Highland Park 25yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead, Small Batch, 2 Sherry Butts, 1086 bottles, 13/242)

This is part three (of four) in Erik’s not-so-run-of-the-mill left behind bottles series. This time a super dark heavily Sherried offering from Cadenhead and Highland Park. Highland Park always went well with ex-Sherry casks. I used to be a big fan of Highland Park, one of the first I considered to be of the highest class available from Scotland. It is such a great tasting Whisky, honest, honeyed and humble. At least it used to be. It didn’t shout off the rooftops how great it is, and still managed to have a pretty solid fan-base around the world. Today however, Highland Park (and The Macallan) are part of a humongous marketing machine, which I tend to distrust. Sure the Whisky is still good, and there are still many, many, amazing bottles to be had (for a price), but the feeling is different, the feeling’s gone, sorry Highland Park. Just compare it to the way Springbank and Bruichladdich are marketed. The feeling is entirely different with these. Yet here we have an independent offering of Highland Park.

Cadenhead, by the way, thanks to Mr. Watt, seem to have reinvented themselves for many years to come. This bottling, it doesn’t say so on the label, seems to be the result of marrying two Sherry Butts together.

Color: Very dark orange brown, just shy of a mahogany hue.

Nose: Deep and dark, lots of oak, making it fresh. Toasted oak, and some warm plastic, which fades and disappears luckily. Fruity heavy Sherry. Meaty oak, and licorice. The wood also has quite a big floral component. Perfumy even. Next I got some Rhum Agricole “sweetness” mixed with dark chocolate. This one is neither red/black fruity, as old Longmorns nor thick and cloying. In the end it has more of the latter than the former. Elegant wood, yet definitely not old skool. Good Sherry, but modern. More and more whiffs of Rhum Agricole and cold gravy. Also drier spicy notes when you let it stand for a while.

Taste: Starts sweet and very nutty. With emerging bitterness when swallowed. A Doppler effect of bitterness. The bitterness is kept in check, so no problem here. Good tannins, not drying the mouth. Silky texture. Hints of vanillin and milk-chocolate pudding. Fruity and again this bitter end of the body. And a big body it is. Well it has been in rather active Sherry casks for 25 years, so no surprise here. Paper and clear glue. Honey, the stuff of bees, not your darling, I hear you ask? Nope, no not really, although it does remind me of licorice candy made with honey. Hardly a Highland Park. Its about the Sherry cask this one. Black tea bitterness, but with a nice edge of coal. Steam punk, but not old skool. The more this breathes in my glass the “older” it gets. More coal, and more steam (and motor oil). It may lack a tiny bit in complexity, but it makes up for it with development (in my glass). The finish is simple and again bitter (medium), but the body is very good (it finally does get into the realm of Longmorn after extensive breathing). Long aftertaste of oak, licorice and black fruits and yes, the bitter bit has the longest breath of all the notes. So it has its good and less good points. Maybe this should have been bottled a few years earlier?

Letting it breathe is a must for this Whisky, it makes all the difference.

Points: 87

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Ledaig 15yo 1997/2013 (59.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, for Van Wees, Refill Sherry Hogshead #464, 262 bottles, AC/JICD)

Well, this should be interesting! Fall 2015 saw me doing a review of a sistercask (#465) of this Whisky. The cask next door, so to speak. It was filled the same day with exactly the same distillate, in just another refill Sherry hogshead, but with, probably, a different result, since no two casks are really alike. Both were distilled on 23/10/1997, #464 was bottled 01/08/2013, and #465 was bottled on 30/10/2013. Bottled only three months later but making one a 15yo old and the other a 16yo. #465 is also the darker of the two, but the difference looks bigger than the aforementioned 3 months. Maybe the two casks contained different Sherries. Maybe one cask was more active, or had a deeper char. All can be true.

#465 was bottled for The Whisky Exchange (of London), and #464 was bottled for Van Wees (of Amersfoort). Both casks were refill Sherry hogsheads. I’m opening this #464 now, since #465 is almost empty and it’s time to “kill” it. Don’t believe for a second, since it lasted me this long, it wasn’t any good. It is actually so good, I didn’t want it to be empty soon, second it isn’t really a daily drinker type Whisky to boot. It’s a big, big Whisky. So today I still have a chance to compare the two. Just bear in kind, one has had plenty of time to breathe and the other is almost freshly opened.

Color: Full gold, with some orange.

Nose: Funky, dusty and meaty. Big and sweet-smelling. Fatty, dirty, meaty peat. Almost like an animal was turned into peat along with the plants. Nothing bad here, just very animalesk. Crushed beetle and gasses bubbling up from a pond. Expect no clean earthy peat, or just bursts of sharp smoke. Yes, smoke is here, as well as peat. Smoke from wet wood. Marshland wood. Earthy. Wet and dirty peat. Earthy sweet peat. The smoke is soft. Spicy, vegetal and highly aromatic. Hints of liquorice and dust, mixed in with toasted oak. Vanilla, mocha and more drier wood and sharper smoke. Hints of Rhum Agricole if you ask me. Hints of peppermint immersed in mud. Very organic mud. Do I detect some sulphurous compounds in the back? Wonderful balance though.

Taste: Starts sharp and quickly turns to sweet, with a peppery attack, quickly followed by peat and sharp smoke. Its like the initial sweetness coats the mouth and when that recedes, the sharper element comes to the front of the stage. Maybe fruity even, I’m sure of it actually, but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of the big aroma’s this Whisky has. Licorice power, sweet licorice wood. Ashes, even cigarette ashes. Extremely warming, I can feel it going all the way down. Never get that a lot, not even from cask #465. Sweet, lots and lots of almonds and even hints of anise, barely noticeable: acetone based nail polish remover, and the crushed beetle is here too. This may seem strange and quite off, but let me assure you, this is all positive for the whole of this Whisky. Give it some time and more fruity notes start to develop. Red and yellow fruits. Sweetish, but also slightly acidic. Nutty and waxy. Hints of burnt plastic. Lots of smoke in the taste, along with some cow dung in the finish. Very rural and farmy. Salty lips. What a wonderful Whisky again, utterly complex. There is so much happening. It’s only slightly less balanced than the nose, and cask #465 for that matter. This imperfection is best noticeable in the aftertaste.

In a direct comparison, it is obvious to me that #465 is the more civilized of the two. The same notes appear, but turned down quite a bit. It’s not as “loud” as #464. It’s fruitier, with apple notes and some more red fruits emerge as well. More elegant and less broad, less sweet. Slightly sharper and more acidic. Better balance in the taste and definitely more elegant and less dirty. So not identical twins. #464 is bigger, bolder and has a longer finish. The sulphurous bits of #464 are easier to detect in a direct comparison, since #465 seems to have much less of it, or lacks it altogether.

I love both these Ledaigs, and if you have a preference, it’s because one of the two better suits your profile )of the moment). More elegant or more rough, cases can be made for both. Personally today, I might prefer #465 (it shows coal and black fruit, which I love), however tomorrow I might prefer #464 (big and bold). It just depends. #465 will score higher because it does show a bit more quality and balance, with more of the aroma’s I like, but, who knows, maybe some more breathing will bring out even more in #464. I’m in for a treat the next months/years…

Points: 89

Longmorn 20yo 1992/2013 (52.3%, Kintra, Bourbon Hogshead #86624, 132 bottles)

Longmorn probably was one of the best Whiskies coming out of the sixties and seventies of the previous century. There are so many remarkable bottlings coming from that time, it’s nothing but amazing. Because of this, it also might be its curse. It is almost impossible to drink something like this (a Longmorn from the eighties and later), without having high expectations and looking back to the old stuff instead of comparing it to its contemporaries. Sure we all know stuff from “back then” is different from the stuff today, but still, Longmorn, has a special place with me…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fruity, biscuity and malty. Fruity it is. Passion fruit and some pineapple, mixed with vanilla powder. Sugared and dried yellow fruits, but also a more waxy note. Meaty as well. Old warm dusty warehouse, more like a Kentucky warehouse than a cold and damp one in Scotland to be honest. So a lively, sunny, and dusty Whisky, from a dry warehouse with a summery feel to it. Nice fruity aromatics aided by a more creamy and vanilla note, backed by dust and oak. Character building. Nutty, with hot water. Overall laid back with a quiet disposition.

Taste: A sweet, nutty and spicy entry. Sometimes with a beer-like and hoppy note to it. The woody bit can taste this way when you try this early in the morning, when your palate is till fresh. In the evening its woody and spicy, nothing more. Typical Bourbon Hogshead Whisky. Funky green sweetness from the start, and even though not extremely high in alcohol, it does exert itself. Definitely fruity and nuttier than the nose. passion fruit again with old apricots next. Hints of toasted oak, this time more warming than sharp. Hints of clear glue and lots of fruits, apricot and to a lesser extent: peaches, even dried pineapple comes to mind. Nice touches of sweet vanilla and ice-cream, but never turning overly sweet and dessert-like by the backbone of spicy oak and toasted oak. Nice development though. It evolves over time.

Nice Longmorn, nice Whisky, but also almost anonymous. It could have been anything, apart from the amount of fruit in this one, which gives it away a bit. Keep in mind that this is from a Bourbon hogshead, so the distillate hasn’t been masked by Sherry or some kind of finish. This is pure Whisky. Its good, it does the job, however it’s almost not a ‘Longmorn” to me. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced and maybe I’m not truly objective as well. Am I capable to let the memories of old Longmorn go, for a review like this? I don’t know. This is a good one, but not a must buy for me, sorry. Come to think of it, this does have some similarities to the profile of the old Longmorn 15yo OB. That one is good as well, but also a bottling I don’t neccesseraly need to have. it doesn’t completely click with me. So If you really like the 15yo, by all means get this one as well when it pops up at an auction somewhere. For me, I’m glad I’m taking notes here, because after some time, I might forget how this tasted like, but thinking of the 15yo I’d probably remember.

Points: 85

Bruichladdich 6yo 2007/2013 (50%, OB, Islay Barley, Rockside Farm, 13/126)

If you click on Bruichladdich in the right column, you’ll find that the last few reviews of “Bruichladdich” were written about an Islay Gin and two Rums. Yes, Bruichladdich is quite a progressive and busy operation, not only distilling three different kinds of Whiskies (The unpeated Bruichladdich, the heavily peated Port Charlotte and the insanely peated Octomore). They also bottle a range of Rums under the moniker of the Renegade Rum Company, mostly if not all finished in a wine casks. Yes, before I forget, they make a Gin as well, and not any Gin, it’s Gin made with botanicals from the Island of Islay. So a local Gin, and as Bruichladdich say themselves, Terroir matters. A now I have a chance for a bridge, al be it a terribly un-smooth one. Since we are on the subject of terroir…

Where Springbank lead the way with Whisky made from “Local Barley” Bruichladdich takes it one step further. Whisky-nerds always want a lot of information about their dram and Bruichladdich is sure one of those who are happy to provide, combine this with the “terroir” philosophy here we have a Whisky of which we now know it’s not only made from local Barley, but we also know how local. The barley used, Optic, was grown on Mark & Rohaise French’s Rockside farm, and not on the whole 2,500 acre farm, no, it was grown exclusively on one particular field called ‘Minister’s Field’. Two years after this 2007 Islay Barley was released, the French’s decided to sell their farm to Kilchoman, which is built on Rockside Farm land, and leave the Island…

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Barley, bread and cereal. Warm and sweet-smelling. Vanilla, custard and pudding. Although supposedly unpeated, this still has some peat, paper and smoke. Fresh and fruity, and quite honest. A lot happening already after 6 years. Develops in my glass. Hay, citrus and fresh ripe Cherries. Appealing and appetizing. Depending on the moment, sometimes, and it’s not often, I pick up some petrol. Brings back moments of a warm silent summer in the countryside. No wind and being alone. On top of the fresh and fruity notes lies this sharper smoky note. The whole experience is less broad than the 2006 Bere Barley offered by Bruichladdich as well. Sure this is 6 years old and I guess this makes lots of people thinking it is probably simple or doesn’t offer a lot of complexity. Bollocks. I feel, this offers an amazing complexity. Yes it’s 6yo and it has youthful elements to it, but not typical youth, as in hints of new make. A nice drinker, but this time an even better one for comparison to others like it from Bruichladdich (different vintages of Islay Barley and Bere Barley), Kilchoman 100% Islay, or even the likes of the aforementioned new Springbank Local Barley’s. Yes you need more of these open at the same time. a terrible thought indeed!

Taste: Sweet, with cookies, cereal, and very fruity right out of the gate. Tiny hint of soap and wax. Nothing to worry about. Big, dirt, soil, oil and rural notes, but also creamy with vanilla powder and old dried out toffee bits. Sweet. Hard to imagine now that the Bere Barley was even more aromatic than this one. Just like Springbank, this needs some breathing before showing its true potential, but when it does, it delivers nicely. Nice presentation too by the slightly higher ABV. 50% instead of the new standard which seems to be 46% ABV. Both are great improvements over “old” 40% ABV. Yes, the alcohol is noticeable people. Mocha and milk-chocolate come next. Vegetal, grassy, linseed oil and butter. A healthy sensation gets over me now. The finish could have been better balanced and longer. First of all the Alcohol (sometimes) slightly anasthetizes my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Secondly it gives off a slightly acidic aftertaste which somehow doesn’t really fit the profile. It’s not an off-note but it just doesn’t fit in this picture. It gives too much separation (of tastes and balance) and leaves the finish in a bit of confusion. (gets better with more air). Hardly any aftertaste, which means youth I guess… This luckily doesn’t spoil the fun though, and I still love this dram. Not as complex as the nose but more than enough, especially considering, again, that this is a mere 6yo. It’s a way to go with modern Whiskies. I love this series as well as I do the Bere Barley series. Well done Bruichladdich.

It is quite nice to try several different releases from the Islay Barley series side-by-side. The differences are bigger than one would expect beforehand. In my Whisky Club we also compared this 2007 Islay Barley to the 2006 Bere Barley 2nd Edition. Both are in their own right quite good Whiskies (can we get some older examples too please?), but trying the one right after the other was for me te true way to try these, hence I feel you need several of these open at the same time. They complement each other quite well. The differences are big enough to warrant this…

Points: 86

Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85 (original score)

Added note (September 10, 2018): I’m now drinking the last drops from this bottle, and man did it come around. This needed a lot of air, and time to open up, but it did come up trumps. The nose is utterly wonderful, on the palate it didn’t change as much. Sweeter, more malty, very well balanced. Comes close to the Glen Keith mentioned above, which i still prefer.

Points: 86 (new score)

Benriach 36yo 1976/2013 (40.1%, OB, for Whiskysite.nl, Refill Hogshead #3012, 118 bottles)

After reviewing the Arran, a more recent Whiskysite bottling, I remembered I have already reviewed some other Whiskysite bottlings, like this Bushmills and this Port Ellen, but there are still more out there, even a Karuizawa! However, I have yet another one up my sleeve to review, and since I found out in the previous review I’m getting old, there is no better time than now for yet another Whiskysite bottling. Not just any other bottling I might add. Nope this time a 1976 Benriach. This was bottled for the boys from Leiden way back in 2013, and even then, sold out quite fast. Why? Because Benriach from 1976 have some sort of reputation, just like Tomatin’s from the same year. When we talked to Douglas Campbell (Master Distiller at Tomatin), he told us there was nothing special going on at the time, just a lot of distilling being done, as in the years before and after 1976. Any cask they could get a hold of was filled and later, when money was needed, a lot of that particular vintage was sold off, which might explain why a lot of 1976 Tomatin’s exist. However we also heard some compelling stories about fruity yeast strains and an exceptional summer making for super fruity barley.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Ahhh funky, old Whisky funkiness. Heaps of fruit with and edge of vanilla, more than an edge actually, giving it a creamy texture you can smell. You’ll never get this out of a NAS or otherwise young distillate. Sugared pineapple, dried and sugared papaya, lychee combined with refined creamy vanilla. Definitely a Hoggie remade with (mostly) American oak staves. Back then they didn’t care about 100% correctness, so when remaking the Hogshead, and if it would fit, the occasional European oak stave would find its way into a cask like this very easily. The wood note in this is very soft, not spicy. More about nuttiness than the wood-notes themselves. Uber-fruity with nice vegetal notes. Some less obvious notes emerge as well, hints of cardboard, lavas, coffee with lots of milk, mocha and latex-paint come to mind, but mind you, they only add to the complexity and do no harm to the whole. So don’t be alarmed. By the way, for all it’s fruitiness, this is not the most fruity smelling 1976 single cask Benriach, by far.

Taste: Oh my God this is good! Starts out with short bursts of the sugared and/or the dried yellow fruits I mentioned in the nose. When the body moves, rather quickly, through the cavity of your mouth it starts to develop black fruits in large amounts. Wonderful. This is what you look for in a 1960’s or 70’s Malt. The holy grail, at least for me it is! Also quite unexpected, since the blackcurrant and super-ripe blackberries are nowhere to be found in the nose. What a wonderful surprise.

I mentioned that the body moves rather quickly, What I mean is that it seems to have a start and a finish, but the body itself is very short-lived. It’s a bit thin and fragile, which can be attributed to the low ABV, but not only. The fragility of this malt has something to do with this specific single cask offering, since it is not always like this with older Malts or even sister casks. Luckily the black fruit thing is what makes up the finish, which is of medium length at best and should have lasted forever. Excellent! In the end a wonderful Malt, with alas a weak side. It should have had a little more oomph and staying power. It could have done with a bigger body, but in the end it is a remarkable, yet thin, Whisky. The aroma’s are wonderful and that also is worth the price of admission, although there are obviously better examples to be found. Don’t take too long since otherwise most of these Whiskies will end up in collections only, and therefore will cost more by the day.

Sure Whiskies like this will cost you a pretty penny (at auction), but its history in a bottle. More recent Whiskies will never smell and taste like this, it simply cannot be achieved, and if something like this would be marketed today in today’s market, it will be over 40yo old, and it will cost you 40 cars at least, and I don’t mean Dinky Toys! You have to taste something like this to be whole I guess.

Points: 92