Caol Ila 11yo 2004/2016 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for Milano Whisky Festival 2016 & Bar Metro, Refill American Hogshead #306662, 348 bottles)

Once nowhere to be found, now maybe one of the most bottled Islay Malts today. Caol Ila. For me at least, Caol Ila is always a nice Whisky which also ages well. This is a pretty young one, bottled less than four months shy of its 12th birthday. In fact, this Caol Ila has matured for precisely 4.275 days. It was bottled for the Milano Whisky Festival & Bar Metro in 2016, I picked this up at a well-known German auction and didn’t have to pay much, nor did I have a lot of competition for this bottle, so maybe there’s something I should have known? At the same auction I picked up its sister-bottling from Glen Elgin bottled for the same festival in 2016 and didn’t have to pay much for that one either. I bought these two, because I found out I had a lot of cask strength bottlings on my lectern, so I wanted to buy some bottles, to start an evening with. A bit reduced to work up an appetite. Gordon & MacPhail have (or had) lots of casks from the 3066XX-range, bottled in many different series; “Cask Strength”, “Reserve”, “Spirit of Scotland” and more “Exclusive’s” as well, so there is enough around for comparison. For instance, Refill American Hogshead #306664 was bottled for Maison du Whisky @ cask strength in the Exclusive range. By the way, some of the casks from this range are Sherry casks. Let’s find out now if this hoggie is any good.

Color: Straw.

Nose: Quite restrained. No big smoky peaty notes. Fresh, zesty but also a bit tame (at first), as in sweet barley with a wee bit of soft peat only. When the flow rate of air through the nose has been increased, lots more seems to be emerging. A prickly sensation awarded to a smoky note. Burning newspaper, and even more earthy peaty notes, still restrained though. Next more creamy notes of vanilla and pudding. Well balanced although I’m not sure yet about its complexity. Hints of sugared, or sweet, yellow fruits. Warming toffee and more soft barley, marzipan and almonds. Even a little bit of honey. All very restrained without it being closed. Dusty. All aroma’s work together nicely. Good balance. A cold and misty day with hardly any wind. As this Whisky picks up air, the good balance even gets better, definitely the forté of this Whisky, and it gets bigger, bolder and more aromatic as well. Quite a surprise. The longer it stays in my glass and I don’t hurry it, the better it gets. More of the fruity notes emerge and the marzipan, very nice. Some wood and ashes as well. So this needs a bit of air and patience. If you hurry this one, you’ll miss the reward of this Whisky.

Taste: Sweet, fruity and smoky, with a funky red fruit acidity on top (it may could do without). Yes, peat as well. Slightly too watery (at first), but as I wanted a “starting Whisky” this does the job quite well. Very nice fruity sweetness, the sweetness of ripe fruits rather than plain old sugar. Very balanced again. Milk chocolate, chocolate mousse, mocha and a tiny hint of coffee with lots of milk. Mint. Just like the nose, the sweetness moves into the territory of vanilla and pudding retaining the minty note. More toffee, caramel and mocha. Chocolate cake, custard, crème brûlée even, with the added bonus of peat, charcoal and ashes. Finally a green, leafy note. Earthy.

The finish is warming yet falls a bit short and I can’t say the wonderful balance reaches the aftertaste. A slightly acidic note peels of from the rest of the Whisky. Where the finish was somewhat short, the aftertaste recovers winning it a bit back for the team. Nevertheless a very nice Caol Ila again, and this probably its sisters as well, deserve your money. I for one, will try to find a G&M 2004 cask strength version from such a hogshead again.

Points: 86

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Teaninich 10yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, Circa 2004)

In 1991, the predecessors of Diageo, the owners of Teaninich, introduced us to Teaninich and many other lesser known distilleries they own, through this series we now call Flora & Fauna. The labels depict local wildlife and sometimes plants. We have Michael Jackson to thank for the name, nevertheless, Diageo never adopted the name. In 2001 four new ones were added (Glen Elgin, Auchroisk, Glen Spey and Strathmill). For a short while nine cask strength versions were also available. Many of the original 22 entries have since vanished. Sometimes Diageo closed the distillery (Rosebank & Pittyvaich) or sold it off (Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore, Aberfeldy, Balmenach and Speyburn), and in several cases Diageo put the distillery forward and graced them with their own series (Clynelish, Caol Ila, Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Elgin). The latter just added to the series in 2001. Today all that’s left of the Flora and Fauna series is (Teaninich, Benrinnes, Inchgower, Blair Athol, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Strathmill, Auchroisk, Glenlossie, Glen Spey and Dailuaine), although it seems Dailuaine is disappearing as well…

In this series I usually tend towards the more sherried expressions, since especially bottles bottled more than a decade ago show a lot of quality. The Whisky-boom wasn’t really there so lots of excellent Sherry casks found their way into this series. We already had a look at Mortlach and Benrinnes, but also Dailuaine and Blair Athol come to mind. Someone once gave me the Blair Athol to taste next to one bottled ten years prior, and the difference was amazing. A whopping 10 points. So yes, the best casks don’t seem to find their way anymore into the F&F series. However, for some distilleries the second best Sherry casks are still pretty decent, especially considering the bottles from this Flora and Fauna series are quite affordable to boot.

In comes this Teaninich, most definitely an expression that has never seen Sherry casks, and at 10yo, a very young one indeed. Still it’s a Teaninich and you know I love Teaninich, so even though no Sherry was used (probably), I still have some sort of high hopes for this one, since there is nothing to scoff at when Whisky has matured in Bourbon-wood. Barrel or hogshead alike.

Color: Dark straw yellow.

Nose: Buttery and woody. Yes, American oak for sure. Buttery and creamy. Custard pudding, coffee creamer (powder) with added sweet, ripe yellow fruits and a lot of influence from the wood. I said wood influence, not woody. Leafy. Dry plants and dried ice cream left over in the bowl. This seems like a typical (young) Whisky that has matured in American oak. If you are familiar with it, the profile can’t come as a surprise to you. As is the case with Whiskies like this, the beauty has to be found in the details. Occasional whiffs of fresh acidity (oak).

Taste: Short lived sweetness from the start, quickly to be overtaken by hints of fireworks, flint, sulphur (huh?) and liquorice. Didn’t expect that. Never simple, Teaninich. The sweetness doesn’t have any staying power though. It isn’t really present in the body nor in the finish. Maybe I’m interpreting the creamy notes with sweetness? Spicy notes emerge next. However it isn’t an easy Malt. This won’t do if you think you need a simple, American oak driven Whisky you want to drink playing cards with the boys. Because, if you give this enough attention, not all aroma’s are easy on the palate. Darn Teaninich, again more than you’d bargain for. Tea, with citrus aroma. sweet yellow fruits like dried apricots. This is a Whisky drinkers Malt, which is a very anoraky thing to say, Quill!

As I said above, if you drink this not giving it the attention it needs, it will let you down. For a careless drinker this isn’t really suitable. This means, not everything works as well as it should, because you, the sipper in this story, have to make it all fall into place, so without flaws this is not, and I have to score this accordingly.

Another word of caution. Flora & Fauna bottlings can be (very) different from batch to batch, decade to decade. This is a bottle bottled some fifteen years ago, so hard to tell what you get if you buy the latest release.

Points: 82

 

The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 81

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)

600Post number 600, so lets break out something special. Special for me is Brora. Sure Port Ellen, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, they all are Cohiba’s, but Brora is Trinidad. Brora is extra special (to me). 600 is a round number but it’s not 1.000, 10.000 or even a million. It’s 600, so I won’t be reviewing a 1972 Brora, which for me is the pinnacle of them all. The 30yo OB from 2004 contains lots of 1972 Brora, so look at that review how great 1972 Brora can be. Back to this Signatory bottling from 1981. In 1981 Brora was in production, obviously, but were all over the place. Some expressions are full of peat and some are not. I wonder if this one has some peat to it…

Brora 22yo 1981/2004 (56.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Sherry Butt #1561, 611 bottles)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fresh and vivid. Definitely Sherry, but in no way funky. Quickly a fresh creamy and toffee note develops and only a mere hint of peat, just inhale vigorously. Needs to breathe a bit. Nice soft woody note, which sometimes take a turn towards old paper turned yellow. A bit dusty as well, (with whiffs of white peach). In no way dry. Quite spicy. I tickles the nose, and again toffee mixed with wax. Chewy would be the word. Mild yellow fruit notes appear, adding some acidity and yet more freshness to the nose. It’s not typically peach, white or other, but some whiffs come across as peach in semi-sweet yoghurt. The wood stays soft and is part of the fruity and creamy mix, instead of giving it a spine. Its nice overall, and does develop al lot, where initially it didn’t seem very complex. Hardly any peat at all and just a splash of smoke.

Taste: Thick, waxy and fruity. Definitely a profile we get from fruity Speysiders from the seventies. Nice soft wood. Toffee, without being very sweet. It has some fruity sweetness, but just the right amount. It has more than 56% ABV, but it’s still friendly. Not hot, nor burning my throat. Very drinkable. To my amazement, a lot disappears towards the finish and the finish itself is medium at best. Only in the aftertaste it starts to come apart a bit, fading out. Just the right moment to take another sip.

This one isn’t about the peat and the smoke, and the ruggedness of highlands, and sea storms after which you need warming. This one is for those moment you need an old Speysider, Bourbon matured, with lots of fruit and wax. Remember this isn’t from a Bourbon cask, but is from a Sherry butt. It has hints of peat and smoke. It’s a bit like the profile Benromach is going for today with the new 10yo and 15yo.

Points: 89

Benromach “Traditional” (40%, OB, 2004)

This is quite a unique bottling. In 1993, Gordon & MacPhail acquired the distillery, but it took them ’till 2004 to release this “Traditional”. The very first Benromach made by the new regime. Alas, today the traditional is no more, it has been replaced, last year, by the 5yo. For me this is a unique bottling, whereas everybody is coming up with, sometimes, silly names for their Whiskies, Gordon & MacPhail decided otherwise. They mothballed the “Traditional” name and replaced it with the 5yo, yes an age statement, so it’s not a NAS anymore. For some, “5” is a pretty low number, but at least you get a better sense of what to expect. Luckily this trend is gaining momentum as well, since there will be a Lagavulin 8yo shortly, and I expect quite a lot from that one. Back to the “Traditional”. It is said to be 20% first fill Sherry and the rest comes from first fill Bourbon. All first fill casks, so they must have impaired quite some aroma to this young Whisky.

Benromach TraditionalColor: Straw.

Nose: Barley, butter and lemon water. Very light and does not want to come out of the glass. Hints of Sherry and spicy oak. More barley and grassy notes come next. A bit dull, restrained, as in it doesn’t greet you, popping out of the glass with lots of fresh and citrussy notes. No, it’s restrained, like an English butler. By now, we have gotten used to the slightly peaty and waxy notes, but here it was something of a first. For those of you who know the new 10yo, both the reduced or the 100 proof version, this is definitely family. The peat is typical, and the waxyness of the spirit as well, so for me this is easily recognizable as a modern Benromach. The Cragganmore I reviewed last, had Fino Sherry written all over it, but I have to say, this one has some notes of that kind of Sherry as well. Hints of new make spirit, so a bit immature. There is also something missing here. This is said to be 80% first fill Bourbon, but where then is the vanilla? It’s there but the peaty notes overpower it. Nice.

Taste: Barley again and definitely sugar-water, with some hidden vanilla and paper underneath, did I mention that it is a bit restrained? At first that’s all there is. Soft. Pudding and paper again. Paper-like and peaty bitterness. Fatty. Diluted liquid honey. Hints, really only mere hints of red fruits (from the Sherry I guess). Slightly warming finish, with peat and again a lot of sweetness. Although it has a very light and uneventful (restrained) finish, it does have some staying power. Totally un-complex, which has a slightly different meaning than “simple”. A first offering but not quite there yet. The bitterness stays behind for the aftertaste.

This brings me to the subject of blind tasting, believed to be the most fair of all ways of tasting spirits. First of all, blind tasting is not entirely objective, since the taster is not objective, and not blind for that matter. You also have different moods and different expectations. Second, a blind tasting is usually done with several Whiskies, so you tend to compare the one to the other, both interact with each other, you like one over the other, but what if in a particular flight is this NAS Benromach as well as a Lagavulin 37yo, which would you prefer? I first tasted this in such a flight and my initial score was 65 Points. This time I’m tasting it by itself, and I know what it is. If I’m in the mood for a Whisky like this, I wouldn’t grab the Lagavulin 37yo now would I? Just like every other Whisky out there, every one has their time and place, but yes the Lagavulin is a way better Whisky, with a way better price-tag as well…

This Benromach is young and simple (un-complex). And not every aroma seems to fit, especially in the taste, but it is also light, grassy, citrussy and fresh, as well as peaty and bitter (and sweet). So it has its moment. Some would call it their summer Whisky. Its nice, simple and…restrained.

Points: 72

Glenrothes 1992/2004 (43%, OB)

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 79