Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Among Cadenhead’s Small Batch releases, this Highland Park 1988 was probably most talked about. After Serge’s 92/100, they sold like hotcakes. The Cadenhead shop also sold smaller 20cl ‘cask ends’ bottles of this whisky.

 

Highland Park 25yo 1988 CadenheadHighland Park 25 yo 1988
(55,7%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2013, sherry butts, 1086 btl.)

Nose: alright then. Really excellent. Blackberry jam, cherries, heather honey and quite some smoke for starters. Spanish fig bread. Roasted nuts and hints of coffee beans. Leather. A little library dust. Very light coastal touches too. Water brings out cigar leaves and hints of cedar oak. Especially the juiciness of the red fruits and the subtle smoke are really beautiful. Mouth: quite powerful. The fruits are still there, Christmas cake and Mon Cherie. Rum & raisins. Soon taken over by spices (pepper, clove) and a little resin. Gets herbal before calming down on caramelized nuts and a leathery dryness. Overall quite dry, but water helps and amplifies tobacco, coffee and honey. Finish: long, with all the sherry goodness fading slowly.

A lovely nose full of juicy sherry – no one will deny that. Some will find the palate too dry, but for me it’s not out of bounds. I hesitated to go beyond 90 points, eventually I did it because it takes water pretty well. Originally around € 110, now sold out.

Score: 91/100


Johnnie WalkerJohnnie Walker Red Label is the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. It’s sold in almost every country, with yearly sales of over 130 million bottles. That’s almost 10% of the entire whisky industry.

In 1865 Alexander Walker, the son of John ‘Johnnie’ Walker, created Walker’s Old Highland, a house blend for his grocery store. The iconic square bottle was introduced in 1870, with a label angled at precisely 24 degrees.

In 1906 a black version of the bottle appeared, although it wasn’t until 1909 that the words Red Label and Black Label were added. Being part of the multi national Diageo group, the original Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock, closed its doors in 2012 and production is now at different Diageo plants like Roseisle.

Johnnie Walker Red Label is a blend of grain and malt whiskies from around 40 different distilleries: Cardhu, Aberfeldy, Cragganmore, Linkwood, Glen Elgin and Royal Lochnagar among others. Black Label also relies on Talisker, Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

As the best-selling whisky, Johnnie Walker deserves a review on this blog. We’ll compare Red Label and Black Label side-by-side. Update: I’ve compared it to Johnnie Walker Double Black as well.

 

 

Johnnie Walker Red LabelJohnnie Walker Red Label
(40%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: not bad actually, quite lively. Most prominent are a vague fruity sweetness with honey and herbal, heathery overtones. On the other hand the majority of the body is taken by malty notes and a slight alcoholic tang. Mouth: again quite pungent, more artificial and industrial than the nose. Young sugary malt. Lots of ginger and pepper. Faint hints of potpourri. Quite harsh. Finish: short, most of the flavours are gone but a tangy herbalness remains, alongside a subtle hint of smoke.

It’s too easy to say cheap blends are no good; Johnnie Walker Red Label is not all bad. It just doesn’t provide the complexity and smoothness in order to be savoured on its own. Only get this if you’re into a cheap Coke combo. Around € 15 in my local supermarket.

Score: 68/100

 

 

Johnnie Walker Black LabelJohnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old
(40%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: immediately nicer, the fruity aspect is rounder and jammier. Some brighter citrus as well. Talisker provides a peppery note. Aniseed. Sweet vanilla biscuits. Maybe not as smoky as I expected. Less alcoholic. Nice enough. Mouth: quite some toasted / roasted flavours now. Maybe not real peat, but ashes, liquorice and toasted bread. Nice sourish fruits. Again a peppery kick. Some creamy toffee. Finish: medium long, rather sweet / caramelly again with some mixed spices.

Johnnie Walker Black Label is a decent step up from Red, a step worth taking at any time, even with the added cost. Provided you’re looking for a sipping whisky rather than a simple mixer and you’re not expecting too much of the promised smoke. Around € 25 in my local supermarket.

Score: 74/100


Douglas Laing Old ParticularDouglas Laing recently presented a new series called Old Particular. It is said to contain particularly interesting whiskies, all bottled as single casks, without colouring and chill filtration.

No less than 21 expressions have been announced already, but they will arrive at different stages. Initial releases include Auchroisk 18 Years, Blair Athol 20 Years, Glen Scotia 21 Years, Glen Garioch 21 Years and Bowmore 25 Years (oh no!). A few older expressions coming up: Teaninch 30 Years, Port Ellen 31 Years and Glencadam 35 Years.

There’s a specific choice when it comes to alcohol strengths. Some rarities will be bottled at natural strength. Whiskies aged 19 years or more are bottled at 51,5% and everything up to 18 years at 48,4%. The idea is that older whiskies become more mellow over time so they often benefit from a little more oomph.

This Auchentoshan 1997 was bottled from a refill hogshead in August 2013 and should arrive in stores pretty soon.

 

 

Auchtenoshan 1997 Douglas Laing Old ParticularAuchentoshan 15 yo 1997
(48,4%, Douglas Laing Old Particular, refill hogshead, 336 btl.)

Nose: starts on typical lemon sherbet and grapefruit – rather zesty fruits with a mineral, chalky edge. Tiny hints of vanilla. Wine gums. Some grainy biscuits. Also notes that keep the middle between flowers and grasses. A fresh Lowlands style. Mouth: quite spicy now, even a little fizzy at first. A big peppery kick and a malty centre. Very citrusy again, with a little apple and banana. Some greenish oak. Again faint vanilla, but it’s certainly not one of these modern vanilla whiskies. Crushed coriander seeds? Finish: medium long, all on pepper and citrus zest.

This is a citrusy Auchentoshan, not too sweet and definitely spicier than most officials. More than alright. Around € 60.

Score: 85/100


This BenRiach 2005 is an 8 year-old – the youngest in the 10th batch of single cask releases presented in July 2013. It’s a slightly odd one, being a peated expression finished in a virgin American oak cask.

 

BenRiach 2005 #3782 peatedBenRiach 8 yo 2005
(58,1%, OB 2013, virgin American oak hogshead #3782, 310 btl.)

Nose: sharp, youngish peat (Kilchoman style), with plenty of burnt heather. Underneath is a bubble gum sweetness and some lacquered barbecue meat. Pepper and cinnamon. Also a slight pungency of jalapeño sauce and lemon. Water highlights the (drier) heather smoke. Mouth: hot – very peaty and very peppery. Not much more actually, although a vague apple sweetness appears towards the end. Water shows a little vanilla, but still hardly any fruits. Finish: very long, peaty and peppery.

This is straightforward peat and pepper juice. A fierce dram with little to offer – not sure why BenRiach insists on making this kind of style. Around € 60.

Score: 79/100


The 21st of September, a new release selected by The Whisky Mercenary will be available in stores. It is a Tormore 1998 single cask in the Gordon & MacPhail Exclusive series.

 

 

Tormore 1998 G&M for The Whisky MercenaryTormore 14 yo 1998 (50%, G&M Exclusive for The Whisky Mercenary 2013, first fill bourbon barrel #1586, 277 btl.)

Nose: a modern profile. Plenty of vanilla custard and cake. Frosties. Hints of sweetened lemon juice and gooseberries. Evolves towards more candied fruits (pineapple cubes) but on the whole it’s not really a fruit bomb. A dollop of honey. Subtle oak, herbs and a few grassy notes as well. Mouth: sweet and juicy. Quite powerful as well, with a profile that echoes much older BenRiachs. Pears, pineapple and pink grapefruit. Some biscuity notes. Towards the end it returns to grass and a tangy herbal / bitter tonic combination that’s less appealing in my opinion. Finish: medium length, still sweet, but with a growing grassiness and soft bitterness.

On the nose I thought I had seen it all before: well-made but nothing special. However on the palate it does surpass the usual, modern, first fill bourbon profile. A nice, affordable daily dram. Around € 65.

Score: 86/100


Recently a generous Taiwanese friend sent me a great selection of samples, all from single cask Karuizawa expressions that are very hard to get outside of Asia. Thanks again, I really appreciate it!

Where to start… with the youngest one maybe? Karuizawa 1984 cask #2961, bottled for Japan. It features a rice paper label, completely in Japanese calligraphy. Other parts of this cask have been bottled for different purposes (120 bottles for the ANA Intercontinental hotel in Tokyo among others).

 

Karuizawa 1984 #2961 JapanKaruizawa 27 yo 1984 (57,7%, OB for Japan 2012, cask #2961, 350 btl.)

Nose: a very oriental expression that’s also surprisingly high on glue notes and oil paint. I love that. Polished cedar oak. Opens up on raspberry jam, strawberries and sour plums. Raisins. Rhubarb! Also hints of fragrant lemon skin. Just a small nutty note and cigar leaves in the background. Very refined with the waxed oak theme ever-present. Mouth: very powerful, a lot of sandalwood and cedar again. Big big tobacco notes. Dates and raisins. Dark chocolate. Nutmeg. Sugar coated pecans. A little balsamic and liquorice. Develops tiny fragrant, perfumy notes as well. Overall quite dry. Finish: long, elegant, with brambles and cocoa powder. Some tannins as well.

I adore the nose of this Karuizawa. It’s oak-driven, but in a way that’s necessary to get this kind of oriental profile. I started with a higher score, but while sipping it lost some points because the dryness gets a little overpowering – even with water. Around € 550.

Score: 91/100


Flaviar samples boxFlaviar is a club for premium spirits lovers and enthusiasts who are looking to discover new drinks. When you get a subscription (£ 25 a month), you will receive a tasting pack each month, containing five samples (5 cl) and a leaflet with specific information about each drink. The website includes an online community which allows you to discuss drinks, upload photos and organise your collection of drinks (taking part will get you free shipping).

Whisky is a big part of Flaviar: over the last 12 months, about half of the tasting packs feature Scotch single malts or American whiskey. On the other hand it covers rum, gin, cognac, Schnapps, grappa… as well. Their latest pack features tequila.

 

My first tasting pack was nicknamed Peat it, Peat it! so you can guess the contents. I would have liked some mention or explanation of the fact that most of them are non-Islay (therefore atypical as a peated selection), but that wasn’t the case.

  • Flaviar tasting pack whiskyBenRiach Cusiositas 10 Year Old
  • Big Peat
  • Compass Box Peat Monster
  • Connemara Peated Cask Strength
  • Millstone Peated

The value of these five 70cl bottles is around £ 200 so you’re paying £ 25 for around £ 15 worth of liquid. Seems rather fair considering the overall presentation. They’re not aiming for geeks so don’t expect single cask releases or anything, but it’s still a nice way for enthusiasts to try different standard expressions and look beyond the world of whisky.

If you’re not inclined to get a monthly subscription right away, there’s a two month test flight or the option to buy one specific pack. Besides the tasting packs, they also offer bottle deals on drinks that were introduced in one of the packs. Signing up is free of charge, so feel free to look around.


Le Gus’t is a new bottler based in the South of France. Their first release was a Bowmore 1999 from the Signatory stocks (sold out). Today we’re introducing the second expression, a 9 years old Glenfarclas 2003 (Family Cask selection). Probably a first fill Oloroso like its sister casks.

 

Glenfarclas 2003 cask 1450Glenfarclas 9 yo 2003 (56,8%, OB Family Cask for Le Gus’t 2013, cask #1450, 316 btl.)

Nose: rather aromatic sherry. Cherries and strawberry jellies. Baba au rhum. Lots of cinnamon and big leathery notes. A little anise. Nice balance of drier notes and fruits. Walnut shells. Dried cigar leaves. Traces of antique wax. After a while fragrant raspberry comes out. Interesting for such a youngster. Mouth: a really zingy start. A tad spirity and extremely spicy. Liquorice, pepper, ginger and cloves. After some time it shows sour plums and oranges, dark chocolate. A little rounder with a few drops of water, with more dark fruits, chocolate and a little roasted coffee beans. Finish: long, a little hot (even with water). Some herbs, ginger and cocoa.

A surprising whisky for two reasons: its maturity and balance on the nose and its spicy, almost fierce palate. A great selection. Around € 120, quite heavy.

Score: 87/100


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Coming up

  • Arran 17 Years Old
  • Glen Grant 1992 (Old Particular)
  • 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)

1502 notes by Ruben

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