Single malt whisky - tasting notes

There’s a new batch of Artful Dodger bottlings but they seem to arrive in a random order. TWE offered this sherry matured Springbank 18 Years (no vintage) a few weeks ago, but not the other releases. And no sign in other stores, better keep your eyes peeled…

 

 

Springbank 18 Years - Artful DodgerSpringbank 18 yo
(45,9%, Artful Dodger 2019, first-fill sherry hogshead #646, 392 btl.)

Nose: old leather, some car workshop aromas and even light farmy touches (sheep stable). Slightly Brora-like, nice. Then some roast meat and tobacco, some nutty touches and flints. Spanish fig bread and dates in the background. Orange (peel), menthol and a hint of oak char too. Mouth: very umami-rich again. Seared meat, mushrooms, toasted wood and plenty of leathery notes. Some medicinal touches, black peppercorn, ink and Seville orange. Traces of tangerine. Walnuts and glazed chestnuts. More than a hint of smoke. Finish: long, still rather smokey, with mineral notes, orange peel and light herbs.

First-fill sherry with a fairly low ABV, but it turned out very well. Perfect strength and a very savoury (yet clean) sherry style. Hard to find, but I’ve heard more stock be go on sale soon.

Score: 90/100


I attended Spirits in the Sky last weeke-end and while I don’t go to whisky festvals as much as I once did, it’s safe to say this is still the best place to experience the Belgian whisky scene and stay up-to-date about the new releases.

 

Spirits in the Sky highlights

I’ll start with very quick impressions of a few new and upcoming releases – this is probably what people are mostly looking for. Mind that these are just casual tasting impressions…

 

  • Undisclosed Speyside 27 yo 1992 (46.2%, Infrequent Flyers, barrel #4406044)
    A great new release in the second batch from Alistair Walker. A generous fruit salad with honey, in the style of Glenlivet, BenRiach or something similar. The Glen Elgin 2006 and Linkwood 2010 were also good.
  • Kilkerran 15 Years Fino Cask (52.1%, single cask for Belgium)
    A bit hyped, but it doesn’t really live up to expectations.
  • Springbank 10 Years ‘Local Barley’ (56.2%, 2019 release)
    From the same vintage and barley farms as last year, with a similar outcome. Really characterful whisky but earlier editions had more depth.
  • BenRiach 33 yo 1985 (48.1%, peated / virgin oak hogshead #7214)
    Really good: a mix of tropical fruits, balanced peat and oak spice. Quite a unique profile, executed perfectly. Too bad it’s so expensive.
  • Tamnavulin ‘Vintages Collection’ 2000 (45%, OB 2019)
    From a brief five week period in which they were distilling between 1995 and 2007. Rather bland. Barley and caramel, little more I’m afraid.
  • Highland Park 10 yo 2008 (59.8%, refill hogshead #7779 for Spirits in the Sky 2019)
    Big, big sherry, perhaps a little over the top for some, and not entirely as clean or fruity as I’d like. Recommended for those who like meaty, full-bodied sherry bottlings though.
  • Highland Park Triskelion (45.1%, OB 2019)
    Striking a much better balance of classic HP notes. Orange peel, subtle peat, gentle sherry notes and oak spice. Three types of casks so a bit for everyone. Pricey though.
  • Glen Elgin 23 yo 1995 (45.7%, Nectar of the Daily Drams 2019)
    What you’d expect from middle-aged Glen Elgin: very fruity with balanced oak spices. Fresh, solid whisky.
  • Ben Nevis 8 yo 2011 (62.6%, Signatory Vintage for The Nectar 2019, cask #148)
    Much younger than the independent Ben Nevis we’re mostly seeing these days, but it’s easy to see this is the same style. Characterful whisky, good value for money.

 

 

Pilar Garcia & Stewart Buchanan

I also attended a masterclass by Stewart Buchanan (of BenRiach / GlenGlassaugh / GlenDronach) and Pilar García (of Valdespino, a well-known sherry house which recently arrived in Belgium). Their tasting was meant to showcase the interaction of different types of sherry (casks) and their influence on whisky maturation.

 

We started with a very interesting bottling: Glenglassauch ‘Massandra Collection’. Now this is Russian wine in the style of sherry. Stewart confirmed that looking at these casks you can tell they’re not American nor European oak but probably Russian oak, which was relatively common in the Scotch industry until the 1860s or so when sherry casks became popular.

In any case this must have been a very old cask, perhaps over a hundred years and maybe 4th of 5th fill, which are hard to keep in shape.

 

Glenglassaugh 1972 - Massandra CollectionGlenglassaugh 39 yo 1972 ‘Massandra Collection’ (53,3%, OB 2012, sherry cask finish, 328 btl.)

Nose: slightly tropical and overripe fruits. Pineapple, apricots, black bananas. Quite estery, with whiffs of old rum. Some leather and varnished wood. Buttery vanilla cake and a wee salty note. The sherry is subtle of course. Mouth: intense after so many years, with an obvious white pepper note before it bursts into fruity notes. Pear, mango, pineapple, maybe some kiwi. It’s very elegant, with just a light winey touch and subtle vanilla. Finish: long, honeyed and slightly floral, with light woody notes.

A great whisky, powerful and silky smooth at the same time, with a lovely tropical fruitiness and very little cask influence. Perhaps not the best example to showcase what a sherry cask can do, more an advocate for old, almost exhausted wood in a way. Nonetheless wonderful stuff.

Score: 93/100

 

 

BenRiach 1975 cask 7227 - Asta MorrisBenRiach 35 yo 1975
(51%, OB for Asta Morris 2011, Oloroso hogshead #7227, 236 btl.)

One we reviewed extensively when it hit the market. All I can say is that it confirmed its reputation.

It has most of the 1976 tropical fruitiness, guava, passion fruits (with a little more weight), great cognac-like notes and subtle oak spice. Wold-class whisky – always a pleasure to try it again!

 

 

 

BenRiach 1977 PX cask 1033BenRiach 33 yo 1977 (52,2%, OB 2010, single cask #1033, PX sherry finish, 331 btl.)

I also knew this one. We’re suddenly in a whole other sherry territory here, much darker, with some meaty notes. I even detected a certain smoky / diesel-like note now. Also the herbal side (menthol, cough syrup) struck me this time.

Heavy sherry, heavy oak, but in an enjoyble balance. Auction material as well.

 

 

GlenDronach 1990 PX cask 7905GlenDronach 28 yo 1990
(51,7%, OB 2019, PX sherry puncheon #7905, 660 btl.)

I reviewed sister cask #7005 but not this one.

Nose: deep, clean, sweet sherry. A lot of oak spice and roasted coffee notes, which makes it rather dry overall, with less raisins and figs than you’d expect. Dark blackberries and treacle underneath. Mouth: dark toffee, gingery notes. Liquorice, pepper and coffee. Plenty of chocolate and Black Forest gateau. Finish: long anc punchy, with wood spice and plums.

Clean and very rich GlenDronach, pretty perfect but slightly on the darker, chocolatey side. A good example of Pedro Ximénez casks indeed. Still a few available in Belgian stores.

Score: 90/100


Starward for The Whisky Exchange

Starward is Australian malt whisky produced in Melbourne since 2007. Like their own Starward Solera expression, this single cask release for the 20th Anniversary of The Whisky Exchange was bottled from an Apera cask.

In 2010 the Australian fortified wine which had historically been called sherry underwent a name change to apera. After all Sherry (or the Spanish version Jerez) is a protected designation of origin, which after decades Australia decided to respect in an agreement with the EU. It comes in similar styles, from dry to very sweet, but contrary to sherry it is often seen as a cooking condiment or a cheap aperitif rather than a high-quality wine.

Although they mention second fill, it seems these Apera casks are re-coopered and re-toasted before being used in the Starward solera so they may be punched up a little compared to Scottish second fill casks.

 

 

Starward 2012 - Whisky ExchangeStarward 7 yo 2012
(59%, OB for TWE 20th Anniversary, 2nd fill Apera cask, 220 btl.)

Nose: quite sweet and vanilla-driven, with plenty of custard, toffee, baked apple and cinnamon pastry. Rice pudding with lemon peel. Also baked pineapple, tinned apricots and hints of marshmallows. A kind of French oak fragrant touch as well (akin to potpourri). Mouth: sweet and fairly rich, with a rummy feel at times. There’s thick banana, creamy pineapple and vanilla ice cream, before a big, warming oaky side comes to the fore (pepper, leather and quite some caramel). Cinnamon pastry. Stewed apples. Milk chocolate. Finish: long, with oak spice and sweet banana cake.

This Starward has a style of its own, with hints of Scotch but also the sweetness of American bourbon. It seems the apera cask mostly contributed sweetness. Check it out if you like rich, dessert-style whiskies. Only available from The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 86/100


One of the Special Releases 2019 that got me excited was this Talisker 15 Year Old, the first time this is seen as an official release of this age. It’s a 2002 vintage matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads, bottled at natural strength.

 

 

Talisker 15 Years - Special Releases 2019Talisker 15 yo 2002
(57,3%, OB ‘Special Releases’ 2019, freshly charred American oak hogsheads)

Nose: rather bright and mellow at first, with some banana cake and stewed apples, smoked peach and iodine. A little wax and vanilla. Rather summery and blossomy, but not too soft. Light chilli and cinnamon. Mouth: quite powerful, more of the trademark (green) pepper and ashy smoke now. Apples and cinnamon, raisins, maybe charred pineapple and honey. Salty notes as well, with more iodine and seaweed than I was expecting. Bitter almonds and herbs. Finish: long, with earthy spice, mint and wood smoke.

This starts with a nice mix of fruits and coastal notes on the nose. On the palate it’s quite peppery and again quite coastal. A punchy Talisker, slightly deeper and spicier than most. Available from The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt among others.

Score: 88/100


The Fisherman's RetreatThe Fisherman’s Retreat is a restaurant and wedding venue near Manchester, but they also have a valued whisky bar and store.

We’ll be trying two of their shop bottlings: an Arran 2013 (Yalumba Octavius Shiraz wine cask) and a Port Charlotte 2008 (Haut Brion cask). They seem to have a preference for red wine casks (specifically from the Southern hemisphere), also for their previous releases.

 

 

 

Arran 2013 Yalumba - Fisherman's RetreatArran 5 yo 2013
(54%, Fisherman’s Retreat 2018, Yalumba Octavius cask, 191 btl.)

Salmon colour. Nose: slightly gimmicky red wine maturation, like in the early days. Cooked strawberries, pomegranate and a hint of rubber. Rosé port notes and old roses. Hints of pink grapefruit as well. Some porridge in the background. Mouth: oh so winey. Strawberry bubblegum and vanilla. Hints of liquorice, aspirin, mandarin peel and this tangy dryness of a red wine. Malty notes, toffee and oak spice, mostly pepper. Finish: not too long, slightly hot.

Some casks simply don’t work too well with whisky in my opinion – it’s easy to drown Arran spirit with red wine. At around € 100 for a 50 cl bottle, difficult to recommend. False start.

Score: 71/100

 

 

 

Port Charlotte 2008 Haut-Brion - Fisherman's RetreatPort Charlotte 10 yo 2008
(54%, Fisherman’s Retreat 2018, Haut-Brion cask, 360 btl.)

Nose: now this can stand up to a bit of red wine. There’s the typical farmy / peaty side, with plenty of cured Spanish hams and dark cecina, old cellars and attics and hints of warm beach sand. Smoked cereals. After a while nice, jammy fruits appear (cassis, cherries). Some buttery vanilla and toffee in the background. Nice and clean. Mouth: very ashy and smoky, a lot of cured meats again, as well as some smoked lemons, blood oranges and kippers. Dried pear. Pipe tobacco. Hints of juniper. Just a wee sour note from the wine cask. Finish: rather long, with sweet and sour fruits, liquorice, dark smoke and herbal notes.

This is much more like it. If you insist on using red wine casks, then choose a powerful spirit. Same price: around € 100 and much better value in my opinion. Available from their online shop.

Score: 86/100


Ardbeg Blaaack

Ardbeg Blaaack

Pinot Noir casks from New Zealand: the key element for the upcoming Ardbeg Blaaack. A black sheep on the label expresses the fact that this is truly a whisky apart. The Committee 20th Anniversary edition is bottled at 50.7%, traditionally there’s a common version at 46% for Ardbeg Day.

 

 

Mortlach 15 Years - Game of Thrones

Mortlach 15 Years ‘Six Kingdoms’ (Game of Thrones)

The ninth and final bottling in Diageo’s Game of Thrones series is a Mortlach 15 Year Old ‘Six Kingdoms’.

It has been matured in first-fill sherry seasoned casks and finished in American oak ex-bourbon casks. Pretty much the inverse order although nowadays we’re seeing bourbon cask finishing more often. Bottled at a standard 46% and available for around £ 120 / € 135.

 

 

Redbreast 27 Years - Ruby Port

Redbreast 27 Years Ruby Port

Redbreast is about to launch a Redbreast 27 Year Old ‘enriched by’ Ruby Port Casks. This should lead to hints of dark fruits, blood orange and walnuts. It is bottled at 53.5% ABV. Interestingly the label says ‘Batch No. B1/19’ so there’s a good chance it will become an ongoing release.

 

 

Also interesting

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


Cheaper by the DramCheaper by the Dram is a new whisky sample service specialized in rare and unique drams. They are sourcing collectable whiskies from auctions and collections and make them available as 3 cl samples.

It’s a shame that they can’t mention the distillery on the sample bottle, nor publish a picture of the actual bottle that is being shared. It has to do with SWA labeling requirements and copyrights, they claim most other sample services are walking on a thin line. However they can link to Whiskybase profiles.

 

Cheaper by the Dram

 

Anyway they offered me to test-drive the service and sent me a sample of this Glen Garioch 21 Year Old 1965, the lighter version at 43% bottled in the mid 1980s (there’s also a darker bottling and one at higher strength). A perfect experience: nice packaging with shrinkfoil sealed screwcaps, reliable shipping, no complaints at all. In fact I find the name quite strange: it’s not cheap in any way (and it shouldn’t be).

Other whiskies are already announced on the website, often in pairs: the first Octomore, old Macallans, Laphroaig 15 Years from the 1980s and 1990s, etc.

 

 

Glen Garioch 1965 21 YearsGlen Garioch 21 yo 1965 (43%, OB mid 1980s, light vatting)

Nose: oldskool whisky. Herbal notes, menthol, old metallic tools and silver polish, a little chalk. Old waxed papers and leather. Wet limestone. A great minerality and linseed oiliness, with very light coal smoke. Light fruits in the background. They don’t make it like this any more. Mouth: sweeter, but with plenty of herbal notes. Cough sweets and tea. Mint liqueur. Plenty of tobacco. Candied ginger. Light hints of meadow flowers and chamomile, but no perfumy notes. Orange peel. Pepper and eucalyptus. Finish: pretty long but thinner, with herbal tea, light coffee, minty notes and resin.

Complex, ‘slow’ whisky with some degree of austerity but also very seductive touches. I love these hints of garages and metal workshops. Truly old-style. Not available but be sure to check the other great offerings from Cheaper by the Dram.

Score: 92/100


Another STR cask whisky. These are red wine casks treated with Dr Jim Swan’s proprietary shaving / toasting / re-charring process. The wine adds depth but the shaving and re-charring takes away the excessive winey edge, while also eliminating the rough new oak elements. A mix of seasoned and virgin oak if you like, mostly used by young distilleries (like Gouden Carolus and Cotswolds) to beef up young whisky.

Kilchoman STR Cask is a combination of 43 hogsheads, filled with 50 ppm new make and aged for around 6-7 years of age.

 

 

Kilchoman STR Cask 2012Kilchoman 2012 STR Cask
(50%, OB 2019, 14500 btl.)

Nose: a lot of caramelization and barbecue notes. Lots of ashes. A red berry and grape theme as well. Raspberry candy, a light touch of balsamic. Bananas flambéed. Big peppery notes and some fresh oak shavings. Mouth: sweet at first, quickly becoming more acrid and peppery. Quite strong. Salmiak, big earthy peat and tarry notes. Chilli chocolate. A bit of berry sweetness but the winey side is less strong now. Salty hints and drying wood towards the end. Finish: long, drying and just a tad harsh, with pungent pepper, some tannins and heavy black tea.

The balance with the red wine is fine, I think the peppery kick and peat blast are more prominent than the wine. A flavoursome, punched up Kilchoman, I wonder who came up with the idea to give this spirit an extra kick in the butt? Still available from TWE and MoM for instance.

Score: 83/100


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Whisky reviews coming up

  • Ben Nevis 1996 (Maltbarn)
  • Talisker 41 Years vs. 40 Years
  • Single Malts of Scotland: Reserve Casks
  • Nectar Grove Batch Strength (Wemyss)
  • Springbank 18 Years (Artful Dodger)
  • Glenugie 1977 (Signatory Vintage)
  • The Gauldrons Batch #5

My article about sherry casks

3133 notes by Ruben

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