Official Highland Park releases tend to be sherry matured, but independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail manage to show bourbon oak version as well. Today a 2001 vintage in the recently redesigned Cask Strength series.
Highland Park 10 yo 2001 (57,7%, Gordon & MacPhail ‘Cask Strength’ 2012, first fill bourbon barrel #2998)
Nose: juicy barley notes, lots of pear drops and vanilla. Akin towards tropical fruits, with a fresh floral note as well. Rather candied, modern, bright and fairly simple. A shy smoky note in the background. Mouth: sweet and fruity at first, but a toffee sweetness and a Starbucks white chocolate mocha take over. Very malty. Also strawberry notes – funny but nice. A bit of liquorice in the end, as well as a subtle zestiness. Finish: medium long, still sweet but more peppery as well. Still a faint smoky note.
An original and enjoyable Highland Park. Youngish and fairly simple, but the rather unique combination of flavours makes it good value for money. Around € 55.
Glenturret, beside being the spiritual home of Famous Grouse, is known for mashing its grist by hand and for having some of the longest fermentation times, over 100 hours.
The distillery has only one official bottling, a 10 years old (which used to be a 12 years old). Now they’ve worked with Hunter Laing to create a kind of semi-official “licensed bottling”. It’s a Glenturret 1986, 26 years old and bottled entirely from bourbon casks, selected by Master Distiller Gordon Motion.
The Glenturret 26 yo 1986
(46,8%, Hunter Laing 2013, refill bourbon casks, 2400 btl.)
Nose: in line with what we saw from 1977 casks. Bright and fruity at first, green apples and pineapple, maybe green banana. Citrussy notes (kumquat), moving towards blossomy and grassy notes. Honey and soft toffee. A bit of polished wood and hay. Hints of tobacco and popcorn. Mouth: again fruity, with apples and crystallized oranges. Vanilla. Plenty of waxy notes again. Yellow raisins. Some salted toffee, herbal / grassy notes and liquorice. Mint and eucalyptus. Ginger. Slightly fizzy but there’s also a warmer, nutty background. Finish: medium long, with lemons, ginger and a bit of oak.
Based on this you would think Glenturrent is clean and fresh, but it’s not always the case. A pleasant dram in any case, and a big first step towards older official bottlings perhaps? Around € 300.
Whiskybroker is a rather small company started by Martin Armstrong, the son of Bladnoch’s Raymond Armstrong. He seem to be doing well, regularly bottling interesting whiskies and always under the market value. Whether or not selling under the market value is a good thing is prone to discussion, but a lot of aficionados are happy to find such good value in days of price levels set by marketing departments.
This Macallan 1990 is a quirky little whisky. Except, it’s not whisky. It only contains 34,9% of alcohol so it’s technically underproof “spirit”. Probably a leaking cask.
Macallan 23 yo 1990 (34,9%, Whiskybroker 2013, hogshead, 20cl.)
Nose: very odd. It shows a nicely sweet (but also slightly youngish, after 23 years?) fruitiness of apricot, whitecurrant and pineapple. Honey glazing and some vanilla. It quickly gets overpowered by bags of sawdust and hints of pine tree air refresher. A carpenter’s workshop really. Some eucalyptus, up to the point where the oak gives you a slightly soapy smell, if you know what I mean. Mouth: watered down whisky with a generous dash of pine sap. Completely overtaken by oak flavours. Totally flat, with some of the harshness of grain whisky. Ginger maybe, nutmeg, and some sweetness of soaked white bread. Takes water well (just kidding). Finish: very short, and the wood is all that comes out.
Have you ever left a bit of whisky in a glass and tried to drink it the morning after? That’s more or less what this is. Apart from the fact that it’s not whisky, it’s obviously from a defective cask that let essential flavours disappear and let excessive amounts of wood juices get into the spirit.
Very weak (in different ways) and a self-respecting bottler should have poured it away. Still available from Whiskybroker. Around £ 18.
Here’s another one of these interesting Karuizawa expressions bottled for Taiwan. Karuizawa 1984 with one of the wonderful Geisha labels. Thanks again, my Taiwanese friend!
P9 is a wine and liquor store in the Shillin district of Taipei. They are well known for their whisky range and occasionally they have exclusive bottlings.
Karuizawa 28 yo 1984 (58%, OB for P9.com.tw 2012, sherry butt #3186, 540 btl.)
Nose: great fruity notes with a layer of varnish / glue and menthol. Redcurrant and cherry jam, raspberry jelly, fresh figs, also hints of balsamic vinegar. Dried apricot. Cedar oak as well as hints of graphite. Cinnamon and ginger. Quite juicy and perfectly clean. Mouth: rich, quite herbal and dry from the beginning. There’s certainly fruit cake and forest fruits but it’s a bit overpowered by grape pips, cloves and black pepper. Sandalwood. Pine resin and ginger. Tobacco. A little camphor as well. Finish: long and dry, with chocolate and a hint of smoke.
On the nose this really announced an excellent example of the best Karuizawa traditions, but the palate is a little woody and brings the score down for me. Sold out of course.
Not too long ago we wrote that the Thosop handwritten series received a final 19th release, a Tomatin 1976, only available for collectors who had already bought the complete series before.
On a tasting for these collectors, organised by Luc Timmermans, yet another addition to the series was presented, an ‘underground’ Port Ellen 1978. Only 6 bottles exist of this whisky, which was actually ‘lost stock’ that never reached its distributor (just like the Tomatin). We will probably never know where this came from, but apparentely it was bottled in 2005 and now relabeled.
Just 1 of these bottles would leave the Thosop cellar: the names of the collectors went into a hat and one name was drawn. Geert is now the only person who owns the complete series of 20 expressions.
Port Ellen 1978 (55,7%, Thosop Handwritten 2005, refill sherry butt, 6 btl.)
Nose: a balanced nose. It’s flinty and mineral, it has the typical medium peatiness, but also nice apples, sweet lemon candy, even some green banana notes. A little paraffin and butter. It’s great how it changes from rougher notes to rounder notes and vice versa. Let’s not forget to mention the medicinal notes and soft vanilla. Excellent. Mouth: sweet, very sweet actually and rather creamy. Lemon pie and candied oranges, some plum jam. Then heavier notes of liquorice and peat. Back to pear juice. Tangerines? Peppered marzipan. Finish: very long, trading some of its sweetness for peaty and peppery notes.
It’s just superb Port Ellen, with the kind of sweetness and roundness that I love to see alongside the punchy peat. Such a lovely dram, and such a shame this is basically a one-off.
Kintra is regularly bottling casks without telling us what is really is. While the contents remain confidential, most of our sources claim it’s a “teaspooned” Balvenie. A very small amount of another whisky is added, in this case probably from the neighbouring Glenfiddich distillery. Technically not a single malt, but close enough.
Nose: quite a modern, oak-driven profile (vanilla galore). A lot of biscuity notes with garden fruits like green apples and pears. Hints of flower honey and orange blossom. Pepper and ginger. Sawdust. Good but it’s got a slightly disturbing, plankish edge. Mouth: sweet and malty. Lots of pear and lemon candy, orange sweets and honey. Almond cream and vanilla custard. After that it turns towards the woody side again. Cloves, pepper, some zesty grapefruit. Some raw cereals and floral notes in the background. Finish: sweet and zesty, with echoes of warm toffee.
The teaspooned Balvenie guess makes sense. In fact this one reminds me of the recent profile that this distillery is showing in the Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Barrel releases (although this one is slightly older). Modern and American oak-driven. Around € 60.
Douglas Laing seems to have bought quite a few Isle of Jura 2003 casks and they’ve started to bottle them. There were at least 2 or 3 similar releases in 2013.
Jura 9 yo 2003 (46%, Douglas Laing Provenance 2013, ref. 9305)
Nose: gristy, grainy and peaty. It’s really young spirit, with newmakeish notes of pear drops, porridge and spearmint bubblegum. That doesn’t mean it’s bad – there’s a nice oiliness to it and a pleasant dustiness. Hints of walnut husks. Mouth: very sugary. It’s fairly rounded, with vanilla, honey and cinnamon sweets. Peaty notes, some iodine. Unfortunately also a faint wodka-like roughness. Finish: medium. Some apples and grains.
A simple, peaty dram. It’s not a bad drink, but it should have matured for a couple of more years before being bottled. Around € 50.
The youngest from the Age Matters series by The Whiskyman. Fifteen years old Ledaig 1997.
Ledaig 15 yo 1997 (51,9%, The Whiskyman ‘Age Matters’ 2013)
Nose: what the… There are a few aromas that I usually don’t appreciate in whisky. Dirtbin odours, rubber, porridge with milk… This one has them all. It’s buttery, peaty and quite raw, almost industrial. There are hints of wet things: hay, leaves, sheep and their manure… Then some brighter fruity notes, but only in the background. It’s not exactly a gentleman, but I admit, it possesses an authenticity and a certain beauty. In the same way Permeke’s lying farmer is truly beautiful, if you know what I mean. Mouth: again firm, peaty, briny, buttery and ashy. Then a lemon / barley sweetness, almost candied. Some farmy notes. Liquorice and seaweed. Peated apple juice and pepper. Finish: long, sweet and peaty, moving towards lapsang souchong.
You know, it’s challenging to present a mix of all kinds of nasty aromas and get away with it because the end result is a coherent, ‘proud’ whisky. In a way this is a concept dram, like the Littlemill 1988, and it’s just as hard to score. Tomorrow I might love it. A bold whisky. Around € 70.