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

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

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

Color: Orange gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)

Don José you might ask? “I know only of Panamanian Rums called Abuelo”. Well, Don José is the distillery owned by Varela Hermanos. Abuelo is a Panamanian Rum brand owned by…Varela Hermanos. You do the math. Earlier I reviewed a very nice Rhum from Guadeloupe bottled by Isla del Ron, The Rum outlet of Thomas Euers, Whisky people know better from his independently bottled Whiskies under his Malts of Scotland label. Both the Rums from Abuelo, and the Isla del Ron label, need no further introduction, so why waste any more words on this introduction when both need no introduction? In case you’re wondering, the introduction is now over.

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)Color: Gold.

Nose: Thick and cloying. Extremely creamy. Cream, vanilla pudding. Vanilla ic-cream and butterscotch. Yes this is an Abuelo all right, but it’s also different. Next come some hints of old, dried out leather and even Whisky. Dust and a pronounced woody backbone, add some balance to the overly creamy nose. I also get an edge of paper, right next to the wood. Oak, paper and powdered aspirin. Had I nosed this blind, and after some breathing, I might not have guessed this was an Abuelo though, because it reminds me now even more of Foursquare. Doorly’s 12yo for example. (…so I pulled up the Doorly’s 12yo and had a sniff. Yep quite similar at first, although the Doorly’s has an additional winey note, and is less creamy. The similarities are becoming less obvious, when the Doorly’s gets some time to breathe and develops in the glass. It develops even more of the acidity mentioned earlier than the “Abuelo”, go figure).

Taste: Yeah now we’re talking. Always wanted to know how an Abuelo would taste at a higher strength, well, here is your chance. Definitely less creamy than the official outings. And guess what, and you might want to read my other reviews of Abuelo, this one doesn’t have the discrepant fruity acidity on top. Again notes of paper, cardboard and quite some wood and burned wood. Those notes add some bitterness to the whole. Almonds. By the way, it is slightly soapy as well, and has a slightly (bitter) Beer-like finish. Now you don’t get that in a regular Abuelo now, don’t you. The bitterness does however dominate the aftertaste. Surprising.

Again, like with many Abuelo’s, something seems to be not quite right, and I mean it suffers a bit in the “balance” department. Usually it is the fruity acidity that doesn’t reach the synergy needed, but this time it is a less fruity and a more waxy note that seems to be a bit off and unwilling to cooperate. Nevertheless this is a minor fault compared to the acidity-problem in other Abuelo’s. This particular expression is all about the wood. You can say it its wood driven and has this quite unusual bitterness. Is that bad? Well, it’s not overpowering, so it doesn’t ruin the Rum, it is quite upfront, so if you like your woods, you are going prefer this one over the regular Abuelo’s, that’s for sure. It has a higher ABV, and you do notice that, but not as much as expected. I don’t find it hot or too high in alcohol. Nope, it’s still quite easily drinkable.

Points: 83

De nuevo muchas gracias señor Rik!

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

Springbank 12yo “Cask Strength” (52.3%, OB, Batch 8, 14/12)

I got this, put it on my lectern, opened it and drank it. That is more or less what happened to it. Sometimes when I believe a Whisky I have open will be needed for future comparison, (to other batches in this case), I take a sample from it and put it in my archive. I had a few drops left in the bottle so I already opened its replacement the 17yo Sherry Wood. When writing the review of this 17yo, I wanted to compare that one to this Cask Strength Batch 8, so I tried to pull up the review of that one, just to find out it didn’t exist. I liked this one so much, I drank it all before ik could write the review! So, out comes this sample I just drew for future reference, not knowing “the future” would descend upon us so soon!

Springbank 12yo Batch 8Color: Light orange gold.

Nose: Meaty and somewhat closed. Waxy and slightly rough. Lots of American oak vanilla. Tar and coal dust. Bourbon vanilla and custard. It also has the fruitiness Springbank gets from using Sherry casks. So its easy to detect it is a blend of both kinds of casks. No secret in this, because probably all expressions of the 12yo Cask Strength are blends of both types of cask. Meaty Sherry notes with a tiny hint of sulphur (matches), but also a breath of something fresher, to all those heavy aromas whiffs by. Nice Springbank peat is also present. Quite sweet and fruity and some paper. Bigger on its aromas, but slightly less complex than older siblings.

Taste: Initially big sweet and waxy. Nice (bitter) wood and again the paper-like quality and a tiny hint of smoke. Sugared almonds and a little sting of peat, aided by the higher ABV, than the 46% of most other Springbanks. The smoke is gone and for the rest of the journey we are accompanied by peat. Not too much though, just enough. When the first sip travels down, more vegetal notes appear. As well as a slight burnt note. The taste seems more about Sherry casks, than it is about Bourbon casks. This doesn’t have to mean that more Sherry casks were used for Batch 8, but the Sherry aromas are dominating. It has a sort of anonymous fruity profile. Red fruits, yes maybe, sugared yellow fruits, yep, probably present as well. Which fruits? Hard to tell actually. Towards the end of the body, before the finish, a slight unbalance happens. Where older Springbanks hold it together, here it shows its relative youth. Still this is a wonderful malt. This finish has all of the body and underlines the wood a bit. It comes as no surprise the finish has pretty good length, wood first, peat next, and in no way as creamy as in the start.

This comes from a now finished bottle, and I have to say, it got better over time. This is one that really needed some time to breathe. I remember being a bit disappointed when I first opened this one. I had just finished the eighteen year old also bottled in 2014, and definitely liked that one better. I really love and adore this one now, but can’t help but feel, that Springbanks need to age a while longer. Comparing this to the 17yo Sherry Wood and the 2014 18yo, you can see the older ones have more matured aromas to them adding to their complexity. With a 12yo Springbank you get a fantastic Whisky which for the quality you get is quite affordable. Sure, you pay a bit more for the 17yo and the 18yo, but you also get more imho. More aroma and definitely more complexity. Having said that, the 12yo Cask Strength series is a wonderful series especially at the prices Springbank are selling it for.

Top tip: Let this breathe, let it breathe in the bottle, (try storing it for a week or so without the cork on it), and let it breathe in your glass. Don’t be hasty with it and if you do you will certainly be rewarded.

Points: 88

Caroni 12yo 1996/2009 (69%, Krugers Whiskygalerie, Rendsburger Bürgermeister, Cask #1107, Trinidad & Tobago)

October always starts out with the best Whisky Festival in the world, The Whisky Show in London (UK). I visited it so many times already it stopped being about the Whiskies, although I tasted many of them. It’s a festival about people. Meeting the makers, the owners, the writers, the bloggers and its about meeting the friends I made along the way, your old buddies, so to speak. Missing those who could not be there this year. It’s always nice to meet some new people as well. I’ve just returned and it always takes me a while to adjust back to normal life. Many Whisky reviews were written before The Whisky Show and many were tasted at the show. So why not go cold turkey and do some Rums for a while, another passion of mine?

The Kruger in Krugers Whiskygalerie is Thomas Kruger, probably best known for his auction site. I actually don’t know if he auctions Rums somewhere, but he does bottle Whiskies and the occasional Rum. From Thomas’ bottling business, here is a Caroni! My heart always skips a beat when hearing that name, especially when it is un-diluted.

Caroni #1107Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Right from the start you get this utter balanced smell. It smells fairly dry, herbal and industrial, with a nice dose of heated oak (when sawing) and sawdust, just like a Caroni should. It’s also easily recognizable as a Caroni, leaning towards Rhum Agricole, with a splash of petrol in it, but not as much as other Caroni’s have. In and out come some whiffs of tar, burnt sugar, leather, Italian laurel licorice and again the wood of the cask. Past the usual suspects, this one boasts also some nice (red) fruitiness. The fruit, ripe raspberries, sugared pineapple (which I know are not red) and unripe wild strawberries. These fruits merge as a second layer and when that layer settles in, you get a more creamy, vanilla-like, toffee-sweet smell. It still is a Rum y’know. If I was presented with this blind, I would have argued it was an aged, rather dry, Rhum Agricole. Love this profile. Once you get the hang of it, there is no going back.

Taste: Starts out dry with a woody aroma, aided by the high ABV. Nevertheless very drinkable (for me) at this strength. I no way does it feel as 69% ABV. A little bit dirty, as Caroni should be. Petrol, exhaust gasses and licorice. Exhaust gasses, wow, never had that before! Not an aroma for the masses. Since the world prefers the flavour profile of Angostura, no wonder Caroni got closed, a fact that makes Rum aficionados break out in tears once in a while. It is so dirty I could also call this animalesk. It does resemble the nose, but seems a bit less complex. Powdery dryness. The high strength is duly noted when my lips start burning a bit and some heat clings to the roof of my mouth. Is it a problem? No it’s not. Blood comes out my nose. Just kidding. It does taste dryer than the nose lead me to believe. But when the dry spell passes, there is some residual toffee sweetness noticeable. In the taste, it is less of a “Rhum Agricole” than the nose promised. Not all returns for the finish. The finish is made up of the wood and (thin) licorice, but has lots of staying power with some very late, yet diluted, warm caramel to it.

I tried to compare this one to the Bristol 1998, but that is impossible, the difference in ABV is too big. From memory I know the Bristol has the petrol but is even more fruity. This Kruger expression is woodier. But I have another ace up my sleeve. The Kintra 1999 expression. Both seem remarkably similar at first. Lots of wood going on in both, but more of that in the Kruger. The Kintra has some whiffs of (clear) glue that can’t be found in the Kruger expression, and the Kruger shows some honey and even hints of Bourbon Whiskey (Buffalo Trace to be exact). On the taste, the Kintra is woodier and Kruger has more licorice and sawdust, but again they are pretty similar. Even the fruit profile matches. Always a good idea to do direct head to head (H2H) comparisons.

Points: 88

Thanks go out to Nico!

Tomatin 12yo (43%, OB, Bourbon and Sherry Casks, 2016)

Not so long ago, I reviewed four twelve-year olds from Tomatin’s Cuatro Series. Whisky that started out in Bourbon casks but then were transferred for a finish into four different kinds of Sherry; Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. A longer while back, I also reviewed the entry-level 12yo, calling it the new look bottle, built around the color of the distillery. Black, white and the red of the doors. That design was introduced in 2009 and now, in 2016, The company is changing the design again. This is the even newer look from Tomatin. Newly shaped bottle and a new logo, depicting a hogshead. Nope, not the cask, the head of a hog. I love it when people have humor. With the change came also the change in ABV. The old expression I reviewed was 40%, although 43% versions did exist. This new one is bottled at 43% ABV. I’m not sure yet if I like this new design. Although the old bottle themselves look pretty standard. I did like the color scheme of them. This 12yo for instance, looks like it was made for lumberjacks with a green camouflage label. By the way, the gold lettering on the label is hardly readable so bring your reading glasses when visiting your place of choice for buying Whisky…

Tomatin 12yo (40%, OB, Bourbon and Sherry Casks)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Creamy, creamy wood, leafy and definitely similar stuff to the previous 12yo. Sweet vanilla underneath and quite some funky, slightly acidic Sherry on top. LActic acid, toffee and caramel with a hint of raisins. Waxy and quite some woody aromas complete with toasted oak. It also has a powdery quality to it and I even get the occasional whiff of Beer. Even though it doesn’t seem to be pleasantly fruity and accessible at first, it does have a lot going for it. The nose balances out when it gets the chance to breathe for a while. With time, even a floral note emerges and finally some of the typical Tomatin tropical fruits as well. I don’t have the old 12yo around anymore, but if memory serves me well, this new edition seems to be slightly better balanced and seems to be of higher quality as well.

Taste: Sherry comes first. Funky and musty, but less so than the nose promised. Quite sweet and fruity. Funky Sherry and a little bit of burnt oak. Candy sweetness, caramel sweetness with some cocktail cherries. Creamy again. However, the sweetness subsides under the influence of the woody backbone, which also gives it a slight bitter edge. Drying it out a bit. Next, some more creamy vanilla and cookie dough aroma’s, although the Sherry part has the upper hand. This is quite an interesting entry-level Malt. There is definitely quality here and you get a lot for what they ask you to pay for it. The taste may be simpler than the nose, but quite big and nice nevertheless.

If you are willing to give this Malt some time to breathe you’ll be rewarded with a pretty good Whisky at a more than fair price. Sure, the Legend is even less expensive, but for that, you get a much younger Malt with less depth. I would go for this one instead…

Points: 83

Same score actually as the “older expression”, but I do prefer this newer expression over the previous one.

Thanks for the Whisky Erik!

Dutch Jenever Week – Day 4: Rutte Oude 12 Graanjenever (38%, The Netherlands)

Jenever Week Logo

For day 4 we return to the Rutte distillery we already encountered on the first day. This Jenever fits snugly in the “Oude Jenever” category as well, and the addition of the word Graanjenever tells us this was made from grain based spirit only, just like the Zuidam actually. A sign of quality. Together with a maturation of no shorter than 12 years makes me having high hopes for this one. But first, a history lesson and an amazing run of naming children by the Rutte family:

The history of Rutte starts with Sijmon Rutte born in 1749. Next came his son Simon Rutte, born in 1779. The Rutte family moved to Rotterdam. Both are said to have laid the basis for distilling Jenever. Antonius was born in 1806. In 1830 Antonius moved to Dordrecht and started working for a distillery. At the same time he started experimenting with distillation at home. One of the sons of Antonius called Simon Antonius (born in 1844) bought a bar in 1872 and started distilling in a shed in the back. After a while he started selling his own distillates in his own bar. The bar was closed eventually and Simon Antonius turned it into a shop, selling his (and other) distillates.

Next in line was Antonius Johannes (Anton) Rutte, born in 1872. Anton took over the business in 1905 but he died quite young and his wife Margaretha continued the business eventually handing over the reigns to her eldest son Johannes (Jan) Rutte. Jan had a son called… Jan (John) born in 1931. It was this John who started to distill with passion, making the Rutte distillery known far beyond the borders of the city of Dordrecht. John had three children but none of them showed any interest in the distilling business, so in 1991 John sold the company to a group of investors, clients actually, who loved the products of John. Erik Herter, one of them, someone like John himself, was taught the ropes. Even though the business was sold, John stayed around untill his death in 2003. Erik left the business in 2006 leaving Myriam Hendrickx in charge to this day.

Rutte Oude 12 GraanjeneverColor: Pale gold.

Nose: Very soft and fruity. Definitely grainy. Hints of Grappa and slightly soapy. Very fresh for a 12yo. Hints of butter, warm toffee and vanilla. Warm and soothing, like grandpa’s warm embrace. Yes, smells like something from the past. Vanilla ice-cream. Lots of woody notes you get from American oak. Not only soft, but also slightly spicy. Watercress! The whole is unbelievably soft smelling and introvert as well. The distinct smell of fruity new make spirit, you know, the stuff before it becomes Whisky. The new-make smell has this fruity acidity that is placed on top. It’s a bit dissonant at times. It seems a bit volatile, because for a moment, when sniffing, it is gone and then the whole becomes a lot nicer. Remember that Graanjenever is made with juniper and other spices, so those add to the smell as well. The Jenever has to breathe for a while to get rid of the volatile new-make part. It does help. Breathing makes the whole more coherent and nice. More vanilla sugar-water. I’m actually amazed that even after 12 years of ageing, this new-make aroma is still around, but now you know how to deal with it.

Taste: Starts somewhere between sharp and creamy, but turning quickly into something more chewy and sweet. Refined sugar with a splash of vanilla. Sometimes the sugary part tastes like brown sugar. Nice effect. Quite a mouth full, but also, again, that hint of new-make spirit I don’t really care for. Soft wood, with more of a vanilla pudding note. Quite a short finish and a creamy vanilla part forms the after taste, together with some bread aromas. Well this sure isn’t a Whisky, for those of you looking for an alternative. No, it is a whole new discipline, you might have to grow into. And if you can forget about Whisky for a while, and treat it as such, it can be quite rewarding, getting to know stuff like this, to broaden your distilled horizon.

I have tried more products of Rutte and liked quite a few of them. Beforehand I thought this one would be a favorite, after 12 years of ageing, but actually it starts out as bit of a disappointment. Extremely unbalanced start. I can’t get past the new make spirit in the nose and the taste, and some flavours just don’t seem to mix together well. Luckily there are some parts that are nice, so it’s not a complete let-down.

However, breathing does the trick here. It needs to be decanted. Give it time and lots of air and it becomes significantly better, but to my taste it will never completely recover, no matter how many time you are willing to give it. Still, I don’t dislike it. No. It has its charm and is definitely different from the Zuidam expression I reviewed yesterday. It is different in style and maybe is an acquired taste. For best results, buy a bottle and leave the cork off for two weeks. No, I’m not crazy. Try it for yourself.

Points: 77