Another Belgian source of whisky: Asta Morris. The latest release is a nearly 13 years old Coal Ila distilled in August 1999 and matured in a refill sherry hogshead. Its cask number is quite close to the Caol Ila 1999 released for Feis Ile 2010.
Caol Ila 1999 (50%, G&M for Asta Morris 2012, refill sherry hogshead #305341, 350 btl.)
Nose: starts on apple juice with antiseptic. Oyster water and tarry ropes. Peat and tobacco. Shows some nice sweet & sour fruit candy notes (lemon / green apple), especially with a few drops of water. Even a hint of tropical fruits in the background. Mouth: good strength, overall sweet again, almost completely on peated apple juice. Oily texture. Then a salty twist, a faint hint of green olives, some tobacco leaves, and back to apple juice. A little coconut oil too. Quite an impressive sweetness. Finish: medium long, half sweet, half earthy with a herbal edge.
Interestingly, this Caol Ila keeps the middle between strong medicinal notes and an apple sweetness. Caol Ila can be clean and simple, but this is more complex and entertaining than expected. Just arrived in stores. Around € 65.
Our next “Belgian whisky” is not a new one, it was released last June. Whisky club Fulldram tends to release a club bottling once a year or so, but this time a Tomatin 1976 came quickly after the Bowmore 1999. They said it was too good to let go.
Tomatin 36 yo 1976 “Full metal dram” (49,3%, The Whiskyman for Fulldram 2012, 103 btl.)
Nose: alright! An excellent nose, full of juicy citrus with a good dose of sherry (I’d say a tiny bit more than usual). There’s tangerine, blood orange, pink grapefruit, apricot, banana and guava. Nice vanilla cake and honey. A little almond cream. There seem to be more mint and grasses than in similar releases, as well as a hint of silver polish (the metallic hint they’re referring to in the epitheton). A little oak polish too, but oak itself is hardly to be found. Superb. Mouth: very sweet at first, with red fruit jam, cooked peaches, half-dried prunes and then a brighter, very beautiful wave of typical Tomatin goodness: pink grapefruit, passion fruits, tangerine. Lovely depth and complexity. There’s a secondary theme of sweet oak, soft herbs and fruit tea. A nice touch of mocha glaze in the aftertaste. Finish: very long, softly drying on fresh herbs, with a lot of sweetness still.
An excellent example of Tomatin 1976, probably the best one we’ve had so far. Around € 185 at the time, but all 103 bottles have found a new home already. Not mine, unfortunately, as I wasn’t an official member of the club yet. I’m willing to adopt!
It’s going to be a Belgian week on this blog. We’ve had two Thosop releases and now a Glen Garioch 1991 bottled by Liquid Sun for The Whiskyman. More interesting Belgian releases are coming up, stay tuned.
Glen Garioch 20 yo 1991 “The Whiskyman’s Dram” (52,6%, Liquid Sun 2012, refill hogshead, 177 btl.)
Nose: slightly rough take-off, lots of mineral notes and grasses… Aspirin. Quite some heather too, a few herbal notes (rosemary springs to mind). Ginger. A soft sooty veil as well. Shy fruit, although it displays a nice (secondary) citrus theme after a while, together with tiny hints of vanilla. Takes time. Mouth: instantly more sweetness now, with a nice round orange note. Then peppercorns, ginger and heather again. Regains its sharpness over time, with medium peat, a herbal / earthy bitterness and salty liquorice roots towards the end. Finish: long, quite bitter, gingery and salty.
I know people will disagree with me, but personally I don’t like the austere, mineral kind of Brora or Port Ellen. On some levels this reminds me of those whiskies. Around € 100.
And now the Irish dram by Thosop: Cooley 1999. It’s a Connemara style of dram, so expect some peat in there.
(53,3%, Thosop 2012, 179 btl.)
Nose: nice Brora-esk nose with medium peat and quite a lot of candle wax. Not unlike the several casks bottled by Cadenhead. Gorgeous farmy notes too: a little wet wool and a goat stable with not so fresh hay. Quite some sweetness to balance it out. There’s pink grapefruit, tangerine and melon. Settles on mint and eucalyptus. A very enjoyable mix. Mouth: tobacco notes, herbs, cardamom, soft smoke, oak, grapefruit again, ginger… Some salted liquorice in the end. Excellent balance. Finish: medium long, with herbs and tobacco lasting until the end.
Love it. We already knew peated Cooley can be great at a medium age and with medium peat. Around € 80, that’s pretty much a steal.
Nose: a base of (good) wood and gentle muesli. On top of that, several kinds of European fruits: apples, pears, green plums. A little lemon. Also notes of hay and a sourish, milky touch. Soft wax in the background. Quite elegant and quite neutral. Mouth: sweet, malty and citrusy (lime, grapefruit). Big notes of apples. Nice gingerbread and Muscovado sugar. Hints of mocha glaze. Spicy notes of green oak. Finish: medium long. Sweetened grapefruit juice and tinned pineapple with lingering spices.
Well-matured Aberlour, balanced, gentle and easily drinkable. Nice to try such a good unsherried example of this distillery. Regardless of the name though, I don’t feel it’s a particularly exceptional Speyside whisky. Around € 140.
Nose: indeed more sherried, with the classical plum compote and dates. Lots of orange notes. Acacia honey. Then also some nutty notes, liquorice and hint of pepper. Not too winey, virtually no gunpowder notes either. All good. Mouth: in the same league really. Spicy layers with plenty of fruits underneath. Raisins, dates, oranges, baked red apples. A pleasant honey sweetness again, even some plain brown candy sugar. Again some nutty notes and faint coffee in the background. Finish: long, still quite sweet and rounded, with lingering fruits and a slow, chocolaty dryness.
Here’s a nice example of the middle-aged sherried Glenrothes character. Slightly more vinous than the distillery releases, but sweeter and more intense as well. Around € 100.
Balblair will shortly be offering a single cask bottling exclusively to Gathering Place members, its online enthusiasts area.
Cask 1463, filled in 1990, represents a very rare style of Balblair as it was an American oak cask which had previously contained Islay whisky. The resulting flavour is said to be unmistakable Balblair with an unusual twist! I had a sneak preview already – be sure to join the Gathering Place in order to be notified of its release date.
Nose: hey, this is nice! It’s deeply fruity, with luscious apricot jam, apple compote, banana, jelly candy and even hints of lychees and marshmallows. Vanilla custard. Thick honey. All this sweetness is nicely balanced with subtle smoke and heather. You would never think this was distilled on Islay, but still it has a nice toasted oak theme. A soft spicy note too (pepper, cinnamon). One of the nicest Balblair noses I’ve found AND it has a whiff of smoke. Mouth: quite rich, still sweet and fruity. Yellow apples again, some strawberry sweets and vanilla fudge. Again a very soft smoky layer, a lightly peaty wave and an earthy, slightly bitter note in the background that might have come from the previous whisky as well. This earthy dryness tends to overpower towards the end. Finish: long, a little dry now, with liquorice and spices.
This one has a lovely nose, and the Islay character is more than just a gimmick. It’s noticeable but perfectly subtle. Too bad for the slightly tangy dryness in the very end. Around € 115. Recommended.
If I’m well informed, this was the first bottling ever in the First Editions series, a Cragganmore distilled in 1989.
Cragganmore 21 yo 1989 (55,4%, The First Editions 2011, refill bourbon hogshead, ref. ES 001/01)
Nose: a very fresh mix of floral notes, green fruits and mint. Lemons, citrus tea, freshly cut grass. Some mineral notes and flints. There’s some fresh oak and green herbs too. All fresh, clean, with a minerality that makes it almost austere. Mouth: quite punchy, full of malt, citrus zest and herbs. Oranges. Some “green” woody notes. Heather honey, but more heather than honey. Spicy undertones (nutmeg, pepper). Finish: medium long, drier, with zesty notes, herbs and mint.
A clean, zesty and mineral Speysider – good Cragganmore. Very naked, which makes it feel a little younger than it actually is. Around € 100.