Single malt whisky - tasting notes

The other day I was given I was given an early Christmas gift by my lovely parents: a box of chocolates by the famous Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. The selection is called Rare Whiskies and Rums – it includes six different chocolates with a filling based on whisky and rum.

The starting idea is that liqueur-filled chocolates are always based on a nameless spirit, probably not the best one around, which is a shame when you’re working with top quality chocolate like Marcolini. This time, a lot of effort was put into matching a specific whisky / rum to a specific type of chocolate.

Pierre Marcolini chocolate - Rare whiskies and rums

These are the whisky combinations:

  • Aberlour / Ecuador & Java fondant ganache with Cuban chocolate coating
  • Oban / Vanilla caramel ganache with Chuao chocolate coating
  • Ardbeg / Piedmontese hazelnut praliné with Ecuador chocolate coating
  • Yamazaki / Ecuador & Java fondant ganache with Mexican Porcelana coating

At this level, I think the actual expression should have been mentioned. We can assume Marcolini used Oban 14 Years and Ardbeg 10 Years, but for Aberlour and Yamazaki this is less clear. There’s a huge difference between Aberlour 10, Aberlour 16 or Aberlour a’bunadh for example.

The Aberlour and Yamazaki combinations are nothing special. I mean, you can’t fault the chocolate in itself, but the whiskies are probably too bland to stand out. For me, this is still a middle-of-the-road liqueur praline (something I don’t like in general, I should add). I know the whiskies and I wasn’t able to recognize them.

The Ardbeg combination with hazelnut praliné works well though. The smokiness stands out and overall it brings out more flavours than just vague alcohol. To a lesser extent this is also true for the Oban combination, which has a slightly salty touch, and salt + chocolate is always a winner. However I think reducing both whiskies to just a whiff of smoke or salt is not doing justice to these fine drams.

The rum bonbons couldn’t win me over either. Overall I was disappointed, especially since I’m a fan of Marcolini in general. The box holds 16 small chocolates and is not worth € 50. My idea of pairing whisky with chocolate is still to have an actual glass of whisky and a quality bar of chocolate on the side.

Balblair 1983

19 Dec 2014 | Balblair

Balblair 1983 replaced the popular 1975 vintage at the end of 2013. It was matured in ex-bourbon barrels.


Balblair 1983 - 1st releaseBalblair 1983
(46%, OB 2013, 1st release)

Nose: a nicely fruity, almost tropical nose. Fresh banana, sweet quinces and apricots, as well as a sourish hint of pineapple and passion fruit. Bright floral notes. Albariño comes to mind. Vanilla ice cream. Very subtle hints of old oak and almonds. Excellent. Mouth: quite lovely again. There are warm fruity notes (pears, plums) balanced by the same juicy acidity (kiwi) and soft, elegant spices (ginger, clove). Liquorice and cinnamon. Some freshly sawn, bourbonny oak touches, but without the dryness. Finish: medium, half fruity, half spicy.

Great stuff, with a fresh fruitiness, pleasant acidity and spices, all integrated into an elegant composition. The best bourbon matured Balblair I’ve had. Around € 250.

Score: 89/100

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This Caol Ila 1983 is the first official 30 Year Old (as far as I know), bottled as part of the Special Releases 2014. We’ve had a whole list of early 1980’s releases from independent bottlers, so we’re curious to see how the official release compares.

It is a mix of refill American and European oak.



Caol Ila 30 Year Old 1983 - Special ReleaseCaol Ila 30 yo 1983 (55,1%, OB 2014, Special Release, 7638 btl.)

Nose: a maritime / medicinal version at first sight. Iodine impregnated gauze, seaweed, with some leather and soot. On a second level, there are rounder, fruitier notes: sweet lemon, melon and sugared almonds. Hints of latte and vanilla. A rather complex version, but the more coastal / austere notes win in the end. Mouth: more intense, sharp and focused, with a big medicinal side again. Menthol and camphor. Aniseed and salt. Leathery notes. Kippers and olive brine. Quite hot actually, with earthy peat, bitter almonds and a good deal of oak. Just a few hints of vanilla to round things off. Finish: long, on liquorice, lemon & salt and soot.

A really big expression of Caol Ila that seems to have lost none of its power. Reminds me of the Coal Ila 1982 for Limburg Whisky Fair of last year, but it’s bolder and rougher. And much more expensive than indie versions. Around € 550 (ouch).

Score: 91/100

Aberlour a’bunadh is the cask-strength expression matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks, released in different batches (usually 5 or 6 a year). It is said to contain different profiles, from casks ranging between 5 and 25 years old.

I tried quite a few in 2008-2009 but later on I seemed to turn to other heavily sherried expressions. Today we’re trying the latest batch (if I’m not mistaken), batch n°49.


Aberlour A'Bunadh #49Aberlour a’bunadh
(60,1%, OB 2014, batch n°49)

Nose: quite open and very sherried. It’s a modern kind of sherry maturation, with some winey overtones. Raspberries and orange peel. Sultanas and honey. Soft mint. Quite aromatic and fragrant, before the drier notes come out. Walnuts and pecans. Leather. A peppery tingle as well. Just a light hint of struck matches, which is highlighted when you add water. Mouth: sweet and spicy. Lots of toffee, caramel and dried fruits (dates, apricots). Fresher fruits as well (raspberry again). Liquorice. A darker side of roasted coffee beans and bitter chocolate that becomes a tad too loud for me. Finish: long, spicy but also fairly dry. Liquorice, wood and walnuts.

This is a well-made, full-flavoured sherry bomb. I would say this was a real stunner if not for the faint struck matches and the oaky dryness. One of the nicer batches though. Prices tend to go from € 45 to € 65.

Score: 88/100

Aberfeldy Bits of Strange is a 16 year old single cask whisky, bottled at cask strength from a sherry-seasoned cask. It was launched to commemorate a homecomings tour of two Scottish bands, King Creosote and FOUND, in November 2012.


Aberfeldy 16 Years - Bits of StrangeAberfeldy 16 yo ‘Bits of Strange’
(55,1%, OB 2012, 318 btl.)

Nose: rather unique and very intriguing. There are huge waxy notes hitting you up front, as well as some tobacco leaves and echoes of pine wood refresher and mint. On a second level: dried apricots, backed apple and honeysuckle. Dried flowers. Vanilla and cinnamon. Nicely aromatic, with the sherry influence being rather subtle. Mouth: quite oaky, but in a nice way. Firm spices (pepper, clove) but also fruitcake and blood orange. Again bags of mint, and eucalyptus. A toasted side / burnt sugar. Walnuts. Finish: long, spicy and slightly dry. Orange peel and nuts.

A fairly hot and oaked whisky, especially when taken neat. Nonetheless the toasted wood makes it boldly aromatic and interesting. Around € 185 at the time.

Score: 88/100

This Glenrothes 1997 is among the latest bottlings from Kintra in the Netherlands.


Glenrothes 1997 - KintraGlenrothes 16 yo 1997 (53,2%, Kintra 2014, bourbon hogshead #15720, 137 btl.)

Nose: malty and fruity. Stewed fruits, ripe yellow plums, fresh apples and peaches. Citrus. Hints of dusty oak and dried flowers. Vanilla cake. Soft honey and mint as well. Not very complex but natural, nicely integrated and not too modern. Mouth: a surprisingly punchy attack, again fruity at first (grapes, apples, lemon), with hints of vanilla cream, but slowly drying and showing more bitter notes. Caramel and mocha, then some grapefruit zest and herbal notes. Ginger. A toasted, almost smoky hint in the background. Finish: medium, sweet but with a peppery edge.

A very natural Glenrothes, with good fruits and punchy spices. A stronger version of the official expressions, I’d say. Around € 90.

Score: 85/100

Strathmill 1988 as part of Diageo’s Special Releases 2014. It was the first year that the Strathmill distillery appeared in this series and the first official release in a very long time. It was matured for over 25 years in refill American oak.



Strathmill 25 Years 1988 - Special ReleaseStrathmill 25 yo 1988
(52,4%, OB 2014, 2.700 btl.)

Nose: very malty, with lots of grainy biscuits, plain gristy notes and sugar coated corn flakes. On a second level, there is soft vanilla, ginger and a nice dusty side that keeps the middle between hay and dried flowers. Honeysuckle and orange zest. Coffee with cream. Mouth: again sweet cereal bars, roasted oats, brown sugar and ginger cookies. Growing hints of latte and toffee. Not really fruity, but there’s some honey and maybe baked apple in the background. Faint floral notes and eucalyptus too. Finish: medium long, malty, with vanilla, milk chocolate and lingering spices.

This Strathmill is strangely neutral, almost an exercise in maltiness, yet it does have a nice weight to it, and a few less common touches. Good, but more ‘interesting’ than immediately charming, and too expensive anyway. Around € 350.

Score: 87/100

With just 59 bottles, this Littlemill 1992 in the Archives series was very limited and indeed already sold out. Cask #44 has also been bottled by them in 2012.


Littlemill 1992 - ArchivesLittlemill 22 yo 1992 (46,7%, Archives ‘Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale 2014, hogshead #43, 59 btl.)

Nose: starts fairly malty sweet at first, with some dusty vanilla and plenty of paraffin. Linseed oil, bread dough. Hay and soft hints of hazelnut paste. Less fruity than some other Littlemills, but after a while it shows melons and grapefruits. Also the kind of coconutty aroma that you sometimes get from bourbon oak. Mouth: complex but again not as aromatic and fruity as we’d like. In no particular order: vanilla, caramel, waxy notes, grapefruit, a grassy / green tea bitterness, lemons and lots of grains. Zesty notes, some mineral and herbal touches as well. As I said, complex but maybe not an immediate charmer. Finish: long, zesty and mineral, with coconut oil and smooth oak.

In my opinion, similar to cask #44 with an above average complexity but a tad below the other ones in terms of fruitiness and overall attractiveness. We’re spoiled by all these Littlemills. Around € 160.

Score: 87/100



August 2015
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Coming up

  • Danica whisky (Braunstein)
  • Laphroaig Lp6 (Elements of Islay)
  • Bruichladdich 1964 (G&M #3676-3677)
  • Scallywag Cask Strength
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection
  • Highland Park 1990 (Master of Malt)
  • Springbank 2001 vintage

1841 notes by Ruben

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