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.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

HIGHLAND PARK 2003 12YO - DISTILLERY BOTTLING FOR BRAUNSTEIN & FRIENDS

Its been a while since the last update here on The Malt Desk itself. As always other stuff (life) seems to interfere incl a 10 day trip to Scotland (Speyside & North Highlands) did provide for updates for The Malt Desk's Facebook page and Twitter (@themaltdesk)

But there has also been a streak of writers block much derived from some of the things happening with whisky at the moment but I will not get into that in this post...

In March this year, at the Danish Whisky Fair, plans were revealed to me that Highland Park try and return to their roots and start doing stuff like single cask bottlings for various markets again - something that had not been done much of over the past 5+ years... and on the 15th October this year, the first single cask for Denmark in a number of year was released as a part of Danish Distillery Braunstein's Whisky Fair. The bottle is a 2003 12yo heavily sherried release that immediately caught the attention of Highland Park fans - especially through the Highland Park Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

I decided to order the 2 bottles per person limit in pre-order and upon receiving the bottles, the online chatter about this bottling had really taken off with most asking how to get a full bottle as it had sold out over the release weekend or asking how to obtain a sample. Some had also tasted it at the Braunstein Whisky Fair and was raving about it, statements that spiked my curiosity further. After posting of my (so far closed) bottles bottles on Facebook, I had more and more people asking for my opinion on it - both in regular posts and in private messages which means there must be at least a few people out there that values my opinion ;-)

Anyway, its good to see Highland Park returning to releases like this. The only sad thing is that people are selling them off straight away for a profit...

Oh, wait I just did get into one of the things that's been keeping me away from the blog for a while...


So, let's take a look at this single cask Highland Park... 

I had a couple of friends try this one out as well and got a couple of interesting descriptions from them :)
The most descriptive one must be this from my friend MBO:
"This whisky is so massive that its the fluid embodiment of Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen, sweaty and reeking of masculinity in nothing but a kilt charging down onto the beaches from the cliffs of Yesnaby while wielding a two-handed viking broadsword, defending the Islands from whisky raiders"
My other friend MP was a bit more traditional:

"This whisky is such strong sherry influenced whisky, so strong it resembles red  balsamic vinegar and spicy oak juice and leaves little else to the drinker"


You can read my personal notes and thoughts below the picture...

The entrance to Highland Park Distillery, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Highland Park 2003/2016, 12yo, 58,3%, 1st fill European Sherry butt#5878, 648 bottles, Distillery Bottling for Braunstein & Friends, Denmark

Colour is dark mahogany
Lets hope it doesn't have any s-notes - regular readers will know I'm sensitive to that :O


Nose:
Huge on sherry and struck matches on the nose, turning towards reduced tomato glace - a little sweet peat smoke is surfacing, but its struggling to make its way through. There's some dark chocolate, charred oak and with water some café latte and mentholated notes. The peat smoke is also more noticeable now along with a fruity sweetness subdued by the strong sherry, charred and struck match notes. The reduced nose down to maybe 45% leaves little or no trace of unpleasentries.

Taste:
Again big on the sherry, red balsamic vinegar, charred wood chips and prune juice, grilled beetroot left too long on the bbq, dark old style sugar cane rhum and burnt molasses, spicy sherry oak notes, burnt grilled sausages, damp peat and something like inhaling the smoke from burning your organic garden waste. The finish is carried a long way by the sherry but then gets the dreaded pop-up of sulphur of the matchstick kind - like on the nose. 
It's certainly quite a massive release this one and in trying to come up with a conclusion to this one and it must be that, as my initial impressions followed through...

Closest comparison I'll make is that its a Highland Park 'Dark Originis' on steroids. That said, there's still something more in this one as in quite bit more sherried, there's more peat smoke and charred notes. Sadly there's still noticeable matchbox sulphur in here too. I know that a lot of people like this note and on top of that statistics also shows that close to 30% of all people can't even pick up the note.

I remember older bottlings of Highland Park not having this distinct note (reference here are the old OBs e.g. the 12 & 18) and when I argue this its because I also find it, very vaguely though, in the new releases of the OBs and vaguely probably because they've:

1.
 Been watered down to 40/43%

2. The amount of first fill casks going into these are obviously smaller than when dealing with a single cask bottling like the Braunstein & Friends-bottling 

I'm sadly left with the feeling that its just the style of sherry casks Highland Park get from their contracted bodega - or at least it was back in the day when this cask was laid to rest in 2003.

What I'm then left to ponder over is whether the 30% not able to taste these notes + those that like these notes is such a large part of the customer base that its not worth spending time and money trying to get rid of it??

All these things said (some less flattering) its still good whisky as you can water your way out of the matchstick sulphur in this - or at least down to an acceptable level. Luckily for me the matchstick kind isn't the type I'm overly sensitive to (its the rubbery kind) so Yes, I can drink this neat but the presence of matchstick sulphur just irritates me as this bottling could have been a belter without it!

Are you looking for a score? ok, I'll give you one...

86/100

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

HIGHLAND PARK 'HOBBISTER' - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

As with many recent bottlings of Highland Park, there was also a bit of fuss surround the release of the 'Hobbister'... The fuss, however was a bit more of a technical kind. Only 1200 bottles was released of this one and it was only available at the distillery itself and/or online in the distillery webshop...

The web traffic generated when the bottles went online made the Highland Park website crash so you couldn't finish your order. People were also queueing outside the distillery to get a bottle, so what a start for this bottling, eh? :) Bottom line is that it sold out in a flash when the website was working...

Official picture by Highland Park 

Anyway, this bottling is the first of 5,  in a series called the 'Keystone'-collection where Highland Park will be focusing on the following:

  • Aromatic Peat
  • Sherry oak
  • Cool maturation
  • Harmonisation
  • Hand turned malt

This one, the 'Hobbister' is named after the moor where Highland Park cuts its peat used in about 20% of their production. The whisky itself is supposedly made up of 6yo Highland Park from 1st and refill ex-bourbon casks, mixed with some 12yo...

So how did I get my hands on some?
As I mentioned above, this sold out in a flash, leaving a lot of people frowning.
Luckily a bottle was offered up as samples by Thorfinn Craigie from the Highland Park Appriciation Society on Facebook and then kindly administered by Ian Moir- Huge thanks, gents!

The 'price'? A donation to RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) This ended up with a total donation of £700 for the RNLI, some of it also raised at a local tasting on Orkney. Well done, all! :)

The cheque of £700 is handed over to the RNLI by Thorfinn Craigie, Martin Markvardsen and Ian Moir - Picture by Jim Lyngvild (thanks for the use, Jim)

Highland Park 'Hobbister' 51,4%, 1200 bottles, Distillery bottling (RRP was £75)

Colour is pale amber

Nose:
Quite upfront with lots of burning twigs and leaves, like burning your garden cuttings, but underneath you get some very nice tropical fruit and quite a bit of floral notes, like fabric softener.

After a while the peaty smoke notes retreats somewhat allowing a more citric and malty edge to peak but also revealing a few notes of young whisky.... this, however, comes and goes and is never uncomfortable in any way and I fell it somehow carries the floral forward

Taste:
A good burst of floral peat and honey to start with, then lots of crisp malt and a brown sugary note... There's also some vanilla pods and hint of smoked pineapple here.

The sherry influence is coming through a bit more here with hints of candied apple and charred oak. The floral peat pops back up mid- to end palate and leaves a taste of something pleasant reminding me of kissing my grandmother on the cheek, like a mix of perfume and cigar...

What do I think if this? Quite good, actually - its very lively and fresh Highland Park... and very different too, I think with its very aromatic peat style. The whole thing is quite well put together and it constantly bounces back and forth producing both young and notes of older whisky. Finally bottling this at 51,4% was the right choice as I think some of its flavours would have gotten lost at a lower abv%

87/100!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

DALMORE 2001/2015 - GORDON & MACPHAIL

It's not often I review a Dalmore... Why? well, there's not many releases from the indies and frankly I find the official bottlings very much on the dull side, all drowned in E150a caramel colouring and offered at just 40%.

This time, Gordon & Macphail has stomped up some refill sherry casks no where near as dark as the official bottlings... and we know why - because they don't use E150a caramel coloring in this bottling :-)

Dalmore Distillery with the Cromarty Firth beyond, seen from the road behind the distillery, 19th October 2014 © The Malt Desk

Dalmore 2001/2015 46%, Refill sherry hogsheads, Connoisseure's Choice by Gordon & Macphail

Colour is pale white wine

Nose:
Picture by G&M
Quite light and fresh with baked apple, tropical fruit juice and dusty earthen floors. After a while some lovely malty notes appear accompanied by some fresh lime juice and hint of something floral

Taste:
Lovely mellow yellow fruit arrival, some vanilla and then a rush lemon and peppery spicyness. I find quite a mineral side to this somewhere mid palate and a surprising sharpness from a a rush of citric and grassy notes.

This is a very straight forward dram - not overly complex in any way and it holds its own against e.g. the standard 12yo distillery bottling... a very 'naked' Dalmore :-)

82/100!

Official sample provided by Gordon & Macphail

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

MORTLACH 1954/2012 58YO - GORDON & MACPHAIL RARE VINTAGE

It's been little over a year since I've reviewed a Mortlach... Time flies! and you can't dismiss the time factor with this next whisky either, it's from... hold on... 1954 !! and bottled in late 2012, making it 58 years old...

Now, with such an old whisky, the thought of 'oak juice' crosses your mind and its with both admiration and a dose of scepticism that you should approach a whisky like this... Why, you ask? Well, we all know that old whiskies these days are rarer than hens teeth and have price labels attached that makes them out of reach for a good many people... so one could fear that a cask of oak juice will be bottled just because of its sheer age and not because its good, but thankfully that's not the case with this one! I've been so lucky to try another great Speysider from 1954 last November but other than that 50s stuff really been few and far between, but if you get the chance to try old stuff like this, do go ahead... but if you like it, don't get too attached to it because of its price tag unless you're really loaded or willing to take out a 2nd morgage ;-)

Anyway, let's have a brief look at the origins of this dram. Mortlach Distillery in Dufftown, Moray has gradually appearing more and more on the radar of most whisky drinkers, who wants to enjoy something a bit more out of the ordinary and with good reason so. The spirit from this distillery is about as robust as they come in Speyside which makes it sought after by the blenders and makes it suitable for long term maturation. Add to that, that Mortlach is often matured in sherry casks which adds another dimension to the whisky from this distillery.

So how well does Mortlach actually mature? Well , of course this has to do alot with the cask it has been laid down in, but we've already seen a bottling as old as 75 years, also from Gordon & Macphail - so a mere 58 years should be no problem, right?

Here's my take on it...

The stills at Mortlach, May 1st 2010 © The Malt Desk

Mortlach 1954/2012 43% (27.01.1954/21.11.2012) 1st fill sherry butt#494, 347 bottles, Gordon & Macphail Rare Vintage

Colour is light mahogany

Nose:
Nougat/praline and strawberry and blackcurrant jam, polished oak and leather, hints of clove, cinnamon cookies, rum raisin ice cream - heavy on the rum. Also in there are charred baked banana dosed with a little brown suger and a cooling fresh feeling. The ultra clean sherry is dosed in such perfect measures, it never overpowers anything else... one to nose for a looong time :-)

Picture by G&M - 2008 version shown
Taste:
Very lively for a 58yo whisky - quite a bit in fact! The age shows, yes, but its never invasive nor thin and underwhelming.  The arrival is much like any other lovely old sherried whisky, but then it takes off on a tropical fruit, clove, cinnamon and slight orangy Xmas theme but only to return to summer with more strawberry, some sweet sun dried tomato and mild chili powder and a mixed herb finish

Ok, I'm really trying hard here to detach myself from the thought of drinking a whisky from 1954 and bottled in 2012.

I'd like to add this piece to my experience I had with this whisky...
I decided to take a short break from nosing and tasting this to give my senses a break and went into another room. When I went back to my office/desk I could already smell it from afar when entering the room - that's how expressive this whisky is.

When I finished nosing/tasting it I allowed myself to have a Pale Ale to refresh my palate - 4 sips of Pale Ale and I can still taste the whisky a bit... That should tell you just how saturated the taste is in this whisky - its just stunning old sherried whisky! Stunning... and some of the best whisky I've had so far in 2016

93/100!

Official sample provided by Gordon & Macphail



Sunday, 7 August 2016

GLENTURRET 2002/2015 - GORDON & MACPHAIL

Its been quite some time since I've had a Glenturret... and I honestly can't remember if I ever had a sherry matured Glenturret - so when I opened the small parcel and discovered this, it was my first to try :-)

Located in the town of Crieff about 1½ north of Edinburgh, the distillery is a nice little spot offering both the Glenturret Single Malt, but it also promotes itself as 'The Famous Grouse Experience' which provides a look into the The Famous Grouse Blend and its different versions.


Glenturret Distillery from the road just outside the parking lot entrance, August 16th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Glenturret 2002 / 2015 43%, First fill sherry puncheons, Macphail's Collection by Gordon & Macphail 

Colour is amber
Picture by G&M

Nose:
Lots of sherry influence... Oranges and old cigarbox then candied dried apple snacks, hints of pencil shavings, maple syrup, slightly mentholated hints and old bonfire notes

Taste:
Orange zest, roasted nuts, burnt sugar, dark honey and tobacco. The overall experience is quite smooth... as in no unexpected rough edges and really stand out'ish notes.

This is very well put together! I can certainly see myself having this around as an everyday dram!

85/100!

Official sample provided by Gordon & Macphail

Saturday, 23 July 2016

LAGAVULIN 8YO 200TH ANNIVERSARY - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

This year, Lagavulin Distillery celebrates its 200th anniversary and this 8yo release is a part of that celebration. Now, we all know the 16yo Lagavulin well and there's a chance you've tried the Distiller's Edition as well - the expression matured in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks... hey, maybe you have even tried the 12yo annual release at cask strength?

Anyway, there's no doubt that Lagavulin is an Islay Great, so I was really looking forward to see if they were able to hold their flag high with this 8yo release... It's supposedly matured in both refill European and American oak and then bottled at 48% abv.

The Lagavulin Pagodas, May 11th 2015 © The Malt Desk

Lagavulin 8yo 48% 200th Anniversary edition, Distillery bottling

Colour is pale white wine

Nose:
A bit young but that was to be expected... quite some  barley sugar sweetness coming through wrapped in camp fire smoke and a mineral/flinty note. A little honey, banana and melon on the grill and smoky white rum. Very well behaved for an 8yo, I must say...

Taste:
Surprisingly little youth influence, although its noticeable...
I get the feeling that there's some whisky, slightly older than 8yo making up this one. There's a lot of campfire notes again, like lipping the end of a burnt log, very drying like ash and wet wood and leaves. Again I get that mineral and flinty note but this time its very well wrapped in gingery and slightly nutty notes... almonds maybe? - especially with water... the finish is very much on smoky, salty seaweed so here its leans a bit more on the Lagavulin 12 style... I just wish it would have been bottled at, maybe 55%??

Its certainly an enjoyable whisky and its being sold for €40 in discount supermarket here... so certainly a bang for you buck whisky here!! However that won't affect my mark

86/100!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

SPRINGBANK 1999 16YO LOCAL BARLEY - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

This highly anticipated bottling have been reviewed to death on a number of blogs already, but I'm going to review it anyway. I'm of course talking about the 2016 edition of Springbank's Local Barley... it's a revival of a tradition Springbank has, using barley grown locally on Kintyre for a range of bottlings. The first ones were distilled all the way back in 1965, 1966 and 1970 and bottled mainly in the 1990s (although a couple were bottled in 2000) and are some of the biggest cult bottlings you get from Springbank except for the 1919 and Millenium bottles.

This particular release saw the light of day in February this year and the bottles flew off the shelves everywhere at a price of close to £100. I'm guessing many were bought purely in an attempt to make a quick profit as we now see many of this 9000-bottle release appearing left and right on auction sites, which is sad really 'cause its cracking whisky... but I guess its just another sign of the times.

The 99' Local Barley is made with 'Prisma'-barley, a strain not often used anymore but was used widespread around the turn of the Millennium. It was grown on Low Machrimor Farm near Southend on the very tip of the Kintyre peninsula, then malted, distilled (of course), matured and bottled on-site at Springbank Distillery. The bottling is a mix of 80% ex-bourbon casks and 20% ex-sherry casks-

So, just how cracking is it? Let's take a closer look...

The stills at Springbank, May 10 2011 © The Malt Desk

Springbank 1999 16yo (xx.09.1999/xx.01.2016) 54,3%, 9000 bottles, Distillery bottling

Colour is pale gold

Nose:
My bottle has been open for about 2 weeks now and just removing the cork and splashing about 3½ cls in my glass raises delightful aromas of citrus and vanilla before my nose even gets close to the glass. I already mentioned the citrus and vanilla, but there's also quite a bit of a waxy note as if someone poured a large splash of Clynelish in here.

I get some dirty chimney and noticeable peat, honey, lemon oil, fresh grass and and wet dirt like stepping out onto the lawn after the rain. Quite refreshing and I dunno why but this gives me the feeling of nipping at a whisky mojito when water is added. The water also makes the nose give off some pineapple and lemon wrapped in a thin layer of brine... What a fantastic nose !!

Taste:
The palate is very well behaved without water, but add some and there's that whisky mojito packed with malt, loads of lemon and mint leaves on top +  plus a little peat!

The water gives the whole thing quite a Schweppes fizzyness but it never lets you forget you're dealing with a Springbank here. There's lots of light oils, like the ones you used for your toys when you were a kid. There's ash, vanilla again, mere hints of pencil shavings, juicy malt, delicate wood spices (peppers)...

Everything's just here in beautiful measures!

Brilliant stuff!!

91/100!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

BENROMACH 1974 41YO - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

Benromach Distillery in Forres in Speyside just released this oldie from 1974 as a follow-up to their release of a 35yo expression earlier this year.

The packaging is similar til the 35yo, however this is a vintage 1974 where as the other didn't carry a vintage. This is also bottled at a higher strength which I expect will do this one good :-)

To me, the 70s are one of the golden decades in whisky, so here's to hoping that also applies to this single cask from Benromach.

Time to try this...

Picture by G&M

Benromach 1974 41yo 49,1%, sherry butt#1583, 452 bottles, Distillery bottling


Colour is amber

Nose:
Picture by G&M
Polished wood, oranges, resin, bung cloth, pencil shavings, Pickwick multi dried tea leaves and hints of apricot and Madeira and just a little clove.

Taste:
A lighter arrival and initial mouth feel than expected. Through comes polished leather, dark honey, malt extract, elderberry juice, stewed apple and overripe banana and hints of rum soaked raisin. The finish is on alcohol soaked sponge cake and coffee grounds and a tiny bit of smoke.

A lighter experience than expected as already mentioned but still very delicious! Since I don't give ½ points here, it places itself along side the 35yo which I found just a tad more lively, even though it was only 43% abv.... but I'm really splitting hairs here!

90/100!

Official sample supplied by Gordon & Macphail

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

HIGHLAND PARK 1990 25YO - CADENHEAD SMALL BATCH

Well, we all know by that when a distillery says it matures all its whisky sherry casks, its not true... there are plenty of examples of this, Glenfarclas, Macallan and of course, Highland Park which is the one I'll be focusing on in this review...

Now, I'd been eyeing this one for a while and decided to grab a couple of bottles and at the same time, put a bottle on a tasting as these ex-bourbon casks Highland Parks can be really delicious... and I was not to be disappointed with this one either - and adding to that the price here in Denmark was really fair (DKK 1299,- or £133/€173) which makes it a much better offering than e.g. the official 25yo Highland Park currently priced at x 2-2,5 times that. I'm aware that this isn't a sherried version like the official 25yo but with a price difference like that, I'll live ;) - in fact, I find independent bottlings more fun as they show what a distillery can do besides their regular offerings.

One such independent bottler is Cadenheads, a subsidiary of Springbank Distillers in Campbeltown and one of, if not, my favorite bottler at moment... Their offerings are just really, really good - both in terms of quality and very often also in price - this 1990 25yo Highland Park is one such and it was bottled as a part of the Cadenhead Small Batch-series.

The Highland Park Malt Floor, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk

Highland Park 1990 25yo 50,6%, 2 ex-bourbon hogsheads, 426 bottles, Cadenhead Small Batch

Colour is light gold

Nose:
Vanilla, loads of honey, quite fresh, a noticeable puff of smoke, sweet barley notes, some apple, bit of ginger and grass, fresh pineapple and quite a mix of herbs

Taste:
The arrival is on citrus and honey until a strong burst of tropical fruits, mainly pineapple, mango rushes ind along with loads of juicy malt wrapped in a vanilla paestry. It's also quite smooth and creamy for a 50% malt - no rough edges here. Then we have more ginger, more, now slightly burnt paestry and smoke.

The finish goes towards cold olive oil and herbs and a slight mineral touch.

Great stuff!

91/100!

Monday, 30 May 2016

STRATHISLA 1967 - GORDON & MACPHAIL RARE VINTAGE

The months of May has seen a couple of review of old sherry matured whiskies already, so why not continue with this one, a grand old Strathisla bottled by Gordon & Macphail of Elgin.

Strathisla is also know as Home of Chivas Regal as some of the malt that goes into the Chivas Regal blends comes from Strathisla Distillery. This time, however, I'll be focusing on a grand old malt from this distillery, matured for at least a good 47 years before being bottled in January 2015.

This one is bottled in Gordon & Macphail's Rare Vintage-series and is a beautiful example of how the first fill sherry butts have interacted with the Strathisla spirit - or as they say at G&M 'The wood makes the whisky'... you can read more about their wood policy here www.gordonandmacphail.com/wood

Strathisla Distillery in Keith, May 1st 2015 © The Malt Desk

Strathisla 1967 (bottled 26.01.2015) 43%, 1st fill sherry butts, Rare Vintage, Gordon & Macphail

Colour is light mahogany

Picture by G&M
Nose:
Strong whiff of strawberries, furniture polish, milk chocolate, prunes, mint/menthol - like tiger balm muscle warmer

Taste:
You get the obvious dark fruit sherry, yes - but there's more in here. There's cloves, orange peel, hint of cinnamon and then an amazing fruitiness mid-palate rushes in with vanilla baked apple, blood orange finished by rum/raisin ice cream notes and sweetened cough syrup.

This is brilliant stuff! It never feels tired in any way in spite of its age. Again, obviously a bottle from some great sherry casks of yesteryear, like the ones I talk about in this review.

91/100!

Official sample provided by Gordon & Macphail