Single malt whisky - tasting notes

This Ireland 23yo 1991 from The Nectar of the Daily Drams is better known as the Maria label. It has a big reputation among whisky lovers but surprisingly few reviews are available.

Looking at the colour, it’s clear that we shouldn’t expect a bourbonny profile. It will be less typical, but maybe the sherry adds an extra layer?



Ireland 23 Years 1991 - Maria label - The NectarIrish single malt 23 yo 1991 ‘Maria label’ (54,6%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams 2015)

Nose: you’d have a hard time recognizing this as an Irish malt because the sherry aromas have taken over. It’s a pretty perfect sherry nose nonetheless. Plenty of red fruit jams, golden raisins, apricots and hints of Jaffa cakes. Still some typical bananas and pears. Hints of Moscatel. Herbal honey. Some floral notes as well, maybe rose petals. Really nice. Mouth: the typically Irish side is more prominent here (pink grapefruit, tangerines, a little kiwi) and on the same levels as the sherry notes (dried apricots, raisins, rummy notes, chocolate). Quite peppery too, with some drier notes (wood, ground coffee) towards the end. Finish: long, spicy, with dried fruits and cocoa powder. A light smoky touch as well.

This Maria label is different indeed – it’s probably the most sherried Irish single malt in the recent wave of independently bottled Bushmills casks. Some will prefer the über-fruity bourbon / refill casks but this is an equal stunner, in my opinion. A truly spiritual dram. Sold out. The auction value seems to be around € 450 already. Many thanks, Kjetil.

Score: 93/100

We’ve had a look at some of the latest Golden Cask releases from The House of Macduff / Cumbrae Supply. For starters: Tomatin 1994.



Tomatin 1994 - Golden CaskTomatin 21 yo 1994
(53,9%, Golden Cask Reserve 2015, ref. CM221, 257 btl.)

Nose: creamy and aromatic, with lots of sweet vanilla marshmallows and creamy custard. Stewed apples. Honeysuckle. Bananas flambéed and papaya. Butter pastry. Light potpourri and nail polish, which works well here. Also a growing hint of polished oak. Really nice. Mouth: thick and fruity with a syrupy sweetness to it. Cantaloupe, apples, pineapple and papaya again. Honey. Slowly moving towards grapefruit and lemon, more zesty and oaky. Hints of dried coconut. Light touches of mint. Finish: long, fruity and sweet, with balanced oak spices.

A thick, buttery and typically fruity Tomatin. Not immensely complex but perfectly flawless. Around € 125.

Score: 87/100

This is the oldest member of the revamped Royal Brackla core range: 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 21 Year Old.



Royal Brackla 21 Year OldRoyal Brackla 21 yo (40%, OB 2015)

Nose: nice, subtle aromas. Candle wax and leather, with oak polish and exotic spices (ginseng, clove). Green tea. Eucalyptus and menthol. Orange and apple peels, damsons, very light grassy notes. Great old-style elegance and waxiness. Mouth: subtle and quite waxy again, vaguely fruity (lime, bergamot). Star anise. Something of dried mango. Becomes darker, maltier and more chocolaty towards the end. Vanilla. Straw. Hints of old wood – it feels old-fashioned and older than 21yo actually. Finish: okay length given the low strength, still quite malty but drier and earthier.

This is a very fine dram, mature yet delicate. On the other hand it feels a bit underpowered and too expensive for what it is. Around € 250.

Score: 87/100

Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold takes over the idea of The Snow Grouse: it’s a malt whisky designed to be drunk ice cold, straight from the freezer. Dalwhinnie usually stays below the radar and doesn’t seem to be as marketing-driven as some others, but the story-driven NAS hype affects all distilleries eventually.

I’ll review the whisky neat though, as I don’t think chilling whiskies makes much sense. It takes away most of the delicate flavours. Although I have to admit it also takes away the impression of sweetness, which in this case could be welcome.



Dalwhinnie Winter's GoldDalwhinnie Winter’s Gold
(43%, OB 2015)

Nose: fresh and fruity, sweet, entirely on peaches, honey and oranges. Hints of vanilla (newish American oak) and mint. Bright malty notes. Soft gingery notes. Most pleasant, actually quite… summery. Summer’s Gold? Mouth: starts fruity again, with a fairly young profile of malt and oranges, and a honeyed sweetness. Quickly followed by oak spices (pepper and ginger). Some pencil shavings. Cinnamon. Fades on hints of Poire Williams or peach schnapps. Finish: medium long, but rather rough, bittersweet, with slightly synthetic hints of oranges.

Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold seems to hold the middle between proper malt whisky and some kind of fruit-flavoured alcopop. Which may well be exactly what they were aiming for? Mind you, this could work as a first step into the world of single malts. Around € 40.

Score: 74/100

Sometimes a very nice sample simply doesn’t make it on the website. Because it gets lost at the bottom of a box, or because other blogs happen to write about it at the same time. And then, a couple of years later, it turns up again…

Here’s a Caol Ila 1979 bottled by Malts of Scotland that I should have tried way back in 2012, when I could still buy a bottle.



Caol Ila 1979 - Malts of Scotland 12022Caol Ila 33 yo 1979 (52,3%, Malts of Scotland 2012, bourbon hogshead, MoS 12022, 280 btl.)

Nose: reminds me of the 1979 from Maltbarn. It’s more powerful than some other 1979 casks. More medicinal notes, grasses, tar and camphor. Really sooty and coastal. Old leather and eucalyptus. In the background enough almonds, warm ashes and hay to keep it balanced and elegant. Mouth: oily / waxy texture, antiseptics and iodine again, tarry notes and liquorice. Seaweed. Then grapefruit and walnuts. Ink. A pepper and lemon combo too. Lovely complexity. Finish: very long, sooty and dry with some lemon zest.

A very nice version of Caol Ila, with some Laphroaig-style medicinal notes mixed in. Punchy yet very rewarding. You can bottle this kind of dram at the age of 50, no doubt. Originally around € 200.

Score: 91/100

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016Just arrived in our mailbox: the new Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016, still smelling like… well… other new books. The concept hasn’t changed, it’s still as fresh and up-to-date as ever.


The big reference part of the 290 pages are an overview of Scotch malt whisky distilleries, one page for each, including their latest releases, facts & figures, contact details and now also the pronunciation of their name. There’s also a chapter with 14 new distilleries like Wolfburn, Kingsbarns, Annandale, Roseisle… Closed distilleries and Japan have similar chapters, while the increasing list of ‘world’ whiskies have more concise descriptions.


The article part includes in-depth writings from familiar whisky writers like Charles Maclean, Ian Buxton, Gavin D Smith, Martine Nouet and Neil Ridley.

Let’s look at the themes that are discussed this year:

  • Turf’s up, a look at how peated whiskies are made around the globe at Kavalan, Mackmyra and Lark distillery. Also a nice article to learn the word ‘to acquiesce’…
  • Reign of Terroir, a look at terroir in whisky, varieties of barley, maturation location, etc… while talking about Bruichladdich, Karuizawa, Amrut and others.
  • Whisky & food – Strike the good match, a rather practical guide to pairing whisky and fish, meat, vegetables, cheese, chocolate…
  • Only connect malt and malt consumers, about the current-day market that consists of highly informed consumers and collectors, and how producers respond to this situation.
  • The cask is king, a bit of history of casks, coopering and wood management.
  • Craft and innovation, about craftsmanship, artisan, hand-crafted character and how sometimes these words are used in a questionable way.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016 will be available in specialized book stores and whisky shops over the next few weeks. This yearly overview of the whisky industry is an essential read for dedicated whisky lovers as well as beginners. It’s a big treasure of information, nice to keep at hand while discovering new drams, or simply to have on your bedside table. Around € 20.


Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016 - Spread
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016 - Spread

Abbey Whisky has a new Rare Casks bottling, distilled in 2001 at “one of Scotland’s finest distilleries” and finished in an Oloroso sherry cask.



Anon. 13 Year Old - Abbey WhiskyAnon. 13 yo 2001 – Batch 1 (51,5%, Abbey Whisky ‘The Rare Casks’ 2015, 90 btl.)

Nose: malty and fruity, with plenty of peaches and apples, golden raisins and banana. Vanilla custard. While this sounds creamy and mellow, there’s also a bite to it, a slight prickle of ginger and something highly acidic. White pepper to underscore this. Cashews. Mouth: again a classic malty / fruity core. Apples and apple skin. Heather honey, nectarine. Slightly rough, grainy notes in the background. Bitter notes too. Something floral – hints of beer even, before it folds back on malt biscuits and spiced Mexican chocolate. Finish: medium long, still showing jammy fruits but with strong peppery / woody notes as well.

This is a dram that keeps you interested. It’s intense and quite charming, but also nervous, not entirely easy-going. Some active wood is involved here. Around € 75.

Score: 84/100

Here’s a little article I wrote for the new website I believe it makes sense to repeat it here as well.


A lot of my friends are whisky drinkers and when I tell them about my love for sherry, their first reaction is usually “yeah well, I tried sherry and it’s too sweet”. Or too dry. Or too soft. Or whatever. They’ve tried it once or twice and weren’t impressed. Nonetheless I’m convinced sherry has a lot of qualities which will appeal to whisky drinkers.

For starters, I love the fact that whisky comes in so many styles. There’s peaty Islay whisky, delicate Lowlands whisky, fruity Irish whiskey or American bourbon, young and old, matured in a wide range of casks (bourbon barrels, virgin oak, Port, Madeira, Sauternes… and indeed sherry casks of course).

Well, I can tell you the variety in sherry is probably even bigger. There are at least eight different styles of sherry, from a bone-dry, uniquely mineral Manzanilla to a lusciously sweet Pedro Ximénez. Whisky lovers tend to be disappointed when someone says “I don’t like whisky, it’s too smoky”. Well, sherry lovers feel the same way. You just need to find your own matches. Also, don’t stop with what you can find in supermarkets.


Glenfarclas 1966 Fino


People are naturally attracted to sweetness so I guess dry alcoholic drinks are kind of an acquired taste. My favourite sherries are dry, and as a whisky drinker you’re already accustomed to a dry, oak-matured drink.

Of course the whisky and sherry industries are well acquainted. Since the 19th century, sherry was transported to England and the empty barrels were quickly taken over by the whisky industry. It turned out that maturing whisky in these sherry-infused casks made it more mellow and added a lot of interesting flavours.

Sherry matured whisky is still regarded as the most complex kind. On the other hand sherry sales have gone down and bodegas rarely sell their barrels, so sherry casks are now in high demand and very expensive. This situation can only change if whisky drinkers start to explore and drink more sherry!

Trying a few styles of sherry and experiencing the differences will give you a better understanding of your whisky. When you’ve tried the sherry that influenced it, you will be able to predict which flavours to expect from a certain whisky.




Where to start your sherry exploration?

My advice to whisky drinkers would be to start with a dry Oloroso. If you fancy Macallan, GlenDronach or Glenfarclas, you will immediately recognize some of the aromas. Dried fruits, chocolate, toffee, nuts and a good deal of spices, these flavours all come from the sherry that was soaked up by the wood. Oloroso can also have a hint of smoke.

Mind that sweet Oloroso also exists. This has the same flavours, but it’s richer and probably a bit more accessible. For some people this will work even better as an introduction. While most sherries work best with some food, sweet Oloroso is a perfect after-dinner drink.

A next step could be Pedro Ximénez, made from grapes that were dried in the sun. PX casks are used by lots of whisky distilleries to get a really deep colour and intense sherry flavours. Here you will also get figs and dates, but with a huge dose of caramel and chocolate. This wine can be sticky sweet and a bit overwhelming for some, but I’m sure you will be blown away by its flavour intensity.




If you’re into older Speyside whisky with a good dose of oak influence (older Glen Grant, Longmorn, Glenlivet, Balvenie and many more), then I would suggest Amontillado. This style often shows polished oak, leather, some waxy notes, vanilla, orange peel and walnuts.

Fino and Manzanilla are probably the most difficult styles for outsiders, because of the yeasty notes, herbs, briny hints (green olives) and the ‘naked’, bone-dry structure. These casks are much less common for whisky maturation, although examples definitely exist. I would compare this type of sherry to the more coastal, sometimes rather austere whiskies like Springbank, Glen Garioch or Clynelish. A very interesting profile for experienced palates!

There is probably a type of sherry for every kind of (whisky) drinker – you’re already familiar with a lot of the aromas. Take your time to explore the options and you may be surprised. With whisky prices rising dramatically these days, you will be amazed of the flavour richness and the very reasonable pricing of sherry. A bottle of 30 year-old single malt will easily set you back € 300-400, whereas an excellent sherry of equal age is available for less than a fifth of this price. And remember, drinking more sherry leads to better whisky in the end!


Free Sherry Twitter Tasting

In case you’re interested, I’m organizing a new Sherry Twitter Tasting during the International Sherry Week (Nov 2-8). Participants will be sent a free package of five samples and we’ll try and discuss them together via Twitter.

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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.