The Balvenie 21yo “Portwood” (40%, OB, Circa 2002)

Just like some of the previous reviews, here is another bottle from my lectern. I bought this one way back in 2002 after I sampled it at a friend’s house. I have very fond memories of this one, so in my case the disappointment was humongous when I tried the freshly opened bottle. Almost a year has passed since then, so I believe it is time to have another go. Truth be told, In the passing year I have sampled it several times and found it to be better every time I tried it, so for the second time around I again have high hopes for this one. Oxidation rules! Often, not every time, but often.

Color: Copper gold, with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Winey and sweaty. Nice old, soft and wet, wood and warm wax. Underneath some old vanilla lingering, mixed in with a winey note, sweetish Port. After the initial wet wood, the note shifts into old dry oak. So the original Whisky matured in American oak alright to be finished in Port casks. Very perfumy. Very distinguished. It feels like a member (not a Whisky) of a members only gentleman’s club. Fresh homemade pot-pourri, not the soapy dried hideous stuff, that smells of grannies closet. This bottling oozes the sense of a Whisky from yesteryear, something that can’t be repeated. It also gives me the feeling the whole has worn out a bit, again adding to the note af antiquities. If there is a beef to be had with this Whisky it’s that even with this many years under its belt, it does lack development. The Whisky establishes itself big time, only to not change much in your glass. So breathing in the glass doesn’t do much whereas breathing in the bottle did bring a lot of balance since opening. Oxidation can be a strange phenomenon.

Taste: Not as big as I’ve expected from the nose alone. A bit simple on entry. Sweet and nutty. Yes moving into fortified Wine territory now, complete with a raw and bity (and a soft bitter) effect right after the start (typical for Port finishes). Red fruits and more nuts and wax. The red fruits form a very nice layer on top of the nutty bit. If you’re familiar with tasting Wines, this Balvenie gets richer when you take in some air while you sip this (the more the better actually). Since is so low in ABV. take big gulps! Vanilla, raisins. yeah, now we’re talking. Sure raisins, but in no way does this taste like a Sherried Whisky, no its raisins, but different from a Sherried Whisky. The low ABV. isn’t capable of carrying the finish for a long time, nor does this Whisky have a noticeable aftertaste. After the finish it gets weak quickly and you wait for an aftertaste that doesn’t come. When its gone, its gone. So, in the end, this is very, very nice, all aroma’s fit together nicely, but also (and I hate the word but) I still expect a bit more form a Whisky with a reputation like this one. It’s very nice, highly drinkable, but lacks complexity, development and a bit of oomph. On the other side, after extensive breathing this is a balanced whisky with nice aroma’s and no off notes whatsoever.

Just like the Kilkerran I reviewed last, both are examples of Whiskies that weren’t all that great right after opening. I took this bottle with me when I was invited by Nico to sample some odd Balvenie 12yo from 2016, alongside many other Balvenies. We both had high hopes for this one, since it is an oldie, and everything was better some decades ago, wasn’t it? Yet all we could muster was “is this it?” Again rightfully disappointed with a freshly opened bottle. Did it get better? Yes it did, is it as great as memory serves me? No not really, so this goes to show, that oxidation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that tasting Whisky can be a very subjective matter to boot.

Points: 88

For fun, I unearthed a Port finished Imperial, but both are remarkably different so there is no sense in comparing. Where one seems old and distinguished, the other is more modern and even bigger on the nuttiness. Both are quite sweet and they share the need to be had in big gulps. Maybe 81 Points for the Imperial was a bit on the conservative side though (but not by much).

 

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Glenturret 2002/2015 (43%, Gordon & MacPhial, The MacPhail’s Collection, First Fill Sherry Puncheons)

After all these years time for another first on these pages. This is the first review of Glenturret. Glenturret is the oldest still working distillery of Scotland. It started operation in 1775 and was originally called Hosh. Like most others, never working throughout all these years. Todays owners are the Edrington Group. A group formed in 1996, that knows how to market Whisky and make money of it. Just have a look at some other distilleries owned by the Edrington Group: Names like Macallan and Highland Park. Both are (very) highly marketed and very much in the spotlight. Edrington is also the brand owner of Scotland’s favourite blend Famous Grouse, and that has to be marketed well, so in comes the Famous Grouse Experience built at…the Glenturret Distillery, since Glenturret finds its way into this blend. So Glenturret is considered the spiritual home of Famous Grouse and therefore has a raison d’être. Finally Glenrothes is a distillery owned by The Edrington Group, although the brand “Glenrothes” is owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd (as is Cutty Sark, another Blended Whisky). Finally, The Edrington Group is also 50% owner of the North British grain distillery, the other 50% is owned by Diageo.

In the recent past Bunnahabhain, Glenglassaugh, Glengoyne and Tamdhu were also a distilleries owned by the Edrington Group, but probably considered to hard to build up these brands to the extend of the other brands, so all were sold off. Glengoyne (2003) and Tamdhu (2011) to Ian MacLeod. Bunnahabhain, together with the Black Bottle Blended Whisky brand to Burn Stewart in 2003, and Glenglassaugh (2008) to a private group of investors, who subsequently sold it to Billy Walker of Benriach in 2013. Billy then sold all of his distilleries (Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh) to Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s) in 2016. Can you hear the Carousel Waltz?

glenturret-gm-2002Color: Full gold.

Nose: Yup, this is from Sherry casks alright. Quite different from the usual young Whisky drawn from Bourbon casks. Nice, creamy and dusty. Fruity, fresh ripe fruits and lots of candied fruits as well. Sweet peach yoghurt mixed in with the smell of new tires. Although no promise of any real sweetness yet, it does come across as syrupy. Vanilla, cloves with some pencil shavings and a nice (this time) fruity acidity even though it isn’t completely integrated with the rest of the aroma’s. Smells quite good actually. Apart from all this, it is quite perfumy as well. A slight burning note. Not really burned wood or toasted cask, no, the burned note seems to be integrated into the smell of new tires I mentioned above. I wouldn’t say unusual, but quite interesting, and I don’t mean interesting in a way to not say it isn’t any good, because it is, it’s very appealing and complex. I like it very much, it smells really good. I hope it tastes even better, if so, where can I order a case of this? But, lets not get ahead of ourselves, lets taste it first…

Taste: Wow, very sweet on entry. Syrupy and creamy all right. Butter candy and vanilla. The burning note and the tire note are in here as well, and I have to say right from the start, this doesn’t disappoint at all. Burned toast. Next a sugary and nutty note, alas a bit of a watery, sugary nutty note. Maybe this has seen a little bit too much reduction? Distant banana with creamy vanilla. Sweet fruity yoghurt again. This aromatic part is so big, that the more astringent woody notes you should almost always pick up, since Whisky is matured in wood, only shows in the finish. You can feel it in the back of your mouth. No bitterness whatsoever though and the finish itself has more than enough staying power, but when its gone, its gone, you’ll need to take another sip.

Sure Ferrari’s are amongst the nicest cars to drive, but sometimes you can have a lot of fun with a small cheap car as well. It’s the same with Whisky, Sure I get a lot, and I mean a lot, from a 1972 Brora, but sometimes you can have an equal lot of fun with an inexpensive Whisky from a distillery that doesn’t have a big name like Macallan of Highland Park, so in comes this Glenturret.

I’m wondering if, somewhere in the future, we will see a cask strength version of a similar 2002 Sherried Glenturret. That would be really interesting, I mean, good!

After writing this review I did a direct H2H comparison with the Gordon & MacPhail Teaninich I reviewed last. When tasting both Whiskies on different days you will remember them differently as in a direct comparison. H2H allows you to find differences and sometimes even aroma’s you would never get otherwise. For instance, when smelling the Teaninich right after the Glenturret, I’m amazed the Teaninich almost smells like a Rum at first. Waxy and thick. Something I never got when tasting it solo. Tasting it, it is definitely a Whisky, although big, bold and waxy. The Glenturret is much more refined and elegant.

Points: 85

Glenrothes 1987/2002 (43%, OB)

Here is another vintage Glenrothes. After the 1992,  the 1989 and the 1979, this 1987 is the fourth of these vintage bottlings on Master Quill. All were nice, but never scoring very high. All were nice, with enough difference to warrant buying more than one, but also none of them blew me out of the water. Just look at both other Glenrothes I reviewed earlier. One bottled by Wilson & Morgan and one by Douglas Laing. Both managed to score higher than the official bottlings. By now I can say that I expect this one to be nice, but again I don’t think it will blow me out of the water.

Glenrothes 1987/2002 (43%, OB)Color: Gold.

Nose: Dusty, definitely Sherried. Spicy and tickles the nose. Also some burnt elements. Next some aroma’s you get from an old (dry) cellar or attic. Funky but not the funky damp notes you sometimes get from cellars. More like the odours of stored old stuff. Old paper, old cardboard and old wood. Old, worn out vanilla pods. Later a breath of rural fresh air, coming to you over water. Let it breathe some more, and it becomes more like a “normal” Whisky. Vanilla, wood, fruity Sherry notes and spicy oak and cask toast. Hints of butter and dry grass (not hay), and even some toffee.

Taste: Short attack of (fresh) oak and a more waxy note, quickly succeeded by cherries and sugared yellow fruits. Fruity sweet toffee, alas a bit diluted. Über-fruity sugar-water. Warming. Apart from the initial wood, this is quite a fruity expression of Glenrothes. Hints of soap and paper from the nose and a growing aroma of burnt wood. At best a medium finish with a note of Beer and burnt wood. Yes, a bit bitter, which adds to the character of the Whisky after the initial sweetness and fruitiness. The aftertaste matches the nose exactly.

Although the nose isn’t one of the most balanced expressions of Glenrothes, the taste is way better that way, helped along by the sweetness it has. It’s all right this one. It may be a bit simple, diluted and lacking complexity. It does some across as balanced and tastes nice. Maybe it’s time to up the strength a bit?

Points: 83

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.

Lagavulin 1986/2002 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv. 4/490)

Lagavulin is one of my all time favorite distilleries. It’s almost impossible to encounter a bad Lagavulin. I can’t believe this is just the third review of Lagavulin on these pages the other two being the other two from the current standard range. The 16yo and the 12yo. The 16yo is the modern classic (It used to be the 12yo with the cream label) and right at the time there was a rumour the 16yo would be quite scarce, the new cask strength 12yo was released. As I said, the current standard range is the 16yo, this distillers edition I’m about to review, and the 12yo cask strength version. The latter two come to us as “annual releases”. Just like Springbank, this means that there is some batch variation. A wanted batch variation, to buy more of the same and compare them to other releases, identified by  bottling year.

Just like NAS today, batch variation was always a dirty phrase, it’s not a word isn’t it. But marketing turned that around, just as they are trying with NAS. For me NAS means younger, less matured Whisky, so less contact with wood and as Gordon & MacPhail so aptly put it: “The wood makes the Whisky”. I’m not really happy about NAS, but I never disliked batch variations (again, look at Springbank), unless if the only way seemed to be down. There always has been a lot of discussion about our very Lagavulin 16yo, losing power, balance and character, but I hear the latest batches are becoming better and better again. Today Laphroaig seems to suffer from that…

This is the fifth Lagavulin Distillers Edition (DE). The first was distilled in 1979, the second in 1980, the third in 1981, and the fourth in 1984. Just like all the other distillers Editions, this Lagavulin has undergone a second maturation (a finish) in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks.

Lagavulin DE 2002Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Fantastic peat. Lagavulins from the eighties can have this excellent peat, I never get tired of. Peat, tar, seashore, you name anything maritime and its in here. Sure the more recent DE’s are still pretty good, but they don’t smell like this. That’s why Whisky lovers still pay a great deal of money for these older bottlings. Smoke comes next and it smells a bit electrical. It has vanilla and a slight fruity nose. You know it’s there, but so hard to distinguish what it is. Ahhh lots of smoked (dry) sausage and slightly dried out onions and pear. Excellent, what a combination. Where have you smelled that last in a Whisky? This Lagavulin is all about balance (again some kind of dirty word for some). The whole is so fantastic, and goes on and on. Wonderful. Hard to put down. With time the fruit, still distant, finds it’s place in the whole and adds a more fresh and fruity part to the whole. Just smelling it is quite the experience, and still getting better. Lagavulin is such a big aroma, that even the thick and sweet PX can’t overpower it, just add a little something. I guess the finish was done intelligently. I’m putting off tasting it for just a while longer to put on my fisherman’s sweater…

Taste: …in the end it would be a shame not to taste this, so here goes. Well somewhat less special than the nose is the first thing that comes to mind. The PX is more upfront as well. It starts out chewy. Nice licorice, black and white powder and a thick sweet Sherry without most of its sweetness. Does that even make sense? Waxy and again very coastal and raw. Masculine. Puffer’s smoke. Burning hay. Fishy, as it should be. Smoked fish of course. Smearing tar on the hull of a boat. Get yourself something like this, because modern peated Whiskies are nowhere near this profile. I wouldn’t add water to it, because reducing it to 43% shortened the finish already. Big body, with only a medium finish. In the aftertaste the balance is slightly gone. It could have been even better than it already is! Wow.

It’s been a while, but I do understand why Whisky lovers in general pay lots of money for Whiskies like this. This is great and they sure can’t make them like this anymore. Drinking this put you in a different place and time altogether. It changes you as a person (for a while). Sure it puts you back a few hundred euro’s pounds or dollars, but try to imagine what a trip to Islay in 1986 would cost you now. It’s a time-machine and time-bomb in one. A must have.

Points: 91

Clément 9yo 2002/2012 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (46.8%, Bourbon Cask #20070077, 100% Canne Bleue, 587 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

After the excellent offerings from J.M it would be a blasphemy not to recognize Homère Clément, the godfather of Rhum Agricole on Martinique. In 1917 Homère started his distillery on the domaine he acquired in 1887. With the death 0f Homère in 1923, the property with its distillery is taken over by Charles Clément. Charles started making Rhum under the Clément Brand in 1940. The Cléments were already making Rhum for about ten years but under the brand name of the domaine itself: Rhum du Domaine d’Acajou. Charles died in 1973 and the next generation Clément is taking over. It is the generation of George and Jean-Louis-José Clément who saved J.M from bankruptcy but don’t interfere with its Rhum making and management. Investing in the property and distillery, to allow the people behind J.M to make the best Rhum possible.

From Clément’s prestige range comes this single barrel. This “100% Canne Bleue”, non filtré is the first of two single barrel releases. Canne bleue is a cane variety that, apart for its blue color, is known to be the best sugar cane variety for producing Rhum Agricole. Not so long ago a second version in this series saw the light of day, called “Vanille Intense”. Not to be mistaken for a spiced Rhum. No vanilla and/or vanillin was added. Only casks were selected that had the natural potential of releasing slightly more than usual amounts of vanillin from the American oak, as opposed to European oak, which tends to release more tannins.

Clément 9yo 2002/2012 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (46.8%, OB, Bourbon Cask #20070077, 100% Canne Bleue, 587 bottles, Martinique)Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Fresh and smells of new wood. Also a leafy, plant-like quality. Caramel. Big, hefty aroma, sometimes a whiff of this reminds me of Jamaican high ester Rum, although the whole profile is quite different from that. In the distance even a red fruity aroma. Mostly berries. Burnt sugar with hints of spicy White Wine. Gewürztraminer. Sweet spices. Oregano and to a lesser extent thyme. Toned down vanilla ice-cream.

Taste: A very nice subdued sweetness. It’s like the sweetness has depth in part because its burnt sugar. Milk chocolate, some vanilla and a hint of a paper-like quality, cardboard, cola and lots of cask toast. Just like a great wine, this Rhum Agricole has perfect balance between the sweetness and acidity. The sweet is obvious, the acidity is from the oak. Just like the nose it has this great woody flavour, without it being too sappy or bitter, although the bitterness that is there stays on well into the finish, and even the hoppy aftertaste. The finish is long and has a tiny amount of soapiness to it as well as a bit of red berries and the burnt sugar. The burnt sugar retreats and lets a more creamy and toffeed layer take over for the aftertaste.

It’s really amazing how much color this Rhum Agricole got from only nine years in a Bourbon barrel. It looks like a stunning dark brown Rhum. That must have been very active casks. This is good stuff. Big aroma, big body, long finish. For some a bit too much of the burnt wood and sugar notes, but it comes with the territory. Good ‘un this is. Usually more is more, but I somehow do like the 50 cl size of this. It’s easier that way to get another “100% Canne Bleue” single cask, from a different cask naturally, for comparison. This is a big one. The J.M 2002 shouldn’t be tasted right after this.

Points: 87

J.M 11yo 2002/2014 Vieux Rhum Agricole “Millésime 2002” (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)

Reviewing the dirt cheap La Mauny “1749” already opened my eyes to Rhum Agricole from Martinique, but especially after reviewing the J.M XO, I started to really like the stuff. Followed quickly by the La Mauny XO. There is a difference in ABV though, the La Mauny is bottled at 40% ABV, and suffers from it, the J.M XO is bottled at 45% ABV, which seems to be a much better strength. Apart from the difference in ABV, I somehow clicked more with the taste of the J.M. Soon after, I went out and bought this 11yo J.M Millésime 2002. (Two of them actually, since I had high hopes for this one, and I got a pretty good deal on them as well). Aged in Jim Beam Bourbon casks, just like the XO, but almost twice the age. Having already tried the 2002, this time it’s not about comparing it to the XO, because both earn a place in any drinking collection. You know, a collection of bottles destined to be drunk, bottles that will be actually opened to be enjoyed. The XO is younger, has less depth but is also a high quality Rhum Agricole. Having said all that, I have to warn some people. A lot of (sweet) Rum drinkers are a bit put off when starting with Rhum Agricole. Its different. Just like heavily peated Whiskies differ from Bourbons and so on. Proceed with caution, acquire the taste, and if you put some effort into it, you’ll be rewarded with some great Rhums (If you choose wisely).

J.M 11yo Vieux Rhum Agricole Millésime 2002 (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, half sweet and industrial. Wax. Red fruit sweetness and acidity. Cherries, dust and toffee. Soft wood and old leather. With some air more fresh leather combined with a little bit of clear glue. Ground roasted coffee that has been around for a while. Pecan nuts with a hint of cola, brown sugar and cane juice. Hints of menthol which leaves a long minty feel in your nose and throat (already after smelling, I haven’t tasted it yet). Hints of good oak aged Calvados.

Taste: Brown sugar and slightly burnt sugar and maybe even some cask toast. Starts with a small amount of sugary sweetness, but it quickly becomes more dry. Warm apple juice and Calvados (de Querville, the older ones). Leather and more notes of apple. Hints of licorice towards the end. Although this wasn’t reduced, the ABV is natural cask strength, this doesn’t have a very long finish. Medium finish which concentrates around the burnt sugar note combined with some bitter wood. Although the Rhum as a whole is very good, the finish lets it down a bit.

Wonderful Rhum with lots of complexity which releases layer upon layer. It great, but even better if you are patient with it, since it develops a lot in the glass. Great balance too. I have to say that the way I perceive the bitterness of the finish, has also a lot to do with me and the moment when I drink it. It’s more a digestif than an aperitif. The bitterness is less obvious in the evening, than it is in the morning, so don’t let this put you off, since the bitterness is in no way overpowering.

Points: 87