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 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.
Suddenly a new Japanese single malt appeared, Fujikai 10 Year Old. It is produced at the Monde Shuzo distillery, a wine producer at the foot of Mount Fuji (hence the name) which occasionally makes some whisky as well. They also seem to have an Isawa blend, an Isawa 10yo single malt and a vintage 1983.
The packaging and label says “10 ans” among the Japanese blurb, I guess the spirit was bought by the French importer Whiskies du Monde and bottled / labeled in Europe.
Japanese whisky is hot and when some forgotten stock is found, it would be stupid not to develop a proper brand around it. It’s ten years old and matured in ex-bourbon casks, but other than that we can only guess what this really is, when or how this is made and whether there’s more of it. In the press release, this is translated as the full production details are held back by the Master Distiller. It’s marketed as an artisanal micro-brand, but that seems hard to believe coming from a winery that produces up to 20.000 bottles of wine per day!
Fujikai 10 yo
(43%, OB 2015, 8808 btl., 50 cl.)
Nose: a dusty, musty start, with some wet cardboard, a sports shop (new sneakers, quite overpowering) and diesel-like aromas, as well as a hint of antiseptics. Peated, I guess? Lots of pine tree aromas, with whiffs of burnt herbs. Hints of mezcal. Acetone. Underneath is some vanilla and something of plum eau-de-vie, even sake (although I’m no expert) and definitely lots of grappa notes. Mouth: yes, this would be peated. It’s tarry and earthy, quite dry with a herbal, slightly bitter edge. Even though this may sound muscular, it feels rather lightweight and somehow disconnected / synthetic. Plastics again, a little nail polish. Some rough alcoholic notes. Walnuts. Sweet malt and apples underneath. Finish: rather short, earthy, with a metallic aftertaste.
As long as it’s Japanese, put it in a bottle and you’ll make money, even though the quality is nowhere near the traditional Japanese distilleries. Tastes more like grappa? No problem. In fact shops are calling it the next collector’s item, it sold like hotcakes and people are already trying to sell it for twice the price or more. They must be kidding. Around € 50.
Arran recently presented The Smuggler’s Series, a trilogy of Arran Malts which are a nod to the rich history of whisky distillation on the island.
Smuggler’s series Volume 1 is nicknamed ‘The illicit stills’. It shows a robust body and a heavier peat influence (up to 50 ppm), matured in bourbon barrels and Port pipes and bottled at cask strength. Only 8700 bottles are available.
The packaging is just great: the bottle is hidden in an old, thick book. It is expected in stores early October for around € 120.
For its 2013 Master’s Collection release, Woodford Reserve bottled two single 100% malted barley whiskeys, aged in used bourbon barrels… a Classic Malt made like Scotch whisky but in a Kentucky climate.
It was released in pair with a Straight Malt Whiskey, aged in new oak barrels.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection – Classic Malt (45,2%, OB 2013)
Nose: strange. I mean, given the Seasoned Oak quality, and compared to Scotch single malt, this just seems uninspired. It has dried grasses, honey and vanilla, with soft hints of peaches and pears in the background. But mostly lots of sweet cereals. Mouth: very sweet, almost cane sugar as found in white rums. Vanilla and stewed fruits. After a while this turns to unaged corn spirit, mixed with dusty grains and Frosties. Finish: short and fairly synthetic.
It may be rare to get something like this from Kentucky, but in Scotland they’d keep this aside for another ten years (preferably in less active wood). It’s a rather unsuccessful imitation with no added value. Originally around $ 100, now only found at collector’s prices.
Seasoned Oak Finish was the fourth offering in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, a series of products focused on innovation and craftmanship. Other expressions include a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir finish, Maple wood finish, Four Grain, Rare Rye selection and others.
The Master’s Collection whiskies are completely triple distilled in pot stills, whereas the normal Woodford Reserve also includes some column distilled Old Forester whisky in the mix.
The key to this Seasoned Oak is 7-8 years of regular maturation with an extra 8 months in finishing barrels, made with staves that have been seasoned 3-5 years instead of the normal 3-5 months. As the rough oak staves are exposed to seasonal weather changes and subsequently dried, they develop new aromas along the way.
Although initially meant to be a one-time release in 2009, it seems it is now made in small batches.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection – Seasoned Oak finish (50,2%, OB +/- 2015)
Nose: I love it. Of course it’s woody, but in such a nice waxy / varnished way, with plenty of maple syrup and toffee. Vanilla. The combination of cedar wood and spices are quite exotic. Hints of Morello cherries. Big cinnamon notes, as well as mint and pepper. Mouth: sweet start on cherries, plums and treacle. Then a cinnamon heat sets in, with cocoa and leather. Some tobacco and anise. Towards the finish, a slightly astringent woody note comes through, in between metallic and medicinal notes. Oolong. Clove and caraway. Finish: very long, dry but not excessive, with this mentholated note holding strong.
I think this is a superb bourbon, very intense and complex, with a “tailored” woodiness rather than just extensive ageing, if you see what I mean. It does leave enough room for sweetness and roundness as well. Expensive though: around € 150 on this side of the ocean. Rather hard to get.
Nose: starts grassy and neutral, with some plankish notes, but becomes rounder and more attractive after five minutes. Crushed mint leaves, grapefruit and creamy malt sweetness. Lemongrass and hints of butter milk. Pear and almonds. Paraffin notes. Mouth: immediately very zesty (grapefruit, lemon peel) and grassy, including a bitter side. Ginger and chalk. Waxy notes and herbs like juniper and tonic water. Salted liquorice. I’m missing a juicy, fruity side here, but this is typically Lowlands of course. Finish: medium long, grassy and zesty.
A very dry and slightly bitter dram with a lot of Rosebank elements. Not my favourite style, but with a lot of terroir, so to speak. Around € 125.
The Whisky Agency recently launched an unspecified blended malt. We have no clue about what’s inside. Given that it’s ‘extra old’, it could be something like their Blended Malt 1980, or maybe it’s more like the Speyside Region 2001 from Archives which was composed of old leftovers mixed with younger spirit?
Anyway it’s sherry matured and it seems to be the start of a series with different volumes.
Blended Malt ‘Extra Old’
(44,7%, The Whisky Agency & The Nectar 2015, volume 1, sherry wood)
Nose: some nice fruity notes. Red berries, stewed plums, oranges, nicely sweet & sour. The fruits are on a background of roasted nuts and light earthy notes. Hints of tobacco. Soft pencil shavings. Hints of Bunnahabhain, hints of Glenfarclas and Tamdhu too. Mouth: fairly lightweight but really elegant. There could be some really old malt in here, you know, because of the lightly sour oak, the hints of fruit tea and a faint waxy note. Half-sweet oranges. Gingery touches and a faint earthy note in the background again. Finish: long, on fruit teas, oak, oranges and spices.
This is very good whisky, and I believe the biggest part is indeed very old. I’m sure some people would be running to a shop if the contents were disclosed. Instead let’s take advantage of the relatively low price of this great daily dram. Around € 85.
Glenmorangie Duthac is the first release in the Travel Retail Legends collection, which will be expanded over the next two years. Each expression will honour a local Highland legend – Saint Duthac is the patron of Tain, the hometown of the distillery.
At its base is bourbon barrel matured spirit, married with Pedro Ximénez finished whisky and some charred virgin oak casks (which seems to be a recurring theme in some of their latest releases). For a Glenmorangie, there was very little fuss about it – it was just there on the shelves of international airports. Maybe not a good sign?
Glenmorangie The Duthac
(43%, OB 2015, PX + Virgin oak)
Nose: fresh and rather light sherry nose, with lots of red berries, juicy pear and golden raisins. Plenty of oranges, maybe tangerine. Vanilla cake with a pinch of cinnamon. Honey and almonds, with some dark chocolate in the background. Mouth: again fairly light, starting mostly on raspberries, apricots and oranges, before moving to spicy notes (a lot of ginger, pepper, hints of ginseng). A noticeable hint of toasted oak or burnt caramel in the back, bringing some bitterness. Also a funnily fragrant element (in between lavender and orange blossom water, I’d say). Finish: not too long, a bit harsh, on toast, bitter orange and gingery honey.
Glenmorangie Duthac is light and uncomplicated with some very pleasant sides but also a few “meh” moments. Around € 85 which seems expensive for a youngish, light dram.