Highland Park Week – Day 3: Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)

Day three of Master Quills Highland Park Week and after two OB’s, its time to see what the IB’s are up to with Highland Park. Here we have a special one since it is one independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, bottling a Highland Park for another independent bottler, The Whisky Mercenary. This may very well be the best of three worlds, first Highland Park make a great distillate. Second I love how G&M work, where they try to have as much in their own hands as possible, The wood, the maturation, the selection and the bottling to mention but a few. Third, Mercenary Jurgen has a good nose, and is able to pick some nice stuff, and believe me it’s hard to get what you really want as an independent bottler. So here we have a 20yo Highland Park from a refill hogshead. When looking at the colour it seems to be at least a third refill remade hogshead from staves taken out of Bourbon barrels. Now forget what I said, because looks can often be deceiving and it is actually very dangerous to do so. My bad, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake like me.

Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)Color: Light gold, almost White wine.

Nose: Right from the start, not even smelling from the glass, but whilst pouring, a nice creamy vanilla smell passes by. On top some Calvados. Quite some aromas that have to do with apples. Fatty red apple skin, but mostly warm apple sauce. In the background it has some more scarce notes of other distillates, other than Whisky. Can’t put my finger on it yet. Nutty chocolate paste with a trace of red fruit acidity. Warm soft wood with hints of semi-sweet yellow fruit and some dust. Underneath this has some smoke combined with soft woody spices and cold butter. American oak alright, and definitely not first fill or the next fill. So I guess my dangerous assumption plays out all right this time. So overall quite nice, good balance, but not very complex though. Adding to my feeling the cask may have been a bit tired already. I don’t think it was filled yet again.

Taste: The first note is that of wood. Soft wood. Next some sweetness. Honey, smoky toffee and caramel at first but the wood takes over again adding some dryness. Vegetal. Same as the nose. Good balance but not very complex. Tired cask again, even though the biggest influence seems to be that of wood. Medium finish and hardly any aftertaste. When its gone, its gone. No honey or wood stays behind. After some breathing and taking sips again, the Calvados notes emerge on the taste as well. The diluted toffee notes seem to grow not bigger, but wider, like butter candy with hints of lemon skin shavings or lemon curd, since that is sweeter. Also distinct notes of almonds. The smoky notes present themselves here as well now. So with extensive breathing there seems to be more (complexity) to this Whisky than I initially thought. See, how you have to be patient? Don’t fill up your glass too much, give it room for air, and be patient if you want to enjoy its full potential.

Connoisseurs, there is that dreadful word again, dislike tumblers or any other “wrong” glass. They are adamant about it. They don’t allow for flavour development, of which this Highland Park is an excellent example. This Highland Park needs a good glass. Personally I equally dislike it when one buys the “right” glass but then fill it up too much (and then post  a half full Glencairn glass on social media). This again doesn’t allow the Whisky to develop in the glass. You need a lot of room for air. Try it. Be patient, be smart!

The hint of smoke is actually very nice and makes it resemble Talisker and, to a lesser extent, Springbank a bit. So if I had to taste this blind I would have gone for Talisker, without the pepper though. Good distillate, reasonable cask and a nice profile. Needs some time, so don’t be hasty. Good Highland Park and just like the Leif Eriksson, again one without Sherry, and another thing becomes clear, 50% ABV > 40% ABV.

Points: 86

Glenturret 2002/2015 (43%, Gordon & MacPhial, The MacPhail’s Collection, First Fill Sherry Puncheons)

After all these years time for another first on these pages. This is the first review of Glenturret. Glenturret is the oldest still working distillery of Scotland. It started operation in 1775 and was originally called Hosh. Like most others, never working throughout all these years. Todays owners are the Edrington Group. A group formed in 1996, that knows how to market Whisky and make money of it. Just have a look at some other distilleries owned by the Edrington Group: Names like Macallan and Highland Park. Both are (very) highly marketed and very much in the spotlight. Edrington is also the brand owner of Scotland’s favourite blend Famous Grouse, and that has to be marketed well, so in comes the Famous Grouse Experience built at…the Glenturret Distillery, since Glenturret finds its way into this blend. So Glenturret is considered the spiritual home of Famous Grouse and therefore has a raison d’être. Finally Glenrothes is a distillery owned by The Edrington Group, although the brand “Glenrothes” is owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd (as is Cutty Sark, another Blended Whisky). Finally, The Edrington Group is also 50% owner of the North British grain distillery, the other 50% is owned by Diageo.

In the recent past Bunnahabhain, Glenglassaugh, Glengoyne and Tamdhu were also a distilleries owned by the Edrington Group, but probably considered to hard to build up these brands to the extend of the other brands, so all were sold off. Glengoyne (2003) and Tamdhu (2011) to Ian MacLeod. Bunnahabhain, together with the Black Bottle Blended Whisky brand to Burn Stewart in 2003, and Glenglassaugh (2008) to a private group of investors, who subsequently sold it to Billy Walker of Benriach in 2013. Billy then sold all of his distilleries (Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh) to Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s) in 2016. Can you hear the Carousel Waltz?

glenturret-gm-2002Color: Full gold.

Nose: Yup, this is from Sherry casks alright. Quite different from the usual young Whisky drawn from Bourbon casks. Nice, creamy and dusty. Fruity, fresh ripe fruits and lots of candied fruits as well. Sweet peach yoghurt mixed in with the smell of new tires. Although no promise of any real sweetness yet, it does come across as syrupy. Vanilla, cloves with some pencil shavings and a nice (this time) fruity acidity even though it isn’t completely integrated with the rest of the aroma’s. Smells quite good actually. Apart from all this, it is quite perfumy as well. A slight burning note. Not really burned wood or toasted cask, no, the burned note seems to be integrated into the smell of new tires I mentioned above. I wouldn’t say unusual, but quite interesting, and I don’t mean interesting in a way to not say it isn’t any good, because it is, it’s very appealing and complex. I like it very much, it smells really good. I hope it tastes even better, if so, where can I order a case of this? But, lets not get ahead of ourselves, lets taste it first…

Taste: Wow, very sweet on entry. Syrupy and creamy all right. Butter candy and vanilla. The burning note and the tire note are in here as well, and I have to say right from the start, this doesn’t disappoint at all. Burned toast. Next a sugary and nutty note, alas a bit of a watery, sugary nutty note. Maybe this has seen a little bit too much reduction? Distant banana with creamy vanilla. Sweet fruity yoghurt again. This aromatic part is so big, that the more astringent woody notes you should almost always pick up, since Whisky is matured in wood, only shows in the finish. You can feel it in the back of your mouth. No bitterness whatsoever though and the finish itself has more than enough staying power, but when its gone, its gone, you’ll need to take another sip.

Sure Ferrari’s are amongst the nicest cars to drive, but sometimes you can have a lot of fun with a small cheap car as well. It’s the same with Whisky, Sure I get a lot, and I mean a lot, from a 1972 Brora, but sometimes you can have an equal lot of fun with an inexpensive Whisky from a distillery that doesn’t have a big name like Macallan of Highland Park, so in comes this Glenturret.

I’m wondering if, somewhere in the future, we will see a cask strength version of a similar 2002 Sherried Glenturret. That would be really interesting, I mean, good!

After writing this review I did a direct H2H comparison with the Gordon & MacPhail Teaninich I reviewed last. When tasting both Whiskies on different days you will remember them differently as in a direct comparison. H2H allows you to find differences and sometimes even aroma’s you would never get otherwise. For instance, when smelling the Teaninich right after the Glenturret, I’m amazed the Teaninich almost smells like a Rum at first. Waxy and thick. Something I never got when tasting it solo. Tasting it, it is definitely a Whisky, although big, bold and waxy. The Glenturret is much more refined and elegant.

Points: 85

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, AD/JFBG)

More than four years ago I wrote a review about another Teaninich from the Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range. That one was distilled in 1983 and bottled in 2003, so that one was bottled before this one was even distilled! Reading back I see the mindset I was in at the time. The first decade I was interested in Single Malt Whisky, I hardly ever bought something that was reduced with water to “drinking strength”. If I bought anything from an independent bottler, it was most certainly bottled at cask strength. Today I still very much like my whiskies at cask strength, but I don’t have a problem anymore buying something reduced, as long as they didn’t reduce it too much. Old malts, distilled in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s seem to have some power left in them, when bottled at 40% ABV, but more modern malts need a higher a ABV. 43% seemed a bit of a compromise, but the 46% we see today, is doing the trick for me. So, two weeks ago I caught myself red-handed with a bag of no less than four of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice bottlings! Go figure. As I’m a fan of Teaninich, I hardly could wait opening this one, so finally I didn’t even manage to wait for 24 hours…

Teaninich 2006/2014 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, ADJFBG)Color: Reddish gold.

Nose: Waxy, fruity and with a nice toasted oak aroma as well. Biscuity and a warm smell of lovely barley and cereal. Right now I already want to stop smelling this, and have a sip, but I’ll wait. The toasted aroma becomes more complex since it turns a wee bit into coal and even boasts a slightly tarry note. A breath of fresh air comes next, laced with alcohol. Reminding me of high quality and ultra soft rye Vodka. Hey, give it a break, it’s a very young Whisky. Bread and toasted bread obviously. Grassy and still waxy. Waxy, red blushed, apple skins? Slightly floral notes mixed in with coffee-creamer. Somewhat sweet and a nice note of vanilla. Since these are Sherry hoggies, I’m guessing the hoggies were made from American Oak. This is only a 7 or 8 years old Whisky, so it shouldn’t be too complex, but you don’t hear me complaining. I understand what it is, and I think it is pretty impressive already, at this age. Well balanced and I guess the casks were pretty good as well. They will do just nicely as second fill casks.

Taste: Definitely starts with a Sherry note. First fill casks all right. I guess they bottled this rather quickly, since the Sherry already starts to dominate the Whisky. My guess would be a Sherry matured under flor. Initially sweet (but not for long, because some white pepper comes to the fore). Waxy again and notes of paper and not of wood, although the paper note seems to make way for a more bitter woody note eventually. A tad funky and slightly less balanced than the nose promised. More Sherry (& flor) wood, with even some slight soapy notes. Don’t worry. Even though this is bottled at 46% ABV., it doesn’t even seem that strong. Sure its fruity, but in a more sugared kind of way. Perfumed lemon curd. Hidden behind the waxy and soapy wood. Surprisingly, the finish isn’t very long, giving away its relative youth.

Let me warn you about the new Gordon & MacPhail packaging. I had an open-topped Whisky bag and the experienced salesman, shoved the metal lids into the cartons instead of leaving them on the cartons. I would have lost them otherwise. I tried this at home and he was absolutely right. Just grabbing the carton and the lid already pops off, weakening the structure, with a possibility of dropping the lot on the floor. This is the 21st century isn’t it? Sort it out people. And it’s not only Gordon & MacPhail. Signatory have tins of which the lid comes popping off as well. The folded cardboard stuff some Diageo bottlings come in, can spontaneously unfold under your arm when carrying slightly too much Whisky at a time. That way I saw a bottle of Talisker slowly disappear from under the firm grip of my armpit onto the welcoming tiled floor.

Points: 84

16-3-2017: I just finished this bottle and I have to add that it got gradually better over time. This really needs to breathe to show all of its huge potential, even though its just a reduced young Whisky. A have a soft spot for Teaninich and this one really didn’t dissapoint me again. I Love it. I’ll give it a point more, and maybe I should have given two…

Points: 85

Glenugie 1966 (40%. Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label, 75cl, 4699)

Up next a blast from our collective Whisky past. This is only the second Glenugie on these pages, and rightfully so. It’s closed and it’s today, bottlings like this moved into the realm of collectors (who don’t drink it) and anoraks (who do). So what do we have here? A few years ago an anorak posted an article about what clues can be found on a G&M bottling to date it. We see that this bottle doesn’t have a neck label to date it, so it’s not from the 1991 batch, but earlier. We do know it is an 75cl bottle and on the bottom the glass code 4699 can be found. This particular glass container was used in between 1982 and 1991, which isn’t really helping, but narrows it down a bit. I’ve seen this bottle with different cardboard boxes though, so that isn’t helpful either. The box in the picture isn’t necessarily the box the bottle was sold in. Second we do not know if only one bach was released, looking like this. There may be different batches with different boxes who look exactly the same filled in exactly the same coded bottles. I’m guessing the one I’m about to taste is more form the second half of the eighties than the first half, but that’s only speculation. Let’s try it then shall we?

Glenugie 1966Color: Slightly orange gold.

Nose: Very dusty and old smelling. Funky dry Sherry. Deep grassy, slightly waxy and old soft oak(y). Time capsule. Some faint red berry fruit in the background. Add to that a more creamy, vanilla note and some burnt wood. It’s a mere hint that burnt note though. Adds to the character fo the Whisky. If you let it breathe for a while, more and more of this red fruit comes to the fore, cloaked in the wood and creamy notes. Diluted warm caramel and slightly dusty as well. This is an old gem, and needs to be treated as such. It’s fragile at 40% ABV. Don’t be hasty too. With even some more air, hints of licorice and a floral note emerges. Floral but not soapy. Elegant and distinguished florality. Vegetal (with some wood), floral and fruity, that sums it up.

Taste: The wax, diluted caramel and the wood are up front here. Diluted sweetness. It’s slightly sweet at first, but that is quickly gone. It’s so obvious that I do feel that some caramel colouring has been done. Yep, toffee, hard candy coffee bon-bon. More wood, slightly sappy and bitter. It has some creamy nuttiness to it. Does warm hazel-nut milk make any sense? Disappears rather quickly, hence it has a short finish. The finish is made up of toffee and it’s actually almost the only thing that is noticeable in the aftertaste (as well as a hint of paper…).

Wonderful old malt, that has been diluted too much and might have seen some caramel colouring. You know it’s there, but it lost its battle trying to show it to us, since it has been hindered by too much water. Bummer. I have to report this to the Whisky police and hopefully the culprits will be brought to the Whisky-tribunal. Smells great though, that’s where the potential is still noticeable, or should I say that’s where you can still get a glimpse of what could (should) have been…

Points: 83

Bunnahabhain 8yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, The MacPhail’s Collection, Refill Sherry Butts, Heavily Peated)

Let’s continue with a Margadale. You might have never heard of Margadale, but that is how the heavily peated Bunnahabhain spirit is actually called. Margadale has a peating level between 35 and 40 ppm. Bunnahabhain means “mouth of the river”, now guess the name of the river itself… I would have liked it if they really would have called it Margadale, just like Tobermory and Ledaig. Now, the peated spirit Bunnahabhain produces is called Margadale, but when the spirit becomes Whisky, the bottled peated Bunnahabhain is called Moine. That’s probably a name you have encountered before. Only Berry Brothers & Rudd have once bottled a peated Bunnahabhain with a mention of Margadale. Bunnahabhain used to be an (almost) unpeated Islay Whisky, even the water used didn’t ever flow over peated land, but when the going got tough, aided by some changes in ownership, they started to make peated Whisky as well…

Bunnahabhain 8yo The MacPhails CollectionColor: Straw, light gold.

Nose: Fatty and buttery. Nice Islay peat. Sea breeze, salty and warming, but also with a soft quality to it. Peat, smoke, crushed beetle and tar. Burning newspaper. Hidden sweetness and florality. Effective and typical. Everything is there, but nothing is overpowering the rest. I would say elegant, as far as heavily peated Whiskies can be called elegant. Nice citrussy note, giving some freshness on top of the peat, smoke, tar and saltness. The floral and fruity notes are deeper and heavier and lie more on the bottom, or in the depth of the nose. Balanced and fine. With some more air it dumbs down a bit. Hints of (burning) paper (again), and the fruits come more to the fore. Dried apricots and white grape. Here you can see how the Sherry casks worked. It adds fruit and a nice woody spiciness. It somehow lacks the obvious vanilla you get from American oak Bourbon casks, although most Sherry casks these days are made with American oak as well. Sometimes you could guess its relative youth, but on the other hand, this shows enough complexity to be considered and older Whisky. Good ‘un. Nice distillate.

Taste: Right from the start we get some separation. The aroma’s aren’t very well-integrated. Interesting. Starts off with smoked salt and creamy butter and a nice White Wine acidity. Fatty peat, very fatty and buttery indeed. Licorice, sweet wood and honey sweetness. Sweetness there is, but not your regular white sugar sweetness. Yes runny thin honey it is. All the way through it keeps not integrating well. The acidity is displaced and hangs around too long in the back of my mouth, and the sweetness is trying to get too much to say underneath. Not sure this Sherry is a perfect match for the peated spirit. The more it breathes, the more it actually develops in the wrong way.

Nice stuff at 43% ABV. Sure, in times it is a bit thin, but I have no problem with the reduction. It makes this Islay Whisky very accessible. Don’t let it breathe though. It allows the acidity to develop and hold it hostage. The wood makes the Whisky, but in this case the wood broke the Whisky. It’s not terrible, but especially in the details this Whisky fails a bit.

Points: 80

Linkwood 15yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, First Fill & Refill Sherry Casks, Circa 2006)

Gordon & MacPhail release Whiskies in many series. Gordon & MacPhail Reserve, Gordon & McPhail Cask Strength, Gordon & MacPhail Exclusive to name but a few. Whisky Geeks call the series like this Linkwood the “Licenced Bottlings”, but I have heard the people of Gordon & MacPhail calling it the “Distillery Labels”, though both names aren’t anywhere to be found on the label. Bottlings in this series consist of Whiskies, where there isn’t (really) an official bottling of, again, like this Linkwood, and to a lesser extent Strathisla and Longmorn, like the 1971 I reviewed not so long ago, of which an official bottling did exist, although not many. If memory serves me correctly, Whiskies in this series were always reduced to 40% ABV and later 43% ABV.

Linkwood 15yo G&MColor: Light copper gold.

Nose: Dusty and funky Sherry. Slightly raisiny. Deep, dark and brooding. Nutty not fruity, so lacking the Sherry cherry of fresh and fruity Whisky. This is all but lively. Its darker and more brooding than I’ve come to expect. Very old calvados. It is apply but in a dense and syrupy kind of way. It’s some kind of hybrid between old Calvados and raisins. It is quite old and unusual smelling and definitely does not smell like a distillate from the early nineties. Hints of charred oak and vanilla powder. Nice, deep and complex. Oily baking paper. Dull brown sugar and some soft wood spices, and sometimes a short whiff of old soap.  More a sort of floral note than a real soapy note.

Taste: Paper and wood, again deep and all but fresh. Old raisins. Dried apples. Red apple skins and definitely from Sherry casks. Quite restrained. This does not shout out its presence, it more sort of sits in the corner quietly. Distant burnt note. Apart from the (burnt) woody (paper) and Sherried traits, this is also has qualities of refined sugar without being very sweet. Does that make sense? Hidden sweetness overpowered by the aroma’s described above? Second half lacks a bit of development and the finish concentrates around the wood and paper notes, with hints of old Sherried Whiskies ending in a medium walnut bitterness and of medium length. It end with the finish, there is no noteworthy aftertaste.

Actually this particular bottling, and beware there are more batches of this, is quite restrained and is unlike many of the Whiskies that are on the market today. This also makes it less likely choice for a daily drinker. Although it is alright at 43% ABV, I wouldn’t have minded some extra 3%, just to carry and strengthen the aroma’s that are presented to us.

Points: 83

Imperial 9yo 1991/2001 “Port Wood Finish” (40%, G&M, Private Collection, Cask #99/48 1.2, 2600 bottles)

Back to some Whisky. This time around we’ll have a look at a distillery not only closed, but also torn down and already replaced. That happened quickly. In 2012 Imperial ceased to exist and just a few years later a new distillery was finished occupying the same very site. Many have thought that the new distillery would be called Imperial as well, when in fact it is called Dalmunach after a nearby pool of the river Spey. Imperial wasn’t hugely popular as a Whisky hence the new name maybe, but Pernod Ricard (the owners) never ceases to amaze us, by installing new stills replicating those of Imperial. Well in some time we can taste the replicated taste of Imperial, but for the time being let’s taste the original, shall we?

Imperial 9yo 1991/2001 Port Wood Finish (40%, G&M, Private Collection, Cask #9948 1.2, 2600 bottles)Color: Full gold with a slight pinkish hue.

Nose: Winey and candied red fruits. Easily recognizable as a Port finish. Barley, paper. New oak and some pencil shavings. Fresh-air notes, with some sugary sweetness following suit. Nice creamy vanilla mixed with fruity acidity. Typical American oak (the cask it was in before it was finished) but also some sandal wood. The Port integrated well and is used well. In those days experiments with Port finishes often went wrong since the Whisky was left in the Port cask for too long. The whole however is pretty simple and young. What you smell is what you get. Don’t expect a lot of development, if any, but keep in mind that even with the Finish, this Whisky is only 9 years old. Fruity Whisky. Smells nice. ’nuff said.

Taste: Creamy vanilla and candy sweetness. Hard raspberry candy and sugar. A chunk of toffee, molten ice-cream and nice toasted cask that gives it a back bone. Milk-chocolate. Actually pretty tasty. You can taste the potential harshness of the Port. Winey yes, a bit. The slightly burnt note from the Port cask stays around. If this was finished much longer it would have been over the top. It was arrested in its development just in time, which was quite unusual in those days, but I may have said that already didn’t I? Tasty young stuff with a pronounced weakness in the finish-department.

Simple yet well tasting stuff. If only the finish would have been stronger. I mean the finish of the Whisky itself, not the Port finish. Still, even for a Port finish from the start of the new millennium, there is nothing wrong with this. Buy a bottle of this and expect it to be empty quickly. This time also nothing wrong with the low ABV of 40%. A higher ABV may have lengthened the finish a bit, but I’m OK with it as is…

Points: 81