Two more to go, so alas, we are near the end of yet another Master Quill Week. As we have seen the past few days, here is another independently bottled Highland Park, this time by Douglas Laing. Near the end of the nineties, Douglas Laing started bottling single cask Single Malts, with enormous success. It may very well have been the most successful independent bottler with stellar releases, time after time. Heaps of Brora and Port Ellen come to mind. I guess back then, they were a bigger name, temporarily, than Gordon & MacPhail and maybe Signatory Vintage. If the cask had enough ooomph, the Whisky was reduced to their preferred drinking strength of 50% ABV. It is a good strength. Nobody back then complained about reduction, or that it should have been cask strength only. I loved a lot of their bottlings and bought quite a few of them. Even though the bottle itself is pretty simple, I am a sucker for Whisky in green glass (remember Laphroaig?).
Here we have a 17yo Highland Park with hardly any color. The cask yielded a lot of bottles, so I’m guessing the original Whisky was pretty high in ABV, and came out of a Fino Sherry puncheon (or butt). I’ve tried quite a few Douglas Laing bottlings from Fino Sherry casks, so it shouldn’t be too hard to recognize.
Color: White Wine.
Nose: Very restrained, but right from the start the unmistakable aroma’s of Fino Sherry maturation. As I said, if you had a few, it isn’t too hard to recognize. Fresh sea-spray with a laid back nuttiness. The more it breathes, the nuttier it becomes. Wonderfully elegant and not as big or raw, as Oloroso and PX sherry casks can be, especially in more recent bottlings. This Fino cask didn’t impair a lot of color to the Whisky, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t give off a lot of aroma as well. Well, one thing is for sure, this doesn’t smell like a Whisky from a Bourbon or even some other tired cask. So don’t be fooled. Added to the fresh sea-spray, are some lemony notes. Zesty lemon skins. Perfumy, and ever so slightly floral. Cookie dough. Almond cookies. Hints of toasted cask. Scorched heather maybe? Vegetal, with hints of garden bonfire (but not the smoke). Slightly dusty as well. Extremely balanced, but not hugely complex. Lovely.
Taste: Yeah. Sweet, much sweeter than expected. Lots of Vanilla and nicely creamy and vibrant. Lemons and the flesh of sweet apples, so not thick nor cloying. Where the nose was quite restrained, this isn’t, but on the other hand, the nose had more “Fino” to it. Ice-cream and hardly any wood. For a short while, towards the finish, it has aroma’s from a Belgian Trappist Triple Beer. Also a bit soapy, floral with a tad of bitterness. These three are kept in check rather well, so don’t be disturbed. High quality stuff, and tasting it now it is much nicer and better than I remembered. Last time I tasted this, I still had not acquired the taste for Fino Whiskies, but now I have and I love it! Long finish, as all Whiskies should have and a very nice and warming aftertaste. If I’m honest, this isn’t the most complex stuff around, even though there is enough development in the glass. It is, however, extremely balanced, and I consider this to be high quality stuff, but I might have said that before already.
When I smell this and my mind wanders off, I feel Whiskies today rarely ever have this profile anymore, so it seems Fino casks often end up somewhere else than in Independent bottlings. Maybe the Whisky is different because Sherry casks themselves are more often made from American oak (more vanilla aromas) than European oak (more tannins). American oak makes Sherry creamier and more accessible, friendlier, aiming at a larger consumer base.
I have said it before, and I will say it again. Whiskies from Fino casks maybe are an acquired taste, as it was for me. I wasn’t too fond of the particularities of Fino cask maturation for a long time, but I got it in the end, and I have to say it works wonders with Whisky. I love it. Its like Bourbon cask matured Whisky with a twist, and sometimes quite a large twist, also the difference between Fino bottlings can be enormous.
A nice contrast to yesterdays Signatory offering. The differences couldn’t be greater, even though both come from a “Sherry-cask”. So now you know if you see: “Matured in a Sherry cask” on a label, you still know nothing and have no clue of what to expect…