Single malt whisky - tasting notes

SherryNotes - sherry blog / jerez / xeresI quickly mentioned a new project when I was writing the whisky is dying article. That project is about sherry wines and it’s called SherryNotes. The past few weeks, I have been posting on www.sherrynotes.com already.

 

 

 

The sherry market is in crisis. Sales continued downwards for years while other fortified wines like Port are still gaining ground. I’m not going to explore this topic in depth here, but there are a couple of reasons behind this problem. There’s a lot of mediocre sherry, too sweet or too sharp, and this is the kind of sherry you’ll find in most places. Most people think all sherry is like that, and they don’t look further. There’s also a huge lack of education, both towards consumers and towards restaurants – a lot of half-baked information is found. Last but not least, producers suffer from inertia – they’ve waited too long to move forward and they don’t even commercialize their best products. Luckily, after some dark years, small signs of improvement are noticeable.

In 2008, Equipo Navazos started to sell its first public bottlings. Navazos is a small group of Spanish sherry lovers, and they can be described as the first independent bottler of sherry. They go out and hand-pick casks from different bodegas. Most of them are hidden gems and real eye-openers, but some bodegas don’t realize the potential of their products. Developing a new premium segment in the sherry market is certainly a good thing – the best old sherries offer huge complexity and are still underpriced in comparison to other drinks.

Also, there is a recent movement within the sherry world towards unchill-filtering and preservation of natural colour. Most sherries – especially the lighter ones like Manzanilla and Fino – underwent heavy filtering and cold stabilization before bottling. Producers claimed consumers want stable wines with consistent and very light colour, especially in Manzanilla (the exact opposite of the E150 story in whisky, but similar pseudo-arguments). It should be applauded that (especially smaller) bodegas are realizing they are taking away much of the complexity and richness of their wines as well.

Related to this is the rise of en rama sherry releases. En rama means “on the vine” or figuratively “straight from the cask”. Even standard sherries like Tio Pepe now get limited edition “en rama” versions that are much richer.

Single cask releases are also a recent development. Interesting for a drink that relies so heavily on the solera principle for its maturation.

Some of these evolutions can seem like a flash-back for whisky aficionados. The sherry world is lagging behind the whisky market in some respects, but it’s certainly true that a revival is noticeable. If they focus on natural, high-quality products, I’m confident this will work.

 

Anyway, through SherryNotes I hope to spread the word that sherry is a wonderfully diverse product (bone-dry to ultrasweet). I’ll introduce you to the better supermarket sherries but also to fabulous 100 year old wines. I’m also thinking of doing bottle shares, as the best sherry can be hard to get.

The posting schedule will be a lot slower (only a handful products are launched each year) and I will provide much more background information than I do on WhiskyNotes. In any case tasting notes are still my core business.

Have a quick look and let me know what you think. Here’s one to get you started. Salud!

 

La Bota de Amontillado - Equipo NavazosLa Bota de Amontillado n°31 (20%, Equipo Navazos 2011, 50 cl.)

Nose: fragrant nose with brown candy sugar, baked banana and maple syrup up front. Fresh figs and toffee. Also beautiful notes of polished oak and a little turpentine, I love that. Leather and tobacco. Evolves on herbs (rosemary bread), olives, roasted nuts and blood oranges. Indeed the coastal notes are in the background here, but there are chamomile notes and chalky notes that give away its origins. Hints of ponzu sauce. Just great, very smooth and complex. Mouth: very good grip. Dry and rich with nutty aromas as well as a powerful, refreshing acidity (ponzu again). Some roasted notes, and more saline notes as well. Fading on cashew nuts. Very long finish with an excellent sour edge.

A marvellous wine with a unique nose and a crisp, harmonious palate. Excellent with food or on its own. Quite possibly the best Amontillado I’ve had and a perfect example for the high quality of Equipo Navazos. Still available in some stores, e.g. La Maison du Whisky in France, Berry Bros. in the UK or Vila Viniteca in Spain. Around € 50 (50 cl.).

 

ps/ SherryNotes is also on Facebook and Twitter.


The excellent Private Stock range by The Whisky Agency is usually a combination of high age, exquisite profiles and low yields. Highly sought after by collectors, so they are usually sold out before you know it.

The latest addition is this Tamdhu 1980.

 

Tamdhu 1980 Private StockTamdhu 33 yo 1980 (55,7%, The Whisky Agency ‘Private Stock’ 2013, bourbon hogshead)

Nose: nice old-school nose, fruity, full of honeysuckle and old roses. Honey, toffee, faint vanilla and sweet cereals. Buttercups. A little dusty oak and wood glue. Also a slight grassy prickle and hints of chamomile. Water highlights the floral elements. Mouth: thick and malty, with quite some oomph. Big honey notes, toffee, apricots and waxy oak. Cinnamon and wood spices. There’s still a slighty tangy sensation, something in between plain alcohol and a herbal sharpness. Some toasted bread. With water: a little smoother and rounder (apple sweetness). Finish: quite long, with a soft herbal bitterness, big pepper and grassy notes.

A rather remarkable whisky. A tad sharp when taken neat, but be sure to play around with water to get the most out of it. Around € 180.

Score: 87/100


The story goes that this cask of Banff 1976 was found by accident in the Cadenhead warehouses during a tour. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

Banff distillery, founded in 1824, was closed down on 31 March 1983 and destroyed by a fire in 1991, so we’re happy casks still appear on the market, even though you can count the bottlings on one hand each year. Cadenhead had quite a few of these 1976s in the past.

 

Banff 1976 CadenheadBanff 36 yo 1976 (49,8%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2013, bourbon hogshead, 192 btl.)

Nose: surprisingly smooth and easy-going for a Banff (most of them have a few glitches here and there). Fruits like kumquats and kiwi (half sweet / half sour), apples and gooseberries. Vanilla powder. Plenty of wax and hay. Tiny metallic notes as well. Hints of mustard seeds and wet gravel. Some oak dust and leather. Old-style. Mouth: oily, rather zesty with nice fruity notes (passion fruits, bitter oranges) alongside sweet oak. Big peppery notes. Still hints of sweet mustard. Grows spicier. Some mint. A nice balance of sweetness, bitterness and herbalness. Finish: long, lemony. Quite dry.

A great Banff, holding the middle between its typical unsexiness and rounder, gentler notes. It takes you back to a different era. Too bad that kind of experience will set you back a lot of money. Around € 320.

Score: 90/100


For the past four decades, Glen Scotia distillery had an unstable production with slow periods and mothballing. The only official bottlings were a 12 year-old and a peated version. In November 2012 they announced a major investment plan to expand their global operations. This included the launch of five new expressions and a totally new packaging.

 

Glen Scotia whisky range

The new presentation was not particularly well received. Most reactions I’ve seen were somewhere in between ‘alcopop style’, slightly tacky and plain awful. De gustibus… In any case I’m quite sure it will catch your attention when sitting in a shelf, so it may have the desired effect in terms of sales.

The new range is pretty dense with 10, 12, 16, 18 and 21 years old versions not far from each other. With such intermittent production (e.g. none between 1994 and 1999), I wonder whether they have enough stock to differentiate so much. Anyway the good news is that the whole range is unchill-filtered and not coloured.

Glen Scotia 16 Year Old sits in the middle of the range.  It’s bourbon matured. The Aurora Borealis on the label tells you it’s part of the older expressions, and the green hue sets it apart from all others.

 

 

Glen Scotia 16 Year OldGlen Scotia 16 yo (46%, OB 2013)

Nose: gristy barley notes, with hints of yeast and a vague fruity sweetness in the back. Oranges and honey. Becomes quite biscuity. There’s also a mineral side to it, with some briney coastal notes and a hint of smoke. Aniseed and pepper. Mouth: fairly grainy and slightly austere. Slightly alcoholic as well. Ginger and salty liquorice. Evolves towards big, nice notes of lemon and pink grapefruit. Hints of toasty oak, ashes and a growing bitterness. Finish: medium long, still some bitterness alongside a peppery heat.

I was pleasantly surprised by the nose, but the palate can’t hide the quirky style that is common for most of the other Glen Scotia expressions I’ve tried. Around € 60.

Score: 81/100


The Whisky Agency and The Nectar of the Daily Drams have brought us a wonderful Strathmill 1974 in 2001. A very warm, beehive- and  butter pastry-driven profile that I liked very much. Now there’s a Strathmill 1976.

 

Strathmill 1976 Whisky Agency StampsStrathmill 37 yo 1976
(47%, The Whisky Agency ‘Stamps’ 2013, refill hogshead, 216 btl.)

Nose: a dusty profile, less warm and less fruity than the 1974’s. Dried flowers, some ferns and grist. Leather. Potpourri that has lost most of its aroma. Some anise and dried coconut flakes. Faint metallic notes as well. Hints of cake underneath. Complex with a distinct feeling of oldness. Mouth: a very strange mix of flavours. There’s coconut again, and something of watermelon. Anise and vanilla syrup. All this mixed with a kind of bitter oak juice. Floral notes and resin. Porridge. Fermenting fruits. A weird combo, not sure what to make of it but I can’t say it’s really bad. Finish: medium long, spicy and oaky, but once again there’s a syrupy undertone. White mocha maybe?

This one you should try for yourself. It’s interestingly complex and at least four whiskies in one. I think I like two or three of them. Around € 220.

Score: 82/100


Cadenhead, Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, recently revised most of its packaging. They introduced a new dumpy bottle style, a Cadenhead Creations range (also dumpy) and a cask strength Small Batch range with rectangular bottles.

It seems they wanted to celebrate this small revival with a bang, releasing whiskies that have become thin on the ground these days (Banff 1976, Caperdonich 1977 and Littlemill 1977). Some of the new bottlings received quite some praise so we’re eager to try them.

We’ll start with the 35 year old Caperdonich 1977. Never tried this vintage, let’s hope it comes close to the legendary 1972.

 

 

Caperdonich 1977 Cadenhead Small BatchCaperdonich 35 yo 1977 (50,2%, Cadenhead Small Batch 2013, sherry butt, 384 btl.)

Nose: starts in a rather fierce way, with polished oak and an alcohol tingle blocking most of the nose. Underneath is some beeswax and mint. Oranges and spices (ginger). A few drops of water highlight citrus and some peach jam. Mouth: a similar fruity core (apricot, citrus) alongside heavy spicy notes (pepper, ginger, mint, eucalyptus). A few waxy notes. Herbal tea and plain oak as well. Water doesn’t change it much, it stays on the resinous / minty / tannic side. Finish: more oak and spices. Drier and less thick.

Funny how Caperdonich follows its sister Glen Grant when comparing vintages. This late 1970’s production has some loud oak and doesn’t have the same amount of jammy fruitiness and beehive notes as the 1972’s. Nonetheless it’s still attractive. Around € 300 - a heavy price.

Score: 88/100


Next in the Stamps series by The Whisky Agency: Bowmore 1998 from a refill sherry butt, featuring a stamp by the Hungarian Post.

 

Bowmore 1998 Whisky Agency StampsBowmore 15 yo 1998 (52,1%, The Whisky Agency ‘Stamps’ 2013, refill butt, 719 btl.)

Nose: earthy peat with firm smoke. Leather. Some iodine. Red fruits, raisins and oranges underneath. Technically very good, and most people will welcome the combination of big peat and sherry, but I feel it’s a tad simple. There’s not much evolution. Mouth: very intense. That means a lot of smoke and earthy peat again. Quite some honey sweetness as well, so everything stays balanced. Something lemony. Herbal hints (sweet liquorice) and sugar coated nuts. Tobacco leaves as well. Finish: long, fairly sweet, smoky and spicy.

All good – find a bottle if you’re into peat and sherry. In this case I especially liked the palate for its higher complexity. The nose is clean and balanced but lacks a tiny bit of complexity in my opinion. Around € 95.

Score: 87/100


Here they are, the latest Whisky Agency releases. The new series is nicknamed Stamps and features postage stamps from different countries like the Republic of Dahomey (never heard of that one actually).

Be sure to follow my Facebook profile to stay up-to-date. Announcement of new series, the latest Diageo Special Releases and other news will only be featured there, not on this site.

 

Littlemill 1990 Whisky Agency StampsLittlemill 23 yo 1990 (52,4%, The Whisky Agency ‘Stamps’ 2013, refill hogshead, 332 btl.)

Nose: grassy and mineral notes for starters. Apple peelings, some walnuts. Meadow flowers. But after a while it moves to sweeter notes. Big marzipan, eventually also a jammy, slightly tropical fruitiness. Tangerines, lemon candy, apricot jam. Buttercups as well. Vanilla cake. Some candy sugar syrup. The slightest whiff of smoky oak in the background. Excellent. Mouth: sweet entry, immediately joined by zesty notes. Lemon zest. Hints of ginger, grasses and liquorice. Grapefruit and tangerines again, maybe a little mango in the background. Becomes quite waxy towards the end. Finish: quite long, sweet and spicy.

Nicely complex and grassy Littlemill, with a citrusy sharpness that comes close to Rosebank, while showing some balancing candied fruitiness as well. Around € 130.

Score: 89/100


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Coming up

  • Auchentoshan 15yo (Kintra)
  • Lagavulin 1997 Distillers Edition
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Maltbarn)
  • Tomatin 1978 (Cadenhead / Nectar)
  • Aultmore 2007 (Daily Dram)
  • 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.