Spirit of Freedom 30 Year Old is a blend produced by J & A Mitchell (the owners of Springbank), to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
It is composed of 75% malt whisky (from five distilleries) and 25% grain whisky – a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.
Spirit of Freedom 30 yo (46%, Springbank 2014, 2014 btl.)
Nose: herbal and floral at first. Heather honey. Becomes wider and sweeter, with nougat but also slightly exotic fruits (guava, banana). Nicely waxy, with some coconut oils. Mineral touches as well, it’s easy to detect some Springbank in there. Mouth: creamy and surprisingly fruity. Slightly exotic fruits indeed: pineapple, orange and papaya. Balanced herbal notes and waxed furniture. Vanilla. Honey. Pretty old-school, how nice to find this in a blend. Hardly any grainy notes. Finish: long, some grains now, hints of oak as well, but also fruity sweetness.
A very nice surprise, especially for a blended whisky. Well composed, interestingly old-style and very reasonably priced: around € 110.
I try to get a wide variety of distilleries on this website, but Bunnahabhain is pretty much incontournable when talking about independent Islay releases. While most of the other Islay whiskies are hard to get for independent bottlers, Bunna is still readily available.
Asta Morris’ latest release is a Bunnahabhain 1987.
Nose: punchy and coastal, with some brine and various oily notes. Leathery notes. Grasses. There’s a vague aromatic sweetness in the background, but not enough to call it fruity. Well, grapefruit maybe. Soft mint and a faint touch of smoke. Mouth: rich, much more fruity now, with less austerity and mineral notes. Ripe apple, some honey and berries, a little tangerine and banana. Still some earthy hints in the back, a little pepper and salt. Very rich. Finish: medium long, still quite sweet and fruity, almost candied with a mild earthy note and brine.
Excellent Bunnahabhain (like most other 1987’s I must add). It combines a punchy, coastal side with a big fruitiness on the palate. Around € 170.
Most of the Private Stock bottlings from The Whisky Agency go by pretty unnoticed, simply because they’re in high demand and yields are usually very low. This recent Glenrothes 1980 still seems to be available though.
Glenrothes 34 yo 1980
(48,5%, The Whisky Agency ‘Private Stock’ 2014, refill hogshead, 180 btl.)
Nose: a relatively light nose, starting on honey and almonds and slowly developing a nice fruit basket. Butter pear, nectarine, malon, freshly squeezed oranges, soft hints of guava. Subtle waxy notes too. Classic old Speyside. Mouth: rather sweet and fruity again, with apples, peaches, papaya and a little tangerine. Soft hints of cinnamon and ginger, enough to add depth but not drying. Quite oily, with hints of beeswax and polished oak. Floral honey. Finish: long, with a lime & mint combo and some resinous oak.
Really good, very bright, fruity and easy-going. Maybe not the most complex whisky ever, but it’s a rare example of the aged style of this Speyside distillery. Around € 290.
Having another Ardbeg 1974 single cask is always a treat, but with only 76 bottles this is also one of the rarest 1974’s around. Cask 3328 was released for the Italian market in September 2006.
Ardbeg 32 yo 1974
(53,5%, OB for Italy 2006, bourbon cask #3328, 76 btl.)
Nose: starts a bit heavy and heady, it’s definitely not a softie. Sharp lemon zest, walnut skins and plenty of medicinal notes. Brings along some sweeter notes like sugared almonds, herbal honey and wax candles. Great evolution and even better with a drop of water: it becomes smoother with lots of vanilla. Mouth: very powerful again. Huge sooty notes, hot ashes and a kippery side. Leather. Then some sweet and herbal notes, becoming slightly bitter as in herbal liqueur or cough syrup. Dark roast coffee. I prefer this with a few drops of water again, it seems a little unbalanced at full strength. Finish: very long, with vanilla notes, earthy peat and hints of grapefruit.
Another wonderful Ardbeg 1974, but it takes some fiddling with water to find the optimal strength to unleash its magic. Around € 2300 if you find one.
Nose: surprisingly farmy, something that I didn’t get from previous releases. Wet animal fur, hay and wet leaves. I also get thyme, grapes and burnt heather. Hints of yeast. Lots of dark bread crust as well as some vanilla pastry. Hazelnuts. Quite nice, more flavoursome than you would expect from a peat monster. Mouth: very peaty and ashy of course and overall maybe a bit alcoholic. Burning wood. Hints of warm vanilla in the background. Herbal liqueurs. Sharp grapefruity notes too. Salty liquorice and salted nuts. Not very complex but quite enjoyable nonetheless. Finish: very long, tarry, peppery and quite a sweet hint of chocolate and vanilla.
There’s a good deal of flavour in this whisky, despite its high strength and monstrous peat level. Around € 180.
It’s produced at the same distillery, from the same 1991 batch of casks. We’ve heard it was also double distilled (!) as well as being peated spirit. Peated Bushmills, almost.
I happen to have bottles of both, so I can compare them directly.
Irish single malt 22 yo 1991 (48,6%, Eiling Lim 2014, 116 btl.)
Nose: my first impression was a slightly bigger peatiness, but this levels out over time. This one is maybe slightly less sweet on the nose, but it does have a clear buttery / toffee note that the TNOTDD doesn’t have. Similar fruitiness (pear, maracuya, mango, banana) alongside the subtle peat and ever so light medicinal notes (menthol). Mouth: almost identical to the other cask, hard to set apart. A sweet, tropical fruitiness mixed with subtle peat that seems older than it actually is (1960’s Bowmore anyone?). Minty notes, a little walnut. Fades on creamy mocha. Finish: long, slightly earthy, still very fruity with a soft peppery touch.
You could say 2014 was a year of excellent independent Irish releases (both peated and non-peated), thanks to the Teeling family and a couple of bottlers with great noses. A must-try.
This Inchgower 1975 was bottled in 2013 but it hasn’t been released by Maltbarn until just now. It’s a strategy we saw before from this bottler, avoiding the moment when everyone seems to launch them and selling it when it’s not available any more.
Nose: starts waxy, with paraffin, linseed oil and polished oak, as well as some mint. Green apples, later also warmer fruits like melon, pear and pineapple. Soft passion fruits too. Hay. Subtle flowery notes. I love this kind of profile. Mouth: rather mellow and creamy. Vanilla custard, honey and malty notes, alternating with tropical fruits like tangerine. Soft spices and herbs (ginger, chamomile, a pinch of salt) as well as some citrus green tea. Finish: long, warm, on malty notes with oaky touches.
Very good Inchgower, on par with sister casks released in 2011-2013, in a warm, waxy and fruity style that’s hard to find these days. Around € 250.
The other day I was given I was given an early Christmas gift by my lovely parents: a box of chocolates by the famous Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. The selection is called Rare Whiskies and Rums – it includes six different chocolates with a filling based on whisky and rum.
The starting idea is that liqueur-filled chocolates are always based on a nameless spirit, probably not the best one around, which is a shame when you’re working with top quality chocolate like Marcolini. This time, a lot of effort was put into matching a specific whisky / rum to a specific type of chocolate.
At this level, I think the actual expression should have been mentioned. We can assume Marcolini used Oban 14 Years and Ardbeg 10 Years, but for Aberlour and Yamazaki this is less clear. There’s a huge difference between Aberlour 10, Aberlour 16 or Aberlour a’bunadh for example.
The Aberlour and Yamazaki combinations are nothing special. I mean, you can’t fault the chocolate in itself, but the whiskies are probably too bland to stand out. For me, this is still a middle-of-the-road liqueur praline (something I don’t like in general, I should add). I know the whiskies and I wasn’t able to recognize them.
The Ardbeg combination with hazelnut praliné works well though. The smokiness stands out and overall it brings out more flavours than just vague alcohol. To a lesser extent this is also true for the Oban combination, which has a slightly salty touch, and salt + chocolate is always a winner. However I think reducing both whiskies to just a whiff of smoke or salt is not doing justice to these fine drams.
The rum bonbons couldn’t win me over either. Overall I was disappointed, especially since I’m a fan of Marcolini in general. The box holds 16 small chocolates and is not worth € 50. My idea of pairing whisky with chocolate is still to have an actual glass of whisky and a quality bar of chocolate on the side.