The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84

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Benrinnes 15yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, L15P00535367, Circa 2001)

Long time no see! I took a month off, since a lot happened lately. First of all, a new job, which is nice, takes up a lot of time though, and the moments I did have left for writing reviews, were also spent differently than I initially expected. Apart from that, also The Whisky Show in London happened. Today, instead of reviewing something new from that show, I chose an oldie from my lectern.

Just like the Flora & Fauna Mortlach bottling I reviewed earlier, this is a bottle I brought with me to a gathering of my Whisky club, and as can happen when opening old bottles, the cork broke quite easily, crumbled to a pulp. You gotta love those corks now don’t you? Of all the Flora & Fauna bottlings, Mortlach, Dailuaine and this Benrinnes are the really Sherried ones (but there are more). Experience also shows us there is definitely some batch variation going on in the Flora & Fauna series. Here we have an oldie, supposedly bottled in 2001 (or 2002), so not a recent one, which might be entirely different.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Heavy on the Sherry. Nice and earthy. Meaty, cold gravy. Thick aroma. Coal and steam. Is it already a sherried bottling from a different time than ours? How would a more recent example compare? This was distilled in the eighties, which was a different era compared to a Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn from 1971. So heavy on the Sherry. Thick and astringent. Dry and not as fruity as Longmorn. If you ask me, this compares more to the style of Glenfarclas, drier and not-so-fruity. Funky, tarry, musk, brown sugar, coffee creamer and definitely Vanilla. American oak. Still not a lot of fruit though. Hints of very ripe cherries mixed in with oak. Dry, dusty and quite spicy. Hints of cask toast including the smell of molten plastic. Meaty, cooked vegetables with more oak and spices. Hard to tell which spices though, although anise and cloves come to mind, as well as some crushed beetle (that’s not a spice isn’t it?). I can’t help but feel there are some older casks used for this particular expression. Good and interesting, but also a bit “strange”. A hint of soap (not of the perfumy kind) and mocha.

Taste: On entry, a brief light moment, almost like a underproof Whisky (which it is not). Soft, but luckily not “smooth”. It has wonderful raw edges and does show some bitter (and soapy) notes as well, which do work well. Fruitier than the nose, and already one that needs to breathe. Somewhat sweeter than expected, caramel but also the brown sugar I got from the nose, all in good measure though. Tar and plastic yes, cherries? yes as well, but that’s about it. Does it matter? No, since it is a different kind of Sherried Whisky. Lots of (sweet) licorice (and toffee) in stead, it almost tastes salty. Again, a very interesting and tasty experience. Wonderful body, but it sometimes falls apart a bit in the finish (depending on the moment). Finish isn’t as long as one would think, but still has enough length. Well, if it’s a problem, take another sip then. Tar and coal make up the aftertaste, and Sherry of course.

For me, another gem in the Flora & Fauna range. Especially looking at those earlier bottlings, there were quite a few more than wonderful examples there. Mortlach, Blair Athol, Rosebank, all excellent. Worth looking for. I really need to have a look at more recent bottlings in this range to compare them to the older ones…

People start to pay silly money for the Flora & Fauna Mortlach, and it doesn’t even seem to matter if it’s an older one or one of the last. Granted, they are very good, but really, this 2001 bottling of Benrinnes is equally as good!

Points: 88

Epris 15yo 1999/2014 (45.4%, Cadenhead, Column Still, BMC, Brazil)

So Brazilian Rum eh? Is there such a thing? Sure, Rum made in Brazil, or is this maybe a Cachaça? What is Cachaça? Cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled. Hmmm, isn’t that the same as Rhum Agricole? Yes it is similar, just made in a different part of the world. There is a major difference though. When Rhum Agricole is aged it is aged in Oak. Cachaça can be aged in any type of (native) wood allowing for more diverse aroma’s. Adding even more difference to the aromas of Cachaça, is that fermentation is done with wild yeast cells as opposed to single, highly controlled yeast strains used elsewhere in the Rum industry. Every Rum producer has their own specific strains, so to me there seems to be more adventure to Cachaça.

The (huge) Epris distillery is located in São Roque near São Paulo, Brazil. Back in 1999 the distillery made Rum for Bacardi and other types of alcoholic beverages. Well informed sources tell me Epris never made a true Cachaça, nor does the label mention the word. So the Epris distillate we have here is a Rum made from fresh cane juice, probably not adhering completely to the production methods and rules for Cachaça. So maybe close to, but not a true Cachaça. We also know this distillate is made in a column still. Today Epris doesn’t do “Rum” anymore. Today they focus on making fermented rice and Sake! Who would have thought. Brazil!

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Clean and elegant. Grass and hay. Powdery and green, mixed in with some vanilla. Some sweetness with nice wood influences. Distant red fruits, yet well in the back. Hints of pencil shavings and bamboo. Cane juice. Vegetal. Slightly perfumy but also whiffs of a more sweaty kind, pass by. Mocha and vanilla. Medium fresh on top. I’m sure I’m not objective here, but I think I smell some cooked brown rice now! Tea with sugar. Clean and very soft. Spicy with a tiny hint of smoke (toasted cask). yes, cold black tea. Leafy. Smelling this, it seems to me this isn’t made from molasses. In a way it is a bit simple. I have this in my glass for a while now, but I don’t get a lot of development (yet). I guess this may very well need a whole lot of air, and this is a freshly opened bottle I have here. Already quite appealing though.

Taste: Semi sweet, sugar, caramel and toffee. Very friendly and soft. A bit light, thin and simple. Small bitter edge, with some yellow sugared fruits. Greenish, vegetal and grassy, but in no way does this resemble a Rhum Agricole. Maybe it is somewhat closer to a diluted Rum or Arrack (we’ll get to that quite soon actually, stay tuned). Flavoured tea with some sugar-water. Medium finish with sometimes some peppermint. Alcoholic at times. Whiffs of (vanilla) Wodka. Not very active casks if you ask me. Not a lot stays around for the aftertaste, but also no off-notes. Easy to drink, and definitely growing on me.

I love this series of Cadenheads Rums, but in a way this particular one starts out a bit as a disappointment. I’ve tasted many others from this series that were stellar, this one just is too simple, and sligtly too sweet. In no way would I have thought this has aged for 15 years. Not very adventurous, so probably not a Cachaça made with wild (boys) yeast and aged in a funky wood type cask. Here the beauty lies in the details. Enjoyable and definitely worth my money. I wouldn’t buy a second one just yet, but you should buy your first one, just like me, because it is different from the rest and it’s definitely enjoyable. Having said all this, the Epris does start to grow on me, so it may very well get better with time, air and some care.

Points: 83

Glencadam 15yo 1989/2005 (58%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #6014, 578 bottles)

Another one I found in the attic. Although this hasn’t been bottled ages ago, this time around I have a Signatory Glencadam bottled back in 2005. That’s already 11 years ago. Time flies. This is just the second Glencadam on these pages and it seems not to be a Malt with a big reputation. Having said that, the “new” 10yo I reviewed last time around, was something of a nice surprise for me. Quite impressive for an officially bottled 10yo. However, I have seen it before that the first release of something is better than most subsequent releases. Just sayin’…

Glencadam 15yo SigVColor: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy and strictly Sherry. Smells like a Red Wine cask actually. Whiffs of stale Beer. Wow, where is this going? Hints of caramel and licorice. Creamy and perfumy. Definitely more floral than most Whiskies I recently tried. Floral pudding. Sure some dried apricots underneath, but not enough to call this fruity as well, although the fruit aroma becomes stronger with prolonged breathing, so it may be more fruity then I initially thought. Hardly any wood. Fruity and floral it is and dry warm wind blowing over the top. After even some more time the floral part seems to have disappeared. Interesting effect. It’s all about what evaporates the first. It becomes nicer over time, and better balanced as well.

Taste: On entry again the feeling this comes from a Wine cask. Apart from the slightly harsh winey note, a lot of paper and cardboard notes. A Beer-like carbonation taste (not saying there are bubbles in this one, an effect I know from a certain Teaninich, also bottled by Signatory (not reviewed yet, but I do have a bottle of that somewhere). Lots of pronounced Italian laurel licorice. Cumin and slightly minty. Hidden sweetness and a nice bitter (hoppy?), and slightly soapy, edge well into the finish. Well this one seems to have it all doesn’t it?

If you work on this a bit it is quite nice and wonderfully complex. For some it may be an acquired taste. You need to let this breathe for quite some time though, although seeing it change with time is quite nice as well. Interesting Malt. Recommended for aficionado’s. I liked the feel of the 10yo I reviewed earlier, and this one doesn’t disappoint as well. However, I’m not that positive about some of the other regular releases by the owners themselves, so be careful with buying those without trying.

Points: 85

 

Bellevue 15yo 1998/2014 (52.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 011, 169 bottles, Guadeloupe)

The market for good Rum is on the rise, especially in markets where Single Malt Whisky is king. In the last couple of years the run on good Whisky was bigger than life, depleting the stocks considerably. Today we face not a shortage as such, but a shortage in older matured Whiskies. In part because there isn’t any, in part because it is simply not bottled because one can fetch a better price later on down the road. Hence we see an ever-growing number of Whiskies without an age statement and with a funky little name. Nothing bad here, but putting two and two together, the Whiskies must be younger and younger to be able to keep the new bottlings coming for a hungry (read: thirsty) public.

Whisky people in general are not happy with the youth of their Whiskies, nor are they happy with the development of prices of their beloved aged Whiskies. Just look at Highland Park 18yo, Talisker 18yo and Laphroaig 18yo, producers simply don’t have the time anymore to wait that long and subsequently sell it for a not so super-premium price. It’s not all romance you know, it still is a business. Happy times for Whisky producers in warm climate countries such as Taiwan and India, where very good Whisky is made today in much less time than in Scotland and the other traditional Whisky countries.

In comes Rum. Whisky people are open to trying other distillates that are nice and/or aged, and/or affordable. One of those alternatives for Whisky is Rum. Guadeloupe Sainte Anne Grande-TerreThe old Rum community is enriched with Whisky people fishing in the pond of Rum and getting to know the product and a different kind of romanticism. Where Scotland is beautiful, but also cold and wet, Rum predominantly comes for the Caribbean and especially the image of paradise islands comes to mind. Older Rums are becoming scarce very quickly and just like Whisky, will become almost extinct, Prices are on the rise as well. Where have we seen this before?

Lots of independent bottlers of fine Single Malt Whisky are turning to Rum. Some did that many, many years ago, Like Cadenhead and Berry Brothers & Rudd, and some more recently like Wilson & Morgan (Rum Nation), Kintra and David Stirks outfit Exclusive Malts, but there are many more. Today we’ll have a look at another one. Isla del Ron is the Rum brand of Thomas Ewers’ outfit, Malts of Scotland.

Thomas EwersThomas bottled a Rum from Guadeloupe from a distillery nobody has heard of, South Pacific (as stated on the label), not to be confused with the South Pacific distillery of Fiji, which is entirely different place altogether. Thomas explained to me he was offered a cask of South Pacific, which turned out to be Bellevue instead, so in this case the label is wrong. Casks like this are sold to bottlers through brokers, so it’s not a surprise there are a lot more Bellevue casks from 1998 bottled by different parties. And with brokers there lies a problem. Brokers only want to sell on casks, not really caring informing the buying party what really is in the cask if they have the information at all.

Thomas believes this to be from the Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante Island, but looking at information of many other “Bellevue’s” from 1998, it can also be Damoiseau’s Bellevue Distillery (Le Moule, Grande-Terre), which would be even more probable, since it is a larger producer. So we’re not sure about the exact distillery, nor can we be about the ingredients. It can be either distilled from molasses or from sugar cane juice. It can even be a blend of both, since some distilleries produce both. Sugar cane when it is harvested, and molasses the rest of the year. Questions, questions.

Isla del Ron GuadeloupeColor: Orange brown.

Nose: Big aroma, lots of different spices. It’s like a spice mix from Indian Whisky. Vanilla, chewy. Dry, spicy and fatty but not sweet. Hint of sweet peppermint. Butter and coffee with milk. Mocha and hot butter as well. Cinnamon, cocoa powder, leather and hints of soft wood. Damp earth and after that rather dusty. Hints of licorice mixed with a nice dry and clean woody note and slightly burned sugar, molten plastic (don’t worry) and creamy banana. Very well-balanced and a nose of great complexity. Especially when the heavier elements are snorted out of the glass, the fun starts. Wow!

Taste: Starts out with a short, sweet and aromatic burst, but quickly becomes dry and very aromatic, with again the Indian spice-mix so predominant in the nose. Nutmeg and lavas, but there is a whole lot more. When it goes down the hatch it becomes even drier. The lighter elements start to evaporate in my mouth and engulfs it with lots of beautiful aroma’s. Milk chocolate, dry leather and a slight bitter edge of wood. Hints of licorice, tar and charred oak. Hot chocolate. After getting used to the spicy dryness, it becomes creamy hot chocolate style. Lovely development as well, especially since the aftertaste is stronger than the finish. Wow, what an amazing Rum!

I like the bottle used for Isla del Ron, it’s the same bottle used for Pusser’s 15yo, HSE from Martinique and last but not least, for Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte. I only have a beef with the label, its dark, dull and depressing. Rum comes from places where life is colorful. I hope Thomas will continue to bottle a lot more Rum’s, but I hope he’ll spice up the looks a bit!

In the end, after I tasted this in the shop, I needed a whole 10 seconds to snatch one up. This stuff makes me happy!

Points: 88

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample.

Clynelish 15yo 1997/2012 (51.5%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask, 59 bottles)

A few days ago I reviewed another Clynelish from 1997, and I just stumbled across this one, bottled by the Whisky Mercenary a.k.a. Jürgen Vromans. Since this is bottled in 2012, I guess Jurgen sent it to me a few years back as well. Only 59 bottles did once exist, but we know the Belgians to be enjoying life quite a bit, so I don’t think a lot of bottles of this have survived. I guess its will be even harder to find one of these today. I’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jürgen’s bottlings, and I have to give it to him, he has quite the nose for picking them, as well as being allowed to pick “dem Whiskies!” You might not know, but it’s not easy to be an independent bottler. You just don’t go into a warehouse trying all of the casks lying around and picking the best you can find, unless you have a bit of a reputation…

Clynelish TWMColor: White wine.

Nose: Buttery and malty. Fresh. Like a breath of fresh air, yet also citrus fresh. Creamy toffee barley. The cask seemed to be quite inactive, maybe the color also gives that away a bit already, but the sweetness is more like toffee and not big on vanilla you get from more first fill and more active casks. Another hint is the lack of a pronounced wood aroma. Cold apple compote with a bit of warm apple sauce, laced with a splash of calvados. All those apply associations are noticeable, but in no way overpowering. The fruity sweetness gets more and more dusty and dry, with a tiny bit of surface wood, oak obviously, with a little bit of mint. Apple pie, after some breathing the apple is joined by some freshly made dough. Nice balance with more than usual distillery character. Typical example where the wood did less to make the Whisky. It shows its other side. Fruity fresh, with shallow depth, dough aroma instead of wood, but at the same time lacking real depth and complexity. This isn’t a fault. It’s just different, and with this it shows another side of Single Malt Whisky in general.

Taste: Well, what a surprise. Sure it is fruity, but way more wood in here than in the nose. It starts with wood and paper as well as quite the peppery note. Sugary sweetness and creamy. I didn’t expect that at all. Toffee and bread. Caramel. The aroma’s grow a bit bigger with more breathing, so don’t be to hasty with this one. The lack of activity from the cask is noticeable by the weakness of the finish. It starts with a little attack, for a brief moment shows a nice body, but then it comes down very quick and leaves you a bit with a light, short and unremarkable aftertaste, which at some point in time even gets a bit bitter. Cedar wood bitterness. This bitterness even grows bigger, if you drink this Whisky after a prolonged time of breathing.

In my opinion, not the best of Clynelishes around, but there are many other who like it even better. This is from 2012, right at the start of his career as The Whisky Mercenary. Its hard then to get to pick the very best of casks, and it is a shared cask as well. Only 59 bottles was his share, but I guess at this ABV there was more Whisky in the cask, bottled or blended by others. Nevertheless educational, because here you can see that it’s more about the spirit, than it is about the wood.

Compared to the 1997 Wemyss Clynelish I reviewed a few days ago, the family resemblance is quite remarkable, but the Wemyss is definitely the more aromatic and polished expression of the two.

Points: 81

Linkwood 15yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, First Fill & Refill Sherry Casks, Circa 2006)

Gordon & MacPhail release Whiskies in many series. Gordon & MacPhail Reserve, Gordon & McPhail Cask Strength, Gordon & MacPhail Exclusive to name but a few. Whisky Geeks call the series like this Linkwood the “Licenced Bottlings”, but I have heard the people of Gordon & MacPhail calling it the “Distillery Labels”, though both names aren’t anywhere to be found on the label. Bottlings in this series consist of Whiskies, where there isn’t (really) an official bottling of, again, like this Linkwood, and to a lesser extent Strathisla and Longmorn, like the 1971 I reviewed not so long ago, of which an official bottling did exist, although not many. If memory serves me correctly, Whiskies in this series were always reduced to 40% ABV and later 43% ABV.

Linkwood 15yo G&MColor: Light copper gold.

Nose: Dusty and funky Sherry. Slightly raisiny. Deep, dark and brooding. Nutty not fruity, so lacking the Sherry cherry of fresh and fruity Whisky. This is all but lively. Its darker and more brooding than I’ve come to expect. Very old calvados. It is apply but in a dense and syrupy kind of way. It’s some kind of hybrid between old Calvados and raisins. It is quite old and unusual smelling and definitely does not smell like a distillate from the early nineties. Hints of charred oak and vanilla powder. Nice, deep and complex. Oily baking paper. Dull brown sugar and some soft wood spices, and sometimes a short whiff of old soap.  More a sort of floral note than a real soapy note.

Taste: Paper and wood, again deep and all but fresh. Old raisins. Dried apples. Red apple skins and definitely from Sherry casks. Quite restrained. This does not shout out its presence, it more sort of sits in the corner quietly. Distant burnt note. Apart from the (burnt) woody (paper) and Sherried traits, this is also has qualities of refined sugar without being very sweet. Does that make sense? Hidden sweetness overpowered by the aroma’s described above? Second half lacks a bit of development and the finish concentrates around the wood and paper notes, with hints of old Sherried Whiskies ending in a medium walnut bitterness and of medium length. It end with the finish, there is no noteworthy aftertaste.

Actually this particular bottling, and beware there are more batches of this, is quite restrained and is unlike many of the Whiskies that are on the market today. This also makes it less likely choice for a daily drinker. Although it is alright at 43% ABV, I wouldn’t have minded some extra 3%, just to carry and strengthen the aroma’s that are presented to us.

Points: 83