The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85

Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!

Longrow 13yo 1993/2006 (57.1%, OB, Private Bottling, for MacMhuirich, Currie & Wilkinson, Cask #635)

This is a sample I have lying around for a very long time. I last tasted it last some ten years ago, and there was definitely something wrong with this. Just have a look at the review posted by Serge. yes, he’s a big fan of this one! Ten years ago I found it pretty odd as well, but come to think of it, Springbank make such good Whisky, what must have happened for it to be so “strange”, and for it to be bottled? Today I’m becoming more and more a fan of Springbank, feeling they can’t do anything wrong. In these days of NAS (some bad, some good), Springbank are able to churn out one good bottling after another. NAS or no NAS. So this less than half full sample got plenty of time to balance itself out with some air, so let’s see how this private cask of MacMhuirich, Currie & Wilkinson will do in 2016. Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?

Longrow 1993 Private Bottling Cask #635Color: Light gold.

Nose: Light peat, but not much and some burning plastic. Herbal lemon. Deeper down a more buttery note. Fatty with hidden sweetness. Slightly burnt wood (toasted cask), fresh dried oak and an acidic off-note. Bread, butter, paper, cardboard (they all go together) and caramel. Toffee even. Next some crushed beetle. In my case an accident, because I’m not cruel to animals, but once I’ve gained the experience, I’ll never forget the smell. Well, it’s in this Whisky. (Tobacco) smoke and cold charcoal. Hints of menthol. It is a nose that wants to be dry and spicy, not fruity. It’s not floral, but may very well have been. Add to that a creamy, butter and toffee and you have this in a nutshell. Very well hidden is the aroma of new make spirit, a sweetish Vodka aroma. Sure, this is (still) lacking in balance a bit, but it’s not as bad as it was ten years ago. It did get better with “some” air. I actually like how it smells now.

Taste: Sweet, but with a lot of bread and paper notes. Floral plastics and vegetal. The initial sweetness works well with the relatively high ABV. Sweet sugared yellow fruits. Sugared apricots. the body itself is not so sweet. Interesting. Damn, this is really about vegetal paper. Paper, cardboard, wet paper, pulp. It’s hard to impossible to get past this. The paper notes overwhelm the entry and the better part of the body. When this dissipates, an acidic note shows itself which just is wrong. Towards the end of the body, the Whisky also becomes slightly soapy. Yeah, lets add to the plastic pleasure. Hey, now I get some smoked eel skin as well as the aroma of an ash-tray and sweet jasmine powder. What a Whisky. This has quite a few flaws, so maybe it’s good the finish is not very long (and hardly an aftertaste).

If after Serge’s review (and mine) you still want to buy it, be advised that you should let this breathe extensively. And I do mean extensively this time. It will help the nose along, the taste however is beyond repair. I wonder what went wrong here. It probably wasn’t the spirit going into the cask, but was the cask somehow contaminated? Rotting bung cloth? A fungus maybe? In the end not a complete dud, so I won’t be scoring this 55 Points like Serge, but for a Longrow this is not a good score either…

Points: 80

Caol Ila 13yo 1990/2003 (55.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, Cask #1114, 283 bottles, JC/GF)

I got up this morning seeing that it is a nice and sunny day, just with a chill in the air. Ice on the windscreen, and couldn’t be bothered de-icing the car, so I did the school run on foot. Luckily no wind so it wasn’t so bad. Walking towards the winder I did pick up the inspiration to review some Islay Whisky. Yeah! Rummaging a bit in the sample bank I dug up two Islay babies, that will together well, or make for interesting comparison. Once not so readily available, today impossible to miss. Caol Ila is the name and peat is the game. I love Caol Ila because it ages really well. So lets educate myself and have a look at a younger example of Caol Ila. This 1990 Caol Ila was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in 2003. The outturn was 283 bottles at cask strength, and considering the color and wood management policies at G&M, I would be surprised if this wasn’t matured in a remade Bourbon Hogshead although a Fino or Manzanilla Sherry hogshead is also possible. Two of its sister casks were also bottled in 2003: #1115 (JC/AEG) and # 1116 (JC/CEB). More sister casks exist. In 2011/2012 at least three more were bottled: #1120 (for La Maison Du Whisky, France), #1121 and #1122 (both for Van Wees, The Netherlands).

Caol Ila 13yo 1990/2003 (55.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, Cask #1114, 283 bottles)Color: White wine.

Nose: Dry and smoky peat, with an underlying sweetness. So it’s not the fatty peat you sometimes get. This is drier and a wee bit more spicy. Cow organics in cold weather. With hints of hay and quite some buttery and lemony notes as well as hints of shiny aromatic apple skin (not acidic). Some flowery elements were present in the peat, lavender as well as there is some crushed beetle (sounds strange doesn’t it?). Vanilla and more creamy, fresh buttery notes. The wood smells a bit meaty and well aged, so not young and sappy. Hints of cured meat. Smells a bit toned down and maybe older than it actually is. Very well-balanced. More about fresh and fruity notes than heavy peat. Accessible. Garden bonfire burning off old branches combined with powdered vanilla and powdered coffee creamer. It’s not really a big Whisky, but a well constructed one. Wonderful nose, especially by the wonderful vanilla and floral nose. I would say Fino Sherry hogshead. made from American oak.

Taste: More peat and quite sweet, which works quite well this time. There is enough going around to balance the sugary sweetness out. Burned leaves and a lot of vanilla and clotted cream, custard, pudding. These notes are quite big and it takes a while for those to pass, to let a more paper and (spicy) wood note through. Distinct hints of soap. It breaks down a bit in the finish, with a creamy note that goes down my throat, but in the same time a more acidic wood note stays behind in the roof of my mouth, the soap also has some staying power under my tongue. These flaws are easily forgivable, looking at the whole. Good Caol Ila.

This went under the radar a bit when it came out, as well as its sister casks, but what a treat this is. Definitely American oak and probably Sherry that aged under flor instead of Bourbon. All aroma’s work together well. I wish I had more of this, but at least I had the experience of a whole bottle of this. Worth seeking out at auctions, but a lot of it was probably drunk back then.

Points: 87

Isle Of Jura 13yo 1989/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM 1564)

Here is the third and final bottle in our trilogy of Murray McDavid bottlings. Don’t worry there will be more. After the Rhoshu and the Glendullan, this time we will have a look at a (Isle of) Jura. Both of its fellow Murray McDavid bottlings have proven themselves to be reasonable Whiskies and not so long ago I reviewed a very good Jura as well. So we’ll start this review with high hopes…

Isle Of Jura 13yo 1989/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM 1564)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Sweet malts, but also lightly spicy, frankincense, with lots of vegetal and waxy notes. Highly fruity. Sugared apples, with even some licorice and cinnamon, and some sweet red berries. Reminds me a bit of Calvados. This is a very appetizing nose. Vanilla and dusty, yet not dry. Full of aroma, and warm sugar-water. When smelled to vigorously, a note of paper emerges as well as a tiny hint of old, worn out jasmine soap, a bar you find in the back of granny’s closet, amongst the over sized… well, you know what I’m talking about. Actually this does smell like a Whisky not from these times, but more from the era of black coal. Granny’s era. Sweet and lively. Fruity without a lot of wood. Nice complexity and ditto balance. Lovely.

Taste: Sweet, thin apple water and bitter apple skins. Here the wood does show itself with quite the wood and bitter sap notes. With hints of charred oak. A bitterness we are quite familiar with, reminding me of some nuts. Remember the thin brown skins on walnuts and hazelnuts? If you can get past the bitterness there is a fruity lightness behind it. Malts again and some hay on a summer’s day. Lacks the complexity of the nose though. The finish is another of its weak points. Too short and a bit mono-dimensional. Lacks development from the body, well into the finish. The aftertaste makes you wonder if you haven’t drunk an I.P.A. earlier, for its slight hoppy bitterness left behind in your mouth.

Not a highly drinkable dram, it’s simple, and a wee bit too bitter for a daily drinker. The nose makes you a promise of something special. The nose is actually pretty stunning, and I’m really, really sorry, I can’t say the same for its taste.

Points: 82

Glenallachie 13yo 1995/2009 (46%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #17, 36 bottles)

Rummaging through the unsorted part of my sample collection I found this Kintra from 2009. And that’s great! Kintra’s big cheese, Erik started releasing Kintra Whiskies in 2009 so this is one of the first bottlings, and who knows, maybe even the very first. 2009 saw the release of a 1996 Ben Nevis, a 1997 Clynelish, a 1984 Macduff and in June, this 1995 Glenallachie.

A mind boggling amount of 36 bottles were released of this Glenallachie, so this is a collector’s item for sure! I don’t think this was from a small cask, probably only part of a cask, just like the Ledaig he bottled in 2010.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fatty and fruity. Some butter and wood smelling like jasmine. Thus quite floral and spicy. Hints of white pepper and again and again this florality whiffs by. A lovely nose. Nice added depth from the Sherry cask, not only giving it some mustiness, but also some fruit. When smelled more vigorously, whiffs of toned down peppermint pass by, but also some hay, dry raisins and cardboard. If I would hazard a guess, I would say Fino Sherry?

Taste: Spicy first but quickly turning into sugar water sweetness. The spice and the sweet balance each other out, so it’s not overly sweet. Warming going down. Hints of milk chocolate. Still, lovely stuff. Highly drinkable and enjoyable. The sweetness makes way for a more woody dryness towards the finish. Finish itself is not too long but pleasant, but doesn’t leave a great aftertaste, since especially a weak wood and cardboard note stays behind for a short while.

This is one of those highly drinkable Whiskies, where the weakest link is the finish, and especially the aftertaste. To get past that you tend to take another sip, and yet another sip, and yet another, so you’ll finish your glass rather quickly and after that you ask yourself where has the bottle gone? Definitely not my favourite Kintra bottling, but good enough.

Points: 82

Linkwood 13yo 1990/2003 (43%, Jack Wiebers Whisky World, Castle Collection, Cask #1922, 120 bottles)

This time we will have a look at a Linkwood from the rather obscure Castle Collection by one of Germany’s finest: Jack Wiebers Whisky World. Not a lot of pictures can be found of any bottle from this series. I still have the Linkwood bottle, but it is rather empty, so not so nice for a picture. Alas no true picture of this particular Linkwood. Most Whiskies for this series were reduced to 43%, although the odd cask strength version does exist. Besides reduction it doesn’t seem to me, that the whole cask was bottled. Usually only around 105 to 120 bottles are bottled per bottling. Yes I did that on purpose. It’s rather hot today.

Castle CollectionColor: Light gold.

Nose: Spicy oak and vanilla. We know already what that means don’t we? Next aroma is quite meaty. Diluted gravy combined with a salty caramel or toffee note, Just like the previous Linkwood this has some sort of herbal smelling wood. This also has a freshness that borders on ozone. Have you ever been in an ozone cleaned pool? Right after that the Whisky becomes more floral and retains its freshness. Creamy, powdery, not spectacular but at least very decent and reliable.

Taste: Light, very light, slightly alcoholic and fatty. Still meaty though and right after that some water diluted licorice. The wood turns slightly acidic and even a bit bitter. A kind of bitterness that is not welcome every time around, if you ask me, especially when combined with a floral note. But hey, that’s Whisky. It’s spirit aged in wood, and sometimes the wood impairs wonderful flavours to the spirit and sometimes not so great. Vanilla and watered down, molten vanilla ice cream and flower-water. Spicy and herbal again. Simple, so not a big body on this one. Short finish too. For me a bit too light and weak, but I’m not convinced it would be better after less reduction, or even at cask strength.

This Linkwood is pretty simple and straightforward and it is sold that way in a reasonably priced series and reduced to 43% ABV, to cut the cost even more. Not great, even with this nice nose, but not bad either. I imagine this to be emptied in one evening over a game of poker. It beats a lot of overpriced NAS bottlings of today though.

Points: 78