Single malt whisky - tasting notes

I get a lot of PR e-mails that are deleted as soon as they arrive. The majority are cocktail recipes that are said to be much better when made with this or that specific brand of whisk(e)y. Most of them seem to be related to American holidays, assuming the whole world lives up to Memorial Day or Kentucky Derby. The last one was about some barbecue professional, but hey, somewhere down the line he marinates meat with whiskey. This blog is not a lifestyle magazine, sorry!

 

Cutty Sark & AppletiserAnyway, sometimes the PR is done right. They’ve actually seen your website and they send you something you can use, even when it’s not my core business, so to speak: not just a recipe but a ready-made whisky cocktail. The other day Cutty Sark sent me a miniature of their newish Cutty Sark Storm, together with a can of Appletiser. It doesn’t seem to have a global distribution, so for those of you who don’t know the brand: it’s a sparkling apple juice soft drink, originally from South Africa.

 

I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect. I like a whiskey sour or a Blood & Sand, but this could be too sticky. Not true: both drinks are complementary. The Cutty Sark Storm is a vibrant blend with fruity notes of apple and gooseberries and these go well with the sparkling apple juice. Pineapple is highlighted as well. The benefit of using whisky instead of other mixers is the influence of the oak of course, which brings a certain dryness instead of making it excessively sweet. Taken with enough ice, a very refreshing combination indeed.


The Macallan 1824 series is in the eye of the storm when it comes to recent evolutions in the whisky industry. After years and years of telling customers that colour didn’t matter (as it could be faked) and that more mature was better, they are now claiming the opposite, releasing No Age Statement whiskies that are named after… their colour. Quoting the press release:

A whisky doesn’t need to be 30 years old to taste like a 30 year old.

Is The Macallan wrong? Not entirely at least. Of course the colour of a whisky – when not troubled by caramel – does tell us a few things about its maturation and possibly also its taste. And of course a 20 year-old can be as mature as a 30 year-old. But in the end it is a symptom of declining old stocks, thus a need for creative marketing in order to sell a younger spirit that tastes like older spirit, preferably at a higher price than the age would justify.

It’s a fact that consumer education (or confusion) is sometimes tricky, and focusing on colour may backfire as it’s not a linear element like age. Obviously using only first-fill sherry casks (like Ruby) will give you a lot of colour in no-time, but refill casks (part of the recipe of the other three) can be a lot more complex and elegant. Moreover, while the concept of colour sorting may work within the Macallan range, you will find other first-fill drams darker than Ruby sitting in the same shelf, with an old-fashioned (comforting) age statement as a bonus, and some of them at half the price.

Speaking of price. It’s easy to say older whisky is more expensive: it takes more investment, more care, and it’s more rare. But in this case, theoretically Ruby could be a younger mix than Sienna. On what grounds will they claim it should be more expensive? Because the distillery thinks it has a better taste?

Anyway it’s a complex matter – we’ve only scratched the surface here – and it’s not a move without risk for the distillery. Let’s see what the resulting whisky is like. The Macallan Ruby is the oldest darkest of the series, after Gold, Amber and Sienna. It is aged exclusively in first-fill Spanish oak sherry casks.

 

 

Macallan Ruby - 1824 seriesThe Macallan Ruby (43%, OB 2013, 1824 series, first-fill sherry casks)

Nose: overall quite delicate, it shows a nice profile but it’s a little shy. Notes of fresh figs, red plums and oranges. Baked apple with cinnamon. Rum & raisins. Dried apricots. Nice overtones of sharper citrus zest. It shows a light, youthful freshness rather than a mature body. Mouth: not too punchy, some honey and red berry notes but mostly spicy notes. Nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and soft pepper. Soft tannins from the oak too. Still some zesty oranges and raisins, but less fruity than the nose suggested. Fades on toffee, chocolate and something of apricot syrup. Finish: quite long, spicy with oranges and lingering apricot.

The Macallan Ruby is a decent, modern dram but I wasn’t entirely convinced of its premium status. I’ve had NAS drams with a similar colour that had a fuller body and more juicy fruits on the palate. Hey, even an entry-level Macallan bottled in the 1990’s held more quality sherry inside. Around € 140 – too expensive in my opinion.

Score: 84/100


Glenlivet Nàdurra (Gaelic for natural) is matured in first fill ex-Bourbon American oak casks. Available since 2005 at 48% abv, a cask strength version was launched in 2006.

The cask strength Glenlivet Nàdurra is bottled in fairly small batches (which means this review may not be 100% representative for your specific bottle, but differences should be small). The batch indication on the labels tells us when it was bottled: 0512T stands for May 2012. The letter simply goes up with every batch: the first batch was 0606A and the newest batch seems to be 0712U.

 

Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo cask strengthGlenlivet 16 yo Nàdurra
(54,3%, OB 2012, batch 0512T)

Nose: very fresh, creamy and oaky in a nice way. Sweet oak, and truckloads of honey. Big vanilla notes, some melon, juicy pear and banana fruitiness. Candy sugar. White chocolate. Muscat grapes and hints of strawberry marshmallows. Gentle spices. Very bourbonny and seductive. Mouth: quite rich. Malty core, with sweet lemon juice, cooked apple and a bit of its peels as well. Citrus green tea. Soft hazelnuts. Lots of ginger and white pepper. Its oakiness is again really close to an actual bourbon, and I find its floral / potpourri notes a little disturbing at times. Finish: quite long, quite oaky. Aniseed and ginger.

This kind of hyperactive bourbon oak has its advantages and its drawbacks, I’m afraid. It’s seductive, fruity and spicy, but it balances on the edge of becoming potpourri-like and plankish. Nonetheless a good score due to a great nose. Around € 55.

Score: 86/100


Jura 1988 (Mo Òr)

14 Aug 2013 | Jura

Over the last two years we’ve seen a lot of Isle of Jura 1988 releases (sister cask #752 Archives to name just one). All really good. The one we’re having today was bottled back in 2010 in the premiumized Mo Òr collection.

It must have been one of the first bottlings from this batch of casks, and as far as I can see it’s also the only one reduced to 46%. Let’s see whether that has an effect.

 

Jura 1988 Mo Òr CollectionIsle of Jura 22 yo 1988
(46%, Mo Òr 2010, bourbon hogshead #756, 352 btl.)

Nose: of course similar to all its sister casks. Big notes of hay, leather and tobacco. Some waxed papers. Really farmy as well (stable aromas, horse dung), even more so than the others, or so it seems. Hints of exhaust fumes. Overripe oranges in the background. Some seaweed. Unusual but by now you know I really like this. Mouth: thick and oily, fairly peaty and peppery. Not harmed by the lower strength. Close to Islay whisky. Some resinous notes, salty liquorice and ginger. Dryness of walnuts. Tobacco and leather. Some lemon zest to round it off. Finish: long, quite herbal now. Still these notes of lemon zest.

I love these Brora-like casks of Jura 1988. This one combines tangy, herbal notes with an oily palate and the typical farmy notes. Around € 120.

Score: 90/100


Whisky-Fässle announced three new releases with a duck label: Tamdhu 1988, Bunnahabhain 1990 and this Bowmore 1995 from a sherry cask.

According to the label, it was a private bottling done for Malt Monkey. Not sure who that is, but I can tell you he has a good taste.

 

Bowmore 1995 Whisky-FässleBowmore 18 yo 1995 (54,9%, Whisky-Fässle for Malt Monkey 2013, sherry cask)

Nose: coal stoves and soot with elegant sweet pipe tobacco. Some chalky notes and walnuts. Also a zesty sourness of oranges. Dried seaweed and leather. Brown candy sugar in the background. I also detected some pink grapefruits but these notes seem to go quickly. Roasted coffee. It made me think of the Bowmore 1995 SMoS but that one is less sour and has a more old-style profile. This one is still very good though. Mouth: rather sweet peat at first. Marmalade alongside kippers. Zesty lemons, tobacco and leather. Fading on ginger and pepper. Again a mere hint of grapefruit in the back. A big palate. Finish: very long, showing Lapsang tea, lemon and liquorice.

An excellent sherried Bowmore. Recommended, but I’m not sure that means anything if the bottle is not available in stores.

Score: 91/100


I remember to have tried the Bunnahabhain 25 year old (or Bunnahabhain XXV as it tends to be called) very early in my whisky career. It was pretty much the oldest dram I had tried at that point, and I liked it. Back then it was still bottled at 43%, but since 2011 it is 46,3%, unchill-filtered and natural colour (yay).

 

Bunnahabhain 25 year oldBunnahabhain 25 yo
(46,3%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: a slightly unfresh start, you know, the kind of dirtiness that is sometimes present in sherry bottlings. Airing helps, so don’t worry too much, but it never disappears completely. Opens up on brighter orange and tangerine, yellow raisins and fragrant lemon balm. Some floral notes. Mint and soft herbs. Leather. Cinnamon. Mouth: sherried again, and quite woody actually, with a sharpish winey edge. Not many fruity notes, more like overinfused fruit tea. Behind that there are hints of raisins, malty spirit and walnuts. Cardamom, ginger and cloves. A little lightweight and harsh at the same time. Finish: fairly dry, spicy (nutmeg) and slightly tannic.

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling some overage casks were blended away here, as well as some sherry overstock. Too bad, especially since 1980’s single casks can be great. Around € 270.

Score: 84/100


Teeling WhiskeyTeeling Whiskey Co. is headed by Jack Teeling, the former Master Distiller of Cooley distillery. However the family’s whiskey heritage dates back to distilling in Dublin in 1782.

Beginning of 2013 they launched a new small batch Teeling Whiskey and they are currently exploring the opportunity to open their own distillery in Dublin [Update 21/08/2013: they've just bought Dundalk brewery from Diageo]. Just to be clear though, for now the company has supply contracts with Cooley for new make and aged spirit, but is also sourcing specific casks from other suppliers.

Their latest release is a 21 year-old distilled in 1991, named Silver Reserve. Triple distilled and initially matured in bourbon barrels, the Silver Reserve was finished in sauternes wine casks. It comes from an undisclosed supplier (but if we are allowed to make an educated guess, we would say Bushmills).

The Silver Reserve is part of a larger Vintage Reserve series and will be followed by a Gold Reserve 25 years and a Platinum Reserve 30 years old in the coming months. For now it is only available in Ireland but it will soon be rolled out to Western Europe, New Zealand and Canada.

Update: a well deserved Thumbs Up Malt Maniacs Award 2013 for this one!

 

 

Teeling Silver Reserve 21 year oldTeeling 21 yo 1999 ‘Silver Reserve’ (46%, OB 2013, 5.000 btl.)

Nose: a very rich fruitiness, with lots of Charentais melon, litchi, white grapes, papaya and raspberries. Maybe old roses. Also, if you like the BenRiach 1976 kind of sweet pink grapefruit aroma, this shows it twice as strong. Hints of frangipane. But it’s not all sweetness, it is balanced with grassy / earthy notes and soft spices (pepper and mint). There’s nice beeswax as well. Mouth: again slightly spicier than expected (pepper, cinnamon and fresh oak), but the fruitiness is still very big. Grape jelly, pink grapefruit, peach pit, banana and litchi. Some honey. Fades on leafy notes. Overall a bit on the light side maybe. Finish: medium long, with a lingering jammy fruitiness and some drying elements.

A very nice offering: it shares the slightly exotic fruitiness with other Irish whiskey, but it’s more complex and spicy. Around € 160.

Score: 89/100


Arran 16 years

09 Aug 2013 | Arran

Released earlier this Spring, the Arran 16 years is the oldest official release yet from this distillery and a limited releases of 9000 bottles. It is part of a trilogy: it will be followed by a limited 17 years in 2014, leading up to the release of a core range 18 year old expression in 2015.

Arran 16 is a selection of 70% American Oak bourbon casks and 30% Spanish Oak sherry hogsheads.

 

Arran 16 Year OldArran 16 years
(46%, OB 2013, 9000 btl.)

Nose: very bright and fruity. Banana, oranges, raspberries and tinned pineapple to name a few. Lots of honey notes and vanilla. Sweet but nicely balanced with soft ginger and grassy notes. There’s also a perfumed edge but it doesn’t harm the overall feel. Medium complexity but quite big in terms of fresh appeal. Mouth: sweet and candied. Starts on the bright side of the spectrum (oranges, apples, floral notes) and evolves to dried fruits, almonds and milk chocolate. Hints of crème brûlée and Café Latte. Some oak and spices like cloves and ginger around the edges. Finish: quite long, creamy, with the chocolate and spices keeping strong.

There’s a nice evolution in these Arran editions. I like this one better than then Arran 14 years so let’s keep our eyes open for the 18 years. Around € 70.

Score: 86/100


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Coming up

  • Glen Grant 1992 (Old Particular)
  • Auchentoshan 15yo (Kintra)
  • Lagavulin 1997 Distillers Edition
  • Johnnie Walker 18yo Platinum Label
  • Ben Nevis 1997 (Maltbarn)
  • 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.