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

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Bushmills Irish Single Malt 1991/2015 (52.2%, The Whisky Mercenary, for Whiskysite.nl and The Single Malt Whisky Shop)

Usually, independently released Irish Malts are sourced from Cooley, especially the peated ones. This time it’s not. Many 1991 peated Irish Malts that were released independently in 2015 were from a batch of peated Bushmills, although you won’t find the name Bushmills anywhere on the label. This particular bottling was done for the Dutch Whisky-shop Whiskysite.nl and Belgian outfit The Single Malt Whisky Shop. let’s see what Jürgen offers us now…

The Whisky Mercenary IrishColor: Gold.

Nose: Nice elegant peat, which rules out Cooley right of the bat. Cooley has a more fatty and rough kind of peat. This smells more refined and a bit sweet. Fruity (yellow). Sure there is this clay element in the peat, that is also present in Cooley, but it still is different. Hardly any smoke although the first sniff was quite sharp. If it’s there it’s already gone. This is a wonderful smelling Malt. The wood shows itself next and it reminds me of pencil-shavings combined with some fresh oak. Again, all kept very much in check. Vanilla is present but again, not in a big way. Deep underneath the hints of red fruit, is also a sweaty element. Animalesk and organic, which only adds to the complexity of this Malt. Well integrated. On top a more heavy aroma emerges, fresh butter. So we have some peat, some wood, some vanilla and some butter and all is nicely held together with a very appetizing fruitiness. If this will taste anything like it smells we’ll have a winner here.

Taste: Ahh my favorite red berry flavour is there. I also find it, and love it, in the 2005 batches of Redbreast. Quite funny since Redbreast isn’t produced at Bushmills, but rather at Midleton. Maybe its Irish. The fruit combines really well with a warming, but still fresh peat. Creamy and with some vanilla, but also a slight hint of burned kerosene, mixed it with the toffee. Pencil-shavings are in here as well. The peat is again light and elegant. Great. Almonds and some wax are next. Almond-milk, mixed with latex,quickly followed by red fruit juice. What a wonderful Malt this is. It smells great, tastes great, up ’till now this is so good that I would even forgive a short finish. Short it is not, but it is of medium length. The aroma’s leave my mouth one by one. The aftertaste is about fruity wax and, a little bit of peat and the memory of red fruit and a light bitter edge to hold it all up.

This is wonderful stuff and yes, Jürgen has done it again. What a wonderful selection. By now long gone, but can be found at different auctions across Europe. Just be ready to dish out quite some money for this, since most aficionado’s know this is excellent. It was quite expensive to boot, and even more now, but it also is quite excellent, so this time you will get what you pay for, and in today’s market, notwithstanding the origin of the Malt, you get more quality out of this for this kind of money, than most other Malts. So a no brainer for me (and I don’t sit on heaps of money)…

Points: 90

I had to do a H2H with a 2005 batch of Redbreast. The Redbreast smells oilier and somewhat less fresh. I would almost say, more Rum-like. It seems to smell a bit of petrol and exhaust and overall seems less complex. Caroni anyone? Don’t underestimate the power of H2H’s. The Bushmills smells more organic and definitely fruitier. Although the difference in ABV is only slightly more than 6%, it makes the Redbreast much softer than it actually is. Again in comparison, the Redbreast has some gout de petrol (like you can find in excellent Rieslings). I scored the excellent Redbreast, 86 points, but today I would score it higher…(but not 90).

Clynelish 15yo 1997/2012 (51.5%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask, 59 bottles)

A few days ago I reviewed another Clynelish from 1997, and I just stumbled across this one, bottled by the Whisky Mercenary a.k.a. Jürgen Vromans. Since this is bottled in 2012, I guess Jurgen sent it to me a few years back as well. Only 59 bottles did once exist, but we know the Belgians to be enjoying life quite a bit, so I don’t think a lot of bottles of this have survived. I guess its will be even harder to find one of these today. I’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jürgen’s bottlings, and I have to give it to him, he has quite the nose for picking them, as well as being allowed to pick “dem Whiskies!” You might not know, but it’s not easy to be an independent bottler. You just don’t go into a warehouse trying all of the casks lying around and picking the best you can find, unless you have a bit of a reputation…

Clynelish TWMColor: White wine.

Nose: Buttery and malty. Fresh. Like a breath of fresh air, yet also citrus fresh. Creamy toffee barley. The cask seemed to be quite inactive, maybe the color also gives that away a bit already, but the sweetness is more like toffee and not big on vanilla you get from more first fill and more active casks. Another hint is the lack of a pronounced wood aroma. Cold apple compote with a bit of warm apple sauce, laced with a splash of calvados. All those apply associations are noticeable, but in no way overpowering. The fruity sweetness gets more and more dusty and dry, with a tiny bit of surface wood, oak obviously, with a little bit of mint. Apple pie, after some breathing the apple is joined by some freshly made dough. Nice balance with more than usual distillery character. Typical example where the wood did less to make the Whisky. It shows its other side. Fruity fresh, with shallow depth, dough aroma instead of wood, but at the same time lacking real depth and complexity. This isn’t a fault. It’s just different, and with this it shows another side of Single Malt Whisky in general.

Taste: Well, what a surprise. Sure it is fruity, but way more wood in here than in the nose. It starts with wood and paper as well as quite the peppery note. Sugary sweetness and creamy. I didn’t expect that at all. Toffee and bread. Caramel. The aroma’s grow a bit bigger with more breathing, so don’t be to hasty with this one. The lack of activity from the cask is noticeable by the weakness of the finish. It starts with a little attack, for a brief moment shows a nice body, but then it comes down very quick and leaves you a bit with a light, short and unremarkable aftertaste, which at some point in time even gets a bit bitter. Cedar wood bitterness. This bitterness even grows bigger, if you drink this Whisky after a prolonged time of breathing.

In my opinion, not the best of Clynelishes around, but there are many other who like it even better. This is from 2012, right at the start of his career as The Whisky Mercenary. Its hard then to get to pick the very best of casks, and it is a shared cask as well. Only 59 bottles was his share, but I guess at this ABV there was more Whisky in the cask, bottled or blended by others. Nevertheless educational, because here you can see that it’s more about the spirit, than it is about the wood.

Compared to the 1997 Wemyss Clynelish I reviewed a few days ago, the family resemblance is quite remarkable, but the Wemyss is definitely the more aromatic and polished expression of the two.

Points: 81

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)

500I almost missed it, but this is already the 500th post on masterquill.com. Three and a half years have passed since the moment I wanted to see with my own eyes how a blog was made, so I never intended to continue after the first few reviews. The next few months no new posts were written, but after a while I picked it up again, never to let it go again. It’s too much fun to do, and it still is. It is a never-ending quest for the nicest of drinks that are available on the planet. So much more to discover.

I don’t have to post every day, but I try to have something up every other day. Once in a while I let it be, due to sickness (a.k.a. the nose doesn’t work properly), WiFi-less vacation or other reasons, and I don’t feel bad about it, so it doesn’t feel like something I must do. I have no plans of getting bored with it, or plans to retire after a while. There are so much more drinks around, and so much more to explore and learn, that I fear I will never get bored with it at all. Still, you never know, there have been others I loved to read that have stopped (and some have continued after a while). Here’s to the next 500. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)Time for the 500th post then. I had to pick something special, so why not a nice and old Bunnahabhain. Islay is hot, and so are the picks of Jürgen Vromans. Our beloved Belgian independent bottler. Nothing wrong with his nose, so I have high hopes for this 35yo Bunna. Cheers!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft vanilla and wood, Definitely slowly matured on a slightly active cask. Some sweetness and a tiny hint of what seems to be a sort of waxy peat. light old elegant wood. Hints of chalk and a nice restrained fruitiness (yellow fruits). Old dried out paint dust and a great deep vegetal note. Excellent wood, creamy wood almost. Nothings really sticks out. It all is light and elegant and held back. Tread tenderly with this one. Old skool with excellent balance. Lovely. Should have come with a label in Paisley motif.

Taste: Quite spicy with a burst of sweetness coming from a dried licorice twig. Otherwise the Whisky has a great dry/sweet balance to it. Dry on the nose and dry on the mouth too, with some nice sweet and fatty touches to it. Creamy wax. Vanilla and half-dried pudding. Again a delicious fruity taste, again yellow fruit, mixed with a hint of sweetish black tea. Well integrated woody notes with just a small amount of woody bitterness.

This is a lovely old Whisky, well worth its initial Retail price. Jürgen picked a wonderful old and delicate or even fragile Bunnahabhain. Wonderful stuff. No heavy hitter and lots of nice details. Good balance with decent complexity. I should have gotten me one of these when I had the chance…

Points: 90

Braeval 21yo 1991/2013 (47.7%, The Whisky Mercenary)

Some of you may have already noticed, but as of yesterday I finally managed to get MASTERQUILL.COM. Not long after I started publishing my tasting notes, someone was very quick to snap up this domain. Once I had a look around, what buying this domain would cost, but I thought the $1.800 was a bit too steep, I’d rather buy me some Whisky for that, thank you very much. Yesterday I had another look around and it was available! This time I was quick to snap it up myself, and anyone of you who have registered their own domain (that is available), know that this doesn’t break the bank. Great! Back to Whisky now, and back to Jürgen…

Time for a Whisky that hasn’t been featured before on these pages. A new name on my new domain so to speak. Braeval as it is called today, Braes of Glenlivet was its old name. Not an old distillery though, but more on that next time…

Braeval 21yoColor: Gold.

Nose: Clean buttery vanilla, caramel and lots of toffee. Promises a lot of sweetness. Dry vegetal notes. Nutty but also slightly perfumy. Sinaspril (a Paracetamol tablet for children, with a powdery orange flavour). This reminds me a lot of Sinaspril from the seventies. Somehow I don’t use it a lot today anymore. Got older you know, need veterinary strength Paracetamol now. Let’s get back to the Braeval shall we. Very creamy and dry, but not a lot of wood yet. Definitely some laid back fruity notes and cookie dough and almond paste. Orange obviously, just not the freshly pressed kind, but also succulent and with hints of over ripe kiwi. Yes that’s a first. Behind the fruits also a meaty component is present. In the end it’s all about fruit and cream. Quite complex, there seems to be happening more that I have mentioned. For instance, it takes the wood quite a long time to assert itself.

Taste: Sweet and again very fruity. Thinner than I thought with an ABV of 47.7%. Very fruity (cherry bon-bon) and nutty and yes, quite sweet, but also a nice touch of acidity to prevent this one from being overly sweet or cloying. Creamy vanilla and cheap milk chocolate is present. Definitely a woody backbone now. Unpolished edges of oak. Watch out for splinters! Oaky sourness in the finish, and speaking of the finish, the big body this Whisky has, does fall apart a bit in the finish, where the oak starts to dominate. A shorter finish than expected, so you want your next sip quite soon after the previous one, but you wouldn’t mind because you already developed a craving for the great fruitiness of this malt. Prominent oak though.

Actually this could have been better, because towards the finish the oak plays and ever-growing role. You do need to like your oak with this one. Luckily this Breaval has a nice nose and a body full of thick toffee and fruit. In the end, this is a very enjoyable dram and thus rightly picked by Mr. V. Not the best of the bunch though.

Points: 84

Bowmore 12yo 2000/2012 (46%, The Whisky Mercenary, 42 bottles)

What time is it? It’s Jürgen time! Those of you who regularly read my reviews will have come across Jürgen quite a few times by now. Click here for a round-up of all Whisky Mercenary bottlings I reviewed up untill now. Today we’ll have a look at one of the first Whiskies Jürgen picked, maybe even thé first. Alas, this will be a review for your reading pleasure only, since only 42 bottles of this were made in 2012 (and by now most of the were consumed). Jürgen got some help from fellow Belgian independent Whiskybottler The Maltman. Usually this means that a cask was shared, and looking at the releases of The Maltman we can find another quite small release of only 65 bottles (done with Whiskysite.nl). That one is bottled at cask strength at 57.1% ABV. Now we have a total of about a 100 bottles, so probably even more bottles were filled from that particular cask by yet another party.

Bowmore 12yo The Whisky MercenaryColor: Light gold, vibrant.

Nose: Sweet peat with hints of smoke. Very appetizing. Refreshing citrus. Clay and toffee. Malty. Green and black tea. Cold fresh (and untreated) almonds and dried meat (not salty nor spicy). Light rubbery peat and subtly smoked. Toast and sweet malt again. Slightly burnt cable of an electrical appliance. Tiny hint of sawdust. Very nice nose, especially when inhaled vigorously. Chalk. Fresh, friendly and fruity.

Taste: Malty and smoky. Earwax with its typical bitterness. Late sweet attack with ashes. Cold black tea. Lemonade fruitiness. Licorice root. Waxy again. Paper and half-dry leaves in the forest including the odd crushed beetle. Tastes reduced, a bit too thin, with nothing left which made the nose and the plethora of tastes when the Whisky enters your mouth so great. BUMMER!

Although 46% ABV is not a bad strength, this seems to me like a perfect example of a Whisky that should have remained at cask strength. The nose shows lots of potential as do the entry into the mouth (excellent!) and the start of the body (niiiice!). Quickly, the body becomes a tad simple and thin. Especially the finish shows the fault of reduction in this one. It really needed some oomph. Very nice Whisky. Reminds me of old Islay Whiskies that are usually around 25yo, (Caol Ila). I didn’t care for the reduction though. Stellar stuff that has been ruined by the second half and the weak finish.

Points: 84

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)

Littlemill then. These days everybody seems to be raving about this sadly closed distillery. The official bottling seemed not to be very popular in its day and initially not a lot of tears were shed when this distillery closed in 1997 and subsequently was destroyed in a fire in 2004. Lots of Whiskies from the early nineties are bottled recently and surprise, surprise, a lot of them seem to be pretty good if not spectacular! Here we’ll have a look at a Littlemill that was aged in a Bourbon cask. This particular example was selected by Jürgen Vromans a.k.a. The Whisky Mercenary, who to this day has Always picked some great Whiskies. Just have a look at these reviews: Glenlossie, Tormore, Clynelish, Dailuaine and Cooley.

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)Color: Light gold

Nose: Fruity, waxy and spicy. Vanilla bean and vanilla Ice-cream. A breath of fresh air, but also some sea wind. Spicy oak with mocha. Extremely pleasant. Thin layer of honey and beeswax. Sugared yellow fruits, but also tiny, tiny hints of mustard. Hints of freshly cut oak but also an old cigar box. Cold tea (plain black tea, without milk or lemon). In the best sense of the word, a wood driven nose. Complex and very appetizing. Sometimes dry and dusty, the next very aromatic. Nice stuff!

Taste: Sweet and highly aromatic. A bit wet behind the ears, youthful oak. Yes this Whisky has been in an excellent cask. Lots of wax, beeswax, earwax, but also natural furniture polish, that doesn’t smell like an oil refinery. The wax and wood have an underlying sweetness and are aided by a nice hint of black fruits, and some oaky bitterness. Very well-balanced, and just right. It was bottled at the right moment. Maybe when it was younger it would have been more fruity, but would it have been such a distinguished gentledram?

Not every Bourbon cask is just a Bourbon cask, and not every freshly distilled Spirit that is meant to be a Single Malt Whisky is alike. Still when you take a (freshly used or refilled) Bourbon Barrel or remade Hogshead and put new-made Spirit in it, you more or less know what you’re going to get. Sometimes some especially great wood finds its way into the cask, or the barley was great, or fresh, or from a great variety. Sometimes something magical happens. Single cask Whiskies like these are all about the details so it takes an anorak like Jürgen to pick them out. Well done.

Points: 88