Highland Park Week – Day 3: Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)

Day three of Master Quills Highland Park Week and after two OB’s, its time to see what the IB’s are up to with Highland Park. Here we have a special one since it is one independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, bottling a Highland Park for another independent bottler, The Whisky Mercenary. This may very well be the best of three worlds, first Highland Park make a great distillate. Second I love how G&M work, where they try to have as much in their own hands as possible, The wood, the maturation, the selection and the bottling to mention but a few. Third, Mercenary Jurgen has a good nose, and is able to pick some nice stuff, and believe me it’s hard to get what you really want as an independent bottler. So here we have a 20yo Highland Park from a refill hogshead. When looking at the colour it seems to be at least a third refill remade hogshead from staves taken out of Bourbon barrels. Now forget what I said, because looks can often be deceiving and it is actually very dangerous to do so. My bad, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake like me.

Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)Color: Light gold, almost White wine.

Nose: Right from the start, not even smelling from the glass, but whilst pouring, a nice creamy vanilla smell passes by. On top some Calvados. Quite some aromas that have to do with apples. Fatty red apple skin, but mostly warm apple sauce. In the background it has some more scarce notes of other distillates, other than Whisky. Can’t put my finger on it yet. Nutty chocolate paste with a trace of red fruit acidity. Warm soft wood with hints of semi-sweet yellow fruit and some dust. Underneath this has some smoke combined with soft woody spices and cold butter. American oak alright, and definitely not first fill or the next fill. So I guess my dangerous assumption plays out all right this time. So overall quite nice, good balance, but not very complex though. Adding to my feeling the cask may have been a bit tired already. I don’t think it was filled yet again.

Taste: The first note is that of wood. Soft wood. Next some sweetness. Honey, smoky toffee and caramel at first but the wood takes over again adding some dryness. Vegetal. Same as the nose. Good balance but not very complex. Tired cask again, even though the biggest influence seems to be that of wood. Medium finish and hardly any aftertaste. When its gone, its gone. No honey or wood stays behind. After some breathing and taking sips again, the Calvados notes emerge on the taste as well. The diluted toffee notes seem to grow not bigger, but wider, like butter candy with hints of lemon skin shavings or lemon curd, since that is sweeter. Also distinct notes of almonds. The smoky notes present themselves here as well now. So with extensive breathing there seems to be more (complexity) to this Whisky than I initially thought. See, how you have to be patient? Don’t fill up your glass too much, give it room for air, and be patient if you want to enjoy its full potential.

Connoisseurs, there is that dreadful word again, dislike tumblers or any other “wrong” glass. They are adamant about it. They don’t allow for flavour development, of which this Highland Park is an excellent example. This Highland Park needs a good glass. Personally I equally dislike it when one buys the “right” glass but then fill it up too much (and then post  a half full Glencairn glass on social media). This again doesn’t allow the Whisky to develop in the glass. You need a lot of room for air. Try it. Be patient, be smart!

The hint of smoke is actually very nice and makes it resemble Talisker and, to a lesser extent, Springbank a bit. So if I had to taste this blind I would have gone for Talisker, without the pepper though. Good distillate, reasonable cask and a nice profile. Needs some time, so don’t be hasty. Good Highland Park and just like the Leif Eriksson, again one without Sherry, and another thing becomes clear, 50% ABV > 40% ABV.

Points: 86

Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 (48%, OB, European Oak, for the Friends of the Classic Malts)

So with the longest day of the year at hand, some would say that this isn’t the time for Peat. Peat needs rugged shores, strong gale force winds and driving rain to be thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t it? Why not take a light, grassy and lemony Lowlander instead, or even some tropical stuff? Well what can I say, I just felt like it, that’s all.

A week ago I hosted a Whisky-tasting centered around the indie bottler, Signatory Vintage. I opened some bottlings of them, which will feature on these pages soon. Of course a good tasting needs an even better after-tasting, like a good party needs an even better after-party. The after-tasting, yes you’ve guessed it: Lagavulin. The distillery that’s celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, with the release of a 8yo, which will also feature on these pages shortly.

But first this oldie (but goldie). Relatively speaking of course. This Lagavulin was released in 2008 and it took well into 2015 to sell out. It was available in shops for a whopping 7 years! Now that its gone, prices are soaring. It was available for such a long time, because there may have been a lot of bottlings around, but it also gained a bit of a reputation. A lot of people, including fans of Lagavulin weren’t very fond of this particular bottling. I consider myself a fan of Lagavulin, so I just has to open it, and try for myself! But first a thought…

Bottlings like this, baffle me to the max. All this time we hear the industry explaining to us, that colouring is done to ensure consistency in colour from batch to batch. Also, the public, when buying Whisky, or any other brown spirit, may be put off when the aforementioned spirit is too light in colour. So why then is this one-off Lagavulin, bottled in a brown glass bottle, coloured with E150, when we, the public can’t even see the colour of the spirit untill after the purchase? Boggles the mind, and mind you, don’t go around thinking that caramel colouring doesn’t affect the taste, because it does, just read Michel’s article back from the day I used to be in the “Coloured Gang”. Sure, it may be a bit lengthy, but it definitely worth it.

Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 FFOTCMColour: Orange brown, just like a Bourbon.

Nose: Excellent smoky nose. It starts with more smoke than peat. Sure peat is next. Earthy, sweet and fatty clay. Ashes. Nice wood, accompanied by red fruity notes and some Italian laurel licorice as well. The fruity bit smells more yellow than red. Funky chewy sweetness. Cream Sherry. Mocha cream, cookie dough and light chocolate powder. Leather. Milk chocolate shavings on vanilla ice-cream held up by the wood. Again a lovely smelling Lagavulin, which always works well when it’s matured in Sherry casks. Hints of tar and also some spices. The creamy Sherry notes overpower the spices a bit, so its hard to tell them apart. If you have read the article I mentioned above, you might remember my comments about mellowing out the aroma’s by E150. I feel that is the case here also. This Lagavulin has a nice, very nice actually, but rounded out smell.

Taste: Quite sweet and creamy on entry, quickly followed by peat and toasted cask. Small vegetal bitter note. Very nice. Lots of sweet licorice, almonds and black and white powder. Pepper & salt and definitely some smoke and nuts. Smoked nuts? Smoked sweet almonds (not the salty ones). Red cocktail cherry and a whiff of artificiality in the fruit department. The sweetness is of the typical sugar-water kind. Its fantastic on entry, but the body is losing it at bit already. Falling apart and being quite simple. In no way, has the finish the length of other Lagavulins, but the one big taste lingers on for a while in the aftertaste. However, it’s more the sweet and fruity bit, with only a hint of smoke, than the peat.

This Lagavulin has matured in first fill Sherry casks, not made with American oak. There was a time when (probably) all Sherry matured in European oak butts and puncheons, which are quite large casks. Today a lot of Sherry casks are made from American oak, impairing vanilla and giving off a more creamy feel. Also the casks made today (hogsheads) are smaller than the butts and puncheons, thus allowing for some quicker maturation.

Let me start by saying this is a good Lagavulin. It drinks easily and there is more than enough happening. I like it a lot. However, if I compare this to other Lagavulins, it isn’t the best one out there. I believe the colouring did its part in mellowing out the aroma’s and blending them together into one big (nice) taste. Nothing sticks out really. Apart from the E150, the casks themselves probably weren’t the best money could buy as well, as well as its previous contents. So for a Lagavulin its good, but nothing more than that, but it’s also a Whisky most others can only dream of producing. Lagavulin has stiff competition from… itself.

Points: 88

 

Tobermory 1995/2006 (55.6%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask #744)

The last Tobermory I reviewed was one of the stellar 32yo’s that have quite a reputation. How to follow-up on one of those? Today we’ll be looking at and independently bottled Tobermory. The bottler being Berry Brothers & Rudd and the year of distillation 1995. Tobermory has a rocky past and for a while even was converted into a power station. The reputation of the distillate was even shakier. In the past this stuff could really be hit or miss, so not something you would buy untasted. It could be really bad and funky, strange even. On the other hand, if it was good it could be really good, surpassing most other Whiskies, so the potential is there. Today that reputation is different. Tobermory and Ledaig are getting better by the year, and every new release is something that interests me a lot. Still no easy Malt, but if you get it, you’ll get it. In the day where everything starts to taste a bit similar and official bottlings are becoming younger and NAS-ser, an independently bottled Tobermory or Ledaig could very well be your best choice. At least it often is different from the rest. What more could you want these days?

Tobermory 744Color: White wine.

Nose: Heaps of barley. Damp hay. Citrussy fresh. Lowland style. Lemon grass, lemon curd, all kinds of sweet lemon, without being overly present and thus overly acidic. Hints of new-made spirit even. Old vanilla. Very light. Hints of a salty sea breeze. Very light peat as well. Smells chewy. Sappy, spicy, fragrant and vegetal wood in the background. Garden bonfire, burning off some dry grass. The initial barley note wears out, for a more coherent smell. I’m not sure if this is perfectly made Whisky, but after I got used to the Bladnoch 8yo I reviewed earlier, I seem to like this one as well. Just like the Bladnoch, this profile grows on me.

Taste: Very sweet entry. Sugary sweet. Sweet barley. Most definitely some hints of Grappa. Toffee, but also a sharper and drier element. All sorts of lemon again, combined with toffee and some dry wood. Otherwise not very fruity. A plethora of different dry grasses. Fatty and hints of cold dish water you forgot. Faint soapyness, like the paper wrapper that came off a bar of soap years ago.

Excellent entry and body, aided by this very typical profile. Nice stuff. The finish is not so strong and concentrates around two or three distinct markers from the body. Slightly soapy barley, wood and paper. As well as a tiny bitter note. The sweetness is gone, although hints of toffee reappear in the aftertaste.

Not a very easy Malt, but definitely one you would like to try, since it is different from many other malts. Quite the learning experience, because it’s almost like an unpeated, peated Malt. It’s how a peated Malt could be underneath. Although this is also no Lowlander, it is nice to have since it has a second face as a Lowlander. True Lowlanders like Rosebank and others are becoming more and more scarce and expensive. Besides this Tobermory, I hope for a bright future for Bladnoch as well, but if not, try something like this before the profile becomes extinct.

Points: 85

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 “Warehouse No 1” (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)

That’s not all! There is more. I hope you didn’t think I would have only hand-filled Aberlours from ex-Bourbon casks now didn’t you? This is a case of saving the best for last, at least so I hope. Experience showed me that the Aberlour spirit fares well in Sherry casks, and often something wonderful emerges. Just take a look at one of the best NAS bottlings in the Marketplace: The Aberlour A’bunadh. Up ’till now I reviewed two batches on Master Quill: #13 and #33 and calling both pretty good would be an understatement. Here we have a sort of A’bunadh only older and coming from a single cask. So who knows, maybe it’s even better!

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 Warehouse No 1 (57%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Sherry Cask #4934)Color: Warm and dark orange brown.

Nose: Wonderfully sherried. Toffee and cherries. Slightly tarry and very reminiscent of A’bunadh, so I would go with Oloroso Sherry for this one. Nice soft oak. Slightly burnt caramel and the whole comes across with nice toffee notes, without its sweetness though. Well balanced and definitely older than A’bunadh. With some air more rubbery notes appear and more dry wood. Very dusty actually. Tiny hint of cola sweetness and even a hint of florality? Where A’bunadh sometimes can smell a bit harsh, this oozes softness. Excellent stuff.

Taste: Yes more A’bunadh. Starts with a high note of acidity, that quickly moves into cherries and a tarry woody depth. Nice liquid toffee temporary sweetness. Mocha and cream. Latte Macchiato (with a wee bit too much milk). Sticky toffee pudding. Schwarzwalder kirsch trifle, all again without their usual sweetness. Dusty. Extremely drinkable. Lovely.

Even though its twice the age of A’bunadh, it’s very similar in its initial profile. Forgetting the smoothness and softness brought to this Whisky by ageing, you can see this as a single cask A’bunadh. Both share a lot. Having said that, and more or less claiming this is (easily) recognizable as an A’bunadh, I have to say that it also reminds me a lot of the 1996 Ultimate (and Signatory) Longmorns. Earlier I reviewed three of those: cask 72315, cask #72319 and cask #105091.

Points: 89

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 “Warehouse No 1” (52.2%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Bourbon Cask #8959)

Aberlour was one of the first Single Malts I’ve ever tried. Back in 2000 or 2001 I got the 10yo for my birthday (thanks Arthur!). Nice stuff. Especially for the novice I was back then, and maybe still am, since there remains an awful lot to learn. For me Aberlour was always more about the Sherried Whiskies than the ones aged in Bourbon barrels or hogsheads. The character of the Aberlour distillate is definitely easier to “get” when trying Aberlours from (refill) Bourbon casks, but this hand filled Aberlour from first fill bourbon will do just nicely too. However, I’ve never came across a Bourbon cask aged Aberlour that knocked me off my feet. Maybe this is the one, since it came directly off the distillery. Distilleries hold the best for themselves don’t they?

Aberlour 16yo 1995/2012 "Warehouse No 1" (52.2%, OB, Single Cask Selection, First Fill Bourbon Cask #8959)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Floral and leafy vanilla powder with some funky organics going on. Extremely fresh and fruity. Canned concentrated fresh air. Combinations of pineapple, dried peaches, peaches in light syrup. Sweet white grapes and cherry liqueur bon-bon. Very aromatic and dusty as well. You don’t get a lot of sweet and dusty, but here it is an evolution going on in the glass. It starts sweeter than it ends. It’s fresh and lively and I’m actually surprised this is already 16 years old. I expected a darker Whisky coming from a first fill Bourbon cask. Fresh and minty with small hints of lime. It has everything you can have from an ex Bourbon cask. Florality, vanilla and lots of fruit. In the background typical wet oak and slightly meaty. Sawdust and paper, and sometimes I smell the Bourbon itself. Reminds me a lot of the 1994 Golden Cask expression I reviewed earlier.

Taste: Soft and spicy and quite sweet right from the start. Almonds and very nice creamy vanilla and fruit, peach it is again. Wow, great Bourbon cask. A lot of the elements fall in its place. For me Whiskies with this profile need to be a bit sweeter (especially when the whole lacks a bit of complexity). Creamy toffee and fine powdered sawdust. Vanilla and fudge. Well you get the picture don’t you? Soft wet wood, like snapping off a branch. Hints of latex paint and sweet wood (with a walnut skin, bitter edge to it).

I like the sweetness and the softness of this Malt. Dry, cask strength Bourbon cask Malts can be quite sharp and hot. For instance. The 1997 Tomatin that was aged in a Refill Bourbon barrel is less sweet, and therefore drier but also a bit hotter and harsher. Again a decent Bourbon Aberlour, as I’ve come to expect by now

Points: 85

Glenallachie 11yo 1995/2007 (59.4%, The Scottish Liqueur Centre, Beinn a’Cheò, Bourbon Hogshead #33, 273 bottles)

And here is already the third Glenallachie of 2015. Earlier contenders for the Glenallachie award were a 2007 distillate of Dewar Rattray (83 Points), and not so long ago an 1995 offering from Kintra (82 Points), so both scoring low 80’s, which makes them nice, but not great in my book. This time around we’ll have a look at a Glenallachie bottled by The Scottish Liqueur Centre. Yes I know, they are not the most widely known independent bottlers around. The Scottish Liqueur Centre is owned by Morrison & Mackay. Still no bells ringing? What about one of their other brands: Carn Mor, surely you have heard about that! More recent bottlings of Beinn a’Cheo (mountain of mist) no longer have The Scottish Liqueur Centre on their labels, making Beinn a’Cheo a true brand of Morrison & Mackay, just like Carn Mor is.

Glenallachie 11yo 1995/2007 (59.4%, The Scottish Liqueur Centre, Beinn A'Cheò, Cask #33)Color: White wine.

Nose: Spicy and fruity and lots of other traits you know from typical Refill Bourbon casked high strength Whiskies. Remember all those Cadenhead bottlings? Fresh and slightly soapy. Old lavender soap, which only adds to the nose, not disturbing it. Whiffs of rural organics. And nice warm barley. Typical oak. Hints of vanilla from the American oak. When all that is out-of-the-way and the Whisky settles down in my glass, some nice fruits emerge along with a nice fatty creaminess. I won’t say it’s simple, but it is typical, well and it’s not really complex either. Not bad though. The oak really gets out when you warm it up in your hand. Wait a minute, warming it in your hand and giving it some time to breathe it really opens up. Finds balance. Nice fruit agian, but the sweeter fruits are now accompanied by citrus fruits. Sometimes this nose reminds me of Angostura 1919, a Rum.

Taste: Sweet. with almonds and fruit. Quite a surprise after the “typical” nose. This goes to show, that nosing isn’t everything. It’s sweeter than usual, but never crosses the line. However it’s sweet enough never to make it your daily drinker, the ABV is too high for that anyway. The wood is here too. Bit mocha and oak, milk chocolate. The wood forming a spine for the big sweet fruity body of the Whisky. Lovely stuff. I also like the almond that returns for the finish, although the oak plays a bigger part, turning herbal with air. After the heat passes your throat. The finish is nothing more than the fruity sweetness, some paper and overall “shortness”. The finish is definitely the weak part of this Glenallachie. Not a lot remains.

There is a lesson to be learned here. This is no spectacular Whisky when freshly opened. It’s closed and seems very simple. This is maybe thé example to let a Whisky breath to unlock its full potential. If you do, this ugly duckling turns out to be quite special after all.

Points: 86

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. Another Glenallachie 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. Fresh air. Hints of white pepper and again and again this florality whiffs by. Pencil shavings come next. 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. Dare I say it has some peat to it? The spice and the sweet balance each other out, so it’s not overly sweet. Warming going down. Hints of milk chocolate and a slightly burnt note. Still, lovely stuff, but also a bit unbalanced. Highly drinkable and enjoyable nevertheless. The sweetness makes way for a more woody, and acidic, dryness towards the finish. The finish itself is of medium length and 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? Maybe not my favourite Kintra bottling, but still very good and entertaining.

Points: 84