Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Balblair 12, 15, 18 Year Old

Balblair moved away from its vintage expressions in March 2019 and launched a new core range with age statements.

We’ll have a look at their offering, starting at the bottom with the Balblair 12 Year Old. It is matured in ex-bourbon casks as well as double-fired American oak casks.



Balblair 12 YearsBalblair 12 yo
(46%, OB 2018)

Nose: rather lightweight, fresh and bourbonny, with butter cream, lemon meringue and floral honey. Sweet vanilla cake (of course), pears and muesli. Subtle hints of peach yoghurt. Mouth: easy and harmless. Lots of sweet malty notes, grapes and citrus, vanilla cake again and sweet apple pie. Honeyed notes. Then a little ginger and pepper, as well as lemon zest. Finish: the spicy / lightly bitter side of the oak grows stronger. Honey and nougat.

Not bad, but ex-bourbon casks tend to give this round vanilla and fruits combination, and it offers little more than that. Above all a very safe composition but I think even their youngest vintages (which were typically around 10 years old) offered a little more character. Get it here: TWE / Master of Malt.

Score: 77/100




Next up: Balblair 15 Year Old. This is a aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in first-fill Spanish oak butts. I’ve asked the distillery why they explicitly seem to avoid the term ‘sherry’ on all the new labels, but I never had a response.


Balblair 15 YearsBalblair 15 yo
(46%, OB 2018)

Nose: same style but it shows progression indeed. Juicy apricots, hints of raisins and yellow apples. Rounder than its younger sister, with less of the (re-charred) oak edge. Oranges, touches of leather. Cinnamon and vanilla still. Mouth: a creamy and rather fruity start (apples, peaches) with more oak spices along the way (clove, cinnamon) and a light earthy nuttiness. Subtle toffee and milk chocolate towards the end. Finish: medium, on nuts and spices.

It’s clear that the Spanish finish had a nice influence, adding some weight and complexity. Best value for money in the line-up. Same remark though: it might be a tad too civilized to really stand out in today’s whisky landscape. Get it here: Master of Malt / TWE.

Score: 83/100




And then Balblair 18 Year Old. It follows the same recipe: maturation in ex-bourbon casks and a finishing period in first-fill Spanish butts.


Balblair 18 YearsBalblair 18 yo
(46%, OB 2018)

Nose: the most aromatic and the most sherried. Apricot pie and poached pears, a little mango chutney and mirabelles, mixed with toffee. Some marzipan cake. Hints of sour oak and leather make it seem less sweet than its younger sister. Mouth: same juicy fruitiness (including a light tropical edge) moving towards raisins, chocolate and oak spice. Hints of walnut loaf and brown sugar. Finish: medium length. The fruits seem to have faded, leaving the earthy oak and cinnamon.

Although this 18 year-old is my favourite, having the nicest balance of juicy fruits and sherry wood, the added value over the 15 year-old is small. Get it here: TWE / Master of Malt.

Score: 84/100


While each of the Balblair whiskies is well composed and nice to drink, I feel the new range is rather close together and relies more on wood influence, especially the 15 and 18 year-old which share the same maturation and character. In my opinion the Balblair 15 Years is the most reasonable choice in the new range.

After it was relaunched and re-labeled in 2017, Ben Nevis was said to have difficulties sourcing enough casks for their excellent Ben Nevis 10 Year Old. There had been a general shortage already and the 10 was rumoured to contain quite a lot of older (+/- 18 year-old) casks bought back from brokers, which probably contributed to its lovely profile and instant praise.

Ben Nevis 10 Years relied mostly on refill casks, so to take away some pressure from this expression, they launched a limited edition Ben Nevis 10 Year Old Batch No.1 which was bottled from their stocks of first-fill casks (bourbon, sherry and wine casks), all filled 21st of April 2008 and released at cask strength.

Some sources claim there are around 9000 bottles with no plans to release a second batch. In the meantime there seems to be a steadier supply of the regular 10 (now with less of the older casks though).



Ben Nevis 10 Years Batch No.1 - Cask StrengthBen Nevis 10 yo 2008 (62,4%, OB 2018, Batch #1, first-fill casks)

Nose: you do get the bigger wine and sherry influence here, taking away some of the old-skool oily and dusty profile of the classic 10. Some raisins, black pepper, gingerbread and flinty notes, maybe a hint of gunpowder. Faint blackberries. Nutmeg. Moist earthy notes and tobacco. Mouth: cranberries and blackberries again, toffee as well. Quite winey indeed, including a drying mouthfeel of green pepper, walnuts and ginger. All-spice. It started sweet but becomes nutty and spicy, with light tannins and a hint of charred wood. Finish: medium length, fairly dry and oaky, with walnut skins and hints of dark cocoa.

This has a different character than the original 10 year-old, it’s not just a cask strength version. While the regular 46% is a future classic in my opinion (and I’m not the only one who says that), this is less convincing, with a slightly disturbing winey side. Not bad but we expected too much. Still available from The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 85/100

I was quite surprised to see two Littlemill bottlings in Germany earlier this year, but it turns out there’s more where that came from. Now Master of Malt released a Littlemill 1991 single cask expression.



Littlemill 1991 - Master of MaltLittlemill 27 yo 1991 (47,2%, Master of Malt 2018, bourbon barrel)

Nose: sweet, on melons, lime and pear, mixed with chalky touches and buttery vanilla. Typical notes of paraffin and carbon paper. Just a hint of banana bubblegum and almond paste. A little hay. Mouth: a great tropical fruitiness that comes close to some Irish whiskeys, with mango, guava,  and pink grapefruit. Almonds again. Makes place for herbal notes and grapefruit zest, dried grasses and white pepper. Finish: long, grassy, with oily touches and a vague fruity sweetness.

A great marriage of the Lowlands tropical fruits and the grassy, more austere side of the region. An old-skool profile that nobody is making today, I’m afraid. Really expensive, but a rare chance to try this distillery. Only available from Master of Malt.

Score: 91/100

Earlier this year Glengoyne launched a new series of annual releases called The Legacy series, which would highlight different elements of the distillery heritage.

The Legacy Series: Chapter One is the first expression. It focuses on Cochrane Cartwright, the 19th century distillery manager who decided to focus on sherry casks for maturation and introduce the ‘slow’ distillation process, now two key elements for Glengoyne’s profile.

Chapter One is a mix of first-fill European oak Oloroso sherry casks and second-fill American oak casks. It is said to be composed with mostly 9-12 years old whisky. Quite light in colour, with little indications of Oloroso sherry.



Glengoyne The Legacy: Chapter OneGlengoyne Legacy Series: Chapter One (48%, OB 2019)

Nose: fruity spirit in the lead, rather than the sherry character. Baked pears, almonds and honey. Orange marmalade, hints of apricot tarte tatin with vanilla sauce. Grain biscuits and green malty notes. Growing spices, mainly ginger and pepper. Mouth: a tad sharp, with some peppery notes and a slightly bitter edge of marmalade and orange zest. Green malty notes again, a hint of wood and alcohol. Syrupy notes in the background, as well as cinnamon and roasted nuts. Finish: not too long, with sweet and nutty flavours remaining. Cinnamon and almonds.

Chapter One is different from other Glengoyne whiskies, which is surprising if it’s meant to celebrate its heritage and quintessential features. It feels young, with green notes and spices instead of the richer sherry flavours. Available from The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt among others.

Score: 81/100

Brora 40 Year Old (2019)

Brora 40 Year Old

Diageo will release a new Brora 40 Year Old celebrating the 200th anniversary of the distillery. It is a vatting of 12 American oak hogsheads from 1978, bottled at 49.2% ABV. Only 1819 bottles will be available, reflecting the year of opening.

At around € 5000 this doesn’t come cheap, but interestingly it is cheaper than the Brora 40 Years released in 2014 which was around € 7500.

Brora is set to reopen next year – construction work is underway.



Karuizawa Ambassadors Collection

Karuizawa Ambassadors’ Collection

Elixir Distillers donated an exclusive bottle of Karuizawa Ambassadors’ Collection to raise money for The Ben at auction. It is a marriage of single malts from 1972 through to 1999 aged in sherry casks and bottled at 59.1% ABV. Only two of these bottles exist, one of which will stay in the Elixir archives.

Proceeds raised will be donated the The Benevolent Society of Licensed Trade in Scotland, a charity supporting people who have worked in the licensed trade.

You can register for the auction through now. It goes live on 18 August and ends 27 August. Last year a similar bottle of Karuizawa 50 Years was auctioned for £ 100,100.

I will be able to post my review of this unique dram soon.



Glenmorangie Turffle Oak Reserve 26 Years

Glenmorangie Truffle Oak Reserve 26 Years

Glenmorangie already launched a Truffle Oak expression back in 2005, finished in porous grained virgin oak casks made of truffle oak sourced in the Black Forest in Germany.

This was 1st April 1993 and it looks like the distillery is set to release another bottling from the same parcel of casks, now 26 years of age. Bottled at 55.7% ABV although this might change upon bottling.



Also interesting

Things that may not have been widely announced but that grabbed my attention in shops recently…

The second Gordon & MacPhail exclusive celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Whisky Exchange is this Caol Ila 2005, bottled from a refill sherry hogshead.



Caol Ila 2005 - Gordon & MacPhail for TWECaol Ila 14 yo 2005 (54,5%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange 20th Anniversary 2019, refill sherry hogshead #19/051, 142 btl.)

Nose: clean but surprisingly medicinal as well. Creosote, smoked bacon and iodine. Sweet lemon juice and cold ashes. Gets sweeter as it opens up, with vanilla cake and ginger syrup in the background. Mouth: strong, showing plenty of medicinal peat again, ashes and oils, but now slightly richer due to the sweet notes. Yellow raisins, toffee and a hint of mocha. Light pepper, seaweed and tarry notes. Finish: long, leafy, on liquorice and faint fruity notes.

Solid whisky, as expected, with the sherry adding some sweetness. Maybe not special enough a 20th anniversary though? Exclusively available from The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 87/100

This Speyside Blended Malt is classified as a tea-spooned whisky because the distillery can’t be named, but maybe the small manor on the label of this ‘Le Gus’t’ bottling hints towards another manor in a famous Speyside estate, responsible for the biggest part of this whisky?



Speyside Malt 1988 - Le Gus'tSpeyside Blended Malt 30 yo 1988
(53,7%, Le Gus’t 2019, sherry butt #15A/105, 518 btl.)

Nose: it’s the classic, dry, full-bodied sherry with tobacco leaves, walnuts and caramel brioche. Brownies, hints of hay, dried mushroom and burnt wood. Quite autumnal, very good. Mouth: quite punchy, still fairly dry on cigar leaves, roasted nuts, sandalwood and dark chocolate. Nutmeg and ginger. Plenty of minty notes and Seville oranges too. Leathery notes, tobacco and some charred wood in the end. Finish: quite long, on herbal notes, walnuts and oak.

Nice old-style sherry, although slightly on the woody side perhaps. If the distillery is what I think it is, then the price is fairly reasonable. Available from the Cave Conseil direct.

Score: 89/100


Balvenie has a range of Single Barrel expressions: 12 years (first-fill bourbon), 15 years (sherry cask) and 25 years of age (traditional).

Traditional Oak means refill ex-bourbon casks in the case of this Balvenie 25 Year Old Single Barrel. Each bottling is limited to 300 bottles at most.



The Balvenie 25 Years Single BarrelBalvenie 25 yo Single Barrel ‘Traditional Oak’ 1992 (47,8%, OB 2018, cask #3161)

Nose: quite fresh and vibrant, with hardly any make-up for the spirit. Banana candy, crushed mint leaves and floral honey. Some carpenter aromas. Grapefruit peel and a hint of ginger. Fragrant vanilla and new leather as well. Mouth: same feeling of balanced oak and plenty of lightweight flavours. Pears, apples, yellow plums. Hints of custard. Then more oaky hints, with white pepper, green tea and lemon zest. Finish: quite short, still zesty, malty, minty and cake-y.

Classic Balvenie, fresh and faultless, but you never get a feeling of grandeur or high age, which is a shame given the price. Available from The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt (although in this case it’s always difficult to know which edition you’re getting).

Score: 86/100


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August 2019
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Whisky reviews coming up

  • Karuizawa Ambassadors 1972 - 1999
  • Bielle 2011 (Rasta Morris)
  • Secret Lowland 2011 (Liquid Treasures)
  • Fettercairn 12 Years PX Cask
  • Compass Box Tobias & The Angel
  • Balblair 12 / 15 / 18 Years
  • Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011 / Bere Barley 2010

My article about sherry casks

3061 notes by Ruben

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