Single malt whisky - tasting notes

The square or cube shaped bottles of Aberlour 8 Year Old have a great reputation for being relatively easy-to-get, nicely old-style whisky. From 1957 until 1985, most Aberlour was filled into this type of bottle, most importantly for the Italian market but also for France, Germany and the USA.

There’s definitely batch variation and it’s quite difficult to know which version you’re dealing with. Some of them have a distillation and/or bottling year on the front or neck label. Some of them say “8 Year Old”, others “8 Years Old”, “Over 8 Year Old” or “Over 8 Years Old”. Some of them have screw caps, others have a (small) cork stopper. Early bottlings say “Est. 1828” while later versions say “Est. 1845”. Some of them are bottled at 43%, others at 50%.

The one we’re trying today is supposedly one of the best versions. It says 8 Year Old, Est. 1828 and has a small cork stopper.

When I tried it at a recent Fulldram tasting I had a lot of difficulty with the aromas. Despite its fame, I thought it was the worst whisky of the evening. Very dirty at first, lots of sulphury notes and cooked cabbage which I personally hate in sherried whisky. Aeration helped, but somehow the dirty side didn’t go away before the evening was over. I decided to pour most of my dram into a sample bottle and take it home, where I tried it again two weeks later. To my surprise, the nose had almost entirely cleared up.

 

 

Aberlour 8 Years, square bottle, small corkAberlour 8 yo (50%, OB early 1970’s, Italian market, cube shaped bottle, small cork stopper)

Nose: very different indeed. Still old-style, with some shoe polish and a good deal of rubbery hints, but it’s mostly nice sherry now. Slightly greasy, with quite some fruity sweetness, marzipan and a surprising level of vanilla. Brown sugar, leather. Hay. Some smoky notes in the background. After a while, it becomes frankly tropical, such a great twist. Mouth: punchy and well-balanced. Sugar coated peanuts, smoked almonds, heather honey and dried fruits. A little mint. Vanilla cake. Then something in between liquorice and tar liqueur. Bitter oranges and herbal tea. Finish: long, with more oak. Sweet and sour notes with a salty edge.

This shows that old whisky needs more time to assess, and some bottles need days after opening to show their best expression. Anyway I can see why this earned its fame, it’s a good example of old-style sherried whisky.

Score: 91/100


In the Small Batch series from Cadenhead there is this 21 years old Clynelish 1992. In fact there is also a 50,4% version specifically bottled for The Nectar in Belgium (a ‘Christmas bottling’ of 222 bottles) but we’re now reviewing the general release.

We haven’t seen much Clynelish 1992 lately (1996-1997 is all over the place) but quite a few 1992’s have been bottled around 2005-2007. I wonder whether this is a leftover cask or the first of a new wave?

 

Clynelish 21yo 1992 - Cadenhead Small BatchClynelish 21 yo 1992
(51,6%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2014, bourbon hogsheads, 792 btl.)

Nose: powerful, even a bit spirity and closed at first. More open after a while, with almonds and lemons, a bit of orange honey and green apple peelings. Sweet lime juice. Vanilla cake. A very slight coastal side, as well as hints of chalk and waxed paper. In the background also echoes of dried herbs. Nicely balanced and increasingly complex. Mouth: oily mouthfeel, clean, very citrusy, mixed with waxy notes. Medium sweet with hints of vanilla and lime candy. Sweet oak. Then the herbal side returns, alongside peppery notes and a delicate earthiness. Finish: long, drier, with a slightly bitter edge and lots of citrus.

Simply a great Clynelish. The sweet touches and rounded waxy notes make it very seductive. Around € 110.

Score: 90/100


Ardmore Legacy

05 Nov 2014 | Ardmore

Most distilleries are going down the path of launching NAS expressions, usually by introducing new bottlings. Sometimes old expressions are discontinued at the same time and you keep thinking they’re simply lowering the bar a little…

In the case of Ardmore, it’s not just lowering the bar but also watering down. Ardmore Traditional Cask, a rather well-respected dram (kind of the underdog for Islay whisky), has recently been discontinued and replaced with Ardmore Legacy. The old one was bottled at 46% and unchill filtered, the new one is bottled at the bare minimum of 40% and comes filtered. On the other hand, it seems the Traditional Cask will reappear in another form in 2015 so maybe it’s all just a temporary complaint.

Ardmore Legacy is a mix of 80% peated malt and 20% unpeated.

 

 

Ardmore LegacyArdmore Legacy (40%, OB 2014)

Nose: malty sweetness (think breakfast cereals), with candy apple and toffee. Smoked almonds and marzipan. Vanilla. Hints of bread crust. Gentle peat and charcoal, easy to notice but not on the Islay level. Honeyed nuts and cinnamon. Mouth: fairly light, although I have to say it’s less noticeable because the peaty notes add weight. Some caramel sweetness and mocha, with nice charred notes and roasted coffee beans. Apples. Also light earthy notes and spices. Fades away really quickly though, leaving a thin impression. Finish: medium long, fairly dry and not too intense, with roasted notes and light spices.

Ardmore Legacy is not so different from how I remember Ardmore Traditional: overall a bit lighter but not the inferior product I feared it would be. Still recommendable as an introduction to peat. The price helps: under € 30.

Score: 81/100


This is the other release in the hard rock / metal-inspired series by The Whiskyman, a Bowmore 2003. Like the Glen Scotia 1992, it is nicknamed after an Iron Maiden song.

 

 

Bowmore 2003 - The Whiskyman 'Children of the Dramned'Bowmore 2003 ‘Children of the Dramned’  (47,6%, The Whiskyman 2014, 183 btl.)

Nose: starts very clean, coastal and sharp, but it grows wider and gains roundness. Still it’s quite minimal and focused on briney notes, olives and mezcal. Wet chalk. Some sugared lemon notes and a faint waxy sweetness. More coastal than peaty. A nice old-style metallic edge too. Mouth: again superbly clean and coastal. Perfect strength as well. Seawater, chalk, lots of cold ashes and soot. Sugared lemon juice, moving towards nice pink grapefruit (echoes of 1993 Bowmore). Kippers and mezcal. Soft yeasty notes as well. Finish: long, smoky, tarry, but surprisingly sweet.

We already knew the high standards of early 2000’s Bowmore, but this one raises the bar in terms of balance and tiny details. Around € 85.

Score: 88/100


SIA Scotch Whisky

03 Nov 2014 | * Blends

SIA Scotch Whisky - Carin Luna-OstaseskiSIA Scotch Whisky

SIA Scotch Whisky is the brainchild of Carin Luna-Ostaseski and the first whisky that I’ve heard of to be funded with a Kickstarter crowd-sourcing project. She managed to get more than $ 45.000 from 245 backers and realize her dream: create her own whisky. A really innovative concept, which we’ll probably see more in the future.

SIA (Gaelic for six) is a blended whisky, matured and bottled by Douglas Laing. It features a relatively high malt to grain ratio (40/60) with malts from Speyside (50%), the Highlands (40%) and Islay (10%). It is currently only available in the States. The first two batches are almost gone and the next batch will be twice as big.

There’s an emphasis on accessibility and mixability… a modern blend in a feminine packaging.

 

 

SIA Scotch blended whiskySIA Scotch Whisky
(43%, Spirit Imports 2013, 2500 btl.)

Nose: apples, vanilla and sugared cereals. Quite malty. Some toffee and butterscotch. Fresh citrus and floral notes as well. Mouth: very subtle (but not thin), by design I believe. It’s creamy, with vanilla, toffee and just a hint of toasted / smoky oak. The grainy notes are noticeable but in the background, so it doesn’t get too harsh. Soft spices and a vague berry sweetness and hints of honey. Finish: not too long, slightly spirity now with most of the flavours faded.

A decent blend, certainly good enough to have on its own without ice. Is this a game-changer in any way? I’m afraid not. SIA wants to counter the idea that whisky is always heavy and smoky. Well, if people think this is the first light or feminine dram, they’re just misinformed. On the other hand, if SIA is able to change this perception, then it’s a welcome product. On its own it is a fairly harmless blend, but well put together, like other Douglas Laing blends. Around $ 45-50.

Score: 75/100


This is the latest 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old. No need to introduce it: a yearly special release, aged in refill American oak. And always among the most affordable of Diageo’s Special Releases.

 

 

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (2014 edition)Lagavulin 12 yo (54,4%, OB 2014, 14th release, 31.428 btl.)

Nose: leafy peat with chalky notes, sour dough and hints of plastics. Sweet apples in the background, as well as some vanilla toffee. Lemon. Plenty of medicinal notes. Very much to the point, with fewer young notes than last year, I’d say. Mouth: oily, pungent, herbal and slightly rough but also surprisingly sweet. A jammy ashtray. Or pastry near a beach bonfire. Mocha. Grapefruits. Lots of coastal notes. Returns to sweet herbs. Finish: long, rather bitter / herbal, but always sweet as well.

The 12 Year Old has never been my favourite Lagavulin but I think this is one of the best releases I’ve come across. Around € 110.

Score: 88/100


Last night I had a chance to try three cask samples from Balblair distillery in an online Twitter tasting. Three single casks filled at the start of the Millennium.

One of them was a classic ex-bourbon barrel (#1350), a second one #0191 was a bourbon cask as well, but one that had been used to mature peated whisky before. The last one was a first-fill sherry butt #1345, a sister cask of #1343 that was bottled exclusively for The Whisky Exchange about a month ago. Balblair doesn’t fill much sherry casks – the official Balblair 2000 vintage was entirely matured in first fill American oak for example.

As it turns out, they were simply cask samples and “you may see one of them bottled in a not so distant future”. Given the fact that TWE’s cask sold out so fast, releasing #1345 would make a lot of sense, but personally I think both number 1 and 3 deserve to be bottled.

 

 

balblair-2000-single-cask-0191Balblair 2000 (53%, OB 2014, second fill barrel #1350)

Nose: really fresh – this kind of estery bourbon maturation is what Balblair does best. Some banana and pear, after a while also pineapple and tangerine. Floral notes and lots of peaches. Quite some lactic notes, like creamy coconut and horchata milk. Subtle hints of vanilla and mint. Mouth: really punchy, almost fizzy, with lots of vanilla and coconut and a firm spicy, oaky side. Reminds me of grain whisky in a way. Apples. Lemon sherbet and marzipan on a second level. Pepper and ginger. Better with water in a way, although it also makes it slightly fragrant (say orange oil). Finish: long, oaky, with aniseed and ginger.

Great nose on this one, an überclassic example of Balblair’s profile. The palate brought the final score down quite a bit. It needs water to take away the graininess and make the nicer notes stand out more.

Score: 86/100

 

 

 

balblair-2000-cask-1350-peatedBalblair 2000 (52,4%, OB 2014, second fill peated cask #0191)

 

Nose: the total opposite. Much drier, less freshness and less fruity pleasure. Not much peat as such, but some earthy notes, a bit dirty. Wet leaves. Buttery popcorn and pencil shavings. Dusty apples. Mouth: oily texture, much more peaty hints now, alongside liquorice, pepper and ginger. Hints of buttered toast. verall rather earthy. Finish: medium long, dry, slightly ashy with a slight grapefruit note and cinnamon powder.

Well, this is not for me. Using a peated cask is an experiment that Balblair did before with much better results (Balblair 1990 cask #1463).

Score: 79/100

 

 

 

Balblair 2000 single cask #1345Balblair 2000 (53,1%, OB 2014, first-fill European oak Oloroso butt #1345)

Nose: like a double-fortified Oloroso sherry actually. Very nice dry Oloroso profile, figs and dates. Juicy sherry, with blackberry jam and stewed prunes. Nice gingerbread. Black cherries. Cinnamon syrup – a lot. Dark chocolate. A great nose, not dry in any way, with nice touches of waxed furniture. Mouth: sherry galore again, with a good balance between fruity notes and spices. Mexican chocolate. Rancio. Leathery notes, cinnamon powder, hints of walnut cake. And bags of brambles. Finish: long, with the bramble keeping strong, some clove and surprisingly little plain oak.

This is a style rarely seen from Balblair, but the fruity spirit works very well with a quality sherry cask and still manages to have its say.

Score: 89/100


As mentioned earlier, the Bacardi group has big plans for its five single malt distilleries, with new core expressions for each of them, as well as single cask releases and other high-end expressions next year.

 

Craigellachie - new whisky range

 

We’ve already had the repackaged Aberfeldy 12 Years, now we’ll look at the brand-new Craigellachie range, which consists of a 13 Year Old, a 17 Year Old and a 23 Year Old. There’s also a 19 Year Old for travel retail. A 31 Year Old will be launched next year. So far we’ve only tried Craigellachie from independent bottlers.

First up is this Craigellachie 17 Year Old, supposedly the most interesting expression from a price / quality perspective. It was matured in American oak casks.

 

Craigellachie 17 Year OldCraigellachie 17 yo (46%, OB 2014, Batch 98-ZC21)

Nose: bright and fruity, lots of pears, gooseberries and grape juice. Lots of vanilla, a bit of plain oak. Soft floral notes, some cinnamon. A light waxiness. Very fresh and summery. Mouth: again really refreshing. Lots of citrus, slightly tart but balanced by some honey and vanilla cream. Pineapple. You can tell this is newish American wood, but well done. Spices too of course, light pepper, ginger and cinnamon. The citrus notes become more zesty towards the end. Finish: medium long, spicy, with an almondy aftertaste and lemon.

This is a slightly modern but very good Craigellachie. Absolutely nothing to complain, it’s just that almost every distillery has well-made whisky these days. Arriving in stores – around € 90.

Score: 85/100


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  • Basidium: I am partial to the Glencairn Crystal Canadian Whisky Glass as it is closer to what I am used to in a standard whiskey tumbler. It still narrows the t
  • Raphael: One similar to Bugatti, with bigger hips, would be the Eisch Jeunesse Malt-Whisky Glass. Quite elegant and not the cheapest one. Winner of the Whisky
  • WhiskyNotes: A Bugatti with bigger hips sounds very promising! Keep me posted, Bram.

Coming up

  • BenRiach 35 Year Old
  • Dailuaine 1997 (Bonding Dram)
  • Clynelish 'distillery only'
  • Bunnahabhain 1980 (Eiling Lim)
  • Balmenach 2001 (Liquid Treasures)

1817 notes by Ruben

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