Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Clynelish 1997, nicknamed Cayenne Cocoa Bean by the tasting panel at Wemyss Malts. It’s part of their latest batch of single cask releases.

 

Clynelish 1997 - Wemyss MaltsClynelish 1997 ‘Cayenne Cocoa Bean’ (46%, Wemyss Malts 2014, hogshead, 373 btl.)

Nose: typical Clynelish waxiness and oiliness, paraffin, lemons and apple skin. Some oranges as well. Vanilla. Plenty of brine and quite some pepper as well. Hints of buttercups. Mouth: a slightly bittersweet profile, with sweet apples, lemonade and jellybeans. Then more crystallized grapefruit and orange zest. Underneath there’s always a slight peppery heat and an oaky kick. A little icing sugar. Some slightly fragrant notes as well, a kind of lemon soap but without the nasty soapiness (does that make sense?). Finish: long, bittersweet, with citrus zest and indeed hints of spiced chocolate.

A good Clynelish 1997 – we’ve had plenty of them and this one stood out a little. Lots of vanilla, spices and interesting variations on citrus. Around € 90.

Score: 86/100


Glengoyne 21 Year Old used to be the oldest expression in the core range of Glengoyne, until the 25 Year Old came along. It is matured in first-fill European oak sherry casks. With the recent rebranding of the bottles, it seems the price has gone up a bit, but it’s still pretty good value.

 

Glengoyne 21 YearsGlengoyne 21 yo ‘sherry matured’
(43%, OB 2013)

Nose: very lively and attractive. Richly sherried. Sour oranges. Red fruits (raspberries and redcurrants, candied apples) and cinnamon. A little leather and nuts. Vanilla cake and light cocoa. Touches of menthol as well. Balance is key. Mouth: starts fresh and slightly sour, with very nice sherry notes but also a certain lightness that works well. Raspberries again. Apples, oranges. It then grows creamier (butterscotch, biscuits). Finally a wave of toasted oak and spices (especially cloves) which brings a slightly tangy dryness to it. Finish: medium length, with cinnamon and green tea. Maybe a tad too dry now.

For such a large-scale release, Glengoyne 21 is very aromatic. Excellent balance and full of character. This could have been a cracker with a slightly higher ABV (like the 25) and a tamed oakiness towards the end. Around € 100 but prices seem to vary a lot.

Score: 86/100


In the 7th series of Liquid Treasures releases, there is a Ben Nevis 1996, a Ledaig 2004 and this Littlemill 1988. It was bottled as an anniversary bottling for the eSpirits online shop.

 

Littlemill 1988 - Liquid TreasuresLittlemill 26 yo 1988
(52,7%, Liquid Treasures 2014, bourbon hogshead, 147 btl.)

Nose: this one tends to stay more on the grassy / mineral side. Some chalky notes and oak dust. Dried Mediterranean herbs. Grated coconut, grapefruit and green banana. Hints of paraffin and butter. Not as (tropically) fruity as some others. Mouth: bags of lemon and grapefruit, as well as some creamy banana. Lots of green tea. Fennel and aniseed. Hints of mint and grasses. Ginger. Finish: medium long, citrusy with a light bitterness of grapefruit zest.

Littlemills from this era are rarely a deception, but some versions are more tropically fruity than others. This is one of the grassier, more typically Lowlands versions if you like. Around € 160.

Score: 87/100


When you see a vintage like 1997, do you also think it’s a rather young whisky while it’s actually 17 years old already? It happens to me often…

In any case this is one of the younger vintage Tomatins I’ve had, a Tomatin 1997 bottled by Whisky-Fässle.

 

Tomatin 1997 - Whisky-FässleTomatin 17 yo 1997
(48,3%, Whisky-Fässle 2014, hogshead)

Nose: a slightly green and gristy kind of Tomatin, close to the raw ingredients. Malty notes, sweet notes of apple, peach, melon and caramelized pumpkin. Not a young kind of sweetness though, and it’s balanced by soft earthy touches, a bit of liquorice and delicate smoke. A kind of dustiness / oiliness which works well too. Mouth: again an oily, old-style profile. A malty core, enriched with fruits… in a garage. Apple peelings, unripe pineapples, hints of candy sugar. Lemon zest, white pepper, liquorice again. Fruit pits. Delicate herbal touches. Finish: medium long, still fruity but the zesty and spicy notes become prominent.

A really pleasant, un-modern Tomatin, which is a nice surprise. Around € 85, still available from Whisky-Fässle.

Score: 87/100


Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015In a couple of weeks, the brand-new Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 will be available in most book stores and whisky shops. This yearly overview of the whisky industry is an essential read for dedicated whisky lovers.

Obviously it is still the most accurate list of new releases that appeared over the last year, an overview of distillery profiles and at least 200 pages of data and statistics. I’d say this is the reference part.

Like other years, there’s also a reading part with in-depth articles by renowned writers like Charlie McLean, Gavin D Smith, Ian Buxton, Dom Roskrow and Neil Ridley.

 

Here are the themes that are discussed this year:

  • The microcosmic view on maturation, investigating the physical, biological and chemical laws of ageing whisky, warehouse characteristics, etc.
  • Pimp my whisky, an article about serving trends (highballs, specific waters and other things that may be a little shocking to purists)
  • Proud to be Irish, a look into the Irish whiskey market and why it is the fastest growing category in the world.
  • The last decade in Scotch, an interesting view on a decade of roaring sales, premiumisation, super-distilleries, micro-distilleries, small batches and NAS expressions.
  • Whisky’s next decade, the crystal ball… with special attention to the growing wealth and the growing lack of aged whisky.
  • The tyranny of twelve, a comparison of views on age statements since the 1930s.
  • What’s another year, another article about age statements and NAS.

 

Malt Whisky Yearbook - Ingvar Ronde

 

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 – 10th anniversary

This is the tenth release of the Malt Whisky Yearbook, so looking back on the last decade and looking forward to the next is an obvious choice. On top of this, it’s not a big surprise that age statements and the NAS trend are featured in several articles. The book provide a good insight into the problems of today’s whisky industry.

I will keep repeating this: if you’re interested in whisky, whatever your level of knowledge, this should be considered your yearly bible. It’s more up-to-date than any other book and it is fed by articles from the best writers. It’s an interesting era for whisky, and it shows.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015 is sold through whisky shops all over Europe, distillery visitor centres or you can buy it online for £ 14.


Tomatin whiskyThe idea is beautiful and simple, yet no other distillery seems to have done it before: Tomatin prepared a batch of whisky distilled on the same day (January 15th 2002), initially matured for nine years in traditional ex-bourbon casks, and transferred in June 2011 to different kinds of first-fill sherry casks for another three years.

 

 

Tomatin Cuatro - sherry

 

 

Four different kinds of sherry, hence the name of the range: Tomatin Cuatro. Two biologically aged sherries (Manzanilla and Fino) and two oxidatively aged sherries (Oloroso and the sweet Pedro Ximénez) were used. This is a wonderful occasion to witness the unique characteristics of each cask and see the effect on the identical base whisky. Educational whisky!

Being a sherry aficionado as well, I asked Tomatin for more details about the sherry, most importantly: are these American oak sherry casks, were all casks / wines supplied by the same bodega, and which bodega would that be? It could have had an extra educational value, but unfortunately this was considered commercially sensitive information…

A limited amount of 1500 bottles is available from each expression. They’re sold for around € 55 each. Too bad there’s no tasting box with 10-20 cl. versions, this would have been a real no-brainer.

 

 

Tomatin Cuatro ManzanillaTomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Manzanilla (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)

Nose: initially this came accross a little unfresh and porridgy, but it settled down nicely. A rather neutral Tomatin nose, with cereals, soft spices and waxy overtones. Yellow plums, pear and white grapes. Mouth: rather sweet (grapes, oranges, apples), hints of lemon cake, with a firm oaky spiciness (white pepper). Soft salty notes. Very smooth and enjoyable, the most natural of all? Finish: medium long, sweet (pastry-like) and peppery.

Score: 85/100

 

 

Tomatin Cuatro FinoTomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Fino (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)

Nose: really similar, the same base notes of sugared cereals, but more biscuity notes (vanilla). This one seems a little dustier and sharper at the same time. Zesty lemon, a little almond paste and walnut. More wood in general. Mouth:  less sweet and less fruity. More lemon, slightly more tannins as well. The white pepper has become a chilli. If I had to choose, I would say this is the more coastal overall. Finish: medium long, less smooth than the Manzanilla, with a slight graininess and more spices.

Score: 83/100

 

It may seem surprising that I think the Fino is more coastal than the Manzanilla (although Manzanilla wine is produced closer to the Ocean). However a young Manzanilla can be close to a white wine sometimes, which may impart a certain roundness, and the savouriness of a Fino can also be perceived as slightly salty.

In the end it’s obvious that both whiskies are very close together – I don’t think you could guess the sherry type when tasting them blind. Also the influence of the sherry is relatively subtle here: you’re still close to a regular bourbon-matured whisky.

 

Now on to the oxidative sherries:

 

Tomatin Cuatro OlorosoTomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Oloroso (46%, OB 2014)

Nose: a spicy profile rather than the dried fruits galore you may expect from Oloroso. Hints of Christmas cake and red plums. Bramble. Also a slight waxiness that reminds us of the Manzanilla version, mixed with some rubbery notes. Mouth: really sweet, almond paste and plenty of Christmas cake now. Caramel and milk chocolate coated nuts. Growing more and more candied. Finish: long, sweet, candied notes but also heavy spices from the wood.

Score: 81/100



Tomatin Cuatro Pedro XiménezTomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Pedro Ximénez (46%, OB 2014)

Nose: a slightly more candied, more syrupy sherry influence. Molasses, red candy, blood orange, as well as a sweet liquorice theme. Plum pie. Big hints of cloves and herbal bitters. There’s a kind of vermouth or Manhattan-like element in this whisky, I like that. Mouth: still quite candied, although it’s on par with the Oloroso. Some fruit cake and chocolate but also spices like ginger, clove and pepper. A little fruit tea. Toffee and caramel underneath. Finish: long, heavy sweetness, dark chocolate and a slight oaky bitterness.

Score: 83/100

 

 

No surprises from these two whiskies: if you know these sherries, I’m sure you can deduct a lot of characteristics. Keep in mind though that most Olorosos are dry wines and PX is hugely sweet. This difference doesn’t really show in the whiskies (unless they’ve used sweet Oloroso – it does exist).

In general, a very interesting experiment, but I would have hoped for an even bigger difference between the four. Personally I was already convinced that the actual type of sherry is only of minor importance to the end result (oak type, biological / oxidative, treatment length… are more important) and the Tomatin Cuatro series underlines this.

Sure, there are differences between the four casks (especially between the first two and the last two), but there are also lots of similarities, which is surprising if you consider how far apart the actual wines are. I guess this comes down to the same wood and a relatively limited finishing period.

We hope the same experiment can be done with full-time maturation in the future, or maybe Tomatin kept back a couple of casks and they can release the same whisky with a lengthier finish? Anyway keep ‘em coming, these kinds of ideas!


Wemyss MaltsThe Wemyss family (pronounced Weems) has been in the quality wines and whiskies for a very long time. Back in the 19th century, John Haig, the founder of Haig’s, built his first distillery on Wemyss land. At the moment Wemyss is building its own single malt distillery at Kingsbarns in Fife.

Their nosing panel, which selects the casks and gives them a nickname, is assisted by the well-known Charlie Maclean. At first, the whiskies only had this totem (e.g. Red berry cream) – it’s only since a couple of years that they started to mention the distillery on the label.

In the brand-new batch of single casks from Wemyss, which includes 12 bottlings, there is this Bunnahabhain 1991, nicknamed A thread of smoke. Check my Facebook page for a full list of bottlings (and other news of course)

 

 

bunnahabhain-1991-wemyssBunnahabhain 1991 ‘A thread of smoke’ (46%, Wemyss Malts 2014, hogshead, 302 btl.)

Nose: rather excellent, with Bunnahabhains typical honeyed / fruity profile. Honeydew melon, peaches, redcurrant, yellow apples. Plenty of sweet honey. Also fresh almonds and hints of mint. After a while it displays subtle grassy notes and soft coastal notes. Maybe some damp earth. A nice balance of roundness and sharper notes. Mouth: citrusy, a little sharper now, with more zesty notes and some smoky notes indeed. Grapefruit, sweet lemon juice, a little salty liquorice and grasses. Pears in the background. Green tea and spices. Finish: long, grassy, with some salty notes and a balanced herbal bitterness.

A beautiful all-round Bunnahabhain, with fruity notes, coastal notes and traces of smoke. Around € 100. Should arrive in stores soon.

Score: 88/100


Batch 10 of the GlenDronach single casks also brought a 1993 expression: Oloroso cask #494. I already mentioned the high quality of the casks filled on the 15th of January, but this one was filled a bit later, February 19th.

 

GlenDronach 1993 Oloroso cask 494GlenDronach 21 yo 1993 (55,8%, OB 2014, Oloroso butt #494, 635 btl.)

Nose: a very classic nose, exactly how we like it. Lots of fig bread, walnuts and chocolate. Some juicy raisins, but maybe not as fruity as some others. It does have a nice floral / waxy side. Leather. Just a hint of vanilla. Heather honey. Peppercorns. It also has a dusty side, but I wouldn’t call this dirty. Mouth: sweet and sour, burnt sugar, pepper and all-spice. Dry leather again. Chocolate, moving towards roast coffee beans. Liquorice and herbs. A subtle salty edge as well. Finish: long, good but a bit on the dry / herbal side.

Maybe not the best 1993 ever (I seem to prefer the January casks), but still a very good one – among the top choices in this batch, I’d say. Around € 165.

Score: 89/100


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Coming up

  • Macduff 1980 (Golden Cask)
  • Karuizawa 45 Year Old (cask #2725)
  • Cardhu 18 Year Old
  • Craigellachie 13 Years
  • Port Askaig 19 Year Old
  • Ledaig 2005 (Maltbarn)

1660 notes by Ruben

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