This BenRiach 2005 is an 8 year-old – the youngest in the 10th batch of single cask releases presented in July 2013. It’s a slightly odd one, being a peated expression finished in a virgin American oak cask.
BenRiach 8 yo 2005
(58,1%, OB 2013, virgin American oak hogshead #3782, 310 btl.)
Nose: sharp, youngish peat (Kilchoman style), with plenty of burnt heather. Underneath is a bubble gum sweetness and some lacquered barbecue meat. Pepper and cinnamon. Also a slight pungency of jalapeño sauce and lemon. Water highlights the (drier) heather smoke. Mouth: hot – very peaty and very peppery. Not much more actually, although a vague apple sweetness appears towards the end. Water shows a little vanilla, but still hardly any fruits. Finish: very long, peaty and peppery.
This is straightforward peat and pepper juice. A fierce dram with little to offer – not sure why BenRiach insists on making this kind of style. Around € 60.
The 21st of September, a new release selected by The Whisky Mercenary will be available in stores. It is a Tormore 1998 single cask in the Gordon & MacPhail Exclusive series.
Tormore 14 yo 1998 (50%, G&M Exclusive for The Whisky Mercenary 2013, first fill bourbon barrel #1586, 277 btl.)
Nose: a modern profile. Plenty of vanilla custard and cake. Frosties. Hints of sweetened lemon juice and gooseberries. Evolves towards more candied fruits (pineapple cubes) but on the whole it’s not really a fruit bomb. A dollop of honey. Subtle oak, herbs and a few grassy notes as well. Mouth: sweet and juicy. Quite powerful as well, with a profile that echoes much older BenRiachs. Pears, pineapple and pink grapefruit. Some biscuity notes. Towards the end it returns to grass and a tangy herbal / bitter tonic combination that’s less appealing in my opinion. Finish: medium length, still sweet, but with a growing grassiness and soft bitterness.
On the nose I thought I had seen it all before: well-made but nothing special. However on the palate it does surpass the usual, modern, first fill bourbon profile. A nice, affordable daily dram. Around € 65.
Recently a generous Taiwanese friend sent me a great selection of samples, all from single cask Karuizawa expressions that are very hard to get outside of Asia. Thanks again, I really appreciate it!
Where to start… with the youngest one maybe? Karuizawa 1984 cask #2961, bottled for Japan. It features a rice paper label, completely in Japanese calligraphy. Other parts of this cask have been bottled for different purposes (120 bottles for the ANA Intercontinental hotel in Tokyo among others).
Karuizawa 27 yo 1984 (57,7%, OB for Japan 2012, cask #2961, 350 btl.)
Nose: a very oriental expression that’s also surprisingly high on glue notes and oil paint. I love that. Polished cedar oak. Opens up on raspberry jam, strawberries and sour plums. Raisins. Rhubarb! Also hints of fragrant lemon skin. Just a small nutty note and cigar leaves in the background. Very refined with the waxed oak theme ever-present. Mouth: very powerful, a lot of sandalwood and cedar again. Big big tobacco notes. Dates and raisins. Dark chocolate. Nutmeg. Sugar coated pecans. A little balsamic and liquorice. Develops tiny fragrant, perfumy notes as well. Overall quite dry. Finish: long, elegant, with brambles and cocoa powder. Some tannins as well.
I adore the nose of this Karuizawa. It’s oak-driven, but in a way that’s necessary to get this kind of oriental profile. I started with a higher score, but while sipping it lost some points because the dryness gets a little overpowering – even with water. Around € 550.
Flaviar is a club for premium spirits lovers and enthusiasts who are looking to discover new drinks. When you get a subscription (£ 25 a month), you will receive a tasting pack each month, containing five samples (5 cl) and a leaflet with specific information about each drink. The website includes an online community which allows you to discuss drinks, upload photos and organise your collection of drinks (taking part will get you free shipping).
Whisky is a big part of Flaviar: over the last 12 months, about half of the tasting packs feature Scotch single malts or American whiskey. On the other hand it covers rum, gin, cognac, Schnapps, grappa… as well. Their latest pack features tequila.
My first tasting pack was nicknamed Peat it, Peat it! so you can guess the contents. I would have liked some mention or explanation of the fact that most of them are non-Islay (therefore atypical as a peated selection), but that wasn’t the case.
The value of these five 70cl bottles is around £ 200 so you’re paying £ 25 for around £ 15 worth of liquid. Seems rather fair considering the overall presentation. They’re not aiming for geeks so don’t expect single cask releases or anything, but it’s still a nice way for enthusiasts to try different standard expressions and look beyond the world of whisky.
If you’re not inclined to get a monthly subscription right away, there’s a two month test flight or the option to buy one specific pack. Besides the tasting packs, they also offer bottle deals on drinks that were introduced in one of the packs. Signing up is free of charge, so feel free to look around.
Le Gus’t is a new bottler based in the South of France. Their first release was a Bowmore 1999 from the Signatory stocks (sold out). Today we’re introducing the second expression, a 9 years old Glenfarclas 2003 (Family Cask selection). Probably a first fill Oloroso like its sister casks.
Glenfarclas 9 yo 2003 (56,8%, OB Family Cask for Le Gus’t 2013, cask #1450, 316 btl.)
Nose: rather aromatic sherry. Cherries and strawberry jellies. Baba au rhum. Lots of cinnamon and big leathery notes. A little anise. Nice balance of drier notes and fruits. Walnut shells. Dried cigar leaves. Traces of antique wax. After a while fragrant raspberry comes out. Interesting for such a youngster. Mouth: a really zingy start. A tad spirity and extremely spicy. Liquorice, pepper, ginger and cloves. After some time it shows sour plums and oranges, dark chocolate. A little rounder with a few drops of water, with more dark fruits, chocolate and a little roasted coffee beans. Finish: long, a little hot (even with water). Some herbs, ginger and cocoa.
A surprising whisky for two reasons: its maturity and balance on the nose and its spicy, almost fierce palate. A great selection. Around € 120, quite heavy.
The Macallan Sienna is the second darkest in the new 1824 series, which contains naturally coloured whiskies sorted by hue. Check my review of The Macallan Ruby for more background information about the series.
Sienna is made from older stock than Gold and Amber. It is composed of both American and European oak casks – all first fill sherry.
The Macallan Sienna
(43%, OB 2013, 1824 series)
Nose: plenty of orange aromas, both in a juicy and zesty form. Clementines and peaches. A little honey and melon. Freshly baked apple and raisin pie. Hints of cinnamon and vanilla in the background. Also the lightest hint of polished oak. Quite bright and mellow. Mouth: again quite bright and honeyed. Surprisingly sweet and malty as well. Yellow raisins, orange syrup and ripe yellow plums. Apricots. Even hints of mango. Soft spices (ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg). Hints of cocoa towards the finish. Finish: long and fruity, quite syrupy again with oranges, light spices and mint.
I find this quite a feminine Macallan with bright, fruity notes and a surprising sweetness. Not your typical sherry influence, but good whisky (that could have been even better at 46%). Quite possibly the best choice of the 1824 series. Around € 75.
This is the fourth an last new expression in the Stamps series. Inchgower 1985, 28 years old.
Inchgower 28 yo 1985 (53,8%, The Whisky Agency ‘Stamps’ 2013, refill hogshead, 266 btl.)
Nose: starts on acacia honey and almond paste. Hazelnuts. Also something of waxed oak and gooseberries. Maybe a little coconut butter. Soft vanilla. Some leafy notes in the distance. A fairly rounded and integrated profile in which nothing stands out much, but quite enjoyable overall. Mouth: again sweet marzipan notes but also grassier notes now, some peppery heat and traces of oak. Lemon zest. Herbal notes. Some bitter oranges and liquorice wood. Finish: long, still fairly herbal (on the edge of medicinal). Some oaky and a hint of salt.
I’ve never had an easy-going Inchgower, there’s always a funny twist. Of course this makes them really interesting. Around € 160.
I am suffering from a blocked nose, so it will take a few days before I can pick up my usual tempo of tasting notes. Sorry!
About two weeks ago I attended a tasting of Japanese whisky organized by The Bonding Dram. I felt I had to be there, as Stefan Van Eycken hosted the tasting and picked the whiskies. Stefan is Belgian, but he has been living in Japan since 2000, and he is currently managing Nonjatta, the reference website when it comes to Japanese whisky.
The line-up he prepared was a mixture of common Japanese releases and a few Japan-only expressions which he brought in his suitcase. I would have sworn there was going to be a single cask Karuizawa, but alas, due to customs restrictions etc. that didn’t happen.
Here’s an overview of the tasting:
Nine Leaves rum (50%)
An interesting project of a Japanese guy who owns a company that produces car parts but then felt the urge to produce something from start to finish, not just parts of a bigger story. Nine Leaves Clear is the first release. It made us think it was new-make whisky although I thought it was closer to grappa. It’s nicely fruity (pear / melon) but the taste is rather flat and a tad alcoholic as well. Promising but room for improvement.
Nikka Miyagikyo 12 Year Old (45%)
Light, fruity and floral with subtle hints of sherry. The body has more oak, honey, citrus, toast and soft potpourri notes with a slightly sharp, resinous finish. Blind score: 84/100 That’s the same score I gave to Nikka Miyagikyo 15 Year Old
Nikka Miyagikyo NAS (43%)
Waxy, very fruity again. Honeyed and smooth. A bit light on the palate. Some pepper and apricot. Blind score: 83/100
Nikka Yoichi 10 Year Old (43%)
Slightly disappointing to me. I have a bottle of this one at home (reviewed here) and I’m quite sure this time it had a lot more matchstick notes. Other than that, I found it surprisingly one-dimensional after the Miyagikyo’s. Probably a case of batch variation. Blind score: 77/100
Karuizawa 12 Year Old (40%)
Rarely seen in Europe, but this is part of the standard range in Japan. Very malty with hints of dried fruits and toffee. On the palate toffee and vanilla – way too caramelly for my taste. This has nothing to do with single cask Karuizawa. I even like the Karuizawa Asama expressions better. Blind score: 79/100
Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve (46%)
The surprise of the evening. It contains only Hanyu whisky, finished in a French oak cask that contained Japanese red wine. Closer to a sherry finish than a wine finish, which is good news. Mint, figs, pine wood, ginger and grapes on the nose. Spicy palate with a chocolate background, nuts, ginger and candied banana. Very limited (no chance of still finding it here) but very good. Blind score: 88/100
Yamazaki 18 Year Old (43%)
Yamazaki 18 is one of my all-time favourites in Japanese whisky, but it didn’t shine as much as I would have expected. Polished oak, herbs, dried fruits, wax, mint and floral notes. On the palate more sherry goodness but also a slight soapy edge which set me off. Strange. Blind score: 85/100
Hakushu Heavily Peated (48%, first edition 2010, L9E01)
Nice, young peat – Kilchoman style. Mixed with some medicinal notes – Laphroaig style. Peat, pear sweetness and smoke in the mouth. Simple but well-made. Recent batches have higher ppm levels (50 ppm vs. 35 ppm) so this is one of the more gentle batches. Blind score: 83/100
Eigashima 12 Year Old (59%, 2010)
From White Oak distillery. Distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2010 from a Spanish oak sherry butt. Wrecked by sulphur and rubber. Add to that a winey, sharp palate that shows little more than rough peat. Not my style. Only 102 bottles were available and believe it or not, half of the audience was dying to buy a bottle. Blind score: 70/100
An interesting tasting. Too bad it ended in minor key for me, but obviously having the peated ones first would have been wrong as well. The highlights were in places you wouldn’t expect them. Also a good reminder of batch variation in official bottlings (Yoichi in particular has a bit of a reputation for this) – we don’t always pay attention to it, but trying different bottles over many years can be surprising.
I’ll try to revisit the Hakushu Heavily Peated and Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve later in a proper review.