About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Monday, 31 August 2015

THE ARRAN MALT 14YO - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

A week and a half ago, I hosted an Arran tasting in the local club.

It was a tasting brought on mostly by the fact that I stumbled across an absolutely stellar 18yo Arran by indie bottler Morrison Mackay in their Carn Mor-series at a tasting with Peter Mackay during the Spirit of Speyside Festival in May this year. It was then further sparked by my second visit to the Arran distillery later on the same trip where some distillery exclusive bottlings convinced me it was time to have a good hard look at what the Arran Malt has become... 

We started with the standard 14yo...

The complete tasting lineup © The Malt Desk August 20th 2015

The Arran Malt 14yo, 46% Distillery bottling

Colour is white wine

Nose:
Sweet garden fruit and vanilla. Hint of raspberry, lots of honeyed malt and a hit of spicy oak. After a short while the spicyness becomes more dominant but never spoils the party

Taste:
Malt and apple, apple and malt, followed by spicy ginger notes, all delivered by a quite oily spirit. Some vanilla sweetness rushes in along with some lemon and peppery notes.

A very straight forward and honest dram on the oily and slightly side.
The combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks works quite well here, but I'd still not recommend this as a first buy to a whisky newbie... maybe as a bottle no. 3 or 4 when you've had a couple under the belt!

Nice stuff, for sure!

84/100!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

GLENBURGIE 1994 20YO - CHIVAS BROS CASK STRENGTH EDITION

Like the distillery in my previous review (Miltonduff) Glenburgie is a major contributor to the Ballantine's Blend - in fact so much that the owners has named it 'Home of Ballantine's'. Other major malt contributors to Ballantine's, BTW, are as mentioned Miltonduff, along with Glentauchers -also in Speyside- and Scapa Distillery on Orkney. 

As with Miltonduff, you often have to look to the indie bottlers to find a Glenburgie, but again Chivas Bros has done us a favour and bottled one in their Cask Strength Edition-series...

The Glenburgie Stills - Thanks to Bruce Crichton for the use of the picture

Glenburgie 1994 20yo (20.06.1994/05.08.2014) 50,7%, Batch#GB20006, Chivas Bros Cask Strength Edition, 50cl bottle

Colour is white wine

Nose:
A bit restrained and spirity at first, but it opens up after a few minutes in the glass and gives off notes of soft fruit (apples and a little peach mostly), hints of coconut and a handsome dose of vanilla and sweet malt and some crushed red berries and a little nipping oak.

Taste:
A good malty backbone wrapped in fruit, both a citrus and apple/pear style fruitiness. It has a slight waxy mouth feel with honey and hints of tinned pineapple. The finish gets slightly ginger- and peppery. Some good middle-of-the-road flavours takes this a long way without straying in any strange direction at any point. I see why this is a blenders favourite - this may even make it to be someones malt favourite!

Finally, thanks to Kalle for the sample

87/100!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

MILTONDUFF 1998 16YO - CHIVAS BROS CASK STRENGTH EDITION

A few miles south west of Elgin in Speyside, we find the Miltonduff Distillery.
Built on the site of an old Benedictine Abbey, its a huge distillery with 16 washbacks and 6 stills and an output of close to 6 million liters of spirit annually.

Miltonduff is one of the cornerstones in the Ballantines Blend. As a single malt, you have to seek out independent bottlings as official ones are few and far between until owners, Chivas Bros/Pernod Ricard decided to include it in their Cask Strength Edition series - so let's give this one a try...

Miltonduff Distillery - picture from Wikimedia Commons

Miltonduff 1998 16yo (06.03.1997/06.08.2014) 52,9%, Batch#MD16004, Chivas Bros Cask Strength Edition, 50cl bottle

Colour is white wine

Nose:
Comes across a bit hot on the nose, but there's also herbs, malt and apple appears there. Short after it gets very grassy and shows hints of pineapple as well...

Taste:
As on the nose its really hot on the palate, not 52,9% hot but another kinda hot, like a spirit cut that's run a bit off... Some pear and vanilla, a green note like biting into a straws of grass. Besides the already mentioned hot notes, it also delivers some else that I can only describe as a mild chili burn along with black pepper.

My palate is not agreeing with this one. It was to hot and I'm thinking it keeps the other notes down, not allowing this one even the slightest chance to shine. It can, however be drunk with a good splash of water - so its not all a waste.

A partial dud, IMO

Finally, thanks to Kalle for the sample

76/100!


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

TORMORE 1998 15YO - CHIVAS BROS CASK STRENGTH EDITION

Tormore Distillery, located right on the A95 road, is an impressive sight no matter from what direction you approach it. Its big, cathedral-like and has a large front garden with bushes cut in the shape of stills. But there are a lot of pretty distilleries in Scotland and also ones making more noise about themselves than Tormore does. So are this malt best off living a quiet life or can Tormore play with the big boys?

The impressive looking Tormore Distillery, October 17th 2014 © The Malt Desk

Tormore 1998 15yo (20.07.1998/19.06.2014) 57,4% Batch#TM001, Chivas Bros Cask Strength Edition

Colour is straw

Nose:
A variety of garden fruit and malt, warm apple pie,  and a vague hint of varnish. Green pesto, bread croutons and vague hints of curry, add to that some vanilla and grassy notes - a pretty much straight forward Speyside style. Do I detect notes of elderberry and cantaloupe in here as well?? The alcohol shows itself a bit but calms down with a few drops of water. This also brings out some lemon peel and herbal notes

Taste:
A malty and fruity floral theme comes out straight away. Also quite the spice, ginger and peppers. Pears are in here for sure along with sweet almonds. The fruits notes turn more tropical over time with honey melon and mango. The whole thing finishes of with a rush of thick malt and just a little oak.

Can this play along? yes, it certainly can! its a dram on the sweet side, yes, but an amazing nose and lovely malty finish takes this one a long way...

Good stuff!

Finally, thanks to Kalle for the sample!

86/100!


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

MORTLACH 1988 19YO - CADENHEAD AUTHENTIC COLLECTION

Its been 6 months since my last Mortlach review and in the meantime I found and opened a Mortlach that I first tried at a tasting all the way back in 2008. No notes were taken back then, but I remember it as traditional style sherried Mortlach and a very enjoyable dram.

So, does my taste buds of today agree with the ones I had 7 years ago?

The old maltings at Mortlach across the road from todays facilities, May 4th 2014 © The Malt Desk 

Mortlach 1988 19yo (b. 02.2008) 57,6%, ex-sherry butt, 664 bottles, Cadenhead Authentic Collection

Colour is light mahogany


Nose:
Very obvious and quite spicy sherry here - a very heavy classic Mortlach style showing in this one. Its quite dirty and moldy with some struck match and burnt toast. There's dried fruits (raisins) and hints of blackberry and cloves


Taste:

Dried fruit, candied orange and dark chocolate, wet tobacco and black cherries. sulphur as in wine style and quite an earthy note. Goes on with a little smoky nuts and dark caramel and a burnt wood note.





I'm not a fan of sulphury whisky, but this one has just the right amount to add to an edge to this whisky and the sensation is so evident here that I'd say for sure that the cask is the main contributor here. Its just too much for it to be the spirit on its own.

I don't think its as good as I remember it to be - from memory I'd maybe rate it an 86-87p, but its still a more than decent whisky!

83/100!

A few added thoughts...

This one comes across quite differently now than it did 7 years ago. So much that I have to ask myself a few questions about what stands out in this whisky from then 'till now...

Have I become more sensitive to sulphury notes ... and did know what they were 7 years ago?
I'm sure I have and yes, I did know back then... 


Have daily factores like time and food consumed been taken into account when tasting whisky?
Yes, I almost always taste whisky/take notes early in the evening and never after having strong or heavily flavoured food, like chili or curry

Has oxidation after opening and up to the point where I now review this bottle contributed to change the character of the whisky?
It sure has, which is why I don't review a whisky until its at least 1/3 down


So what can we conclude from this?
There are many factors that influence your sense of taste and smell, but most of all -or in this case for me- I'd say that 7 more years drinking whisky has made a difference.

In 2008 I was already well on my whisky-way, but its really from 2008 and onwards that I have made the biggest steps on my whisky journey - making that periode of time a huge part of how I've experienced this Mortlach and whisky in general! I'm picking up stuff both on noses and palates of whisky that I haven't before and I'm sure that if you ask me again in 5 years time, there's a chance its changed a somewhat again.

So get out there and try some whisky! There's great experiences to be had - especially if you try and go for older stuff/bottling and its certainly educational when you compare it with whats on the market today!

Friday, 24 July 2015

ANCNOC KNOCKDHU 1975 (2014) - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

A little over a year ago, I reviewed an earlier version of the AnCnoc 1975, bottled in 2005 - and its was very nice whisky indeed!

Recently, a good whisky friend of mine, provided me with the opportunity to try the 1975 bottled in 2014 which I of course was very happy to do :-)

During the Spirit of Speyside I also toured the distillery for the first time and a visit to the place is highly recommended. Its a smaller distillery, but its run by a group of people who really takes pride in the place and its whisky and it shows! 

As I mentioned in my previous AnCnoc review, call ahead as they're a working distillery and the good folk there will try and fit you in...


Some old tools of the trade at Knockdhu Distillery, May 4th 2015 © The Malt Desk

AnCnoc 1975 (2014) 44,2%, 1590 bottles,  Limited Edition, Distillery bottling

Colour is nutty brown

Nose:
Old lacquered cigar box, obvious oak, but the kind that provides dark honeyed notes. Alcohol soaked plums, overripe oranges and apricot, coffee with milk and lots of sugar, dark chocolate biscuits and old wood. Polished leather in there too and sometimes it seems like there's a little peat in this one?

Taste:
Bitter sweet sherry, hints of ginger, Danish spice cake and then oranges again, but there's also some sweet tropical fruit in here which makes me think of older BenRiach and/or Tomatin, add to that a very thin layer of thin cream caramel coating and a dusting of cocoa and wet tobacco leaves. Again I get the sense of a little peat, especially on the finish...

This is fantastic stuff and I'd take a bottle if it wasn't to damn expensive!

Finally, thanks to Stuart Terris for the sample

91/100!


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

BENRINNES 2002 36.81 - 'A MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY' - THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY

Benrinnes Distillery was up until 2007 one of the more odd ones in the family of distilleries. Why? Because it used partial triple distillation of its spirit - a practise only still used at Mortlach and Springbank distilleries. A complete triple distillation, however is still done at the Auchentoshan Distillery on the outskirts of Glasgow and, of course, with the Springbanks Hazelburn.

Like the other distilleries using this method, Benrinnes has been known to put out a slightly heavier and natural slight sulphury style of spirit which has often been used as a backbone in owner, Diageo's blends. Benrinnes also used worm tub spirit condensers, which is also said to add to a heavier spirit character.

Its not often we see an official bottling of Benrinnes, so if you want to try this you'll most likely have to turn to the independent bottlers like the one I'll be reviewing below...


Benrinnes Distillery from the road, August 26th 2012 © The Malt Desk

Benrinnnes 2002 36.81 (14.08.2002/xx.xx.2014) 11yo 'A Mad Hatter's Tea Party' 60,1%, 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel, 203 bottles, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Colour is pale gold

Nose:
Quite full, vanilla, hay, lemons, grist/draff, hints of raspberry and ginger and cooked sweet vegetable notes, oils and hints of mint and wet rocks

Taste:
Be careful with this - its over 60%! It's on stewed and candied fruit (citrus and apple) followed by a rush of barley, vanilla custard creme and waxy/oily feel to it. Added water brings out a white winey edge and also some floral notes.

Quite the dram with some of heavier notes coming through - one that'll grow on you!

86/100!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

GLENFARCLAS 12 (2014) - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

Last week I reviewed a cracking 15yo Glenfarclas at Cask Strength bottled for The Whisky Exchange... so I thought I'd continue the Glenfarclas theme by reviewing the 12yo expression.

For more background information on Glenfarclas, I'd like to suggest you read the introductions to some of my other Glenfarclas reviews.



Glenfarclas casks in one of their traditional dunnage warehouses, May 4th 2015 © The Malt Desk

Glenfarclas 12yo (2014) 43%, Distillery bottling

Colour is light amber

Nose:
Sherry and malt sweetness. fresh raisins, ginger, nuts, toffee and slight floral notes. The sherry is ever present though never invading, easily letting the other notes through.

A great nose, in fact... everything seems to be in just the right measures 

Taste:
Candied fruits, mainly oranges, honey, ginger, milk chocolate, more toffee/cream caramel and nuts. The experience gets quite malty on the finish along with some nice balancing oak spiciness.

This is a noticeable lighter in style than the 15yo standard bottling at 46%.
I'm not quite sure of the exact cask makeup of this, but I'm guessing maybe a ration of 60/40% sherry/bourbon casks.


This will make for a nice introduction to new whisky drinkers and will also satisfy the more experienced drinker, maybe as an every day dram.

It's straight forward, no BS whisky and for a standard 12yo offering it does what its supposed to do + a little more. Add to that, that it can be picked up for around €35 in Mainland Europe - for 1 liter !  - so great value!!

85/100!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

GLENFARCLAS 15YO 103 PROOF - DISTILLERY BOTTLING FOR THE WHISKY EXCHANGE

There's no denying it - Glenfarclas is one of my favourite distilleries and has been for over 10 years. Why? It's family owned (not really a reason - but I'm kind of a romantic, buhu!)...

No, let's be serious - I find Glenfarclas to deliver an incredibly consistent whisky and bottlings at every age, from the young and brute'ish 105 NAS to expressions as old as 60 years (out of most people's price range, of course). Add to that their incredible Family Cask series - so far the ones I've tried have all been excellent.

So what do I think makes Glenfarclas so good? Is it the barley? who knows... its about spirit yield these days and whatever strain of barley gives the best yield is often used and the barley for Glenfarclas comes from both the UK and mainland Europe - so no 'terroir' is really traceable there. The malting process is straight forward - done by commercial maltsters, so not guessing there's something special here either...

So how about water? its taken off of Benrinnes behind the distillery and is soft natural spring water, much like that many others producers use - so nothing special there either... in fact, some people say that the water doesn't have an effect on the final taste of the whisky...

Fermentation then? well, its done in stainless steel washbacks using a distillers yeast and goes on for at least 48 hours and usually longer over weekends. This creates the flavour compounds in the wash and without a degree in chemistry, its hard to pinpoint if some of the reason is hidden here...

So what do I think really matters - or at least stand out? 

First of all, the distillation process. This is certainly on my shortlist for what I think makes Glenfarclas one of my favourites... But isn't it done just at other distilleries? well, yes - but one main difference though. At Glenfarclas they direct fire their still using gas flames enclosed underneath their stills. This gives a more uneven heating of the stills, creating a fluctuation in the vapours making it across the swan neck before it condenses back into spirit.

I was told a story about how Glenfarclas from back when most distilleries were switching to steam heating (late 80s, I think it was).Glenfarclas also did some tests with this, but lab tests came back revealing a whole other composition of the Glenfarclas spirit - so they decided to stick with direct firing of their stills, although they did make adjustments to hide the naked flame to comply with new health & safety rules. As to a style change in other distilleries, I will not make any conclusions and have not heard any - although you often come across people mentioning the quality of whisky from when most distilleries still operated direct fired stills.

Also, one of the most important as well, is the casks used at Glenfarclas.
Mainly Oloroso sherry casks are used for maturation, but also Fino sherry casks are seen from time to time along with Port pipes. Bourbon casks are also used, but these are mainly sold off to the blending industry. The quality of the casks at Glenfarclas is kept high by a long time relationship with the Jose and Miguel Martin sherry bodega in Spain and the distillery is always involved whenever casks are picked to ensure a consistent high quality sherry casks... 

Finally, add to that the advantage of being a family owned distillery and being able to do what you want at all levels! Oh, and let's not forget the very passionate people working at Glenfarclas - both in production and Visitor's Center! :-)

Now, on to the review:


The Glenfarclas stillroom, May 5th 2014 © The Malt Desk

Glenfarclas 15yo 58,6% (103 proof), Distillery bottling for The Whisky Exchange

Colour is gold

Nose:
Quite approachable... creamy, even if its 58,6%...
Notes of alcohol marinated fruit - peeled plums, peaches and some apple with a sprinkle of cinnamon, some nuttiness, vanilla custard, nutmeg and clove and some damp earthy notes

Taste:
A lighter style of 15yo Glenfarclas, this one...
Spicy orange and plums, quite a load of malt, hints of sweet licorice, mid- to end palate spicy citrus fruit confit gets more prominent and the whole thing is carried there in perfect measures by the never overpowering alcohol. Finishes on cooked and apple and a little nuttiness

The standard version bottled at 46% is one of the best standard bottlings out there and still available decent price for a 15yo whisky these days.

But this is not your average 15yo Glenfarclas, for sure... as mentioned above it carries a slightly lighter style which really allows this whisky to shine. You can add a little water to reduce the alcohol if you like, without harming it...

A great pick by the folks at The Whisky Exchange!

Thanks to MBO for cracking this one open at a recent private tasting!

90/100!

Still available @ The Whisky Exchange for £79.95

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

BENROMACH 15YO (2015) - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

During the Spirit of Speyside Festival this spring, I -along with a few friends- had the pleasure of dropping by Benromach Distillery on our Sunday drive.

Success had clearly reached Benromach as they were expanding the parking lot and a coach from one of the Spirit of Speyside tours were already to be found in the parking area.

I'm always happy to see a distillery succeed, so Benromach (G&M), please promise me you'll keep you values and virtues intact in these booming times :-)

One of the whiskies adding to the success of Benromach is the recently released 15yo expression, a whisky been wanting to have a crack at since I first read about its release...

Here's my take on it:


The red chimney landmark at Benromach, May 2nd 2014 © The Malt Desk

Benromach 15yo (2015), 43% - Distillery bottling

Colour is dark amber

Nose:
Classic sherry Speyside profile + an added dose of smokiness - lovely!
Some lively oak here, hints of pencil shaving, lots of spices, ginger and chili bbq rub and slightly peppery with sweet wine that has a slightly dirty edge to it.

A few drops of water brings out charred oak, bonfire notes, distinct wet topsoil note and dark chocolate orange sticks


Taste:
A gentle smoky sweet arrival, like a mild bbq sauce style with honey glace along with some orange. Quite some dark fruits in there mid palate, mainly prunes and plums, and add to that a thick toffee coating.

Water brings out a garden fruit style style... like maybe apples left too long and starting to turn brown and also smoky nutty flavour but also flattens the whole experience a bit. The smoky notes lasts quite a while along with a little malt


Quite nice as a dessert whisky, I'd say - even though I feel it lacks a little punch and I'd drink this one without water. Would love to try this one at Cask Strength though...

85/100!

Official sample provided by Gordon & MacPhail / Benromach