Glenfarclas 16yo 1990/2007 (58.9%, OB, The Family Casks, Sherry Butt #9246, 617 bottles)

And we’ve already reached the end of our short journey of Whiskies left behind by Erik. Professional work has almost ended at our house (the ceiling has yet to be done) and the time has come for me to finish up in true amateur style. The final chapter of this brief tour will be this vintage Glenfarclas. This is the 1990 vintage from the original release of the Family Casks back in 2007. In that year The Grant Family released 43 cask strength single cask bottlings, with vintages between 1952 up to 1994. Many different casks were used, like ex-Bourbon casks, first to even fourth-fill Sherry casks, but also Port pipes can be found in this series, or the many series that followed later. This first 1990 vintage is from a pretty hefty Sherry Butt, I can tell you that!

Color: Warm orange brown. Definitely mahogany.

Nose: Big and spirity. If caught off guard, it almost seems as if whiffs of acetone pass by. Fresh oak, Earthy next. Spicy and meaty, with lots of gravy notes. Honey (The Bee stuff). Perfect thick and cloying Sherry nose. Fresh and woody. Lots happening, with already signs of excellent balance. Soft warm wood, nothing like the sharper style I found in the 25yo Cadenhead Highland Park. No, this is entirely different and also a bit younger. Sometimes it smells like a Bourbon from a very heavily charred cask. George T. Stagg style. Fruity, nutty, yet this still carries those nail polish remover notes. Weaved into the fabric of the aroma’s I mentioned above is a wonderful, and sometimes odd smell of happy red fruits. I tried to describe it differently, but it just smells fruity, sunny and happy to me. The Highland Park, mentioned earlier, could be thick, dark and brooding, more like a gray rainy day. This Glenfarclas, on the other hand, also is a big Sherried Whisky, but happier, livelier, with a more acidic fruity bit. Sometimes this smells like food, chewy, substantial. Hey after the first sip I smell some Jasmine in here too. So a hidden floral bit rears its pretty little head. Nice.

Taste: Yeah big again, very big, definitely loads of wood, with rich tannins and also some bitterness. Oak and ashes. Fruits overpowered and pushed back. Warming. Quite hot with rough edges. You even could call it harsh. Yes this takes no prisoners, and is definitely not for everyone. Very hot going down, this is beyond warming actually. Cola notes, and also some burnt notes. Underneath fruity and because of its age, an oaky bitterness kept well in check. Its only so…hot. Coal, licorice, oaky, its big and harsh but also shows quite some beauty. Something you know is bad for you, but still you can’t help yourself and keep being drawn to it. Very interesting. Its in many ways over the top, woody, drying tannins, yet not all that bitter. Already towards the end of the body, this gets very simple and good. Not a lot of development though. The Highland Park had a lot more going for it, especially after some (extensive) breathing. The finish of this Glenfarclas is about wood, oak, fresh oak, virgin oak, Fresh sanded oak planks, but definitely less bitter then the Highland Park. So chocolate yes, dark chocolate, no, not exactly. Milk chocolate then? Nope, lacks the sweetness of that. No, it’s more like cocoa powder. Yes that’s it. Wood, leather, gentleman’s club. Rich, but in the taste not fruity. For fruity Sherry I turn to old Longmorns and Strathislas.

If I’m not mistaken, Erik brought this bottle with him when our Whisky club went abroad and did a tasting in Hamburg, Germany some years back. When freshly opened this was considered almost to harsh to drink and we all tried to find out why it was actually being released in this new and prestigious The Family Casks series. It’s more do-able now, but still not a Whisky to tackle without gloves. A full bottle of this would last me for many, many years to come.

Points: 85

Balblair 1990/2014 (46%, OB, 2nd Release)

Unbelievable! Here we have another Distillery that has never featured on these pages before. Balblair. Just like Glenrothes, Balblair is a distillery that has gone down the road, laid out by Wine. The long and winding road of releasing their products as vintages (in a reduced state, ABV-wise, that is). On the back of the bottle, in rather small print one can find the statement: “2nd release”. It implies that there has been an earlier 1st release, yes? Well, yes, but…

Since 2008 there has been an 1990 release which was a lot lighter in colour and which was only released in litre bottles for travel retail. That one was matured solely in ex-Bourbon barrels. It was released annually untill 2011. So there was a 1990/2008, a 1990/2009 etc. Since 2013 the first 2nd release, was released. the second in 2014, the third in 2015 etc. So what we have here are multiple, annual, batches from different bottling years of the 1st release, as well as of the 2nd release. So not only Glenrothes style vintages, but also Springbank style batches. Again the industry seems to consider batch variation to be a dirty word(s), yet I hope there is some adventure in these different batches. This will be a review of the 2014 batch (the 2nd batch of the 2nd vintage 1990, can you still follow? However, if a different batch falls into my hands, I’ll compare it to this one. By the way the 2nd release comes from the same casks and the same vintage as the 1st release, the only difference being this second release has spent about two years in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts. Oh, and with each new batch, it gets older as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Quite creamy, with sweet vanilla, ice-cream, fresh cold butter and Sherry. Hints of oak, fresh and toasted. Dry (scorched) leaves and herbal. Hints of coal even. Hints of paper, cardboard, toffee and honey. Cough syrup. This smells so sweet and syrupy that it is easy to conclude it lacks a bit of the woody backbone to keep it standing. This Whisky smells like a dessert by itself. The wood that is here, smells like pencil shavings.

Taste: Quite big, matching the nose. Sweet (Sherry) and syrupy. A bit too sweet imho. Maybe these casks didn’t contain the highest quality Sherry in the first place. Sweet milk chocolate, vanilla and vanilla ice-cream. (Now the honey in the nose becomes more pronounced as well.) Butter and more chocolate. Almonds with fruity acidity on top, as often this fruity acidity doesn’t blend in all that well. There seems to be a little problem with balance as well.  This acidity also has quite some staying power well into the finish only to dissipate in the aftertaste.

One sunny afternoon I tasted this 1990 2nd release and I loved it. Now, when giving it almost too much attention and analyzing it, there are some flaws that distort the balance a bit. It’s a bit too sweet and I don’t think the Sherry finish worked quite as it should. It’s completely fine when you have a casual dram and that is precisely where it’s for. I really liked it on that sunny afternoon, outside, with nice food and friends. When sitting at home, analyzing it, in a controlled environment, these flaws become more obvious, but I still like the Whisky very much. I wish I had the first release for comparison.

Ok, now I ask you to look past the flaws I described above, because as a whole this is definitely a good Whisky, so I stand by my score, which might be higher than you might expect from the text alone, and yes, at a good price, I would even buy it again. How is that for a recommendation. Just pick your moments to drink this, wisely…

Points: 87

Aberlour 12yo 1990/2003 “Warehouse No 1” (58.8%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Bourbon Cask #11552)

Time to follow up the Bourbon casked Aberlour from Warehouse No 1 with another one! This one is a few years younger and bottled more than ten years ago. Right off the bat the colour does seem quite light for something that is from a first fill Bourbon cask. I think it will be quite interesting to compare the two, so without further ado…

Aberlour 12yo 1990/2003 Warehouse No 1 (58.8%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Bourbon Cask #11552)Color: Light gold, white wine.

Nose: Typically ex Bourbon cask. If you don’t know it by now, you’ll never will. High alcohol, with vanilla. Clean wood and a bit sweet smelling. Toffee. Creamy and dusty. Fresh with a hint of lemon. Mildly spicy, but in a sticky kind of way. I know it does sound a bit strange. Wet dirt and dust. Big in its typical “Bourbon-ness” (the aroma combined with the high ABV.), but the rest is all details, meaning the rest are all mere hints. Fresh air. The wood itself releases quite some nice aroma’s. Slightly sugary wet paper even. Sometimes even whiffs of something meaty can be picked up. Stuff like this may all look alike, and in a way they are. But if you give it some time and attention, yes you have to work for it, the details will show, and sometimes you’ll be rewarded when it strikes a chord with you, like this one almost does with me.

Taste: Sweet, waxy, and nutty. Almonds. Quite hot, due to the high ABV, but the aroma is, again, quite big, so the aroma and the initial sweetness overpower the alcohol and that is quite a feat. Fatty butter, and mixed with that, a dry and leafy quality. Pencil shavings. It breaks down a bit towards the finish, where some bitterness comes to the front and an acidic note decides it doesn’t want to be part of this Whisky anymore. The finish itself is shorter than expected. The finish is gone, when the strength is still making its way down and warming you.

Compared to the 16yo I reviewed last, this one is more about the wood and the vanilla, and creamy toffee. This lack the fruit the more recent 16 yo has. So there is a difference. This 12yo is cleaner and has a more typical nose for a Whisky coming from a Bourbon cask. The 16yo in comparison is way more funky and fruitier and tastewise less balanced and softer. It also has a much longer finish. Who said all ex-Bourbon cask whiskies are alike, since these two alone are already quite different, and I’m not only focussing on the details. Same score though.

Points: 85

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

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

Hampden 17yo 1990/2007 (46%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Jamaica)

Quite nice trying some Rums in a row, something I haven’t done in a while, and I have to admit it, it’s quite a lot of fun. After the white Plantation, and the brown Cockspur 12, let’s try a super premium high ester Rum from Jamaica, bottled by the old Wine and Whisky traders, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Hampden Distillery from Jamaica is known for heavy pot still Rums a.k.a. high ester Rums. A lot of effort is made in the workings of yeast in the production process using century old fermentors, and of course, they use their own cultured yeasts. Hampden has a reputation to uphold when it comes to this kind of high ester Rum.

Hampden 1990 BBRColor: White wine.

Nose: Highly aromatic. Lots of esters. Extremely funky and dense. I really love Jamaican Rum, and this is exactly why. I recognize the typical Jamaican smell from the Plantation Jamaican Rums. Its thick and chewy. Rum with raisins or raisins full of Rum. It reminds me of a lot of things but I can’t put my finger on it what it exactly is. Christmas cake. Vanilla Ice cream with raisins in it. Reminds me of Napolitanean cassata ice-cream. That’s it. Loads of vanilla and new (bicycle) tires, where do you get that! Great funkiness. After a while a bit dusty. This is reggae in a bottle. Excellent stuff, I need it.

Taste: Sweet (just right for me) and lots of fruity acidity. Which is a great addition that prevents this Rum from becoming too heavy or cloying, what is even worse. So it has a lot of the Jamaican funk, but it is also super fruity. Unbelievable. Heaviness I can deal with, I love it actually, but overly and sugary sweet, nope, not my cup of tea. This Hampden ís my cup of tea. Give me the whole pot! Clean (no, not clean actually) and funky, slightly Industrial. But I like Industrial notes in Rum. You can find it in Caroni from Trinidad, but also in Rum Agricole. Good drinkability at 46% ABV. Lovely stuff. Sipping away at this, the added acidity stand out in the finish, defining it, and sometimes can be too much.

I don’t want to add too much to what I’ve already written above. This is great Rum and I really like this style. For a Jamaican, it could have been dirtier even, and bottled at a higher strength even, but I’m not complaining. this is wonderful stuff, with more than usual fruitiness, and a nice fresh acidity. All that after 17yo! Wow. I can almost cry this isn’t available anymore.

Points: 89

Glenrothes 1990/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Wood)

Time for an “oldie” Wow, I’m now calling a Whisky from 1990 an “oldie”, unbelievable how time flies. Here we have another Glenrothes. For one reason or another I seem to like independently released Glenrothes better than the official bottlings. Maybe the independents release their versions at a higher strength than the 43% ABV the owners themselves do. One thing is sure, besides that it needs to be at a higher strength, it is a distillate that need maturation in a Sherry cask, just like Macallan did. Do you still remember Sherried Macallans? Anyone?

Glenrothes 1990/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Wood)Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Lots of raisins. Soft creamy wood. Floral and slightly acidic Wine-attack. Linen. Nicely Sherried, waxy with dry powder. Earwax, coal and slightly tarry. Hint of dried out orange skin. Dusty attic (old home) and even a tiny hint of a dry rotting sensation, motor oil and vanilla. Whiffs of old woody Rum.

Taste: Creamy and rounded out. Big Sherried nose, but taste-wise not so heavy. Wood and a fruity acidity I sometimes get from PX-Sherry somehow don’t match perfectly. Does have a burning alcohol and warming sensation and a finish that lingers on for a while (raisins, honey and cask toast), but has no big staying power, medium I would say. It’s nice but it also seems to be telling it didn’t want the water. Maybe this would have been better without reduction, who knows? Nice, not very complex and not the heavy hitter I expected.

Well, this is bottled quite some time ago and in its day this was pretty affordable. Today Sherried bottlings that have no mayor flaws, like sulphur which many aficionado’s do not like, cost a pretty penny. This Glenrothes is big and small at the same time. Yes its heavily Sherried, but no it’s not a heavy hitter. It’s not brown, but orange. I really like the melancholy of it all. It reminds me of summer, dry and dusty, with aroma’s of old wood and furniture. In an attic isolated from sound with whiffs of flowers from outside. It may not be perfect nor very complex, but is it nice and highly drinkable. Has an old feel to it, as opposed to todays (sometimes sulphury) Sherry bottlings. “Lovely” would sum it up nicely.

Points: 86