The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2016)

Remember Master Quill’s Highland Park Week? Remember day two? I went completely bonkers by reviewing a different batch of a recent Highland Park 18yo. Why would one do that when they are supposed to be quite similar? First I reviewed a 2012 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2014 batch. We all know the industry is always insuring consistency between different batches. Consistency is the magic word, and at least in color, and color only (or so they say), consistency is achieved by adding caramel coloring. If you read both Highland Park 18yo reviews you’ll see there is quite a difference between both batches. The difference being five points! My last two Balvenie reviews were also of two different batches of the 12yo Doublewood. First I reviewed a 2014 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2004 batch. I found that even though the batches were ten years apart, at least quality-wise, the difference was not that great, although the 2014 showed that some Sherry-influence was traded in by sweetness. The difference being only one point.

This triggered a response of Nico, one of my readers claiming there is a larger negative shift in the quality of his 2016 batch Balvenie 12 Doublewood. He invited me over try find out for myself. Well, Master Quill is an adventurous guy, so an appointment was made, and I drove over, but not without a bottle of a very early Balvenie 21yo Portwood in my bag and this 17yo. After a very nice dinner with white gold (asparagus) and a wonderful piece of salmon, the Balvenie tasting begun…

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Sweet Sherry on a bed of sugared yellow fruits. Caramel and toffee sweetness, but this time with lots of fruits and even a floral bouquet. Extremely friendly and accessible, but strange enough it also reminds me a bit of a sugared Rum. Vanilla from American oak. Cereal and oat cookies. All seems to blend well together, it’s almost one big aroma. No off notes, but you have to work on it to detect some separation between the different constituents of the aroma. I’m missing some wood actually. The chewy sweetness seems to hide it. Hints of warm (not burnt) plastic and some toasted wood and cardboard. Smells you get when ironing clothes. Hey, there is the wood-word! Hint of cherries. But yes, there is a blanket of dumbing “sweetness”, dulling the whole. Initially its friendly and likable, but there is also something not quite right. Maybe dull is a word I should use again?

Taste: After Nico’s notes, I expected it to be sweeter, but that’s how expectations work. Still, it has the taste of sugar-water. Worse, the same is noticeable as in the nose. It seems to be some sort of mono-aroma. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs we encountered this “effect” when adding caramel coloring (E150-a) to four otherwise unadulterated Whiskies (link below). It shaves off highs and lows from the original Single Malt Whisky, making it taste more like a Blended Whisky. When the Whisky is entering my mouth, al seems to be ok, but the body already starts to disintegrate right after that, focussing on an oaky and acidic note. Later the cereal and sweaty cookie notes make a short appearance. Again no separation between the aroma’s. Short finish and no aftertaste worth mentioning. Well cookies, smelly socks maybe and something burnt. Toasted White Wine cask. This is not good. Unbalanced. Whisky like this is no fun. Avoid. (I washed the taste down with the wrong batch of Highland Park 18 (82 points), and that was (now) amazing, at least it smelled amazing…

I could deal with the sweetness. I guess I don’t think it is as sweet as Nico mentions, but I was surprised with the mono-aroma, the complete lack of complexity and development and the quick break-down. I believe this has definitely suffered from too much added caramel. It has all the life squeezed out of it. The nose sort of shows what kind of Whisky this used to be/could have been. Claiming adding caramel does nothing but changeling the color is pretty ignorant. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to conduct your own caramel experiment and see (taste) for yourself.

Points: 72 (eleven whopping points below the 2014 batch and ten whopping points lower than the wrong batch of Highland park 18yo)

Thanks go out to Nico for obvious reasons, and Michel again for the excellent E-pistle.

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Benromach “Traditional” (40%, OB, 2004)

This is quite a unique bottling. In 1993, Gordon & MacPhail acquired the distillery, but it took them ’till 2004 to release this “Traditional”. The very first Benromach made by the new regime. Alas, today the traditional is no more, it has been replaced, last year, by the 5yo. For me this is a unique bottling, whereas everybody is coming up with, sometimes, silly names for their Whiskies, Gordon & MacPhail decided otherwise. They mothballed the “Traditional” name and replaced it with the 5yo, yes an age statement, so it’s not a NAS anymore. For some, “5” is a pretty low number, but at least you get a better sense of what to expect. Luckily this trend is gaining momentum as well, since there will be a Lagavulin 8yo shortly, and I expect quite a lot from that one. Back to the “Traditional”. It is said to be 20% first fill Sherry and the rest comes from first fill Bourbon. All first fill casks, so they must have impaired quite some aroma to this young Whisky.

Benromach TraditionalColor: Straw.

Nose: Barley, butter and lemon water. Very light and does not want to come out of the glass. Hints of Sherry and spicy oak. More barley and grassy notes come next. A bit dull, restrained, as in it doesn’t greet you, popping out of the glass with lots of fresh and citrussy notes. No, it’s restrained, like an English butler. By now, we have gotten used to the slightly peaty and waxy notes, but here it was something of a first. For those of you who know the new 10yo, both the reduced or the 100 proof version, this is definitely family. The peat is typical, and the waxyness of the spirit as well, so for me this is easily recognizable as a modern Benromach. The Cragganmore I reviewed last, had Fino Sherry written all over it, but I have to say, this one has some notes of that kind of Sherry as well. Hints of new make spirit, so a bit immature. There is also something missing here. This is said to be 80% first fill Bourbon, but where then is the vanilla? It’s there but the peaty notes overpower it. Nice.

Taste: Barley again and definitely sugar-water, with some hidden vanilla and paper underneath, did I mention that it is a bit restrained? At first that’s all there is. Soft. Pudding and paper again. Paper-like and peaty bitterness. Fatty. Diluted liquid honey. Hints, really only mere hints of red fruits (from the Sherry I guess). Slightly warming finish, with peat and again a lot of sweetness. Although it has a very light and uneventful (restrained) finish, it does have some staying power. Totally un-complex, which has a slightly different meaning than “simple”. A first offering but not quite there yet. The bitterness stays behind for the aftertaste.

This brings me to the subject of blind tasting, believed to be the most fair of all ways of tasting spirits. First of all, blind tasting is not entirely objective, since the taster is not objective, and not blind for that matter. You also have different moods and different expectations. Second, a blind tasting is usually done with several Whiskies, so you tend to compare the one to the other, both interact with each other, you like one over the other, but what if in a particular flight is this NAS Benromach as well as a Lagavulin 37yo, which would you prefer? I first tasted this in such a flight and my initial score was 65 Points. This time I’m tasting it by itself, and I know what it is. If I’m in the mood for a Whisky like this, I wouldn’t grab the Lagavulin 37yo now would I? Just like every other Whisky out there, every one has their time and place, but yes the Lagavulin is a way better Whisky, with a way better price-tag as well…

This Benromach is young and simple (un-complex). And not every aroma seems to fit, especially in the taste, but it is also light, grassy, citrussy and fresh, as well as peaty and bitter (and sweet). So it has its moment. Some would call it their summer Whisky. Its nice, simple and…restrained.

Points: 72

Jameson (40%, OB, Circa 2012)

Today if anyone mentions an Irish Coffee, you say Jameson. If you say Irish Whiskey, you still say Jameson, unless you’re an anorak, than you might say something different, like Connemara, if you like it peated, or Teeling, or Middleton. Enough to choose from and Irish Whiskey is on the rise again, and that is really great! It’s the ancient battle between the Scottish and the Irish, where Whiskey originated from, so why then is the Scottish Whisky so big and why was the Irish Whisky nearly dead in the recent past? There are enough examples of fabulous Irish Whiskeys and there is this Jameson. The oldest and best known of all Irish Whiskeys. Again a bottle you see in all the hotel bars and restaurant and in many homes as well.

When I started getting interested in Whisky in general, a long, long time ago, it started with Jim Beam White, the obvious Jack Daniels, Scottish blends like Teachers and Grant’s, and this Jameson. I hated Jack Daniels and Jameson actually, so I moved quickly into Single Malts and was immediately sold on Aberlour and Laphroaig. The rest is history.

Jameson (40%, OB, Circa 2012)Color: Gold.

Nose: Toffee and caramel. Grainy, fruity and quite fresh. The fruity note is quite lovely. Actually it reminds me of Gin a bit. The fresh, juniper like smell with some well hidden clean alcohol. Definitely grainy and seems to me in part like a sweet Dutch Jenever. It also has a paper like quality. This really smells nice, and I don’t recognize the nose from the first bottle of Jameson’s I had. Is that saying something about me, or is that saying something about Jameson? When the Gin aroma’s dissipate a bit, it at least smells like a Whiskey. And a very pleasant one too. Hints of spicy wood, paper and light wax.

Taste: Paper soaked in sweet apricot water. Definitely a bigger and sweeter body, than I remember from my first encounter with this Whiskey. Yes, slightly fruity sugar-water, with a hint of Whiskey. This sounds pretty negative, but let me tell you it is tasty (in a way). It is nice, very light and extremely simple stuff, but tasty nevertheless. No real off notes, not even the paper notes. but also hardly a Whiskey I guess. Short warming finish, with a short but nice aftertaste. Should work well in Irish Coffee! Otherwise, this is only suitable as an aperitif. If you use this as an after dinner dram, you’ll lose a lot of the subtleties.

This actually smells quite nice, I’m surprised. It is something you could drink easily. How is easy. Anything goes. Mix it, drink it straight out of the bottle, use a straw, you name it. It’s the Whisk(e)y-worlds lemonade, and not as horrible as I remember it. Compared to the “Select Reserve” this is more vibrant and a tad more fruity and playful which suits this destillate. I prefer this one, but the 18yo is way better, way more special, and costs more. If you’re interested in the Jameson 18yo, you’d probably do better with a Redbreast 15yo, but I think I mentioned that before.

Points: 72

Compass Box “Asyla” (40%, OB, Circa 2006)

After the Chivas Regal 12yo, a Blended Whisky from a big company, let’s see what the little, more independent, guy can do. A guy with a passion for blending. Obviously I’m talking about John Glaser, and his Compass Box Whisky Company. A company that all Single Malt aficionado’s seem to love. We’ll have a look at an early “Asyla” here. Asyla is part of Compass Box’s signature range, or core range for us normal folks. A quick look at the website of Compass Box learns us that Asyla is the lightest of the signature range, calling it delicate and sweet.

Only Whiskies from first fill used American oak casks were used, for vanilla purposes obviously. The Malt’s used are Linkwood (30%), Glen Elgin (10%) and Teaninich (10%) and the Grain comes from Cameronbridge (50%). Sometimes Longmorn is also named as an “ingredient” for this blend, because the Compass Box website mentions that the Malts for this blend hail from the towns of Longmorn and Alness. Looking at the map you can say that Linkwood and Glen Elgin come form the town of Longmorn, so I’m not sure that there is any Longmorn in this blend. Since Asyla is around for quite some time, maybe the Malts that go into this blend differ from time to time. For now I’ll stick to Linkwood, Glen Elgin and Teaninich though. Before I forget, the other four offerings from the signature range are: “Oak Cross”, “The Spice Tree”, “The Peat Monster” and “Hedonism”. Of course outside of the signature range, a plethora of other bottlings exist.

Compass Box AsylaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Grainy, light, yet perfumed. Floral at first but also fruity, with a tiny hint of pineapple and green sour apple skin. Sometimes I even get a trace of lavas. Heaps of vanilla shoveled on top, and given some time even some spicy wood. More than a hint of Calvados, an Apple Cider distillate from Normandy or Brittany. Dry and powdery. Sweetness is mentioned by Compass Box themselves, but for me the nose doesn’t carry a promise of sweetness, in any way or form. Elegant and light, but alas also a bit thin and anonymous.

Taste: Paper and grain come first, after that a blend of sweetness and (virgin) oak, although no virgin oak was used for this one. The vanilla presents itself after the paper and grain, and a slight bitter note, fade out. Not a lot of development going on, and you’re probably not surprised this doesn’t have a long finish as well. The finish itself seems to be a bit unbalanced, due to some acidity from the oak. The oak seems a bit fresh, as in not used for a long time when it contained Bourbon (or Tennessee Whiskey).

To be honest other bottlings of Compass Box made me expect more from this. Something in the order of a variant of Delilah’s. It should have been more creamy and even more towards the vanilla note so vehemently advertised.

Sure. Whisky is the product of spirit and wood (amongst others), but the bitterness it could do without, and as I said, it should have been more creamy. If you can find it, get a Delilah’s by the same bottler, and you’ll know what I mean.

I do like a lot of Compass Box Whiskies, but this one is not entirely for me, and that’s a surprise, because I expected this would be better than the Chivas Regal 12yo. Maybe age does matter?

Score: 72

Compass Box “Orangerie” (40%, OB, 2008)

Oranges and Whisky, where have I heard that before? Ah yes the new Amrut. This Orangerie isn’t Whisky, but it isn’t a liqueur either, as it doesn’t have the required additional sugar. Orangerie is made with soft and sweet Malt and Grain Whiskies, infused with (a lot of) Navalino orange peel and Indonesian Cassia bark, a kind of cinnamon and Cloves from Sri Lanka. It almost sounds like the desert from the menu of a very posh restaurant. The Navalino oranges are hand zested at the Compass Box HQ. So when coming in to the office they never know what John has in store for the people at Compass Box.

Compass Box OrangerieColor: Vibrant gold, thick and syrupy.

Nose: Oranges and dark chocolate. Orange skins yes, but not a lot of orange juice. Still there is some juice in here to be found, it has some hints of orange pulp. Hints of vanilla and lots of cloves. The bark used seems to be the glue that holds it together. Smelling it more vigorously, yes there is some Whisky underneath. It smells like something you’d combine with dark chocolate. Give some time, this has also a floral part, but also another dimension of the fruit emerges. Very strange but in the distance it has some characteristics of Gewürztraminer. Not a lot, but some if it is in here.

Taste: Not sweet at all. It’s Whisky all right, orange skin and spices. That’s it. No sweetness. Tiny hint og bitterness, enough to give it character, but too little to overpower. Try it again and forget the statement that this is a liqueur, because it isn’t. Not enough sweetness. It’s all aroma. Take another sip. Just like the nose, it has a lot to do with dark chocolate. On the palate it’s in the spirit already, but this has to be combined with dark chocolate.

Special stuff, and a niche by itself. It claims to be a Whisky, it’s not. It has additions, so it’s not a Whisky anymore. It claims to be a liqueur, but it’s not. Not enough sugar. No bad thing, this will save your teeth. Nope, it’s something else. It’s a quality mixture. Not something for every moment though. You won’t empty it quickly. Once in a while, you just want to take a sip of this and pair it with nice dark chocolate…

Points: 72

Marieke – Oostenburgs Blond Bier (6.8%, 33 cl)

Marieke is, after Fonkel, the second Beer by Brouwerij Oostenburg. The people behind the brewery still don’t have their own brewery yet, but make their beers at the brewery of De 7 Deugden in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Earlier you could read about the wonderful Fonkel, and today we’ll have a look at the just released Blonde Beer by Brewery Oostenburg. For those of you who can read Dutch, you might enjoy the nice romantic language on their site.

Brewery Oostenburg like so many others, started out as a hobby brewery but is rapidly becoming more serious, brewing special Beers for special occasions. The brewers, (no names are mentioned on the website), are trying to brew Beers with a flavor combination that was not there yet, so in that sense they started with the wonderful Fonkel (cloves). Marieke is a Blonde Beer, which to me doesn’t sound like something “special” since there are already numerous Blonde Beers around. Also a glance at the ingredients doesn’t tell us anything special. Still the wonderful Fonkel fills me with anticipation…

MariekeColor: Dark blonde, maybe even amber, with just the right amount of ivory foam, but less than Fonkel.

Nose: Fresh citrus odor. Hits of yeast and hops, but both are not very upfront. Advised drinking temperature for this beer is 6 – 8º C and that’s a temperature the nose of a Beer usually is pretty closed. What stays is the fresh or refreshing smell this Beer has. Very appetizing. The foam is about two centimetres thick, holds on for a while and then disappears rather quickly.

Taste: Very light when the beer enters the mouth. Light woody (hoppy naturally) bitterness and estery (tiny hint of banana) taste. Not the body I’ve expected. Short finish. The alcohol is not upfront. The refreshing nose doesn’t come back in the taste. And the whole taste dances around its, not too heavy, bitterness.

The strong points of this beer is in the beginning. Nice color, nice amount of foam. Clean looking with some dabs of yeast. Also nice is it’s smell. Is smells appetizing and refreshing. The taste however, for me, is too light. At entry, a nice bitterness helps the Beer along, but in the end the bitterness is too weak to give Marieke a nice voluptuous body. Marieke has a slim body, and actually, she doesn’t leave a lasting impression. That’s maybe Mariekes weakest point, a very light finish of hops and yeast which dissipates too quickly.

This beer has just been released and readers of my Beer posts will remember I believe in ageing Beers. This is freshly brewed and might gain from ageing. The brewers already got a lot right so I can imagine next batches of this beer to be even better. When tasting this Beer, I have found better development at a higher temperature than advised. 8 to 10º C seems more right to me.

In the end I’m quite disappointed with Marieke. Fonkel really is a Beer with an idea behind it and it seems to me the recipe was perfected over time (in a kitchen or something). This idea of brewing something special was conveyed onto us by word of the website, but Marieke, to me, has not that special idea behind its creation and may have been released too quick.

Points: 72

Santa Cristina Umbria IGT 2011

Somehow this is the end of some sort of trilogy. Earlier I reviewed a rosé and a red by Santa Cristina, and now here is a white, or Bianco. Way back in time I was told that Santa Cristina has a pretty good red in the shops, so I started buying some different vintages and was actually never disappointed. Much later I got hold of a rose wine by Santa Cristina and that one I didn’t like that much. Now here we have a chance to have a look at a white wine by Santa Cristina. By the way, this white wine is made with the Grechetto and Procanico grape varieties.

Color: Light White Wine.

Nose: Sweet and fresh, with hints of creamy and sugared apricots, but also hints of flowers. After the sweet apricot yoghurt I’m a bit struggling to get any more from this nose. The nose of this wine is appealing like a lemonade is, so probably a summery wine.

Taste: Very light, and not as sweet as I initially thought.Very anonymous. Slightly acidic and austere. Almost metallic. Actually this lacks a bit of sweetness to round the flavour out. Not very complex, which is no problem for a summery wine, but also lacks in the balance department, if you ask me.

For a light summery wine this could have been more appealing with some added sweetness. One-dimensional. Extremely simple wine. It does taste like a wine with an ABV of 12%, but when drunk like a lemonade, you will get a kick in the head, especially in the sun. Altogether not very interesting.

As said before, I was tipped some time ago about Santa Cristina wines (the reds). Now that I have tasted all three colours of Santa Cristina, I’m sticking to the reds. Santa Cristina red is good for pizza!

Points: 72