Bunnahabhain 30yo 1979/2009 (45.5%, Ian MacLeod, Chieftain’s, European Oak Sherry Butt #9622, 612 bottles)

Back to some wonderfully Sherried Bunnahabhain. Most of the last few bottles of Bunnahabhain I reviewed were younger and much paler (and peatier) than the bottle I’m about to review. Here we have an independently bottled Bunnahabhain from a highly active European oak Sherry butt. Even though this has aged for a respectable 30yo, and was bottled 10 years ago, I still feel 1979 is not that long ago. If you try this particular expression, it seems to come from another century, or another dimension altogether. I’ll keep it short here, because I feel a lot of words will be needed th describe the complexity of this Malt.

Color: Dark Brown.

Nose: Fresh sea air. We didn’t see that one coming now didn’t we? Remarkably fresh, mint, yup mint. The mint you get from those hard mint sweets, not freshly cut mint, you make tea of. I did think it would be a cloying heavily Sherried Malt, but it’s not. Hints of toasted oak, charcoal and tar. Creamy vanilla powder, milk-chocolate, or better, plums in chocolate and a little bit of honey as well. Old distinguished wood. Wood polish without the petroleum smell, although very far back this does seem to have some petrol fumes going on. Caramel, tar, and some bits from an ashtray. Lots of Sherried notes obviously. Soft burnt sugar and a whiff of french cheese. Sherry and tobacco. It smells like it’s from another century altogether. Doesn’t really smell like a Whisky anymore. This must have been a very active cask. Still, nicely balanced and very chic. Fruity and coal, reminding me of early seventies Longmorn mixed with well aged calvados, since it has this apply feel to it as well. Just this bit though, not the whole experience, reminds me of Longmorn. Lots and lots of aroma’s and quite complex. Log fire and hints of fatty soft smoke. You can smell this one for hours before even thinking of taking a sip. You need to be alone for this one, and certainly not rushing it. If you smell it vigorously, it becomes meaty (gravy) for a brief moment, and some unexpected citrussy notes emerge as well. Beautiful wood notes re-emerge. Hints of old warehouse with old cardboard boxes in it. Dusty, quickly masked by the toffeed fruit. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, this is a very high quality nose, which is immensely complex and has a lot to give. Wonderful.

Taste: Quite dry and woody, but also very tasty. Slightly soapy on entry. With lots of spices and borderline bitterness. Again you’re in for a treat. I have smelled this for quite a bit now, and doing so, I warmed the glass up in my hand. Fruity, but not much. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fruit it would be. This has been a long time in cask. Tar and tobacco and maybe some leather. Not very heavy due to the relatively low ABV. Dusty and deep. So definitely a Malt that shows the Whisky can be about the wood it matured in. The creamy vanilla from the nose is lacking here, but definitely here, is the dry tannic wood and slight bitterness. Definitely not a chewy Whisky. Old and distinguished. Like an old mens club. Phileas Fogg style. The body falls back a bit. Finishes great, which makes up for the dry start, with a nice warming aftertaste. I like it. It’s a choice. Sure this could have been bottled (much) earlier. I don’t know if it was chance or choice, this has been allowed to age further, drying out considerably, yet picking up in “style”. It will be remembered for its great finish and the fabulous nose.

If you just pick this up and drink it, and don’t give it the attention it needs, you won’t pick up half of what its got to offer. If you do give it attention and time, wow! The more air it gets though, makes this Whisky less fruity and more about the wood, so know what you’re in for when allowing it to breathe for a while. Still, this is a wonderful malt either way, that develops enormously in the glass, so I can forgive its dryness with ease.

Points: 91

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Paul John 2009/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, Peated, Bourbon Barrel, MoS 15068, 156 bottles)

Paul John already had some Whiskies reviewed on these pages, but up ’till now they all have been the official deal, and making up the standard range. Brilliance, Edited and Bold, are the trinity of entry-level Malts from Paul John, where the peat level rises gradually from left to right.

Sometimes a malt is so good, I finish it before I even get the chance to review it, or sometimes I think I reviewed it, remembering the words, and it turns out that I haven’t. This is a bottle I got because the owner wasn’t all that fond of it, even though it was half empty (or half full, depends how you look at it), and thought the stuff he got in return was better. Right now I can’t remember with what I traded it. This bottle is soon to be empty, meaning it’s good! I give you that already. Before moving on to more of the official stuff, here is the first independently bottled Paul John on these pages. This is one of four casks bottled by Malts of Scotland. Three casks from 2009 (#15065, #15067, peated and #15068, also peated) and one from 2011 (#15066).

The officially released Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, were all very nicely priced, and people picked up on them, as well as the more available bottlings. When the independent bottlers started to release Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, they upped the game asking a (much) higher price than Paul John did themselves. Luckily the casks that went to the independents all turned out to be very good casks as well, so they are worth your money. Having said that, all the official Single Casks released were pretty good as well.

When independents started asking higher prices, Paul John followed suit and new releases are more expensive than they were before. I understand Paul John asks a bit more from independents as well, so if my information is right, Malts of Scotland won’t be releasing more Single Cask bottlings of Paul John for a while. Never say never again ‘eh.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Soft peat and meaty. A little bit of barley and a tiny hint of dry orange skin and varnished wood. We’re talking luxury department here. Already this smells like near perfection. This is bottle is empty so soon, because I have fallen in love with how this smells. Luckily I was able to replace it another bottle from the same cask. Deep fruits and spicy warm air. A slightly sweet edge. Big nose altogether. Hints of black fruits from old Islay bottlings, salty. Fresh mint and unlit tobacco. Licorice and warm butter. The wood adds notes of pencil shavings and smoke now, adding to the spiciness of the Whisky. Stunning nose. Not a lot of development though, so maybe even in India (almost) six years is (almost) six years. Reluctantly I have to move on, but to be Frank (Not John) I can’t stop smelling this, and have a hard time moving on to taste it. (If I would score noses by itself this would get 95 Points, maybe more, utterly wonderful stuff).

Taste: Sweetish, syrupy and woody. Slightly waxy even. Not even the peat comes first, but rather the big and bold body. Wood, pencil shavings but not exclusively, and various yellow fruit marmalades, bitter orange marmalade first, followed by dried apricots. Several different bitters coming from wood and smoke. That’s about it first time around. The end of the body well into the finish seems a bit thin, but the aftertaste gets the big body back and has a lot of length, keeping you warm and giving you subliminal images of warmer places. Give it time and air to breathe folks. It doesn’t taste like 58.4% ABV. Again, this might not be the most complex stuff around, but what’s there is very good, albeit not as good as the nose though. But when you’ve swallowed this, and enjoying the long lingering aftertaste and thén smell the glass, Ahhhhh, bliss. This hits the right spots with me.

This was the deal breaker, after this one, I had to make more room for Indian Malts on my lectern. What an experience! A word of caution. I have ready and spoken to enough people to know that this might not be for everybody. Indian Malts are not Scottish, Six-row barley gives a lot of exotic spiciness compared to the barley’s used in Scotland, as well as the conditions of maturation on this continent. As I said before, the previous owner of this bottles wasn’t such a big fan of this as I am, so proceed with caution, but keep an open mind.

Points: 91

This one is finished now, and took a while to write, since I couldn’t stop smelling this. I replaced this stunning MoS bottling with another independent bottling of Paul John, a 6yo Cadenheads bottling released this year. Can’t wait to open that one.

Inchgower 25yo (1980/2006 (53.2%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask #14161, 486 bottles)

After the “old” Teaninich, let’s have a look at something else from the attic that was also bottled a long time ago. Just like Teaninich, Inchgower is another lesser known Distillery owned by Diageo. And for me one of the better ones as well. I’ve come across quite a few really good Inchgowers. Long time no Inchgower though on these pages. It’s almost six years since I reviewed another Inchgower. One from 1982 bottled by Raymond Armstrong, remember Bladnoch? The 1982 was quite hefty and although very good, it was another Whisky, like the Teaninich F&F I reviewed just now, that needs a lot of attention, wearing you out if it didn’t get the attention it wanted. If carelessly sipped, it will kill you, so even though it is a very good Whisky with a quite a high score, I was glad when the bottle was finally finished. Strange ‘eh? Here we have another Inchgower from the beginning of the eighties, so I’m already bracing myself, especially since this is a Sherried one as well…

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Boiled eggs (not rotten). Very buttery and milky. Luckily, these off notes dissipate quite quickly. I have to say right off the bat that this Whisky got a lot of time to breathe. When it was freshly opened this had a lot of Sulphur. When the milky, baby vomit notes dissipate, it shows more woody notes. A minute amount of sulphur and some bitter black tea. Underneath (sniff hard), brown sugar and even some honey. Sulphur still detectable and now it rears its head (is it ugly?) like swamp-gas. Although a lot seems wrong with this, I seem not to dislike it. I never belonged to the I’m-allergic-to-sulphur-police, so I’m able to deal with it. In the depth, where the brown sugar is, are also the more soft woody notes. Some whiffs smell like Rum actually. Sulphur seems to be dying down, but when you move the Whisky around in your glass vigorously, you’ll be able to get some more. Spicy, yet not woody. Vanilla powder and altogether funky. Give it time to breathe. In the end the Sulphur is kept in check and all the remaining wonderful aroma’s get their room to shine. What a wonderful nose this is. The sulphur didn’t bother me that much, but the milky part did, this must breathe before sipping.

Taste: Big, woody and slightly soapy. After swallowing, the first sip, the soap, again, this time around, no too bad, is followed by a wave of liquid bitterness (and fruity acidity). I know, a strange sentence indeed. Fruity underneath and mouthcoating. Sweeter than expected, very, red, fruity. Cold black tea. And the bitterness seems ok. Very funky floral notes which mix well with the red over-ripe fruits. Berries, raspberry, little ripe forest strawberries. Mouth coating, very, mouthcoating indeed, leaving behind some bitterness, but more important, some priceless black fruits as well. For me the black fruits are the holy grail of Whisky. Nice finish, but who cares, if the long aftertaste shows you all those black fruits, dark chocolate and some wood. Sure it isn’t able to shed all of the soapyness, but with fruits like these, I’m happy to forgive it it’s soapyness and the many other flaws it shows. Special stuff.

Some Whiskies like this, over-the-top, can be bad. This one has a lot wrong with it but it’s not bad, There is a lot of fun to be had, if you like the extreme ones, if you are able to deal with a Whisky like this. If you are a novice, steer clear, please. If you are an anorak, a whisky-geek with tendencies towards SM, please pick it up at an auction, because as I said, it is not a bad Whisky. Too much of a lot, but therein lies the fun. A guilty pleasure. Aficionados like it, that’s why this doesn’t pop up a lot at auctions. I’m sure that when I’m going to clean my glass, it will foam like crazy! (It did). For me a no-brainer if it shows up somewhere. Don’t bid against me please!

Points: 91

(Freshly opened, without breathing, the score would be 84, so you’d better let it breathe, long time!)

Highland Park Week – Day 7: Highland Park 27yo 1972/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 324 bottles)

Wow, it’s already the seventh and last day of Master Quill’s Highland Park Week. How time flies when you’re having fun, but I say that after every Master Quill Week. Somehow it is always nice to concentrate on one subject and try several examples in quick succession. This week may have been a bit heavy on the Independent side, since only two offerings released by the distillery themselves were reviewed. Beforehand I would have thought the 18yo OB would be a worthy opponent to the five Independent offerings, but it turned out otherwise. We know the 18yo can be (very) good, but we also know that it does suffer from batch variation. So quite a surprise there. Another surprise was the sheer quality of the 9yo Signatory bottling. A Whisky not even in its teens! If only all of todays NAS offerings would be this good… Yesterday we had a very nice Highland Park bottled by Douglas Laing, which churned out quality Whisky one after the other. So it wasn’t a hard decision to end this Week with a 1972 bottling by Douglas Laing again, especially since it was bottled in 1999, early on in the Old Malt Cask series (OMC). Early OMC bottlings were always right up there, so lets see if this is any different, and therefore a worthy example to finish off this week.

Color: Gold.

Nose: I had only one sniff and I’m already in love. Nectar of the gods. Super fruity, old Malt. Too much fruit to name. Pineapple, passion fruit, apricots and white peach (somewhat later in the mix), but there is a lot more. More apricots, dried and sugared, Hints of regular peach and banana. Super fruity and super funky. Nutty and sweaty. Utterly wonderful. Yes this is an old Single Malt from, and I’m guessing here, a remade American oak hogshead. Vanilla combined with clay, soft spices and very soft oak. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Hints of cereal and latte macchiato as well. The yellow fruits are thick and syrupy, but just like a great, sweetish, White Wine, the acidic part is equally important. This thick, syrupy Highland Park has such an acidic top note, that livens the whole up. This is stuff from the hall of fame, something like 1972 Caperdonich. Stellar. Sugared yellow fruits picked up by hints of zesty citrus fruit. Well-integrated acidity. With some breathing, a more restrained note emerges. Fresh air. The big fruit dissipates a bit, leaving more room for some sour oak. Underneath, a slightly meaty, cold gravy aroma. Amazing how little wood is showing throughout. Butter with hints of salt and black pepper and after a while some nice oak finally emerges to make up the finish. Creamy and half-sweet yoghurt with white peach. Calvados and graphite powder. This change in character is kind of special. This Highland Park starts out as a 1972 Caperdonich, however the Caperdonichs don’t show such a change, so both finish quite differently.

Taste: Wonderful, elegant, half-sweet at first and a bit brittle. Lots of fruit again, red fruit pastilles and a large nutty part combined with slightly bitter dark chocolate and toffee. This is a bit of a Malt with granny’s osteoporosis, but we all love our granny don’t we, warts and all. It still has enough power at 50% ABV, but the aroma’s don’t seem to be as big as in the nose. Laid back fruit and even some Belgian Beer (again). It’s definitely simpler and not as thick as I imagined it to be. Some sweetness from sugared fruits, which fade-out… The body is thin, but not weak. It disintegrates a bit. Still a pretty long finish though, leaving a note of warm milk (from the latte macchiato?)

Don’t buy the, sometimes, mediocre over-priced, over-hyped bottlings of today, unless there are no old bottles to be bought, when bottles don’t show up anymore at auction. All collected or hopefully drunk by people who appreciate them. Spend your hard-earned cash on something like this, before it’s really too late. Everybody needs to taste how it used to be, and how it could be done…

Points: 91

Lagavulin 1986/2002 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv. 4/490)

Lagavulin is one of my all time favorite distilleries. It’s almost impossible to encounter a bad Lagavulin. I can’t believe this is just the third review of Lagavulin on these pages the other two being the other two from the current standard range. The 16yo and the 12yo. The 16yo is the modern classic (It used to be the 12yo with the cream label) and right at the time there was a rumour the 16yo would be quite scarce, the new cask strength 12yo was released. As I said, the current standard range is the 16yo, this distillers edition I’m about to review, and the 12yo cask strength version. The latter two come to us as “annual releases”. Just like Springbank, this means that there is some batch variation. A wanted batch variation, to buy more of the same and compare them to other releases, identified by  bottling year.

Just like NAS today, batch variation was always a dirty phrase, it’s not a word isn’t it. But marketing turned that around, just as they are trying with NAS. For me NAS means younger, less matured Whisky, so less contact with wood and as Gordon & MacPhail so aptly put it: “The wood makes the Whisky”. I’m not really happy about NAS, but I never disliked batch variations (again, look at Springbank), unless if the only way seemed to be down. There always has been a lot of discussion about our very Lagavulin 16yo, losing power, balance and character, but I hear the latest batches are becoming better and better again. Today Laphroaig seems to suffer from that…

This is the fifth Lagavulin Distillers Edition (DE). The first was distilled in 1979, the second in 1980, the third in 1981, and the fourth in 1984. Just like all the other distillers Editions, this Lagavulin has undergone a second maturation (a finish) in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks.

Lagavulin DE 2002Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Fantastic peat. Lagavulins from the eighties can have this excellent peat, I never get tired of. Peat, tar, seashore, you name anything maritime and its in here. Sure the more recent DE’s are still pretty good, but they don’t smell like this. That’s why Whisky lovers still pay a great deal of money for these older bottlings. Smoke comes next and it smells a bit electrical. It has vanilla and a slight fruity nose. You know it’s there, but so hard to distinguish what it is. Ahhh lots of smoked (dry) sausage and slightly dried out onions and pear. Excellent, what a combination. Where have you smelled that last in a Whisky? This Lagavulin is all about balance (again some kind of dirty word for some). The whole is so fantastic, and goes on and on. Wonderful. Hard to put down. With time the fruit, still distant, finds it’s place in the whole and adds a more fresh and fruity part to the whole. Just smelling it is quite the experience, and still getting better. Lagavulin is such a big aroma, that even the thick and sweet PX can’t overpower it, just add a little something. I guess the finish was done intelligently. I’m putting off tasting it for just a while longer to put on my fisherman’s sweater…

Taste: …in the end it would be a shame not to taste this, so here goes. Well somewhat less special than the nose is the first thing that comes to mind. The PX is more upfront as well. It starts out chewy. Nice licorice, black and white powder and a thick sweet Sherry without most of its sweetness. Does that even make sense? Waxy and again very coastal and raw. Masculine. Puffer’s smoke. Burning hay. Fishy, as it should be. Smoked fish of course. Smearing tar on the hull of a boat. Get yourself something like this, because modern peated Whiskies are nowhere near this profile. I wouldn’t add water to it, because reducing it to 43% shortened the finish already. Big body, with only a medium finish. In the aftertaste the balance is slightly gone. It could have been even better than it already is! Wow.

It’s been a while, but I do understand why Whisky lovers in general pay lots of money for Whiskies like this. This is great and they sure can’t make them like this anymore. Drinking this put you in a different place and time altogether. It changes you as a person (for a while). Sure it puts you back a few hundred euro’s pounds or dollars, but try to imagine what a trip to Islay in 1986 would cost you now. It’s a time-machine and time-bomb in one. A must have.

Points: 91

Longmorn 1971/2004 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, JD/AII)

The old Jameson opened my eyes for old bottles. Not true actually. I’ve known it all along. I just needed a kick in the bee-hind, to open some more, before I one day, kick the bucket. Luckily I had a birthday two months ago, and that is always a good reason to pick a nice one from the collection and “because you’re worth it…”. Of course, “Thursday” is also a good reason in my book. 1971 is quite a legendary year for Longmorn. At Longmorn nobody will concur, because they haven’t done anything different in the years before and since 1971. However, there somehow are a lot, very good sherried, and otherwise matured, Longmorns from around 1971. I particularly love the 1971 from Scott’s Selection, although true Longmornado’s tell me there a many better ones. Great!

Longmorn 1971/2004 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, JD/AII)Color: orange gold.

Nose: Waxy. Old black fruits and just like the Jameson I reviewed last a bit of steam. Buttery and beautiful Sherry and black coal. It doesn’t leap out of the glass and I believe that is due to the reduction to 40%. I’m not worried yet, because these old distillates can handle a lot of water. Today’s Malts do need a higher strength. Nevertheless it seems the nose suffered a bit in power. Maybe this is one for a Cognac copita (the big balloon glass). Luckily I have a whole bottle of this, so I can experiment a bit. Slightly tarry but right after that a fresh note of faint menthol/mint. Way down deep into the nose some licorice pops up, well hidden in the dark fruitiness. Again, a wonderful old bottle.

Taste: Sweetish black tea, and again pretty fruity. Raspberry hard candy, and some cherries. The whole is quite soft, so again, maybe this was reduced too much. It’s great as it is, but I can’t shed the feeling, a lot was taken away from this Malt as well. Now it’s too damn drinkable, so I don’t think this will last me a long time. I’m sorry the body isn’t a bit bigger. I’m accepting this now and I move on. This is great stuff extremely well-balanced. A nice nuttiness comes to the fore and then even some honey. Hurray for air, breathing and developing Whisky. Great combination of fruit and the hints of tar and black coal. Tiny hint of burnt Sugar towards the end. The finish could be longer, but we’re rewarded with a wonderful aftertaste. It even reminds me a bit of some Rhum Agricole in the finish. Be patient and give it time to breathe. It opens up. wow!

I’m a sucker for Sherried Longmorns from the second half of the sixties through the first half of the seventies. These Whiskies are so good. Sure there are a lot of Longmorns around that are better than this one, but there are not a lot of Whiskies better than Longmorns like this. Give it time to breathe, it will open up and become bigger than it initially was.

Points: 91

This one is dedicated to David Urquhard (1952-2015) who passed away on 30 November 2015, aged 63.

Longrow 14yo 1990/2005 (56.9%, SMWS, 114.5, “Smoked Sausages and Curry”)

So how was your Christmas? Here at Master Quill we are getting ready for the end of the year. Christmas is hardly over and in a few days’ time we’re seeing off 2014 and welcoming 2015. But we’re not there yet. Lets have a look first at a very nice Longrow. Two firsts on these pages. After two and a half years of writing still hardly any ground covered! Here is the first Longrow, or “Distillery #114” and the first review of a bottling that was released by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).

Longrow 14yo 1990/2005 '114.5'(56.9%, SMWS, Smoked Sausages and Curry)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Nice fatty, sweet and truly perfect dirty peat, with malt shining through (if you let it breathe for a while). Oranges and animalesk. A breath of fresh air. Sherry, toffee and lots of clay. Does it smell meaty or is the title forcing me to smell it? Smoked sausages? I don’t know. I smell a lot of clay. Just died down bonfire, right before it gets cold. The sweet spiciness might as well be curry, hot (temperature) and mild (in spices, ginger foremost). Very high quality. Coastal with smoke, Sherry and clay. No wood. Wonderful!

Taste: Sweet and smoky, yes bonfire again, a hearth in a stately old house with mohogany furniture (without the wax, that is). Peppery, earthy peat and licorice, bordering on bitter licorice. Fruity, red and black fruits, with fruity sweetness under the hints of ashes and mint. Also sometimes a fruity acidity wanders through the spirit. Chewy smoked toffee and nutty. Highly aromatic, almost thick. Nice thick Sherry and caramel. Sometimes soapy. Nicely peated in the finish. Excellent and warming stuff this! A cracker. The finish is big and ashy, with tiny hints of red fruit sweets. The hard ones.

This bottle was used in the Campbeltown tasting I did with my Whisky club ‘Het Genietschap‘, together with the Kintra Glen Scotia I reviewed earlier. I really liked that one, but this one is much, much better! What a wonderful malt to share with friends. This really is a stunner. Excellent Longrow. For this review I’ve tasted this Malt two times. Once in the morning, before breakfast, and one time late in the evening. The difference is unmistakable. It is remarkable how much more tiny notes, or details, if you prefer, one can pick up in the morning. The score is from the morning session.

Points: 91