Highland Park Week – Day 5: Highland Park 9yo 1988/1997 (59.6%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #10700, 630 bottles)

Lets backup in time even some more. We stay in the land of the independent bottler, this time Signatory Vintage. We are going to take a look at another Highland Park matured in a Sherry cask, a butt even. This one is an even younger example at 9 years of age. The G&M/Whisky Mercenary bottling was 20yo, The Wilson & Morgan was around 14yo, and this Signatory Vintage bottling is a mere 9yo. Highly unusual back then, not so unusual today, since demand has risen dramatically. There is no time anymore to age the bulk of Whisky when there are so much of you around, dear readers. We’ll also go back in time bit since this was distilled in 1988. That is almost 30 years ago!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry, but this time with some quality behind it. Meaty and buttery as well, with some nice distant fruit going on. Dusty mocha and milk-chocolate. Dark chocolate as well. Steam, sowing-machine oil. Clean toilet notes, not to be mistaken by a freshly cleaned toilet odour. I know this sounds pretty peculiar, but I get it in this, so I couldn’t help myself and had to write it down. Deeper and more brooding. Probably Oloroso. Cedar wood with an oriental spice-mix and pencil shavings. Even though it is a young Whisky, it already smells like something from another era. Christmas spices. Christmas cake. Dusty and very thick. luxury and velvety, just like the box. The more it breathes the better is gets, give it lots of room for development. A much better Sherry cask than the one, the 1992 Wilson & Morgan expression matured in. After this, forget about that one.

Taste: Well this is almost 60% ABV and that shows. Its big, thick and a bit hot, but also very fruity (meaty blueberries), and amazingly pretty woody as well, but not too much. Luckily it also has some toffee sweetness to it, to balance it all out. Steam and coal. You are conned, by the initial sip, this is going to be sweet, but the sweetness is shoved aside by bullying tannins and Italian laurel licorice. I’m guessing this came from a first fill Oloroso butt, which impaired enough onto this Whisky, so it could be used as a very nice refill cask the second time around. Long oaky finish, with an even longer aftertaste full of black fruits and (cedar) wood. It isn’t all that complex, but when a Whisky is as tasty as this, it doesn’t need to be. It’s only 9yo, but it is bottled at the right time, believe me. Probably Oloroso, but Cream Sherry or PX might be possible as well.

Ohhh, I want one of these. 1988, wow, 9yo, wow-wow. This in my glass and some 80’s music, and I’d have a great day.

Points: 90

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Springbank 17yo 1997/2015 “Sherry Wood” (52.3%, OB, Fresh and Refill Sherry Butts and Hogsheads, 9.120 bottles, 15/24)

When attending the Whisky Show in London last year I absolutely loved this one at the Springbank stand. Sure there were better Whiskies at the show, but also you’d almost have to take out another mortgage on your house to buy those. Nope, I mean, this was definitely one of the best Whiskies at a fair price. Still, over here in Europe this sells for well over a hundred euros. Despite this, it was really a no brainer to buy, and remember, why get only one, when you gen get two for twice the price. When I just recently finished another Springbank, (more about that next time), it was time to finally break out this one. Distilled in 1997 and fully matured in fresh and refill Sherry butts and hogsheads. Possibly, but not necessarily, a combination of european and american oak.

Springbank 17yo SherryColor: Gold.

Nose: Nice, waxy and fresh, powdered vitamin C or should we call it vitamin W from now on? Dusty and dry and definitely lots of Sherry mustiness. Hints of apples (Calvados). Slightly wet forest floor with mushrooms growing. Unripe cold banana, some sweet malts, vanilla and quite vegetal as well. Ashy and slightly smoky (more so than peat). Hints of tar and charred cask and even some new wood, although that isn’t used for this expression. Even though this is 100% Sherry, this smells like a typical Springbank, minus the big sweet creamy vanilla that is, the Bourbon part always brings. Remember, Springbank usually is a blend of Bourbon and Sherry casks. Luckily the Springbank distillate does well in every kind of cask. However, all types of casks used, bring their own flavor to the Springbank spectrum. So there is no better Whisky to try different expressions from. This one reminds me of old Springbank in a way. Coconut and quite fruity as well. Very well made and extremely balanced smell. They are definitely doing everything right. The Sherry smells unbelievably fresh and defined. It must have some casks (if not all) that contained Sherries matured under flor. Fino and Manzanilla that is. I doesn’t smell like typical Oloroso matured Whisky to me, (although very dry Oloroso could be possible). The Sherry notes also smell a bit different from the Sherry in the 12yo Cask Strength. Lovely expression, which would have been nice to compare to the 18yo I reviewed earlier. Alas, that one is already gone, so that is not possible anymore. Bugger.

Taste: Yup, Sherry (from under flor) and typical Springbank. If you love Springbank like I do, it feels like coming home again. Waxy, vanilla and lots and lots of coconut again. Sometimes a bit soapy even. Welcome back: coconut! Peat (more so than smoke) and quite vegetal and fruity. Coconut mixed with almond cookies. Cookie dough and a nice friendly sweetness to it. Toffee. It also has a bite as well. Burnt wood and some peat. On top, as with many modern Sherry casked Whiskies, a slightly acidic red fruitiness that stands out a bit, less integrated so to say. It’s this aroma that dominates the finish as well. Thus the finish is less about the cookies, coconut, toffee and dough. Nevertheless, this one has it all. Super stuff with utter balance. Springbank works very well in Bourbon casks, and although you know what some Bourbon casks would have done to this Whisky, this time I don’t miss them. Nice Sherry expression this is. Well done Springbank!

I’d like to mention, that this review is written just a few minutes after opening the bottle. Springbank is never at its best right after opening the bottle. It’s a big Whisky that needs time to breathe. If you are patient with it and it has time to breathe, wow!

Points: 90

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

Clynelish 1997/2014 “Cayenne Cocoa Bean” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Hogshead, 373 bottles)

You get only one chance to make a first impression, and that is what he did, William Wemyss. Carrying around my bottle of Strathisla I ran into William in London and I offered him a dram. Talking about the Whisky Business in general and Wemyss in particular, he sniffed it for a while, and sniffed it some more, talked a bit, and then…chucked the whole stuff in a spittoon claiming that it was great stuff. He probably had to drive home later or was late for a meeting or something. People around me were shocked a bit, but I know this is how memories are made. Maybe just not right away!

Wemyss is known for naming their Whiskies. The Clynelish I’ll be reviewing today is called Cayenne Cocoa Bean, since it reveals bittersweet cocoa beans mingled with cayenne pepper.

Cayenne Cocoa BeanColor: Somewhere in between white Wine and light gold.

Nose: Sweetish and fruity. Definitely some barley, but also a dry grassy note. The color gave it away a bit, this is from a refill hogshead, so it lacks the in your face vanilla and toasted cask aroma’s. It’s more refined. It has a creamy and fatty element. Vanilla pudding, but it is all very restrained and well-balanced. Fatty not waxy, what it usually the marker for Clynelish. Dusty oak. Dry old vanilla powder. Dried peach and pineapple. Semi sweet black tea. Leavy and hints of a dying out small garden bonfire. Burning off old branches. The sweetness throughout is toffee not sugar. Lovely stuff.

Taste: Nice thick fruit with toffee. The toffee substituting the wax you’d expect to find in a Clynelish. It starts out almost chewy. The whole it held up by a toasted wood note, with the faintest hint of bitterness and tree sap. On entry very good, from the start a lot is happening. After that a mixture of mint, sugar and a small amount of licorice. It is big and holds up. Finish starts prickly, and swiftly whiffs away, only the toffee stays behind as well as some warmth. Medium finish with a warming aftertaste. A good Clynelish and I’m guessing for those of you who didn’t like it as much, the leafy quality is a bit off, and the finish is a bit too short. So it has its flaws and weaknesses. But it has its big aroma and the start is almost spectacular. The body starts well, but breaks down too soon. The finish should be better and the aftertaste has some pineapple but not much more. It is reduced to 46%, and maybe that’s the culprit for the finish and aftertaste. The beginning is great, and for that part of the experience the 46% ABV seems just about right.

I’ve encountered quite a lot of people on festivals who say they don’t like these names. They say it creates a certain expectation and with that they can’t taste it objectively anymore. A very anorak-y statement from people lacking humor? I for one, like the names, it gives them an identity, even though I might not encounter the aroma’s from the name in the Whisky. Everyone tastes differently, depending on time of day, upbringing and associations with tastes. Clynelish is an excellent example. I like Clynelishes just as the next guy, but I always seem to like different Clynelishes. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs, I really liked a 12yo Clynelish bottled by Adelphi. I didn’t know it was a Clynelish, since it was part of a blind competition we know as the Malt Maniacs Awards. At another blind tasting session, at least a year later, I tasted another wonderful Clynelish, which turned out to be the sister cask of the first Adelphi Clynelish. I mention those since, a lot of people didn’t care for those two Clynelishes. Same with this Wemyss expression. I first encountered it at a Wemyss tasting, led by Ginny, and I absolutely loved it, where most of the public preferred other Wemyss expressions. So never take anyone’s word for it, make up your own mind, although I have to say that all the Clynelishes I mentioned above, were casks picked by Charles MacLean, even this Wemyss one…

I managed to forget the name during the writing process. I did get the bittersweet part, but couldn’t say if it’s from cocoa beans. Definitely didn’t get the cayenne though, but I still like the name. It’s only a name, nothing more.

Points: 85

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)

Third of October and right now the doors are opening for the 2015 Whisky Show in London, England. As many years before I’m attending this wonderful Whisky fest, the best few days of the year. Maybe not even the Whisky, but the people. I really can’t wait for it to begin. For those of you that are not there I’ll have a go here at a Ledaig (a.k.a. peated Tobermory) that was picked by The Whisky Exchange. This was a Whisky that was bottled a few weeks after the Whisky Show 2013, but luckily I got a chance to try from Gordon & MacPhail, before it was bottled. People from the Netherlands will know its sister cask #464 which was also excellent but much, much lighter in color.

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Fatty peat and candy sweetness. Animalesk and organic. Wild stuff. Hints of burnt cable. Unlit tobacco and dark chocolate powder. Very vegetal. Thick and full of itself. Big. Hints of vanilla and cream. Some dried grass and yes some wet grass from a muddy field in October as well. Funky fresh fungi. This never stops giving. Great peat that is balanced out nicely by the Sherry, but the former is the more dominant in this bottling.

Taste: Excellent entry. Sweet, mixed perfectly with licorice and lots of almonds. Even the wood is almondy. Utter and perfect balance. What a great integration of flavours. Red fruits and berries and hints of Gin. Fresh at times. Sea spray and hints of blobs of fresh fatty tar. Remember Lightning McQueen? Hints of stable (cow) and a bit of wood, but not much. Strange enough, with this amount of aroma and at almost 57% ABV., this only  has a medium finish, it gone sooner that you would want. Great aftertaste though. Almonds and red fruit. Salty lips!

If this would be older (tasting), had a longer finish and had even more added depth it would score well into the nineties. If it had more notes of curry and red peppers you could eat this dram. What a near-perfect modern dram this is. Excellent stuff can still be made. I’m happy I had some prior knowledge to snap this up when it was released.

Points: 90

Dailuaine 14yo 1997/2012 (46%, Van Wees, The Ultimate, Hogshead #6012, 372 bottles)

After the excellent Dailuaine by Gordon & MacPhail why not try another one. This time one by dutch Indie bottlers The Ultimate. Gordon & MacPhail are known for controlling the whole process from acquiring the cask, storing the filled cask, right untill bottling of the Whisky. With this they hope to achieve the highest quality possible. The Ultimate have a slightly different approach, a very Dutch one.

Dailuaine 14yo 1997/2012 (46%, Van Wees, The Ultimate, Hogshead #6012, 372 bottles)

First of all the final product cannot cost too much, having said that, they really try to get the highest quality they can get. No money is spent on designing a fancy label, nor on a fancy glass bottle.  A long time ago a picture of Bushmills distillery was found and placed on the label and never again was money spent on design. (By the way, Bushmills was never bottled in this series). If you want your bottle in a (simple, white) box, you’ll have to pay extra. The only money spent is on buying good Whisky. The Van Wees company has many contacts in Scotland dating back to the sixties. Most, if not all, of the recent casks are bought from Andrew Symington (Signatory Vintage). Just have a look at the casks from 1997. The Ultimate bottled #6012 and #6017, Signatory bottled #6015, #6016, #6018 and #6020. The Ultimate bottled #4229 and #4234. Signatory bottled #4228, #4230, #4231, #4232 and #4233.

Color: Light Gold

Nose: Fruity and buttery. Quite a strong aroma. Nice spicy and grassy wood. Just like it’s brother from Gordon & MacPhail, a nice sweet vanilla note. Eggnog. Lots of influence from the wood, without overpowering the distillate. Nice sappy oak and also a little bit of cardboard. With some air a more dry and powdery turn. A lot less apple, but still there. Somehow the alcohol is more upfront.

Taste: Sweeter than I imagined. Again a pretty nice aroma. Vanilla with candied apples and even some raspberry. Excellent stuff. A paper note, but also hints of burnt sugar mixes in with the toasted oak. Very nice and drinkable, with a sweet and warming, and dare I say, hoppy finish. The Whisky is pretty straightforward and nicely un-complex.

Dailuaine is a pretty nice distillate, will have to keep this one in mind and investigate further.

Points: 85

Bunnahabhain 1997/2011 (56.2%, The House of MacDuff, The Golden Cask, Cask CM 164, 318 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 1997/2011 (56.2%, The House of MacDuff, The Golden Cask, Cask CM 164, 318 bottles)Another House of MacDuff bottling and yes, another Bunnahabhain from this independent bottler. The one I reviewed earlier was distilled in 1972 and bottled at 40 years of age! This again is a fairly light-colored malt, so it seems like a not so active cask. Still, knowing who picks the casks I still have high hopes for this one. It can’t be bad. It seems to me that Bunnahabhain is a very popular distillery for this independent bottler since they have managed to bottle already five Bunnhabhains, this one from 1997 was their first.

Color: Light gold

Nose: Lots of fatty peat. Crushed beetle. Dark black tea. Spicy and very nice woody notes. Tarred rope. The whole smells like a fishing boat, maybe without the fish. Citrus. Bonfire on the beach, but not salty. It doesn’t smell of sea wind that is. Hint of dried orange peel and some ginger. In the back some dried meat and old paint (from the fishing boat). A very romantic peated malt.

Taste: Lemon, cream and licorice. A stick of licorice “zoethout”. A very nice and laid back Islay malt. Lightly sweet icing Sugar underneath. Toffee, vanilla and smoke, even some ashes. Light fatty peat if given some time to breathe. Dries the lips. Salty. Smoked meat and a return of the dried orange peel.

yes another peated Bunnahabhain. It may surprise you so much peated Whisky is released from Bunnahabhain, but truth be told, Bunnahabhain have something of a shortage of unpeated Whisky on their hands, so expect a lot more peated stuff from this distillery. Beware, because not every bottler mentions on their labels that their Bunnahabhain is peated…

Points: 86