Highland Park Week – Day 4: Highland Park 1992/2006 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Refill Sherry)

Yesterday we ventured into the realm of the independent bottler, well two actually. Today we’ll stay there but add only one independent bottler to our collection. This time we’ll have a look at a reasonably priced, (at least it was reasonably priced ten years ago, when this was bottled), and reduced Highland Park bottled by Italian outfit Wilson & Morgan. Yes, you’ll find a lot of people in Italy with names like that!

Yesterdays Highland Park was distilled in 1995, this particular one was distilled several years earlier. Do you see a trend? However, since this was bottled ten years prior to yesterdays 1995 offering, this one is definitely younger (as in it spent less time in wood). Here it is stated on the label that this came out of a Refill Sherry cask, so lets see if this one has more Sherry influence, compared to yesterdays Refill Hogshead.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry notes and actually a bit soapy. Much different from the previous Highland Park. Right from the start discrepant fruity acidic notes. Dusty and vegetal. Not very appealing actually. First impression is that something is not quite right. Warm, dull (nothing sticks out or shines) and somewhat simple. Not a lot of development. It’s almost like the Highland park distillate and this particular Sherry cask are no friends of each other. I’m wondering what kind of Sherry it was. Definitely unbalanced. Hints of caramel, toast and aspirin powder. Add to that a vibrant red fruity, synthetic, acidity. Unbelievable how dusty this is. No wood and some hidden sweetness. Syrup, sugar (the smell of it, not the sweetness). Hints of morning breath and Jenever. Powdered coffee creamer.

Taste: Wow, the dullness mentioned above is right op front the taste as well, as is (finally) some wood. Short hot burst and woody spices. Friendly hint of, again synthetic, lemon. Some sweetness in the background, toffee, coffee creamer and yet again an unbalanced middle part. Rural notes. Here the dullness translates into paper. Old newspaper (hold the ink). The red fruits mentioned above make up the rather short finish, with a unbalaced aftertaste. The cask did it’s part here. It did impair aromas you wouldn’t get from a Bourbon cask. However, just like was noticeable on the nose. The Highland Park distillate and the cask didn’t work together very well.

This one is long gone and you don’t even see them that much on auctions. Most older bottles of reduced Whisky, by Wilson & Morgan were very affordable, so I guess most were drunk when they were released. If you come across this one at auction or on a dusty shelf somewhere, well it’s not without reason it stayed on that shelf and when auctioned, I wouldn’t pay all that much for it. Its Whisky, it’s not bad and it doesn’t have big flaws. Definitely drinkable, but not a high flyer if you ask me. A bit unbalanced and very restrained or dull, but not boring, or maybe that as well…

Points: 80

Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Marsala Finish)

This will be interesting. Experience learns me that I have tasted a lot of good Clynelishes from 1989, although one might ask oneself how far vintages work for Whisky as they do with Wine. An other interesting point is, although todays Wine finishes are quite common, back in 2003, when this was released, Wine finishes weren’t all that hip. Remember that the demand for Whisky was a lot less than it is today, so the sentiment, back then was, if it’s finished in an odd cask (not Bourbon or Sherry), than there must have been something wrong with the original Whisky. This has been finished, by the bottlers, in a cask that previously held Marsala Wine. Marsala is a fortified Wine from Sicily Italy. Marsala can be dry or sweet, and can be white or red, or something in between. Just like Sherry and Port which also comes in lots of different versions, so the word Marsala alone only narrows it down a bit what to expect. It would have been nice to know exactly what kind of Marsala was in the cask. No surprise that we have an “early” experiment with a Wine finish, since Fabio (the man behind Wilson & Morgan) is Italian and already a Wine buff before getting interested in Whisky and Rum. Remember Rum Nation? That’s also his.

By the way, there are other 1989 W&M Clynelishes around. At least one Sherry and one Bourbon expression exist as well. Just look at the bottom right corner of the front label. By the way I have tried this Bourbon expression and it wasn’t as good as other 1989 Clynelishes. Maybe the reason for finishing this one.

clynelish-1989-wm-marsala-finishColor: Gold.

Nose: Dry, restrained and not “thick”. Elegant. Well balanced. Lightly fruity and appetizing. Peaches. Nutty and dusty. Pushed way back some notes of creamy vanilla, so I’m guessing American oak, and probably the previous maturation was done in a Bourbon cask. Don’t be fooled, a lot of Sherries are matured in American oak as well, since it gives off a more creamy, vanilla feel, whereas European oak has more tannins to it. Next some spicy notes. Hints of sweetish basil. Nice one to smell and in no way does the Marsala overpower the Whisky. Fabio was on to something here, and maybe the Clynelish itself wasn’t too bad as well? Hints of dusty dark (friendly) cocoa powder. Good. Give it some time to breathe and the nose does show it has some origins in Wine, but still in a very restrained manner. Hints of Calvados even.

Taste: At first some wood, dusty and spicy but soon a wave of utter fruit passes by, although the fruity sweetness is almost nonexistent, the initial sip has definitely some sweetness to it. Nutty and nice. It has some fruity acidity though, not much but it does help the balance. Two distinct layers after which the finish sets in. A pretty good Whisky with a nicely done finish. It is a treat on entry and has a nice balanced body. The finish has some moderate staying power, and is easily the weakest point of this Malt. It doesn’t have enough length, and is actually not very complex. luckily the rest of the experience is very positive, so definitely a malt one can enjoy. I guess this experiment can be called a success.

The middle has some heat to it so the 46% ABV seems appropriate. I can be easily disappointed when a Whisky has been reduced too much, but I’m also easy in admitting that reductions often work out. In this case I’m not wondering how a cask strength version would have been. I’m happy as it is.

Points: 86

Caol Ila 1991/2000 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)

This Caol Ila is one I just cracked open, literally. It is an oldie I bought some 15 years ago. Sure it is a reduced independent bottling, and it didn’t cost much, but its a Caol Ila and its bottled by Wilson & Morgan, who have bottled a lot of good Caol Ila’s, just have a look at this 24yo expression distilled in 1975, to name but one. The cork broke on this one. This time it didn’t only just break off, it seemed to disintegrate completely. Vaporized into thin air, so to speak. Luckily most of the crumbs were easy to fish out of the bottle and hardly anything sank to the bottom. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an ode to the screw cap, now you know why… Karma strikes again.

Caol Ila 1991/2000 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Ahhh, right after pouring the room filled with the smell of beautiful peat. Nothing harsh and rough, but smooth and refined. Nice, clean and soft and aromatic peat. Helped along with a citrussy fruitiness. Well-balanced and much nicer to smell than the Kilchoman Spring I reviewed (much) earlier. Smells quite sweet. Leafy and chewy. Dry vanilla powder, maybe even some powdered coffee-creamer. Some hidden tar, but also an expansion on the fruits. We have hints of sweet, ripe pineapple, mango and banana, mixed with vanilla from the wood, and the wood itself somehow didn’t make it. Crushed beetle and some distant dried basil in the background. Remarkable. Ohhh yes, and some bonfire smoke. I nearly forgot to write that down! I have to say it again, well-balanced stuff and remember, this isn’t even ten years old, which today has become standard.

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Sugar water. Syrup. Very fruity and a little hoppy bitterness. Big and chewy. Sweet, funky and nutty peat. Not at all earthy. Nice touch of smoke, but not much. It’s like all the aromas are fighting over front row seats. As mentioned, there is a lot of sweetness, that exerts itself right from the start, but these is a lot of fruitiness as well. The Whisky is also nuts. I mean, full of nuttiness. All big and all upfront. I always get some coffee in good Caol Ila’s, and this time is no exception. Sweet coffee, with a tad of toffee in the coffee. It’s not stong black coffee but rather a sweet Cappuccino or Latte Macchiato. Underneath a nice, herbal and lightly bitter undertone (from oak). Long finish and similar aftertaste. Leaves me behind with salty lips. Good Whisky! I hope todays young Caol Ila’s are just as good and affordable.

Ohhh these were the days, where young Whisky seemed better than it is these days, or maybe I’m biased.  This is a very tasty Caol Ila, not overly complex and one I’ll come back to again and again. This will not take years to empty, which it usually takes me, since there are lots of open bottles around the place…

Today there is much ado about young Whiskies, especially NAS Whiskies. It seems NAS isn’t really accepted by everybody. It sometimes is viewed as a devilish plan selling us inferior and immature Whisky (sometimes at a premium price). On the other hand, when distilleries and independent bottlers alike, just mention an age statement of a young whisky there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore, since you know what you’re getting. Just look at the recently released Lagavulin 8yo and compare that to the plethora of NAS Taliskers (also owned by Diageo) and NAS Laphroaigs (not owned by Diageo), which seem to be under par and the fantasy names do not help the acceptance process of the (educated) public, or those who have seen different times buying Single Malt Whiskies.

For the fun of it, let’s compare this “9yo” Caol Ila to the NAS Talisker ‘Neist Point’. Smelling the Talisker after the Caol Ila, it is remarkable how much the Talisker smells of grainy immature Whisky and even shows some whiffs of new make! Much more than when smelled by itself alone. Although having new make in the mix is illegal, since Whisky must be at least 3 years old, there must be a big component of very young Whisky in the Talisker. The Caol Ila behaves like a 9yo, nice, well made, good cask, but lacking some of the complexity often brought to a Whisky by extensive maturation. In the taste it is noticeable that the Talisker has some more happening than just the new make, and young Whisky, alone. Thank God almighty. The Talisker needs some air to get the new make out, after that it is not bad, not bad at all. Sweet as well and buttery. The taste of the Talisker grows on you, even though the new make never really leaves the scene. A draw, or is it? Considering the amount of money Diageo wants for the Talisker (in some markets), the jury made a unanimous decision in favour of the Caol Ila. [sound of judge’s hammer on wood]

Points: 85

Glenrothes 1990/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Wood)

Time for an “oldie” Wow, I’m now calling a Whisky from 1990 an “oldie”, unbelievable how time flies. Here we have another Glenrothes. For one reason or another I seem to like independently released Glenrothes better than the official bottlings. Maybe the independents release their versions at a higher strength than the 43% ABV the owners themselves do. One thing is sure, besides that it needs to be at a higher strength, it is a distillate that need maturation in a Sherry cask, just like Macallan did. Do you still remember Sherried Macallans? Anyone?

Glenrothes 1990/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Wood)Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Lots of raisins. Soft creamy wood. Floral and slightly acidic Wine-attack. Linen. Nicely Sherried, waxy with dry powder. Earwax, coal and slightly tarry. Hint of dried out orange skin. Dusty attic (old home) and even a tiny hint of a dry rotting sensation, motor oil and vanilla. Whiffs of old woody Rum.

Taste: Creamy and rounded out. Big Sherried nose, but taste-wise not so heavy. Wood and a fruity acidity I sometimes get from PX-Sherry somehow don’t match perfectly. Does have a burning alcohol and warming sensation and a finish that lingers on for a while (raisins, honey and cask toast), but has no big staying power, medium I would say. It’s nice but it also seems to be telling it didn’t want the water. Maybe this would have been better without reduction, who knows? Nice, not very complex and not the heavy hitter I expected.

Well, this is bottled quite some time ago and in its day this was pretty affordable. Today Sherried bottlings that have no mayor flaws, like sulphur which many aficionado’s do not like, cost a pretty penny. This Glenrothes is big and small at the same time. Yes its heavily Sherried, but no it’s not a heavy hitter. It’s not brown, but orange. I really like the melancholy of it all. It reminds me of summer, dry and dusty, with aroma’s of old wood and furniture. In an attic isolated from sound with whiffs of flowers from outside. It may not be perfect nor very complex, but is it nice and highly drinkable. Has an old feel to it, as opposed to todays (sometimes sulphury) Sherry bottlings. “Lovely” would sum it up nicely.

Points: 86

Caol Ila 24yo 1975/2000 (54.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Millenium, Cask #2981, 259 bottles)

Even though it’s supposed to be summer, looking outside you could have convinced me of something different. I see people outside wearing coats and jackets. Yesterday I reviewed an Islay malt, Bruichladdich to be precise, and it didn’t taste too bad on these cold summer nights. So why not try another one. This time one by Italian independent bottler Wilson & Morgan, or Fabio for his friends. Earlier I reviewed a young Mortlach that Fabio bottled, that turned out to be pretty damn good! Let’s see if this Caol Ila is something down similar lines.

Color: Gold

Nose: Nice subdued elegant peat combined with fresh succulent grass. A really held back Islay. Apples and nice malty flavours. Nice old fat clay and bonfire smoke. Salty, absolutely very wow this is! Some powdery dryness and wet wood. Wet earth with a hint of some undefined sour fruit and dried meat. There is definitively some rain in this. What? Rain. I love Islay whiskies that smell like this.

Taste: Thinner than I had expected. Sweet with apple flavoured coffee. Grassy peat again. Cardboard and wet hay. The sweetness fits the fatty peat and is cloying. It’s a strange kind of sweetness. Again, the nose exactly fits the taste here. Salty lips. The finish doesn’t seem to have a lot of staying power.

Although its heritage is pretty obvious, for me it’s not a typical Caol Ila. Maybe I’m more used to Caol Ila’s from 1979 through 1984, so this could be typical for a Caol Ila from just after the rebuild. We’ll see. Still a very interesting dram. I know, usually that doesn’t sound good, interesting, but here it is used in a positive way, so this scores…

Points: 89

Mortlach 10yo 1989/2000 (57.2%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)

…and here is my second entry for our Genietschap gathering. Yesterday I reviewed an older expression of the ‘standard’ 16yo Flora and Fauna, and that was pretty good!

This Wilson & Morgan bottle was the opener of the day. Chosen for that reason because it was the youngest one.

Color: Copper Brown.

Nose: Yeah Baby! Heavy thick Sherry, meaty, but without the harshness and without the Sulphur! What a character and that at only 10yo. Raisins. Tarry and dry. Nice and you can even call this fresh and perfumy.

Taste: oh yeah (again!). Dry Sherry (at first) with tar and coal, than sweeter with a peppery attack. The coal, fabulous, just an old steam locomotive in here, and warm asphalt. Again there is nothing off here, not much wood, no sulphur and not harsh.

Very nice play between a sour and sweet note in the finish (amongst others some orange peel). It’s not only very good, but very interesting as well.

Would I have known it then, this would have been bought by the case! I’ll do something bold here, and score this young one at least…

Points: 90