Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

Clément 10yo 2003/2013 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.8%, Bourbon Cask #0310054, Vanille Intense, 459 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Alas, my 100% Canne Bleue version of a single cask Clément is almost gone. Damn small those 50cl bottles. I said I liked the smaller size of these bottles, because it would give us the chance to buy a bottle from another cask. True, but when they are as good as the first one, less definitely is not more. So what should I replace it with? Well, what about another version from Cléments single cask series. Yup, let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea. In comes the second version released: “Vanille Intense”. I don’t know about you, but somehow I’m expecting a R(h)um that is full of, well, vanilla notes. Where the previous one was all about the Canne Blue sugar cane variety, this time it’s all about the wood, or at least so I imagine. Sure R(h)um by itself can have enough notes of Vanilla, but here, I guess, it’s also the vanillin that came into the mix by way of the wood of the cask. It’s from a Bourbon cask, so American oak, which gives off vanilla notes to enhance the vanilla notes from the R(h)um. Expect intense vanilla notes.

By the way, a third version has been released recently, called “Moka Intense”. Interesting, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, and have a go at this “Vanille Intense” first, shall we?

clement-vanille-intenseColor: Copper golden brown.

Nose: Cookie dough. Luke-warm sweetened black tea. Vanilla. Only after this creamy start, the typical Rhum Agricole notes emerge, although throughout the whole experience, they are pushed back well into the background. So we are definitely in the territory of some active Bourbon casks here. Floral, honey and licorice. Nice (Indian) spicy wood, plywood and pencil shavings, although I don’t think they have used the latter two for this Rhum. Well integrated, a faint, but nice and sweet red fruit aroma. Leather and quite dusty. Next comes the sweetness, brown sugar and slightly warm toffee. This one really gives it up in layers. Is the vanilla intense? Well, not as much as the label suggested, but it is definitely a smoother and sweeter smelling Rhum, compared to its 100% Canne Bleue sister. It’s not the vanilla ice-cream I somehow expected. For me, especially the elegant woody notes are the best. Quite a nice nose, almost not a Rhum Agricole, but I like it!

Taste: Very soft, dull, dusty and sugary sweet. Simple. Warm sugar syrup with pencil shavings, cardboard and indian spices. Toasted cask. Lots of diluted toffee, watery caramel, licorice and vanilla. Spicy backbone from the oak, even a slight bitter vegetal note, with a late return of sugar. You can really taste the pencil shavings now. Remarkably soft and simple compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version. So it’s not about the vanilla after all. They just picked smooth, creamy, sweet and simple casks to avoid the potential rawness of the previous version I guess. Short finish as well, where the woody bitterness has the longest staying power. A bit disappointing really. Where the J.M 2002 and the Clément 100% Canne Bleue had something extra, this Vanille Intense does not. I think the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge is just as good and way more affordable.

Compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version, this one is less raw. More civilized and simple. Also toned down a bit. The 100% Canne Bleue seems to explode with aroma. Dare I say that the Vanille Intense is a bit boring? I just did, didn’t I? I don’t know if the lower ABV has something to do with it, or maybe it is just the profile of this Rhum. Also remember these are single cask bottlings and there should be a difference from cask to cask. Going on these two I will probably buy another bottle, bottled from a different cask, of the 100% Canne Bleue version (Brown label) and pass up on another Vanille Intense (Green label). Don’t get me wrong, the green ‘un is still good, but not as good as the brown ‘un…

Points: 85

The Macallan 10yo (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

We move back a decade or so to visit one of our old friends. One of the most standard bottlings of that time, the original Macallan 10yo. It had an age statement back then and was diluted to 40% ABV. It was the time, no fan of Macallan or otherwise, was aware of the dark clouds that were forming up ahead. Finally the storm broke and we were given the Fine Oak series. So for me the downfall in quality started with bottlings issued in the newly designed bottlings like the “Fine Oak” series. However, if memory serves me well, in 2002 they started releasing some sort of NAS called the “Elegancia”, preparing us for a softer and smoother experience, moving away from the true Sherry experience of the true Macallan. Not truly a NAS by the way, since it did carry a vintage, like Elegancia 1991. Nevertheless, after the Fine Oaks I really didn’t look back. I was so disappointed. I turned my attention towards Longmorn instead. Back then a lot of it was around and at fair prices to boot. The standard 15yo was pretty good, although the introduction of the 16yo made me rise my eyebrows a bit. Better looking bottle, but the Whisky was less interesting. No, may independent released some pretty stellar Longmorns, so I needn’t look back at Macallan. Of course I did try some of the newer bottlings, but I was never convinced moving back towards the Macallan. Only the future can tell us.

Macallan 10yo (40%, OB, Circa 2003)Color: Dark orange gold.

Nose: Wow, very aromatic. Heaps of Sherry. Extremely fruity, Cherries, apples and banana. Simply wonderful. Already from the start a nice backbone of (new) Oak and a promise of toffee’d sweetness. Warm runny caramel. A lot is happening from the start and it only needs little time to reach a nice balance. This is how I remember drinking Whisky a decade ago, without even giving it much thought then. Stuff like this would be around forever, wouldn’t it? Damn, why is it so hard to make something like this today? Ice cream, vanilla, caramel, laced with apples. Sugared apples and a splash of plain and simple refined sugar-water. Fruity, but not only apples. Sugared cherries and hints of mango and passion fruit. A tropical mix that could have been an older Tomatin. Resembles Tomatin 25yo a bit. Thick and cloying at first, but give it some time to breathe and the whole gets thinner. I wouldn’t say it dies out on us, but it does get a bit more restrained. Balances out. Every time I smell this I get hints of well made Calvados. It becomes fresher. More waxy apple skin aroma’s emerge. When you look for it, there are hints of toasted cask. Hints that are more upfront in older good Ex-Sherry cask matured Whiskies.

Taste: Simpler. Starts out soft and sweet, but not as complex as the nose. Tropical fruits and runny caramel again. Is is youth? Probably not. Is it reduction? I guess so. Sweet and on entry, sometimes like someones bad breath mixed with cardboard, what? Relax, it’s not that bad actually. This time around definitely some toasted cask in the mix, which does wonders for the balance. It gives the fruity and fresh Whisky a nice backbone. Slightly bitter oak, slightly burned as well. New sappy wood aroma is also present, although it is highly unlikely new wood was used, but you never know don’t you. The wood is sappy and sometimes a bit harsh and upfront. It’s the “burned” sensation however, that stays well into the finish. Also a nice and rich nuttiness appears towards the finish, combined with the cardboard we found earlier. For a 40% ABV Whisky this has a pretty lengthy finish, but no, it’s not long.

Tasting it now, in 2016, this is high quality by todays standard. Remember this was the simplest of Macallans some ten years ago. Sure, Italy had their official 7yo, since they like young and fresh Whiskies. Hard to believe not so long ago this was entry-level stuff. Today this would have been packaged in a shiny box that costs more than the  Whisky itself did ten years ago. You don’t want to know even how much it would cost today. Looking at auction prices, I would say every time, you get a fair deal when you want to buy one like these. Go for it. They don’t make them like this anymore.

Points: 85

Longrow 10yo 1993 (46%, OB, 2003)

Another peated whisky in the summer? Has Master Quill gone completely crazy? Yes, because who wants to be “normal”! If you feel like it, just do it… By the way, it’s raining like crazy outside, so it only seems fitting.

2001 saw the first release of a 10 year old, with a vintage. Remember the classic brown paper Longrow label on the tall bottle? The first two releases, both in 2001 and both distilled in 1991 were a “normal one” said to be only from Bourbon, but also, for one time only, a Sherrywood. The series was short-lived, and was discontinued in 2006 after the 1996 vintage, in favour of the 10yo without a vintage statement. Throughout the series I don’t believe all normal ones were from Bourbon casks only, if any. You know Springbank, they tend not to repeat themselves. Just compare the last two releases of the Longrow 18yo (with the white labels), since the 2016 release contains Rum casks. Never a dull moment with Springbank and all of their other brands. Today we’ll have a look at the 1993 vintage of the 10yo, that was released in 2003.

Longrow 10yo 1993Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat. Fatty and smoky. The peat is smelling three-dimensional. It’s not only just there, it goes deep, and seems without end in complexity. Peat mixed with hints of lemon, waxy apple skins and vanilla. Cookie dough. Whiffs of warm apple pie. Burning leaves, sugared yellow fruits and even hints of sweet-smelling sweat, crushed beetle and slightly burned herbs and even has a quaint nuttiness about it. Very balanced stuff, with only a mere hint of wood. All seems to fit in together nicely. This is the best peat I’ve smelled in quite some time. I must admit, it had plenty of air to work with. Love it.

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Heavy on licorice and the peat is shoved into the background, by the sweetness. The sweetness dissipates and leaves more room for a sort of herbal fruitiness. Prickly licorice and the nuttiness from the nose. Alas the peat never really makes it to the top and the wonderful depth it has on the nose doesn’t really blossom tasting it. Long finish, built around the caramel sweetness and with a larger role for sour oak. Coffee and chocolate in the aftertaste. It still is a wonderful Malt. Just if the complexity of the nose would have shone through in the taste, it would have been a truly exceptional Whisky.

Well this might not be a Whisky from the seventies, but it does remind me of the quality of that decade. I’m actually amazed a bit that many of the vintages are still available, although somewhat more expensive than the new 10yo.

Points: 88

Ardbeg 10yo “Ten” (46%, OB, 2012)

Earlier we had another Ardbeg 10yo, but that one was bottled by independent bottler, Cadenhead. Here we have an official 10yo bottled by the distillery itself. I wonder which one will be best. More than “ten” years ago I had another official “ten” on my lectern, and I liked that one very much. Rumour has it however, that the current “ten”, or those of the last few years, are significantly different. More sweet and accessible and less oomph, just like the road taken by Laphroaig. Together with Lagavulin, those were always the heavy hitters from the south shore of Islay. Today it’s Bruichladdich (once unpeated), that makes the peatiest of Whiskies on Islay with Port Charlotte and the Octomore monster.

Ardbeg TenColor: White Wine.

Nose: Well peat first, but is seems to me a very accessible, creamy and fresh, almost citrussy peat. No big oomph, but almost elegant peat. It behaves like a good kid. Reliable. It smells like a very luxury Ardbeg now, since it also has some lovely floral notes with well hidden sweet barley. Wet earth, nice smoke, yet no real barley nor wood. Only of you really want it, you can detect some soft wood. Smelling this for a while, it still does remind me of an Ardbeg, so it hasn’t lost its identity (yet), and I hope it never will.

Taste: It really is the sweetness that first hits you. No crisp dry peaty and smoky dram. It’s peat lemonade. First impression. Yup, in business to sell a brand, and to win over lots of people you don’t want to scare away. Yeah, wonderful. Another sip. I want to taste what comes after the sweetness, but it is so distracting. Lets try again. Sweet yes, we’ve covered that, but what else. Toffee, citrus freshness, lemon curd and vanilla pudding. Almonds, fresh and lightly roasted. Luckily the acidity is just right for this profile. Nutty, yes, but not a lot. What else? This fruity peat, not waxy. It starts sweet, so it takes some time to get the rest, but also the body as not that long, nor is the finish. It does have a warming and likeable aftertaste. A bit thin but fruity nevertheless. Only in the aftertaste I recognize to Ardbeg form not so long ago.

From the smell alone, this is not the Ardbeg 10yo, or “Ten” as it’s officially called, I remember from ten years ago. I don’t think my palate has gone to ruins, because I can still recognize heavy hitting drams that are out there, but this Ardbeg isn’t one of them anymore. But it’s not Ardbeg alone. All the big boys from the past seem to have less oomph these days. Don’t get me started on Laphroaig for that matter. Laphroaig today has nothing to do with the Laphroaig that got me into peated single malt Whisky in the first place. The export strength “10yo” and the “Cask Strength” (green stripe). Those days seem to be gone for good.

So I already feel lots of protests, as if I’m disliking this classic Ardbeg 10yo. That’s not true. This is still very likeable, and still a good dram. If you like your peat but you’re not into heavy peat, than this is for you. It shows quality, and worth your money. It isn’t all that expensive. Good dram.

The problem here is that I know, and have, older bottlings of the Ardbeg “Ten”, so for me comparison in inevitable, and going down that road, well, there is no other conclusion. It has changed a lot. It used to be a crisp, dry and clean heavily peated malt, almost a real young masterpiece, nicely battling it out on the store shelves with Laphroaig 10yo, which had a much longer history. Both having avid fans defending it with their lives. Not me, I loved them both, just like The Beatles and the Stones. This Ardbeg is not that Ardbeg anymore, but today’s Laphroaig most certainly isn’t that Laphroaig anymore too, just like The Stones really. I kid you, but the real problem is that I can’t come up with a real alternative if you want the old heavily peated Ardbeg or Laphroaig back, so I have really high hopes for the new 8yo Lagavulin!

Points: 84

Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, Circa 2003)

So I guess you managed to survive Christmas, congratulations! Christmas is over, but the year is not. There are still a few days left before this year is over, so I dug up two Springbank Whiskies from some twelve years ago. It’s not long ago since I reviewed a more recent 10yo from 2010, so its nice to see how this older version “behaves”. Yes, I said two Springbanks, so the last review on these pages for this year 2015 will be its brother (or sister), the 15yo, from the same time as this 10yo.

Springbank 10yo (circa 2003)Color: Gold

Nose: Oily and fatty. Typical Springbank. Warm barley.  Creamy sweetness. Vegetal. Lots of vanilla, vanilla sugar, vanilla pudding. Nice soft wood. Warm sugar-water. Amazing how sweet this actually smells. Dusty and powdery, but again think creamy and vanilla. Sure it shows its typical Campbeltown profile, but believe me, this is nowhere near the complexity of the current 10yo. Almonds and slightly acidic crushed beetle (with a hint of banana and paper), combined with more and more dusty and dry oak. Tiny hint of smoke and maybe some freshly cut muddy peat, but in fact it is hardly peaty at all. Seems a bit simpler compared to more recent offerings of the same age.

Taste: Sweet it is. Oily, nutty and slightly industrial. Lots of clay. Sweet toffee. Chewy. Very big aroma. Typical Campbeltown. Sugared fruits and again quite a lot of wax (and clay). Warming with noticeable peat this time. After a while a citrussy and fresh note appears. Lemon curd, not sharp lemon by itself. Lemon captured in sugar. After the big and sweet body, I didn’t see the rather weak finish coming. The nose still oozes aroma of wax, clay and wood, then you sip it, and it is big and sweet, and then it starts to leave the building rather quickly. The aftertaste is slightly off with oaky acidity.

It different from the 2010 10yo, but both are great. If you can get this one for not too much money, I would say pick it up. It’s good and very educational compared to more recent bottlings. Where every other distillery try to manage some kind of consistency, Springbank is not that anal about it. The Campbeltown profile is pretty specific, so I don’t think its customers are seeking consistency, but rather welcome the evolution over the years as well as the batch variation that is clearly the with all of Springbank’s products. One of the Whisky nerds favorite distillery, and you are probably one of them, and just like me, proud of it.

Points: 85

Cubay 10yo “Reserva Especial” (40%, Cuba)

Ron Cubay was founded in 1964 in Santo Domingo, which is some 25o km’s to the east of Havana. The Cubay rum is produced in the Cuba Ron distillery, which also produces… yes you’ve guessed it: Havana Club. Cigar lovers will already recognize the marketing plan similar to that of Cohiba, and later, the Trinidad brand. The Ron Cubay brand was intended for domestic consumption only. But soon after taking a course in marketing and dare I say it: capitalism (I’m just kidding), it became apparent it was time to export the next Cuban brand, so the Ron Cubay was first exported only five years ago, in 2010. I just don’t know if the Cubay brand was shrouded in the same kind of mystery as Cohiba and especially Trinidad (as Fidel’s private brand).

The full range of Ron Cubay consists of five variants of which only three are exported. The 3yo “Carta Blanca” (a White Rum), the 7yo “Anejo” and the 10yo “Reserva Especial”. They found the 4yo “Carta Dorada” and the 5yo Anejo Suave” a bit obsolete and settled for the 3yo, the 7yo and 10yo. Ron Cubay is produced with Cuban molasses from sugar cane. In Cuba it is illegal to use imported molasses for making Cuban Rum. Cubay is distilled with a column still. The 10yo I’m about to taste is fully matured in American white oak casks of different sizes and levels of char.

Cubay 10yo Reserva EspecialColor: Orange gold, toffee.

Nose: Aromatic and sweet, creamy and buttery. This flies out of my glass. Citrussy and fresh. Hints of oranges and fermented apple-juice. Light black tea with a splash of lemon. Vanilla latex paint. All of this is mixed with quite some wood, but in no way is the wood overpowering. Its soft and soothing, sometimes meaty and only gives a spicy backbone. Mixed in with the wood, some aged Calvados and honeyed sugar-water. So the apply part is growing. Altogether fruity and if you want it, there is some florality as well. Great balance. A lovely nose.

Taste: Fruity and very appetizing. Toffee and hard coffee candy. Some wood upfront, but even less than in the nose. Quite warming, and when the first sip goes down a more dry woody residue stays behind in my mouth. Woody and licorice. Again not overpowering. The start of the body is the best part for me, quite some vanilla combined with a tasty fruitiness. The development into the finish is eventful. Something is happening. The finish has medium length, with a hint of walnut bitterness, and has a tendency to fall apart a bit into the wood spice and an acidic fruity part. This is much less pronounced than in the Abuelo 12yo, where the acidic fruity part bothered me a bit. Sugar water again, and after a while it’s gone. The aftertaste shows this has been in wood for 10 years. I would say the bitterness is slightly hoppy now. More pronounced and velvety and less fatty than the initial walnut bitterness.

Nice stuff and dangerously drinkable. Especially in the taste not overly complex, but just tasty. Although this has quite some aromatics it has the strength of the scent of a flower, so I’m not sure if you should use this as a mixer. I know for sure it will do well as a nipper. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I really like it. Recommended.

Points: 82