Whiskyfun
Home
(Current entries)

Facebook Twitter Logo






Whisky Tasting

 

Copyright Serge Valentin
Angus MacRaild
2002-20
2
4

 

 

 

Ad-free
Hi, you're in the Archives, December 2023 - Part 2
 
 

December 2023 - part 1 <--- December 2023 - part 2 ---> January 2024 - part 1

 

December 31, 2023


Whiskyfun

Last session of 2023
Seven Springbank including one that was distilled right today

Don't worry, it's not new make a.k.a. British Plain Spirit that would have been delivered to me by private jet early this morning (though I would have loved that, ha-ha-ha). Right, that Springbank we're mentioning was indeed distilled on this very day, the 31st of December, but fifty-six years ago if my math is good. However, before we taste it, let's first have a small aperitif to prepare our nose and palate, then a few other very high-quality Springbanks.

At Springbank Distillery in 2005. Don't we all know that, as we say in France, the best broths are cooked in the oldest pans?... (WF Archive)

Sprinngbank

The Road to Campbeltown 6 yo 2016/2022 (58.7%, The First Editions, blended malt, refill barrel, cask #HL19188, 273 bottles)

The Road to Campbeltown 6 yo 2016/2022 (58.7%, The First Editions, blended malt, refill barrel, cask #HL19188, 273 bottles) Three stars
So Springbank? Glen Scotia? Kilkerran? A bit of everything? It does say 'aged in a single cask', which may suggest that it could be a single malt too, unless it was blended at birth. Who knows… Colour: white wine. Nose: it's very hard to tell, because we never try Springbank when it's as young as this – right, there used to be that awesome official 5 yo which was also available in magnums back in the 1960s, early 1970s – while it's very sweet, vanilla-ed and on fresh pastries, without much coastalness, let alone any peat. Orange blossom, candied fruits, cassata, fresh brioche… With water: more of all that, angelica, fresh raisin rolls, bakers' yeast…  Mouth (neat): rather on sweet dough and melissa water indeed. Limoncello. With water: really sweet, on bonbons of all kinds and candied ginger. Citrus liqueurs. Finish: medium, on similar flavours. Preserved peaches. More fresh brioche in the aftertaste. Comments: fine drop, young, easy and sweet. I think I've noticed that these improved mucho when they get closer to ten years old.

SGP:641 - 82 points.

Good, we've had our apéritif, let us proceed…

I'm not certain we'll manage to go below 90 points, but that would be a foolish goal, we agree.

Springbank 21 yo 2000/2022 (46.8%, OB, Private Bottling, refilled bourbon hogshead, cask #683)

Springbank 21 yo 2000/2022 (46.8%, OB, Private Bottling, refilled bourbon hogshead, cask #683) Five stars
Colour: white wine. Nose: quintessential Springbank, totally on wet chalk, porridge, engine oil, virgin wool, paraffin, linseed oil and lemon. Nothing is out of place, as they say; this will be quick. Mouth: perhaps a tad more uncertain on the palate, with a slight 'chemical' edge but one that we quite like, reminiscent of Schweppes, concentrated lemon juice and grapefruit-flavoured jello. The rest is a delightful scramble of sea water, smoked fish, tar, polish, hops and lemon zest. That, we absolutely relish. Finish: long, with a hint of green pepper alongside the lemon, sea water, lapsang souchong and smoked almonds. Three green olives in the aftertaste, give it a triple hooray! Comments: this is pure Springbank indeed, aligning with the 10-year-old we're so fond of, just a bit older but that's hardly noticeable, as time doesn't have much effect on these profiles when the casks know how to behave properly.

SGP:453 - 90 points.

Springbank 24 yo 1998/2022 (53.2%, Valinch & Mallet, for Whisky For You, The Secret of Art, bourbon barrel, cask #143, 130 bottles)

Springbank 24 yo 1998/2022 (53.2%, Valinch & Mallet, for Whisky For You, The Secret of Art, bourbon barrel, cask #143, 130 bottles) Five stars
According to the label, this baby should send us to the heavens in no time. Colour: gold. Nose: fasten your seatbelts. Pure smoky dough, seawater, a lot of orange blossom water Milanese panettone-style, then many honeys and waxes and polishes. It's not very complicated but it doesn't need to, I mean it shouldn't be. With water:  there, clay, slate, wool, mud, dough, aspirin tablet, leaven… Mouth (neat): gloriously citrusy. Pink grapefruits and blood oranges, maracuja, Szechuan pepper, white pepper, drop of varnish, drop of turpentine, drop of seawater, one small oyster, one olive, dollop of fir honey… With water: more medicinal, more on lemons, plasticine, iodine, tarry rubber… How Springbank is all that? Finish: long, a tad more on the honeyed side, which is just as lovely. Salty and medicinal elements are back later on. Comments: any resistance is futile, we bow.

SGP:563 - 92 points.

Springbank 25 yo 1997/2023 (49.1%, Nickolls & Perks, Inaugural Casks, fresh rum barrel, cask #242, 105 bottles)

Springbank 25 yo 1997/2023 (49.1%, Nickolls & Perks, Inaugural Casks, fresh rum barrel, cask #242, 105 bottles) Five stars
Full maturation in rum, not a first with Springbank (which is reassuring). Also, love it that they would use a 'cognac bottle', as The Bottlers used to do in the past. It has more chic than one of those decanters that even your mother-in-law wouldn't want. Once it's emptied (I mean, the decanter)... Colour: straw. Nose: The rum is detectable on the nose but it melds beautifully with Springbank, as we've noted before with that famous 'green' Springbank from Cadenhead (1973/1991 – WF 93). In fact, it's pure Springbank once again, with balms, paraffin, fresh almonds, puncture repair glue, olive oil, wet chalk… Truly, there's nothing to discard. Mouth: once more, absolutely nothing to discard. Polish, candied oranges (the rum speaking, I presume), a gluey and varnished aspect, seafood, seaweed, a medicinal hint once more, pine sap, fir honey, candied lemon… But it's so good! Finish: long, a tad more candied, with almond paste, zests, a touch of saltiness... Comments: we're almost on the same level. These vintages are magical and I remember thinking, fifteen years ago, how eager I was to taste them when they'd reach their twenty-fifth year. Here we are!

SGP:563 - 91 points.

Springbank 30 yo 1993/2023 (52.4%, OB, Private Bottling, Michiel Wigman, cask #157, 210 bottles)

Springbank 30 yo 1993/2023 (52.4%, OB, Private Bottling, Michiel Wigman, cask #157, 210 bottles) Five stars
A kind of selfie-bottling, that's funny and cool. What you need to know and understand is that our friend Michiel Wigman is the most knowledgeable Springbank expert and collector in this galaxy, and probably within many other galaxies. Moreover, we're familiar with the reputation of the 1993 vintage at Springbank, aren't we? Colour: golden. Nose: we're back to a much more austere profile, heavily on chalk, fresh concrete, crushed slate, a new jumper (how was Christmas?), pizza dough, pine nut, linseed oil, apple juice, lemon zest... With water: we're wading through the muddy areas of Campbeltown and loving it. Mouth (neat): such a dense texture is rare. It's truly a blend of oil, sea water and lime juice. A real blade, as they say. With water: the pepper comes through, as does the pine resin, and the sea water even more so. There's almost a hint of Talisker; I hope these words won't offend anyone. Finish: long, quite fermentative, yet clear, strong, more citrusy. The salt tickles in the aftertaste. Comments: simply unbeatable, just avoid adding too much water.
SGP:563 - 93 points.

Springbank 25 yo 1992/2017 (50.9%, OB, private label, cask #118)

Springbank 25 yo 1992/2017 (50.9%, OB, private label, cask #118) Five stars
In my opinion, the vintages from the late 1980s (like, er, 1989) and the very, very beginning of the 1990s (like, er, 1990) were sometimes a bit complicated at Springbank, partly due to a "Wood Expressions" series that often favoured exotic and, let's say, slightly deviant casks. But according to my humble personal observations, everything got back on track by 1991. That's why we're very curious about this private version, quite rare but with a very engaging light colour. Colour: chardonnay. Nose: dare I say "bingo"? Here is another Springbank of exceptional purity, without any marked wood and with even less of strange wines, entirely on wet chalk, linseed oil, candied lemon, green olive, paraffin oil, riesling and virgin wool. The perfect culmination of our 'magic wax arc' we keep rambling about (we'll find a better term another day) which goes, from north to south, from Highland Park to Clynelish, then to Benromach (in recent years), then to Ben Nevis, and then, to Springbank. Some notes of celery and turnip also emerge and add complexity. Water brings out more of the virgin wool, tweed, paraffin, and even the wonderful aromas of a freshly opened packet of bergamotes de Nancy. Mouth: still that lemony purity to start with, then even more riesling, limestone, seaweed, oysters, candle wax and root vegetables. Still celery, gentian too... A few drops of water bring an even more saline and slightly tarry side. Finish: long, on similar notes, it had already told us everything before. A drop of cough syrup. Comment: a very great natural Springbank, matured by time rather than by the cask and/or its previous contents. Twenty-five years is a perfect age for Springbank (you keep rambling, S.)
SGP :463 - 92 points

Springbank 31 yo 1991/2022 (49.3%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, Platinum Selection, hogshead, cask #HL 19905, 188 bottles)

Springbank 31 yo 1991/2022 (49.3%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, Platinum Selection, hogshead, cask #HL 19905, 188 bottles) Five stars
In theory… Colour: full gold. Nose: this one is quite different, more on fruit pastes, such as Alsatian quince paste, then marzipan, bergamots, orange marmalade (in significant quantities), even fudge, mirabelle plum jam, orange blossom, as well as mastic, polish, elderflower... In short, a completely pacified Springbank, reminiscent of some of the old Local Barleys distilled in the 1960s. Or you may consider those 'West Highland Malts'. Mouth: beware, the beast has awoken, with lots of oils and waxes, bitter almonds, old walnuts, even a bit of mustard and curry. Then come the salty and smoky notes, some increasingly intense minerality, herbal teas, this chalky and oily aspect, but also dried grapes and figs. All of this is quite incredible, truly. Finish: even more incredible, it becomes rather floral now, with lots of honey, pollen, flower jellies... I'm thinking particularly of mullein (which is very good for the throat!) Comments: it can be enjoyed with or without two drops of water, but not more. A tremendous recent Springbank, one of the rare names that continue to stand their grounds in strictly all their versions, apart from a few wine-dressed expressions, the naughty ducklings of the distillery. But I think I've noticed that even the latter are beginning to be palatable (as long as one carefully avoids the very improbable 'Reds').

SGP:652 - 93 points.

While we're at it and since we were discussing the 1960s…

Springbank 10 yo 1967/1978 (59%, OB, butt, cask #3129, Sutti Import, Italy)

Springbank 10 yo 1967/1978 (59%, OB, butt, cask #3129, Sutti Import, Italy)
Springbank 10 yo 1967/1978 (59%, OB, butt, cask #3129, Sutti Import, Italy) Five stars
Oh that black label. Imagine, this baby was distilled on this very day fifty-six years ago, on December 31, 1967. It was very rare that such details, including the cask number, were disclosed on labels back in the 1970s. More proof that Springbank, the most 'retro' of all distilleries, has always been at the forefront of maltdom. Hope that will never change.

Colour: mahogany. Nose: can you say 'Samarolian'? Sherry and distillate are playing it Page and Plant, Laurel and Hardy, or Miles and Trane here. Or Santana and Shrieve. Roasted chestnuts, biltong, Maggi sauce, gravy, coffee, balsamico, walnut wine, coal tar, old white burgundy, horse saddle, cigars, dried parsley, black truffles (vividly), hoisin, venison, very old PX, heavier honeys and molasses, maple syrup, black nougat, liquorice, Corinthian raisins, roasted pecans, walnut stain, potting soil, Spanish ham, pipe tobacco… And so many other aromas. With water: truffle soup or morel soup? Some metallic touches appearing, metal polish, old tools, copper coins, old stove, all that… Classic development. Mouth (neat): have you called the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade yet? Because it's even grander on the palate. Exceptional nougats and turons, sweet tobaccos, bananas flambéed, bouillons and broths, coffee and chocolate, dried fruits of all kinds (figs and dates first), some kind of mint-and-honey sauce, liquorice… The huge salinity, which was not this common in older Springbanks in my experience, tends to come to the front of the stage, which is extremely impressive. Right. With water: very tiny soapy touch (saponification with water) that's soon to disappear, then just everything we've already listed, while the whole is getting tarrier and more on bitter marmalade. Impressive. Finish: the smoke chiming in, more minerals, more gravies too, and just myriads of other, well, 'things'. Comments: imagine it's genuinely a ten-year-old, and not one of those young whiskies from the past that were boosted by much older whiskies because they weren't selling anyway! Well, we're going to light a candle in the hope that we might see such greatness again, but that would require the use of real sherry casks, meaning casks that have housed, even if only for a year or even a few months (transport casks), quality old sherries that one would sip with huge pleasure. Anyway, you see what I'm getting at.
SGP:663 - 96 points.

 

By the way, the sad fate of Whitney Houston reminds us that alcohol can become our worst enemy if we don't control our intake. I'm well aware that some Whiskyfun sessions may suggest that we indulge daily and that we lead almost the life of a country priest or a MP from the last century, but rest assured that this is not the case and that we ensure we only consume the strictly necessary quantities for the writing of our humble little tasting notes.

Whitney Houston Springbank
Whitney Houston
The Bodyguard, 1992

Except, perhaps, when it comes to Brora 1972 or Springbank 1967 indeed. And then, whisky is a culture, it's not just alcohol. In any case, you will have noticed that the great singer, in this screenshot from the 1992 film 'The Bodyguard' with Kevin Costner, drinks from the neck of a Springbank 'black label'. But rest assured, the brand was chosen only for the needs of the film, it wasn't Springbank that ultimately killed Whitney Houston. We are safe.

Here's to next year! That's tomorrow and we'll try to have a few 'Bs'… Shh…

(Merci beaucoup, Angus, Diego et Tim)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Springbank we've tasted so far

 

2023

Serge's Non-Awards
Just a short list of my personal favourites amongst the +/-1,300 whiskies and other spirits I've tried in the year 2023, as we do every year. Please do not bother too much, I believe these quick lists barely make any sense (unless they're sponsored, in that case they make marketing sense), they rather represent some kind of compuslory yearly exercise. So let's do it once more...

 

Favourite recent bottling

Brora 50 yo 1972/2023 'Iris'

  Brora 50 yo 1972/2023 'Iris' (41.8%, OB, for The Distillers One of One Charity Auction, 1 Magnum)
WF 96
Certainly, it doesn't make much sense since it was a unique magnum, but what can I do? It is the new whisky from 2023 that I preferred, and it wasn't even the most expensive we've tried as the Macallan 50 years 1928 which I had tasted a few weeks earlier was even more expensive (I won't even tell you how much it costs). Right behind this Brora, there were also several new Port Ellens, official or independent (Duncan Taylor, Douglas Laing, Hunter Laing)... All sublime. It was a very good year for the grand and very expensive whiskies! Other great examples, Talisker 45 yo 'Glacial Edge', Glen Grant 63 yo 1959/2023 'Mr George Legacy Third Edition' by G&M, Springbank 26 yo 1996/2023  Whisky Sponge, Ardbeg 26 yo 1996/2022 Gourmet Pool, Macallan 25 yo 1997/2023 'Symington's Choice' Signatory Vintage or Benromach 2002/2022  for LMDW... And others.

 

Favourite older bottling

Port Ellen 12 yo 1970 'Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky' (57G.L., Duthie's for Samaroli, 75cl, +/-1982)

  Port Ellen 12 yo 1970 'Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky' (57G.L., Duthie's for Samaroli, 75cl, +/-1982)
WF 96
Undoubtedly the rarest of the Samaroli bottlings, at least I had never seen it before. It literally nailed me to my chair! Just like the Springbank 10 yo 1967/1978 cask #3129 that we're publishing today, on the last day of the year (WF 96 too). We'll add the famous Glen Scotia 8 years from the 60s with a WF 95, as well as loads of Springbank and Ardbeg, an old Clynelish from the Society, not to mention the highly controversial 'oldest Scotch whisky in the world', the famous Blair Castle 1833. To think there are so many ancient whiskies we haven't yet tasted!

 

Favourite bang for your buck

Old Pulteney 10 yo 2012 'Flotilla' (46%, OB, 2023)

  Old Pulteney 10 yo 2012 'Flotilla' (46%, OB, 2023) 
WF 89
I really appreciated the purity and perfect balance of this young Pulteney, which is very graceful and not at all expensive. I get the impression that they've slightly reduced the amount of American oak in these young whiskies, making them much more elegant. Among the other good deals of 2023, I would mention a Dalmunach 2016 by Watt Whisky, a few Caol Ilas like a 2009 by Signatory for Germany, quite a few unnamed peated whiskies (Hart Bros., Aceo...) and also Maclean's Nose, the famous new blend by Adelphi (WF 88).

 

Favourite malternative

Mauxion 1900/2022 (48.2%, OB for The Purist, bons bois, 42 bottles)

  Mauxion 1900/2022 (48.2%, OB for The Purist, bons bois, 42 bottles)
WF 94
Of course, it's a symbolic bottling given the quantity produced, but it represents the work done by a few groups of distillers, selectors, bottlers, and whisky and cognac enthusiasts. Never have the well-known big houses released such wonders! The malternatives scoring more than 92 points were very numerous in 2023, certainly more so than the whiskies, even though we only taste these malternatives on Sundays! There were many cognacs (Pasquet, Vallein, Prunier, Grosperrin), armagnac (Lasgraves, Baraillon), Hampden of course, not to mention the independent whisky bottlers who are increasingly getting involved... In short, it was a great year for these categories on WF.

 

Thumbs up!

Domaine des Hautes Glaces 'Epistémè R18P23 Yellow Square' (47%, OB, France, 1798 bottles, 2023)

  Domaine des Hautes Glaces 'Epistémè R18P23 Yellow Square' (47%, OB, France, 1798 bottles, 2023)
WF 91
In 2023, there were a good number of whiskies and other spirits that, although they can't yet beat an old Port Ellen, Ardbeg, Springbank or Brora in a race, have demonstrated extraordinary qualities and truly innovative ideas (not just the usual, "hey, let's do a PX finish!"). This extraordinary Hautes-Glaces is a good example, but there was also a fabulous Smögen Wu Dram Clan, the famous Benromach 2002 LMDW, the superlative Yamazaki 2009 'The Essence' and many new Japanese offerings, or the new Kimchangsoo from South Korea.

 

Lemon Prize

Bacardi 8 yo 'Reserva Ocho' (40%, OB, Puerto Rico, +/-2022)

  Bacardi 8 yo 'Reserva Ocho' (40%, OB, Puerto Rico, +/-2022)
WF 20
I know I shocked quite a few people by giving such a bad rating to this rum, especially since I adore many whiskies belonging to the Bacardi group. But frankly, it's a spirit that's almost empty, especially when you appreciate great malts and very textured rums. The best advice I probably received was this: "Serge, you shouldn't taste those rums!" The other beverages that received very poor ratings on WF were mostly rums presented in spectacular retro packaging but loaded with sugar and, frankly, disgustingly cloying. And likely illegal in Europe (misuse of the 'rum' designation). While, phew, we've avoided the cognacs that are oscured to the maximum!

 

 

December 30, 2023


Whiskyfun

 

 

 

Angus

Angus's Corner
From our correspondent and
skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Scotland

 

 

Five old Glen Grant to close out 2023

 

 

Well, 2023 was a rather tough year if I'm being honest. But 2024 is destined to bring considerable new adventures, so I'm rather looking forward to it. I deliberated a little over what to do for the final session of the year, but in the end, I went for the warm comfort blanket that is old Glen Grant; there aren't too many other types of whisky I take as much pleasure in quietly sipping at this time of year.

We'll have two very old bottles that I opened recently at the party of an up and coming gin distiller in Alsace, plus a few comparatively more recent examples to kick things off.

Angus  

 

Glen Grant 29 yo 1988/2018 (56.3%, Adelphi, cask #9165, sherry, 429 bottles)

Glen Grant 29 yo 1988/2018 (56.3%, Adelphi, cask #9165, sherry, 429 bottles)
Presumably from a butt with that outturn, yes, or a puncheon. Love Adelphi, love Ardnamurchan and most of all love the wonderful folk that work there. Colour: amber. Nose: stewed peaches, boozy Christmas cake with marzipan (I'm presently around 60% Christmas cake so I should know), plums, prunes in syrup and damson jam. Wonderful and uber classical profile that also displays some of Glen Grant's old school 'fullness'. With water: lovely hints of caraway, woodruff, dried mango and mineral oils. Sits between leafy, gamey, sooty and fruity - which I love! Mouth: excellent! Big, juicy and darkly fruity sherry that also manages to be very earthy and displays some richly gamey and aged pinot noir notes. Also lapsing souchong, bitter herbs and leaf mulch that goes towards damp tobacco in leather pouches as well. Big and rather powerful, but also superb! With water: becomes leaner, gamier, a tiny medicinal streak appearing and some big savoury and umami qualities emerging. There's also this wonderful mineral quality about the sherry that recalls flints, gun metal and putty. Finish: long, warming, peppery, some paprika, tea tree oil and more lovely sooty, bitter herbal and gamey notes. Comments: it's a big and gusts style of sherry which not all distillates take to too well, but Glen Grant seems to absorb these characteristics in its stride and with considerably sophistication. I like bottlings like this one because they are excellent reminders that Glen Grant still retained something of an older school weight about it well into the 1980s and there are many gems to be found from those vintages. 
SGP: 561 - 90 points. 

 

 

Glen Grant 10 yo (75 proof, OB for 'Navy Army and Airforce Institutes, short screw cap, early 1970s)

Glen Grant 10 yo (75 proof, OB for 'Navy Army and Airforce Institutes, short screw cap, early 1970s)
A bottling for the military industrial complex perhaps? Colour: deep gold. Nose: mulchy and slightly earthy, on a funny mix of golden syrup and metal polish. I suspect there may be a little OBE at play here. Beyond that some nicely waxy vibes, bouillon and dried exotic fruit pieces. Mouth: very good. Waxes, biscuity sweetness, crystallised ginger, medicinal herbs, wee sooty notes and some dark fruit jams. Much better than the nose suggested and probably a lot to do with those three extra degrees of bottling strength. Nicely leafy and earthy now, with some tobacco, lovage, treacle and salted caramel. Getting more orangey as well, with bitter marmalade and hints of coriander seed. I still find a little OBE but it's much more dialled down in the mix on the palate. Finish: medium, on aniseed, liquorice and treacle, with a slightly sappy edge and impressions of pine wood and fir liqueur. Comments: mostly excellent, although it does stray down a few Old Bottle Effect tangents at times. Still, overall I would say it's another delicious and quaffable old Glen Grant. 

SGP: 561 - 87 points. 

 

 

Glen Grant 12 yo (43%, OB, Armando Giovinetti import, -/+1970)

Glen Grant 12 yo (43%, OB, Armando Giovinetti import, -/+1970)
We tried a Giovinetti import by Moray Bonding Co back in 2021 and loved it (WF91), and also another 12yo at 75 proof by Moray Bonding co for the UK market, which was even better (WF92), so why not now this OB version of similar pedigree… Colour: pale amber. Nose: I'm sure I've written similar before, but this is really a single profile, a fusion of waxes, dried exotic fruits, tiny threads of medicine and peat smoke, and also a stunning honeyed note that all together sings 'Old Glen Grant!' in full throated harmony. Arguably simple in some respects, but just utterly gorgeous and dripping with sophistication and class. A feeling of effortlessness. Mouth: 43% seems to work so perfectly for these bottles. This has perfect attack, very lean, mineral, rather surprisingly lemony and bright, assertive waxiness, herbal teas sweetened with honey, crystallised citrus peels and dried mango. Gorgeous and almost verging on gulpable. Add to all that a little liquorice root, some beeswax, a leathery note and a splash of old yellow Chartreuse. Finish: long, leafy, mineral, waxy and full of many types of preserved fruit. Also still beautifully honeyed. Comments: Once again, and I'm sure I've written it many times, the key words are: class, sophistication and pleasure! This is why I'm into old style whiskies, this would have been a relatively simple, entry level bottling and yet almost all similar contemporary OB 12yo bottlings are dots in this one's rear view mirror by comparison. I think it's also worth noting that the difference between these old Glen Grants sealed with a cork, versus those with a screw cap, likely the 10yo we just had, seems to be quite pronounced after several decades. I've tried my fair share of these old OB Glen Grants by now and I would say cork is king. 

SGP: 652 - 91 points.

 

 

Glen Grant (70 proof, 'Supplied by Duke Street Vintners', circa 1950s)

Glen Grant (70 proof, 'Supplied by Duke Street Vintners', circa 1950s)
There was an age statement at one point, but sadly the condition of the label means we've lost that info. Judging by the capsule, cork and glass though, I think this is comfortably bottled around 1950s. Colour: pale straw. Nose: incredible freshness and vibrant waxiness. A profile that is pure distillate and hugely charismatic, dominated by waxes, putty, herbs, eucalyptus and a highly pronounced mineral quality, reminiscent of some very old Clynelish in fact, I'm thinking specifically  of the old spring cap 12yo OB Clynelish. Many subtle aromas start to emerge with time, such as bike chain grease, dried mint, heather honey and some very classic camphor impressions. A wonderful nose. Mouth: hard to believe this would be only 40%, once again the character is dominated by these stunning waxy and honey components, also wee white stone fruits, more herbal notes such as herbal teas and herbal liqueurs (hello Chartreuse once again). It's also got a stunning vegetal side that strays into very specific umami notes like Maggi and bouillon. I still find even a little sweet malt extract and lemon barley water. Finish: rather long, and surprisingly warming with a growing peppery sense that suggest crushed rocket and watercress, then fennel seed and celery salt. More lovage and Maggi in the aftertaste and an ever-present waxiness too. Comments: even at 40%, the greatest and most impeccable distillates are indomitable it would seem. The purity and simple power of character in this one is profound and totally beautiful. Finally, it's also worth noting that I couldn't tell you at all what the age might have been, this profile reminds me of 5yo and 25yo Glen Grants from this production era, neither age statement would surprise me - another indication of an incredible distillate. 

SGP: 462 - 93 points. 

 

 

Glen Grant 8 yo (70 proof, Gordon Graham & Co Ltd, circa 1930s)

Glen Grant 8 yo (70 proof, Gordon Graham & Co Ltd, circa 1930s)
One of the oldest of these old Glen Grant labels that I've ever come across. It also, rather charmingly, tells us that Gordon Graham & Co were located at 31 and 33 Market Street. Colour: the palest of white wines, almost verging on new make. Nose: this really is new make that has been cleaned up in refill wood, in fact you could probably nose this and write an essay about how it is possible to 'tidy' up a spirit without technically 'maturing' it, if the wood is neutral enough. I seriously wonder if we'd have achieved a similar profile to this using amphora? Or glass demijohns? Ok, probably not. Anyway, this one also displays a stunning herbal quality, but these are really fresh herbs, crushed green herbs that include lemon thyme, chives, parsley and tarragon. It's also peppery, very subtly medicinal and displaying some background notes of liquorice. Also wax, a very prominent and clear waxiness, and an almost salty honey note alongside it. I find the freshness and the sharpness of this profile just amazing. Mouth: shares much with the Duke Street bottling, but this is even more 'ideological', in that it is profoundly about bitter herbal notes, crystallised honey and pure wax. Again, hard to imagine this is only 70 proof, but perhaps we need to adjust our preconceptions about such things with distillates from this era? Continues to become even fatter and more petrolic in the mouth, maybe adding some pristinely grassy and bitter olive oil, some chalk, some soot and more peppery and bitter herbal qualities. Finish: once again, surprisingly long despite the low bottling strength. Very honeyed, waxy and glowing with more mineral oils, a glimmer of white stone fruits once again and then just wax, wax, wax in the aftertaste. Comments: stunning, and rather humbling to taste. Simple in one sense, but the assertion, and clarity, of personality on display, particularly on the palate, is just hypnotic and completely remarkable. I would say that bottlings like this one are the perfect example of what I mean when I say whiskies such as this on possess 'soul' - they go beyond that which is simply 'technically' excellent and deliver something 'more' that is complicated and highly challenging to properly articulate. I know that saying 'whiskies with soul' sounds like marketing doublespeak, but I believe that when used sparingly and very specifically in relation to these sorts of historic distillates, it can have real meaning. Anyway, even on a technical level, this one is still flying very high, I had it on 92, but trying again side by side with the Duke Street Vintners bottling, I think they are of the same quality. 

SGP: 472 - 93 points. 

 

 

Happy Hogmanay when it comes around, and all the very best for 2024!

 

 

 

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Glen Grant we've tasted so far

 

December 29, 2023


Whiskyfun

Time

The New Time Warp Sessions, today Bowmore 1999 vs. 1969

View of Bowmore at twilight, 2015 (WF Archive)

Some reactions here and there following our mini-Bowmore tasting session yesterday made me think it would be good to have another one, more or less similar. For instance, this very recent Bowmore, distilled in 1999 and perhaps strongly influenced by wine, as is the trend these days, alongside another official Bowmore, distilled exactly thirty years earlier and carefully protected from any unwanted bacchic assault. We continue to believe that aside from traditional sherry, Scottish malt whisky should not need to be flavoured with table wine to become drinkable.

 

 

Bowmore 1999/2023 'Hand filled' (47.2%, OB, Vaults Secret Tour, 2nd fill French wine barrique, cask #2304, 10cl)

Bowmore 1999/2023 'Hand filled' (47.2%, OB, Vaults Secret Tour, 2nd fill French wine barrique, cask #2304, 10cl) Three stars and a half
I believe these 'samples' have been available for many months. It's to be noted that it was a refill barrique, so probably nothing as frightening as a new one. Having said that, we'd have loved to know a little more about the origins, even if according to pictures, it was a very, very old cask, possibly one that had previously sheltered the infamous 'Bowmore Claret' (WF 49) that, indeed, had been bottled in 1999. In that case it could have been an old barrique of Suntory-owned Château Lagrange (all right, enough of this chitchat, S.) Colour: amber copper. Nose: There's quite a medicinal aspect to start with, abundant in juniper and coriander seeds, almost reminiscent of oak-aged gin, before hints of orange peel and sea water at low tide (really) give a leg up to a rather oily peat that remains elegant and coastal, nonetheless. Eventually, there's a lot of dried seaweed but very little blackcurrant, raspberry, or strawberry, thankfully! Mouth: The taste is much more uncertain, as if the previous contents of the barrel hadn't been enough to obliterate all the winey notes. So, we end up with a fair bit of blackcurrant, leather, tomato leaf, bay leaf, or rubber, but luckily, the distillate manages to get itself out of trouble, thanks to its distinctly salty and even fishy notes. Alas, very few exotic fruits make it through in this affair, with bay leaf and juniper remaining very prominent. Finish: long, salty, spicy, quite rubbery, with green pepper and cherry stems at the end. Comments: all things considered, it fares well. It's not my style, it lacks coherence and is a bit discordant, but it's still Bowmore and I adore Bowmore. We are far from the terrifying 'Claret' of that bizarre era.
SGP:566 - 83 points.

Bowmore 1969 (43%, OB, sherry casks, Auxil Import France, +/-1990) Five stars
I insist, and as you know, Bowmores distilled in the 1960s have always been legendary. Quite widely distributed, in Italy and also in France, they have the peculiarity, in my humble opinion, of being strangely quite mediocre when you first open them, a phenomenon that has already caused a fair number of diplomatic incidents, even in the chicest of bars. However, after just two or three days, the exotic fruits come to power and the poor pumpkin then transforms into a veritable princess carriage! Colour: dark gold. Nose: the bottle has obviously had time to breathe, and seldom do peat smoke, mango, passion fruit, and blood oranges harmonize so wonderfully. Touches of white truffles perfect the masterpiece, before a long procession of little fruity notes begin to unfold; Szechuan pepper, fresh hops, honeysuckle, yuzu, nectarines, myrtle… All of this is splendid. Mouth: a palate recognisable among thousands, shared between peat and exotic fruits that keep dancing a wild tango, leading to those legendary salty notes. A bit of coffee and walnut liqueur also remind us that we're dealing with sherry casks, of rare elegance. Finish: of medium length, rich but very fresh, heavily marked by the small citrus fruits. The signature is extremely Bowmore-like, very saline. Commentary: these Bowmores were part of the world's greatest malts and we may not have heirs to them. The salty notes remind us of the legend of the casks that were rolled into the sea from the distillery dock to the "puffers" (those small boats used to transport the casks to the continent), which casks thereby absorbed a bit of sea water en route. But legend or reality?

SGP :753 - 93 points.

(Thank you Hanpo and The Golden Promise)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Bowmore we've tasted so far

 

December 28, 2023


Whiskyfun

Time

The New Time Warp Sessions, today Bowmore 36/66 vs. 18/67

Bowmore

Inside No1 Vaults in 2015 (Marcel van Gils)

We find ourselves a bit shaken between Christmas and New Year's – and between us, we drank too much wine over Christmas - but we still manage to have some nice tastings, like this pair of Bowmore distilled in the 1960s, a flagship period for the distillery. Although it's not absolutely impossible that in twenty years, we'll declare the flagship period of Bowmore to be the 2020s. And why not? In any case, we're going to taste the lighter whisky first, although it's also the oldest, then an older bottling.

 

 

Bowmore 36 yo 1966/2002 (40.2%, Jack Wiebers Whisky World, Old Train Line, cask #3309, 144 bottles)

Bowmore 36 yo 1966/2002 (40.2%, Jack Wiebers Whisky World, Old Train Line, cask #3309, 144 bottles) Five stars
A quite legendary series by Jack Wiebers who has always loved all types of transport, especially trains and boats. In my opinion, these old Bowmores held their light alcohol degrees well, due to their aromatic richness and texture, so no fear because of this low degree. Colour: gold. Nose: and here is this incredible profile that suggests a little demon decided to mix mango and clementine juices with heavy fuel and seawater. This nose is not at all tired, on the contrary, it reminds us of the best Bowmores of the 1960s that were bottled nearly thirty years ago (my God, already). Of course, that cannot be the case, but one could almost imagine that this barrel was transferred into demi-johns at a certain point, in the manner of some great cognacs. This nose is sumptuous, that's all. Oh, and those juicy peaches! Mouth: not the slightest trace of tiredness, a very fine woodiness, and our much-anticipated slightly salty and tarry exotic fruits. The mangos of course, but also the bananas, indeed the clementines, and passion fruits, papayas... Then seawater and shellfish, while the whole becomes more and more maritime and, consequently, less tropical. But it remains masterful and of great finesse all along, while the sensation in the mouth is very imposing for a whisky offered at just over the minimum official requirement of 40% vol. Finish: even the finish is rather long, extremely Bowmore-like, with a bit of tar this time, a very marked salinity, and fruit peels afterwards. Some ashes and bitter almonds in the aftertaste. Comments: it's a style that has remained inimitable and enthusiasts still wonder, nearly sixty years later, where all these sublime exotic fruits came from. Like at Laphroaig, although the 'fruit mix' was different there in the south.
SGP:653 - 93 points.

Bowmore 1967 (43%, OB, sherry casks, Auxil Import France, +/-1985)

Bowmore 1967 (43%, OB, sherry casks, Auxil Import France, +/-1985) Five stars
So, roughly an 18-year-old. Typically, these malts were offered in three versions, at 43%, 50%, and sometimes 57% vol. We had tasted the 50% version for Christmas last year and were astounded, as the whisky had been complex and majestic – probably one of the best in the world. But let's not be mistaken, the original juice was so profound that the versions set at lighter degrees, like this one, were not necessarily more fragile or less stunning, they were simply rather intended for enthusiasts generally frightened by high degrees. Times have indeed changed... Colour: gold. Nose: it seems to confirm that the most mythical vintages were indeed those from 1964 to 1967, with of course some majestic exceptions before and after this short period. Nonetheless, this impression of a fruit juice cocktail raised by the seaside is simply irresistible. From mangos to prickly pears, through clementines, blood oranges, papayas, and guavas (in moderation), here is the journey of this sumptuous bouquet that elevates your soul and soothes your mind. Or maybe it's the other way around. Some aspects also remind us of old Bushmills malts. A few touches of eucalyptus and old chartreuse and Bénédictine complete this olfactory work of art. Mouth: taut, rather herbal and marked by blue-green teas at first, then fruitier, but with a perfect balance that goes through pink pepper, candied lemon, borage, and then those very Bowmore-like exotic fruits which it becomes pointless to list once again. Finish: of medium length and sprinkling quality fruity tisanes, eglantine, a bit of green earl grey, jasmine, peach leaf, and finally airplane mango that makes a majestic return on the retro-olfaction. Comment: there is hardly any peat smoke left in these wonderful Bowmores, but their aromatic footprint remains, so to speak. As we said, these old Bowmores, indeed like the Laphroaigs from the same periods, will always keep the peat of their youth in memory. In any case, this old OB is incredibly close to the tireless 'Jack Wiebers'.

SGP:752 - 94 points.

(With thanks to the Auld Alliance, Tim, Hun and the Golden Promise)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Bowmore we've tasted so far

 

December 27, 2023


Whiskyfun

Time

The New Time Warp Sessions, Today a few Caol Ila 2013 - 1972 (and wines)

We like to do this, to select whiskies somewhat at random and without absolute logic, as long as they all come from the same distillery. In this case, Caol Ila, a reliable choice as everyone knows. And perhaps we'll even have two or three from the old distillery, distilled before the demolition and then the reconstruction from 1972 – 1974.

Caol Ila

 

 

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (56.7%, Lady of the Glen, Ruby Port finish, cask # #316112, 299 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (56.7%, Lady of the Glen, Ruby Port finish, cask # #316112, 299 bottles) Four stars
We are amidst a full-on invasion of wine casks in malt whisky, and the little ruby Ports are no exception. Thank goodness, our friends are getting better and better at handling these peculiar things, and many are no longer so off-putting, and usually without the scents of raspberry detectable from five metres away. But others are, indeed. Colour: orange. Yes, indeed. Nose: it's alright, it leans a bit towards rum, with quite a bit of brown sugar, crème brûlée, nougat, muscovado sugar... As you've gathered, there aren't as many red fruits, almost none at all. On the other hand, the smoke is pretty, like oranges that have been barbecued. With water: a slightly sulphurous aspect now, a bit of town gas, aubergines, new leather, but also tarte tatin and dried seaweed on the beach. Mouth (neat): smoke, slightly burnt caramel, pepper and cloves, then a lot of juniper. A Dutch aspect, we might say. With water: leather, orange zest, pipe tobacco, marmalade, cumin. Finish: long, with almost identical notes, then more salt. Comments: a young Caol Ila, quite thick, not bad at all once you get used to it. Very Scotch malt 3.0 (cask-driven); frankly, it works.

SGP:565 - 85 points.

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2023 (59.9%, Elixir Distillers, The Single Malts of Scotland, LMDW, New Vibrations, cask # 320281, 283 bottles)

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2023 (59.9%, Elixir Distillers, The Single Malts of Scotland, LMDW, New Vibrations, cask # 320281, 283 bottles) Four stars
There's no doubting here. Colour: white wine. Nose: the exact opposite of the 'Lady', with much more maritime purity, fresh oysters and crabs, manzanilla, langoustines, seaweed (wakame), broken branches, with a hint of gorse and carnation way in the background, and of course lemon and a bit of vanilla. With water: no joke, it's manzanilla. Mouth (neat): who could argue with this lemon juice laced with iodine, seawater, oysters, green pepper, mercurochrome, and cigar ashes? With water: even smokier, and saltier too. It becomes 'pointed' and even a bit feisty. Finish: very long, more peppery but with just as much salinity. Lemon liqueur and verbena in the aftertaste. Comments: it's still young and very tense, but class speaks volumes.
SGP:667 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 14 yo 2008/2023 (53.8%, Milroy's, Soho Selection, 1st fill palo cortado octave, cask #314557E)

Caol Ila 14 yo 2008/2023 (53.8%, Milroy's, Soho Selection, 1st fill palo cortado octave, cask #314557E) Four stars and a half
Aged in a refill hogshead and 're-racked' in 2021 in palo cortado. So, back to very active casks… Colour: amber. Nose: palo cortado works, I believe it's not 'sherry' they would make hastily just to season bespoke sherry casks for the whisky business. Apricot jam, touch of seawater, gorse, cigarettes, roasted and honeyed pecans, smoked ham, pinesap bonbons… It's just awesome. With water: old apples, medlars, jujubes, mead, sweet white wine (petit manseng), rose petals… Mouth (neat): spicy and floral, a little unlikely in that respect but in fact, I love this. Big bacon seasoned/cured with flower jellies, apricot jam and honey. With water: more floral yet, towards pure meadows honey. It's become stunning – as long as you love honey as much as I do. Finish: medium, sweet, ultra-honeyed. Comments: it's a spectacular, unusual baby, worth chasing down but I believe they did not produce too many bottles. The honey almost 'ate' the peat, seriously.
SGP:754 - 88 points.

Oh, naturally…

Caol, Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, +/-2023)

Caol Ila 12 yo (43%, OB, +/-2023) Four stars
Would you imagine that we last tried the official 12 in 2018, while it was even a 2017 batch? But it's been very good (WF 86). When you distill more than 6 million litres of pure alcohol per year (the current capacity), I'd wager you had the opportunity of selecting particularly successful casks. Colour: straw. Nose: yes, of course, it's quite compelling, very well-balanced, fresh and coastal, with the notable green apple, prawns, oysters, smoked fish, and ashes in the fireplace. Or in the ashtray. Mouth: a touch of vanilla roundness, peaches, or rather lemon, charcoal, sea water, whelks and periwinkles, fine oysters, green olives, mild chilli, pastis, lemon, gentian and a bit of fresh ginger... Finish: rather long and fresh, citrusy, with a very attractive salinity. The oysters make a comeback in the aftertaste. Comments: am I dreaming, or has this little Caol Ila 12 gotten even better? But be wary, at 43% ABV, it goes down quite easily.

SGP:556 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 13 yo 2009/2023 (55.2%, The Dava Way, LMDW, New Vibrations, hogshead)

Caol Ila 13 yo 2009/2023 (55.2%, The Dava Way, LMDW, New Vibrations, hogshead) Four stars
Colour: white wine. Nose: It's the 12-year-old with a bit more punch, simply put, giving it a slightly more medicinal quality, with a stronger presence of mercurochrome and iodine tincture. Little else differs. With water: the same, plus some notes of vine peach and acacia flower. Palate (neat): the same feeling, the 12-year-old is sharper, but the foundation is virtually the same. With water: likewise, just a touch more incisive and medicinal. Finish: the same. Comments: same and excellent. And thus, inevitably...
SGP:556 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 1972/1987 (40%, Jas. Gordon & Co., Celtic label, Auxil Import France)

Caol Ila 1972/1987 (40%, Jas. Gordon & Co., Celtic label, Auxil Import France) Five stars
1972 was a pivotal year since the old Caol Ila distillery was demolished, then rebuilt and expanded on the same site to increase from two to six stills. The new Caol Ila resumed production in 1974, which is why if you come across Caol Ila 1973, you should probably run the other way. In any case, here we are with one of the very last versions created in the old distillery, reputed to be peatier, coaly, and wild. Jas. Gordon, short for James Gordon, was a sub-brand for certain markets of the famous Gordon & MacPhail house. Couleur : straw. Nose: even at 40% ABV, the old Caol Ilas demonstrate some power, with a gorgeous smoke reminiscent of an old oil stove that's backdrafting a bit, carbon, pencil lead, charcoal, or even a bonfire on the beach with driftwood and dry seaweed. There's also a bit of fat, tallow, some cough syrup notes, cough lozenges, and then fruitier touches, like in all these old peated whiskies from Islay, but here it's rather the bergamot that takes over from Bowmore's famous mango or Laphroaig's passion fruit. Mouth: here too we are surprised by the depth and lack of weakness in this old malt which will have nonetheless spent nearly forty years in a simple screw-cap bottle. The same fattiness (bacon), the smoky and medicinal side, bergamots and yuzu, a bit of pine sap, then a growing salinity... One could come to prefer these lower degrees to the full proof and other cask strengths. You are right, let's not exaggerate... Finish: lighter, which is quite normal, but still very evocative of Islay. You could almost hear some old sea shanties in a pub on the island; after all, the Ileachs are known to sing in tune even after a few too many drinks. Comment: very similar to the 15-year-old 1972 offered under the Connoisseurs Choice banner by Gordon & MacPhail. I have never compared them, but they might well house the same juice.

SGP :544 - 91 points.

Caol Ila 25 yo 1976/2001 (59.9%, Signatory Vintage for LMDW, Straight From The Cask, hogshead, cask #8087, 423 bottles)

Caol Ila 25 yo 1976/2001 (59.9%, Signatory Vintage for LMDW, Straight From The Cask, hogshead, cask #8087, 423 bottles) Five stars
This one was distilled two years after the distillery's reconstruction, so it can be assumed that some final adjustments had been made. However, 1976 remains a rather rare vintage on the market, perhaps, this is purely speculative, because the blenders of the big brands in the group, like Johnnie Walker, needed the entire production while at the same time, Brora had begun to reduce the peat level in its wonderful distillate. It's true that there often were little games of musical chairs within the four aces of peat of the D.C.L. (Brora, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Port Ellen). Colour: pale gold. Nose: there's this increased purity of Caol Ila, always kind of purer than Lagavulin although the malt used was said to be the same. The stills are so different! We are thus in the presence of a very coastal profile, marked by seaweed, sea spray, oysters, and driftwood, then smoked fish specialties, also anchovies, bottarga, glasswort, all the crabs fished in the Sound of Islay, right next to the distillery... All of this only intensifies after adding water, everything becomes even more marine and salty. Chalky notes complete the picture. Mouth: very powerful, of course, the very maritime side of these Caol Ilas is present, with notes reminiscent of boat ropes, tar, teak oil, motor oil, and especially ashes. Grape seed oil and lime follow suit, one would think of Sancerre once again. A few drops of water will relax the malt but at the same time further reinforce the, let's say, 'fishy' and even medicinal side. Rollmops and gauze strips, why not? It remains very peaty, as peaty as Lagavulin for sure. And perhaps even as peaty as Port Ellen... Finish: very long, always pure, always totally coastal. You've just come back from a long walk on the beach ended by a visit to the port where some old trawlers were being repaired. There's an impression of tar and motor oil in the aftertaste. Comment: alas this style started to be a little less in demand while the famous whisky loch was filling up, Scottish whisky supply beginning to outstrip demand. It was a few years later that Caol Ila also began producing unpeated malt, the famous "Highland Caol Ila" which was to fill certain gaps created by the sudden closure of dozens of distilleries within the group, starting in 1983. But that's another story.

SGP: 556 – 91 points

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Caol ila we've tasted so far

 

December 25, 2023


Whiskyfun

Wishes

 

Time

The Time Warp Sessions, Christmas Special, a quintet of Port Ellen from 1971 to 1982

They keep getting better. New Port Ellen releases are always on the horizon, so we can hope that a connection will soon be made with the "new" Port Ellen, which should begin distilling before long. It's quite amusing to think we'll have 50-year-old Port Ellens on one hand, and 10-year-olds on the other. Well, we shall see. In the meantime, let's enjoy some brand-new vintage Port Ellens and a couple of old young independents as well, to get a taste of this intriguing future prospect. I believe we'll arrange these Port Ellens in ascending order of alcohol strength, which seems sensible. We've sampled the first two, in French, if you please, for Whisky Magazine & Fine Spirits, a magnificent publication, almost a coffee table mook, really. I highly recommend it.

Islay
A harmless photograph of Islay, near
Port Ellen, year 2000 (WF Archive)

 

 

Port Ellen 1971/1989 (40%, Jas. Gordon & Co., Auxil Import France)

Port Ellen 1971/1989 (40%, Jas. Gordon & Co., Auxil Import France) Five stars
The Port Ellen distillery was only relaunched in 1967, after having been closed since 1929, so we are discussing a vintage from the very beginning of its revival, although the stills had already been converted to steam by then. Port Ellen was operational for only sixteen years and fell victim to the wave of closures in 1983, but the malt quickly achieved cult status, initially through releases by Gordon & MacPhail in the 1980s, of which we have a fine example before us. Colour: gold. Nose: what impresses here is the purity of the peat – it's distinctly more taut than its neighbour Lagavulin, and also carries a stronger maritime influence, with additional notes of polish and paraffin. In the background, there are bitter almonds. It's precise, almost straightforward, with a clear and most attractive line. But all in all, it's a rather approachable Port Ellen at the moment, who would have thought? Mouth: it's almost like tasting oyster water mixed with a bit of motor oil and lemon. This is even more precise, more meticulously defined than on the nose, with a salinity that keeps growing. Finish: quite long and even more pronounced, with slightly oily oysters. Did you know that excellent oysters are produced on the Isle of Islay? Comments: perhaps in an effort to keep pace with its neighbour Lagavulin and as the demand for peated malt from blenders was growing, Port Ellen then became richer and more tar-like towards the mid-1970s. This version is real lacework and probably one of the best 1971 vintages from the racing stables of Gordon & MacPhail, while others, in my opinion, had been a bit more fragile.
SGP: 366 - 90 points.

Port Ellen 1978/1992 (43%, Dun Eideann, Auxil Import France, casks #70-77, 3,500 bottles)

Port Ellen 1978/1992 (43%, Dun Eideann, Auxil Import France, casks #70-77, 3,500 bottles) Five stars
Please call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade. Dun Eideann was a brand from Signatory Vintage that was mostly found in Italy and France. Personally, I've never noticed any major quality differences between the two entities. Signatory Vintage was also one of the very first companies to offer independent Port Ellen, notably the dazzlingly fresh 10-year-olds that have become highly sought after because opportunities to taste this distillery in its youthful prime are extremely rare. We have already tasted many wonders under the Dun Eideann label, including Ardbeg 1973 and 1974 for Donato in Italy, which brought tears to our eyes. Tears of joy, of course. Colour: white wine. Nose: it's immediate, sublime, ultra-precise, rich, irresistible. Candle wax, soot, smoked salmon, seawater, a bit of grapefruit, linoleum and Bakelite, then very ripe apple rather than citrus in the fruit section. Also a touch of gentian, candle smoke, coffee beans, celeriac, leather, horse saddle, various cleaning products, extinguished pipe, new vinyl (LP)… What a whirlwind! And let's not forget the proverbial new tyres. Mouth: massive despite the low alcohol content. Very sweet and salty, with of course a lot of smoke, apples and citrus, Thai basil and coriander, a slight touch of chilli in the background... But it's so good! Let's not forget the oysters and, to put it simply, the whelks often found in Port Ellen. Perhaps a manufacturing secret. I'm joking. Finish: long, almost refreshing, still pure yet rich and full-bodied. Sublimely contradictory. Kumquat chutney on the finish. Commentary: the pure and precise complexity of Signatory Vintage's small batches which consist or consisted of taking a certain number of casks with simply consecutive numbers. Why bother when such a result is achieved?

SGP: 566 - 94 points.

Port Ellen 40 yo 1982/2023 (59.1%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, 75th Anniversary, refill butt, cask # #17544, 290 bottles)

Port Ellen 40 yo 1982/2023 (59.1%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, 75th Anniversary, refill butt, cask # #17544, 290 bottles) Five stars
We've already sampled a sublime Macallan in this anniversary series by Douglas Laing last Monday. I must say, we have absolutely no doubt about this Port Ellen, or the next one, as both come from the same original stable, so to speak. It's worth noting the incredible potency of these malts after forty years, perhaps due to casks that have simply let nothing but water through over all these years. True casks for maturation, not just for flavouring (to put it a bit bluntly). Colour: straw (hooray). Nose: it's crystalline, precise, very maritime, with chalk, olives, and lemon, plus the much-anticipated tar and that famous old tweed jacket that has weathered all the storms and which we mention from time to time. It's a bit like an old grandfather's watch found at the bottom of a drawer, which starts to tick to perfection with the first winding. With water: fresh paint, motor oil, new tyres, and seashells. It's down to the micron. Mouth (neat): simply grandiose. Camphor, lemon, chalk, oysters, and tar. I repeat, camphor, lemon, chalk, oysters, and tar. This tension and peat are just unbelievable, I don't think anything could touch this Port Ellen, even after one hundred and fifty years in a perfectly polished cask. With water: and it even loves water, now expressing tons of different citrus notes, especially pink grapefruit. Finish: a slight metallic and chalky quality of the finest kind, atop the grapefruits, lemons, and seaweed. The tar lingers in the aftertaste. Comments: it's just incredible. In fact, all the new Port Ellen we've tasted this year, and there have been a few, have been utterly superlative.

SGP: 566 - 94 points.

Port Ellen 40 yo 1982/2023 (60.2%, Hunter Laing, Eidolon #3, 406 bottles)

Port Ellen 40 yo 1982/2023 (60.2%, Hunter Laing, Eidolon #3, 406 bottles) Five stars
Eidolon #2 was perfect when we tasted it in October this year. The only thing we might now miss is the element of surprise; we're even almost at the point of complaining about that (yes, S., that's right, but of course...). Colour: gold, a shade darker, or rather less light than the '75th'. Nose: in fact, it's quite different, more complex and consequently less finely honed and ultra-precise than its sister cask. There are old copper coins (pennies), very ripe cherries, hawthorn and rosehip teas, also more menthol and eucalyptus, even camphor, quite a lot of elderflower, and indeed tar, smoke, and maritime elements, but in more moderate quantities. Also, slightly smoked nougat, if that existed (we'd buy it straight away, wouldn't we?). With water: the tension, purity, citrus peels, seaweed, tar, wax, and ship's deck oil re-emerge... It loves water, as any self-respecting Port Ellen should (we do respect them all, ha). Mouth (neat): well, it's really brutal, full-on concentrated lemon juice, pepper and chili, with notes of slightly burnt black nougat. Water will bring order to all this... With water: Szechuan pepper, pink grapefruit, coriander, mandarin liqueur, a touch of sriracha sauce, even two or three sultanas, perhaps. Finish: now it's really perfect, taut as a bow string, with splendid citrus and a formidable peppery peat. Comments: to be honest, we knew we were going to be in the same scoring cluster, it was just obvious. This one was just a bit rounder, softer, more complex, less 'just a blade'. Love both styles.

SGP:566 - 94 points.

Regarding blades, and to conclude this on a note that's likely fiery...

Port Ellen 15 yo 1980/1996 (62.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, US bottling)

Port Ellen 15 yo 1980/1996 (62.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, US bottling) Five stars
Apparently, Elon Musk bought up all the stocks of these young Cadenheads from the early to mid-1990s to use as rocket fuel. That's why, it is said, some rockets exploded in mid-flight, and there was a faint smell of malt in the atmosphere. Yep, I read that on X. That said, 1980 is one of the rarer vintages of Port Ellen, I haven't tasted many of them. Colour: white wine. Nose: 90% alcohol and triple-concentrated lemon juice hit our poor nostrils at first, followed by rhubarb juice and very unripe kiwi. We won't dwell on that too much, I think... With water: there you have it, diesel fuel, lemon, aspirin tablets (not that we need them), dried fish, seaweed, tar, and clay. Superb (water is my usual Vittel). Mouth (neat): diluted ashes in lemon juice, sweetened with cane syrup. It's very warm, rather straightforward at this stage, and quite brutal... With water: once again, it swims perfectly. Olive oil, tar, lemon, oysters, and ashes. You see what I mean. Finish: the same for a good length of time. The aftertaste is very peaty, very salty, it's almost like seawater and liquid smoke. Comments: in fact, it took us at least twenty-five years to realise that Port Ellen needed a lot of time to mature, or that it had to be tasted really young, like this one. Like the greatest wines that close up before opening again! It's true that all the PEs that were a bit disappointing were between fifteen and twenty-five years old, it seems to me, but of course, others were brilliant at these average ages.

SGP:468 - 92 points.

Well, we hope that we shall still have a lot of yet-untried Port Ellen to taste in 2024.

(Thank you, Andy, the Golden Promise, Salvatore and Whisky Mag & Fine Spirits)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Port Ellen we've tasted so far

 

December 24, 2023


Whiskyfun

  A word of caution
Let me please remind you that my humble assessments of any spirits are done from the point of view of a malt whisky enthusiast who, what's more, is aboslutely not an expert in rum, brandy, tequila, vodka, gin or any other spirits. Thank you – and peace!

 

 

Twenty Choice French spirits for Christmas Eve - 2017 to 1914

Cognac

Cognac, mobilisation of September 4, 1914 (Geneanet)

 

I couldn't really celebrate Christmas Eve without a few top-shelf cognacs and armagnacs. When I was a little boy, in the 1990s (yes, but of course, S.), these spirits always graced the family tables at the end of festive meals. Typically, they were presented on large trays ceremoniously brought out by grandfather, alongside numerous fruit brandies, liqueurs 'for the ladies' (terrible times indeed, thankfully all that has been cancelled) and, if we were lucky, a bottle of whisky of any origin, a survivor of the aperitif, generally brought back exclusively from the duty-free shops at airports by the 'men' of the family of travelling age. But one should never ask for the origins, the Scotch, Canadians, bourbons, and Irish were all lumped together. After all, it was just grain, distilled by cowboys or bagpipers and meant to be consumed exclusively with very large amounts of ice cubes and soda water, as an aperitif. In fact, I often found the same bottle Sunday after Sunday, the levels not going down much. It's true that there was mainly Champagne... Anyway, since then, I've seen the light and I think I've made up a lot for whisky, but those ancient cognacs and armagnacs, not always very good, by the way, remain etched in my memory forever. Happy Holidays!
We're going to taste all this at random... eenie, meenie, minie, moe... Oh, for old times' sake...

 

Martell V.S.O.P. 'Médaillon' (no A.B.V., probably 40%, OB, 'Duty Free Only', +/-1980)

Martell V.S.O.P. 'Médaillon' (no A.B.V., probably 40%, OB, 'Duty Free Only', +/-1980) Two stars
Colour: deep amber with copper tones. Nose: wow, winner! Unexpectedly rich and aromatic, very floral, with the usual stewed peaches, also Turkish delights, great sultanas, no traces of straight caramel but there is some tarte tatin, maple syrup and a little damp earth and perhaps whiffs of cigars wetted with cognac, as my grandpas used to smoke them. Pears poached in white wine. This is a true time machine, but I don't have much hope as far as the palate is concerned… Mouth: it is, indeed, a little flatter, with more burnt caramel, which would lead to notes of cardboard and burnt wood, pancake sauce, raisins, corn syrup… Old-style cognac character, and we're not talking about high-end bottles. Nose and palate are wildly different in that respect. Finish: medium, full of syrup and, most probably, rather a lot of boisé. A drop of chicken soup in the aftertaste, probably OBE. Comments: this is a little sad, the nose was quite superb.
SGP:641 - 76 points.

Tesseron 'Lot N°76 X.O Tradition' (40%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2022)

Tesseron 'Lot N°76 X.O Tradition' (40%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2022) Three stars
Possibly a 1976. Lot 90 was excellent (WF 87), Lot 53 brilliant (WF 90) and lot 29 a notch disappointing (WF 84). It's true that bottling at 40% vol. has become very 1990 indeed, let's see if this little 76 has been slaughtered or not… Colour: deep gold. Nose: I'm finding it extremely delicate, very floral, with some orange blossom water, honeysuckle, dandelions, then apricot jam, quince jelly, jasmine and some very elegant kind of mountain meadow honey, as well as preserved peaches, as (almost) usual. A splendid nose, indeed, but it does whisper a little bit, which I find a little frightening. I find some white wines bigger on the nose. Mouth: good, it's not flat, it's not even thin, but it is a little frustrating, we would have enjoyed a little more body to support this lovely maple syrup, the honeys, the flower fitters (acacia, zucchini)… What's more, it's starting to nosedive after twenty seconds, letting a little cardboard come out. And yet, these figs, this menthol, these raisins, these hints of white pepper, all that is excellent. Finish: short, sadly. Very frustrating, and it's certainly not the old Martell that's casting a shadow over this Tesseron. Peaches. Comments: we know that the French are much afraid of high alcohol content, and that the general public doesn't want it, but is this really a bottle for the general public? That said, the prices are very reasonable (£120), so can we really complain… And the juice was first-class.
SGP:441 - 81 points.

Dec 28 Update: Regarding Tesseron Cognacs, the lot numbers do not reflect the vintage, as is often the case nowadays. We are always dealing with multi-vintages. When they started bottling themselves rather than selling to the big houses, in 2003 from memory, and created their range, it was roughly the average year of distillation of the juices entering each lot. So, Lot 90 was and remains about 13-15 years, Lot 76 around 25-30 years, Lot 29 about 70 years, etc. Twenty years ago the practice of using 'lots' to suggest vintages while avoiding the existing extreme regulatory constraints was not as common as it has become today. (thanks a lot Nicolas H.!)

Good, I think we've had enough apéritif, let's talk…

Jean-Luc Pasquet 2017/2023 (40%, Berry Bros. & Rudd, The Pioneers, Petite Champagne, cask #72, 421 bottles)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 2017/2023 (40%, Berry Bros. & Rudd, The Pioneers, Petite Champagne, cask #72, 421 bottles) Four stars
English people offering their own selection of cognac – and at 40% vol. mind you -  isn't this like a return to the 1920s! And provocation? Seriously, we're expecting Agatha Christie's heirs to write a novel about this one. Colour: gold. Nose: got it, it's first about peel and oils, then about flowers and waxes. Lilac, spearmint, paraffin, pollen, leather polish, tiny whiffs of proper white truffle (Alba, 2,875.75€ a kilogram for smaller ones at time of writing, which is crazy), plus a drop of that sweet brown sauce they serve with dim-sum (not hoisin). Lovable, characterful nose, but will the palate stand the course at 40%? Mouth: okay, I get it, they wanted to highlight the texture of the spirit, which holds up so well that even at 40% ABV, it stands its ground. And it's true that the herbs, wax, and polish, the skins of nuts and apples, or even the peels of citrus fruits and the lily of the valley notes do the job. It remains that it would be interesting to compare it with the same juice bottled at 45 or 46% ABV. But it's true that the texture is spectacular (yes, we've got it!) Finish: of average length, even a bit short. Herbaceous with wax and caraway, and a pronounced signature of orange blossom. Alright, it holds up. Comments: a very fine demonstration, but still, 40% ABV... Even though it does overshadow the old '76'.
SGP:451 - 86 points.

Famille Cabanne 'Lot 68' (55.7%, The Whisky Jury, The Purist, Petite Champagne, 497 bottles, 2023)

Famille Cabanne 'Lot 68' (55.7%, The Whisky Jury, The Purist, Petite Champagne, 497 bottles, 2023) Five stars
A fairly large 'little' house in the Charente that's behind other brands such a Richard Delisle and their own brands of whisky and rum that they distribute. They do distill too! Colour: golden apricot. Nose: awesome start, towards liquorice, pastis, aniseed, spearmint… That's fairly unusual indeed but it works a treat, especially since you'll also find many juicy raisins, our friends the apricots and the peaches, mirabelles, honeys, triple-sec, mead… The liquorice behind all this is perfect. With water: a hint of old fir wood, a touch of camphor, Corinthian raisins, and a slight soapy aspect that takes time to dissipate after dilution (but that's inconsequential), followed by lychees and dried jujubes, almost transporting one to China. Mouth (neat): It's well-rounded yet taut, with a focus on dried apricots and indeed, on liquorice, along with the ever-present maple syrup, pistachio nougat, and slightly overripe apples. It has a somewhat rustic side that I find absolutely perfect. With water: one shouldn't add too much. Otherwise, I detect lemonade, a hint of ginger tonic, elderflower liqueur... Ah, the world of molecules! Finish: long, with a resurgence of pastis, mint liqueur, absinthe... Comments: quite the peculiar creature, I can truly understand why whisky enthusiasts would have selected this. It almost has an Armagnac quality, but do control your dropper. In fact, I love it.

SGP:561 - 90 points.

Good progress indeed...

Rémi Landier 'XO 50th Anniversary' (50%, OB, Fins Bois, magnums, 2023)

Rémi Landier 'XO 50th Anniversary' (50%, OB, Fins Bois, magnums, 2023) Five stars
We've previously enjoyed some superb Rémi Landier offerings, such as their 40th Anniversary bottling a decade ago (how quickly time passes). That one was a favourite (WF 90), and official Fins Bois are somewhat of a rarity. Colour: Deep gold. Nose: this cognac has a grassier note, in the finest sense of the term 'grassy'. It's also richer, and I detect ripe olive oil, a hint of chalk, a whisper of fresh bread (almost malt whisky-like), quince jelly, which is standard, a touch of patchouli, aged Sauternes... The elegance is pronounced, slightly more subdued, but in the best possible way. With water: notes of fresh and dried mint, mint tea (ideally with pine nuts), and a hint of cane sugar emerge... Mouth (neat): it's sweeter and fruitier, almost flamboyant, yet well-balanced, with hints of 'whisky' (peat? Surely not...), foliage, tobacco, an abundance of ripe melon, dried figs, dates, honey, beeswax... And I promise not to bring up Clynelish (S.!) Liquorice allsorts. With water: mint cordial comes to the fore again. Finish: long and even sweeter. A blend of chestnut purée with icing sugar and vanilla extracts. Plus, there's a note of meringue. Comments: a splendid Fins Bois, and my praise is not simply because they've bottled it in magnums.

SGP:551 - 90 points.

Regarding Fins Bois... Our thoughts go out to our friends at Grosperrin in Saintes, who have been flooded for quite some time due to the Charente river's high waters. Thankfully, it seems they've managed quite well.

Vallein Tercinier 32 yo 'Lot 90' (54.2%, Maltbarn, for Whisky AGE, Fins Bois, 142 bottles, 2023)

Vallein Tercinier 32 yo 'Lot 90' (54.2%, Maltbarn, for Whisky AGE, Fins Bois, 142 bottles, 2023) Four stars
Cognac for Taiwan done by a well-reputed German bottler, how global is that? Colour: dark gold with coppery tones. Nose: it starts off a bit like a compote, but also quite mineral, with bursts of crushed slate followed by the expected syrupy peaches and sultanas. There's a somewhat earthy and rooty side, quite typical of certain Fins or Bons Bois, but not all of them. Also, liquorice wood, as usual. With water: dried fruits, celeriac, cranberry and a slightly overcooked aspect. Mouth (neat): a light robust and rustic side, plenty of wood and mint, more liquorice wood, apricot jam and quite a good amount of spices from the oak, especially green pepper. A leathery and autumn leaf aspect. With water: it continues on the rooty and spicy side, it tickles a bit. Finish: long, robust, on cooked fruits with spices, particularly star anise and cinnamon. Comments: one might almost want to warm it up to make a hot Christmas cognac. Heaven forbid! A cognac more for the great outdoors than for the lounge, let's say.
SGP:561 - 85 points.

André Bertendeau 51 yo 'Lot 71' (52.9%, Maltbarn, Petite Champagne, 50 bottles, 2023)

André Bertendeau 51 yo 'Lot 71' (52.9%, Maltbarn, Petite Champagne, 50 bottles, 2023) Five stars
Very lovely Renoir-inspired label here and an old estate. It is said that all remaining cognacs made by the late Mr. Bertendeau have been put up for auction for the benefit of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Colour: amber. Nose: it's a compact and rather powerful old cognac, gathered around dried figs, apricot jam, raisins soaked in Cointreau, and fir honeydew. I'm very fond of this and detect no sign of fatigue; it's like an old Led Zeppelin record made in the same year. You see what I mean. With water: it unfolds considerably, revealing old books, tobacco, burlap, damp earth, old but perfect Burgundy white wine, and even more varieties of dried raisins. Mouth (neat): very fruity and jammy, it's all about the dried raisins and indeed, the triple sec. Still very compact, for the better. With water: it opens up again, towards damp earth, dried fruits, various kinds of mint, green teas, pu-ehr... Finish: Long, more on pine needles, moss, porcini mushrooms, humus... Comments: it becomes superbly forest-like at the end of the palate; just add water drop by drop, as it can be drowned in an instant and become overly woody.

SGP:561 - 90 points.

A little Borderies, if you please...

Prunier 1978/2023 (52.3%, OB, for Wine4You The Purist, Borderies, 42 bottles)

Prunier 1978/2023 (52.3%, OB, for Wine4You The Purist, Borderies, 42 bottles) Five stars
It's common to find very small batches like this one but remember that Cognac and Armagnac producers often draw from casks gradually as orders are placed, meaning that a large cask can be bottled many times. A small outturn of 42 bottles, as here, does not necessarily mean that the cask was nearly empty or that it was definitely a demijohn. No, we're not talking about octaves here. Colour: amber. Nose: a magnificent liquorice flavoured with vineyard peach and heather honey, with some basaltic notes. Splendid. With water: a hint of viognier (Château Grillet?) and dried figs. Mouth (neat): very classy, also quite compact but more on candied oranges with just a tiny bit of tar and pine resin in the background. Unbeatable. With water: it's a bit like a great white wine, a sensation I had already felt on the nose. Notes of artisanal Provençal nougat (not the kind you find at motorway service stations on the Autoroute du Soleil). Finish: good length, still compact, fruity, round but not placid at all. Comments: excellent, but once again, be careful with water. When in doubt, abstain.

SGP:651 - 91 points.

Daniel Bouju Très Vieux 'Batch 3' (51.7%, C. Dully Selection for Maltopedia and Juicyful China, Grande Champagne, D74-84 + A39-49, 200 bottles, 2023)

Daniel Bouju Très Vieux 'Batch 3' (51.7%, C. Dully Selection for Maltopedia and Juicyful China, Grande Champagne, D74-84 + A39-49, 200 bottles, 2023) Five stars
If I read this well, it's a blend of '74 to '84 vintages, so 39 to 49 years of age. I would like to remind you that in France, the word 'champagne' isn't necessarily connected to our favourite sparkling wine, as it means 'countryside' in Old French, hence there are places called 'Champagne' in many corners of our beautiful yet tumultuous country. However, today one cannot use it indiscriminately... Colour: mahogany. Nose: it's quite lovely, very traditional, leaning more towards coffee, chocolate, and pipe tobacco than most modern cognacs. A lot of black tea, prunes, aged rancio, with a hint of burnt wood, old nuts, and even truffle aromas. Also welcome touches of camphor. With water: little change, it's just that the black tea and dark chocolate become even more prominent. Mouth (neat): it's sweeter than expected, more honeyed, with loads of jams, figs, apricots, oranges… There are also hints of molasses, aged rum, even juniper, but the wood never gets in our way. The style is very well-controlled. With water: a drop is enough to bring out the dried fruits, dates, pears, bananas, and of course raisins... Finish: long but with a peculiar freshness, on oranges. That pairs perfectly with the chocolatey side. Comments: This old cognac is perfect for Christmas, with a fruitcake. Hard to do better in this slightly 'antique' style.
SGP:651 - 91 points.

Hold on tight, this is going to be a ride…

Prunier 'Lot 89' (62.1%, Swell de Spirits, Petite Champagne, 2023)

Prunier 'Lot 89' (62.1%, Swell de Spirits, Petite Champagne, 2023) Five stars
Colour: dark gold. Nose: it seems terrific, on orange and pear cakes, but let's not push our luck, we are quickly captivated by a very pretty cognac, much easier to nose at a very high degree than a malt whisky, for example... But one can still burn one's olfactory bulb just the same, if you ask me. With water: Cointreau, Sauternes, a bit of chicken broth, small muscat touches, quality mead, papaya… It's quite extravagant yet charming, nonetheless. Mouth (neat): rose water and lychees, really? Late harvest Gewurztraminer, really? With water: no, we return to oranges and orange blossom, Oriental pastries, honey, quince liqueur, bergamot… All of this is just excellent. Finish: long and soft (once reduced), very fruity, a bit exotic. Comments: I would like to try it with Thai food. And in reality, the rose water aspect never completely disappears; it even develops over time, which is quite fun.

SGP:641 - 90 points.

I think we're going to skip the armagnacs this time; we'll taste them in a few days. Because we still have quite a few cognacs that we absolutely wanted to taste this year (excuses, always excuses…)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Le Cognac de Jean-Michel L.95' (53.5%, OB, Trésors de Famille, Grande Champagne, 395 bottles, 2023)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Le Cognac de Jean-Michel L.95' (53.5%, OB, Trésors de Famille, Grande Champagne, 395 bottles, 2023) Five stars
Quickly ranked in the top five cognac houses, I shall say no more (is that even proper English, S.?). Colour: dark amber. Nose: orange and fig cake with little bits of rustic pear (from an old priest's orchard) and a dash of cane sugar. With water: smoke! But where does that come from? Mouth (neat): it's so good! The usual markers are there (peaches, dried grapes, liquorice, sweet wine) but there are also smaller elements, distilled little berries (rowan), mountain herbs (verbena), lemon balm, gentian, and even Alpine genepy. It's very, very good and goes down almost on its own. With water: I don't really find the smoke now, but everything else is just perfect. Iberian ham, herbs, edible flowers, dried fruits, and even hints of black olives. Finish: am I dreaming, are there malty notes? Comments: sensational and dangerous. Hence, dangerously sensational.

SGP:552 - 92 points.

The problem always lies with these cognacs that roam between 50% and 55% vol. Should we also taste them with water, as we always do, at the risk of disjointing them or even flattening them, or should we perhaps set different rules than those for whisky on WF? Should we raise the limit from 50 to 55% for brandies and rums, to avoid taking any risks? We'll delve into this subject later…

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Lot 98' (49.6%, Whic, Voyages Extraordinaires, Petite Champagne, 150 bottles)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Lot 98' (49.6%, Whic, Voyages Extraordinaires, Petite Champagne, 150 bottles) Five stars
Love Jules Verne but I cannot quite remember if any of his heroes was drinking cognac. Wilhelm Storitz? Phileas Fogg? Professeur Lindenbrock? We used to read Verne when we were kids, I suppose we should read him again. Colour: gold. Nose: It's quite delicate, starting with notes of old perfume, an ancient wardrobe, patchouli, lime blossom… But dried grapes, honeys and dried apricots immediately take over. This cognac is compact, ultra-balanced, undeniably fresh. We've practically got the score already, unless… Mouth: very ripe peaches, canned peaches, peach liqueur… Then there's dandelion honey (it's very clear, very creamy, very sweet) and maple syrup. A few drops of triple sec make the matters even easier. Finish: fairly long, leaning a bit more towards molasses and salted butter caramel, but this saltiness remains very light. A little herbaceous on the back end. Comments: as if on parade, not much to add. But wait, 1998, that makes it a 25-year-old already, doesn't it? All this is moving a bit too fast, if you ask me.
SGP:651 - 90 points.

Mauxion 50 ans (54%, In2spirit, Fins Bois, 90 bottles, 2023)

Mauxion 50 ans (54%, In2spirit, Fins Bois, 90 bottles, 2023) Four stars and a half
'Ans' means 'years', right? I believe this is a blend of 1967 to 1973 vintages, so from the best years of rock and roll (boomer beware). In2spirit is a Belgian bottler, while we know the Belgians know their cognac (and shrimp croquettes, naturally). Colour: light amber. Nose: pure Milanese panettone, hazelnut liqueur, spread (let's not name brands, shall we?) and walnut cake. And perhaps some roasted chestnuts. With water: hints of dried meat, Parma ham… Mouth (neat): a lot of strength in this 50-year-old, definitely some old wood, herbal teas, over-steeped tea, but also candied oranges, mandarin, hints of ginger, peppermint… With water: more mandarin, a mandarin that reminds us of that well-known Belgian specialty, Mandarine Napoléon. One might ask Ridley Scott why our Belgian friends continue to associate themselves with The Little Corporal, who, after all, set Europe ablaze (for Joséphine, apparently). Finish: good length, nice freshness, and with a very pretty fruitiness. Comments: this mandarin intrigues me a bit, but it's excellent, just a tiny, tiny bit tired. Really just barely. Here's a fitting quote from Napoléon for all lovers of spirits: "One must always reserve the right to laugh the day after at one's ideas of the night before." Or something like that.
SGP:651 – 89 points.

Mauxion 'Lot 60' (62%, In2spirit, Petite Champagne, 120 bottles, 2023)

Mauxion 'Lot 60' (62%, In2spirit, Petite Champagne, 120 bottles, 2023) Five stars
You might have noticed that the alcohol level is simply crazy for a cognac over sixty years old (assuming it spent all that time in a cask and not in a demijohn), we'll have to be very careful... Are you ready? Colour: gold. Nose: cake, varnish, bourbon, vanilla. All this is not 'normal', let's move on… With water: a bit of coconut, but it quickly gives way to honeys, autumn leaves, hints of rubber (new wellies), ointments, picture varnish, linseed oil, dried mushrooms, cigars… Mouth (neat): I feel like I have an old amontillado on my palate, just with a lot more watts. With water: now it's marvellous, with a perfect balance between the rubbery notes, oranges, camphor, figs and… old malt whisky. Finish: long, a bit burnt, malty, with chocolate and tobacco, strong honeys like green oak honeydew (coincidentally), some growing saltiness, and then just a sort of sweet-salty broth. Comments: this isn't the first 1960 Mauxion I've tasted, and they all have this 'trans', malty and resinous aspect. A whisky lover could only like it, it's true that this old cognac, while not without certain fragilities, has a very existential side (excuse me?)
SGP:661 – 91 points.

We'll go easy now, as we're about to lose 22% alcohol...

Prunier 1959 (40%, OB, Fins Bois)

Prunier 1959 (40%, OB, Fins Bois) Five stars
Not entirely certain when this was bottled, we're enjoying it here and now. The year 1959 was heralded as the vintage of the century for all French wines, yet as a renowned distiller recently noted on Facebook (can you believe it?), "Bad years for table wines aren't necessarily bad for us (and vice versa)"... Words of gold, undoubtedly. Colour: coppery amber. Nose: unbelievable, it's like we have wine in our glass. Old Sauternes, old Meursault, old Jurançon blanc, old Graves blanc... You get the picture, all from the legendary vintage 1959, of course. Humus, damp earth, mushrooms, and aged Belgian beer add even more complexity. This isn't cognac, it's poetry, but sure enough, at 40%, the palate might just crumble a bit, let's quickly check that... Mouth: well, no, not at all, the sweet spices compensate for the lightness, but we're truly on mushrooms, undergrowth, wild herbs, moss, humus, old stump, old concrete, last year's apples, nuts from the year before... It's akin to the very old, slightly fragile malts we used to find some years ago, Bunnahabhain, Tomintoul, Macduff, especially those from Duncan Taylor / Abe Rosenberg. But I digress, forgive me. Finish: a bit short, but so delicate... Lots of herbal teas and balms, with a signature that's very, very slightly dusty, which is normal. Comments: I don't know the exact age of this precious cognac, probably around sixty years. Well, it has remained quite sprightly!

SGP:451 - 90 points.

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Le Cognac de Paul L. 57' (42.3%, OB, Grande Champagne, Trésors de Famille, 319 bottles, 2023)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Le Cognac de Paul L. 57' (42.3%, OB, Grande Champagne, Trésors de Famille, 319 bottles, 2023) Five stars
A 65-year-old cognac, 100% Ugni Blanc, from Domaine Pradier-Gaillard, which, to be honest, I had never heard of until now. But that doesn't mean anything, of course. Colour: amber with copper highlights. Nose: it's very elegant yet still fresh and vibrant, starting with a hint of sherry, then moving on to fruit wines, fig wine, a few notes of old Muscat, marc, Malvasia, some mushrooms, wafts of old wine cellar, old barrels... But there's no sign of fatigue. Mouth: a magnificent sweetness without the slightest weakness, it's even quite tense, with flavourful herbal teas (mint, linden, thyme) and still a lot of ripe peaches, quince, plums, dried grapes, figs, and dates... A little bit of liquorice, pine resin, and star anise add even more tension to this very old cognac full of vigour and response. Finish: rather long, on plum tart and cinnamon, with just a slightly herbaceous and peppery aftertaste. Comments: there's a somewhat miraculous aspect to these cognacs that are over sixty years old, but it's true that on these small estates, the casks are watched like milk on the stove.

SGP:561 - 90 points.

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Lot 57 – 62' (50.6%, Swell de Spirits, That's The Spirit !, Grande Champagne, 200 bottles)

Jean-Luc Pasquet 'Lot 57 – 62' (50.6%, Swell de Spirits, That's The Spirit !, Grande Champagne, 200 bottles) Five stars
A true miracle. This bottle burst into Château WF just a month ago, and unfortunately I placed it on a piece of furniture adjacent to the table where we entertain our guests. Consequently, the level has tended to drop rather quickly, and it was by a narrow margin that we managed to save a few centilitres so that we could taste it properly. Colour: orange amber. Nose: full of hazelnuts and roasted peanuts, cakes, praline, tobacco, very light smoke, maple syrup, honey cakes, Corinthian raisins... It's really very appetizing on the nose. With water: the smoky wood aspect becomes even more pronounced, with fir and beech wood, some notes of molasses, a bit of damp earth... All quite compelling. Mouth (neat): sultanas, triple sec, mandarins, Muscat (Beaumes-de-Venise), orange blossom, a hint of burnt wood... With water: I understand our guests. It goes down too easily, it's even quite dangerous, once again. Oranges, honey, a basaltic side, flint... Finish: long, fresh, but firm. More dried raisins, orange liqueur, honey, and more spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, grey pepper... Comments: in fact, there's not much to say, except that the spices and this very light smoke add a lot of dimension.

SGP:562 - 91 points.

Mauxion 'Lot N°45' (45.2%, La Maison du Whisky, Through the Grapevine, Bons Bois, 2023)

Mauxion 'Lot N°45' (45.2%, La Maison du Whisky, Through the Grapevine, Bons Bois, 2023) Five stars
Imagine that this Bons Bois – Bons Bois being rare as single cask or small batch – was distilled just after the end of World War II. That was almost eighty years ago! Imagine also the joy that must have reigned in the countryside at that time... We also learn that this ancient beauty was aged in coarse-grained Limousin oak (which lies just a bit east of the Cognac region). And one cannot help but think of the great vintage of 1945, especially in Pauillac, which isn't that far from of Cognac. Colour: dark gold. Nose: we're touching on the sublime, with exotic flowers and fruits. Mango, jasmine, guava, lilac, linden, and then prairie honey and a very old sweet wine that has digested all its sugars, that's what we find in this marvel. Nothing more, nothing less. Mouth: mango, camphor, mint, Smyrna raisins and honey. Sublime. It must be said, handling the still is indeed far nobler and more valuable than firing a cannon. We will always prefer the distillers to the arms dealers, don't you agree. Finish: really long, on liquorice wood, gentian, beeswax, peppermint, bitter orange, rose jelly, then all his cinnamon that makes its presence known in the aftertaste. Comments: this little 1945 is of infinite beauty and freshness. Such freshness is very rarely found in whiskies of a similar age, but it is true that those are extremely rare.
SGP:651 - 92 points.

It's undoubtedly time to bring an end to this lively session. To think that we haven't even tasted a single Armagnac! But after a very victorious 1945, let's move on to a much darker vintage...

Maison Prunier 'Lot N° 19.14' (40.45%, La Maison du Whisky, Through the Grapevine, Borderies, 2023)

Maison Prunier 'Lot N° 19.14' (40.45%, La Maison du Whisky, Through the Grapevine, Borderies, 2023) Four stars and a half
This incredible cognac aged for 82 years in a damp cellar (the best, though aren't all cellars damp these days with the flooding?), and then was stored in demi-johns in 1996 before being bottled this year. The fact that it was distilled almost 110 years ago only heightens the emotion we feel... It must be noted that at the time, we Alsatians were still Germans (since 1870). Colour: pure gold. Nose: it's like a fruit liqueur, honey, beeswax, coffee, honeysuckle, dandelion flower, lily of the valley, brown tobacco for a French soldier (poilu)... In fact, it's magical. Mouth: incredible. There are certainly some touches of black tea, a slightly tannic side, but the peach skins, sultanas, banana peel, and herbal infusions keep this very old cognac perfectly buoyant. Finish: a bit short and a bit fragile, but that's perfectly normal. All these herbal teas keep it fresh and lifted. Comments: probably distilled by women, as the men were already at war (4 million French men mobilised in 1914 alone, 8 million throughout the entire war, 70 million including all countries involved). It feels a bit presumptuous and crass to rate such a spirit, but that's "what we do".

SGP:351 - 88 points
(95 emotional points).

It's truly time to bring this Christmas Eve session to a close. To be honest, I think we may have indulged a bit too much, haven't we?...

Borderies 'Lot 19.14' (42.1%, Malternatives Belgium, for Passion For Whisky, 39 bottles)

Borderies 'Lot 19.14' (42.1%, Malternatives Belgium, for Passion For Whisky, 39 bottles) Four stars and a half
The very idea of comparing two Borderies from 1914 seems quite mad. Even the word Borderies (which means borders, frontiers) seems incredible for such a vintage. Colour: red amber, much darker than the Prunier. So it's not from the same original cask, but perhaps it was the same batch? Nose: in truth, there are many similarities, but this one is more chocolatey, with more roasted hazelnuts, pecan pie, praline, dark nougat, caramel... Yet the beeswax and tobacco quickly take centre stage, accompanied by superb, albeit expected, floral and honeyed notes. Mouth: yes, it's firmer, but it's also quite tannic and a little bitter, with bits of tobacco and drops of amaro. Lots of old rancio, plenty of black tea, cedarwood, orange peel, bitter cocoa, ground coffee... And yes, brown or grey tobacco for the troops. Finish: bitters and orange marmalade, dark beer, artichoke liqueur, all with an unexpected length. Comments: we must be fair and put history aside, which is always the hardest part when tasting very old spirits. Honestly, this 1914 is still quite extraordinary, despite the tannins.

SGP:461 - 89 points.

The discerning observer will note that quality Cognac producers don't necessarily start popping the crystal (or glass) decanters as soon as one of their spirits reaches forty years of age.

Armagnac will be for next time. In the meantime, thanks to all our friends, we truly hope that no one has really suffered from the floods of the Charente river!

Happy Holidays.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all cognac we've tasted so far

 

December 23, 2023


Whiskyfun

 

 

 

Angus

Angus's Corner
From our correspondent and
skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Scotland

 

 

A big bag of Blended Malts

This week's tasting was largely motivated by a recent visit to Gordon & MacPhail's new distillery, The Cairn, where they have a range of blended malts that are designed to give an illustration of the style of whisky they intent to produce. I have to say I was extremely impressed, not only with several of the whiskies, but with the visit generally and in particular the excellent food available in cafe as part of the tour. The distillery is also in a very beautiful location in Aviemore, I would heartily recommend going if you haven't yet. 
Angus  

 

I have a long-standing affection for blended malts, and even more so since I also started doing indy bottling myself. If I had my way, I would be tempted to only bottle blended malts; the creative potential is wonderful and the process of putting them together is hugely enjoyable and satisfying. The trouble is they remain, generally speaking and Monkey Shoulder aside, commercially unworkable. It's just not a category that has garnered much traction, or one that's always easy to explain outside more dedicated audiences. This is a shame, because there are of course many, many extremely wonderful blended malt bottlings out there and they are products which tend to please the folk that drink them equally as much as those who put them together. After all, it's more creatively satisfying to cook up a fun and delicious potion in a warehouse, than to simply bottle another single cask. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MacKenzie Pure Malt 8 Year Old (46%, OB, Italian import, -/+1970)

MacKenzie Pure Malt 8 Year Old (46%, OB, Italian import, -/+1970)
This should be from the House of Bells, so very likely will contain chunky proportions of Blair Athol, Dufftown and Inchgower. Colour: white wine. Nose: but this is lovely! Very pure, fatty and greasy old highland distillate, lots of waxes, putty, camphor, linseed oils and rather a lot of herbal and mineral notes. Strong sheep wool oil vibes with things like toolbox rags and cooking oils. Mouth: very simple and directly on raw ingredients, with a lot of plain cereals, mash water, putty, lanolin and sooty coal notes. More camphor, some hints of medicinal things, suet and bouillon. Very old school and really all about distillate. Finish: medium, peppery, waxy and drying with more mineral and oily sheep wool impressions. Comments: this bottle has exactly the same 'highland malt whisky' branded foil capsule as on the official Dufftown and Blair Athol bottlings of the same era, and the liquid inside is certainly in a similarly 'highland' style as those single versions. Excellent, and a very good indication of the 'malt whisky flavour' of this era, in a very broad sense. 
SGP: 462 - 86 points. 

 

 

Berry's All Malt 12 yo (43%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Italian import, -/+ 1975)

Berry's All Malt 12 yo (43%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Italian import, -/+ 1975)
This bottling seems to have just rolled along in many, many small batches and variations for several decades. The contents were legendarily silly, containing many top names and much greater ages, as we've seen on one or two old recipes that have emerged from Berry's archives in recent years. I've yet to have a disappointing one of these… Colour: amber. Nose: a simple and direct, but totally exquisite old style sherry profile. Many dark fruit jams, hints of old leather, mineral oils, walnut liqueur and some pretty vivid rancio. An irresistible profile that screams class. Mouth: terrific arrival, perfectly drying, peppery, full of bitter chocolate, suggestions of sea salt, herbal bitters and things like tonic wine, aniseed and fennel. Even wee notions of celery salt and Maggi that come from this wider umami quality, in time it goes towards things like aged Grande Champagne cognac. Finish: good length, again on the drier and slightly salty and gamey side, with some deeper earthy, walnut and tobacco notes all prevalent. Comments: let's not forget this was the entry level 'standard drinking malt' in Berry's range at the time. Probably unfair to compare to modern equivalents, it is simply a hugely pleasurable, old, sherry matured malt whisky. 
SGP: 651 - 90 points. 

 

 

Glencoe 8 year old malt whisky (100° proof, OB, 19.9 fluid ounces, -/+1960s)

Glencoe 8 year old malt whisky (100° proof, OB, 19.9 fluid ounces, -/+1960s)
I've tried a few versions of this over the years and we're never too sure if they are blended malts or in fact just entirely composed of old Ben Nevis, the character of which at that time was pretty different to what it is today. The quality is often a bit patchy in my experience, but this is perhaps the oldest version I've found yet, and it comes in a funny but extremely stylish wee 19.9 fluid ounce bottle, or 56.4cl. So, doing 50cl bottles isn't anything new… Colour: deep orangey gold. Nose: as I've often found with this series over the years, the profile seems to be often quite brutal and tough, which is certainly the case here. However, this one is the most sherried version I've found thus far, so a lean, highly mineral and oily sherry profile that involves lots of marrow, bacon fat, saltiness, medicinal herbs and even things like ink, suet, putty and cheng pi orange peel. A glimmer of honey adds a suggestion of something sweeter and brighter. Overall though this is robust and austere old highland whisky. With water: very leafy, very mineral and getting more animalistic with sheep wool, furs and duck fat (maybe I will roast my potatoes in this whisky for Christmas day this year?). Mouth: coal tar soap, aniseed, a very drying and brittle waxiness and then an increasing sense of bitter herbs, hessian and camphor. It's also getting a tad soapy as well, which is a shame as there were some very promising elements. We aren't talking 80s Bowmore levels, but it's unavoidable and not too enjoyable. Some overripe orange peels, burnt marmalade and suggestions of cough medicine. With water: this hasn't helped the situation, it's not enhanced the soap but it all falls apart a little now. Finish: long, very herbal and bitter, peppery, sharp and rather aggressive almost. Comments: I don't know why, but I always want this series to be better. It's probably the west highland connection that makes me want to love it, precisely why I am also extremely fond of the old Black Bottle brand. It's a shame as there were some very promising bits at the start, but this soapiness is undeniably a flaw. 
SGP: 472 - 70 points. 

 

 

Sutherland 5 yo (48.5%, Thompson Brothers, Whiskyfun 20th Anniversary, 590 bottles, 2022)

Sutherland 5 yo (48.5%, Thompson Brothers, Whiskyfun 20th Anniversary, 590 bottles, 2022)
A mix of Dornoch single malt, Clynelish and a midgie's highball of Brora! Colour: pale straw. Nose: very creamy and full of yellow fruits, mirabelle and gorse flower too. It has a very evocative coastal and waxy side that really does make you think of the whiskies from the town of Brora, but then perhaps we will have to add the town of Dornoch to that profile in future? Some sea greens, lemongrass, more aromatic and slightly herbal waxy tones and even impressions of herbal liqueur and ointments. Quite brilliant for only a 5yo I have to say. Goes on with some melon, more plums and a little cannabis oil, which I genuinely find quite often when I try Dornoch single malt. Reminiscent of some old green dumpy bottle Glendronachs. Mouth: brightly fruity with yellow fruits again, but also rather a lot of tart green fruits such as green apple and gooseberry, then also a touch of mango and kiwi. A lovely fruity medley. That coastal side is still there in the mix, while I'm also finding the palate a little farmy as well. Rather lot of beers and breads joining the waxy notes and the syrupy fruitiness. A lot going on! Finish: good length, back on waxes and coastal notes, also cereals, putty, lemons and chalk. Comments: a terrific wee potion, very well balanced between the various characters at work. Happy belated 20th, Whiskyfun! 
SGP: 562 - 88 points. 

 

 

Rhythm & Booze 13 yo blended malt (50%, Rhythm & Booze Records, sherry butt, 1050 bottles)

Rhythm & Booze 13 yo blended malt (50%, Rhythm & Booze Records, sherry butt, 1050 bottles)
A combination of indy bottler and record label with some excellent and very talented people behind it. Colour: pale gold. Nose: nutty and chocolatey, not unlike nosing a molten Snickers bar. There's also a little fir wood and dried pine needle, camphor and salted caramel, over time becoming more herbal and resinous. With water: unlit cigar, cedar wood and camphor, it's become bigger and fatter globally I would say. Mouth: good arrival, I actually find it a sharper and saltier style of sherry than anticipated, it's also got something rather robust that recalls worm tub makes like Craigellachie, with this big fatness and earthiness that verges on game pate and salty liquorice. With water: takes on a meatier quality, with bacon jam and suggestions of peppery biltong. There's still this nice camphor note, also caraway and dry roast peanuts. Finish: medium, rather dense, earthy, leathery and nicely drying. Comments: a surprisingly big and chunky dram, no doubt suitable for large measures in tumblers to be intellectualised while listening to jazz. But in all seriousness, an excellent drop, reminds me of quite a few modern sherried Craigellachies. 
SGP: 462 - 85 points. 

 

 

Campbeltown 6 year old 2017 (58.6%, Watt Whisky, barrel, 252 bottles)

Campbeltown 6 year old 2017 (58.6%, Watt Whisky, barrel, 252 bottles)
Let's hear from Kate and Mark in C-town… Colour: white wine. Nose: washing powder and freshly laundered linens on a washing line, in other words: hyper fresh and pretty coastal with a very marine and clear sea air vibe. Touches of green olive, ink, cider apple and lots of fermentary notes that make you think of everything from silage to sourdough starter. Excellent! With a little time there's also a nice impression of pickling brine and cornichons! With water: chalk, beach pebbles, dried seaweed and malt vinegar! Mouth: some of these batches make you scratch your head, whereas this one rather screams 'Glen Scotia with a bottle of Springbank 10 somewhere in the mix!' Rich and creamy, with lots of peppery notes, and various rather funky and slightly overripe fruits like pineapple and lemon. Still very coastal and marine, while also verging on swimming pools and elastoplasts as well. With water: nicely waxy, still very chalky and coastal, various herbs like lemon thyme and rosemary, then about a magnum of aged Gueuze beer - no wonder Mark likes these batches! Finish: long, sharp, peppery, citric and even a tiny glimmer of peat. Comments: these batches are extremely charismatic and powerful young whiskies, and also highlight the fact that it's not only Mitchell's that are making excellent whisky in Campbeltown. 
SGP: 462 - 87 points. 

 

 

Blended Malt 20 year old 2001/2022 (45.7%, North Star Spirits for the Sherry Bomb Whisky Appreciation Society', sherry butt, 583 bottles)

Blended Malt 20 year old 2001/2022 (45.7%, North Star Spirits for the Sherry Bomb Whisky Appreciation Society', sherry butt, 583 bottles)
As I understand it, these butts of '2001' blended malt were only married and re-casked in 2001, some components date back as far as the 1970s, hence the lower ABVs. Colour: amber. Nose: chocolate truffles, tobacco leaf and soft leaf mulch notes. Cellar earth, dunnage funk and walnut oil and a few almonds as well. Lovely, gentle, leafy, slightly chocolatey old school sherry. Mouth: same feeling of must and earthiness but with a slightly more pronounced acetic side going on, which is to say pickled walnuts, balsamic reduction, bitter chocolate and hints if strawberry wine and camphor. Finish: medium, lightly sappy, peppery, some black coffee and more nice notes of walnuts, leather and mulchy tobacco leaf. Comments: what's nice about this batch is that all these casks are very cohesive and singular. They feel like a proper vatted malt product that has had a long, slow time to marry and find balance. They're on the simple side, but eminently scoffable. 
SGP: 651 - 87 points. 

 

 

St Bridget's Kirk 20 year old 2001/2022 (45.1%, Hannah Whisky Merchants, cask #2, 281 bottles)

St Bridget's Kirk 20 year old 2001/2022 (45.1%, Hannah Whisky Merchants, cask #2, 281 bottles)
The label says: 'An unpeated three component blend of well-aged single malts from undisclosed distilleries located from the Highland, Speyside and Islay regions.' Colour: amber. Nose: very nice! Although, we aren't far from the North Star bottling in some ways, lots of soft leafy, earthy and mulchy vibes going on here too. A little darker on the fruitiness, more walnuts, more rancio and more on an old school 'stewed fruit sherry' vibe about it. Mouth: firm, drying and darkly fruity. Weighted like a Grande Champagne Cognac of good age but with a bit more power. Some sultans, fig jam, tobacco leaf and chocolate liqueur. Finish: medium and nicely on bitter herbs, coffee, unlit cigar and more of these sticky, stewed dark fruit qualities. Comments: an excellent drop, plenty old school charm about it and similar comments to the North Star bottling, I just prefer the slightly more elevated rancio vibes going on here. 
SGP: 651 - 88 points. 

 

 

Blended Malt 50 year old 1971/2022 (49.5%, The Whisky Exchange, refill sherry butt, 303 bottles)

Blended Malt 50 year old 1971/2022 (49.5%, The Whisky Exchange, refill sherry butt, 303 bottles)
Colour: bright straw. Nose: is this not 50 year old Glenfarclas though? Seriously, a stunning fusion of honeycomb, beeswax, flower honeys, long-aged mead, camphor and cannabis resins. The kind of profile that really recalls even earlier era, legendary, long-aged Speyside malts. Did they mix 1971 Caperdonich with 1954 Glen Grant? In time it evolves stunning herbal and fruit tea notes, with lemon marmalade and passion flower. Incredibly fresh, waxy, bright and floral. Mouth: stunning richness! Pure honey, yellow plums baked in syrup, kiwi, flambeed banana, star fruit and even melon cordial. Amazing fruit profile, and stunningly honeyed and syrupy texture with sublime concentration! Further impressions of cannabis oils and things like white truffle, dried mint and quince jelly. Little wonder they'd have selected this beauty for their 50 years in the industry series. What's great is that the vibrancy and freshness of the nose is matched in this way on the palate as well, a 50 year old whisky that is simultaneously every bit its age, while also retaining many assets of younger whiskies, in particular this sense of freshness and precision of flavour. Finish: medium, on wormwood, slightly sappy notes, aged sauternes, mixed citrus peels, fruit salad juices and exotic fruit teas full of runny honey. Comments: deadly! 
SGP: 651 - 92 points. 

 

 

Right! Time for a short walk, and upon my return, we'll tackle those G&M bottlings I mentioned earlier… 

 

 

CRN57 12 Year Old Blended Malt (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023) 

CRN57 12 Year Old Blended Malt (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023)  
Colour: pale gold. Nose: leafy and easy modern sherried malt whisky. Raisins, sultanas, milk chocolate and digestive biscuits all over the shop, a tiny firmness of wood spice in the background but overall well balanced and extremely approachable. Mouth: again this feeling of elegant dark fruits, chocolate and a backbone of slightly spicier aspects that feel more wood derived. I think the 43% works very well to knit all this together here, even if the overall result is a rather simple and direct whisky - which I suspect was the intention. Finish: medium, a little oilier and sappier than expected, still some nice fig and sultana notes lingering. Comments: simple, easy tumbler juice for anyone who likes easy, clean, sherried malt whisky. 

SGP: 551 - 84 points. 

 

 

CRN57 18 Year Old Blended Malt (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023) 

CRN57 18 Year Old Blended Malt (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023)  
Apparently a mix that includes Tamdhu and unseated Benromach… Colour: pale amber. Nose: I'm sorry, but this is some sort of early 1990s batch of Macallan 18yo, is it not? A really surprisingly old school quality, full of plummy sherry, soft waxy notes, wee herbal teas and lots of mulchy earthiness that involves rather a lot of damp tobaccos, dark chocolate and heather honey. Hard to imagine that anyone would fail to be charmed by this profile. Mouth: wonderfully precise and bright sherry, minty, slightly leather, herbal, honeyed, a tad waxy, extremely deft, balanced and playful, with an overall easiness and lightness which is really impressive. Goes on with some notes of aged calvados and eucalyptus, and in time becomes increasingly mentholated and even shows a little rancio. Finish: good length, rather long in fact, very nicely herbal, a touch of leafy bitterness and peppery warmth, some ruby ales and notes of dried tarragon and honey. Comments: I find this extremely impressive, and you have to wonder at just what component within this mix is creating this older style aspect? Probably the Benromach I would imagine. I can't help but be reminded of some old Macallan 18yo batches. Highly recommended and if I did bang for your buck selections on WF, then this would probably be my pick for this month. 
SGP: 561 - 90 points. 

 

 

CRN57 30 Year Old Blended Malt (51.9%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023) 

CRN57 30 Year Old Blended Malt (51.9%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023)  
Colour: deep amber. Nose: once again, it's hard not to think of old Macallan. This one definitely delivers more along the lines of what you are likely expecting: figs, rancio, menthol tobaccos and many subtle fruit notes such as sultana, bruised apple, pears baked in honey and quince. Very rich, extremely on this old school, heavy sherry profile and also quite brilliant. With water: marzipan, tangerine, more general boozy dark fruit vibes and touches of aniseed and camphor. Mouth: excellent! Perfectly balanced between dark fruits, spices, wormwood and various other herbal notes that verge on the medicinal. Roasted walnuts, fruity black coffee and many wee hints of mint,  dried cranberry and boozy Dundee fruit cake. Really a profile that belongs more to the 1970s or 1960s than today. With water: goes up a notch further! Wonderful mix of peppery waxes, dried mint, tea tree oils, slightly umami notes such as anchovy paste, black olive, truffle and dried citrus peels. Also some superbly earthy, aged teas. Finish: long, on bitter dark chocolate and mint tea, eucalyptus, rancio and toasted walnuts. Comments: it's dark and 30 years old, but this profile doesn't really compute to our expectation of modern whisky making and modern sherry casks I would say. Did they put some very old low ABV sherry casks in the mix? Probably only G&M can produce this kind of profile in this day and age I would guess. Anyway, this is extremely impressive, I had it at 90 but a few drops of water propelled it a notch higher. 
SGP: 561 - 91 points. 

 

 

CRN57 57 Year Old Blended Malt (43.1%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023) 
Not sure of the composition here, but I believe Glen Grant is involved, which is often the case with G&M and such ages… Colour: bright amber. Nose: gah, stunning! One of those aromas that is just riddled with pure honeycomb and myriad exotic hardwood resins and spices. Add in cloves, quince jelly, beautiful wee flower honeys, ancient sauternes and some extremely old Fins Bois cognac. It's also full of dark fruits stewed in brandy and syrups - verging on some very fine, whisky-soaked Christmas cake. Exquisite ancient sherry that remains vibrantly fruity and extremely refined. Now, as ever with such old glories, the palate can tell a different story… Mouth: beautiful arrival, a majestic mixture of waxes and honeys, pure honeycomb, spiced ruby ales, dark chocolate with sea salt and then praline and roasted hazelnut. It's this vivid waxy / honey combination that is so impressive, in time it also displays an aspect that recalls some very old Burgundian pinot noir with these beautifully subtle gamey and earthy qualities. Finish: good length, back on medicinal herbs, honeys, exotic hardwood spices and resins, beautifully intricate earthy notes and a stunning fusion of umami and rancio in the aftertaste. Comments: yet more ancient glory from G&Ms warehouses. Ordinarily this age and ABV and cask type would ring alert bells, or just simply be a tad tired, but this isn't the case at all here, it still retains a wonderful freshness and length in the mouth which holds up to the stunning nose very well. It's just all a bit too drinkable, which is the main issue I feel (burp!) 

SGP: 651 - 91 points. 

 

 

CRN57 70 Year Old Blended Malt (43.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023) 

CRN57 70 Year Old Blended Malt (43.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Cairn, 2023)  
Once again, for this one, I've been told Glen Grant is one of the components, but not too sure on the other part. I'd also add that doing a 70 year old blended malt is very, very cool, certainly better than tipping such stocks into a blend and selling it packaged inside a Tesla, or whatever… Colour: coppery gold. Nose: what I find immediately striking, is that this feels very much like it belongs to the 'pre-1950s' G&M style, which is to say old style American oak transport sherry casks, which give this profoundly beautiful mix of coconut, tropical fruit and myriad aromas of cedar wood, waxes, pollens and flower nectars to the aroma. It's a style that so many of G&M's bottlings from these batches have expressed over the years, at varying ages and strengths, and even now, at 70+years in these casks, the same profile is still so clear and so intense and so vital, which is really just incredible. This one is really all about stunning combinations of waxes, honeys, dried flowers, eucalyptus, dried exotic fruits and aged teas. You also wonder if there is peated malt, deep, deep down in the mix here, that has broken down over time to contribute to this stunningly subtle medicinal aspect to the profile. Overall, another of these hypnotic, extremely old malts that expresses a very typical profile from this era that is notably different to what came in the following decades. Mouth: an entire beehive! Incredibly honeyed and riddled with pollens, nectars, tiny notes of dried mushrooms, mint, tiger balms, medicinal herbs and pure beeswax. Obviously old, which seems silly to say, but it is 'old' in the best possible sense, there's no sense of aggression or lopsided dominance from the wood. The impressions is rather one of concentration and thickness in the mouth, syrupy and waxy-textured distillate with the sweetness and viscosity of honey, the tannin of earthy dark tea and the feeling of many and varied crystallised and preserved fruits, but particularly exotic ones. Really an experience that sits quite apart from most other 'old' malt whiskies I would say. For example, I'm not sure you'd be able to get a 70yo malt of this vibrancy, from the same cask type as the 57yo we just tried. Finish: wonderfully long, glowing with yet more honeys, waxes, preserved exotic fruits, teas, medicines and herbal touches. The aftertaste really just goes on and on. Comments: I find it extremely cool, and even rather touching, that they would create a 70 year old blended malt like this. Mind you, I'm not sure there are any other companies that even could, let alone would. Now, it's very expensive of course, and comes in a bottle you could club a Velociraptor to death with, but if we're talking expensive things to drink in terms of sheer quality, I'd swap you an entire container of Macallan 1926 for one bottle of this old beauty.

 SGP: 662 - 93 points. 

 

 

I wish each and every one of you a peaceful and restful time over the festive season.

 

 

 

 

December 22, 2023


Whiskyfun

 

For an easier session today, Roseisle vs. Kininvie

Roseisle's incredible double-straight-seven engine (Diageo)

Two sizable distilleries that are fairly recent and designed to produce vast quantities of quite light malt for blends, the former owned by Dieageo, the latter by William Grant. We're not anticipating any particularly notable characters, but after all, at Whiskyfun we taste everything.

 

 

Roseisle 12 yo 'The Origami Kite' (56.5%, OB, Special Release 2023, first fill and refill bourbon)

Roseisle 12 yo 'The Origami Kite' (56.5%, OB, Special Release 2023, first fill and refill bourbon) Four stars
Here, I believe, is the first commercially released version of Roseisle, beyond the various samples that have been circulating since its launch in 2010. Roseisle's total capacity is 10 million LPA, which isn't huge (Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are much larger). I had the joy of visiting Roseisle with the Malt Maniacs on our 15th anniversary in 2012. Roseisle can produce very different styles, especially by using stainless steel instead of copper in the condensers, which generates thicker, less pure textures, even quite sulphurous ones, but it seems that the priority has remained with light and herbal malts, no doubt much easier to 'correct' when filled / used. Colour: golden. Nose: indeed, I find it quite herbal at the start, then more on apples and plums, then melon, nectarines, almond paste, coconut, and fresh wood. It's nice but there isn't a huge personality, we remain in the realm of the largest Speyside distilleries. With water: the same feeling. Ripe apple, beer, freshly mown lawn... Mouth (neat): very creamy, peppery and fruity at the same time, then increasingly herbal, with a bit of syrup and hops in the background. It's especially the quite thick texture that is remarkable, had they used stainless steel condensers? With water: much fruitier, a bit in the style of the strongest Californian IPAs, then more and more herbal and spicy, with a lot of green pepper and pink berries. Finish: quite long, always very spicy, a bit dominated by new wood at this stage. Pear. Comments: nothing more to say, it does the job very well, with a lot of texture.

SGP:561 - 85 points.

Aldunie 25 yo 1997/2022 (53.7%, Whisky AGE, blended malt, barrel, cask #1512, 172 bottles)

Aldunie 25 yo 1997/2022 (53.7%, Whisky AGE, blended malt, barrel, cask #1512, 172 bottles) Four stars
Aldunie is the 'teaspooned' name of Kininvie, thus sold as a blended malt rather than a single. Given Kininvie's notoriety is close to zero, I don't quite see what anyone would lose if the use of the actual distillery name were allowed. You're right, nor to gain, to tell the truth. In any case, Kininvie's capacity is about half of Roseisle's, at approximately 5 million litres of pure alcohol. The distillery was built in 1990, but to date, I haven't even tasted ten, whether under the name of Kininvie or Aldunie. I must admit, I'm a bit ashamed... Colour: straw. Nose: quite spirity at the beginning, with notes of medicinal alcohol and even antifreeze, but sweet herbs, melon, peach, and liquorice wood quickly come to the rescue. There are also lovely notes of pear cake with custard, if you please. We remain in a universe not so far from that of the new Roseisle, although this Kininvie is much older (but the wood was less active, more elegant here). With water: a bit of fresh mint, gooseberry, apple, greengage... Mouth (neat): indeed, we are close to Roseisle. Strong and fruity beer, overripe apples, pepper and a bit of chilli, melon skins, green nuts... With water: very good, with a bit of mango, but also some slightly bitter herbs. Green peppercorns. Finish: long, still spicy, this time with more ginger and allspice. Apple peel, gueuze, barley syrup, and lemon liqueur in the aftertaste, with a bit of chilli. Comments: less easy and fruity than a sister cask we tasted in the spring, but still very good.

SGP:551 - 86 points.
 

December 21, 2023


Whiskyfun

 

A wee verticale of
older Benriach

Benriach

Speyside's Benriach (Benriach Distillery)

Who doesn't remember the incredible old Benriach single casks that were launched by Billy Walker a few years back while the Distillery had remained rather quiet up until then (do you recall the white-labelled 10-year from the 1990s? Neither do I). Especially the unbelievable 1976 editions which, for the most part, just rocketed us towards the upper layers of the atmosphere. That's right, towards the stratosphere... But much water has flowed under the bridge since then, perhaps it's time for us to catch up. We'll avoid any young editions today, since after all, it's the festive season, but we'll soon taste them, Vishnu willing. I believe today we're going to sample four from the '90s, and then the latest official 40-year release as the signature...

 

Benriach 25 yo 1998/2023 (57.4%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, Platinum, refill oloroso butt, cask #HL20597, 234 bottles)

Benriach 25 yo 1998/2023 (57.4%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, Platinum, refill oloroso butt, cask #HL20597, 234 bottles) Four stars
I always remember the first time we spotted this series in a display case, the Ardbeg, the Glendullan... The prices seemed mad to us, but it was another era when crossing the £100 mark (or euros, whichever) seemed like the height of presumption. Yes, we should have bought everything...Colour: dark gold. Nose: not that many mangos, bananas, mirabelles and dandelions (as I recall them from those 1976s), rather some nutty and floral sherry, around walnut liqueur, peonies, wisteria and pansies, with a certain balsamico-side too. It feels a little mashed-up this far, but water may make wonders. With water: leaves and leather at first, then clay, rain pit, mutton suet, ham, paraffin, and then clearly pure oloroso. That side would then grow and grow and grow, in the end you're left with a proper glass of oloroso. Mouth (neat): really very punchy, shock-full of walnuts in all their guises, with some pepper, zests, bay leaves, chillies, some tobacco bitterness… I find it pretty rustic and rather hot, in fact. With water: there, walnuts and menthol in majesty, plus a growing salinity. It incredible how this works, but this baby took its time. Finish: long, very salty, nutty, vegetal, then meaty again. More mutton, chorba… Comments: it takes its time and it takes water, be warned, then it will earn 1 point per minute, really.

SGP:552 - 87 points.

Benriach 24 yo 1997/2021 (59.4%, malt grain & cane, hogshead, cask #7337, 197 bottles)

Benriach 24 yo 1997/2021 (59.4%, malt grain & cane, hogshead, cask #7337, 197 bottles) Five stars
We're in Singapore this time. I remember we've tasted some great rums by malt grain & cane. Colour: gold. Nose: chalk and fresh croissants in the morning, then dandelions indeed, potpourri, yeasts, thick Belgian beers, fermenting plums, mead and honey, umeshu, sake… Boy do I enjoy this. With water: it's now just chalky, with hints of grapefruit and these famous mirabelles. Hops. Mouth (neat): 'strordinary arrival on more Belgian beers, overripe bananas, many doughs, breads, rolls, creamy jams, fermenting fruits, wines, more beers, oils… Wow wow wow. With water: dazzling citrus, liqueurs, saps and resins, oils, malt, menthol… I find it glorious and its very comfortable in water, you could even bring it down to 30% without a frown. Finish: long, probably more classic Benriach now, with melons, bananas, mirabelle jam… Some mint and a touch of camphor in the aftertaste. Comments: lovable Benriach. Now go find this one…

SGP:651 - 90 points.

Benriach 25 yo 1995/2020 (49.1%, Maltbarn, sherry, 140 bottles)

Benriach 25 yo 1995/2020 (49.1%, Maltbarn, sherry, 140 bottles) Four stars
These old black-and-white photographs that Maltbarn were having on their labels for a while were superb. Colour: straw. Nose: not that much sherry at first sniffs, rather more chalk, clay, wool and doughs. Then indeed melon skins, plums, cassata, angelica, citron liqueur, beer (pilsner) and… Still not much sherry, or was it refill fino or something like that? Mouth: closer to the 1997 but with a little less profoundness, some slightly sour minerality, some grass, peel, lemon oil, porridge, old cloth… Finish: rather long, grassy and fermentary, think porridge with dops of lemon juice. Oh and malt whisky. Comments: no, it's really very good, it was just a little tough to come after the rather resounding 1997. Still very upper-echelon.

SGP:561 - 86 points.

Benriach 30 yo 1991/2023 (51.2%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist #13, second-fill sherry butt, cask #64182)

Benriach 30 yo 1991/2023 (51.2%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist #13, second-fill sherry butt, cask #64182) Four stars and a half
I love these labels, but indeed we do not do them justice with our ueber-lousy little pixies. Colour: gold. Nose: classic Benriach this time, with ripe mirabelles, melons, mango jam, chamomile, bananas, malt, custard tarte, finger biscuits and, while we're at it, Champagne blanc-de-blanc. Whisky by Pol? With water: this Champagne side remains, except that its older Champagne. Toasted bread, acacia, peaches, honeysuckle, citron… Mouth (neat): classic Benriach indeed, with a few sour(ish) yellow plums, acacia and elderberry liqueurs, ripe passion fruit (or as jam?) and just bananas flambéed. With water: we're very close to the older officials. Water brings the citrus further out. Finish: medium, very fruity, still elegant, floral, rather refreshing. Mucho acacia honey in the aftertaste, as well as sultanas and drops of fig arrack. Comments: not too sure about that fig arrack. Awesome Benriach, so close to the 90-mark, blame it on that arrack.
SGP:651 - 89 points.

Last one…

Benriach 40 yo 'The Forty' (43.5%, OB, bourbon and Port, 752 bottles, 2023) Five stars
The official website states that it's a peated malt whisky, which is very possible as I believe owners Seagram were doing such experiments indeed in the late 1970s and/or early 1980s, as they were also doing at Strathisla. There's also a variant finished in octaves, but this is the proper Forty. We had tried the previous Forty that they were having in the 2000s but I don't think I've ever written any notes about it. There.

Benriach 40 yo 'The Forty' (43.5%, OB, bourbon and Port, 752 bottles, 2023)

Colour: dark apricot – was it finished in Port? Nose: ah, those vintages. Mangos, cherries, peaches, rosehip tea, heather and heather honey, nectarines, zwetschke, tamarind, prunes… all that with a dazzling lightness. Forgot to mention a little patchouli. Having said that, I'm not finding a lot of 'peat'. Was it one of those experiments with peated water such as Craigduff or Glenisla? Doubt it, those were not this good…  Mouth: something else, clearly. Some old Port indeed, probably, but it could also be sweet Malaga, PX etc. Some thickish Chambertin, massive cherries (I mean massive notes of candied cherries), the moistest pipe tobacco, red peach jam, more zwetschke, very old Slivovitz… Having said that, we remain reminded of Benriach's most sherried old vintages, with some Mon Chéri and other chocolaty and guilty pleasures. And then, perhaps, some resinous peat or something, pinewood smoke, barbecued rosemary and thyme, fir needles… Finish: long and curiously drier. More pine, more morello cherries. Chocolate in the aftertaste – right, Mon Chéri. Comments: very much a Christmas malt. Not 100% sure how they made it, it's a little hard to decipher, but naturally, it is splendid.
SGP:662 - 91 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Benriach we've tasted so far

 

December 20, 2023


Whiskyfun

Time

The New Time Warp Sessions, Ardbeg Part Two, quite a few indies, some undercover

 

There will be some that I have already tasted and scored, but without ever having written any proper tasting notes, at least not for little Whiskyfun.

A place everyone just loves, The Old Kiln Café at Ardbeg, 2006 (WF Archive)


Ardbeg

Secret Islay Distillery 13 yo 2009/2023 (54.2%, Acla Selection, 10th anniversary, hogshead, cask #104, 90 bottles)

Secret Islay Distillery 13 yo 2009/2023 (54.2%, Acla Selection, 10th anniversary, hogshead, cask #104, 90 bottles) Five stars
Despite the stag's head on the label, this is neither Glenfiddich nor any other distillery fond of featuring deer, and there are many, even if the practice seems to be falling out of favour. Indeed, a little bird (or rather a fawn) whispered in my ear that this was indeed an Ardbeg... We only publish 'secret Islay' as Ardbeg (or Laphroaig, Lagavulin, etc.) when we are 95-100% certain of the actual origin. Colour: straw. Nose: has someone slipped raw wool into a smoking chamber? Or perhaps an entire sheep? And green apples, inner tubes, a touch of incense, burnt seaweed, herrings and adhesive tape? In fact, it's very close to the official 'Ten', which I adore. With water: lots of wool, washing powder, yeast, smoked porridge... Mouth (neat): nothing to say, it's impeccably Ardbeg, with lots of smoke, ashes, crushed pepper, hair lotion (really), myrtle, sea water... With water: perfect, with apple and lemon. Finish: long, totally on the 'Ten', with just a bit more power. Comments: they actually did a 10-year-old cask strength for Japan. And the famous 'Mor'...

SGP:367 - 91 points.

Ardbeg 14 yo (50.8%, Whisky Racing, Jack Wiebers, bourbon cask, 120 bottles, 2023)

Ardbeg 14 yo (50.8%, Whisky Racing, Jack Wiebers, bourbon cask, 120 bottles, 2023) Four stars and a half
One might expect this to be a top-notch Ardbeg. Indeed, it's true that one sometimes finds exhaust fumes, akin to a Grand Prix start (or the Paris ring road at rush hour), in certain Ardbegs. Colour: light gold. Nose: this one is more on oily and mineral notes, limestone, pebbles on the beach, also indeed raw wool, engine oil, I even detect a bit of shea butter and fresh almonds, as well as macadamia nuts (ever tried opening those?). With water: fruit and vegetable peelings and a lot of smoke. The wool and engine oil remain very present. Palate (neat): powerful, with notes of camphor but also more mature apple, apple sauce, custard, a bit of seawater, a bit of kirsch... It's less of a typical Ardbeg than the previous one, if you catch my drift, but it remains excellent. With water: lemon and granny smith apple come through, along with a slightly sweeter side, featuring coconut. Likely the bourbon cask. Finish: long, quite round and fatty. Comments: just very, very good.

SGP:567 - 88 points.

Ardbeg 14 yo 2008/2023 (63.8%, Cut Your Wolf Loose, refill butt, 274 bottles)

Ardbeg 14 yo 2008/2023 (63.8%, Cut Your Wolf Loose, refill butt, 274 bottles) Four stars and a half
This one seems quite lethal; we'll need to take some precautions, such as not immersing our nose in the glass for more than a minute and not downing 3cl at once. Of course, we never do that (promise). Colour: gold. Nose: I like it! Pine resin on a hot August afternoon, teak oil, various paints and coatings, engine grease, tar, overripe apples... But it's slightly restrained by the very high alcohol content. We'll remedy that immediately: seawater, strong beer, sorrel and spinach, silt, mussels, oysters, tar... To be honest, it has a slight oil spill aspect to it. I know that's not a very attractive descriptor, but it's somewhat accurate. Mouth (neat): it knocks you flat instantly. Petrol, surgical spirit, acacia gum, bitters... With water: ah, here we are, a very nice Ardbeg, rather sweet, with smoked brown sugar (or something like that) and lots of tobacco, cough syrup, tar, and fireplace ashes. Finish: long, still quite sweet, caramelised, with a hint of liquorice... A more medicinal side again in the aftertaste. Comments: to tell the truth, these independent Ardbegs are all quite different from one another. This one was actually quite rich, probably because it was from a butt.

SGP:557 - 88 points.

Red Bag #2 17 yo 2006/2023 (57.2%, Dramfool, bourbon hogshead, cask #3, 249 bottles)

Red Bag #2 17 yo 2006/2023 (57.2%, Dramfool, bourbon hogshead, cask #3, 249 bottles) Five stars
Of course, we love the name. We ourselves produced many anagrams of this sort about fifteen years ago, I even believe we came up with 'Old Bed Rag' for an independent bottler, but it was far less elegant than 'Red Bag', that's for sure. Colour: gold. Nose: this time it's very much on sunflower oil, sage, rather greasy mineral oils, even a bit of ham fat (moderately, of course), then flowers, which isn't very common in Ardbeg, but we're definitely not in the realm of Aldi or Tesco air fresheners, rest assured. With water: let's call it a caressing Ardbeg. Notes of banana cake from a renowned patisserie. Mouth (neat): splendid, a tropical Ardbeg this time, with mango, papaya, indeed pineapple and banana. The citrus adds a wonderful tension. I adore this style. With water: long, with more spices. Curry is added to the bananas. Finish: quite long. The peat smoke comes out strongly in the aftertaste, but otherwise, it remains sweet and complex. Comments: it reminds a little bit of the old official 17-year-old. Now the latter was a bit of a letdown at the time, whereas this sweet and most agreeable Red Bag is just splendid.
SGP:656 - 90 points.

Let's go back in time…

Ardbeg 29 yo 1993/2023 (51.5%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon barrel, 164 bottles)

Ardbeg 29 yo 1993/2023 (51.5%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon barrel, 164 bottles) Four stars and a half
It's quite pricey, but that's to be expected, and we commend the decision to present it in exactly the same bottle as, let's say, a Macduff aged 6 years or a Girvan aged 8 years. Old school! Colour: gold. Nose: it's beautiful, maritime, rounder, with liqueurs and oils and, notably, a lot of liniments, ointments, and balms, on top of dried seaweed and the old shipwrecked boat on the beach. There are also hints of mojito and pastis. Yes, indeed. With water: more herbal teas, sweet mint, verbena, absinthe... Mouth (neat): both sweet and spicy at the same time, maybe very slightly disjointed, with notes of old wood and overripe apples, then notes of salty tea, mushrooms, herbal teas, old mint liqueur... There's a certain fragility that has come to light, but it's quite charming. With water: careful, not too much water or it goes towards pineapple wine and chamomile. Otherwise, it remains very elegant, very beautiful, even if a bit fragile. Finish: medium length, sweet, slightly medicinal. Comments: very beautiful, almost moving, but we will never know if it would have been even better at 25 years, or even 20 years of age. The peat has gone into 'discreet' mode.

SGP:555 - 88 points.

Since we were at Cadenhead's...

Ardbeg 11 yo 1991/2002 (62.2%, Cadenhead's, Bond Reserve, bourbon hogshead, 306 bottles)

Ardbeg 11 yo 1991/2002 (62.2%, Cadenhead's, Bond Reserve, bourbon hogshead, 306 bottles) Five stars
We were quite fond of this other series from Cadenhead. We've tried this before, utterly loved it, but never wrote any tasting note. Now is the time, twenty years later... Colour: straw. Nose: a strong presence of varnish, glue, cider vinegar, oysters, acetone, and that's about it at 62%, which is normal. With water: sharp lime, nail polish, more varnish, mop, old tweed, salty porridge, sourdough... Truly in the midst of nature. Mouth (neat): is this even legal? Acetone, glue, and kirsch fresh from the still. In short, wonderful promises... With water: roots, smoke and salt, candied turnips, sauerkraut, green pepper, samphire, seawater, sea urchins, oysters, salted butter... And a bit of chilli and Tabasco. Finish: long, a bit more candied, very lightly honeyed. Sour turnip is back in the aftertaste, complemented by pickled anchovies. Comments: it's quite mad. I had this baby at 95 points on my list (but remember, without any proper note) but to be completely honest, I couldn't remember why such a high score. Never drink and taste! It's very much to my taste, but let's not get carried away... A rather wild young Ardbeg.

SGP:567 - 90 points.

Ardbeg 30 yo 1991/2023 (47.7%, La Maison du Whisky and Spirits Shop Selection, Artist, bourbon hogshead, cask #1900657, 158 bottles)

Ardbeg 30 yo 1991/2023 (47.7%, La Maison du Whisky and Spirits Shop Selection, Artist, bourbon hogshead, cask #1900657, 158 bottles) Five stars
Marvellous label with a wonderful 'crackled' effect. In reality, it's 'over 30 years old', of course. It's hard to see what could go wrong with this old Ardbeg distilled by the Laphroaig team, with Ian Henderson already at the helm. Remember that Ardbeg, although officially closed, continued to produce occasionally under the stewardship of Laphroaig, which was owned by the same parent company, namely the various entities of 'Allied'. Colour: gold. Nose: this Ardbeg is exceptionally smooth, with smoked fruits and flowers, if such a thing could exist. Gravenstein apples, very ripe Williams pears, hints of smoked ham, precious shellfish like abalones, sea spray, notes of mashed potatoes, menthol... This Ardbeg seems to have ventured into another dimension, but we quite like it. Mouth: the peat is as peppery as it is salty, while the palate seems much more robust than the nose suggested. Smoked lemons, seawater, green pepper, ginseng, gentian, Szechuan pepper, chalk, a basaltic edge... Finish: it's long too, rather spicy while remaining quite soft, moving towards camphorated and peppered balms, wintergreen, menthol... Comments: it has been noted in the past that Ardbeg, despite its full body, wasn't necessarily cut out for very long maturation, one recalls the infamous 1965 'in white gloves' which they had to pep up a bit with rum casks. Nowadays, everyone finishes their whiskies with additional flavours, but back then, it was quite a shocking practice, beyond normal re-racking. Nevertheless, this somewhat slightly fragile 1991 vintage remains absolutely wonderful.

SGP:655 - 90 points.

Now, let's move on to the legends, like this very special '702' 'from behind the stacks' as we say, and then we'll have another...

Ardbeg 25 yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 702 bottles)

Ardbeg 25 yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 702 bottles) Five stars
Right. We've already tasted it several times, probably gone through two or three bottles, truth be told, and we gave it a score of 96 points, but we've never written a single line about it on Whiskyfun (on Malt Maniacs, probably, I can't remember). It's an utterly legendary bottle. Nothing to add, let's try to finally write a tasting note worthy of the name, it's about time. Colour: golden. Nose: pure peat smoke. It's like walking through a kiln in full operation, with salmon, sorrel, mint, and apples in your pockets. But who would do that? Ashes and bacon in the background. It's an Ardbeg with surgical precision on the nose. With water: of course, at this strength, you only add a couple of drops of water, just to relax everything. And it works wonderfully, releasing old leather, horse saddle, marrow, honeys, aged Chardonnay, little candied citrus fruits, ashes... Who said Ardbeg was just about peat? Palate (neat): there's an essential, very compact, candied, concentrated aspect, focused on citrus and smokes. There's not much more to say, it's just perfect. With water: fruit jellies, quince, frozen service berries, medlar, mead (nectar of the gods), candied kumquat, overripe apple... Finish: medium length but of infinite delicacy. Who smoked all these wonderful jams? An outstanding aftertaste of every kind of pepper there is. Comments: just to be cheeky, we'll knock 1 point off this wonder. Hey, we do what we like, this isn't a public service. I'll add that this Ardbeg is absolutely not just about peat, no more than a venison stew is just about salt (what?). Anyway, you get what I mean, I'm sure. That said, be gentle with water, a single drop is quite enough.

SGP:567 - 95 points.

Ardbeg 1974/1992 (43%, Dun Eideann, Auxil Import France, casks #2026-2030, 3,800 bottles)

Ardbeg 1974/1992 (43%, Dun Eideann, Auxil Import France, casks #2026-2030, 3,800 bottles) Five stars
What more is there to say about the Ardbegs from the early 1970s that hasn't already been said and written? Their high reputation is not only due to the quality of the whiskies but also because these casks were made available as single cask or small batch precisely at the time when interest in single malts began to explode worldwide, starting in the mid-to-late 1990s. Before that, these whiskies had either been blended by the owners Allied, into the 10-year-old or into the 30-year-old 'Very Old' for the older vintages, or offered by a few independents such as Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenhead or, as is the case here, by Signatory Vintage / Dun Eideann. But it was really the purchase by Glenmorangie that lit the fuse, so to speak; before that, Ardbeg had remained a distillery for specialists. Colour: dark gold. Nose: the power is quite incredible for such a low degree of alcohol, while the style remains a bit rounder, even more pastry-like than other 1974s, which are much more peaty and on hydrocarbons. Maybe this is due to the use of sherry casks? But green Chartreuse quickly emerges from the wood, accompanied by seared scallops and even a bit of olive oil. Then we move on to much more typically Ardbeg notes, such as camphor, burnt tyres, and new inner tubes. Some Provençal herbs on the barbecue, especially thyme. Also orange zest. Palate: impressive after all these years, rich, almost a bit jammy, but camphor, cough syrup, tar, and a greasy smokiness are also part of the landscape. Some green walnuts, salt, sesame oil, olive oil, a very typical massage balm aspect... Then it moves towards more bitterness, like digestive liqueurs, for example. And then there's that slight rusticity that is quite typical too. Finish: really long, on sap, rubber, walnut liqueur... Then bitter orange marmalade and a bit of menthol. Comment: what to say, except that it's an Ardbeg 1974. Of course, we would have dreamed of a little more power, but we have to put ourselves back in the time: we're in 1992.
SGP:567 - 92 points.

(Many, many thanks, Austin and The Golden Promise!)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far

 

December 19, 2023


Whiskyfun