Single malt whisky - tasting notes

After the Blair Athol 1993 First Editions, a younger version this time, bottled by Hepburn’s Choice in 2013. Probably not from a sherry cask. They bottled a similar 11yo version earlier this year.

Hepburn’s Choice is named after William Hepburn, the grandfather of Langside Distillers’ director, and it’s part of the Hunter Laing business.



Blair Athol 2002 - Hepburn's ChoiceBlair Athol 10 yo 2002
(46%, Hepburn’s Choice 2013, 378 btl.)

Nose: rather youngish. Pear drops, apples, cereals and dusting sugar. A bit of popcorn and soft vanilla biscuits. Not bad, but not the nose of a mature Scotch whisky. Mouth: clean, creamy, but rather flat. Fruity notes again, mainly pears but there’s a faint tropical edge to it. There’s also a milky element, like whipped cream. Finish: medium long, sweet and fruity, with hints of vanilla fudge.

A bit disappointing, though technically faultless. It’s easy to drink but still too simple and too young to be out on its own, in my opinion. Around € 55.

Score: 76/100


Tomatin 1988 | Malts of Scotland

Tomatin 25 yo 1988
(53,7%, Malts of Scotland 2014, sherry hogshead, MoS 14026, 265 btl.)

Nose: nicely fruity. Some ‘obvious’ fruits like green apples and white nectarines, but also more exquisite hints of pink grapefruit, green mango / banana. A bit on the unripe side of the fruity spectrum. Some ‘green’ oak and hay. Blonde tobacco. There’s also a slight hint of air refreshener (pine needles) but it’s actually an asset. Soft herbs. Overall really fresh and quite complex. Mouth: quite gentle given the ABV. Wood spices at first, as well as some dusty notes. Then a slightly leathery hint with the kind of fruitiness of a triple beer. Citrus mostly, some peach. A minty / zesty edge which brings a lot of freshness again. Nutmeg and pepper. Finish: long, drier (green tea and oak), some mentholated notes and echoes of fruit.

Less sweet than similar releases of the past. A very enjoyable all-round malt, quite natural (hardly any sherry) with lots of freshness. Very fruity, but not a fruit bomb like in the 1970’s. Around € 130.

Score: 87/100

Aberfeldy whiskyThe Bacardi group – which owns Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, Macduff and Royal Brackla – are planning a major boost for their whisky brands (owned by their subsidiary John Dewar & Sons). Each of these distilleries will get new core range expressions, and in 2015 a list of high-end expressions will follow, including single casks and small batch releases. Top of the bill: a 35 years old Brackla for around $ 15,000.

The first presentation of new bottlings will be at the end of September, but we can already have a look at the new packaging for Aberfeldy (a black label with bronze lettering). We’re trying the new batch of Aberfeldy 12 Year Old.

Other new expressions of Aberfeldy will include a 16yo heavily sherried version and a 30yo Marsala finish. As an interesting side note, every new release will carry an age statement and be caramel-free.



Aberfeldy 12 Year OldAberfeldy 12 yo (40%, OB 2014)

Nose: malty but in a rather fresh and aromatic way. Honey, some sourish green apple and sweet toffee notes. Golden raisins and hints of roasted almonds. Subtle floral notes. Mouth: creamy, sweet and malty, although it’s a little underpowered. Plenty of honey and apple pie. Cereals. The aftertaste is its biggest asset, a warm wave of caramel coated nuts and Nocciola with hints of gingerbread. Soft traces of spices and peat smoke in the background. Finish: medium long, nutty with smoked toffee, orange zest and cinnamon.

A good base malt, light, pleasantly harmless, lifted by a nice smoky twist in the end. An outsider choice for beginning malt lovers. Around € 35.

Score: 81/100

Let’s pair yesterday’s GlenDronach 1994 cask #3397 to a very similar cask, also bottled in Batch 10 of the single casks: GlenDronach 1994 cask #326.

It’s surprising that this cask only yielded 452 bottles, while #3397, also a PX puncheon, filled two months earlier, had an output of 644 bottles. Anyway puncheons can have different dimensions and GlenDronach isn’t always telling us the complete history of a cask. Maybe it’s a re-racked cask, as the cask numbers aren’t chronological either.


GlenDronach 1994 - pedro ximenez - cask #326GlenDronach 19 yo 1994
(53,5%, OB 2014, Pedro Ximénez puncheon #326, 452 btl.)

Nose: this one is slightly earthier and drier than cask #3397. It’s less straightforward and some of the brighter sour notes have been capped. More sandalwood this time. More leather, liquorice and tobacco as well. Feels slightly more classic in a way. Mouth: again a fairly dry attack, quite peppery. The obvious dried fruits are here, but it’s not as sweet as you may think from a cask that held PX. Blood oranges and heavy syrup. Then back to tobacco leaves, leather, espresso and very dark chocolate. Just a hint of sour rhubarb and lots of earthy notes underneath. Finish: long, earthy, almost smoky. Still notes of espresso and chocolate.

Better than the other 1994 cask, although I’m still missing a bit of bright fruitiness to get a real cracker. Good stuff nonetheless. Around € 140.

Score: 87/100

The latest batch of GlenDronach single casks, Batch 10 already, only includes 1990’s casks and one bottling from 2002. The wonderful 1970’s and sometimes very good 1980’s are gone?

We’ll focus on 1993 and 1994, vintages that have already proven their qualities. First up: GlenDronach 1994 – Pedro Ximénez puncheon #3397. I’ll compare it to the other 1994 P.X. cask tomorrow.


GlenDronach 1994 - pedro ximenez - cask #3397GlenDronach 19 yo 1994
(53,8%, OB 2014, Pedro Ximénez puncheon #3397, 644 btl.)

Nose: the very aromatic kind of sherry. Lots of dried fruits including raisins and figs, plenty of cinnamon. A few rummy notes, some vanilla (American oak?). Hints of polished oriental wood, before it becomes frankly oriental with herbs and spices like cardamom, but also hints of rosewater and patchouli. After a while, a slightly dirty edge comes out. Mouth: sweet dates and figs. Milk chocolate and nutty notes. A faint sulphury note in the background, not so great but not extremely distracting either. Fading towards herbal notes and a gingery heat. Finish: quite long, herbal and spicy. Some late orange zest and honey.

Not my favourite cask, I would say. It goes in different directions and they’re not equally nice. Some parts are really good though. Around € 140.

Score: 84/100

The Devil’s Casks is a series of small batch releases from Bowmore, matured exclusively in first fill sherry casks, quite unusual for Bowmore.

The first edition was already highly sought after in 2013 and now there is Bowmore Devil’s Cask II.


Bowmore Devil's Cask IIBowmore 10 yo ‘Devil’s Cask II’
(56,3%, OB 2014, first fill sherry)

Nose: deep, juicy sherry mixed with sweet peat. Blackcurrants, dates and dark chocolate. Strawberry candy. Flints. Some liquorice and walnuts. Hints of tar and coal smoke, as well as a faint hint of plum-lacquered ribs. The balance is just right. Mouth: pretty big smoke fills the palate, joined by a rich sweetness. Barbecued pineapple, red berries, chocolate cake with cherries. Really thick and tarry, with traces of earthy notes and peppercorn. A salty edge as well. Finish: really long, little fruity notes now, just sweet liquorice and smoke.

Bowmore is on a roll – almost all of their new products are good to very good. The Devil’s Cask is the total opposite of Bowmore Tempest, but both are very good at what they do. Around € 80.

Score: 88/100

This 16 years old Ben Nevis is the third release in the Rare Casks series from Abbey Whisky.


Ben Nevis 16yo 1997 - Abbey WhiskyBen Nevis 16yo 1997
(55%, Abbey Whisky ‘The Rare Casks’ 2013, sherry hogshead, 96 btl.)

Nose: deep, fruity sherry. Recurrant, blackberry jam, plum compote. Rum & raisins. Some oak varnish and leather. Chocolate chips. Nutmeg and cinnamon. After a while also a faint hint of matchsticks. Mouth: intense sherry again, with an oaky blast, dark fruit tea and liquorice. Balsamic syrup. Chocolate. Brighter notes of oranges and cinnamon buns as well. Enough jammy fruits to balance the darker, bitter side. Finish: long, bittersweet with spicy notes and forest fruits.

This is a true sherry bomb, a Karuizawa version of Ben Nevis. Quite massive. It could have been from a dozen other distilleries, but it’s a big dram nonetheless. Around € 80.

Score: 86/100

Kininvie whiskyIt’s not too long since we’ve tried Kininvie 1990 Batch 001, and here is Batch 2 already. It’s the first to be officially available in the UK and Europe. Kininvie 1990 Batch 002 comes from 20% sherry casks and 80% bourbon hogsheads.

Remember Kininvie lacked mash tuns back then, it received its mash from Balvenie so it was a set of stills rather than a proper distillery. Now it has been expanded so it can operate on its own.

Since a few weeks there’s also a Kininvie 17 Year Old, available in travel retail, also released in batches, with the same cask distribution and the same bottling strength.


Kininvie 23yo 1990 Batch 2Kininvie 23 yo 1990 (42,6%, OB 2014, hogsheads & sherry butts, 9686 btl, Batch 002, 35 cl.)

Nose: warm vanilla and almond cream. Sweet stone fruits, apples, peaches, orange juice and a hint of kiwi. Floral honey, golden syrup and a balanced dose of sweet oak and gentle spices. This profile is elegant and very similar to Batch 001, only a tad less spirity this time. Very good. Mouth: really sweet again, candied and creamy. Oranges and peaches. The oak begins to rise, alongside spices like ginger and nutmeg, as well as grapefruit zest. Becomes quite grainy and slightly harsh in the end (a blend-like touch that I also found in the first batch). Finish: medium long, with malty notes, apples and oak spices.

Batch 002 is better than Batch 001 and we can get it at a normal price, contrary to the previous batch which had to come from parallel import. In the end I still have some trouble with the grainy notes though. Around € 125.

Score: 84/100



May 2015
« Apr    

  • Taco: I'm about finished with a bottle of this and am still amazed at how good it is. It's much more subtle than the popular sherry finished whiskers, but
  • Tony: I guess they are not planning on selling much to the likes of us. "Premiumisation" gone mad...
  • Johan Andersson: I'm in Campbeltown right now for the Springbank Open Day on Thursday. This review is really spot on. I really love Longrow and especially the 18 it be

Coming up

  • anCnoc 24 Year Old
  • Aberlour a'bunadh Batch #50
  • Paul John Edited
  • Ledaig 42 Years Old
  • Bowmore Gold Reef
  • Tomatin 1997 (Liquid Library)
  • Springbank Vintage 2001
  • Mortlach Rare Old

1790 notes by Ruben

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