Single malt whisky - tasting notes

After the Glen Grant 1948, here’s another side of Gordon & MacPhail…

The Belgian retailer The Bonding Dram picked this Caol Ila 2006 from the Gordon & MacPhail stocks. It was a joint bottling with the Flemish Malt Whisky Society, a whisky club based in the same region.

 

Caol Ila 2006 (Gordon & MacPhail - The Bonding Dram)Caol Ila 7 yo 2006 (56,5%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Bonding Dram & FMWS 2014, refill sherry hogshead #306202, 309 btl.)

Nose: very straightforward. Lots of coastal notes, deep soot, burnt heather. Also quite some medicinal notes, iodine, camphor, a little asphalt. Intense peat. But there’s also a loud sweetness that fights back. Baked apple, molasses, peaches on syrup. Powerful ensemble. Mouth: again sweeter than expected, although the peat is hard to tame. Baked bananas, candy apple, caramel (burnt). Overtaken by soot, camphor and punchy chilli peppers. Some gingery heat. Heather, herbs, slowly getting drier (cayenne pepper tea and liquorice confectionery). Yes, lots of black liquorice candy really. Finish: very long, herbal, camphory and smoky.

A slightly extreme dram – screaming and kicking around. Luckily the sherry cask brought enough sweetness to maintain the balance. Around € 55.

Score: 87/100


Most people have this romantic idea that sherry casks used for the maturation of whisky have been used for years in the soleras of Spanish bodegas first and are then sent to Scotland. In reality this is an exception rather than a general rule, nowadays the vast majority of casks are actually new – they are made on request and filled with “seasoning wine” (which sits a couple of steps below the regular sherry wines) for a relatively short period.

Bodegas TradicionIn this case it’s different. Bodegas Tradición, a highly respected supplier of (very old) sherries, provided Glengoyne with two casks that were actually part of their soleras: one Palo Cortado and one Pedro Ximénez cask.

The Palo Cortado cask was part of a 12 butt solera and had been in use for around 50 years. The sherry was bottled in Spain by Tradición and the cask was shipped to Glengoyne. They filled it with 12 years old bourbon-matured spirit and left it to mature further for an extra year.

Note that Glengoyne is one of the only distilleries that regularly work with Palo Cortado casks (as well as Amontillado) while most whisky is matured in either Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez or sometimes Fino. I’ve heard both Tradición casks have now been passed on to Bruichladdich for a similar experiment.

 

This Glengoyne 1999 was bottled for Germany (a major market for sherried whisky) and it was sold in a wooden box “whisky meets sherry”, containing a bottle of both the whisky and the sherry. Head over to my sister blog SherryNotes for my review of the Palo Cortado VORS from Bodegas Tradición.

Glengoyne 1999 Palo Cortado - Bodegas Tradicion

Glengoyne 13 yo 1999 (53,8%, OB for Germany 2012, Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado finish, 477 btl.)

Nose: clean, sweet and fairly malty. It does show some of the Palo Cortado characteristics, but there’s an underlying theme of fresh bourbon oak as well. Honey sweetness. Grape skins and golden raisins. Some butter and sugared almonds. Maybe dates. Overall quite round, with a minty and lemony edge. Not bad, but the sherry influence is rather shy. Mouth: sweet to bittersweet, still some grape skin alongside cloves, pepper, brazil nuts and apples. Orange zest. Dark chocolate. Some tannins and sourish winey notes. It seems slightly disjointed: it’s really spicy, a tad bitter as well, and lacking something to balance it. It reminds me more of French wine finishes than of what we tend to call a typical sherry finish. Finish: some honey sweetness, but the zestiness of grapefruit is much bigger. Quite peppery again.

Not the best marriage, if you ask me. I think the Palo Cortado in itself is excellent (one of the best examples of its kind, and Palo Cortado is my favourite type of sherry anyway) but maybe it didn’t have enough time to impart its character. Or maybe using actual solera casks is not always a great idea after all. Around € 140 for both bottles.

Score: 81/100


The latest superwhisky brought to us by Poland’s investment company Wealth Solutions is a Glen Grant 1948, sourced from the Gordon & MacPhail stocks. It’s a stunning 66 years old and bottled at cask strength.

The 160 decanters had already been sold before the presentation in May 2014, for an undisclosed (which probably means really high) amount.

 

 

Gordon & MacPhail, as one of Scotland’s oldest independent bottlers, have always had long-standing contracts with major distilleries to buy new make and mature them either at the distillery, or more commonly in their own warehouses in Elgin. Their portfolio contains some of the oldest whiskies around.

Glen Grant is one of the few distilleries capable of presenting such extremely old whiskies, together with Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Macallan, Dalmore and maybe a couple of others. In any case it will be the oldest whisky we’ve been able to try so far.

 

Glen Grant 66yo 1948 Gordon & MacPhail for WealthSolutions

 

 

Glen Grant 66 yo 1948 (46,6%, Gordon & MacPhail for WealthSolutions 2014, first fill sherry butt #1369, 160 btl.)

Nose: smoother, richer and sweeter than expected. It’s quite subtle, very much bound together, but really exquisite. Lots of oily notes: precious old woods, hints of teak oil and eucalyptus. Soft fruity notes, like apples and orange blossom honey. Bergamot. Beeswax. Apricot jam. The polished oak is always there, but in a striking harmony. Lots of fresh mint. Faint toasted / smoky notes, almost hidden in the background. Mouth: almost immediately a gentle peppery heat coats the palate. Softly spicy rather than oaky. Huge notes of pipe tobacco and cigar boxes. Herbal tea. Still hints of bergamot oils and apricots. Cardamom and walnuts. Mint and eucalyptus. More savoury than the nose. Early Grey tea. Soft resin. Some toasted notes in the background. Finish: very long echoes of the spice mix, with a little liquorice and menthol.

Of course it’s oaky – but that doesn’t mean it’s dry or tannic. It’s a polished, exotic oakiness that works well alongside the rounder notes. I think the nose is delicious and the sappy palate surprisingly balanced. Even if you’ve tried 30 or 40 years old whiskies, this is hardly comparable. It’s a different drink, a different experience altogether and a style on its own.

Score: 94/100


Abbey Whisky is a Scottish whisky retailer founded in 2008. They focus on rare, collectable and old whisky and they’re also working on two series of own bottlings: The Rare Casks (with limited edition single malts) and The Secret Casks (a trio of undisclosed 30yo, 40yo and 50yo Speyside whiskies).

One of their latest releases is this Glencadam 1991.

 

Glencadam 1991 Abbey WhiskyGlencadam 22 yo 1991
(55,3%, Abbey Whisky ‘The Rare Casks’ 2014, refill bourbon cask, 96 btl.)

Nose: very fruity and aromatic. Lots of meadow flowers. Barley sugars and juicy plums. Frosted cereals, warm vanilla, with hints of marshmallows, but also bright notes like lemon and mint. Waxed oak. Feels slightly older than it actually is, in a good way. Mouth: creamy, still very fruity. A classic ex-bourbon profile, I would say, with Highlands power. Greengages, peaches, plenty of honey. Hints of green banana. Some malty / biscuity notes and a balanced peppery kick from the oak. Subtle bitter ‘sappy’ notes. Finish: quite long, warming and sweetish. Half fruity, half spicy. Some liquorice in the very end.

In a way, this Glencadam is quite discreet yet powerful at the same time, focusing on the quintessential qualities of bourbon-matured Highlands whisky. It has a slightly modern profile, but well succeeded. Around € 95.

Score: 88/100


Mortlach is a distillery that I can’t really get to grips with. Differences between ages, casks and profiles tend to be big, which makes it difficult to say “I like Mortlach” or “I don’t like Mortlach”.

I don’t like the heavy, meaty, sometimes sulphury sherry matured Mortlach, but recent ex-bourbon releases are much brighter and more to my liking. Let’s see what this Mortlach 1996 from Sansibar whisky is like.

 

 

Mortlach 1996 SansibarMortlach 18 yo 1996 (51,2%, Sansibar 2014, bourbon cask, 186 btl.)

Nose: rich and sweet. Lots of juicy gooseberries, apples and orange peel. Also a nice (cooked) banana / coconut combo. Hints of vanilla cake. Soft hints of Scottish tablet and barley husks. Just a touch of mint as well. Mouth: oily mouthfeel. Compared to the nose, the palate goes slightly off the beaten track. Still subtle fruity hints (more apple / orange blossom than the actual fruits now), but also lots of salty liquorice and other herbal notes. Almost peaty. Tobacco leafs. Soft lemon zest and a bit of a tequila sharpness. Finish: medium long, spicy and herbal, with some walnuts.

Definitely not one of the bad Mortlachs, but not entirely balanced either, in my opinion. The nose seems bright and inviting, whereas the taste is more about herbs and sharper notes. Around € 100.

Score: 84/100


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 EditionThe 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.

Score: 72/100


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 1966 #3640 Alambic ClassiqueBen 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.

Score: 93/100


Ardbeg Auriverdes

09 Jun 2014 | Ardbeg

Ardbeg Auriverdes logoAs 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.

 

Ardbeg AuriverdesArdbeg Auriverdes
(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.

Score: 89/100


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  • WhiskyNotes: It says 'single cask Scotch whisky' on the label, so yes, technically it can even contain a bit of Girvan grain. Not that it matters a lot though.
  • kallaskander: Hi there, could be a teaspooned blenders cask... technically not a single malt then.... that seems more probable than letting an IB bring out the fir
  • Glenn Vanbellingen: If you put the 12 y origin at 40% head to head with the 12 y origin 46% you see it immediately or better you taste it immediately.

Coming up

  • Jura 1972 SMWS 31.4
  • Balblair 2002
  • Kavalan Solist sherry (for LMdW)
  • Tullibardine 1980 (Malts of Scotland)
  • Ardbeg 1998 (Malts of Scotland)

1579 notes by Ruben

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