Glen Garioch ‘Virgin Oak’ (48%, OB, 2013, L132293)

Whisky is already around for quite a long while. Just pick up any general Whisky book, have a look at chapter one and the first year mentioned is definitely a long long time ago. In all that time, Single Malt Whisky was always about ageing in previously used casks. Oloroso Sherry casks turn out to give nice results, but also the abundance of Bourbon casks showed us, that wonderful Whisky could be made with those as well. So, Single Malt Whisky is to used casks what Bourbon is to new casks. For centuries and centuries this situation stayed like that. It was traditional and just the way it worked, why change it? Many variants were tried before and these two were the ones that worked best. However, the world is ever changing, and the demand for Sherry casks has risen considerably, since Whisky isn’t the only distilled spirits industry interested in these kinds of casks. Also, I guess, the consumption of Sherry is lower than it used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. In comes the adventurous modern Whisky drinker and the modern Whisky industry, both with modern ideas (and facing shortages and steep prices for Sherry casks). Modern marketing is all about product diversification, catering to the adventurous or novice Whisky drinker. In time there just had to be someone, sooner or later, who would come up with the novel and outlandish idea of putting Scottish new make into a virgin oak cask. How bold!

The use of virgin oak is one of the steps taken by the industry alongside f.i. the explosion of NAS bottlings. Some virgin oak casks were blended in to the final Single Malt Whisky expression to add an element to the Whisky, or used merely as a finish. Laphroaig ‘1815’ and Ardbeg ‘Corryvreckan’, to name but two (again), are known for using, in part, virgin oak. Sometimes with European and sometimes with American Oak. Maturing full-term though, was initially unheard of! Nevertheless today there are several full-term matured virgin oak bottlings, and this Glen Garioch from 2013 is one of them, fully matured in North-American white oak. Deanston has another. Glen Garioch calls this an artisanal small batch release. The public calls this a “Bourbon”…

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Grassy and sappy oak. Green. Sweet and fresh. No signs of new make or under-matured Whisky, but there is some resemblance to the honeyed nose of a Bourbon. Lots of fresh woody notes. Sawdust, caramel. Sweet ginger and some more wood spices. Milk chocolate and oak sap. Green leaves. After these expected suspects, come in the more fruity notes, well one actually. Dried orange skins, quickly to be overtaken by more wood and paper notes. So yes, lots of woody notes, but nothing too spicy or too overpowering. Its fresh, green, sweet and fairly simple.

Taste: Sweet, creamy and slightly bitter, (fresh tree sap). Spicy right from the start. Sweet at first and wood-spice next. Warming going down, giving dried ginger, sugared nutmeg, spicy cinnamon and half-dark chocolate notes in return. The nose wasn’t all that complex and the taste is even less so. It shows you all its got right from the start. No development over time. Quite green and vegetal tasting as well. Like eating the cuttings from your early summer garden. Have you ever cut off a small branch from a shrub or small fruit tree? Remember the smell of the fresh wood, the sappy bit? Well, this tastes a bit like that smells. Towards the finish, still warming and with even more length to it than I expected. Quite spicy, again on cinnamon and the medium bitterness has a lot of staying-power as well. A shame really that the sweetness in the finish is gone. Also it seems to lose a bit of balance towards the end. The finish is not the best part of this Whisky.

So there you have it. A fully virgin oak matured Whisky. Now you know which element this brings to other Whiskies that only use partial maturation in virgin oak. Interesting, yes, there is this dreaded I-word. Full maturation virgin oak is an education. It is something you should fathom, when you want to know stuff about Whisky. To be short, it gives us a rather un-complex Whisky. Wood, spices, and some nice sweetness to balance it out, just lacking in the finish. Slightly fruity but not much.

I always liked Glen Garioch. It is one of those Malts that suit me. Glen Garioch is somehow a powerful Malt, with many possibilities. So if any distillate could handle Virgin Oak, Glen Garioch should be one of those. This is a nice experiment of which recently a second attempt was released.

Points: 81

Even though this score might be somewhat low, I have to admit that I’m amazed this bottle is already empty. No, it isn’t one of those malts you are drinking to get out of the way and replace by something new (and better). I do have fond memories, already, of this one. As I said before, an interesting Malt and and most definitely an education. Goodbye sweet Geery. See ya around.

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (62.8%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Charred American Virgin Oak and PX Sherry Butt #2701, 301 bottles)

After the long overdue reviews of Port, even two of them, from Kopke and Warre and to a lesser extent, a Bourbon, Evan Williams, let’s stay away a little bit longer from Single Malt Whiskies from Scotland. Yes let’s look at some Single Malt Whisky from India! OK, so not completely different, it’s still Whisky, but don’t you worry, I plan to review some other non-Scottish stuff as well. Nevertheless, lets start with this Amrut.

In 2013, (and other years as well), some single casks were bottled for Europe, in three varieties. The Bourbon version I reviewed earlier, this Virgin Oak/PX-Sherry combination we are going to look at right now, and last but hopefully not (the) least (of the three), a peated Whisky matured in a Port pipe. I’ll open this last one soon, right after I finish the Whisky I’m about to review now, and there isn’t much left in the bottle I can tell you. Amruts never stay long on my lectern…

Color: Bright gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Highly aromatic. Dry, Indian, exotic (cinnamon) and winey. Lots of dusty barley notes, somewhat enhanced by funky PX. Caramel and toffee notes without the sweetness. Reminds me a bit of Port finished Whisky. Sometimes its like the smell of blood up my nose. Meaty notes as well. Fatty gravy. Soft wood now, a bit cardboard-like. Even if I wouldn’t know it, it is easily recognizable as Virgin oak. Nose-wise not the most balanced of Amruts. Like PX and the Indian Barley/Virgin Oak really don’t like to work together and don’t see each other out of the office. This Amrut needs a team-building session. Funny how up front this sensation is, because I get this instantaneously. Still dusty and drying, with hints of dry clay. Yes Wine, Port, PX. That’s it. If I’m honest, I would say that the virgin oak even overpowers the PX-finish. I’m sure this would have worked better if it started life in a nice American barrel, used before, so not virgin. Maybe then the PX finish would have worked better. I like the use of virgin oak in some Whiskies like Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Glen Garioch Virgin oak as well, but this time in my beloved Amrut, not so much. Nevertheless, still a good Whisky, just not so good as Amrut can be.

Taste: Very hot and stingy. An explosion of flavour. Bitter wood. Cherry liqueur, dark chocolate and even more oak. Unsweet caramel again, mixed with alcohol. Wait a minute, unsweet? There is also this sugary sweetness to it. Warming going down, well, hot going down might be a better way to describe it. Just like the nose, it lacks balance. Everybody was put on this team, but they really just don’t want to work together. Even before I can start to take in the aroma’s, the lack of balance and the apparent simpleness of the Whisky comes to the fore. Lots of wood, overpowering and ruining the balance a bit. Again this is still a pretty good Whisky, it’s just not quite there. After some breathing, the first sips become somewhat sweeter. Lots of virgin oak in the body too. Short, bitter-ish and very hot finish. Wood for sure. Virgin oak in the aftertaste as well. I think we all got a bit surprised by the activity of this wood. What about the PX in this bottling then? not so sure, because this Whisky is so wood-driven. Maybe it’s not the Virgin oak and yet the PX-cask gave off a lot of tannins, or maybe both?

Nope, I can tell you already that for me the Amrut distillate works better with the previously reviewed ex-Bourbon casks, like the Single Cask (with Virgin oak as well, just less of it, apparently) and the regular (or so you would think) unpeated Cask Strength version. Sherried versions like the Intermediate are also pretty good.

Points: 84

And with that this is the “worst” Amrut I ever had. It’s not bad, but there are a lot more of better Amruts to be found. nope, this one is not my favourite expression…

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

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