Nose: nicely aromatic, even though it’s slightly harsh at first sight (high strength). Medium peat, lemon / lime, grasses and yellow flowers. Cod oil. Fennel. Chalk. All of the elements you’d find in recent bottlings but slightly more austere I’d say. Mouth: even more peat now, with a powerful attack. Pepper and ginger. Lemon and apple. Coastal and slightly rough. Light floral notes and vanilla to round it off. Finish: long, peaty, lemony with herbs in the very end.
Islay whisky that is not made on Islay. Well made but explicitly unsexy, especially without water. Not often seen in auctions, and rarely above € 120.
Three Stars is the first white rum made by the renowned French rum house Plantation (owned by Cognac Ferrand). It’s a blend of three styles: unaged Barbados (typically showing tropical fruits and banana), 3yo Trinidad (light and citrusy) and unaged + 12yo Jamaica (usually heavy with sugarcane and liquorice).
Note that although it is a clear white rum, some of its components were oak-aged. The colour has been removed afterwards through active carbon filtration. In a way this surprises me: I’m no rum expert but it seems sad to age a quality rum only to deliberately filter out some of the flavours together with the colour, just to make it white?
Plantation 3 stars
(41,2%, OB +/- 2012)
Nose: definitely tropical. A lot of marshmallow and banana notes (hints of newmake whisky). Sugarcane and vanilla cream. A little mango. Seems to calm down after a while, with a popcorn note coming out. Mellow but not one-dimensional. Mouth: sweet and fruity again. Vanilla and honey. Pisang and other kinds of banana flavours. Candied guava. A lot creamier and oilier than your regular white rum. Something citrusy in the background. A gentle spicy kick and a grassy note as well. Finish: medium, still a lot of sugar cane and gentle spices.
Maybe a little on the sweet side, but very seductive. Smooth and full-bodied at the same time. It’s perfectly sippable neat, but I can’t wait to make mojito’s with this. Or maybe a Rum Collins – I suppose the added sweetness will balance the acidity well. Around € 15 – that’s basically the same as a commercial Havana Club. A bargain!
This Tasmanian Sullivan’s Cove was finished in French Oak port wine casks. It is bottled as a single cask, varying between 11 and 12 years old. It won various awards, e.g. ‘Best Australian Whisky’ at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards, and even ‘World’s Best Single Malt Whisky’ at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. Although I have to repeat my annoyance with awards and their inability (or deliberate unwillingness) to state which cask they’ve tried exactly (as this whisky is always bottled as a single cask).
Sullivan’s Cove ‘French Oak’ (47,5%, OB +/- 2012, HH436)
Nose: big fresh oak shavings, nice vanilla cream and lots of apple compote with cinnamon. Gooseberries and pineapples. Some powder sugar and wine gums. Subtle nutty notes. Despite the newish oak this is a very attractive nose, definitely better than the Double Cask. Mouth: very sweet and candied. Bags of Haribo bears. Mashed banana. Toffee and caramel. Traces of mango and coconut cream. Toasted oak. Also cake notes and a little white pepper, but the sweetness is overpowering. Finish: quickly fading, still very sweet but with a leathery / planky edge.
This is the better Sullivan’s Cove in my book. Not perfect – I doubt there weren’t better single malts this year. Noticeably young as well, but quite enjoyable and friendly. Around € 80 (too expensive, I think).
We’ve had hits and misses with Auchroisk. Actually some of them are both depending on the moment. Here’s a 1990 expression bottled by Whisky-Fässle not so long ago.
Auchroisk 22 yo 1990
(49,8%, Whisky-Fässle 2013, sherry cask)
Nose: interesting nose with uncommon aromas. There’s a spirity / floral side to it. Kirsch and sour cherry nectar. Wet cedar wood. Quite a lot of wax and paraffin. Leafy notes. A little yeast. And undertones of rubber boots. Definitely a bit disjointed but intriguing as well. Mouth: again a certain spirity character (fruit liqueur), with herbal notes, pepper and cinnamon. Showing some hints of pine wood too. Bitter oranges and walnut skin. A kind of “time lapse” with lots of frames moving by in a short amount of time – and nothing really catches my attention. Finish: medium finish, becoming fragrant again (bergamot oil, scented candles). Is this a puzzle or what?
Yes, I’d like to try it again some other day. Not because I like it so much, but because I didn’t quite get it. Really standing out. Around € 105.
Nose: beautiful Karuizawa elements come out right away. Mocha beans and chocolate, figs and cherries, as well as some tobacco. Lacquered meat. Raisins. Liquorice. Also a dryness of black tea and leather. Hints of mint and plenty of polished sandalwood. Very expressive and well balanced. Mouth: powerful, this time very much on cigar leaves and pipe tobacco. Very concentrated notes of forest fruits, red berries and prunes. Goes on with nice bonfire smoke and earthy notes. A bitterness of mint stems, walnut skin and wood. Eucalyptus. Then back to sweeter toffee, balsamic syrup and cough sweets. Finish: long, fruity and nutty. Milk chocolate. Liquorice and plenty of herbal notes.
Another one of these very intense Karuizawa expressions that still manage to keep the rich balance between sweet, sour and savoury notes perfectly right. As small extras there are peaty notes and the classic exotic woods. Quite wonderful. Long gone.
I suppose you can count the 1970s Craigellachie you’ve tried on one hand. This one is particularly rare, it was quite difficult to find information. I do know it was matured in a first-fill manzanilla cask and it was nicknamed “Damsons and toffee”.
Craigellachie 20 yo 1975
(55,4%, SMWS 1994, 44.5)
Nose: the typical Craigellachie fruitiness that’s always a bit restrained. Kumquat, apricot and pear. Slightly capped by yeasty notes and something of triple beer. Vanilla cream and nicely warm oak underneath. Also herbal and floral notes: dill, mint, maybe daffodils or chamomile. Grows warmer over time, with some nice hints of pineapple and coconut coming out. Mouth: nice, again quite fruity (plums, apricot, lemon). More herbal / spicy notes now, growing towards ginger and pepper. Quite punchy, even a little wasabi kick and hints of salt when the fruits have faded. Finish: long, gingery, slightly resinous.
A nice combination of a fruity spirit and manzanilla notes. Very convincing and entertaining whisky. Really hard to come by.
This BenRiach 1976 was one of several 1976’s bottled for Asia in 2011. Cask 3029 was selected by Shinanoya Tokyo and bottled in March of that year. One of the bottlings with many fans at Serge’s BenRiach 1976 single cask tasting. It came in second.
BenRiach 34 yo 1976 (42,1%, OB for Shinanoya Japan 2011, cask #3029, 139 btl.)
Nose: probably the most direct and expressive nose of all the BenRiach 1976’s we’ve seen so far. Heaps of mango, juicy pear, passion fruit, pineapple and pink grapefruit. So easy to love, it’s just excellent! On top of all this fruit, it also shows nice oily notes and – quite unique – a distinct candied element. Say marshmallow or cotton candy. Very bright, very summery, this must be the best multi-vitamin fruit juice. Mouth: this is were it falls slightly below its famous sister cask #3033 for Taiwan. It’s definitely less punchy and also less complex. It’s straightforward fruits (the usual tangerine, mango, pineapple, pink grapefruit combination), absolutely gorgeous but fruits are pretty much all you get. Maybe a light warmth of almonds or vanilla. Finish: rather long, still nicely fruity and creamy, with just some light oak.
A close call with cask #3033 and a favourite for many people. Anyway this is a classic tropical fruit bomb – BenRiach magic of the highest level. Around € 250 at the time, now sold out.
In the very long list of Strathisla expressions by Gordon & MacPhail, we’re having a 1963 vintage, which were bottled in this form between +/- 2003 and 2011.
(43%, Gordon & MacPhail 2009)
Nose: quite fruity and really elegant. A typical mixture of sherry notes (baked apple, raisins, prune jam) with typical rummy notes (green banana, a little Piña Colada). Juicy oranges. Hints of mint (or the mint sauce I’ve had on a quail’s breast in a Pintxos bar) and smoke, as well as some silky polished oak. Mouth: smooth, less complex, a little less full-flavoured as well and definitely woodier. Oily with traces of sherry that are covered in oak. Not overly dry though. Soft banana notes. It’s more or less cornered: more alcohol would probably emphasise the woody bitterness, but in its current form it’s a tad weak. Orange peel and a hint of salt. Finish: pretty long, again not too dry, showing oak spices, leather and dried fruits.
Looses a few points for the oak-driven palate, but it’s still a really nice example of the possibilities of old Strathisla. Around € 450 if you can still find it. Thanks Joeri.