Single malt whisky - tasting notes

One of the Dream Drams at The Whisky Show 2015 was a new, yet to be released Karuizawa 1980 Vintage. I suppose it’s called ‘Vintage’ because it contains multiple casks? Update: it’s a single cask alright. No cask reference or anything though.

It wasn’t sold at The Whisky Show to avoid the stress that normally goes with Karuizawa sales, but I’ve heard visitors will be contacted to take part in a ballot.


Karuizawa 1980 vintage - The Whisky Exchange


Karuizawa 1980 (61,6%, OB for Speciality Drinks 2015)

Nose: starts quite musty and medicinal. Lots of incense and wet pipe tobacco. Cedar oak, old wardrobes and sweet liquorice. Hints of cough syrup, Melissa and tiger balm. Thyme. After that it also shows big hints of polished oak and old Amontillado with whiffs of chocolate, a little raspberry vinegar and subtle floral notes. Very savoury and rather unique. Mouth: really spicy, minty and oaky, with the same high levels of tobacco notes and cigar leaves. A big powerhouse. With water it shows complex herbal notes, cough syrup and resin sweets. Not tannic per se, but the herbal, mentholated, oaky side isn’t exactly balanced with fruity notes. Finish: long, on liquorice, Seville oranges, menthol and more wood extract.

This is a powerful, extremely medicinal Karuizawa. It showcases an essential element in the distillery character but I prefer expressions where it’s coupled to more fruity sherry. Not sure what the price will be.

Score: 89/100

German bottler Sansibar released a new series earlier this year, with a nice Samurai label. One of the highlights in the series was this undisclosed Speyside malt distilled in 1977.



Speyside Malt 1977 - SansibarSpeyside Malt 38 yo 1977 (46,1%, Sansibar 2015, sherry butt, 582 btl.)

Nose: really nice, quite a lot of straight oak but in a beautiful way. A lot of cinnamon, fresh oranges and some orange blossom, cardamom. Cedar wood. Big minty notes, hints of eucalyptus. Some waxy notes. Apple peelings and mirabelles. A slight oriental hint as well, with a little tobacco and incense. Mouth: quite wood-driven again, including a light sour touch. Ginger, walnuts, lemons and Seville oranges. The tobacco returns. Aniseed and plenty of herbal liqueur. Coconut. Finish: medium long, minty and oaky, with hints of fruit tea.

This Speyside Malt is really oaky alright, but in an aromatic way rather than a drying way. It reminds us of some 1970s Glen Grant, but then why would it be undisclosed? Maybe a vatting? Around € 300.

Score: 90/100

The Balvenie DCS Compendium


This week we witnessed another distillery turning itself towards the super premium audience and releasing a series of outrageously priced single malts.

Now let me start by saying I have great respect for The Balvenie in general, and for malt master David Stewart in particular, who gave us high quality core range bottlings and innovative ideas like the Tun 1401 / Tun 1509 / Tun 1858 series. The fact that he’s retiring absolutely deserves a milestone release and a great tribute.

That being said, it seems that marketing-wise Stewart has been retiring for the last five years or so and yet he’s still at work. Everything remotely interesting has been presented by the distillery as the special legacy of this craftsman.


The latest tribute, called The Balvenie DCS Compendium, is a bit over the top, unless they meant to get in the same pool with the excessive super premiums from Dalmore or Macallan. The DCS Compendium is a series of 25 single cask bottlings, divided into five “chapters”, each with its own theme.

Chapter 1, released this week, is the distillery style and is formed by these whiskies:

  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 2005 Aged 9 Years
  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 1997 Aged 17 Years
  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 1985 Aged 30 Years
  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 1978 Aged 37 Years
  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 1968 Aged 46 Years

The problem? The youngest one sells for around € 600 (that’s a 9 year-old indeed), the 1968 for around € 26.000. If anyone would consider collecting the whole DCS Compendium, they’d need to set apart around € 175.000. And according to the first reviews, they aren’t exactly outstanding so most of the money goes to the concept and storytelling.

You know, as a malt master I wouldn’t be happy with a tribute that (as far as I can tell) has little to do with the actual enjoyment of the whisky.

This is the third release of Bruichladdich Bere Barley. The 2007 crops used for this spirit were grown on Orkney and supplied by local farmers in cooperation with the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College UHI (who also worked with Arran among others).

Bere is an ancient type of barley – similar grains found on Orkney reach back to the dawn of Scottish agriculture and civilisation, more than 4,500 years ago. It produces desperately low yields – 50% less than a modern crop.



Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008 (50%, OB 2014, 36.000 btl.)

Nose: very close to the raw materials. Intense barley aromas, cookies and bread. Some heather honey and lots of pears. Very fresh. Light vanilla notes. Lemon sweets. Clean and rather straightforward, but the focus is impressive. Mouth: intense fruity notes (pears, sweet lemons), honey-coated almonds and plenty of white bread. Vanilla. Quite some triple beer notes. Maybe a light whiff of sea air. Finish: medium long, sweet malty notes with soft herbal touches and just a little mint.

I am impressed with the creamy texture, the pear sweetness and the focus. After all it’s only 5 years old. But I don’t like overly malty malts. Perfectly made but a little boring. Around € 60.

Score: 85/100

The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak was once the Rolls Royce bottling when it comes to sherry maturation. At least it was when I started my whisky adventures at the start of this century. The fame of recent bottlings seems to have faded a little, with the rest of the Macallan’s sherry range.

Mind that since the 1980’s releases the label says ‘distilled in 1997 and earlier years’ so it’s not technically a vintage whisky.



The Macallan 18 Years 1997The Macallan 18 yo 1997
(43%, OB 2015)

Nose: still a rather juicy kind of sherry. Plenty of oranges (fresh juice, marmalade, candied peels), honey and dried apricots. Berries. Soft pepper, candied ginger and a hint of vanilla. Fairly light. There’s a subtle hint of dried porcini but it misses most of the old-style weight. Mouth: starts on oranges and honey again, raisins, light toffee and then some spices like ginger and clove. Herbal touches too (eucalyptus, anise). Again quite light, with bright, citric top notes and some bitterness underneath but little sweetness or richness. Finish: medium long, on Seville oranges, herbal notes and subtle dark chocolate.

The Macallan 18 is still a good sherried dram, but its profile has become thinner and more “modern”. In terms of value for money there are better / younger whiskies that offer a similar profile. Around € 215.

Score: 87/100

You don’t see independent Balmenach every day (actually you see them more often than official releases). The Whisky Exchange already selected a few from the Signatory Vintage stocks and they did the same for this year’s Whisky Show.



Balmenach 1988 - Signatory #3242 for TWEBalmenach 26 yo 1988
(51,1%, Signatory Vintage for The Whisky Exchange 2015, hogshead #3242, 192 btl.)

Nose: gentle nose, with a warm fruitiness: pineapple and overripe banana, with some bramble and stewed apple. Marmalade. Also honey and lots of hay. Vanilla and waxed oak. After a while some subtle leafy notes, light porridge and sweet herbs come out (mint, cinnamon). Mouth: quite oily, with a similar fruity profile (nectarine, banana, lots of golden apple). Mixes with vanilla, cinnamon and a firm peppery touch. In the background there is a light floral touch. A few drops of water bring out more apples, honey and some zesty citrus notes. Finish: medium, with white pepper, cinnamon and citrus.

Typical fruits (zesty and tropical) in this Balmenach. Very good whisky from an interesting distillery. Around € 150.

Score: 88/100

Oban Little Bay

12 Oct 2015 | Oban

Oban means Little Bay in Gaelic, so it’s a pretty obvious name for the latest addition in the core range (now that stories are worth more than age statements).

In its recipe we find different ages of whisky, matured in three types of casks: European oak sherry casks, refill casks with new oak cask ends and refill American oak hogsheads. The resulting whisky was married in small oak casks.

Oban is one of Diageo’s smallest distilleries and it hasn’t been in the spotlight, but Oban Little Bay shows that it’s still alive and kicking.



Oban Little BayOban Little Bay ‘Small Cask’
(43%, OB 2015)

Nose: quite neutral, very malty. There are hints of stewed apples, vanilla and baking spices, mainly cinnamon. Honey. Maybe a hint of gingerbread. A little middle-of-the-road. The supposed coastal side of Oban doesn’t really show, although some minty notes add a vivid freshness. Mouth: again very malty. Apples, fruit cake with very nice apricot and banana flavours. It also has a distinctly salty, juicy feel. Hints of oranges, lemons and cloves. Mint returns, as well as honey. Finish: a little short, slightly tart and spicy, with minty / gingery notes coming out.

Oban Little Bay comes across fairly young but offers decent complexity (due to the different types of casks probably) and a fresh, mouth-watering profile. A good entry-level malt. Around € 70.

Score: 82/100

La Maison du Whisky - Collection 2016


La Maison du Whisky presented its Collection 2016 which contains a whole list of new releases for the coming year. Nicknamed ‘Still Life’, the catalogue features something for everyone.


A couple of highlights:

  • Glenlivet 40yo 1974 ‘Artist #5’ (46,8%, 240 btl.)
  • A lot of Gordon & MacPhail exclusives
  • Two exclusive GlenDronach single casks (1995 and 2003) and a BenRiach 1998 triple distilled
  • Yula 20yo, a new blended malt from Douglas Laing
  • The new Nikka 12 Year Old
  • Two Chichibu single casks (beer barrel and Madeira hogshead)
  • Amrut The Trilogy (bourbon, 100 peated and peated bourbon)
  • Puni Alba, the Italian malt whisky
  • Three new Karuizawa expressions in the ‘Artifices series’: Karuizawa 1984 cask #8838, Karuizawa 1984 cask #5410 and Karuizawa 1985 cask #2364
  • Some really old Gordon & MacPhail releases: Longmorn 1964, Strathisla 1965 and Glen Grant 60yo 1955
  • The Balvenie 1997 DCS Chapter 1 (in a new “David C. Stewart Collection”)
  • Glenmorangie 23yo 1963 (a re-release)
  • and much more…


You can download the catalogue from their website.



November 2015
« Oct    

Coming up

  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1933 notes by Ruben

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