Single malt whisky - tasting notes

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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This Karuizawa 1984 was bottled last year. Although it is bottled by Number One Drinks (like all others) it has a unique label that sets it apart from ‘official’ releases. It was selected by Cask Norway and Cask Sweden, which are part of the Nordic Group, a distributor of wines, beers and spirits.

Cask #7802 was a European oak Oloroso butt.



Karuizawa 1984 cask #7802Karuizawa 29 yo 1984 (56,7%, OB for Cask Norway & Cask Sweden, Oloroso butt #7802, 577 btl.)

Nose: great. Clean, with lovely whiffs of tobacco leaves and worn leather up front. Cigar boxes. Very warm. Black tea. Classic dried fruits (prunes, raisins) with cinnamon and forest fruits jam. Old roses. Quite a lot of eucalyptus, cloves and dried herbs after a while. Turns very medicinal. Smoky wood in the background. Possibly the best 1984 nose I’ve had. Mouth: oily mouthfeel, less monolithical than some others. The dried fruits are still there, but I’m mostly picking up all kinds of high-quality herbal liqueurs. Think Fernet. Some vermouths as well. Sweet mint liqueur. Aniseed, cumin, cloves, pepper. Walnuts. Mind that it’s savoury but not excessively dry or tannic. Finish: very long, earthy, spicy and sappy but still quite jammy too.

You gotta love Fernet-Branca for this one. One of the most herbal Karuizawas I can think of. Lovely. The original price was around € 475. Current day collectors value is around € 2500. Many thanks, Kjetil.

Score: 93/100

Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine is the travel retail replacement for Darach Ur. The name means ‘morning sky’ in Gaelic.

Eirigh Na Greine contains a significant proportion of whiskies matured in Italian and French red wine casks. The whiskies were of various ages so the end result is another NAS expression.



Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na GreineBunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine (46,3%, OB 2014, travel retail)

Nose: a sharp, grainy onset, quickly rounded off by a toffee and raisin / raspberry / red berry sweetness. Not unlike some PX finishes, which I generally like better than red wine finishes. Fragrant and candied. Almonds, ginger, cinnamon rolls. Plenty of vanilla too. A slight salty edge. Mouth: a lot of spices and plain oak, making it sharp and rather dry. Punchy pepper, ginger, cloves, hints of wood bitterness as well, even though there’s still a wave of boiled (red) sweets underneath. Maybe too winey (as opposed to sherried, I mean) after all. Mulled wine? Finish: medium long, gingery and salty. Raspberries with a raw edge, that pretty much sums it all up.

I tend to advice people to be careful with travel retail exclusives. They’re rarely the highlights of what distilleries have on offer. Around € 70.

Score: 76/100

This is not a luxury whisky - Compass BoxThe most interesting whisky release of this week for me was the new This is not a luxury whisky from the boutique whiskymaker Compass Box.

It is a blended Scotch inspired by our Belgian artist René Magritte who created the concept piece ‘The treachery of images’ in 1929, better known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Whiskymaker John Glaser explains: “Over recent years, we’ve seen a growing trend in the Scotch industry towards super-premium releases that position Scotch whiskies as ‘luxury goods’ or status symbols to be displayed and traded – rather than as liquids to be consumed and enjoyed. As Whiskymakers, we wanted to release a product that would encourage people to question what it is that makes a luxury whisky a luxury”.

Four parcels of whisky were used to create the blend: 19 year old Glen Ord, 40 year old Girvan and Strathclyde grains, and a portion of 30 year old Caol Ila. It is bottled at 53,1%. Around 5000 bottles will be available in October for around € 200.


ps/ There’s also a new Compass Box Flaming Heart limited edition coming up (around € 140), a blended malt which contains 30yo Caol Ila, 20yo Clynelish and some other Highland malts.

This Teeling 2002 is a single malt Irish whiskey bottled from a single Port cask. Port casks are one of the five types that are used to finish the Teeling whiskeys (alongside Sherry, Madeira, white Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon).

It is a light whiskey with a noticeable salmon hue that is so typical for Port wine finishing.



Teeling 2002 single Port cask #905Teeling 13 yo 2002 Single Cask
(54,2%, OB 2015, Port cask #905)

Nose: a very fragrant nose, with the classic Irish elements like melons, bananas and sweet pears, but also raspberries and redcurrant jam from the Port. Soaked sultanas. Almond paste and vanilla. Whisky candy really. Mouth: again very sweet. There’s still a nice glimpse of the original tropical side (banana, litchi, pink grapefruit) but it’s coated with lots of cotton candy, powder sugar and strawberry jam. Honey and marzipan. Vanilla cake. Very creamy and jammy, almost a liqueur, definitely for people with a sweet tooth. Finish: long, sweet, on red fruits but with a slight spirity edge. Can stand a few drops of water, if you like lemonade.

Few single malts are a match for Teeling when it comes to expressiveness and fruitiness, especially when taking into account the price. This one is a very candied version, almost a dessert malt. Around € 60.

Score: 86/100

Royal Brackla whisky


In 1835, King William IV visited Brackla distillery and was so taken by the spirit that he bestowed the ‘Royal’ status to the distillery. It became the first ever Scotch to garner a royal warrant, later followed by Lochnagar and Glenury.

The distillery is working with traditional production methods and aims for a high level of fruitiness by allowing the fermentation stage to take 80 hours or more and running the stills at a slow pace.

As part of the “Last great malts” campaign, its owners John Dewar & Sons have recently launched a new core range, which includes a 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 21 Year Old. After the initial maturation all spirit is finished in first-fill Oloroso casks.



Royal Brackla 12 YearsRoyal Brackla 12 yo
(40%, OB 2015)

Nose: lots of grain cookies, muesli and plain malt. Apples, hints of vanilla cake and quite some nutty notes. Almonds and Macadamia nuts. Nicely rounded, but also relatively dry and therefore slightly unmodern, which is a good thing. Mouth: light, with a tart apple / grape taste up front, followed by vanilla and some drier notes. Dusty grains, dark chocolate coated cookies. A touch of honey. Finally also sherry spices, mainly pepper. Finish: not too long, still dry with mild spices and chocolate coated almond.

A decent entry-level malt. There are plenty of these of course, but it certainly makes me look forward to trying the older expressions. Around € 65.

Score: 81/100

This limited edition Laphroaig 21 Year Old was distilled throughout 1993, then poured into first fill ex-bourbon barrels to age. Both kiln-dried and air-dried American oak barrels were used to reflect the subtle changes in flavour that occur with the changing seasons.

It is part of the 200th Anniversary releases and was first sold to Friends of Laphroaig members by ballot, but apparently that wasn’t a huge success. After the initial storm, it’s now available for anyone through the Laphroaig website.



Laphroaig 21 Year OldLaphroaig 21 yo 1993
(48,4%, OB 2015, first-fill bourbon, for Friends of Laphroaig, 35 cl.)

Nose: as expected, a rather mild nose, with medium peat and rather discreet medicinal notes. It’s more on the bourbonny notes, with a fresh but subtle tropical fruitiness. Pineapple, melon and mango. Subtle spices, especially mint and cinnamon. Vanilla. Linseed oil. Hints of leather and plenty of seaweed. Mouth: again a mature, smooth, fruity profile that most people may actually not immediately recognize as Laphroaig (after all, old versions are now very hard to come by). Maritime notes. Mango, apricots and fresh citrus. More peat smoke and oak spices than on the nose though, this is still clearly Laphroaig. Sweet liquorice, iodine, tar and ginger. Finish: medium long, with honeyed ashes, a little sea salt and some dried seaweed notes.

Maybe not the sales success Laphroaig hoped for, probably due to a heavy price, but a great whisky nonetheless. Fruity, elegant, mature Laphroaig. Around € 130 (for a half bottle).

Score: 91/100

The Ultimate is a series developed by the Dutch importers Han and Maurice van Wees. They’re all single casks and they have a good reputation when it comes to fair pricing vs. quality.



Longmorn 1992 - van Wees #48497Longmorn 23 yo 1992 (46%, van Wees ‘The Ultimate’ 2015, hogshead #48497, 264 btl.)

Nose: very bright and fruity, with some elements that hint towards balanced sherry maturation (golden raisins, strawberries) and others that are more typical for bourbon casks (vanilla, dried coconut). Lots of apples, some gooseberries and a slightly tart side. Quite some mint as well. Mouth: really fruity again, almost fruit eau-de-vie, showing apples, pears, red berries and prunes. Also some greener notes, peppery oak and aniseed. Finish: medium long, hints of kirsch and plums, with a coconutty dry note.

All good. Very much what I expect from The Ultimate: good sipping whisky with decent complexity and an affordable price tag. Around € 75.

Score: 85/100



December 2015
« Nov    

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)

1934 notes by Ruben

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