Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky “Inaugural Release” 2014/2017 (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 4000 bottles)

Every year our team attends the Whisky Show in London, and every year we come across something that surprises us. Usually it is a particular distiller. One time it was the range of Tomatin, and more recently we really liked the stuff of Indian Distiller Paul John. For example, last year, the only bottle I bought was a single cask Paul John. This year we found that the crux of the festival seemed not to be a particular distiller or brand, rather than the high quality of young Whiskies and/or new distilleries. Sure, there was a plethora of amazing old Whiskies on the Gordon & MacPhail stand and there is always nice super-premium stuff at the Diageo stand, but for us this year was about very nice young Whiskies. And guess what, they all came with age statements! Yes, it can be done! Funny enough, also young Whiskies coming from distilleries, people, (including me), tend to ignore. So, this year, I returned home with an 8 year old Tamnavulin, an 8 year old Glen Moray, a 10 year old Glenlivet and finally a 12 year old Tormore. All young, age stated, single casks and all from independent bottlers. Highly affordable as well. Before I forget, equally amazing was the Ailsa Bay and the man behind it. Today we are going to look at another young Whisky. The first release of an English Single Malt Whisky from the Cotswolds.

In my mind when a new distillery opens, it’s the brain child of two blokes who think they can do things better and try to conquer the world. Yes, I’m a romantic. Not true here, the two blokes thing, that is. This Whisky isn’t made in a shed in the Cotswolds. No, the Cotswolds distillery is the brain-child of Daniel Szor. A New York banker from Polish descent. Unfortunately his parents never learned him the language. Believe me, I tried, nope, Cotswolds is definitely not a shed. It’s a full fled distillery with tours and everything and a lot of staff, a lot, so I guess mr. Szor has some big plans, and is here to stay!

Color: Gold.

Nose: Floral, zesty, young and very perfumy. Big aroma. Cinnamon, cinnamon (again), more cinnamon and bread, cereal, sawdust and lots of notes from first fill Bourbon casks. Vanilla pods and Sinaspril pills. So yes, a nice acidic note as well. Insence sticks. No off-notes whatsoever and hardly any trace of new-made spirit. Nice wood, beautiful wood actually. Dry leaves and toasted toffee. Hints of candied yellow fruits in the distance. Spicy like an Indian Malt. Not sure this comes from the wood or are they using indian six-row barley at Cotswolds? The florality reminds me of Indian Whisky as well. Very appetizing. Well balanced and again a very big nose. Wonderful aroma’s coming together nicely. Still young and it already shows a lot of potential, which doesn’t mean this inaugural release isn’t worth it, because it is! Well done team!

Taste: On entry a wee bit thinner than expected and after that, an elegant and mouth coating young Malt emerges. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, with toffee and caramel notes, and a lot of aromas coming from the first fill Bourbon casks. Making the body “bigger” than the entry was. Not as sweet as the nose promised. Already some nice yellow fruits though, as well as a hint of latex paint and machine oil? Wow. A desert in itself. Sweetish. Vanilla with a spicy note added to it. Just like the nose, quite Indian in style. Very appetizing stuff. The wood is almost virgin now, with a sharp spicy edge to it. Oats and crackers. Cigarette ash and toasted oak mixed with light fruity acidity. Again, lots of balance for such a young malt from a new distillery. Nice aftertaste.

Amazing inaugural release of Cotswolds. I’m told this is three years old plus one day, (some mentioned four days, but who is counting days in Whisky?). Amazing Indian style nose reminding me of some Paul John releases but foremost of this Amrut.

As mentioned in the introduction. Distilleries these days, are able to put out some very nice young Whiskies, even the ugly ducklings of yesteryear, you know, those anonimous distilleries distilling for blends only, like the aforementioned Tamnavulin. Amazing stuff, but on the other hand, we the consumer, we also had some time, by way of NAS-Whiskies, to get used to the taste of younger Whiskies. Maybe we just needed some time to adjust, and accept the times they are a-changing? Really old Whiskies these days cost the same amount of money as a new car, and something a bit younger still costs about the same as a nice vacation. So yes, we did get used to the taste of younger Whiskies, but nevertheless, there is much good stuff going around, just different from the stuff we bought 10 or 20 years ago…

Points: 84

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The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84

Tres Hombres XV Años (42%, 2013, Dominican Republic)

Although Tres Hombres sounds very “Spanish” and the Rum hails from the Dominican Republic, this is a Dutch brand with a nice story behind it. Tres Hombres are three Dutch friends called Andreas, Jorne and Arjen who in 2007 started the world’s first emissions free shipping company. Today the company is called Fairtransport and has five ships in their fleet, one of which is called “Tres Hombres”. Apart from the ship and their nickname, Tres Hombres is obviously also a brand, put on Rum, coffee and chocolate. So when your cargo is shipped west, no ship returns empty. Sailing emissions free, the company also focusses on transporting special products which are organic, or crafted traditionally, like olive oil, Wine and Rum. When sailing back from the Caribbean, powered only by the wind, the journey takes a while and it is said that the Rum ages on the ocean, adding to the flavour.

This particular example, edition 05, from 2013, is a solera 15, so it is not a true 15yo Rum. The Rum is made by Oliver & Oliver. A company we already came across when reviewing Presidente 23 Años, also the Atlantico Reserva and Private Cask I reviewed earlier are sourced from Oliver & Oliver, this time for a Miami based brand owner. Even though Rums like this might be sweet, and you get duped a bit with the “age”statement, all examples mentioned were good for the style they represent.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Smells like a typical Rum. Warm with a promise of some vegetal dirty sweetness. Soft. All is here, wood and leather, but again soft and laid back. Vanilla powder, maybe even powdered coffee creamer. Virgin oak. After letting it sit for a while, the wood gets more assertive, and sharper, which I welcome very much, still underneath the feel of warm sugar-water. Now we also get some unlit cigarette tobacco and even a more spicy feel. A breath of fresh (sea?) air even. Dry leaves, wood and tea. Vegetal with tiny hints of latte macchiato, tea and hot chocolate. Very late in the mix some red fruits sweets. A nice Rum, yet overall it smells a bit simple, maybe less complex would be a better way to describe it. Likeable nevertheless.

Taste: On entry a bit thin. It isn’t thick nor cloying, which is good. I expected something different. Spicy oak. Vegetal again, but different from the nose. This time it’s autumn forest floor (on a sunny day, so without the damp and the rot). Cold tea with hints of chocolate powder. Hardly sweet, people! It drinks like the Epris I reviewed recently. With this I do not mean it resembles the Epris because it smells entirely different and the taste is quite different as well. It’s a different style altogether. I guess you need a bit more experience to wrap your head around the Epris. The Tres Hombres may lack complexity, and it’s not in your face, nor is it big (or sweet) like a Demerara or a funky Jamaican, but it is likeable, like a puppy is. Amazing. I love the way the soft wood presents itself here. Were the casks on deck, stewing in the sun?

When you pick up some experience along they way, I have to say this smells a (more than a) bit in the same line as the other Oliver & Oliver Rums I mentioned above. Tastewise however, this one does show that the people at Oliver & Oliver are perfectly capable in making (blending) different Rums. Lovely puppy, and puppies aren’t 15yo nor is this Rum.

Points: 84

Calvados Week – Day 6: de Querville Calvados Vieille Reserve (40%, AOC Pays d’Auge, Circa 2012)

Logo Calvados WeekI already liked yesterday’s Vieux very much, so I’m quite happy I can try it’s slightly older brother (or sister) as well. The Vieux is 3yo old, and this Vieille Réserve has a minimum age of 4yo. Not a big step, so with only a little more age to it, I expect it to be only a little bit better. Meaning, more mature, with even better balance and definitely more depth to it. Let’s compare…

de Querville Vieille ReserveColor: Almost gold.

Nose: Buttery with vanilla. Nice restrained apple aroma’s like the Toutain I reviewed earlier. Warm apples and cookie dough. Warm and cozy (unlike the Toutain I reviewed earlier). Underneath a quality you get from Grappa. A bit of hay (well, more than a bit actually, but its hidden in the plethora of other aroma’s) and dry grass. Not a freshly mown lawn though. Hints of warm gravy mixed with vanilla. Honey, almonds and sandalwood. A tiny spot of horse piss on hazelnuts and stained wood. What a combination. Like many Calvados’, this also needs a lot of air to develop, and when it does, it’s quite rewarding, giving more and more honey, and notes from White Wine. These distillates from de Querville do suit me. Extremely smooth when it gets some air. On the nose definitely a step up from the Vieux.

Taste: Half sweet and quite light at first, but it already starts to work in my mouth. Sugar water (in style), caramel and soft toffee, but more the creamy bits of it, than the sweetness. Apple compote and a tiny hint of pear. Hints of spicy wood, but not much of it. Paper dust and finally some apple skins.

Yes, this has some more added depth to it, so this has probably some older distillates mixed in than the mere 4yo mentioned. It may be only a year (officially), but for me this has definitely more of everything, Which one to pick depends on price I guess, but considering both are more than reasonably priced I would pick up this one. But both are good. By now, I think, I’ve gotten quite a taste for Calvados. Who would have known. Apple Brandy. Moi? Yes please!

Points: 84

Glengoyne “Cask Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch #4, 2015)

In 2012 Glengoyne launched their NAS offering simply called “Cask Strength”, because that is what it is. A cask strength Whisky without an age statement. Before that, the Cask Strength offering did already exist, but it was also 12yo. In this case, rumours have it, that the Whisky isn’t all that young. So I don’t expect a 3yo Whisky with a few older casks thrown in to give it some depth. Sure there is “Burnfoot” and there are 5 batches of “Teapot Dram”, but that’s about it. No more NAS from Glengoyne. Nope, the regular range of Glengoyne is made up of good old-fashioned numbers like 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25. Above that a recent 35yo comes into play, but expect to pay a lot of hard-earned cash for that one. Back to the one without a number, this time bottled at a hefty 58.8% ABV. I sometimes tend to whine a bit about Whiskies being reduced too much, well I don’t think that will be the case this time. Lets find out if it’s any good, shall we?

glengoyne-cask-strength-batch-4Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Nice funky Sherry, cask toast, mocha and vanilla. Funky as in not sparkling or fruity, nope, its deeper and more brooding than that. Less welcoming and dark. Medieval. Bread and barley, lots of it. Warm (toasted) bread, so definitely a cereal note. No trace of new make spirit though, so it’s not a 3yo NAS. However, there is some youth to it. Nevertheless, sometimes, it really does remind me a bit of Whisky made some time ago as well, so definitely a Whisky with multiple facets. Next whiff is of a slightly floral and herbal perfume. This could be interesting. When given some time to breathe, hints of new make do emerge, and the funky, sulky notes from the start, ease up a bit, to become more friendly and floral. Glengoyne are adamant about not using peat, but this does have a smoky note probably provided by toasted (Sherry) oak. It gives it more backbone and a bigger aroma. Meaty. Dusty vanilla powder. This is an autumn Whisky. If it’s October, bad weather, this is your dram. I like it. If I had to sum it up in a few words: Cereal, (American) oak and Sherry. Well balanced yet not all that complex though, also lacking some development and balance. This could do with some more ageing, which would obviously affect the price.

Taste: Barley, bread and quite sweet. Lots of Sherry and creamy notes. Fruity with a nice oaky bite. Old warehouse. Right from the start already better than the nose. More balance and tastier than it smells. Sure its a bit hot, because it has a lot of alcohol and the wood is also quite active. Lots of wood notes. Pencil shavings and oak from the start. Vanilla but also toasted oak and virgin oak. More pencil shavings. The woody bit is quite nice and kept in check by the sweetness of the Malt. A winning combination. The entry is great and the body nice big and sweet. The sweetness isn’t lasting though making way for a more woody, dry and (fruity) acidic side of the Whisky. It’s a two-stage Whisky. Again, not the most complex in the world, but very tasty and very good value to boot. Definitely one for drinking and less for smelling if you ask me, unless you are patient and let it breathe for quite some time. It gains a lot in the balance department that way.

You’ve got to love Glengoyne, for advertising not using peat for drying their malt. Especially when the world is peat-mad. Hey even Glendronach and several other Speyside distilleries offer peated expressions. When will we see a peated expression of Glengoyne? Remember Macallan advertising that their dram is so special because of the hand-picked Oloroso casks? Well look what happened there… No fuss at Glengoyne, just like Springbank. Making Whisky their way and doing it well. No funny names, no marketing tricks, mostly age statements, although Teapot Dram almost is a funny name.

Points: 84 (same score as Batch #1, but not as high as the previous 12yo cask strength expressions that I scored between 86 to 88 points)

Thanks go out to Alan for the sample, thanks mate!

Tomatin 14yo “Port Casks” (46%, OB, Tawny Port Pipes Finish, 2016)

I come from a time when Distilleries started experimenting with other casks than the usual Bourbon and Sherry casks. When Whiskies finished in Wine casks, Port casks and Rum casks popped up in the market, I actually preferred the Rum cask versions the most. I didn’t particularly like the Wine and Port finishes. It’s not because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of change, because today there are lots of these finishes around that are pretty good, but when I taste back the first examples they still are not-so-good. Port was an easy choice for distillers and blenders I guess, since it is related to Sherry and both are fortified Wines. However Sherry casks and Port casks yield very different Whiskies.

I guess the early versions were finished in casks that previously held Ruby Port. Young and bold stuff, which made for a very raw and harsh Whisky, especially when finished for too long. The U.K. loves Vintage Port which are excellent Ruby Ports, 2 years old, so the obvious starting point for experimentation with finishing. Today we see more and more Port finishes done in Port Pipes that previously held Tawny Port. Tawny Ports are older Ports, that turn (reddish) brown from oxidation. For this 14yo expression Tomatin first matured the Whisky in Bourbon barrels and for the finish they used Port Pipes that previously held Tawny port for 50 years! The 14yo Tomatin was first introduced in 2014, a replacement for the 15yo, which came from Bourbon casks only. Tomatin also discontinued the 25yo which also was from Bourbon casks only. In 2016 we saw a complete revamp of the design, so this review is for the “new”14yo, number four in the core range preceded by the “Legacy”, the 12yo and a Cask Strength version without an age statement (We’ll get to that one later).

Tomatin 14yo Port Casks 2016Color: Gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Musty and definitely recognizable as a Port finish. It is quite obvious to say the least. Also the color gave it away. You don’t get this pinkish hue, from caramel coloring, and wine finishes smell differently, however it also reminds me a bit of a Jenever fully matured in a Bordeaux cask. Apart from the typical fruity Portiness there is an unusual hay-like aroma, like Grappa has, it is different from your usual Whisky. In the back there is also a more creamy, vanilla note, softening the whole up. Nice soft wood as well. Although the finish is quite strong, it isn’t overpowering, and the Whisky remains balanced. Nevertheless, the finish ís strong enough not to let Tomatin’s signature tropical fruitiness through.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Chewy. Here the finish isn’t as strong at first like in the nose. Here it starts with sweet and creamy Bourbon cask notes, but the Port quickly exerts itself. I don’t know yet if the burnt note I get, comes from toasted oak, or from the Port pipes (or both). A fruity acidity lies on top, so less balance here than on the nose. Hints of paper (not cardboard, which is heavier and less likeable). The whole is quite creamy and friendly. Well made and quite bold to let the Port finish speak its mind. Creamy, fruity, slightly burnt and some nice wood. That sums it up. Medium finish.

This is daily drinker material. Something I would reach for quite often. Sure you can analyze it to death, but why should you. I already did that for you. Not very expensive and fun to drink and definitely different from most other expressions in the shops today.

Points: 84 (same score as the previous version)

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2004)

It has been 15 months since I last reviewed a Balvenie on these pages, and how convenient now, that is was also a 12yo Doublewood. However, the previous review was about a Doublewood bottled in 2014 and here we have an example of the same Whisky, the only difference being, that was bottled a decade earlier, 2004. You never know, but I think I know which one will be better…

the-balvenie-12yo-doublewood-2004Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Spicy Sherry notes, bursting with aroma. Deep honeyed layers somewhat reminiscent of Bourbon. Nice oaky feel, combined with some hints of vanilla, warm butter, hot gravy, cardboard and paper. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Definitely some sweet barley notes underneath, accompanied by soe sweet/acid red fruit notes. Candied cherries, waxy red apple skins and meaty Sherry. Very much Sherry driven but the underlying Bourbon notes are a good match as well. Excellent big nose, with all aroma’s well integrated. wow. This brings back memories from when I first started to drink Single Malt Whisky. One thing is certain, the entry-level Whiskies form a decade ago were different from (the same) entry-level Whiskies of today.

Taste: The start is creamy and buttery. Pudding and custard. Next come the drier woody bits. Sawdust and oak. Slightly warming but also a bit too thin.The wood gives it a bitter edge. The Sherry aroma’s must be rather heavy since they come a bit late to the party. And here they are. Somewhat dark and brooding and slightly syrupy. But no doom and gloom, because on top there is a fresher and more acidic fruity note as well. Hints of warm apple sauce, which is very much different from the apple skins I got in the nose. Waxy with hints of Calvados. Towards the finish it starts to break down a bit. The waxy sweetness stays behind the longest, as, for a while, does the bitter edge (pencil shavings), but the distinct aroma’s merge first and then fade away…

Wonderful stuff brought down a bit by the 40% ABV. Should have been higher. Nevertheless, you don’t hear me complaining because it is big enough to overcome the 40% ABV. Very nice stuff especially the start. It tastes best right upon entry. It’s still going strong when it develops in your mouth, but loses grip a bit when finishing. At least a medium finish, but the overall aroma stays behind for quite a while with a nice and warming quality to it.

Points: 84