presented at the Whisky Show. This is a 1984 sherry cask #4021, bottled at cask strength in the same Koi label series.
Karuizawa 1984 (64,5%, The Whisky Exchange 2012, first fill sherry cask #4021)
Nose: very punchy but also quite fragrant / fruity for a Karuizawa. Not too dark, no fireworks or mushrooms, or very much in the background anyway. Evolves on sweet fruity notes (plums, strawberry jam) as well as more sourish notes (raspberry, tobacco juice). Hints of potpourri. Cedar wood and cinnamon bark. Soft incense and a veil of paint varnish. Some leather. Mouth: hot but nicely all-round. There’s some Christmas cake, all-spice, ginger and cinnamon. It also shows smoke and (subtle but clearly present) earthy peat, in fact one of the more Islay-esk Karuizawas I’ve come across. Turns drier and more floral. It also shows some herbal notes and a faint bitterness of dark chocolate in the end. Some dry oak too. Finish: very long, dry, slightly herbal and oaky, with a warming end.
A variation on the classic Karuizawa theme. There’s the common intensity but also a certain fruity freshness that even anti-Japanese whisky enthusiasts will appreciate. The subtle peat smoke is also worth discovering. Around € 250. Sold out at TWE I’m afraid.