Gordon & MacPhail used to release semi-official bottlings of Balblair until +/- 2000. Around that time, Inver House took over the distillery and introduced an official 10yo, 16yo and a NAS version called ‘Elements’ (all replaced by a vintage concept in February 2007). Note that to date G&M is still bottling a 10 year-old from this distillery.
Especially G&M is famous for this practice of “licensedsemi-officials”, where they take over some of the storage, bottling and distribution logistics for distilleries that didn’t have their own single malt brand (like Ardmore, Glen Grant, Longmorn or Strathisla). Remember the concept of single malt whisky is still relatively young and some distilleries never fully developed it. In this case it’s technically an independent bottling but the distillery name on the label is the largest by far, contrary to recent practice (and SWA guidelines) where the bottler’s brand needs to be bigger in case of independent releases.
Balblair 10 yo
(40%, Gordon & MacPhail, late 1980’s)
Nose: quite full for 40%, fruity and nicely sherried. Apples with cinnamon. Apricot jam. Golden raisins. Toffee and maple syrup. Caramel. Chocolate notes and spices. Hints of mint and waxed furniture. Much better than expected. Mouth: smooth and a bit on the soft side. Toffee and milk chocolate. Cinnamon. Nice gingerbread. Hints of vanilla pudding. Slightly drier towards the end. Finish: medium long, with oranges and a boost of oak spices.
Nice drinking whisky, definitely above average when you consider the age and low strength. It’s because of bottlings like this that people say (standard) whisky was better in the auld days. In any case, it does feel more mature than a modern Balblair 2001 for instance.
The second release from Springbank‘s Rundlets and Kilderkins series after the Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins, a peated Longrow this time, matured in small 60-80 litre casks.
Longrow 11 yo 2001
‘Rundlets & Kilderkins’
(51,7%, OB 2013, 9000 btl.)
Nose: very sooty and briny. Lots of earthy notes as well, and whiffs of forests in the rain. Tarry fisherman’s rope. Heather. You can feel some grape notes underneath, but the spirit is big enough to overcome the wine. Finally a farmy (slightly sulphury) note that’s actually pretty nice. Mouth: sweet and toffee-like at first, before a wave of peat smoke and plenty of ashes takes over. A lovely combination of berry fruitiness and farmy notes. Quite unique. Evolving towards drier notes, liquorice and dusty cocoa. Slightly misplaced violet syrup… Pepper and ginger too. Finish: long, spicy and smoky with cinnamon and wood.
This is interestingly different, and quite enjoyable. More or less a niche within the field of peated malts, with lots of things happening at the same time. The small casks did a good job again. Around € 70.
Nose: it’s funny how sherried Bowmore can seem much older than it actually is (I immediately thought of this Bowmore 1995 SMOS). Some oily garage aromas, worn leather and smoke. Light sulphur but totally not nasty, it blends nicely with the coastal notes and contrasts with the fruity notes of raisins and red plums. Mouth: sherry and peat smoke, this time a little younger and more nervous, but still fruitier than expected. Redcurrant jam and port poached pears. Some brine, earthy peat and hints of bitter orange. Good balance. Finish: long. Now the sherry has faded a bit and the classic lemon zest, salt and ash combo takes over.
Sherried Islay whisky is getting rare, so drams like this are welcome. But please leave a few casks for bottling in a decade or so. Around € 80. Still available.
There’s suddenly a lot of middle-aged Braeval aka Braes of Glenlivet on the market. That means lots of options with similar quality, I don’t think you can go wrong. This Braeval 1994 was bottled in the Liquid Library series. It’s not easy to find, I suspect there aren’t many bottles or it hasn’t been distributed yet.
Braeval 18 yo 1994 (49,7%, Liquid Library 2013, ex-bourbon barrel)
Nose: very very fruity. Bright lime and orange, lemon curd, lots of banana and marshmallow. Peach yoghurt and kiwi. Assorted fruit gums. Also a green oakiness. Vanilla custard and honey. Bring on the summer, baby. Mouth: again so fresh and fruity, with a nice balance of sweetness and sourness. Orange, green apple peelings, tangerine and lime. Marzipan cookies. Grassier and oakier than the nose. Some pepper. Finish: not exactly dry but the oak has a firm grip now. Cooked fruit and pepper.
Ah, the first new distillery I can tick off after my call a couple of weeks ago. Inverleven was founded by Hiram Walker in 1938 and became part of a whole distillery complex in Dumbarton, where they produced different types of whisky for the Ballantine’s blend. Malt production ceased in 1991. Some of the remaining pot stills went to Port Charlotte a couple of years ago.
It was never released as a single malt, but semi-official bottlings like this 1979 vintage were done by Gordon & MacPhail.
(40%, Gordon & MacPhail, +/- 1990)
Nose: malty and rather artificially sweet. Apples and peaches, some pear drops. Also lemon candy and gooseberries. Soft grassy notes. Really not bad, even though it’s simple and the hints of wet cardboard in the background are slightly disturbing. Mouth: weak and again seemingly sweetened. Hints of orange Dextro Energy. Sweet almonds. A slightly alcoholic graininess. Evolving on floral notes and a grassy bitterness. Finish: not really. Peppery wood but there’s hardly any power left.
I didn’t have high expectations for this one, but it’s actually not too shabby at all. I can see this work in a blend. On the crossroads of Lowlands and Highlands. Rarely more than € 70 in auctions.
This is the youngest single cask Karuizawa I’ve tried (and when you think about it, it will probably remain the youngest I’ll ever try). It was distilled in 2000, the last year of production at the distillery, and bottled in 2013 for La Maison du Whisky. It was made available on the 16th of May and sold out in a few hours.
Karuizawa 12 yo 2000 (64,3%, OB for LMdW 2013, sherry butt #166)
Nose: quite fruity, mainly red apples and plums. Traces of apricot. Cinnamon and vanilla. Tarte tatin indeed. Some honey. Faint herbal overtones. Nicely rounded, but also a little simple and inoffensive compared to older Karuizawa. Mouth: sweet at first, starting on rum & raisins, quickly picking up herbal notes, mint, ginger and general heat, until it becomes dry with notes of tea and walnuts. Some winey (Port) notes as well, including tannins. Takes water well, but doesn’t really bring back the roundness of the nose. Finish: fairly long, herbal and savoury. Still some raisins but most of the fruits are gone by now.
Mixed feelings. When you forget about the typical Karuizawa profile, then the nose is really nice. Fresh (no mushrooms or rubber), just a little simple. On the palate, it’s a tad too dry and mono-dimensional with quite some wine coming out. In the same league as the Asama expressions in my opinion. Around € 120. Sold out at LMdW but usually some of their stock goes to foreign distributors afterwards. Thanks Joeri!
Blue Hanger is a highly acclaimed blended malt (vatting) by Berry Bros. & Rudd. The name goes back to 1932, but faded away until being revived in 2003. This sixth edition is moving away from the usual (unpeated) sherried style and introduces an Islay-oriented vatting. It contains four casks:
Nose: hmm not entirely fresh. It starts smoky and chocolaty, with walnut cake and a leafy, earthy base. Figs and dates alongside a tarry whiff and a mustiness. Some honey. But it also shows a sulphury note and oxo broth that I also found in single cask Bunna 1990. Slightly messing up the rest of the nose, in my opinion, but not to the point where it becomes really dirty. Mouth: not really full, it shows dark smoke and sharp, leathery overtones, but there’s not enough in the middle to give it real depth. Quite a salty palate. Aniseed and cinnamon. Dark chocolate. Also a few perfumy notes, is that the old Bowmore talking? Hmm… Finish: long, lots of cocoa and lapsang tea.
Blending 22 to 32 years old quality malt whisky can’t go wrong, you’d think, yet this one surprised me. Blue Hanger is usually much better. Around € 100 (significantly cheaper in the UK).
Forty Creek whisky is in high demand and their yearly limited release can be reserved months up front. As often with Canadian whisky, this one is impossible to get outside of the country.
The port wine for maturation is made by the same people as the whisky, from purchased Niagara grown grapes and matured in heavily charred American white oak. After ten years, the port was decanted and the singular whiskies (rye, barley, corn) were mixed and finished for two years in the same barrels.
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve
(45%, OB 2012, 6600 btl.)
Nose: the rye prickle is rather mellow here and the remaining nose evolves on dried fruits (figs, prunes, raisins), oranges and a nice scent of waxed papers. Unfortunately also a slight astringency. Goes on with red berries, caramel and oak. Traces of rum and bourbon. Mouth: lots of berries again (raspberry, strawberry) but in a very winey way that comes close to early experiments of wine-finished Scotch, mixed with bourbon notes and balsamico. The Port influence is pretty big. Cinnamon and liquorice. Vanilla (bourbon style). Pepper. Mon Cherie. Finish: long but with a slightly undefined flavour. Herbs. Ginger.
A fine whisky. I found the nose especially appealing, on the palate it didn’t really click. Quite some wine in there. Around € 55 in Canada.