Balblair 1990/2014 (46%, OB, 2nd Release)

Unbelievable! Here we have another Distillery that has never featured on these pages before. Balblair. Just like Glenrothes, Balblair is a distillery that has gone down the road, laid out by Wine. The long and winding road of releasing their products as vintages (in a reduced state, ABV-wise, that is). On the back of the bottle, in rather small print one can find the statement: “2nd release”. It implies that there has been an earlier 1st release, yes? Well, yes, but…

Since 2008 there has been an 1990 release which was a lot lighter in colour and which was only released in litre bottles for travel retail. That one was matured solely in ex-Bourbon barrels. It was released annually untill 2011. So there was a 1990/2008, a 1990/2009 etc. Since 2013 the first 2nd release, was released. the second in 2014, the third in 2015 etc. So what we have here are multiple, annual, batches from different bottling years of the 1st release, as well as of the 2nd release. So not only Glenrothes style vintages, but also Springbank style batches. Again the industry seems to consider batch variation to be a dirty word(s), yet I hope there is some adventure in these different batches. This will be a review of the 2014 batch (the 2nd batch of the 2nd vintage 1990, can you still follow? However, if a different batch falls into my hands, I’ll compare it to this one. By the way the 2nd release comes from the same casks and the same vintage as the 1st release, the only difference being this second release has spent about two years in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts. Oh, and with each new batch, it gets older as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Quite creamy, with sweet vanilla, ice-cream, fresh cold butter and Sherry. Hints of oak, fresh and toasted. Dry (scorched) leaves and herbal. Hints of coal even. Hints of paper, cardboard, toffee and honey. Cough syrup. This smells so sweet and syrupy that it is easy to conclude it lacks a bit of the woody backbone to keep it standing. This Whisky smells like a dessert by itself. The wood that is here, smells like pencil shavings.

Taste: Quite big, matching the nose. Sweet (Sherry) and syrupy. A bit too sweet imho. Maybe these casks didn’t contain the highest quality Sherry in the first place. Sweet milk chocolate, vanilla and vanilla ice-cream. (Now the honey in the nose becomes more pronounced as well.) Butter and more chocolate. Almonds with fruity acidity on top, as often this fruity acidity doesn’t blend in all that well. There seems to be a little problem with balance as well.  This acidity also has quite some staying power well into the finish only to dissipate in the aftertaste.

One sunny afternoon I tasted this 1990 2nd release and I loved it. Now, when giving it almost too much attention and analyzing it, there are some flaws that distort the balance a bit. It’s a bit too sweet and I don’t think the Sherry finish worked quite as it should. It’s completely fine when you have a casual dram and that is precisely where it’s for. I really liked it on that sunny afternoon, outside, with nice food and friends. When sitting at home, analyzing it, in a controlled environment, these flaws become more obvious, but I still like the Whisky very much. I wish I had the first release for comparison.

Ok, now I ask you to look past the flaws I described above, because as a whole this is definitely a good Whisky, so I stand by my score, which might be higher than you might expect from the text alone, and yes, at a good price, I would even buy it again. How is that for a recommendation. Just pick your moments to drink this, wisely…

Points: 87

Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85

Glen Elgin 19yo 1991/2010 (53.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Refill Sherry Butt #2324, 412 bottles)

After the amazement of the Glendronach I recently reviewed, here is another shock (at least for me it is). I’m actually baffled I didn’t throw in Glen Elgin earlier on these pages, since it is one of my secret loves. Every Single Malt aficionado knows which Malts are just the best, but one always has a secondary, more personal, list of Single Malts. Everybody just loves Brora, or at least knows its one of the best around. However, not a lot of people would pick f.i. Teaninch as such, which is one of my other favorites. Usually it is a Malt with a less “easy” profile that somehow manages to tickle one’s fancy. It’s personal.

Glen Elgin. I love it. Many times it just floats my boat, and this one is no different. I brought it with me as a favorite to my Whiskyclubs gathering in Hamburg, where it failed to get the applause, I thought, it deserves. Yes, again, my opinion. The same club presented me a while back with a sister cask of this one, bottled something around the 61% ABV mark, and since then, I was looking out for a bottle of my own. This cask #2324, in Hamburg, was deemed too extreme and hot by many, but after a 1990 Family Cask of Glenfarclas, the Elgin was retried and deemed more accessible and creamy. So, remember, when tasting a lot of Malts in short succession, it is important where it is placed in the line-up, what you had to eat, how tired you are, and understand how your palate works. It all depends…

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Sherry, nutty, creamy with lots of soft vanilla notes. Soft wood fiber, but right from the start, not the usual oak aromas. I get hints of Rhum Agricole. Storm by the waterfront. Waterfront organics. Reed. Old air-dried oak (the outside of the cask). Vanilla, cream and wood, but not very fruity yet. Spicy and slightly grassy (wet). Sometimes hints of licorice (wood). Otherwise thick and syrupy with the sugar smell you get from a freshly opened sugar packet. The Rhum Agricole notes stay around, rendering the smell more dry. Add to this another layer of an acidic red berry smell (and some gravy) for complexity. Greek yoghurt? Only hints of sugared and dried yellow fruits now, but I couldn’t tell you which ones (dried papaya and pineapple come to mind).

Taste: Short attack. Big. Starts with some vanilla sweetness mixed with paper or cardboard. Wood, nuts and fruit. Fresh almonds (chewed). Creamy and dusty. Nutty and a medium wax aroma. Altogether a medium and very pleasurable body. The big start soon gets smaller. Fruity acidity on top, from red fruits. Berries. The acidity is quite unexpected and doesn’t fit the nose all that well, or the Whisky as a whole for that matter. Hints of Beer. Finishes (long) on the fruity acidity adding some light bitterness for the first time. The bitterness makes up the aftertaste as well.

I have to be honest. I don’t like it as much now as I did in the beginning. It is definitely one you have to work with, but you also need to forgive some minor flaws (like the acidic top note). I also fear this suffers a bit from oxidation. This is a bottle I often grab when I want a few cask strength Sherry expressions, so it is already 2/3 down, lots of air to play with.

Points: 85

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2016)

Remember Master Quill’s Highland Park Week? Remember day two? I went completely bonkers by reviewing a different batch of a recent Highland Park 18yo. Why would one do that when they are supposed to be quite similar? First I reviewed a 2012 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2014 batch. We all know the industry is always insuring consistency between different batches. Consistency is the magic word, and at least in color, and color only (or so they say), consistency is achieved by adding caramel coloring. If you read both Highland Park 18yo reviews you’ll see there is quite a difference between both batches. The difference being five points! My last two Balvenie reviews were also of two different batches of the 12yo Doublewood. First I reviewed a 2014 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2004 batch. I found that even though the batches were ten years apart, at least quality-wise, the difference was not that great, although the 2014 showed that some Sherry-influence was traded in by sweetness. The difference being only one point.

This triggered a response of Nico, one of my readers claiming there is a larger negative shift in the quality of his 2016 batch Balvenie 12 Doublewood. He invited me over try find out for myself. Well, Master Quill is an adventurous guy, so an appointment was made, and I drove over, but not without a bottle of a very early Balvenie 21yo Portwood in my bag and this 17yo. After a very nice dinner with white gold (asparagus) and a wonderful piece of salmon, the Balvenie tasting begun…

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Sweet Sherry on a bed of sugared yellow fruits. Caramel and toffee sweetness, but this time with lots of fruits and even a floral bouquet. Extremely friendly and accessible, but strange enough it also reminds me a bit of a sugared Rum. Vanilla from American oak. Cereal and oat cookies. All seems to blend well together, it’s almost one big aroma. No off notes, but you have to work on it to detect some separation between the different constituents of the aroma. I’m missing some wood actually. The chewy sweetness seems to hide it. Hints of warm (not burnt) plastic and some toasted wood and cardboard. Smells you get when ironing clothes. Hey, there is the wood-word! Hint of cherries. But yes, there is a blanket of dumbing “sweetness”, dulling the whole. Initially its friendly and likable, but there is also something not quite right. Maybe dull is a word I should use again?

Taste: After Nico’s notes, I expected it to be sweeter, but that’s how expectations work. Still, it has the taste of sugar-water. Worse, the same is noticeable as in the nose. It seems to be some sort of mono-aroma. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs we encountered this “effect” when adding caramel coloring (E150-a) to four otherwise unadulterated Whiskies (link below). It shaves off highs and lows from the original Single Malt Whisky, making it taste more like a Blended Whisky. When the Whisky is entering my mouth, al seems to be ok, but the body already starts to disintegrate right after that, focussing on an oaky and acidic note. Later the cereal and sweaty cookie notes make a short appearance. Again no separation between the aroma’s. Short finish and no aftertaste worth mentioning. Well cookies, smelly socks maybe and something burnt. Toasted White Wine cask. This is not good. Unbalanced. Whisky like this is no fun. Avoid. (I washed the taste down with the wrong batch of Highland Park 18 (82 points), and that was (now) amazing, at least it smelled amazing…

I could deal with the sweetness. I guess I don’t think it is as sweet as Nico mentions, but I was surprised with the mono-aroma, the complete lack of complexity and development and the quick break-down. I believe this has definitely suffered from too much added caramel. It has all the life squeezed out of it. The nose sort of shows what kind of Whisky this used to be/could have been. Claiming adding caramel does nothing but changeling the color is pretty ignorant. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to conduct your own caramel experiment and see (taste) for yourself.

Points: 72 (eleven whopping points below the 2014 batch and ten whopping points lower than the wrong batch of Highland park 18yo)

Thanks go out to Nico for obvious reasons, and Michel again for the excellent E-pistle.

Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!