Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Balvenie Stories - Dark BarleyBalvenie Stories - Alwynne GwiltBalvenie Week of Peat

The other night I was invited to the Belgian presentation of the Balvenie Stories, a series of whiskies inspired by loyal craftspeople at The Balvenie and the great stories they told: tales of character, endeavour and craft. The distillery decided to record these stories and create three new whiskies.

You can listen to the stories on the Balvenie website. There’s also a book Pursuit: The Balvenie Stories collection which can be bought from Amazon. It includes short stories from some of the world’s finest writers, loosely inspired by the theme of pursuing dreams and chasing perfection.

While the oldest 26 Year Old is a single cask version that will be very limited, the other two expressions are here to stay and will get new batches as an on-going series.

 

 

As our host Alwynne Gwilt explained, The sweet toast of American Oak is an experiment with heavily toasted American oak. Working with Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky, they choose staves that were toasted much deeper than normal, bringing out more (and other) flavours from the wood. The classic Balvenie 12 Year Old was given a two month finish in these virgin oak casks.

 

Balvenie Stories - 12 Years American oakBalvenie 12 yo ‘The sweet toast of American Oak’ (43%, OB 2019)

Nose: quite bright for a Balvenie, showing a lot of citrus notes alongside the usual malty core. Some vanilla and ginger, fresh oak shavings (hints of cedar) and a hint of banana and juicy peach. Mouth: more malty notes, with firm oak spice (mint, ginger, pepper), later also vanilla, toffee and the classic honeyed notes. Some lemon peel and hints of banana. Finish: medium, mostly on vanilla and wood spice.

I’m not sure the deeper toasting had a significant advantage here. Virgin oak finishing is nowadays done by several distilleries and they all tend to get a similar outcome. This was a good, easy-drinking whisky, a significantly oaked up version of a 12 Years single barrel in a way. Perhaps that’s why the Belgian importer decided not to distribute it. You can get it from Master of Malt or The Whisky Exchange if you like.

Score: 82/100

 

 

Then there’s The week of peat, a 14 year-old smoky expression produced during the one week a year that the distillery processes peated malt (+/- 30 ppm phenols). The malt is dried with peat cut about an hour north of the distillery. An evolution of the Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years, but without the vintage statement.

 

Balvenie Stories - 14 Week of PeatBalvenie 14 yo ‘The week of peat’ (48,3%, OB 2019)

Nose: a very warm style of peat smoke, closer to a wood stove in winter than to the medicinal Islay style. Some heathery notes. Overripe apples, honeyed pastries, sweet lemons and a hint of vanilla. Mouth: perhaps a little more easy-going than previous editions. Medium-weight, nicely balancing warm smoke with a fruitiness of peach and honey. Sugared smoked tea. Some citrus brightness too. Finish: long, drier now, with smoke and light herbal touches.

All good and in line with previous peated releases: a fairly smooth, accessible peated Speyside whisky. The smoke mixes nicely with the distillery’s trademark fruity style. Around € 75, soon also available in Belgium.

Score: 86/100

             

 

The third releases is a 26 years old A day of Dark Barley which was made on a day in 1992 when the distillery took in a delivery of dark barley (chocolate malt) commonly used to brew stout or porter beers. It had a short germination (1 day instead of 5) and was heated in a roasting drum to around 1600-1800 EBC units (instead of… 30).

Half of this experiment was released as a 14 Year Old ‘Roasted Malt’ back in 2006, the other half rested further to become one of the Balvenie Stories.

 

Balvenie Stories - 26 Years Dark BarleyBalvenie 26 yo ‘A day of dark barley’ (47,8%, OB 2019, first-fill bourbon cask #6856)

Nose: sweet and malty, with biscuits and a few floral, fragrant overtones that reminded me of French oak in a way. Some darker hints of toast and chocolate, leathery touches and hints of marshmallows. Floral honey and bright oak spice. Mouth: sweet, almost syrupy, with slightly tropical fruits. Pineapple, bananas flambéed and orange peel. Hints of vanilla and ginger. Light chocolate notes towards the end. Finish: not that long, with oak spice and vanilla.

Really good again, with a rich profile that shows nice tropical fruits and floral notes. Don’t expect much darkness from the barley though, it’s still highly influenced by the first-fill bourbon cask. It’s also really expensive: around € 700-800. On its way to Belgium, already sold out in most other markets.

Score: 88/100


Among the latest batch of Artful Dodger bottlings, we find this 11 years old Tomatin.

 

 

Tomatin 11 Year Old - Artful DodgerTomatin 11 yo 2008 (56,1%, Artful Dodger 2019, bourbon hogshead #453, 323 btl.)

Nose: youngish spirit, very close to the raw materials. Gristy notes, barley, some yeasty bread and porridge. Lemon juice. Light vanilla and caramelized sugar, some grassy notes. Mouth: brighter but still fairly young, with a bold attack. Green fruits with a generous dose of peppery notes, aniseed and peppermint. Shortbread. Grass and roots. Some sourness and tannins too. Finish: quite long, with malty flavours, citrus zest and hints of mustard seed.

Decent spirit but too young and therefore a bit expensive for what it has to offer. Just in at The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 80/100


Among the new Single Malts of Scotland releases we find this Bruichladdich 1992. It is 26 years of age.

 

 

Bruichladdich 26 Years 1992 - Single Malts of ScotlandBruichladdich 26 yo 1992 (54,2%, Single Malts of Scotland 2019, ex-bourbon barrel #2864, 222 btl.)

Nose: apple peelings, green melons, hints of lemons and fresh hay. A few heady floral notes and touches of varnish. Green tea, minty freshness, perhaps a light whiff of chalk and sawdust as well. Very natural. Mouth: zesty and spicy, with a prickly side. Lemon peel, apples, violet sweets, melons again. Malty core. Chalky touches. Ginger and white pepper. Certainly a little green. Finish: long, spicy,

A very natural, slightly austere Laddie and although it’s hard to beat the younger (terroir-driven) releases on expressivity, this is a well-made malt. Available from The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 85/100


Not a lot of whisky news to announce this week, although of course there was the official presentation of the Diageo Special Releases 2019, with prices.

They will be arriving in stores soon and you can already (pre-)order from online shops like The Whisky Exchange or Loch Fyne.

 

 

Longrow 21 Year Old

Longrow 21 Year Old

An upcoming release from Springbank Distillers: Longrow 21 Year Old, a well-aged version of their double-distilled heavily peated expression, now in its 2019 edition. It is bottled at 46% ABV from a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Starting to arrive in UK stores as we speak.

 

 

Kilchoman 2010 vintage

Kilchoman 2010 vintage

Kilchoman presented the fourth and final release for 2019, the Kilchoman 2010 vintage. It is a vatting of 42 bourbon barrels and 3 Oloroso sherry butts, bottled at 48% ABV.

 

 

Also interesting

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


This is the first Cotswolds whisky in the Boutique-y Whisky Company range, probably the first independent bottling of this distillery and… the first Cotswolds I will try.

Established in 2014, it is one of six distilleries producing whisky in England. It was one of the projects guided by Dr. Jim Swan, famous for his ‘accelerating’ STR casks (shaved, toasted, re-charred American oak wine barrels).

 

 

Cotswolds 3 Years - Boutiquey Whisky CoCotswolds 3 yo (50,4%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company 2019, Batch #1, 1785 btl.)

Nose: light, with peaches, plums and vanilla cream, fructose sweetness and cereal biscuits. Jam on toast. You also get a bit of a virgin oak / freshly shaved woody touch, including a fragrant marzipan note. Mouth: good texture, showing bright fruity notes (peaches, berries, pink grapefruit) that are quite nice, mixing with warm oak without overdoing it. Vanilla biscuits again, plenty of malty notes. Some ginger and pepper and soft tannins. Toffee and chocolate towards the end. Finish: medium, on barley, apples and oak.

You can’t really blame them for pulling the STR trick: it does make the whisky feel more mature. Here it’s executed properly, with a fair balance. It might bring it closer to other distilleries that rely on STR, but for a three year-old this is simply very good. Available from Master of Malt.

Score: 82/100


Glen Grant 1956 - Gordon & MacPhail

 

Gordon & MacPhail have just presented a Glen Grant 1956 ‘Mr George Centenary Edition’ in honour of George Urquhart, the second generation of the family that owns G&M and the grandfather of the current directors. It would have been his 100th birthday just now.

He created the Connoisseurs Choice range in 1968, giving little-known distilleries a platform to present their whisky in its purest form, as a single malt.

The spirit, from one of his favourite distilleries Glen Grant, was personally matched by Mr George to a first-fill sherry butt made to his specific requirements. It is bottled after 62 years of maturation and presented in a decanter with a wooden case. Only 235 bottles will be available from specialist whisky retailers for £ 5000.

 

 

Glen Grant 1956 - Mr George CentenaryGlen Grant 62 yo 1956 (51,7%, Gordon & MacPhail ‘Mr George Centenary Edition’ 2019, first-fill sherry butt #4455, 235 btl.)

Nose: great intensity and aromatics. There’s a wave of oak polish up front, with whiffs of acetone. These fade and anyway, I adore them. Figs and Corinth raisins, lush cherries and blackberry jelly. Then eucalyptus, rosewood and cedar, caramelised brown sugar, old rancio notes and tobacco. Mediterranean herbs add to the freshness. Slightly tense floral notes and honey. Reminds me of the Book of Kells releases, just majestic. Mouth: the oak feels a bit but there’s much more to be discovered. Lots of pipe tobacco and cognac rancio again, then thick blackcurrants, even flashes of clementine and pink grapefruit and marmalade which make it lighter. Moves towards dark chocolate, nuts, clove and allspice. Hints of coffee. Subtle traces of smoked / charred wood. Finish: more chocolate, black peppercorn and oak char.

Quite spectacular how the cask enriched this whisky. A luscious, complex dram that you can nose for hours. It’s neither too dry nor flat, which is sometimes the case at this age. Expensive of course, but a special treat and a very worthy tribute.

Score: 93/100


Ardbeg Ar11 is one of the latest Elements of Islay releases. Matured in a combination of American oak ex-bourbon and first-fill Pedro Ximénez sherry butts.

 

 

Ardbeg Ar11 - Elements of IslayArdbeg Ar11 2000 (56,8%, Elements of Islay 2019, 840 btl.)

Nose: pretty exemplary. Black raisins, figs, oranges, poached pears, with a nice juicy sour touch (rhubarb compote, citrus). Cold ashes and tar, seaweed, lovely tobacco notes and hints of leather. Light pencil shavings. Actually fairly elegant and not over-PX-ed, I like that. Mouth: much more intense now, with a blast of camphory peat and rich smoke. Big peppery notes too, as well as clove, before it goes off to dark chocolate, liquorice, raisins, brine and tapenade, burnt caramel, dark roast coffee and herbal notes. Quite massive now. Water brings out more mocha and more woody notes. Finish: long, with a return of plummy notes, alongside aniseed and peppery oak.

It’s only so often that you see Ardbeg sherry bombs, but they tend to be really good. Recommended.

Score: 90/100


Unnamed Speyside single malt distilled in 2005 and bottled by Maltbarn. Based on similar releases from other independent bottlers, it is probably a Mac.

 

 

Speyside Malt 2005 - MaltbarnSpeyside Malt 14 yo 2005 (50,4%, Maltbarn 2019, sherry cask, 175 btl.)

Nose: very juicy, bright and lightweight sherry. Marmalade, sour berries, mirabelles and greengages. Apple peel. Hints of (somewhat prickly) oak varnish and a slight grassiness. A little pipe tobacco and almond in the background. Mouth: similar to what the big M is releasing lately. Malty notes, marmalade and citrus again, now more nutty notes as well (walnuts, almond). A little ginger cake, white pepper and soft resinous herbs, as well as some plain oak. Jaffa cake. Finish: quite long, with a toasted, grassy edge and hints of dried fruits.

By no means a sherry powerhouse, but still a nice modern whisky with juicy fruits and balanced oak. Around € 100 from Maltbarn direct.

Score: 86/100


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Whisky reviews coming up

  • Single Malts of Scotland: Reserve Casks
  • Infrequent Flyers (Alistair Walker)
  • New Artful Dodger bottlings
  • Millstone Oloroso
  • Glenugie 1977 (Signatory Vintage)
  • The Gauldrons Batch #5
  • Bimber The First

My article about sherry casks

3114 notes by Ruben

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