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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Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Marsala Finish)

This will be interesting. Experience learns me that I have tasted a lot of good Clynelishes from 1989, although one might ask oneself how far vintages work for Whisky as they do with Wine. An other interesting point is, although todays Wine finishes are quite common, back in 2003, when this was released, Wine finishes weren’t all that hip. Remember that the demand for Whisky was a lot less than it is today, so the sentiment, back then was, if it’s finished in an odd cask (not Bourbon or Sherry), than there must have been something wrong with the original Whisky. This has been finished, by the bottlers, in a cask that previously held Marsala Wine. Marsala is a fortified Wine from Sicily Italy. Marsala can be dry or sweet, and can be white or red, or something in between. Just like Sherry and Port which also comes in lots of different versions, so the word Marsala alone only narrows it down a bit what to expect. It would have been nice to know exactly what kind of Marsala was in the cask. No surprise that we have an “early” experiment with a Wine finish, since Fabio (the man behind Wilson & Morgan) is Italian and already a Wine buff before getting interested in Whisky and Rum. Remember Rum Nation? That’s also his.

By the way, there are other 1989 W&M Clynelishes around. At least one Sherry and one Bourbon expression exist as well. Just look at the bottom right corner of the front label. By the way I have tried this Bourbon expression and it wasn’t as good as other 1989 Clynelishes. Maybe the reason for finishing this one.

clynelish-1989-wm-marsala-finishColor: Gold.

Nose: Dry, restrained and not “thick”. Elegant. Well balanced. Lightly fruity and appetizing. Peaches. Nutty and dusty. Pushed way back some notes of creamy vanilla, so I’m guessing American oak, and probably the previous maturation was done in a Bourbon cask. Don’t be fooled, a lot of Sherries are matured in American oak as well, since it gives off a more creamy, vanilla feel, whereas European oak has more tannins to it. Next some spicy notes. Hints of sweetish basil. Nice one to smell and in no way does the Marsala overpower the Whisky. Fabio was on to something here, and maybe the Clynelish itself wasn’t too bad as well? Hints of dusty dark (friendly) cocoa powder. Good. Give it some time to breathe and the nose does show it has some origins in Wine, but still in a very restrained manner. Hints of Calvados even.

Taste: At first some wood, dusty and spicy but soon a wave of utter fruit passes by, although the fruity sweetness is almost nonexistent, the initial sip has definitely some sweetness to it. Nutty and nice. It has some fruity acidity though, not much but it does help the balance. Two distinct layers after which the finish sets in. A pretty good Whisky with a nicely done finish. It is a treat on entry and has a nice balanced body. The finish has some moderate staying power, and is easily the weakest point of this Malt. It doesn’t have enough length, and is actually not very complex. luckily the rest of the experience is very positive, so definitely a malt one can enjoy. I guess this experiment can be called a success.

The middle has some heat to it so the 46% ABV seems appropriate. I can be easily disappointed when a Whisky has been reduced too much, but I’m also easy in admitting that reductions often work out. In this case I’m not wondering how a cask strength version would have been. I’m happy as it is.

Points: 86

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

 

Cragganmore 14yo 1989/2003 (46%, Cadenhead, Original Collection, Sherrywood, 696 bottles)

Early on in my “Whisky career” I used to be a “regular” at one of the few Cadenhead Shops that were around. Amsterdam had one of the first shops outside of Scotland. I tried quite a few Cadenhead bottlings in those days and bought maybe even more, so i still have quite a few of those older bottlings. However, almost all the Cadenhead bottlings I brought home were cask strength versions, called Authentic Collection. At the same time Cadenhead bottled part of the same cask at 46% ABV, calling it the “Original Collection”, although I suspect, sometimes the whole cask was reduced and bottled at 46%. I’m not sure if there exists a cask strength version of this Cragganmore. I .have to admit I hardly own an “Original Collection” bottling (if any). Cragganmore of course is one of the Diageo Distilleries, and is represented in the Classic Malts range. Since Diageo hugely promotes these Malts, it is always nice to compare that to one of the independent bottlings. I’ve already reviewed some of them on these pages. The 12yo, the 1988 Distillers Edition and the 29yo Special Edition. I also had a great 1993 Sherried Cragganmore, bottled by Duncan Taylor. Lets see how this 1989 Cadenheads offering will do.

Cragganmore Cadenhead 1989/2003Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Rich and sweet. Fruity. Waxy apple skin. Funky raisins and cherry water. The initial fruity acidity is quite thin so after a while you don’t small it anymore. IF you use a lid for a while the acidity gets concentrated and is noticeable again. Without this acidity, this is a dark and brooding offering. A bit goth I would say. Damp earth and slightly rotting leaves n the forest floor. Smells quite sweet and underneath there is quite some vanilla as well. Dusty and notes of dull wet wood mixed in with toffee and caramel. Quite aromatic but at the same time sweet and syrupy. A two-faced puppy this is. Put a lid on it and its more fruity and acidic, let it breathe and it becomes more brooding. Very interesting.

Taste: Almond and toffee sweetness (which dissipates quickly). Short licorice attack. Apple skins and apple aroma’s more akin to Calvados. Very nutty (Sherry) this is. Probably a Sherry that aged under flor, so not from our usual Oloroso and PX casks. No, this is more Fino or Amontillado. Wine people believe this is Sherry royalty, much better than Oloroso and PX, which are the most popular casks for ageing Whisky these days. Just check out the bottlings of Glendronach. Having said that it, obviously doesn’t automatically mean the Whisky is better off as well. Quite some wood, with a slight bitter edge, but also vegetal bitterness, like you get from biting fresh leaves. Strange? Get out of your chair then and spend some more time in nature! The finish isn’t as long as expected and the aftertaste is quite anonymous as well.

Personally, I find Fino Sherry casks can produce very nice, but different Whiskies. For me it was something I had to grow into, and I guess I’m not finished growing just yet. I really do recognize the quality of the result, but it somehow is not something that like right off the bat. It needs some work. On the other side, I believe, this profile suits a nice Cuban cigar, if you pick the right one for it.

Points: 82

Talisker 1989/2002 “Distillers Edition” (45.8%, OB, TD-S: 5DP)

Since the 2002 Distillers Edition of Lagavulin was such a success, I managed to unearth the 2002 Distillers Edition of Talisker as well. This 2002 version is the direct successor of the 2001 I reviewed a few years ago. This is only the fourth Distillers Edition since with there wasn’t a Talisker DE released in 1999. Both the Talisker and the Lagavulin DE’s were first released in 1997. In 1999 the Second Lagavulin was released and since 2000 both were released annually.

Talisker DE 2002Color: Light copper orange.

Nose: Compared to the Lagavulin this can be called elegant, which is obvious, since Talisker is peated to a lower level and the Whisky itself is much younger. Lightly peated, more fruity and fresh. Fresher, younger and livelier. Slightly grassy. Creamy overall feel. Hints of pudding and vanilla. Nice soft wood. Although this has been finished in a Sherry cask, the finish is quite sparse. It’s typical peatiness is recognizable as a Talisker. Slightly oily and waxy, like an elegant distant relative of Springbank. Hints of old herbs from an old wooden grocery shop. Tiny hint of Islay-esk tarry rope. Hints of yellow fruits even. Sometimes this reminds me of white peach in sweet yoghurt, with some soft, slightly burnt wood added to it. Where the Lagavulin was very in-your-face, this Talisker is not. It’s even less so than the 10yo (from 2002).

Taste: Here the wood comes first after which a toned down little peppery attack announces it’s a Talisker all right. Fatty soft peat. Lovely. Cute almost. With some air, quite nutty. Again a slightly burnt note, which must be from the inside of the Sherry casks. Towards the finish a more smooth and sweet note appears, which I feel is not completely right for Talisker. Creamy towards the finish. Sure the peat is here, but most if it seems hidden by the unexpected sweetness. Medium finish with indeed a fishy part, and alas not much going on in the aftertaste…

Where Whisky buffs will almost always prefer Oloroso Sherry casks over PX Sherry casks. Just look how quickly the Oloroso versions of the vintage Glendronach’s sell out before the PX-versions. In the wine world, Oloroso is not considered the best of Sherries. The PX finish for Lagavulin seems to be a perfect match and nobody would even wonder, at least I didn’t, how a Oloroso finished Lagavulin would be. (Alright, plenty of them around), but for the DE-version at least, I didn’t wonder. For this Talisker however, I’m less happy about the choice of Sherry cask. For me it’s slightly off, so I’m wondering now how other finishes would have worked for Talisker in the DE-series.

Points: 85

Same score as “Neist Point” and a quick comparison between the two warrants the score of both. If offered at the same price, I would go for the Distillers Edition.

Aberlour 13yo 1989/2003 “Warehouse No 1” (58.7%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #13330)

Yes, it’s still not over. Just like the 2003 Bourbon Cask Aberlour, I have also a Sherried one. The 1995 16yo Sherry was impressive, let’s see how this 1989 13yo compares…

Aberlour 13yo 1989/2003 Warehouse No 1 (58.7%, OB, Single Cask Selection, Sherry Cask #13330)Color: Mahogany.

Nose: Wow! This is more like it. This smells of proper Sherry cask. From proper European oak. Whisky from the old days. Wonderful wood and dry leafy quality. warm milk chocolate, no raisins. The Sherry is extremely well-integrated and immediately make the right connections in my mind. Wonderful (there is that word again!). Hints of tar and black coal. Remember this from the dark 1971 Scott’s Longmorns? Hints of warm machine oil. Warm steam locomotive, but not as strong as the aforementioned Longmorns. Dry and dusty wood. Old wood, just stripped of 50 years of paint. Wonderful dry fruit. Black berries and such. I love a Sherry profile like this. I just hope it tastes just as good…

Taste: Wow, it starts with wood and the high ABV. Careful. Extremely smooth. Here, there are some raisins put in the chocolate mix. Earwax and nice powdery wood. Cough syrup and wonderfully deep. Thick and cloying. A tad sweeter than the nose lead me to believe. Lacks the tar and black coal from the nose. In itself that’s a shame, but the overall taste and the sheer balance make up for it. This cask had much to give, that they were right to bottle it after 13 years. It would have been over the top with wood if would have aged a few years longer. Stellar aftertaste as well. Near perfect stuff.

I just finished my bottle of a heavily Sherried 1989 Mortlach, but Aberlour also had something going for them in 1989. Tasted blind I might have gone with a Japanese Whisky. I wish I visited Aberlour Distillery in 2003…

Although the Bourbon Aberlour’s are nothing to scoff at, the Sherries are the way to go. Aberlour and Sherry are a made for each other. This 13yo Aberlour is better than all the A’bunadh’s I’ve ever tasted.

Points: 93

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