Highland Park Week – Day 4: Highland Park 1992/2006 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Refill Sherry)

Yesterday we ventured into the realm of the independent bottler, well two actually. Today we’ll stay there but add only one independent bottler to our collection. This time we’ll have a look at a reasonably priced, (at least it was reasonably priced ten years ago, when this was bottled), and reduced Highland Park bottled by Italian outfit Wilson & Morgan. Yes, you’ll find a lot of people in Italy with names like that!

Yesterdays Highland Park was distilled in 1995, this particular one was distilled several years earlier. Do you see a trend? However, since this was bottled ten years prior to yesterdays 1995 offering, this one is definitely younger (as in it spent less time in wood). Here it is stated on the label that this came out of a Refill Sherry cask, so lets see if this one has more Sherry influence, compared to yesterdays Refill Hogshead.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry notes and actually a bit soapy. Much different from the previous Highland Park. Right from the start discrepant fruity acidic notes. Dusty and vegetal. Not very appealing actually. First impression is that something is not quite right. Warm, dull (nothing sticks out or shines) and somewhat simple. Not a lot of development. It’s almost like the Highland park distillate and this particular Sherry cask are no friends of each other. I’m wondering what kind of Sherry it was. Definitely unbalanced. Hints of caramel, toast and aspirin powder. Add to that a vibrant red fruity, synthetic, acidity. Unbelievable how dusty this is. No wood and some hidden sweetness. Syrup, sugar (the smell of it, not the sweetness). Hints of morning breath and Jenever. Powdered coffee creamer.

Taste: Wow, the dullness mentioned above is right op front the taste as well, as is (finally) some wood. Short hot burst and woody spices. Friendly hint of, again synthetic, lemon. Some sweetness in the background, toffee, coffee creamer and yet again an unbalanced middle part. Rural notes. Here the dullness translates into paper. Old newspaper (hold the ink). The red fruits mentioned above make up the rather short finish, with a unbalaced aftertaste. The cask did it’s part here. It did impair aromas you wouldn’t get from a Bourbon cask. However, just like was noticeable on the nose. The Highland Park distillate and the cask didn’t work together very well.

This one is long gone and you don’t even see them that much on auctions. Most older bottles of reduced Whisky, by Wilson & Morgan were very affordable, so I guess most were drunk when they were released. If you come across this one at auction or on a dusty shelf somewhere, well it’s not without reason it stayed on that shelf and when auctioned, I wouldn’t pay all that much for it. Its Whisky, it’s not bad and it doesn’t have big flaws. Definitely drinkable, but not a high flyer if you ask me. A bit unbalanced and very restrained or dull, but not boring, or maybe that as well…

Points: 80

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Mortlach 11yo 1992/2004 (46%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Autumn/Summer, DMG 627)

Talisker Storm is essentially a young Whisky, one of today’s NAS-expressions. A decade ago, this 11yo Mortlach would be considered a young Whisky and back then we hardly ever heard of NAS-Whiskies to boot. Mortlach is known for its unique distilling regime where the Whisky in the bottle was distilled 2.6 times. Mortlach is also known for dark and dirty Sherry bottlings. Mostly first fill and Oloroso. Just have a look at this Wilson & Morgan Mortlach. So Mortlach fits in the group of Macallan (of old), Aberlour, Glendronach and Longmorn.

However, here we have a rather pale expression of Mortlach bottled by Douglas Laing, from the time Fred and Stewart were still running a business together. Douglas Laing had essentially three series of bottlings. Provenance, Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare (better known as the Platinum-bottlings). There were some more, but lets stick to these three better known ones, shall we? Provenance was mostly reduced to 43% and later 46%, Old Malt Cask to 50% (if possible) and generally older and more special. Finally Old & Rare-expressions were cask strength en even older still (and extra special). Maybe there are some exceptions but in my mind all were single cask bottlings. Here we’ll try a young and very pale Mortlach from the least expensive series of the three. Young-ish and reduced.

mortlach-provenance-11yo-1992-2004Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fresh, soft and fruity. Some barley and definitely some citrus notes. Very fresh and “summery”. Hints of bread, mocha and nuts, but also a chewy, green oaky note. Vegetal. Green leaves and perfumy. Hints of dishwater and latex paint as well, which really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Powdery and dusty, in part like the smell of old books, some leather and cold gravy. Warm butter and vanilla pudding. Quite a lot happening here, and a bit dirty alright. Although all of the aroma’s I’m picking up here, are pretty different, the whole is well-balanced. They mix together well. Mortlach is known for a meaty element (from Sherry casks), but that is lacking here.

Taste: Barley again and a lot of the vegetal, green and oak notes. Chewy again and it has a short sharp edge from the oak. It’s almost like virgin oak this, with a bite. A little bitter woody bite. Don’t think now this is a bitter Whisky, because it isn’t. The bite itself is extremely short, leaving room for a very soft and mellow Whisky. Cannabis and vanilla. Creamy, with cookie dough and chocolate-chip cookies as well. Sweet(ish) and fruity. The taste of this Mortlach is less complex than the nose. Judging by the color, the cask didn’t seem all that active, but it did impair a lot of the woody notes, so it probably was an easy pick when considering bottling a younger Whisky. Hey, but it’s not all (soft) wood notes, there is also some coconut, nutty and creamy aroma’s. (something you can also find in some Glen Keith‘s matured in ex-Bourbon casks). It’s fruity as well. Medium nutty and creamy finish, with hints of cannabis (the first time around). With a medium bitter aftertaste giving the whole experience some backbone.

Mortlach is known as a dirty, meaty Sherried Whisky. However, this probably came from an American oak cask that previously held Bourbon. So does the meaty part come from the Sherry then? Well not entirely. Especially on the nose, the distillate, without the influence of (Oloroso or PX) Sherry casks, still shows a meaty aroma. Cold gravy I called it, and dirty. It doesn’t taste as a dirty meaty Mortlach to me though. Remarkably soft, and pretty decent overall, yet nothing special as well.

Points: 81

Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)

Whereas most of the reviews written come from samples accumulated over many years, it doesn’t mean I don’t open any bottles, because I do. Just click on “Whisky from Master Quills Lectern” down below, and in an instant you can see which reviews were written about bottles I have, or had, in my collection. Bottles I believed were worthy of buying, very often without even tasting them. Glen Keith is no stranger on these pages, which is no surprise actually. I rather like my Glen Keiths, and Strathisla, it’s sister distillery. Both reside on the same premises. Pernod Ricard, the owners, aren’t doing very much with Glen Keith (yet), so it is a bit of a hidden treasure, only known to aficionados and connoisseurs (I hate those words). Strathisla’s sister-distillery has been featured already three times before on these pages. One stellar one from the sixties, just as good as the legendary Strathisla’s from that era. Two more were reviewed, both from the nineties: 1990 and even one from 1992, just like this one.

Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Wonderfully creamy and appealing. Only one sniff suffices to let us know we’ll be enjoy this thoroughly. I can’t imagine anything smelling so nice being not enjoyable to taste. Bourbon barrels so yes, nice vanilla and creamy notes, as well as some tension from woody spices partly young wood. Milk chocolate. Next some nice florality emerges as opposed to fruity notes often found in ex-Bourbon barrels. Fresh, not roasted, nuts. Dusty and vibrant at the same time. Not only floral, but also some acidic fruitiness comes to the fore, just don’t smell it too vigorously, the cream overpowers it then and makes it smell sweet. Enough happening in this one, although it may not be the most complex stuff around.

Taste: Fruity and nutty. Almonds. Waxy and chewy. Delayed pepper. Again with nice chocolate sprinkled wood and just like the nose, it tastes sometimes sappy and young. As if new wood staves were added to a rebuilt barrel. This would be highly unlikely though. Sawdust as well. Plywood? People who read everything on Master Quill, know that I dislike not-so-well integrated acidity that lies on top. Abuelo 12yo comes to mind. This Whisky also has an acidic note that lies on top, only this time it works a bit. Amazing. Just like the nose, the Whisky doesn’t seem to be extremely complex. However, the body of the Whisky is so big, that it manages to deal with the acidic high note.

Sure, reduced Whisky is extremely drinkable, but Cask Strength delivers a punch, but also presents flavours to you on a silver platter. The finish has great length and lingers on, seemingly forever, in the aftertaste. Smells nice, tastes even better. Water enhances the nutty creaminess of the nose and at the same time downplaying the woody aromas, making it even bigger and creamier, but also less sophisticated. In the taste, the acidity is given a lager role to play, which in the end alters the balance of the Whisky, making it less balanced in fact. It also adds some complexity with chili pepper and some mint. The finish is more about milk chocolate than it was before adding water. So it might be fun to experiment a bit with water.

For me, something like this is a no brainer. Its more than 20 years old, came from nice active barrels, and gives you heaps of flavour, and a lot of alcohol to boot, so you can play around with it, adding some water with a pipette. If you can’t find this particular bottling, don’t hesitate buying one by another bottler, or one of it sister casks bottled by Signatory Vintage instead, I understand they are all good, and some even better! Some are still available, so what are you waiting for?

Points: 87

Gardel 1992/2003 (42%, Fassbind, The Secret Treasures, Barrels #4, #8 & #121, 1401 bottles, Guadeloupe)

We are going to visit Guadeloupe again! This time I have more room for some geography, since the previous review was already a bit long as it is. Guadeloupe lies in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe is not one island. What usually is considered to be the main island is in fact two islands with a narrow strait in between. Grande-Terre in the east and Basse-Terre in the west. To the south lies Marie Galante. There are more islands to Guadeloupe, but those don’t have Rum distilleries on them. From Guadeloupe comes this Rum I’m about to review. What else could it be? The Rum was made by Gardel, which was founded in 1870 by “General Sucriere”. After working for almost 130 years the distillery is now closed, but the Gardel sugar company still exists. The sugar factory is the sole remaining sugar factory on Grande-Terre, and still one of the largest in the world. Depending on the harvest, it crushes around 500.000 tonnes of sugar cane, produces 50.000 tonnes of sugar and 25.000 tonnes of molasses per annum.

GuadeloupeThis Rum is from 1992, the same year the column still was supposedly exchanged for a pot still. As far as I know, Gardel never bottled Rums themselves, but Gardel was bottled by numerous independent bottlers, although I don’t think a lot of Gardel is still around, so If you like Rhum Agricole and if you like Gardel, be quick. This particular Gardel was bottled by Swiss distiller and spirit importer Fassbind. We already know them from the Linkwood I reviewed earlier. I have seen quite some Rums from them, but most of them have been bottled in 2003. The most recent bottling of Whisky was from 2007, so I don’t believe they are active anymore, although The Secret Treasures bottlings are still not extremely difficult to find. Just like Plantation and many bottlings of Rum Nation, this series was never really expensive, so lets see if this is a hidden gem.

Secret Treasures Guadeloupe 1992Color: Copper brown.

Nose: Very nice and aromatic. I love how this smells. Big, and very fruity. Banana and wax. Lots of heavy esters. Black tea. Leafy and green. Easily recognizable as a sugar cane distillate. Hints of burnt wood and burnt caramel. Sweet tea, flint and gunpowder. Fireworks. New wood, and overripe fruit. Papaya and passion fruit. Creamy vanilla pudding. Very appetizing and very complex. There is a lot happening here. Biscuits and to a lesser extent, fresh cookie dough. Sugared orange skins. Well balanced with lots of complexity.

Taste: Starts with diluted (ear) wax, but is less bitter than that. The bitterness is more of the sappy wood kind. Don’t be worried, the bitterness is quite faint. Some toffee and vanilla, but the Rum still is dry. I guess, If you don’t know the stuff you might not like it at first. Funky toffee, with an acidic touch, intertwined with banana. Warming. Much drier than the nose suggested. Thinner yet chewy. You always get something exciting from a sugar cane distillate. Different and special, although simpler than the nose. Hints of plastic in the finish. Maybe this should have been bottled at a higher ABV? We’ll never know.

Sure it has its faults. The taste is not all that well-integrated. You get several layers of aroma’s and not every layer fits on top of the other nor does it pass on the baton that well either. It even has notes of plastic in the finish, and the finish itself isn’t one of great length. You hardly can say it has a noticeable aftertaste. So this is not so good then? Nope, au contraire, I would say. The nose is really very special. Sure, it lacks a bit in the taste department, but it is also a distillate that puts a spell on you. Hard to put my finger on it, but it is mesmerizing and wonderful. I guess when on Guadeloupe it would be next to impossible to leave this stuff alone. This is particularly a very typical example of a cane juice distillate and definitely is not for everybody. I urge you to develop your palate, because when you get it, this is secretly wonderful (yet faulty).

Rum is a very diverse product. Most of us know Rum to be a molasses based sweet distillate, and like it. After a while you might encounter a Rhum Agricole, which can be quite a challenge. I often hear of people disliking Rhum Agricole at first, but warming up to it a while later (probably a few years, actually). Not an easy distillate, but when you get into it, you might be hooked for good. Rhum Agriciole or maybe I should say, Rum made from sugar cane juice in general, is something different.

Points: 85

Glenrothes 1992/2004 (43%, OB)

Yeah, a Glenrothes cannonball! I may have mentioned earlier, but when I got into Whisky a long time ago, I really liked the looks of this. Didn’t care for the box though, just for the bottle. Second they are issued as vintages, like wines, so we have here an example of the 1992 vintage. Anyone remember how the summer and the harvest was in Scotland back then? So I quickly bought me something like this, and was a bit disappointed. Now many moons later I have tried quite some of these Glenrothes vintages, like this 1989, or this 1979, but somehow there never was one that really grabbed me.

Glenrothes 1992/2004 (43%, OB)Color: Gold

Nose: Creamy and funky. Definitely some Sherry influence. Vanilla and some disconcerting fruity acidity and spice. Weird combination, not all that well-integrated. Aroma of apples, Calvados. Every time you move the Whisky in your glass, the Calvados pops out first. Mild wood, hardly noticeable. More paper and lots of dust. Coffee creamer. The Sherry influence is also quite dusty and not entirely pleasant. Hints of burnt cask mixes with the Sherried funk. Meaty and ever so slightly smoky. Leaves. cold wet green tea leaves. When I let it breathe, some component, but not all, are coming together a bit. In the end not one of the best noses from planet Glenrothes.

Taste: Sweet and toffeed, quickly followed by woody spice, which combine rather well. No trace yet of the fruity acidity the nose suffers from. Dish water with some fresh coriander leaves and sweet dried basil. Paper and licorice. Medium finish with hardly any aftertaste. Although the taste of the toasted Sherry cask does remain for quite a while as well as some soapiness. A bit strange this one.

Where the nose had its faults, the taste is more likeable, but also rather simple. A typical everyday Glenrothes. Nothing special, faulty but with some good points too. A bit too simple on the taste and lacking some development. Since this is an older bottle, bottled almost twelve years ago, it manages to fetch quite some money at auctions, but that can only be collectors. Those people are definitely not paying that kind of money because this is so great or that special.

Points: 79

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)

Long time no Rosebank. It has been a long time since I reviewed a 1990 Rosebank, bottled by indie giants Gordon & MacPhail. That one was pretty good, it scored a healthy 88 points. Time for another go at Rosebank. This time a 1992 from Murray McDavid, remember them? By the way Murray McDavid bottled two different Rosebanks, both registered as MM1413. (The other one is a 1989, called Mission V). This 1992 is something of a farewell dram since Diageo decided, in it infinite wisdom, to mothball the distillery in 1993, never to work again…

Rosebank was founded in 1798, although some sources mention other years like 1840 and 1773. In the end, Rosebank was sadly mothballed in 1993 by Diageo which preferred Glenkinchie for its Classic Malts portfolio. And why not, nothing wrong with Glenkinchie I say. I’ve tried some very good Glenkinchies, and even reviewed a very good one, a 1987 bottled by Signatory. But why did Rosebank have to go? From an anoraks point of view, bad move since Rosebank distilled some pretty good spirit that turned into some pretty good Whisky if you ask me. Eternal shame.

Rosebank 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask, MM1413)Color: White wine.

Nose: Softly buttery and citrussy. Full aroma and nicely fresh. Nice acidity and sure some barley. Quite clean. If this isn’t your typical Lowland style, than nothing will be. Highly aromatic with soft wood and a nice grassy feel to it. Good spirit and even though the cask seems not that active (due to the lack of color), the spirit is decent and gentile, and the cask did enough to preserve that, and adding some vanilla and cold creamy butter to it. Lurking in the distance is actually some hints of new make spirit. Nice elegant (cedar) wood with milk chocolate and coffee with creamy notes (or coffee pudding).  Nice vegetal notes as well. Easily recognizable as a triple distilled lowlander. The big aroma is Rosebank from a good cask. Just compare this to the 1979 Rare Malts version (which I know is much higher in strength, but that would be missing the point).

Taste: Slightly toasted wood and creamy again. This starts with a bitterish and sappy oak attack (with some cardboard and malted barley), but that dissipates quite quickly to show it’s even more malty and grassy side. Also coffee and milk chocolate return here. A tad drier than expected and the body is more about new make spirit than the nose. Still not much though. And yes on the palate we can find the vegetal side. The bitterness of the wood stays on throughout. The whole is very nice, and don’t forget about the refreshing citrussy note!

Classic lowland and even though a fairly young Rosebank from a Bourbon Cask, this is clean and such a typical example of Lowland and Rosebank especially. Even this simple Rosebank shows what a mistake it must have been (looking at quality) to close this distillery down. Thank you very much. This particular expression reminds me of some Bladnochs, so I hope that distillery will be saved before it’s too late and someone turns it into their summer home of some sorts.

Points: 86

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)

Littlemill then. These days everybody seems to be raving about this sadly closed distillery. The official bottling seemed not to be very popular in its day and initially not a lot of tears were shed when this distillery closed in 1997 and subsequently was destroyed in a fire in 2004. Lots of Whiskies from the early nineties are bottled recently and surprise, surprise, a lot of them seem to be pretty good if not spectacular! Here we’ll have a look at a Littlemill that was aged in a Bourbon cask. This particular example was selected by Jürgen Vromans a.k.a. The Whisky Mercenary, who to this day has Always picked some great Whiskies. Just have a look at these reviews: Glenlossie, Tormore, Clynelish, Dailuaine and Cooley.

Littlemill 21yo 1992/2014 (52.9%, The Whisky Mercenary, Bourbon Cask)Color: Light gold

Nose: Fruity, waxy and spicy. Vanilla bean and vanilla Ice-cream. A breath of fresh air, but also some sea wind. Spicy oak with mocha. Extremely pleasant. Thin layer of honey and beeswax. Sugared yellow fruits, but also tiny, tiny hints of mustard. Hints of freshly cut oak but also an old cigar box. Cold tea (plain black tea, without milk or lemon). In the best sense of the word, a wood driven nose. Complex and very appetizing. Sometimes dry and dusty, the next very aromatic. Nice stuff!

Taste: Sweet and highly aromatic. A bit wet behind the ears, youthful oak. Yes this Whisky has been in an excellent cask. Lots of wax, beeswax, earwax, but also natural furniture polish, that doesn’t smell like an oil refinery. The wax and wood have an underlying sweetness and are aided by a nice hint of black fruits, and some oaky bitterness. Very well-balanced, and just right. It was bottled at the right moment. Maybe when it was younger it would have been more fruity, but would it have been such a distinguished gentledram?

Not every Bourbon cask is just a Bourbon cask, and not every freshly distilled Spirit that is meant to be a Single Malt Whisky is alike. Still when you take a (freshly used or refilled) Bourbon Barrel or remade Hogshead and put new-made Spirit in it, you more or less know what you’re going to get. Sometimes some especially great wood finds its way into the cask, or the barley was great, or fresh, or from a great variety. Sometimes something magical happens. Single cask Whiskies like these are all about the details so it takes an anorak like Jürgen to pick them out. Well done.

Points: 88