Arran 19yo 1996/2016 “The Chosen One” (54.7%, OB, Limited Edition, for Whiskysite.nl, Sherry Hogshead #1390, 312 bottles)

One of the finer places to buy Whisky in the Netherlands is Whiskysite based in the town of Leiden. Excellent, wonderful looking store, good people, fair prices and a very handy Website which services the whole world. For me one of the go-to places. The same guys also host a Whisky festival called Whisky in Leiden. This years edition is next saturday on april 1st. No joke. If you are interested, I’m sure they will have room for you next year since this years edition is long sold out. Just like any real good festival, or retailer, the guys have special bottlings done for them. One of last years bottlings was a very old Arran. I can still remember Arran starting up, and here we have already a 19yo example of the Malt. I’m getting old.

Color: Gold.

Nose: First sniff and I’m guessing Fino Sherry casks. Nice Sherry note combined with nuts and wood. Mocha and a sweeter component in the background. Chewy toffee. As I said before, I never was a big fan of Fino cask Whiskies but just like Rhum Agricoles it is an acquired taste, and today, wow, I get it. They are very special. Vanilla and dried lemon powder, in part like in artificial sweets. Hints of high winds at sea, combined with cold dish water. Strange èh? But in reality not strange at all. Hints of wood come next, as well as some pencil shavings with floral notes and wood from cigar boxes. This smells very distinguished and luxury. Next a layer of cold fruitiness. Green and red apple skins, dried apricots and some dried basil as well. Sweet yoghurt. A promise of some fruity sweetness. Crushed beetle and rotting flower bulb, both a childhood memory. I’m sorry for the animal, I only did it once, by accident. Well balanced and none of the aromas presented here are overpowering. A quiet Arran. Toned down. Whispering. A sort of connoisseurs Whisky maybe. You need some experience to discover it all, as well as appreciate it fully. I hope I don’t sound arrogant now. If you are a novice, please buy it if you come across it, but wait a few years before opening it.

Taste: Half sweet and spicy. Nice wood-notes and soft nevertheless. Sweet fruit yoghurt. The stuff with peaches in it. White peach with a spicy bite. Warming. Mocha and hard coffee candy. Butterscotch and some aspartame sweetness. Pencil shavings. Again, well-balanced stuff and very tasty. If this would have been 5% lower in ABV, this would be dangerously drinkable and you’d finish the bottle way too quickly. Now it is slightly hot, which makes you appreciate it better and follow it up with a different Whisky. It’s almost as if the sweetness and the dryness of the wood are competing. one sip, and one manages to get all the attention, and in the next sip the other. Hints of Belgian Beer towards the finish. The finish itself is quite long.

Good cask strength Whisky from a nice (Fino) cask. No typical distillery character if you ask me, but also no particular aroma that manages to take the lead. Well balanced but with nothing really sticking out, making for a bit anonymous yet well-balanced Whisky.

Points: 86

Tamdhu “Batch Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch 001, Sherry Casks, 2015)

In our series of NAS Cask Strength Whiskies, here is number three. After the nice Glengoyne and the surprisingly good Tomatin, here is Tamdhu. Tamdhu is since 2011, the new jewel in the crown of Ian MacLeod, who have managed to save yet another distillery from the hands of the Edrington Group. The group chose to focus on the highly marketable Macallan and Highland Park brands, so no use for this low profile, but high quality distillery Tamdhu is. Over the years all previous owners haven’t done a lot with the Tamdhu brand, so there aren’t a lot of Tamdhu expressions around. Ian MacLeod, being the new owners, came up with a nice retro design and up ’till now have released four expressions. A 10yo that is widely available, blended from first and second fill Sherry casks. A limited edition 10yo, blended from first fill Sherry casks only, which has sold out rather quickly. And last but not least, two batches of the Batch Strength expression. Today we’ll have a look at the first batch, although last year the second batch saw the light of day.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Funky bread-like notes. Cereal and smelly, brooding Sherry. Quite spirity and paper-like at first. Cold dish-water. After a short while of breathing a more likeable fruity note emerges, but not much. Hints of gravy, Beer and menthol. Butterscotch and a rather strange burnt note, with an acidic top note (that’s why its strange). I’m not alarmed though, because the previous two NAS cask strength expressions started out funky as well, but turned out to be really tasty in the end. Next a more vegetable and woody note. Spicy but not in a big way. Still some paper, (slightly scented toilet paper comes to mind), as well as some jasmine tea. Pencil shavings start to emerge. Soft with a hint of sweetness. Creamy and nutty. The more it breathes the more toffee it shows. The strangeness mentioned above never really disappears.

Taste: Big on toffee and pencil shavings. Wow. Nice. Sweet. Hot. Big. Brash. I like it! Here too a funky note. Even some orange skin. Different from the other two, but one that screams yes! Its good. Where the nose had some off-putting aroma’s, the taste is very inviting. If you like cask strength, this is immediately likeable. Sure a bit raw and at times a wee bit under-matured, but not much. It won’t be twenty years old, but it won’t be three years either. Well made, you can taste a lot of care went into this. Lots of nutty Sherry notes, so I’m guessing some Sherries that matured under flor were used as well. Wonderful woody elements adding to the whole. Medium finish at best. The big aroma’s turn dry and then disappear altogether, which invites you to take another sip.

First of all, this is all Sherry casks, as the plan is for all Tamdhu releases, but way different from the all Sherry cask Aberlour A’Bunadh, blended solely from Oloroso Sherry casks. Compared to the other two I reviewed recently, or even to the A’Bunadh, this is maybe priced a tad to high, but I suspect this liquid was also quite pricy to produce.

However, if I had to choose on smell alone I would pick the Tomatin, which is also less expensive than this Tamdhu, but since Ian MacLeod made the bold move to buy this distillery, which isn’t known to the big public, I understand the pricing and the Whisky is definitely worth its price. In a direct comparison with the Tomatin Cask Strength, it is obvious both are equally good, and both show something about the distilleries they’re from. The difference in taste is a matter of opinion, as well as your mood. You can’t go wrong with either of them, including the Glengoyne which did score one point less.

Points: 85

Thanks Alan!

Tomatin “Cask Strength” (57.5%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry Casks, 2016)

Today there are a few NAS Cask Strength Whiskies on the market that haven’t received a funny marketing driven name. Sure among many others, f.i. Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very good, but considering the owners of Ardbeg, marketing is a given. There are also a few quiet boys in the back of the class, whispering about quality and quality only, not caring too much about marketing and don’t spend their money even on getting a funky name. A few of those come to mind as well. The last review I did is even one of those expressions. Glengoyne “Cask Strength”. Others are Tamdhu, Glendronach and Tomatin to name but a few. I never got around to review the original Tomatin Cask Strength, but now I have a chance at the first batch from last year’s newly designed release. As mentioned on the box, this Whisky comes from Bourbon and Sherry casks and will be an interesting comparison to Glengoynes expression with the same name.

tomatin-cask-strength-2016Color: Light gold.

Nose: Lots of barley and funky Sherry. Lots of cereal notes as well, but also a hint of smoke and cask toast (the former probably coming from the latter only). I can’t say this smells very appetizing and nice from the start, but the Glengoyne got better with extended breathing, so we’ll give this one some time as well, but I can already tell you that this Tomatin won’t take as long as the Glengoyne. There are also buttery and creamy elements and some hidden fruits. Sugar water and hints of licorice, clear glue and some sweet fruits. Pencil shavings, paper, cardboard and a slightly odd (or off) acidic note. Not much, but it’s there. Just not of the tropical kind Tomatin is known for…or is it, considering the evolution with air. Just like the Glengoyne version, It shows its youth and both show a somewhat similar young and strong style, based on both Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Taste: Yeah, strong at first but next, heaps of wonderful tropical fruitiness with nice nuts! It’s definitely a Tomatin all right. Sweet on entry. Toffee, caramel. Butter. immediately followed by some nice oaky notes. Not as strong as the number suggests, and also not hot. Pretty easy to drink, if you have some cask strength experience, that is. Cookie dough and cream, with just enough sweetness to present the finish which is definitely a bit drier. Just like the Glengoyne the taste is better than the nose is. Lacks a bit of complexity though, but in the taste it doesn’t remind me of a young Whisky. Whiffs of old style Whisky pass by as well.

The youthful cereal notes? I don’t like them. It’s that part of Whisky that transforms into something way better with some proper ageing in proper casks. When freshly opened these notes are pretty upfront, in your face. A bit off-putting in my opinion, but the same happened with the Glengoyne Cask Strength as well. Sure it wears off, but do you really want to wait some time after pouring it, before you can thoroughly enjoy it? Because you can, if you work at it a bit. After extensive breathing both become nice cask strength drams worth your money. The quality is there and therefore the score is up there well into the eighties. But for me, this is also proof why Whisky should be aged properly and why I’m also a bit hesitant when it comes to NAS-expressions, which most definitely are not all bad, just look at the WIP Kilkerrans to name but one. Luckily this one tastes so good, I have no problems forgiving it for the funky nose. Again one you have to let breathe for a while.

Points: 85 (almost 86).

Thanks Alistair!

Glengoyne “Cask Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch #4, 2015)

In 2012 Glengoyne launched their NAS offering simply called “Cask Strength”, because that is what it is. A cask strength Whisky without an age statement. Before that, the Cask Strength offering did already exist, but it was also 12yo. In this case, rumours have it, that the Whisky isn’t all that young. So I don’t expect a 3yo Whisky with a few older casks thrown in to give it some depth. Sure there is “Burnfoot” and there are 5 batches of “Teapot Dram”, but that’s about it. No more NAS from Glengoyne. Nope, the regular range of Glengoyne is made up of good old-fashioned numbers like 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25. Above that a recent 35yo comes into play, but expect to pay a lot of hard-earned cash for that one. Back to the one without a number, this time bottled at a hefty 58.8% ABV. I sometimes tend to whine a bit about Whiskies being reduced too much, well I don’t think that will be the case this time. Lets find out if it’s any good, shall we?

glengoyne-cask-strength-batch-4Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Nice funky Sherry, cask toast, mocha and vanilla. Funky as in not sparkling or fruity, nope, its deeper and more brooding than that. Less welcoming and dark. Medieval. Bread and barley, lots of it. Warm (toasted) bread, so definitely a cereal note. No trace of new make spirit though, so it’s not a 3yo NAS. However, there is some youth to it. Nevertheless, sometimes, it really does remind me a bit of Whisky made some time ago as well, so definitely a Whisky with multiple facets. Next whiff is of a slightly floral and herbal perfume. This could be interesting. When given some time to breathe, hints of new make do emerge, and the funky, sulky notes from the start, ease up a bit, to become more friendly and floral. Glengoyne are adamant about not using peat, but this does have a smoky note probably provided by toasted (Sherry) oak. It gives it more backbone and a bigger aroma. Meaty. Dusty vanilla powder. This is an autumn Whisky. If it’s October, bad weather, this is your dram. I like it. If I had to sum it up in a few words: Cereal, (American) oak and Sherry. Well balanced yet not all that complex though, also lacking some development and balance. This could do with some more ageing, which would obviously affect the price.

Taste: Barley, bread and quite sweet. Lots of Sherry and creamy notes. Fruity with a nice oaky bite. Old warehouse. Right from the start already better than the nose. More balance and tastier than it smells. Sure its a bit hot, because it has a lot of alcohol and the wood is also quite active. Lots of wood notes. Pencil shavings and oak from the start. Vanilla but also toasted oak and virgin oak. More pencil shavings. The woody bit is quite nice and kept in check by the sweetness of the Malt. A winning combination. The entry is great and the body nice big and sweet. The sweetness isn’t lasting though making way for a more woody, dry and (fruity) acidic side of the Whisky. It’s a two-stage Whisky. Again, not the most complex in the world, but very tasty and very good value to boot. Definitely one for drinking and less for smelling if you ask me, unless you are patient and let it breathe for quite some time. It gains a lot in the balance department that way.

You’ve got to love Glengoyne, for advertising not using peat for drying their malt. Especially when the world is peat-mad. Hey even Glendronach and several other Speyside distilleries offer peated expressions. When will we see a peated expression of Glengoyne? Remember Macallan advertising that their dram is so special because of the hand-picked Oloroso casks? Well look what happened there… No fuss at Glengoyne, just like Springbank. Making Whisky their way and doing it well. No funny names, no marketing tricks, mostly age statements, although Teapot Dram almost is a funny name.

Points: 84 (same score as Batch #1, but not as high as the previous 12yo cask strength expressions that I scored between 86 to 88 points)

Thanks go out to Alan for the sample, thanks mate!

Mortlach 11yo 1992/2004 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Autumn/Summer, DMG 627)

Talisker Storm is essentially a young Whisky, one of today’s NAS-expressions. A decade ago, this 11yo Mortlach would be considered a young Whisky and back then we hardly ever heard of NAS-Whiskies to boot. Mortlach is known for its unique distilling regime where the Whisky in the bottle was distilled 2.6 times. Mortlach is also known for dark and dirty Sherry bottlings. Mostly first fill and Oloroso. Just have a look at this Wilson & Morgan Mortlach. So Mortlach fits in the group of Macallan (of old), Aberlour, Glendronach and Longmorn.

However, here we have a rather pale expression of Mortlach bottled by Douglas Laing, from the time Fred and Stewart were still running a business together. Douglas Laing had essentially three series of bottlings. Provenance, Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare (better known as the Platinum-bottlings). There were some more, but lets stick to these three better known ones, shall we? Provenance was mostly reduced to 43% and later 46%, Old Malt Cask to 50% (if possible) and generally older and more special. Finally Old & Rare-expressions were cask strength en even older still (and extra special). Maybe there are some exceptions but in my mind all were single cask bottlings. Here we’ll try a young and very pale Mortlach from the least expensive series of the three. Young-ish and reduced.

mortlach-provenance-11yo-1992-2004Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fresh, soft and fruity. Some barley and definitely some citrus notes. Very fresh and “summery”. Hints of bread, mocha and nuts, but also a chewy, green oaky note. Vegetal. Green leaves and perfumy. Hints of dishwater and latex paint as well, which really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Powdery and dusty, in part like the smell of old books, some leather and cold gravy. Warm butter and vanilla pudding. Quite a lot happening here, and a bit dirty alright. Although all of the aroma’s I’m picking up here, are pretty different, the whole is well-balanced. They mix together well. Mortlach is known for a meaty element (from Sherry casks), but that is lacking here.

Taste: Barley again and a lot of the vegetal, green and oak notes. Chewy again and it has a short sharp edge from the oak. It’s almost like virgin oak this, with a bite. A little bitter woody bite. Don’t think now this is a bitter Whisky, because it isn’t. The bite itself is extremely short, leaving room for a very soft and mellow Whisky. Cannabis and vanilla. Creamy, with cookie dough and chocolate-chip cookies as well. Sweet(ish) and fruity. The taste of this Mortlach is less complex than the nose. Judging by the color, the cask didn’t seem all that active, but it did impair a lot of the woody notes, so it probably was an easy pick when considering bottling a younger Whisky. Hey, but it’s not all (soft) wood notes, there is also some coconut, nutty and creamy aroma’s. (something you can also find in some Glen Keith‘s matured in ex-Bourbon casks). It’s fruity as well. Medium nutty and creamy finish, with hints of cannabis (the first time around). With a medium bitter aftertaste giving the whole experience some backbone.

Mortlach is known as a dirty, meaty Sherried Whisky. However, this probably came from an American oak cask that previously held Bourbon. So does the meaty part come from the Sherry then? Well not entirely. Especially on the nose, the distillate, without the influence of (Oloroso or PX) Sherry casks, still shows a meaty aroma. Cold gravy I called it, and dirty. It doesn’t taste as a dirty meaty Mortlach to me though. Remarkably soft, and pretty decent overall, yet nothing special as well.

Points: 81

Talisker “Storm” (45.8%, OB, 2013)

Time for another Talisker, and quite a controversial one. Talisker have a very competitive 10yo on offer. One that did change over time. Just compare recent ones to those of ten years ago or twenty, or thirty… Nevertheless, it’s always good and always affordable. Then the time arrived for the NAS expressions, and for Talisker, this Storm was one of the first, and certainly the first that got some big marketing behind it. I remember you could go to your local Port where you could get a dram of “Storm” for free and whilst you were trying it, they aimed their wind-machine at you and threw buckets of water in your face. Talisker is probably the biggest Single Malt brand Diageo own, so a lot seems to be riding on this.

When in 2013 “Storm” arrived, as did “Dark Storm” in travel retail and The Port finished “Port Ruighe”, fans of Talisker were fearing for their beloved 10yo. Surely it would be discontinued? But the faithful 10yo soldiered on. In 2015 Talisker “Skye” arrived, yet another NAS offering, again priced slightly above the 10yo. Are they now going to kill off the 10yo? Nope, it’s still around, although I do still fear for it a bit, and occasionally buy the odd 10yo that is even  on sale quite often. Quite strange, considering discontinuing it would be caused by scarcity. Nevermind.

Earlier I reviewed ‘Neist Point”, a travel retail expression that wasn’t very cheap in some markets. Out came a rant against NAS, but I finished the bottle rather quickly and I have to say I liked it a lot, although a bit overpriced.  “Storm” got a lot of heat from Whisky-drinkers for being more expensive than the 10yo and definitely worse overall. Some even called it the worst whisky they have tasted in a particular year. Today I’m going to have a look at the first batch of “Storm” bought just when it was released. Often first batches tend to be the best…

talisker-stormColor: Light gold.

Nose: Barley, whiffs of new make spirit. Only whiffs, so no cause for alarm. Not bad, but there is some youthfulness noticeable. Nice smoke mixed with some sweetness. Quite lovely. Soft, wet, green and vegetal peat. Not coastal or iodine driven peat. Not Islay. Nutty, a bit of cardboard and fresh. Sweetened black tea, with peach and fern, growing on the forest floor. Quite fruity underneath. Nope, not very complex at first, but it is appetizing and does evolve a lot with some breathing. It is less powerful than the 10yo, although that one also lost some oomph through the years. Nevertheless a quite appealing storm. I like it. It may be younger than the 10yo, but it is well made and balanced. However after giving this Talisker its bold name, the brutal images of heavy waves pounding on jagged rocks and a lion with a fish-tail made of lightning, I expected something of a heavy hitter with lots of heavy young peat, but actually it could be a Talisker, you buy a dram off, at the local ballet school bar. Still beautiful and nice, but Storm? No, a warm breeze at best. Which is excellent, only different. When you smell it proper, it does tick all the boxes. Smoke, peat, fruit, sweetness, well-balanced. Nice development with air, very nice. Excellent nose.

Taste: Barley and cardboard. Sweet and mouth coating. Very nutty, fruity, nutty again and slightly peaty, band from the start, already some balance, but not as much as the nose has. Behind this, quite a lot of sweet, ripe yellow fruits and some minor cardboard again. Not heavy, but the aroma’s are quite big and warming. Just like the nose, it definitely tastes like a Whisky with a good portion of young Whisky blended in. It has an edge tasting like new make. Where the nose reached complexity after breathing and was well-balanced, towards the end of the body the balance is getting a bit, ehhh, unbalanced. Luckily the sweet and fruity aroma’s are big enough to carry it, those are the ones with staying power and make for a nice finish, but the finish itself is not very long. Yes, there is a baby-pepper attack in the finish, typical for Talisker. Especially near the end of the body, and in the finish, the NAS-element shows it’s (ugly) head. I guess it’s this some people scoff at, but calling it their worst? Please dilate your mind!

The 10yo is on offer lots of times, making it even less expensive than all other NAS offerings put on the market by Diageo. So, should you even consider buying one of these NASses? I read a lot of posts on social media of people scoffing at the “Storm”. Well for me this isn’t about winter storms it more of a Whisky for the first colder nights on the end of summer. Sure different from the 10yo, but I’m not sure if it is worse. I actually believe this is a well made Whisky. Compare this to a youthful Springbank and it is maybe just as good. However Springbank as a family owned operation, do get a lot of love from the public. I love Springbank because of its history but also because them make one of the best Whiskies in this modern age. Talisker are owned by Diageo, which is a big, very big, huge money-making drinks giant, and because of that they don’t get a lot of love. Just look at my reviews of “Neist Point” and this “Storm”, there is a lot of sepsis. When Talisker is viewed by itself, seen apart from the marketing, just looking at the history and the place it comes from, it also is a very good distillery making good Whisky and easily another of my favorites. Both distilleries mentioned use some peat and the profile fits me just right. So I’m not going to criticize this Talisker because there is no need to. It maybe NAS (and easily recognizable as a NAS), it maybe Diageo and it maybe heavily marketed, but the Whisky itself is definitely worth it, but if I had to choose, and considering the price I would prefer…the other one.

Points: 83

Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Marsala Finish)

This will be interesting. Experience learns me that I have tasted a lot of good Clynelishes from 1989, although one might ask oneself how far vintages work for Whisky as they do with Wine. An other interesting point is, although todays Wine finishes are quite common, back in 2003, when this was released, Wine finishes weren’t all that hip. Remember that the demand for Whisky was a lot less than it is today, so the sentiment, back then was, if it’s finished in an odd cask (not Bourbon or Sherry), than there must have been something wrong with the original Whisky. This has been finished, by the bottlers, in a cask that previously held Marsala Wine. Marsala is a fortified Wine from Sicily Italy. Marsala can be dry or sweet, and can be white or red, or something in between. Just like Sherry and Port which also comes in lots of different versions, so the word Marsala alone only narrows it down a bit what to expect. It would have been nice to know exactly what kind of Marsala was in the cask. No surprise that we have an “early” experiment with a Wine finish, since Fabio (the man behind Wilson & Morgan) is Italian and already a Wine buff before getting interested in Whisky and Rum. Remember Rum Nation? That’s also his.

By the way, there are other 1989 W&M Clynelishes around. At least one Sherry and one Bourbon expression exist as well. Just look at the bottom right corner of the front label. By the way I have tried this Bourbon expression and it wasn’t as good as other 1989 Clynelishes. Maybe the reason for finishing this one.

clynelish-1989-wm-marsala-finishColor: Gold.

Nose: Dry, restrained and not “thick”. Elegant. Well balanced. Lightly fruity and appetizing. Peaches. Nutty and dusty. Pushed way back some notes of creamy vanilla, so I’m guessing American oak, and probably the previous maturation was done in a Bourbon cask. Don’t be fooled, a lot of Sherries are matured in American oak as well, since it gives off a more creamy, vanilla feel, whereas European oak has more tannins to it. Next some spicy notes. Hints of sweetish basil. Nice one to smell and in no way does the Marsala overpower the Whisky. Fabio was on to something here, and maybe the Clynelish itself wasn’t too bad as well? Hints of dusty dark (friendly) cocoa powder. Good. Give it some time to breathe and the nose does show it has some origins in Wine, but still in a very restrained manner. Hints of Calvados even.

Taste: At first some wood, dusty and spicy but soon a wave of utter fruit passes by, although the fruity sweetness is almost nonexistent, the initial sip has definitely some sweetness to it. Nutty and nice. It has some fruity acidity though, not much but it does help the balance. Two distinct layers after which the finish sets in. A pretty good Whisky with a nicely done finish. It is a treat on entry and has a nice balanced body. The finish has some moderate staying power, and is easily the weakest point of this Malt. It doesn’t have enough length, and is actually not very complex. luckily the rest of the experience is very positive, so definitely a malt one can enjoy. I guess this experiment can be called a success.

The middle has some heat to it so the 46% ABV seems appropriate. I can be easily disappointed when a Whisky has been reduced too much, but I’m also easy in admitting that reductions often work out. In this case I’m not wondering how a cask strength version would have been. I’m happy as it is.

Points: 86