Plantation St. Lucia 2003 (43%, Old Reserve, 2014, St. Lucia)

Last year I reviewed two other Plantation Old Reserves. One from Guyana, and one from Jamaica. Both were quite good, and very well priced. Both were quite sweet as well, since both have some sugar added. Plantation calls it dosage, enhancing Rum with sugar, in the same way you use salt for your food. Cane sugar (syrup) is added to the Rum before ageing. They do it because they really believe it makes for a better Rum.

Most of the Rum-world lacks regulations, although efforts are being made, but on the other hand, Rum also has a history based on the production of sugar. Rum in a way is a by-product of sugar, so why shouldn’t a little bit of sugar be allowed to use?. In my early days, getting to know Rum, I somehow assumed Rum should be sweet, must be sweet, at least half-sweet. Only when I encountered high quality Rums, and single casks Rums, preferably bottled at cask strength, which obviously aren’t laced with added sugar, that I really came to know about Rum! So some believe Rum has a particular sugar-history, and some believe Rum gets better with adding some sugar in the early stages of production. Others are more militant and will kill you if you add sugar anywhere in the production of Rum. Rum should be pure. No mention though of Rums being to dry or to woody.

Looking back on its history, and its use in cocktails, I’m not against adding sugar to Rums in general, as long as it enhances the final product, making it really better. There is a market for it, just like there is a market for Spiced Rums. There is a market for mixers and there is a market for sippers. Nothing wrong with Spiced Rums, it is a subdivision of Rum. As an aficionado though, a Rum sipper, I would like to know upfront, from the label on the bottle, not by searching the internet that a particular Rum contains added sugar, and especially how much was added. I have experience enough to know how much sugar I can “handle”. Because, dear reader, too much added sugar in Rum can taste really bad! (It reminds me of the discussion around caramel coloring in Whisky, which I found makes the final product not only darker, but also taste rounder, more mono, more flat. Too much sugar will flatten your Rum). I won’t kill you, but for me, many Rums are too damn sweet. On the other hand if used sparsely and with taste, why not?

Since the intro is already quite lengthy, I never got around to say much about this bottle. So in a nutshell, if you want to know more about Plantation, I invite you to read my other reviews of Plantation Rums. It is no secret this Rum comes from the St. Lucia Distillery located on the St. Lucia island. It is a distillery with a few different stills. For this Plantation expression, 80% John Dore Pot Still, 15% Vendome Pot Still and finally 5% Column Still rum was blended together. Initial ageing took place in American oak casks on St. Lucia, shipped to France where the Rum was transferred into Ex-Cognac casks made from French oak for a secondary maturation for, I believe, 18 months.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: An explosion of aroma, almost like a Jamaican high ester Rum, but with many differences as well. Rummy and very fruity. Rum-raisins. A lot of sugared yellow fruits as well as some ripe banana skins, aided by some wood, paper and a fantastic burnt note. Vegetal oak mixed with sweet black tea. Creamy dried apricots with powdered coffee creamer and a slightly acidic note on top. Toffee with something extra. Chocolate with caramel. Nutty. Unripe red berries, old ginger and ripe plums. Grape seeds with some wood and rubber. Hints of smoke. Herbal and grassy. Next, a nice floral part emerges, sweet perfume with hints of rose and juniper. Cold black tea with a slightly smoky edge. Bonfire combined with burning cables. Almonds and butter. Fresh air after rain. Wonderfully complex, it never ends. I adore this one, a wonderful (tamed) beast. Perfect nose.

Taste: The slightly burnt note comes first. Big Rum. Fruity and floral, almost Gin-like. Sweetish but in no way cloying and hardly disturbing due to the humongous body this has, however this might very well be a bit too sweet. Luckily a minor problem this time, but a problem nevertheless. Next, an aroma of sugar-water. Big. big Rum. Nutty and leafy. Burning newspapers with hints of sweet peppermint and sweet chlorine. Medium bitter wax. I know this sounds weird, but it works. Medium, slightly bitter, finish, but with a long aftertaste. Very nice. Not as complex as the nose, but still top-notch. This may very well have some added sugar, but I don’t care, I love this one to death. Easily the best of the Old Reserves. I wonder how a good cask strength St. Lucia tastes like…

This Rum is a labour of love. In 2003 the master distiller of St. Lucia Laurie Bernard, who sadly passed away in 2012, challenged Alexandre Gabriel to blend a St. Lucia Rum choosing from the many Rums produced with the many stills on site, making it the best of the Old Reserve range. The result of that challenge is this very bottle, and I have to say. Job well done! This Rum is great in many ways. When placed in a Rum line-up, it doesn’t matter where you fit it in, it can cope with anything put before it, even heavy hitting Jamaican or Demerara Rums. Amazing. Second, it is really good, it is delicious and smells fantastic. Where the aforementioned Plantation Guyana and Jamaica were ok, or even good, this one is wow!

Points: 89

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Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!

Clynelish 1989/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Marsala Finish)

This will be interesting. Experience learns me that I have tasted a lot of good Clynelishes from 1989, although one might ask oneself how far vintages work for Whisky as they do with Wine. An other interesting point is, although todays Wine finishes are quite common, back in 2003, when this was released, Wine finishes weren’t all that hip. Remember that the demand for Whisky was a lot less than it is today, so the sentiment, back then was, if it’s finished in an odd cask (not Bourbon or Sherry), than there must have been something wrong with the original Whisky. This has been finished, by the bottlers, in a cask that previously held Marsala Wine. Marsala is a fortified Wine from Sicily Italy. Marsala can be dry or sweet, and can be white or red, or something in between. Just like Sherry and Port which also comes in lots of different versions, so the word Marsala alone only narrows it down a bit what to expect. It would have been nice to know exactly what kind of Marsala was in the cask. No surprise that we have an “early” experiment with a Wine finish, since Fabio (the man behind Wilson & Morgan) is Italian and already a Wine buff before getting interested in Whisky and Rum. Remember Rum Nation? That’s also his.

By the way, there are other 1989 W&M Clynelishes around. At least one Sherry and one Bourbon expression exist as well. Just look at the bottom right corner of the front label. By the way I have tried this Bourbon expression and it wasn’t as good as other 1989 Clynelishes. Maybe the reason for finishing this one.

clynelish-1989-wm-marsala-finishColor: Gold.

Nose: Dry, restrained and not “thick”. Elegant. Well balanced. Lightly fruity and appetizing. Peaches. Nutty and dusty. Pushed way back some notes of creamy vanilla, so I’m guessing American oak, and probably the previous maturation was done in a Bourbon cask. Don’t be fooled, a lot of Sherries are matured in American oak as well, since it gives off a more creamy, vanilla feel, whereas European oak has more tannins to it. Next some spicy notes. Hints of sweetish basil. Nice one to smell and in no way does the Marsala overpower the Whisky. Fabio was on to something here, and maybe the Clynelish itself wasn’t too bad as well? Hints of dusty dark (friendly) cocoa powder. Good. Give it some time to breathe and the nose does show it has some origins in Wine, but still in a very restrained manner. Hints of Calvados even.

Taste: At first some wood, dusty and spicy but soon a wave of utter fruit passes by, although the fruity sweetness is almost nonexistent, the initial sip has definitely some sweetness to it. Nutty and nice. It has some fruity acidity though, not much but it does help the balance. Two distinct layers after which the finish sets in. A pretty good Whisky with a nicely done finish. It is a treat on entry and has a nice balanced body. The finish has some moderate staying power, and is easily the weakest point of this Malt. It doesn’t have enough length, and is actually not very complex. luckily the rest of the experience is very positive, so definitely a malt one can enjoy. I guess this experiment can be called a success.

The middle has some heat to it so the 46% ABV seems appropriate. I can be easily disappointed when a Whisky has been reduced too much, but I’m also easy in admitting that reductions often work out. In this case I’m not wondering how a cask strength version would have been. I’m happy as it is.

Points: 86

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)

Don José you might ask? “I know only of Panamanian Rums called Abuelo”. Well, Don José is the distillery owned by Varela Hermanos. Abuelo is a Panamanian Rum brand owned by…Varela Hermanos. You do the math. Earlier I reviewed a very nice Rhum from Guadeloupe bottled by Isla del Ron, The Rum outlet of Thomas Euers, Whisky people know better from his independently bottled Whiskies under his Malts of Scotland label. Both the Rums from Abuelo, and the Isla del Ron label, need no further introduction, so why waste any more words on this introduction when both need no introduction? In case you’re wondering, the introduction is now over.

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)Color: Gold.

Nose: Thick and cloying. Extremely creamy. Cream, vanilla pudding. Vanilla ic-cream and butterscotch. Yes this is an Abuelo all right, but it’s also different. Next come some hints of old, dried out leather and even Whisky. Dust and a pronounced woody backbone, add some balance to the overly creamy nose. I also get an edge of paper, right next to the wood. Oak, paper and powdered aspirin. Had I nosed this blind, and after some breathing, I might not have guessed this was an Abuelo though, because it reminds me now even more of Foursquare. Doorly’s 12yo for example. (…so I pulled up the Doorly’s 12yo and had a sniff. Yep quite similar at first, although the Doorly’s has an additional winey note, and is less creamy. The similarities are becoming less obvious, when the Doorly’s gets some time to breathe and develops in the glass. It develops even more of the acidity mentioned earlier than the “Abuelo”, go figure).

Taste: Yeah now we’re talking. Always wanted to know how an Abuelo would taste at a higher strength, well, here is your chance. Definitely less creamy than the official outings. And guess what, and you might want to read my other reviews of Abuelo, this one doesn’t have the discrepant fruity acidity on top. Again notes of paper, cardboard and quite some wood and burned wood. Those notes add some bitterness to the whole. Almonds. By the way, it is slightly soapy as well, and has a slightly (bitter) Beer-like finish. Now you don’t get that in a regular Abuelo now, don’t you. The bitterness does however dominate the aftertaste. Surprising.

Again, like with many Abuelo’s, something seems to be not quite right, and I mean it suffers a bit in the “balance” department. Usually it is the fruity acidity that doesn’t reach the synergy needed, but this time it is a less fruity and a more waxy note that seems to be a bit off and unwilling to cooperate. Nevertheless this is a minor fault compared to the acidity-problem in other Abuelo’s. This particular expression is all about the wood. You can say it its wood driven and has this quite unusual bitterness. Is that bad? Well, it’s not overpowering, so it doesn’t ruin the Rum, it is quite upfront, so if you like your woods, you are going prefer this one over the regular Abuelo’s, that’s for sure. It has a higher ABV, and you do notice that, but not as much as expected. I don’t find it hot or too high in alcohol. Nope, it’s still quite easily drinkable.

Points: 83

De nuevo muchas gracias señor Rik!

Clément 10yo 2003/2013 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.8%, Bourbon Cask #0310054, Vanille Intense, 459 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Alas, my 100% Canne Bleue version of a single cask Clément is almost gone. Damn small those 50cl bottles. I said I liked the smaller size of these bottles, because it would give us the chance to buy a bottle from another cask. True, but when they are as good as the first one, less definitely is not more. So what should I replace it with? Well, what about another version from Cléments single cask series. Yup, let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea. In comes the second version released: “Vanille Intense”. I don’t know about you, but somehow I’m expecting a R(h)um that is full of, well, vanilla notes. Where the previous one was all about the Canne Blue sugar cane variety, this time it’s all about the wood, or at least so I imagine. Sure R(h)um by itself can have enough notes of Vanilla, but here, I guess, it’s also the vanillin that came into the mix by way of the wood of the cask. It’s from a Bourbon cask, so American oak, which gives off vanilla notes to enhance the vanilla notes from the R(h)um. Expect intense vanilla notes.

By the way, a third version has been released recently, called “Moka Intense”. Interesting, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, and have a go at this “Vanille Intense” first, shall we?

clement-vanille-intenseColor: Copper golden brown.

Nose: Cookie dough. Luke-warm sweetened black tea. Vanilla. Only after this creamy start, the typical Rhum Agricole notes emerge, although throughout the whole experience, they are pushed back well into the background. So we are definitely in the territory of some active Bourbon casks here. Floral, honey and licorice. Nice (Indian) spicy wood, plywood and pencil shavings, although I don’t think they have used the latter two for this Rhum. Well integrated, a faint, but nice and sweet red fruit aroma. Leather and quite dusty. Next comes the sweetness, brown sugar and slightly warm toffee. This one really gives it up in layers. Is the vanilla intense? Well, not as much as the label suggested, but it is definitely a smoother and sweeter smelling Rhum, compared to its 100% Canne Bleue sister. It’s not the vanilla ice-cream I somehow expected. For me, especially the elegant woody notes are the best. Quite a nice nose, almost not a Rhum Agricole, but I like it!

Taste: Very soft, dull, dusty and sugary sweet. Simple. Warm sugar syrup with pencil shavings, cardboard and indian spices. Toasted cask. Lots of diluted toffee, watery caramel, licorice and vanilla. Spicy backbone from the oak, even a slight bitter vegetal note, with a late return of sugar. You can really taste the pencil shavings now. Remarkably soft and simple compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version. So it’s not about the vanilla after all. They just picked smooth, creamy, sweet and simple casks to avoid the potential rawness of the previous version I guess. Short finish as well, where the woody bitterness has the longest staying power. A bit disappointing really. Where the J.M 2002 and the Clément 100% Canne Bleue had something extra, this Vanille Intense does not. I think the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge is just as good and way more affordable.

Compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version, this one is less raw. More civilized and simple. Also toned down a bit. The 100% Canne Bleue seems to explode with aroma. Dare I say that the Vanille Intense is a bit boring? I just did, didn’t I? I don’t know if the lower ABV has something to do with it, or maybe it is just the profile of this Rhum. Also remember these are single cask bottlings and there should be a difference from cask to cask. Going on these two I will probably buy another bottle, bottled from a different cask, of the 100% Canne Bleue version (Brown label) and pass up on another Vanille Intense (Green label). Don’t get me wrong, the green ‘un is still good, but not as good as the brown ‘un…

Points: 85

The Macallan 10yo (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

We move back a decade or so to visit one of our old friends. One of the most standard bottlings of that time, the original Macallan 10yo. It had an age statement back then and was diluted to 40% ABV. It was the time, no fan of Macallan or otherwise, was aware of the dark clouds that were forming up ahead. Finally the storm broke and we were given the Fine Oak series. So for me the downfall in quality started with bottlings issued in the newly designed bottlings like the “Fine Oak” series. However, if memory serves me well, in 2002 they started releasing some sort of NAS called the “Elegancia”, preparing us for a softer and smoother experience, moving away from the true Sherry experience of the true Macallan. Not truly a NAS by the way, since it did carry a vintage, like Elegancia 1991. Nevertheless, after the Fine Oaks I really didn’t look back. I was so disappointed. I turned my attention towards Longmorn instead. Back then a lot of it was around and at fair prices to boot. The standard 15yo was pretty good, although the introduction of the 16yo made me rise my eyebrows a bit. Better looking bottle, but the Whisky was less interesting. No, may independent released some pretty stellar Longmorns, so I needn’t look back at Macallan. Of course I did try some of the newer bottlings, but I was never convinced moving back towards the Macallan. Only the future can tell us.

Macallan 10yo (40%, OB, Circa 2003)Color: Dark orange gold.

Nose: Wow, very aromatic. Heaps of Sherry. Extremely fruity, Cherries, apples and banana. Simply wonderful. Already from the start a nice backbone of (new) Oak and a promise of toffee’d sweetness. Warm runny caramel. A lot is happening from the start and it only needs little time to reach a nice balance. This is how I remember drinking Whisky a decade ago, without even giving it much thought then. Stuff like this would be around forever, wouldn’t it? Damn, why is it so hard to make something like this today? Ice cream, vanilla, caramel, laced with apples. Sugared apples and a splash of plain and simple refined sugar-water. Fruity, but not only apples. Sugared cherries and hints of mango and passion fruit. A tropical mix that could have been an older Tomatin. Resembles Tomatin 25yo a bit. Thick and cloying at first, but give it some time to breathe and the whole gets thinner. I wouldn’t say it dies out on us, but it does get a bit more restrained. Balances out. Every time I smell this I get hints of well made Calvados. It becomes fresher. More waxy apple skin aroma’s emerge. When you look for it, there are hints of toasted cask. Hints that are more upfront in older good Ex-Sherry cask matured Whiskies.

Taste: Simpler. Starts out soft and sweet, but not as complex as the nose. Tropical fruits and runny caramel again. Is is youth? Probably not. Is it reduction? I guess so. Sweet and on entry, sometimes like someones bad breath mixed with cardboard, what? Relax, it’s not that bad actually. This time around definitely some toasted cask in the mix, which does wonders for the balance. It gives the fruity and fresh Whisky a nice backbone. Slightly bitter oak, slightly burned as well. New sappy wood aroma is also present, although it is highly unlikely new wood was used, but you never know don’t you. The wood is sappy and sometimes a bit harsh and upfront. It’s the “burned” sensation however, that stays well into the finish. Also a nice and rich nuttiness appears towards the finish, combined with the cardboard we found earlier. For a 40% ABV Whisky this has a pretty lengthy finish, but no, it’s not long.

Tasting it now, in 2016, this is high quality by todays standard. Remember this was the simplest of Macallans some ten years ago. Sure, Italy had their official 7yo, since they like young and fresh Whiskies. Hard to believe not so long ago this was entry-level stuff. Today this would have been packaged in a shiny box that costs more than the  Whisky itself did ten years ago. You don’t want to know even how much it would cost today. Looking at auction prices, I would say every time, you get a fair deal when you want to buy one like these. Go for it. They don’t make them like this anymore.

Points: 85

Longrow 10yo 1993 (46%, OB, 2003)

Another peated whisky in the summer? Has Master Quill gone completely crazy? Yes, because who wants to be “normal”! If you feel like it, just do it… By the way, it’s raining like crazy outside, so it only seems fitting.

2001 saw the first release of a 10 year old, with a vintage. Remember the classic brown paper Longrow label on the tall bottle? The first two releases, both in 2001 and both distilled in 1991 were a “normal one” said to be only from Bourbon, but also, for one time only, a Sherrywood. The series was short-lived, and was discontinued in 2006 after the 1996 vintage, in favour of the 10yo without a vintage statement. Throughout the series I don’t believe all normal ones were from Bourbon casks only, if any. You know Springbank, they tend not to repeat themselves. Just compare the last two releases of the Longrow 18yo (with the white labels), since the 2016 release contains Rum casks. Never a dull moment with Springbank and all of their other brands. Today we’ll have a look at the 1993 vintage of the 10yo, that was released in 2003.

Longrow 10yo 1993Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat. Fatty and smoky. The peat is smelling three-dimensional. It’s not only just there, it goes deep, and seems without end in complexity. Peat mixed with hints of lemon, waxy apple skins and vanilla. Cookie dough. Whiffs of warm apple pie. Burning leaves, sugared yellow fruits and even hints of sweet-smelling sweat, crushed beetle and slightly burned herbs and even has a quaint nuttiness about it. Very balanced stuff, with only a mere hint of wood. All seems to fit in together nicely. This is the best peat I’ve smelled in quite some time. I must admit, it had plenty of air to work with. Love it.

Taste: Quite sweet on entry. Heavy on licorice and the peat is shoved into the background, by the sweetness. The sweetness dissipates and leaves more room for a sort of herbal fruitiness. Prickly licorice and the nuttiness from the nose. Alas the peat never really makes it to the top and the wonderful depth it has on the nose doesn’t really blossom tasting it. Long finish, built around the caramel sweetness and with a larger role for sour oak. Coffee and chocolate in the aftertaste. It still is a wonderful Malt. Just if the complexity of the nose would have shone through in the taste, it would have been a truly exceptional Whisky.

Well this might not be a Whisky from the seventies, but it does remind me of the quality of that decade. I’m actually amazed a bit that many of the vintages are still available, although somewhat more expensive than the new 10yo.

Points: 88