The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2004)

It has been 15 months since I last reviewed a Balvenie on these pages, and how convenient now, that is was also a 12yo Doublewood. However, the previous review was about a Doublewood bottled in 2014 and here we have an example of the same Whisky, the only difference being, that was bottled a decade earlier, 2004. You never know, but I think I know which one will be better…

the-balvenie-12yo-doublewood-2004Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Spicy Sherry notes, bursting with aroma. Deep honeyed layers somewhat reminiscent of Bourbon. Nice oaky feel, combined with some hints of vanilla, warm butter, hot gravy, cardboard and paper. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Definitely some sweet barley notes underneath, accompanied by soe sweet/acid red fruit notes. Candied cherries, waxy red apple skins and meaty Sherry. Very much Sherry driven but the underlying Bourbon notes are a good match as well. Excellent big nose, with all aroma’s well integrated. wow. This brings back memories from when I first started to drink Single Malt Whisky. One thing is certain, the entry-level Whiskies form a decade ago were different from (the same) entry-level Whiskies of today.

Taste: The start is creamy and buttery. Pudding and custard. Next come the drier woody bits. Sawdust and oak. Slightly warming but also a bit too thin.The wood gives it a bitter edge. The Sherry aroma’s must be rather heavy since they come a bit late to the party. And here they are. Somewhat dark and brooding and slightly syrupy. But no doom and gloom, because on top there is a fresher and more acidic fruity note as well. Hints of warm apple sauce, which is very much different from the apple skins I got in the nose. Waxy with hints of Calvados. Towards the finish it starts to break down a bit. The waxy sweetness stays behind the longest, as, for a while, does the bitter edge (pencil shavings), but the distinct aroma’s merge first and then fade away…

Wonderful stuff brought down a bit by the 40% ABV. Should have been higher. Nevertheless, you don’t hear me complaining because it is big enough to overcome the 40% ABV. Very nice stuff especially the start. It tastes best right upon entry. It’s still going strong when it develops in your mouth, but loses grip a bit when finishing. At least a medium finish, but the overall aroma stays behind for quite a while with a nice and warming quality to it.

Points: 84

Lagavulin 8yo (48%, OB, Refill American Oak, Limited Edition, 20.000 bottles, 2016)

Here at Master Quill, we love Lagavulin. In fact if you like your peated Whiskies, then it is really hard to find a bad Lagavulin. It has always been a Single Malt of very high quality and rather rare to encounter as an independent bottling, although there are quite a few out there. Another amazing fact is that the “regular” 16yo is still very, very good, and very, very, affordable. Well done Diageo. For now, because when they start tinkering with Lagavulin 16yo, or delete the Talisker 10yo, well, that wouldn’t be so good now would it.

We all know, the Whisky marked changed quite a bit the last few years, it the demand! It’s therefore harder to put out well aged Malts for a price, older Whisky drinkers are used to. In come the NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings with funny names. Like for instance Talisker Skye (the island it hails from), Talisker (Dark) Storm (it is windy on the Isle of Skye), Talisker Port Ruighe (Pronounced as Port Ree, as in Portree, the largest town on Skye), Talisker 57 North (the location on the map) and Talisker Neist Point (a local lighthouse).

With Lagavulin, Diageo didn’t really venture into NAS territory, instead they released this 8yo. Sure still young like many other NAS bottlings, but this time we, the consumer, get to know its age. For one we now know there isn’t any three year old Whisky in this expression, because all the others must have it. No, this time we are not being conned and we are now more than happy to pay for a relatively young Whisky and feel quite good with it. Yup, put on an age statement, even if its 5yo (Benromach) or this 8yo, and everybody’s happy. I’m sure this Lagavulin got a break from the drinking public, whereas the Taliskers mentioned above were criticized to the bone. I for one like age statements, but do not necesseraly dislike NAS bottlings. However, not knowing whats in it, makes me more hesitant in buying them without tasting it first. With an 8yo, you somehow know what to expect…

Lagavulin 8yoColor: Pale straw. Very light.

Nose: Sweetish laid-back peat. Nice spicy feel to it, in part made up of burnt wood, or even better, burning wood. Usually young peated Whiskies tend to be quite heavy on the phenols, but this one smells quite nice and almost elegant. Ashes and candy. Slow development. Hints of rubber, crushed apples turning brown and some distant cigarette smoke. It also has a slightly acidic fruity note. Unripe pineapple and green apple skins. Fresh wood and fern, with mocha tones. Milk chocolate and . It wants to be warming but hardly is. It is a Lagavulin alright, in many ways a lighter version of the 12yo cask strength expression. Sure some might say it’s lighter in style, maybe slightly under-developed, or less complex, but when you spend some time with it, smelling it, it actually is wonderful stuff. Well balanced. Love it.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. To sweet and fruity? Bubblegum, well didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it to taste like this after thát nose. Very nutty. Almonds and hazelnuts ground to a pulp. Where is the peat? Ahh there it is. Well definitely not a heavy hitting high phenol young peated Whisky. Nope. We can call this very fruity by Lagavulin standards. With some air I get hints of new make spirit. Not the spirity part, but the barley part of it. This one really doesn’t improve giving it a lot of time to aireate in the glass. It shows more imperfections that way, showing, it isn’t really finished yet or even some exposing flaws in the “design”. The finish is medium at best, but shorter than it should have been. How did it get so light, friendly and simple? High drinkability, but in this case even at 48% ABV isn’t enough. It is a very nice one to drink, but the weakness lets it down a bit, or is it too simple, and maybe that lets it down a bit. Maybe both, the truth often lies in the middle, or were my expectations a bit to high.

Beforehand I wanted to compare this one with the 1995 European oak version, but I think it’s better compared to the Wilson and Morgan Caol Ila, also a young peated Whisky.  Smelling the Caol Ila right after the Lagavulin, it seems to have some exhaust fume notes and clay. Garage, new car. Notes I didn’t pick up on when reviewing it. An unusual and very interesting note, just like the petrol taste in good Rieslings. I now love this Caol Ila even more. Smelling the Lagavulin after the Caol Ila, the Lagavulin shows more barley, bread and cocoa, and definitely more youth. I guess lots of the casks weren’t very active anymore. The Lagavulin is even lighter in colour than the Caol Ila. Although the Lagavulin is slightly higher in ABV the difference is noticeable. The Caol Ila is slightly nuttier with nice fruity notes. It tastes well matured and a bit beyond the 9yo it has under its belt. In this direct comparison, I like the Caol Ila better.

I have bought a few of these Lagavulin 8yo’s on good faith and even though I’m a bit surprised how it turned out, I’m not altogether unhappy with it. It still is pretty decent, but it’s not what I expected it to be, and it may still have to find its place in the bigger scheme of things, but let me say this, the 1995 I mentioned above is way better!

Points: 84

Heartfelt thanks go out to Nico for letting me have a sample.

Port Morant 6yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, GYA, Tempranillo Finish, Guyana)

Why review only one Renegade when you can do two for twice the price? The previous review was about a Jamaican Rum finished in Tempranillo casks. Tempranillo is a blue grape variety used for an excellent Spanish Red Wine. We know that Jamaican Rums have a big or heavy style, a. k. a. high ester Rum, however, we found that it just barely coped with the Tempranillo finish, which was able to hijack the Rum a bit. We know of another big and heavy Rum-style. Demerara. how would that perform? Today we’ll have a look how an almost similarly young Demerara will do. It’s not just any Demerara, it’s a Port Morant! So another Renegade, another big young Rum and another Tempranillo cask, those will be the ingredients of this review. Again, I expect an interesting Rum, out-of-the-box just like the Renegade Monymusk. Will this one taste better?

port-morant-6yo-42-renegade-rum-company-gya-temperanillo-finish-guyanaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Right out of the gate, this is Port Morant alright. Typical Demerara. From memory, but for a brief moment only, somewhat similar smelling to the Plantation Guyana I reviewed earlier. Where that one seemed to have a sweeter start (added sugar), this one has a big dusty, nutty and vegetal component added to it. Changing instantaneously. It seems to me already, both the Jamaican Rum and the Demerara I have in my glass now, react quite differently to the Tempranillo cask. Here it gives off a clear Grappa aroma. Know your distillates people. Venture off the beaten path sometimes. It will make for a better experience. Interesting. Both turn dry in no time at all. Some oak and vanilla, so I’m guessing that, at least one of the casks used was made from American oak. Being the original cask the Rum was matured in or the cask that held the Tempranillo Wine. Probably both. Quite fruity. Fresh pineapple for sure and some less pronounced, yet creamy, citrussy notes as well. Spicy oak combined with thick and juicy almonds and pudding. After letting this breathe for a while it almost smells like a Single Malt Whisky matured in a Bourbon cask. Just like the Jamaican Renegade, this is a nice, although a bit out of the ordinary, smelling Rum. I hope the palate will be better this time around, compared to the Monymusk.

Taste: Not very sweet Demerara, not in a big way, well, quite dry actually. Again a Rum that chances quickly in the glass. The Tempranillo is immediately a bit overpowering and I can’t say it does wonders for this Rum. Next a flinty note that doesn’t seem right. Paper, cardboard and Grappa come next. Lots of Grappa actually, with some fruity and Wine-like notes. So expect hay, dry grass and a very dry taste. Definitely still recognizable as a Port Morant on the nose, but in no way, here in the taste. As I said earlier, overpowered by the Wine finish.Funky Wine cask finish you also got from the first batch of Whiskies being finished in Wine casks. By now in the Whisky-world they have mastered finishing in ex-Wine casks, but Rum is a different puppy ‘eh Jim? Quite big into the finish, but a quick break-down afterwards, making the finish medium at best. I hoped that this one would taste better than the slightly disappointing Monymusk I reviewed before this one, alas, here the experiment is even less interesting, although not a totally failed effort. There is something to be learned here, but I’m not sure what exactly…

Well, I hoped this would do better, but in fact it worked even less for me. If you know your Grappa’s than this one will interest you for sure. I know a lot of people raise their eyebrows when tasting (their first) Grappa. Definitely an acquired taste, even more so than a Rummy, acquiring the taste of Rhum Agricole. When I tried to taste the Port Morant right after the Monymusk, well all I can say, don’t do that. Doesn’t work either…

Points: 78

Monymusk 5yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, JMA, Tempranillo Finish, Jamaica)

Renegade Rum Company. What might that be? If you are familiar with Single Malt Whiskies, then the name Bruichladdich should mean something to you. In fact it will mean the world, since it is one of the famous Whiskies from the Isle of Islay. Home of the best peated Whiskies in the world, only historically, Bruichladdich is more famous for its unpeated Whiskies than for their peated Whiskies. To put an end to that, master distiller Jim McEwan started to make Port Charlotte, a heavily peated Single Malt Whisky (around 40 ppm phenols) and the astronomically peated Octomore (up to 258 ppm, which is a lot more than 40 ppm). There is no normal way to peat Whisky that high, so in comes the skill of Jim. Bruichladdich is also the home of The Botanist Gin, made up with botanicals from Islay, and also of Renegade Rum. Jim supposedly hand-picked casks of Rum and hand-picked Wine casks to finish those Rums in. Expect relatively young Rums, all finished in some sort of Wine cask. All reduced to 46% ABV, in my book better than the usual 40% ABV. Anything below 40% I don’t even consider buying if I have to be honest. In everything Jim does he pushes the envelope, so prepare yourself, as will I, for an unusual Rum experience…

monymusk-5yo-42-renegade-rum-company-jma-temperanillo-finish-jamaicaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Yep, funky Jamaican style. I love the high ester quality it has to it. Easy to recognize. Fresh cookie dough. Extremely creamy. Already the promise of a cloying syrupy Rum. Wait a minute… A drier note emerges. Old raisins and some wood. There is a note here I struggled for a while to identify, so common, but what is it? Its Grappa! The Temperanillo cask infused a Grappa note to this Rum. Grassy, hay-like. Clay, butter candy and a more vegetal note. If you have ever sticked your nose in the hole of an empty Red Wine cask, you’ll recognize its strong spicy notes in this Rum as well. Nice and quite unusual for a Rum. Amazing how the finish is taking over the Rum when you let it breathe for a while. When nosing this the high ester Jamaican smell is retreating quickly (move it around a bit so it gets some more air, and it briefly returns). With the Grappa nota also a more nutty aroma emerges as well as some warm butter. So it starts big, funky and creamy but after a while it has this well-balanced dryness combined with a nice warm butter note. This is the most two-faced Rum I have smelled untill now. A bit unusual, but I like it. Pushing the envelope a bit. If you love Grappa, you’ll love this nose.

Taste: Here the funky part is even shorter. Upon entering your mouth, for a brief moment, you think you are drinking a typical and clean and simple example of a Jamaican Rum, but it turns around rather quickly. Lots of wood and heaps of acidic woody notes followed by strange red fruit acidity from stale Wine. It doesn’t have the taste of wood itself though. It also lacks the bitterness of clean wood. No, its different. What it also lacks is the Grappa I found on the nose, for some that is a good thing, but it also makes for a somewhat unbalanced Rum. Well it’s not really a Rum either, especially a Jamaican Rum. What it does have is some nice exotic spices, dare I say Indian again? Also slightly soapy and floral, and it has some notes of Foursquare as well, which is a Rum, although not Jamaican. A long time after swallowing, a very discrepant winey, acidic and fruity note re-appears, combined with toasted cask, well hidden into the background. Can’t really say that the finish is well-balanced. It’s like a race where all the competitors cross the finish well apart from each other, running different distances as well. So unbalanced it is, and definitely the weakest part of the whole experience.

This bottle is clearly an experiment. Where for me it works wonders on the nose, it doesn’t actually work that well when tasting it. Somehow the finish overpowers the young Jamaican Rum. Maybe this experiment would have worked better if the Jamaican Rum was older, bigger, more of a match to the Tempranillo?

So there it is. I love Jamaican Rum to death, I love Jim McEwan and I love a good experiment, and that is what experiments are for. You try something that is usually out-of-the-box. It might work or not. Here it clearly works on the nose, but less so on the taste. So not the best of Rums around, and the score will reflect that, but because of its out-of-the-box-ness I still would buy one, although many of the Renegades are sold out by now…

Points: 81

Clément 10yo 2003/2013 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.8%, Bourbon Cask #0310054, Vanille Intense, 459 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Alas, my 100% Canne Bleue version of a single cask Clément is almost gone. Damn small those 50cl bottles. I said I liked the smaller size of these bottles, because it would give us the chance to buy a bottle from another cask. True, but when they are as good as the first one, less definitely is not more. So what should I replace it with? Well, what about another version from Cléments single cask series. Yup, let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea. In comes the second version released: “Vanille Intense”. I don’t know about you, but somehow I’m expecting a R(h)um that is full of, well, vanilla notes. Where the previous one was all about the Canne Blue sugar cane variety, this time it’s all about the wood, or at least so I imagine. Sure R(h)um by itself can have enough notes of Vanilla, but here, I guess, it’s also the vanillin that came into the mix by way of the wood of the cask. It’s from a Bourbon cask, so American oak, which gives off vanilla notes to enhance the vanilla notes from the R(h)um. Expect intense vanilla notes.

By the way, a third version has been released recently, called “Moka Intense”. Interesting, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, and have a go at this “Vanille Intense” first, shall we?

clement-vanille-intenseColor: Copper golden brown.

Nose: Cookie dough. Luke-warm sweetened black tea. Vanilla. Only after this creamy start, the typical Rhum Agricole notes emerge, although throughout the whole experience, they are pushed back well into the background. So we are definitely in the territory of some active Bourbon casks here. Floral, honey and licorice. Nice (Indian) spicy wood, plywood and pencil shavings, although I don’t think they have used the latter two for this Rhum. Well integrated, a faint, but nice and sweet red fruit aroma. Leather and quite dusty. Next comes the sweetness, brown sugar and slightly warm toffee. This one really gives it up in layers. Is the vanilla intense? Well, not as much as the label suggested, but it is definitely a smoother and sweeter smelling Rhum, compared to its 100% Canne Bleue sister. It’s not the vanilla ice-cream I somehow expected. For me, especially the elegant woody notes are the best. Quite a nice nose, almost not a Rhum Agricole, but I like it!

Taste: Very soft, dull, dusty and sugary sweet. Simple. Warm sugar syrup with pencil shavings, cardboard and indian spices. Toasted cask. Lots of diluted toffee, watery caramel, licorice and vanilla. Spicy backbone from the oak, even a slight bitter vegetal note, with a late return of sugar. You can really taste the pencil shavings now. Remarkably soft and simple compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version. So it’s not about the vanilla after all. They just picked smooth, creamy, sweet and simple casks to avoid the potential rawness of the previous version I guess. Short finish as well, where the woody bitterness has the longest staying power. A bit disappointing really. Where the J.M 2002 and the Clément 100% Canne Bleue had something extra, this Vanille Intense does not. I think the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge is just as good and way more affordable.

Compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version, this one is less raw. More civilized and simple. Also toned down a bit. The 100% Canne Bleue seems to explode with aroma. Dare I say that the Vanille Intense is a bit boring? I just did, didn’t I? I don’t know if the lower ABV has something to do with it, or maybe it is just the profile of this Rhum. Also remember these are single cask bottlings and there should be a difference from cask to cask. Going on these two I will probably buy another bottle, bottled from a different cask, of the 100% Canne Bleue version (Brown label) and pass up on another Vanille Intense (Green label). Don’t get me wrong, the green ‘un is still good, but not as good as the brown ‘un…

Points: 85

Springbank 12yo “Cask Strength” (52.3%, OB, Batch 8, 2014, 14/12)

I got this, put it on my lectern, opened it and drank it. That is more or less what happened to it. Sometimes when I believe a Whisky I have open will be needed for future comparison, (to other batches in this case), I take a sample from it and put it in my archive. I had a few drops left in the bottle so I already opened its replacement the 17yo Sherry Wood. When writing the review of this 17yo, I wanted to compare that one to this Cask Strength Batch 8, so I tried to pull up the review of that one, just to find out it didn’t exist. I liked this one so much, I drank it all before ik could write the review! So, out comes this sample I just drew for future reference, not knowing “the future” would descend upon us so soon!

Springbank 12yo Batch 8Color: Light orange gold.

Nose: Meaty and somewhat closed. Waxy and slightly rough. Lots of American oak vanilla. Tar and coal dust. Bourbon vanilla and custard. It also has the fruitiness Springbank gets from using Sherry casks. So its easy to detect it is a blend of both kinds of casks. No secret in this, because probably all expressions of the 12yo Cask Strength are blends of both types of cask. Meaty Sherry notes with a tiny hint of sulphur (matches), but also a breath of something fresher, to all those heavy aromas whiffs by. Nice Springbank peat is also present. Quite sweet and fruity and some paper. Bigger on its aromas, but slightly less complex than older siblings.

Taste: Initially big sweet and waxy. Nice (bitter) wood and again the paper-like quality and a tiny hint of smoke. Sugared almonds and a little sting of peat, aided by the higher ABV, than the 46% of most other Springbanks. The smoke is gone and for the rest of the journey we are accompanied by peat. Not too much though, just enough. When the first sip travels down, more vegetal notes appear. As well as a slight burnt note. The taste seems more about Sherry casks, than it is about Bourbon casks. This doesn’t have to mean that more Sherry casks were used for Batch 8, but the Sherry aromas are dominating. It has a sort of anonymous fruity profile. Red fruits, yes maybe, sugared yellow fruits, yep, probably present as well. Which fruits? Hard to tell actually. Towards the end of the body, before the finish, a slight unbalance happens. Where older Springbanks hold it together, here it shows its relative youth. Still this is a wonderful malt. This finish has all of the body and underlines the wood a bit. It comes as no surprise the finish has pretty good length, wood first, peat next, and in no way as creamy as in the start.

This comes from a now finished bottle, and I have to say, it got better over time. This is one that really needed some time to breathe. I remember being a bit disappointed when I first opened this one. I had just finished the eighteen year old also bottled in 2014, and definitely liked that one better. I really love and adore this one now, but can’t help but feel, that Springbanks need to age a while longer. Comparing this to the 17yo Sherry Wood and the 2014 18yo, you can see the older ones have more matured aromas to them adding to their complexity. With a 12yo Springbank you get a fantastic Whisky which for the quality you get is quite affordable. Sure, you pay a bit more for the 17yo and the 18yo, but you also get more imho. More aroma and definitely more complexity. Having said that, the 12yo Cask Strength series is a wonderful series especially at the prices Springbank are selling it for.

Top tip: Let this breathe, let it breathe in the bottle, (try storing it for a week or so without the cork on it), and let it breathe in your glass. Don’t be hasty with it and if you do you will certainly be rewarded.

Points: 88

Springbank 17yo 1997/2015 “Sherry Wood” (52.3%, OB, Fresh and Refill Sherry Butts and Hogsheads, 9.120 bottles, 15/24)

When attending the Whisky Show in London last year I absolutely loved this one at the Springbank stand. Sure there were better Whiskies at the show, but also you’d almost have to take out another mortgage on your house to buy those. Nope, I mean, this was definitely one of the best Whiskies at a fair price. Still, over here in Europe this sells for well over a hundred euros. Despite this, it was really a no brainer to buy, and remember, why get only one, when you gen get two for twice the price. When I just recently finished another Springbank, (more about that next time), it was time to finally break out this one. Distilled in 1997 and fully matured in fresh and refill Sherry butts and hogsheads. Possibly, but not necessarily, a combination of european and american oak.

Springbank 17yo SherryColor: Gold.

Nose: Nice, waxy and fresh, powdered vitamin C or should we call it vitamin W from now on? Dusty and dry and definitely lots of Sherry mustiness. Hints of apples (Calvados). Slightly wet forest floor with mushrooms growing. Unripe cold banana, some sweet malts, vanilla and quite vegetal as well. Ashy and slightly smoky (more so than peat). Hints of tar and charred cask and even some new wood, although that isn’t used for this expression. Even though this is 100% Sherry, this smells like a typical Springbank, minus the big sweet creamy vanilla that is, the Bourbon part always brings. Remember, Springbank usually is a blend of Bourbon and Sherry casks. Luckily the Springbank distillate does well in every kind of cask. However, all types of casks used, bring their own flavor to the Springbank spectrum. So there is no better Whisky to try different expressions from. This one reminds me of old Springbank in a way. Coconut and quite fruity as well. Very well made and extremely balanced smell. They are definitely doing everything right. The Sherry smells unbelievably fresh and defined. It must have some casks (if not all) that contained Sherries matured under flor. Fino and Manzanilla that is. I doesn’t smell like typical Oloroso matured Whisky to me, (although very dry Oloroso could be possible). The Sherry notes also smell a bit different from the Sherry in the 12yo Cask Strength. Lovely expression, which would have been nice to compare to the 18yo I reviewed earlier. Alas, that one is already gone, so that is not possible anymore. Bugger.

Taste: Yup, Sherry (from under flor) and typical Springbank. If you love Springbank like I do, it feels like coming home again. Waxy, vanilla and lots and lots of coconut again. Sometimes a bit soapy even. Welcome back: coconut! Peat (more so than smoke) and quite vegetal and fruity. Coconut mixed with almond cookies. Cookie dough and a nice friendly sweetness to it. Toffee. It also has a bite as well. Burnt wood and some peat. On top, as with many modern Sherry casked Whiskies, a slightly acidic red fruitiness that stands out a bit, less integrated so to say. It’s this aroma that dominates the finish as well. Thus the finish is less about the cookies, coconut, toffee and dough. Nevertheless, this one has it all. Super stuff with utter balance. Springbank works very well in Bourbon casks, and although you know what some Bourbon casks would have done to this Whisky, this time I don’t miss them. Nice Sherry expression this is. Well done Springbank!

I’d like to mention, that this review is written just a few minutes after opening the bottle. Springbank is never at its best right after opening the bottle. It’s a big Whisky that needs time to breathe. If you are patient with it and it has time to breathe, wow!

Points: 90