There are all kinds of special variations on the blended whisky The Famous Grouse. Some are limited, some are parts of the core range. There’s The Snow Grouse (blended grain designed to be drunk chilled), The Black Grouse (a slightly smokier version), The Naked Grouse (sherried deluxe version), The Famous Vanilla, etc.
The Black Grouse ‘Alpha Edition’ is intended to be an even richer, smokier version of the already smoky The Black Grouse. It still contains the original base malts (Glenturret, Macallan, Highland Park) but it revolves more around peated Islay whiskies as well. Originally a travel retail exclusive, it’s now widely available.
The Black Grouse ‘Alpha Edition’
(40%, OB 2013)
Nose: surprisingly smooth – even a little bland for a blend that is intended to be smoky. Sweet honey and toffee up front. Popcorn. Plenty of orange peel. Hints of sweet oak. Some toasted notes in the background. Mouth: fruity sweetness, with almonds and caramel. The more grassy notes, and a grainy harsh note which evolves towards liquorice and peat. Aniseed as well. Finish: medium long, with dark chocolate, charry dryness and some peat smoke.
I suppose some blend drinkers may think this is the real Islay style, but it isn’t. It stays too much on the docile side to be exciting. Add in some bitterness and grainy harshness and you’ve got something I don’t really appreciate. Around € 35.
We’re always keen to try old Ben Nevis, and the German bottler Alambic Classique has a reputation for having bottled some of the best expressions.
This is one of the latest (and probably last) bottlings: Ben Nevis 1966 cask #3640.
Ben Nevis 47 yo 1966 (45,9%, OB for Alambic Classique 2013, sherry cask #3640, 128 btl.)
Nose: I love this profile. It’s fully oaked, in a very nice way, and really smooth. Furniture polish and old leather. Trademark bananas and beeswax. Coconut oil which makes it slightly tropical. Hints of lipstick. Darker fruits as well (plums, black cherries) before it becomes softly spicy and herbal. Verbena tea, aniseed, bergamot. Subtle gingerbread in the background. Topped by some eucalyptus. Very complex and quintessential for old Ben Nevis. Mouth: bittersweet fruits (orange zest, banana, sour berries) with some drying oak. Earl Grey, mint and ginger. Eucalyptus. Hints of smoke as well. Plenty of herbal notes and leather, which makes it quite rummy in combination with the exotic fruitiness. Fragrant waxy notes. A salty edge towards the finish (liquorice, salted butter toffee). Late hints of espresso and pipe tobacco. Finish: long, spicy, slightly bitter and dry like a strong fruit tea. A leather / toasted oak combination that reminds us of bourbon whiskey.
Unusual whisky, like Ben Nevis usually is. Some rare flavours and with a curious rummy / bourbonny side. Excellent stuff if you’re open to some oak on the palate. Still available for around € 500.
As a yearly tradition, Ardbeg releases a new limited expression for Ardbeg Day. This year, the result is Ardbeg Auriverdes.Its name is inspired by Brazil: Auri means golden (the liquid) and verde is green (the bottle). I really, really don’t care for these kind of half-baked marketing tricks – come on, Ardbeg tied in with a World Cup – why?
Ardbeg Auriverdes is a ‘designer whisky’. It has been distilled in 2002 and matured in second fill American oak casks, with custom toasted lids. Ardbeg has done some pretty successful experiments with toasted oak before (think of Ardbeg 1998 cask 1189 and cask 1190). In this case one cask head was toasted lightly (to invoke vanilla flavours) and the other one more dark (to invoke mocha).
You could buy Ardbeg Auriverdes at one of the Ardbeg embassies, but you’ll have a hard time chasing it now.
(49,9%, OB 2014, 6660 btl.)
Nose: Ardbeg alright. Typical iodine, peat and a pickled green pepper / mustard sharpness. Burnt toast and tarry ropes. Smoked fish. Soft citrus. Hints of coffee, although I’m not getting the big emphasis on mocha aromas that Ardbeg is promoting. Peppery notes. A tire shop. Chalky notes. Also a roundness – I wouldn’t call it fruity but there are estery notes and vanilla nonetheless. Complex and balanced. Mouth: starts with a slight sweetness (sweet bacon) before it turns to big smoke and lots of medicinal notes. Also faint bitter notes: grapefruit zest, roasted coffee beans. A little more narrow than the nose. The mocha does come out in the aftertaste. Mouth: really long, sooty, with some dark chocolate and a pronounced oakiness.
Great nose, with maybe a little too much sharpness on the palate to be entirely stunning, but it’s way better than what I expected from what’s essentially a result of clever marketing. One of the best modern Ardbegs in my opinion. Around € 100.
Nose: again a rounder version, with tangerines, lemon liqueur and honey. Light vanilla (orange cake) and almonds. Grassy notes in the margin, a few mineral touches and metal polish. Mouth: oranges again, then darker notes (toffee, caramel), moving towards burnt toast. Maybe peat? Candied ginger as well. Pear jelly beans. And back to more austere notes, rooty notes and zesty grapefruit. Interesting combination. Finish: medium long, partly sweet, partly zesty, with a decent amount of herbs and some cold ashes.
An entertaining Glen Garioch again, I’m quite convinced by this mix of different elements. Around € 115.
Nose: a rather rounder version than other 1991 casks I could try. Buttercups, honey and vanilla. Some coconut cream. Nice oranges and pineapple. Marzipan. Soft herbs in the background. A faint hint of metal polish as well, which works nicely on the fruity backbone. Maybe a hint of eucalyptus. Mouth: much spicier now (pepper, nutmeg), with more (green) oak. Less exotic fruits – just apple now. Becomes more earthy and zesty, with bittersweet elements. Finish: medium long, still bittersweet with some briny echoes.
The Glen Gariochs from these years can be quite austere, but this one strikes a good balance and adds a nice fruitiness. Around € 110.
Nose: very fruity, with melon and papaya, and hints of icing sugar. Sweet apple, tangerine and peach. A bourbonny hint of oak. Orange peel. Marzipan. It’s not all sweetness, it’s balanced by soft grassy notes. Mouth: sweet and creamy. Still some citrus but the fruitiness is less pronounced. It shows more of a custard sweetness. Cinnamon and marzipan. Zesty notes (grapefruit bitterness) and ginger towards the end. Finish: medium long, with light oak, coconut oil and touches of white pepper.
A fairly classic, no-nonsense Speysider, with a creamy bourbon oak influence and a nice fruitiness on the nose. Around € 85 (fair price I’d say), available from the Whiskybase shop.
Another new release from the Mollusc and Medusa series byThe Whisky Agency. This bottle holds a 33 years old blended malt, with all components distilled in 1980. Interesting.
Blended Malt 33 yo 1980 (45,8%, The Whisky Agency 2014, refill butt, 636 btl.)
Nose: sweet and sour fruitiness. Inviting red berries and stewed fruits. Sour oranges and plums. Williams pears. Soft floral notes and hints of vanilla. Faint tobacco as well as a little green tea. Mouth: a similar kind of fruitiness, fruit teas, this time mixed with more woody notes. Mint and soft sherry notes. Oranges. Ginger and cardamom. Hints of toasted cookies. Finish: quite long, rather fresh and fruity. Drying oak in the end.
Well-rounded and smooth, with characteristics of different distilleries. Some oak is present but within limits. Nonetheless I seemed to expect a little extra. Around € 190.
Jura Tastival was created for the Jura Whisky Festival 2014. They followed an interesting recipe. After an initial maturation in ex-bourbon American oak barrels, no less than six varieties of French oak were used to finish it (oak produced in the regions of Jupilles, Bertanges, Limousin, Tronçais, Allier and Vosges). Kind of a terroir study in French oak.
It’s a limited edition of 3000 bottles. I suppose the majority will have been sold at the festival, but some have started to arrive in stores across Europe.
Isle of Jura Tastival (44%, OB 2014, French oak finish, 3000 btl.)
Nose: I really like this. There’s lots of red apple and baked banana, as well as almond paste / marzipan and toffee sweetness. Banoffee pie. A subtle smokiness is found in lacquered bacon, with hints of salty roast beef. Subtle herbal notes. Nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. Mouth: very sweet again. Stewed fruits. Some nuts and caramel notes. Evolves to more savoury notes like liquorice. After that, a wave of nice roasted notes (coffee, biscuits) and mocha butter cream comes out. Finish: long, sweet and herbal, with some wood influence.
When I read the recipe, I was a little skeptical. The end result is original to say the least, but I like it very much. I hope something like this will be part of the core range some day. Around € 100.