Highland Park Week – Day 5: Highland Park 9yo 1988/1997 (59.6%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #10700, 630 bottles)

Lets backup in time even some more. We stay in the land of the independent bottler, this time Signatory Vintage. We are going to take a look at another Highland Park matured in a Sherry cask, a butt even. This one is an even younger example at 9 years of age. The G&M/Whisky Mercenary bottling was 20yo, The Wilson & Morgan was around 14yo, and this Signatory Vintage bottling is a mere 9yo. Highly unusual back then, not so unusual today, since demand has risen dramatically. There is no time anymore to age the bulk of Whisky when there are so much of you around, dear readers. We’ll also go back in time bit since this was distilled in 1988. That is almost 30 years ago!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry, but this time with some quality behind it. Meaty and buttery as well, with some nice distant fruit going on. Dusty mocha and milk-chocolate. Dark chocolate as well. Steam, sowing-machine oil. Clean toilet notes, not to be mistaken by a freshly cleaned toilet odour. I know this sounds pretty peculiar, but I get it in this, so I couldn’t help myself and had to write it down. Deeper and more brooding. Probably Oloroso. Cedar wood with an oriental spice-mix and pencil shavings. Even though it is a young Whisky, it already smells like something from another era. Christmas spices. Christmas cake. Dusty and very thick. luxury and velvety, just like the box. The more it breathes the better is gets, give it lots of room for development. A much better Sherry cask than the one, the 1992 Wilson & Morgan expression matured in. After this, forget about that one.

Taste: Well this is almost 60% ABV and that shows. Its big, thick and a bit hot, but also very fruity (meaty blueberries), and amazingly pretty woody as well, but not too much. Luckily it also has some toffee sweetness to it, to balance it all out. Steam and coal. You are conned, by the initial sip, this is going to be sweet, but the sweetness is shoved aside by bullying tannins and Italian laurel licorice. I’m guessing this came from a first fill Oloroso butt, which impaired enough onto this Whisky, so it could be used as a very nice refill cask the second time around. Long oaky finish, with an even longer aftertaste full of black fruits and (cedar) wood. It isn’t all that complex, but when a Whisky is as tasty as this, it doesn’t need to be. It’s only 9yo, but it is bottled at the right time, believe me. Probably Oloroso, but Cream Sherry or PX might be possible as well.

Ohhh, I want one of these. 1988, wow, 9yo, wow-wow. This in my glass and some 80’s music, and I’d have a great day.

Points: 90

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Springbank 17yo 1997/2015 “Sherry Wood” (52.3%, OB, Fresh and Refill Sherry Butts and Hogsheads, 9.120 bottles, 15/24)

When attending the Whisky Show in London last year I absolutely loved this one at the Springbank stand. Sure there were better Whiskies at the show, but also you’d almost have to take out another mortgage on your house to buy those. Nope, I mean, this was definitely one of the best Whiskies at a fair price. Still, over here in Europe this sells for well over a hundred euros. Despite this, it was really a no brainer to buy, and remember, why get only one, when you gen get two for twice the price. When I just recently finished another Springbank, (more about that next time), it was time to finally break out this one. Distilled in 1997 and fully matured in fresh and refill Sherry butts and hogsheads. Possibly, but not necessarily, a combination of european and american oak.

Springbank 17yo SherryColor: Gold.

Nose: Nice, waxy and fresh, powdered vitamin C or should we call it vitamin W from now on? Dusty and dry and definitely lots of Sherry mustiness. Hints of apples (Calvados). Slightly wet forest floor with mushrooms growing. Unripe cold banana, some sweet malts, vanilla and quite vegetal as well. Ashy and slightly smoky (more so than peat). Hints of tar and charred cask and even some new wood, although that isn’t used for this expression. Even though this is 100% Sherry, this smells like a typical Springbank, minus the big sweet creamy vanilla that is, the Bourbon part always brings. Remember, Springbank usually is a blend of Bourbon and Sherry casks. Luckily the Springbank distillate does well in every kind of cask. However, all types of casks used, bring their own flavor to the Springbank spectrum. So there is no better Whisky to try different expressions from. This one reminds me of old Springbank in a way. Coconut and quite fruity as well. Very well made and extremely balanced smell. They are definitely doing everything right. The Sherry smells unbelievably fresh and defined. It must have some casks (if not all) that contained Sherries matured under flor. Fino and Manzanilla that is. I doesn’t smell like typical Oloroso matured Whisky to me, (although very dry Oloroso could be possible). The Sherry notes also smell a bit different from the Sherry in the 12yo Cask Strength. Lovely expression, which would have been nice to compare to the 18yo I reviewed earlier. Alas, that one is already gone, so that is not possible anymore. Bugger.

Taste: Yup, Sherry (from under flor) and typical Springbank. If you love Springbank like I do, it feels like coming home again. Waxy, vanilla and lots and lots of coconut again. Sometimes a bit soapy even. Welcome back: coconut! Peat (more so than smoke) and quite vegetal and fruity. Coconut mixed with almond cookies. Cookie dough and a nice friendly sweetness to it. Toffee. It also has a bite as well. Burnt wood and some peat. On top, as with many modern Sherry casked Whiskies, a slightly acidic red fruitiness that stands out a bit, less integrated so to say. It’s this aroma that dominates the finish as well. Thus the finish is less about the cookies, coconut, toffee and dough. Nevertheless, this one has it all. Super stuff with utter balance. Springbank works very well in Bourbon casks, and although you know what some Bourbon casks would have done to this Whisky, this time I don’t miss them. Nice Sherry expression this is. Well done Springbank!

I’d like to mention, that this review is written just a few minutes after opening the bottle. Springbank is never at its best right after opening the bottle. It’s a big Whisky that needs time to breathe. If you are patient with it and it has time to breathe, wow!

Points: 90

Flor de Caña Centenario 25 (40%, Nicaragua, 2013)

Sometimes I get lucky, and somebody steps forward and sends me samples of (potentially very good) Rums. Not from the industry, but from a fellow Rum-lover, just to read my opinion. Samples are welcome indeed, since I’m actually running a bit low on my stash of samples for reviewing, and there is only a certain amount of open bottles I can have around the house, and at the same time, maintaining a certain level of normality, or at least, faking normality towards the rest of the world. Well Rik, thank you very much indeed, so here is the first one!

Looking back at older posts, I already reviewed two expressions of Flor de Caña. The 12yo and the 18yo, so how fitting is it to get this 25 (yo). Both earlier reviews were written about Rums still in the old bottle. The labels back then mentioned the age of the Rum. 12 years and 18 years. Since 2014, the Flor de Caña range is bottled in new big, flat, and square bottles. However, this time they only have a number on them: “12” and “18”. The word “years” has vanished. On the company website, they mention that the 18 is almost two decades in the making. So still an 18yo? Do we smell a rat? We know about numbers without a true age statement from Solera Rum producers. No, they haven’t, haven’t they? No. Another surprise is the price. You can easily say that the 12 (yo) and the 18 (yo) are very reasonably priced. The 25 (yo) costs the same as two bottles of the 18 (yo) ánd a bottle of the 12 (yo). It was always said that Flor de Caña ages their Rums for the full amount of time, as mentioned on the bottle, although I remember a 21, that actually was 15 years old and the 21 referred to the century we live in. For now, lets give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

Or shouldn’t we? Early 2015 saw a report by Nina Lakhany, and near the end of 2015, a report by Clarissa Wei, showing that it is not healthy to work for the Nicaraguan Sugar and Rum industry. During the harvest season, the La Isla Foundation held a survey under workers from Chichigalpa showing workdays of 12 hours under extremely hot conditions, without proper hydration and time to recuperate. Workers are poor and are paid per tonne cut, so they work as much as they can to provide for their families under abysmal conditions. A study performed by the Boston University, following workers in Chichigalpa, shows that alarming numbers of planters and cutters are dying of Chronic Kidney Disease from nonTraditional causes (CKDnT). As a response, many bars started boycotting Flor de Caña products.

I urge you, dear reader, to click on the links above and read the corresponding articles, for you to see the dark side of Rum making.

Flor de Caña 25If you still are interested, here is the review of what turns out to be a very good Rum, alas made with blood…

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Yeah funky with a dry, spicy and woody backbone. Very chewy smelling and high on esters. Isn’t this Jamaican? Definitely well-integrated banana, coconut, vanilla and a whiff of lavas, dried salty vegetal mix and mint. Slightly burned (brown) sugar and fresh, slightly moist brown sugar. The sugar seems to be attached to the wood aroma. Nice. Love this smell. These brown sugar notes combined with the wood notes make it an absolute dream to smell. If this tastes anything like it smells, this will be an amazing Rum. Nutty and waxy. If smelled blind I would have never thought this was a Flor de Caña, especially with the experience of the old 12yo and 18yo behind my belt. Give it some time to breathe, and this will give off some fruity and floral notes as well. Wonderful. Well balanced and well made.

Taste: Sugary, but not overly sweet. A bit thin on entry, although the mouthfeel is syrupy. The way down takes some time and there are some wonderful burnt notes emerging. It has hints of burnt spicy wood, cask toast, maybe even some charcoal and tar. The spicy and peppery wood note stays with you throughout the whole of the body. Burnt sugar as well, but the amazing part is how toned down these notes are. Nothing overpowering, just well blended together. Not to sweet too. Nutty and again some hints of banana and sugared yellow fruits, but again so well-integrated, that the point this Rum tries to make isn’t about fruitiness. By the way, I don’t get the florality from the nose here. There are definitely some old Rums in the mix, but I doesn’t taste like everything is 25 years old. Medium long finish, but not a lot stays behind for the aftertaste. Sure, the nose is stellar, but the taste isn’t far behind. Marginally weaker and simpler, but still very good, even when reduced to 40% ABV.

I wasn’t blown away by the old 12yo mentioning that is was “not for me” and luckily, the old 18yo was already a bit better “Pretty light yet well-balanced”. More than a year and a half have passed since writing the review of the 18yo, and more than three and a half years since writing about the 12yo. A lot of Rum has flowed under the bridge since then and a lot of experience gained, I hope.

At this price-point, this should have been higher in ABV. I feel it is a direct competitor to the Abuelo Centuria, which is even a bit higher in price. Yes, the jump from the 18yo to this 25 is quite big, mind the gap, but compared to the competition, the price may not even be that bad. All things considered, this should have been way more expensive than it is… Don’t buy it…

Points: 90

Heartfelt thanks go out to Rik, for providing this and several other samples soon to be reviewed on these pages. Cheers mate!

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).

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)

Third of October and right now the doors are opening for the 2015 Whisky Show in London, England. As many years before I’m attending this wonderful Whisky fest, the best few days of the year. Maybe not even the Whisky, but the people. I really can’t wait for it to begin. For those of you that are not there I’ll have a go here at a Ledaig (a.k.a. peated Tobermory) that was picked by The Whisky Exchange. This was a Whisky that was bottled a few weeks after the Whisky Show 2013, but luckily I got a chance to try from Gordon & MacPhail, before it was bottled. People from the Netherlands will know its sister cask #464 which was also excellent but much, much lighter in color.

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Fatty peat and candy sweetness. Animalesk and organic. Wild stuff. Hints of burnt cable. Unlit tobacco and dark chocolate powder. Very vegetal. Thick and full of itself. Big. Hints of vanilla and cream. Some dried grass and yes some wet grass from a muddy field in October as well. Funky fresh fungi. This never stops giving. Great peat that is balanced out nicely by the Sherry, but the former is the more dominant in this bottling.

Taste: Excellent entry. Sweet, mixed perfectly with licorice and lots of almonds. Even the wood is almondy. Utter and perfect balance. What a great integration of flavours. Red fruits and berries and hints of Gin. Fresh at times. Sea spray and hints of blobs of fresh fatty tar. Remember Lightning McQueen? Hints of stable (cow) and a bit of wood, but not much. Strange enough, with this amount of aroma and at almost 57% ABV., this only  has a medium finish, it gone sooner that you would want. Great aftertaste though. Almonds and red fruit. Salty lips!

If this would be older (tasting), had a longer finish and had even more added depth it would score well into the nineties. If it had more notes of curry and red peppers you could eat this dram. What a near-perfect modern dram this is. Excellent stuff can still be made. I’m happy I had some prior knowledge to snap this up when it was released.

Points: 90

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

Jura 30yo 1984/2014 (44%, OB, American White Oak, Amoroso & Apostoles Casks, 1984 bottles)

Well, this should prove to be an interesting review. First of all, not a lot of Jura’s are around with this kind of age behind its belt. Second, I do know what Amoroso is (Sweetened Oloroso Sherry, most definitely not the highest quality Sherry around), but Apostoles? George OrwellThird, unbelievable what this Malt costs. It has been reduced to 44% (I think) and for sure is colored, why? Is this typical caramel colour so much better than the colour of the original Whisky? Fourth, This malt has been “created to celebrate the famous George Orwell” what’s next, a 2011 Isle of Jura bottled at 50% ABV to celebrate E.L. James? She probably put up a tent of her own on the Island too some point in time. Fifth, in 2003 Jura already released a 1984 commemorative bottling for George Orwell. This time with a Palo Cortado Oloroso finish (I understand that one wasn’t so great). Sometimes I just don’t love marketing. Let’s concentrate on the Whisky then.

But first a word about Apostoles. Apostoles is a Palo Cortado Sherry, a 30yo from González Byass. From Wikipedia: “Palo Cortado is a rare variety of Sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a Fino or Amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an Oloroso. The result is a wine with some of the richness of Oloroso and some of the crispness of Amontillado”.

I told you it would be interesting.

Isle of Jura 30yo 1984/2014 (44%, OB, American White Oak, Amoroso & Apostoles Casks)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Extremely pleasant nose. Thick Sherry, but not your normal run-of-the-mill Sherry, but special Sherry coming from the black coal age. Thick but also fruity. Cherry syrup. Antiques, with a small hint of smoke and toast. Unusual but well crafted. The nose shows great balance. I don’t know how they crafted this, but is really smells awesome. To me it smells like something from the fifties or sixties. It has oldness, a backbone and nice fruits. So job well done.

Taste: Fruity again, but somehow not the same fruitiness as the nose promised. The coal returns but in a more creamy way. Vanilla pudding and orange skins. Again well-balanced. Great stuff, but. It’s a bit weak, it has been reduced too much. Why? Money? It’s already colored, and now it’s also reduced too much to fetch more? Ok forget about that for a minute. This is a wonderful malt, that probably was stellar before reduction. Now it’s still great, however it starts to go off a bit, halfway through the body. Although it breaks down in the middle of the body, the yielded parts are still nice and balanced. John Lennon and Paul McCartney did make good solo albums by themselves, but… The only flaw is the weakness of the finish and the shortness of it. I would have liked the creamy fruitiness to stay on a little while longer.

Reading through the intro, I may not be too happy with Jura’s marketing department, ok the packaging looks pretty nifty though. I am impressed with the people involved in crafting this Whisky, and that’s where it’s all about. I’m just a bit sad this great Whisky got reduced too much, albeit 2% higher than the former Orwellian bottle. If only it were somewhere in between 46 and 50% ABV. Maybe next time in 2024, when the Palo Cortado’s turn 40 we get a version bottled at 46% ABV. Watch the wood people.

Points: 90

Many thanks go out to Dave G. for providing the Whisky.