Highland Park Week – Day 7: Highland Park 27yo 1972/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 324 bottles)

Wow, it’s already the seventh and last day of Master Quill’s Highland Park Week. How time flies when you’re having fun, but I say that after every Master Quill Week. Somehow it is always nice to concentrate on one subject and try several examples in quick succession. This week may have been a bit heavy on the Independent side, since only two offerings released by the distillery themselves were reviewed. Beforehand I would have thought the 18yo OB would be a worthy opponent to the five Independent offerings, but it turned out otherwise. We know the 18yo can be (very) good, but we also know that it does suffer from batch variation. So quite a surprise there. Another surprise was the sheer quality of the 9yo Signatory bottling. A Whisky not even in its teens! If only all of todays NAS offerings would be this good… Yesterday we had a very nice Highland Park bottled by Douglas Laing, which churned out quality Whisky one after the other. So it wasn’t a hard decision to end this Week with a 1972 bottling by Douglas Laing again, especially since it was bottled in 1999, early on in the Old Malt Cask series (OMC). Early OMC bottlings were always right up there, so lets see if this is any different, and therefore a worthy example to finish off this week.

Color: Gold.

Nose: I had only one sniff and I’m already in love. Nectar of the gods. Super fruity, old Malt. Too much fruit to name. Pineapple, passion fruit, apricots and white peach (somewhat later in the mix), but there is a lot more. More apricots, dried and sugared, Hints of regular peach and banana. Super fruity and super funky. Nutty and sweaty. Utterly wonderful. Yes this is an old Single Malt from, and I’m guessing here, a remade American oak hogshead. Vanilla combined with clay, soft spices and very soft oak. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Hints of cereal and latte macchiato as well. The yellow fruits are thick and syrupy, but just like a great, sweetish, White Wine, the acidic part is equally important. This thick, syrupy Highland Park has such an acidic top note, that livens the whole up. This is stuff from the hall of fame, something like 1972 Caperdonich. Stellar. Sugared yellow fruits picked up by hints of zesty citrus fruit. Well-integrated acidity. With some breathing, a more restrained note emerges. Fresh air. The big fruit dissipates a bit, leaving more room for some sour oak. Underneath, a slightly meaty, cold gravy aroma. Amazing how little wood is showing throughout. Butter with hints of salt and black pepper and after a while some nice oak finally emerges to make up the finish. Creamy and half-sweet yoghurt with white peach. Calvados and graphite powder. This change in character is kind of special. This Highland Park starts out as a 1972 Caperdonich, however the Caperdonichs don’t show such a change, so both finish quite differently.

Taste: Wonderful, elegant, half-sweet at first and a bit brittle. Lots of fruit again, red fruit pastilles and a large nutty part combined with slightly bitter dark chocolate and toffee. This is a bit of a Malt with granny’s osteoporosis, but we all love our granny don’t we, warts and all. It still has enough power at 50% ABV, but the aroma’s don’t seem to be as big as in the nose. Laid back fruit and even some Belgian Beer (again). It’s definitely simpler and not as thick as I imagined it to be. Some sweetness from sugared fruits, which fade-out… The body is thin, but not weak. It disintegrates a bit. Still a pretty long finish though, leaving a note of warm milk (from the latte macchiato?)

Don’t buy the, sometimes, mediocre over-priced, over-hyped bottlings of today, unless there are no old bottles to be bought, when bottles don’t show up anymore at auction. All collected or hopefully drunk by people who appreciate them. Spend your hard-earned cash on something like this, before it’s really too late. Everybody needs to taste how it used to be, and how it could be done…

Points: 91

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Highland Park Week – Day 6: Highland Park 17yo 1984/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 786 bottles)

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…

Points: 87

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

Braeval 11yo 2001/2012 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Spring/Winter, Sherry Cask, DMG 9312)

You don’t have to polish your glasses. So soon after the other Braeval and Braes of Glenlivet Whiskies I reviewed, yet another Braeval graces these pages. Yes, another independent bottling of Braeval. This should come as no surprise since the owners Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers) don’t do a lot with this brand either. More or less the same situation as Strathisla, which is owned by the same company. It seems to me all their energy flows into The Glenlivet and Aberlour and not a lot of faith exists in marketing Single Malts from these lesser known distilleries. Bacardi (John Dewar & Sons) which owns Aberfeldy, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Macduff, and Royal Brackla, have recently decided to market the Whiskies of all their distilleries with an age statement. Lets hope Pernod Ricard will follow suit.

Braeval 11yo 2001/2012 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Sherry Cask, DMG 9312)Color: White wine. Not too pale.

Nose: Sweet, Bourbony and malty. Sweetish and pretty clean. Vanilla and pleasant oak. Spicy and leafy. Whiffs of latex paint and even slightly perfumy. Sometimes even vanilla ice-cream and Cappuccino. Becoming grassy over time, combined with a breath of fresh air. Not very outspoken though. 46% ABV is a decent strength, and since all aroma’s aren’t that outspoken I guess this didn’t benefit from reduction. Still a very agreeable nose.

Taste: Spicy and slightly (new) woody. Sweetish and lots of vanilla. American oak Sherry cask? Good balance. Good strength, but I’m sure this would be better undiluted, maybe that way it was too hot or just to plain strong for some. After some time the new wood and leafy note stays and combines with a little bit of barley with vanilla, mocha and vanilla ice-cream. Fresh forest after a rain shower, including the wet forest floor and mushrooms. Nice, innocent and anonymous.

Unlike both other examples of this distillery I reviewed before, this one has been reduced to 46% ABV. This example is also from this very decade and a bit younger than both others, so what does that do for this distillery? Well hard to tell actually since this isn’t a very complex malt. As all other Braevals, this is pretty good, yet this example is a bit anonymous. Reduction places it into the path of maybe less experienced drinkers, who still are a bit cautious with cask strength Whisky.

Points: 82

Laphroaig Week – Day 7: Laphroaig 16yo 1988/2004 (52.5%, Douglas Laing, for The Whisky Shop, 614 bottles)

Laphroaig SignWell, weeks are only seven days so they are bound to be over very quickly over. Today is the seventh day so I hope to finish this Laphroaig Week over with a bang, but you never know. This particular Laphroaig was selected by the Whisky Shop from the stocks of Douglas Laing in the dumpy green bottle, Whisky geeks love so much. In the early days it was a mark of excellent quality, or maybe they just bottled it like this because it was bottled at cask strength. Obviously this Laphroaig is from a cask that once held SHerry, just look at the sheer amount of bottles yielded at cask strength. Great! I love the combination of (extreme) Laphroaig and Sherry…

Laphroaig 16yo 1988/2004 (52.5%, Douglas Laing, for The Whisky Shop, 614 bottles)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Tar, salty licorice and raisins. Extremely brooding. Thickly clad Sherry, musty and funky. Intertwined some red berries and other aromatic red fruits like ripe little forest strawberries. This kind of Sherry-ness we’ve encountered before in a bottle of Scapa I have. Whiffs of freshly cut oak planks and oriental spices. Cardamom and saffron spring to mind. Nice whiffs of dusty dryness and sawdust from very old dry wood as opposed to fresh sappy oak. White pepper and dried out Marmite with black coal. The tar reminds me of a warm road. It’s not a thick tarry note, but just enough to add to the wonderful complexity of this Malt. The peat shines towards the end. What wonderful stuff this is. One of great complexity and balance.

Taste: Tarry with the typical ashes and licorice I also found in the Laphroaig I reviewed on day 5. Hefty Sherry, big body. Sweet and creamy, but not as fruity as the nose suggested. Noticeable is a slight fruity acidic undercurrent, that is almost hidden away. This is something I usually get from very old bottles, so its more than welcome here. This fruity undercurrent doesn’t show itself after a fresh pour. This needs time to develop, so this Whisky comes with an operating manual. Tar and coal. Steam locomotive. The Sherry plays a big role and gives of some nice subdued fruity notes, but the Laphroaig underneath is doing well too, with some great peat. This comes together nicely!

Laphroaig came through and never disappointed. Some conclusions you might ask? Well all in all Laphroaig is a pretty good Whisky. It is still one of the greats, but not as good as it once was, but which distillery truly is? None of these seven reminded me of the stellar old 10yo’s of yesteryear. Neither the 10yo @ 43% ABV nor the Cask Strength versions, but then again I didn’t review any 10yo in the Laphroaig Week now did I? The 15yo was a great malt from its day, different from the 10yo’s. The 18yo is decent but for me not as good as the 15yo. Simpler I would say. The An Cuan Mòr was is a well crafted surprise, which I can heartily recommend from the modern range of Laphroaigs. The independents did manage to get their hands on some great sherried Laphroaigs, although very good sometimes it is Obvious why some casks did find their way on the open market. Sulphur! Still I liked the Kintra expression. Douglas Laing also were represented here with some nice Sherried versions and an odd one that had all its aces up its sleeve. You had to work for gratification. The Laphroaig Week is over. A sad moment, but I hope to review a lot more Laphroaigs on these pages. Hope you liked it.

Points: 90

Laphroaig Week – Day 6: Laphroaig 21yo 1987/2009 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 4855, 439 bottles)

Laphroaig SignPenultimate day of Master Quill’s Laphroaig week and just as yesterday, another Douglas Laing Laphroaig. Seeing a pattern here? So which one will finish this series off tomorrow?

As luck would have it, we have another 1987 Douglas Laing today. Judging by the looks of it, probably a very different one. Yesterday’s Laphroaig was pretty pale at best, but this one boasts a nice and healthy colour. It’s like summer and winter, Jekyll and Hyde, night and day, Sherry and Bourbon. Still something strikes me as odd here. The label states this is from a Hogshead, but even with the slightest of reductions to 50%, this still yielded 439 bottles. Surely this was a Butt or a Puncheon, or was is a big hoggie?

Laphroaig 21yo 1987/2009 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 4855, 439 bottles)Color: Copper brown

Nose: Nice chocolaty Sherry. Sea wind at night, but in summer, so a chilly night after a warm Sunny day. Clay and very toned down peat. Sugared onion. Not very expressive. This one is a bit shy, even considering it’s heritage. It doesn’t leap out of the glass at you. Sherry influence is quite obvious, but it’s not very peaty just like yesterdays 1987. Smoke? Hardly. Cold black tea and some meaty notes, dried meat and almost cold gravy. Nice and restrained. All the aroma’s do fit well together. Not fruity.

Taste: Sweet with burnt sugar. Definitely a more bonfire aroma. Powdered sugar and some wood. Late licorice, just as yesterdays 1987 Laphroaig. Wood stripped of old paint, of which the dust is still flying in the air. The slightly burned note stays on throughout and makes it into the finish. When working on it, it does show some fruit, but not much. No fresh fruits, but something dried like dates and raisins. PX-Sherry? All in all elegant stuff, but with dirt under its fingernails. Not without flaws in its character too.

This is the second 1987 Douglas Laing Laphroaig and there are similarities and there are differences. Both expressions aren’t very expressive and are toned down. No heavy hitting peat and not much smoke (if any) a Laphroaig light so to speak. This 2009 bottling has the added Sherry, and by the taste of it, this wasn’t a top (PX) Sherry cask or it may have been a treated cask. I somehow can’t imagine this to have aged its whole life in the same cask. Having said that the combination of the two does work somehow.

Points: 87

Laphroaig Week – Day 5: Laphroaig 16yo 1987/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, DL REF 814, 276 bottles)

Laphroaig SignThe dark side of the moon. We are now most definitely on the other side of our Laphroaig Week. It started with the highly visible and upfront official bottlings, pivoted around yesterday’s Kintra Laphroaig (sunset Sherry) and now the final stretch home. This final trio starts with this more obscure Whisky, hiding in green glass aswell, but not released by its maker, but sold of for blending purposes, I guess, but rescued from mediocrity by focussing on its single cask traits. Today we’ll be looking at a Laphroaig bottled by Independent bottler Douglas Laing. Douglas Laing started bottling two Laphroaigs under the alias ‘Laudable’ in 2000. Both were 15yo and 1985 distillates. Using the Laphroaig name three further 1985 distillates saw the light of day as 17 year olds. Next up were a large amount of bottles distilled in 1987 and our DL REF 814 is one of them.

By the way, the picture here depicts sister bottling DL REF 745, bottled 4 months later. The reviewed bottle should look similar.

Laphroaig 1987 Douglas LaingColor: Light gold, almost white wine.

Nose: Extremely closed. Quite light and friendly in the nose. Citrus fruits and smoked cold citrus flavored tea, yes Lapsang Souchong comes to mind. Also a promise of sweetness. Not your heavy hitting peat and smoke emitting monster. Nope, nothing like that at all! Very light end vegetal. Pot plants and warm dried out flowerpot dirt. Slightly meaty and quite a buttery smell which occasionally emits a fruity acidic smell. Pear is added to the citrus. Vanilla with a tiny hint of cigarette smoke. Sweaty and even some tropical fruits like pineapple. Didn’t see this coming! Given some air, a slight dab of smoke emerges as well as some peat. It’s almost like the liquid is holding back the aroma’s from emanating. Nice to see how well all these aroma’s fit together.

Taste: Half sweet and slightly buttery again. Lightly smoked almonds. Fruit syrup. Lots and lots of licorice, ashes and a bitterness that seems to come from smoke. Lightly toasted almonds now with hints of lemon. The acidic citrus note is a great counterpart to the smoke, butter and vanilla. The almond taste stays on for a long time. Altogether half-sweet with toffee throughout. Little hint of mocha-coffee and milk chocolate and even some whipped cream enters the fold occasionally. How is that for complexity? No heavy peat nor a nice garden bonfire so get that out of your system before tasting. Warming.

Quite a strange Laphroaig this is. At first hand it’s not very open and invites you to work it out of the glass. In the end it ís willing to show itself and slowly it emerges out of the glass. Forget for a while this is a Laphroaig, just imagine an old Islay Whisky. The beauty here lies in the details, in the frail and brittle aroma’s, in the great balance and nice complexity. Granted not an easy malt, but if you have the right mind-set it will reward you big-time. So very, very different from regular releases and the profile Laphroaig normally is known for.

Points: 88