Cragganmore 29yo 1973/2003 “Special Edition” (52.5%, OB, 6000 bottles)

Cragganmore, and an old Cragganmore it is. Last year Diageo released a 25yo Special Release from 1988. That one costs a pretty penny, and is almost sold out by now. Nevertheless these days people throw themselves at anything that looks or feels like a super-duper premium bottling. However, the short row of special editions of Cragganmore was started back in 2003, by this 29yo from 1973. Yes a distillate from the seventies, and distillates from the seventies are usually even harder to come by. Nevertheless, this 1973 Cragganmore is still not very hard to get ánd even at a lower price than the aforementioned 1988 special release. What is happening here? Is the 1988 way better or has everybody simply forgotten about the 1973?

Cragganmore 29yo 1973/2003 Special Edition (52.5%, OB, 6000 bottles)Color: Gold.

Nose: Waxy and floral but rather closed. Quite light, delicate and vibrant. Old smoke and toast. Distant yellow fruits with a hint of tar. Nice combination. Steam age Whisky. Hints of barley and (floral) soap, but also hints of wood (old furniture) and even a tiny hint of pencil shavings. Hints of soft white pepper and some discernible sweetness. Dusty, fruity and slightly waxy, but I have to say it again, very closed.

Taste: Tropical fruits, like other bottlings from the seventies. Just remember Caperdonich and Tomatin. Cannabis and dish-water. Old papers and slightly cardboardy, which in this case isn’t a bad thing. Nice combination of cream and tired oak. It definitely tastes better than it smells. Don’t get me wrong, it smells good (albeit closed), but it tastes better. The finish is announced by some oaky bitterness, which fits the fruity waxiness perfectly. And old gent of a dram. Old and brittle but lots of stories to tell. You never know with old stuff like this, but to me, this seems to be exclusively from old Bourbon casks.

I am not Mr. Water. I hardly use water when tasting Malt prefer movement. Just let it move around in my glass, airing, oxidizing of you prefer, maybe warming it up in my hand a bit. That does the trick for me. However, if I encounter a closed Malt, then, and only then, water can be a nice experiment. I’m such an anorak, that I don’t even use a pipette, but I use a syringe. (Smaller droplets giving me more control). I know it’s sad, but I do have a life, so don’t worry about me. Well after some droplets and some more droplets, water didn’t open up the nose a lot. I did get more floral and toasty. It did do wonders for the taste. It got better, with more cannabis, more pencil shavings and more yellow sugared fruits. The toasty bit crept in here too. Lovely stuff, a bit brittle (apart from the body), so be carefull. So in this case, do try some water. Yes it needs some work, but it’s also quite an experience.

I haven’t tried all of the other special releases of Cragganmore but I can’t imagine them to be better than this one. Sure, age doesn’t matter (or so they say) and distillates of the seventies don’t have to be better than more recent distillates. However, this 1973 does come across as a very old Whisky, meaning it does smell and taste like something that can’t be made like this anymore. To “prove” or “un-prove” my point here is a review of a more modern Cragganmore, that did manage to fetch a higher score…

Points: 87

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)

Long time no Rosebank. It has been a long time since I reviewed a 1990 Rosebank, bottled by indie giants Gordon & MacPhail. That one was pretty good, it scored a healthy 88 points. Time for another go at Rosebank. This time a 1992 from Murray McDavid, remember them? By the way Murray McDavid bottled two different Rosebanks, both registered as MM1413. (The other one is a 1989, called Mission V). This 1992 is something of a farewell dram since Diageo decided, in it infinite wisdom, to mothball the distillery in 1993, never to work again…

Rosebank was founded in 1798, although some sources mention other years like 1840 and 1773. In the end, Rosebank was sadly mothballed in 1993 by Diageo which preferred Glenkinchie for its Classic Malts portfolio. And why not, nothing wrong with Glenkinchie I say. I’ve tried some very good Glenkinchies, and even reviewed a very good one, a 1987 bottled by Signatory. But why did Rosebank have to go? From an anoraks point of view, bad move since Rosebank distilled some pretty good spirit that turned into some pretty good Whisky if you ask me. Eternal shame.

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)Color: White wine.

Nose: Softly buttery and citrussy. Full aroma and nicely fresh. Nice acidity and sure some barley. Quite clean. If this isn’t your typical Lowland style, than nothing will be. Highly aromatic with soft wood and a nice grassy feel to it. Good spirit and even though the cask seems not that active (due to the lack of color), the spirit is decent and gentile, and the cask did enough to preserve that, and adding some vanilla and cold creamy butter to it. Lurking in the distance is actually some hints of new make spirit. Nice elegant (cedar) wood with milk chocolate and coffee with creamy notes (or coffee pudding).  Nice vegetal notes as well. Easily recognizable as a triple distilled lowlander. The big aroma is Rosebank from a good cask. Just compare this to the 1979 Rare Malts version (which I know is much higher in strength, but that would be missing the point).

Taste: Slightly toasted wood and creamy again. This starts with a bitterish and sappy oak attack (with some cardboard and malted barley), but that dissipates quite quickly to show it’s even more malty and grassy side. Also coffee and milk chocolate return here. A tad drier than expected and the body is more about new make spirit than the nose. Still not much though. And yes on the palate we can find the vegetal side. The bitterness of the wood stays on throughout. The whole is very nice, and don’t forget about the refreshing citrussy note!

Classic lowland and even though a fairly young Rosebank from a Bourbon Cask, this is clean and such a typical example of Lowland and Rosebank especially. Even this simple Rosebank shows what a mistake it must have been (looking at quality) to close this distillery down. Thank you very much. This particular expression reminds me of some Bladnochs, so I hope that distillery will be saved before it’s too late and someone turns it into their summer home of some sorts.

Points: 86

Aberlour 16yo (43%, OB, Double Cask Matured, Circa 2003)

Here is another oldie from the archives. This time another big well-known brand with one of their succesful numbers. This bottling still exists, although it went through a few newly designed labels. As far as I know this was the first edition of this particular bottling. Double cask matured. Slap Double Wood on the label and you have a law-suit on your hands, but essentially it’s the same thing. Bourbon cask matured Single Malt Whisky with a finish in Sherry casks. Aberlour are well-known for heavy usage of Oloroso Sherry casks, but we already know from the 1988 bottling, that other Sherry casks are also used, and since this isn’t a highly priced expression I do suspect other than Oloroso casks may have been used with this one too. And why not?

Aberlour 16yo (43%, OB, Double Cask Matured, Circa 2003)Color: Copper gold

Nose: Sweet Sherry, and vanilla, which would already suggest maturation in Sherry and American oak casks. Sweet and slightly winey. Some hints of powder and dust and hardly any (tannic) wood, so definitely longer maturation in American oak than European oak. Just smell those vanilla and pudding notes. After a while more floral notes emerge. I’m not very good with flowers so I can’t tell you which flowers yet, but believe me it is floral right now. Together with the floral bit, elegant polished wood comes to the fore with some bad breath too. The Sherry part is getting less and less pronounced, so most definitely a finished Whisky all right.

Taste:  Sweet and again a combination of vanilla, pudding and a more winey note than a typical Oloroso Sherry note. Sweet and simple would sum this up just nicely. Creamy with a hint of bitter plain white oak, so at least the sweet vanilla body is given some backbone with wood. Slightly cardboardy finish as well as waxed milk chocolate. You know the shiny stuff. Leaving this in the glass even longer, a more candied fruit note emerges. Dried apricots and some honeyed almonds. It picks up more of a bite too. Not a very complex malt yet very likeable. Highly drinkable, but it wouldn’t be my first pick for a daily drinker, since it lacks some complexity and the finish seems to be not as well-integrated as should. Having said that, giving this some air to let it settle some more, does do wonders for this Malt and adds some nutty bitterness too.

In effect this does remind me of Bourbon matured Aberlours I’ve tasted in the past, but also the 1988 I reviewed earlier. When I come to think of it, it does also remind me a bit of Highland Park 12yo. Quite good, but also quite simple with a less than perfect finish. I haven’t tried them yet, but I expect later batches of this Whisky to be better in this respect, with hopefully more Oloroso casks used for finishing, but also a slightly longer finish in those casks will help it along as well.

Points: 85

Braes of Glenlivet 19yo 1979/1999 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #9294, 658 bottles)

The day before yesterday I reviewed the first Braeval on Masterquill.com, the domain I was finally able to acquire. Today we’ll have another first, this time the first Braes of Glenlivet. Well not really since both are one and the same distillery.

Braes of Glenlivet was founded just in 1973, so it’s not thát old. At that time Seagram’s was a company with only two distilleries: Strathisla (I love Sherried Strathisla’s from the 60’s and 70’s) and Glen Keith (equally so). Both distilleries are next to one another by the way. Chivas needed more capacity, due to huge demand of the Chivas Regal 12yo blend in the States and was looking for a distillery to take over. When that didn’t work, plans were made to “build” five distilleries in the same amount of time. Braes of Glenlivet was the first in 1973 and Allt-a-Bhainne the second a year later. The next three distilleries were brought into the portfolio by acquisition in 1978: Glenlivet, Longmorn and Glen Grant (now owned by Campari since 2006). Other noteworthy facts are that the name of Braes of Glenlivet changed to Braeval in 1994 (to allow Glenlivet to be The Glenlivet, as in “there can be only one”). Breaval was mothballed between 2002 and 2008 and is the highest situated distillery in Scotland. 1665 feet.

Braes of Glenlivet 19yo 1979/1999 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #9294, 658 bottles)Color: Copper Gold.

Nose: Musty and a high quality Sherry note. Not a big heavily Sherried nose (hence the color). But dry and meaty. Slightly smoky (char) and vegetal (fern). Nicely oaky but also pencil shavings, which usually isn’t oak but cedar. Perfumy. This needs some air to balance itself out. Again the wood is playing a big role in this Braes/Braeval, just like the one I reviewed before. The vegetal part is developing into what I can only guess is a Japanese tea kind of note. Not floral, so it’s not the perfumy part of the nose, but very deep, profound, but also elegant and light. Having said that, next up is a hint of Velpon or Uhu (clear glue). Great herbal and earthy complexity (surely not only from the wood?), with a tiny hint of new make spirit. This is a very nice one to take deep breaths of. Stuff for connoisseurs I guess, so maybe not everybody’s cup of tea.

Taste: Strong, sweet and dry at the same time. Very nice. Lot’s of Beer and Hops, and not really Sherried for me. The hops doesn’t make this all that bitter. Quite some masked sweetness and again quite woody too. The bitterness is really a hoppy one. Interesting. Just like it’s younger brother, it’s coming undone a bit in the finish. The alcohol is really prominent, so most definitely a force to deal with. Finish with tea and wood, a hint of soap and rather drying. Beer and soap who would have guessed? The complexity of the nose isn’t really here in the taste. And I really miss the high quality Sherry I smelled initially. Beer and Sherry who would have guessed?

What really caught me by surprise were the similarities between the 1991 Braeval bottled by The Whisky Mercenary and this particular expression from 1979. Especially on the nose. One was distilled in 1991 and this one in 1979. Both have a similar full on smell and a woody part that plays a big role in the bigger picture. This Signatory has a more pronounced Sherry derived full and sweetish body, whereas the 1991 was more fruity.

Points: 85

Braeval 21yo 1991/2013 (47.7%, The Whisky Mercenary)

Some of you may have already noticed, but as of yesterday I finally managed to get MASTERQUILL.COM. Not long after I started publishing my tasting notes, someone was very quick to snap up this domain. Once I had a look around, what buying this domain would cost, but I thought the $1.800 was a bit too steep, I’d rather buy me some Whisky for that, thank you very much. Yesterday I had another look around and it was available! This time I was quick to snap it up myself, and anyone of you who have registered their own domain (that is available), know that this doesn’t break the bank. Great! Back to Whisky now, and back to Jürgen…

Time for a Whisky that hasn’t been featured before on these pages. A new name on my new domain so to speak. Braeval as it is called today, Braes of Glenlivet was its old name. Not an old distillery though, but more on that next time…

Braeval 21yoColor: Gold.

Nose: Clean buttery vanilla, caramel and lots of toffee. Promises a lot of sweetness. Dry vegetal notes. Nutty but also slightly perfumy. Sinaspril (a Paracetamol tablet for children, with a powdery orange flavour). This reminds me a lot of Sinaspril from the seventies. Somehow I don’t use it a lot today anymore. Got older you know, need veterinary strength Paracetamol now. Let’s get back to the Braeval shall we. Very creamy and dry, but not a lot of wood yet. Definitely some laid back fruity notes and cookie dough and almond paste. Orange obviously, just not the freshly pressed kind, but also succulent and with hints of over ripe kiwi. Yes that’s a first. Behind the fruits also a meaty component is present. In the end it’s all about fruit and cream. Quite complex, there seems to be happening more that I have mentioned. For instance, it takes the wood quite a long time to assert itself.

Taste: Sweet and again very fruity. Thinner than I thought with an ABV of 47.7%. Very fruity (cherry bon-bon) and nutty and yes, quite sweet, but also a nice touch of acidity to prevent this one from being overly sweet or cloying. Creamy vanilla and cheap milk chocolate is present. Definitely a woody backbone now. Unpolished edges of oak. Watch out for splinters! Oaky sourness in the finish, and speaking of the finish, the big body this Whisky has, does fall apart a bit in the finish, where the oak starts to dominate. A shorter finish than expected, so you want your next sip quite soon after the previous one, but you wouldn’t mind because you already developed a craving for the great fruitiness of this malt. Prominent oak though.

Actually this could have been better, because towards the finish the oak plays and ever-growing role. You do need to like your oak with this one. Luckily this Breaval has a nice nose and a body full of thick toffee and fruit. In the end, this is a very enjoyable dram and thus rightly picked by Mr. V. Not the best of the bunch though.

Points: 84

Brugse Zot Dubbel (7.5%, 33 cl)

Ahh it’s been way too long since I have reviewed a Beer. Wow, it’s almost a year back! Sure Whisky takes up a large part of my life (when talking about booze that is), but I sure do enjoy other drinks as well. I really have to do more with Beers and Rum and I have to say other drinks are also in the pipeline. Lets get back to basics (for me) and review a Beer from the number one Beer country in the world: Belgium! This time we’ll have a look at Brugse Zot Dubbel. Brugge is a really beautiful town in Flanders, Belgium. Highly recommended if you haven’t visited yet. Get yourself a Vlaamse Stoverij (Beef stew) with any great brown Beer, and you’ll be king for the evening! Brugse zot (Jester from Brugge) is a Brown Beer brewed by Brouwery De Halve Maan.

Brugse Zot DubbelColor: Red brown, mahogany with a lot of Cappuccino foam.

Nose: Fresh air and hints of citrus. Quite a yeasty, yet clean smell carried by carbon dioxide. Creamy winey honey, but all the way through it keeps its acidic freshness. Candy Sugar and only a hint of mustiness or cold dishwater. No sign of anything burnt.

Taste: Quite a lot of bitterness at first. It tones down a bit for the (lighter) body but returns and stays behind on the tongue for the warming finish, which must come from Saaz hops. Brown sugar candy and muscovado sugar, but having said that it’s absolutely not a sweet Beer. Here also that typical hint of fruity acidity. Slightly burnt sugar and a hint of vegetal and dry licorice. The unexpected fruitiness comes even better to the fore when the Beer is drunk with big gulps and chewed.

This Beer is known for its usage of six different malts for a complex aroma, but tasting this Beer now (at the right temperature of 8 C) it doesn’t seem too complex. When reading the list of malts and the usage of hops this also tastes like a beer that has been designed to be like this. It works well. Its all right by itself but probably even better with a Flemish stew as mentioned above (also made with brown Beer).

Points: 78

The Glenlivet 18yo (43%, OB, Circa 2003)

When thinking of the middle of the Whisky road, for me, two distilleries somehow stick out. Glenfiddich as the daddy of Single Malt and Glenlivet. There may be others. Both have a big reputation, huge sales and lots and lots of versions. Most encounters with Malts from the standard range of these distilleries will be in hotel bars and such. Here we’ll have a look at (The) Glenlivet 18yo. This is already the fifth Glenlivet bottled by Glenlivet themselves on these pages, but only the third from the standard range. Earlier we had a look at the 12yo and the 15yo “French Oak Reserve”. The 18yo is another step up from both predecessors. By the way, just recently it was announced that Glenlivet are discontinuing the highly popular sales hit: the 12yo. A decision Diageo say they could’t make when everybody is fearing the discontinuation of their Talisker 10yo. Diageo think that would be stupid…

The Glenlivet 18Color: Amber gold.

Nose: Waxy and fruity. Quite nice, but also pretty simple. Can’t imagine the recent version of this 18yo smelling this “old”. Burnt paper and a slight hint of Sherry. Some vanilla mixed with a more organic note. Quite dusty, but it somehow seems to be a sweet dust. Fruity Sherry with hints of meaty Sherry. Also some hints of Bourbon casks, especially the vanillin and creamy pudding.

Taste: Quite sweet, but when that dissipates more fruity notes appear. Also the slightest hint of tar and a burnt note similar, but not the same as the burning paper note I got in the nose. Sweet Sherry and cookie dough. Very likeable and highly drinkable. Great fruitiness. I even have some cooked banana in here but also some maracuja and dried apricot.

This tastes way nicer than the Macallan 1986 Sherry I reviewed last. This tastes more like an old Whisky, with a bigger body and kind of sweetness that is acceptable due to its balancing with the burnt notes. Quite nice, but slightly too sweet to be a daily drinker, although maybe it is. Good standard bottling from a decade ago. Now I’m curious how a more recent 18yo will taste.

Points: 85