The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 1993/2012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)

After one blend and three reduced bottlings from their standard range, here is finally the first example of an “untouched” New Zealand Whisky. A 1993 expression bottled at cask strength and from single cask #21. That’s more like it. This way we can finally find out what the distiller intended. How did the spirit interact with the wood from the cask. No information about the cask itself has been given so we aren’t handicapped with information this time, and can just dig in…

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 19932012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fruity and dusty, carried with an undertone of fresh wood. I would say this came from a Bourbon cask. Not hard to tell since the wood impaired quite a lot of vanilla-flavours. One with green fingers too, since it has more traits from the kingdom of plants, than the wood alone. It’s easy to admit, this one is driven by wood. Even the spices are wood related, and what about the whiff of pencil-shavings and the aroma of freshly broken off twig? Does this mean this one is dominated by wood? Not at all. The wood gave of various elements of itself, without overpowering it. All in good measure. It has a promise of sweetness (toffee) and the big wood-vanilla synergy makes this a fruity and creamy nose with some backbone and character given by the wood. Slightly oriental (Indian) and floral. Restrained, elegant and wonderful.

Taste: Nice spicy, prickly and woody entry. It starts out with fresh oak and a quite big, nice vegetal sweetness. Tiny hint of bitterness. Right from the start it is obvious this one is carried by the cask strength. Good this wasn’t reduced. It doesn’t seem to have as many woody traits as the nose. Definitely simpler in design than the nose. The fruity bit I taste is a bit peculiar. To me it seems, the mixture of yellow and red fruits don’t combine perfectly here. More cereals and bread tones towards the end. The finish is shorter than expected and it’s the grainy, bread-like and slightly bitter bit that has the biggest influence on the finish.

The strength of this malt is the wonderful nose, as well as well on entry in the mouth. From there it goes a bit downhill. The body sort of disintegrated in my mouth and although the cask strength is noticeable, it doesn’t carry the aroma’s into the finish in a big way. This is a Malt that needs to be tasted, taking big sips. Good stuff nevertheless, easy drinking Whisky, but probably not the best single cask bottled by the NZWC. We’ll see because I have two more hidden away somewhere.

Points: 85

Ardbeg 10yo “Ten” (46%, OB, 2012)

Earlier we had another Ardbeg 10yo, but that one was bottled by independent bottler, Cadenhead. Here we have an official 10yo bottled by the distillery itself. I wonder which one will be best. More than “ten” years ago I had another official “ten” on my lectern, and I liked that one very much. Rumour has it however, that the current “ten”, or those of the last few years, are significantly different. More sweet and accessible and less oomph, just like the road taken by Laphroaig. Together with Lagavulin, those were always the heavy hitters from the south shore of Islay. Today it’s Bruichladdich (once unpeated), that makes the peatiest of Whiskies on Islay with Port Charlotte and the Octomore monster.

Ardbeg TenColor: White Wine.

Nose: Well peat first, but is seems to me a very accessible, creamy and fresh, almost citrussy peat. No big oomph, but almost elegant peat. It behaves like a good kid. Reliable. It smells like a very luxury Ardbeg now, since it also has some lovely floral notes with well hidden sweet barley. Wet earth, nice smoke, yet no real barley nor wood. Only of you really want it, you can detect some soft wood. Smelling this for a while, it still does remind me of an Ardbeg, so it hasn’t lost its identity (yet), and I hope it never will.

Taste: It really is the sweetness that first hits you. No crisp dry peaty and smoky dram. It’s peat lemonade. First impression. Yup, in business to sell a brand, and to win over lots of people you don’t want to scare away. Yeah, wonderful. Another sip. I want to taste what comes after the sweetness, but it is so distracting. Lets try again. Sweet yes, we’ve covered that, but what else. Toffee, citrus freshness, lemon curd and vanilla pudding. Almonds, fresh and lightly roasted. Luckily the acidity is just right for this profile. Nutty, yes, but not a lot. What else? This fruity peat, not waxy. It starts sweet, so it takes some time to get the rest, but also the body as not that long, nor is the finish. It does have a warming and likeable aftertaste. A bit thin but fruity nevertheless. Only in the aftertaste I recognize to Ardbeg form not so long ago.

From the smell alone, this is not the Ardbeg 10yo, or “Ten” as it’s officially called, I remember from ten years ago. I don’t think my palate has gone to ruins, because I can still recognize heavy hitting drams that are out there, but this Ardbeg isn’t one of them anymore. But it’s not Ardbeg alone. All the big boys from the past seem to have less oomph these days. Don’t get me started on Laphroaig for that matter. Laphroaig today has nothing to do with the Laphroaig that got me into peated single malt Whisky in the first place. The export strength “10yo” and the “Cask Strength” (green stripe). Those days seem to be gone for good.

So I already feel lots of protests, as if I’m disliking this classic Ardbeg 10yo. That’s not true. This is still very likeable, and still a good dram. If you like your peat but you’re not into heavy peat, than this is for you. It shows quality, and worth your money. It isn’t all that expensive. Good dram.

The problem here is that I know, and have, older bottlings of the Ardbeg “Ten”, so for me comparison in inevitable, and going down that road, well, there is no other conclusion. It has changed a lot. It used to be a crisp, dry and clean heavily peated malt, almost a real young masterpiece, nicely battling it out on the store shelves with Laphroaig 10yo, which had a much longer history. Both having avid fans defending it with their lives. Not me, I loved them both, just like The Beatles and the Stones. This Ardbeg is not that Ardbeg anymore, but today’s Laphroaig most certainly isn’t that Laphroaig anymore too, just like The Stones really. I kid you, but the real problem is that I can’t come up with a real alternative if you want the old heavily peated Ardbeg or Laphroaig back, so I have really high hopes for the new 8yo Lagavulin!

Points: 84

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points: 85

Chivas Regal 12yo (40%, OB, 2012)

After two highly specialized, anorak type of Glen Scotia’s, because, besides us, who in the world has ever heard of Glen Scotia? It’s time to move on and get back to basics again. Back to Blended Whisky even. This time we will have a look at Chivas Brothers Chivas Regal 12yo. This is something you might encounter in almost every hotel bar around the world, as well as any Whisky selling supermarket. It’s been around since the beginning of the twentieth century. Blends have homes and the “home” of this blend is the Strathisla Distillery.

Chivas Regal 12Color: Gold.

Nose: Barley with funky honey sweetness. Quite fruity too. Lemon, apple skins and apricot water, because it has quite a watered down nose. Vanilla powder and distant hints of charred oak. For a 12yo, this has remarkable little wood aroma, but I have to say that the whole is rather thin and light. Apart from that, the nose seems to be designed to have a certain composition. This composition is there all the time. No development whatsoever. Is that typical for a blend like this, a blend from a big company, blends we al know as well as our ancestors?

Taste: Sweet and honeyed, but not thick, and very likable, just like a lemonade in the summer. Lots of grainy elements, but before you can make your mind up if you like this grainy element it is already surpassed by the fruit, (peach and banana), and a delicious sweetness. Very rounded out, like you get from caramel colouring. When the sweetness slowly travels down your throat a more bitter note is left behind in my mouth. Here’s the wood, and here is maybe the age, I guess. This lingers on for a while, fruity sweet yoghurt, which is nice. The end of the body and the finish are the same. The bitterness fades out and there hardly is any aftertaste. Just an echo of the body, which is good, because you don’t want the slight bitterness to be the note that stays behind. So not a very long finish and the aftertaste lets it down a bit.

This is actually not bad. Love the taste, and do concentrate on the taste, since in no way you’ll get the “12yo”, and there isn’t any noteworthy development going on in the glass as well. So, not bad, but would you go for “not bad” or should we expect some more from our blends these days? Sipping along, yes, its nice initially, but I also get bored quickly with this. After a glass of this, which I enjoyed, I wouldn’t pour me a second one soon. So my pick from the hotel bar would be Glenfiddich 12yo, since it always sits next to this Chivas Regal.

Points: 74

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