Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)

Whereas most of the reviews written come from samples accumulated over many years, it doesn’t mean I don’t open any bottles, because I do. Just click on “Whisky from Master Quills Lectern” down below, and in an instant you can see which reviews were written about bottles I have, or had, in my collection. Bottles I believed were worthy of buying, very often without even tasting them. Glen Keith is no stranger on these pages, which is no surprise actually. I rather like my Glen Keiths, and Strathisla, it’s sister distillery. Both reside on the same premises. Pernod Ricard, the owners, aren’t doing very much with Glen Keith (yet), so it is a bit of a hidden treasure, only known to aficionados and connoisseurs (I hate those words). Strathisla’s sister-distillery has been featured already three times before on these pages. One stellar one from the sixties, just as good as the legendary Strathisla’s from that era. Two more were reviewed, both from the nineties: 1990 and even one from 1992, just like this one.

Glen Keith 21yo 1992/2014 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #120566 & #120569, 271 bottles)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Wonderfully creamy and appealing. Only one sniff suffices to let us know we’ll be enjoy this thoroughly. I can’t imagine anything smelling so nice being not enjoyable to taste. Bourbon barrels so yes, nice vanilla and creamy notes, as well as some tension from woody spices partly young wood. Milk chocolate. Next some nice florality emerges as opposed to fruity notes often found in ex-Bourbon barrels. Fresh, not roasted, nuts. Dusty and vibrant at the same time. Not only floral, but also some acidic fruitiness comes to the fore, just don’t smell it too vigorously, the cream overpowers it then and makes it smell sweet. Enough happening in this one, although it may not be the most complex stuff around.

Taste: Fruity and nutty. Almonds. Waxy and chewy. Delayed pepper. Again with nice chocolate sprinkled wood and just like the nose, it tastes sometimes sappy and young. As if new wood staves were added to a rebuilt barrel. This would be highly unlikely though. Sawdust as well. Plywood? People who read everything on Master Quill, know that I dislike not-so-well integrated acidity that lies on top. Abuelo 12yo comes to mind. This Whisky also has an acidic note that lies on top, only this time it works a bit. Amazing. Just like the nose, the Whisky doesn’t seem to be extremely complex. However, the body of the Whisky is so big, that it manages to deal with the acidic high note.

Sure, reduced Whisky is extremely drinkable, but Cask Strength delivers a punch, but also presents flavours to you on a silver platter. The finish has great length and lingers on, seemingly forever, in the aftertaste. Smells nice, tastes even better. Water enhances the nutty creaminess of the nose and at the same time downplaying the woody aromas, making it even bigger and creamier, but also less sophisticated. In the taste, the acidity is given a lager role to play, which in the end alters the balance of the Whisky, making it less balanced in fact. It also adds some complexity with chili pepper and some mint. The finish is more about milk chocolate than it was before adding water. So it might be fun to experiment a bit with water.

For me, something like this is a no brainer. Its more than 20 years old, came from nice active barrels, and gives you heaps of flavour, and a lot of alcohol to boot, so you can play around with it, adding some water with a pipette. If you can’t find this particular bottling, don’t hesitate buying one by another bottler, or one of it sister casks bottled by Signatory Vintage instead, I understand they are all good, and some even better! Some are still available, so what are you waiting for?

Points: 87

Glenfiddich 21yo “Havana Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

And here we have an old, and somewhat controversial, Glenfiddich that was totally matured in boxes that once held cigars. Oops, I mean, casks that once held Cuban Rum. Cuban Rums is a light Spanish style Rum which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of aroma. Rum casks weren’t used much for finishing Whisky, and even today distillers and bottlers tend to prefer the obvious Bourbon and Sherry casks. Especially today, other casks are used as well, from fortified wines like Port and Madeira and red and white, sweet and dry Wines. So a Rum cask you say? Yes, we have had more of those on these pages. A fairly recent Benriach comes to mind, to name but one. Controversial? Yes. Problems arose when Whisky like this was sent to the US of A. They still had an Cuban Embargo, so more cigars for us, as can be read on these pages as well, oops I slipped up again. There still was an Cuban Embargo back then, so no Whisky with the word “Havana” on the label was allowed into the country.

Glenfiddich and The Balvenie have the same owners, William Grant & Sons. Yup, those from Hendrick’s Gin as well. Bad boys down there! Bad boys since they also decided to sue our beloved New Zealand Whisky Company for blatantly stealing the “Double Wood” words and misguiding the poor public, who now must believe that Balvenie Double Wood is the same as the NZWC’s Doublewood, and New Zealand is somewhere in the Speyside region…

William Grant was looking for the perfect Rum casks for their Glenfiddich and considered casks that once held Rums from Venezuela (Spanish style), Guyana (Demerara Rum a heavy English style Rum) and some others. Finally Rum from Sancti Spiritus was chosen to fill up the casks for two years, After two years the Rum was replaced with Whisky for a six month finish.

If I’m not mistaken, the first release was called Havana Reserve and the second was called Gran Reserva. Rumour has it, that for this second release the same casks were re-used, thus explaining reports of the Gran Reserva being lighter than the initial release. A third version was released. Just to be absolutely sure, this Whisky was not finished in Cuban Rum casks, but in casks that once held Dominican Rum. The label now mentions Carribean Rum finish in stead of Cuban Rum finish. Later, subsequent batches simply were called Rum cask finish, so absolutely nothing could be misunderstood and when changing Rums the label can stay the same.

Glenfiddich 21yo Havana ReserveColor: Full gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Creamy, toffee, nutty, thick and chewy. Next a floral layer which at times is quite perfumy, with great earthy undertones (given by the Rum cask). Vanilla and restrained wood. Half dried grass is noticeable, but covered under a thick semi-sweet layer of aromatics. Fruity, baked banana and dried sweet apricot. In the distance there is even a hint of licorice. But the Rum, is the Rum noticeable? Yes If you know the style of Rum the Cubans make, and you know this Whisky is finished in Cuban Rum cask, than yes, its noticeable, otherwise you must have some experience in tasting to smell and taste it. The Rum upped the aromatics and the chewyness a bit, as well as the sweetness. Great nose.

Taste: Sweet with lots of toffee. Earthy and “green”. Broken off branch and fresh tree sap. The baked banana returns. It’s a big Malt. It is overwhelming in fruit and floral notes. Has some bitter wood and slightly burned edges to it. Wood obviously. Oak, fresh oak and even some pencil. The body of the Whisky already shows it will not be as complex as the nose. However the biggest problem, relatively speaking of course, is the partial disintegration towards the finish. It’s like a band just before breaking up. Some aroma’s don’t want to work with each other anymore, and get separated from each other. Still in the fold though, but more apart. Underneath the woody bitter note and on top some acidity. Short finish, which surprised me since it’s a bigger Glenfiddich than usual, and this has aged for a whopping 21 years, you know. Not a lot happening in the aftertaste. So on entry I was quite happy with the performance of the 40% ABV. but the finish needed some more.

This is a beauty. Excellent smelling Glenfiddich. Tastewise, well, not at the same level of greatness as the nose, then again, it was (since it was bottled some time ago, and since has been discontinued) a mass-produced Whisky aiming at the public already gained by the rest of the Glenfiddich bottlings, without scaring them away. With this in mind, they did what they could, to keep this public and at the same time be a bit more adventurous.

Points: 84

Glenfarclas 21yo (43%, OB, Circa 2006)

Following up on the 15yo I reviewed last, here is the 21yo Glenfarclas from the standard range that was around in 2006. Trying the 15yo I was in a way amazed how the feel was “different” from the more modern malts that are around today. There seems to be an old way funkiness to that Malt. I’m quite curious now, how this 21yo will do.

Glenfarclas 21yo (43%, OB, Circa 2006)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Funky and somewhat waxy and sweet. A different profile from the 15yo. Lighter in color and fuller in a different kind of way. It almost smells chewy! Maybe more Bourbon aged Whisky went into this 21yo. Smells funky and organic. It’s like being licked by a dog which earlier licked some spilled honey (don’t ask). I love it. Hints of wood, and especially sawdust. Chocolate and some acidic fruits. This is more a creamy and woody Glenfarclas. Dusty vanilla pudding. It’s almost like his is more fruity than it shows. It just doesn’t come out of the liquid for us to smell. Encapsulated by some ice-cream notes. Great nose, and it has not a lot of the florality the 15yo had.

Taste: This starts with cardboard we know from the 15yo, and a lovely dried apricot fruitiness as well as some Calvados. Definitely lower in ABV than the 15yo. Waxy and before the wood comes this persistent cardboard and paper note, I don’t particularly care about. The finish is accompanied by the same burnt note the 15yo has, but in a softer more gentle way. Just like the 15yo, again not overly complex. Extremely drinkable. This is a Whisky I fear will be gone soon. By the way, this one does have a bit of soap in the finish, as well as in the aftertaste, which also carries some bitterness.

Although this starts well, the finish and aftertaste let it down a bit. Again a very specific Glenfarclas, and just like the 15yo, it’s hard to imagine they still can make it like this. I really have to get me a new version of one of those “standard” Glenfarclasses, or is it Glenfarcli? If you ask me I’d probably go for the 25yo, although the 17yo is also a fan favorite. But, you also might want to consider this one, which fits the same profile and I liked it very much.

Points: 84

Appleton Estate 21yo (43%, Jamaica)

A long time ago I reviewed a 12yo from Appleton Estate and liked that very much. Not so hard since I love the Jamaican style of Rum making. Time now to try out the super premium 21yo. Besides the 12yo and the 21yo there are several other expressions in the Appleton Portfolio. In fact the 21yo is the super premium Rum from the portfolio and it doesn’t come cheap, ok, not really expensive either, but I see huge differences between one market and the other. On top of the 21yo comes a 50yo “Independence Reserve”, well that costs as much as a small car, but for that amount of money you do get one of the best Rums money can buy. The 12yo I reviewed earlier is the best of the rest and before that one comes a 8yo and an entry-level Rum called “VX”. Apart from that there are a special gold and special white colored Rums for ya cocktails.

Appleton Estate 21yoColor: orange Brown.

Nose: Thick and woody and dusty. Right from the start it is showing its age. Over aged old high ester rum. Jamaican and delicious. Hints of tar and dry. Over time becoming even drier. I have to say already, this is an excellent nose. Paint stripped old wood, dusty and worthy of restoration. Red apple skin and latex paint. Fresh creamy butter. Custard. Christmas pudding, without the Christmas. Dried old orange skins. Hints of very old Demerara Rum.

Taste: Quite woody. Mahogany, old furniture. Hints of old dry Demerara. Burn furniture. That slightly burnt note is very typical for Rums that have aged for a long time. I like that, but it may be an acquired taste. Decent sweetness balanced by old dark wood. Chocolate powder and hard coffee flavoured candy. Quite fruity and gives off some dry heat. Despite all this I have to inform you it’s only delicious, but lacks a bit of complexity I would have though and Jamaican Rum of this age would have. Quite a long finish though with some burnt wood and…wait for it…cow manure. Coming with the complexity, maybe even a wee bit too short aftertaste. The whole is utterly delicious though.

I tried this long ago and found it too woody then. Now it and I have aged some more, I truly like it. It’s not overly woody, but it may be a wee bit too simple, soft and a wee bit too easy-going. Nevertheless, lovely stuff, maybe a bit to expensive compared tot the complexity, but very nice and drinkable. Dare I say, again, that it has been reduced too much?

points: 88

Braeval 21yo 1991/2013 (47.7%, The Whisky Mercenary)

Some of you may have already noticed, but as of yesterday I finally managed to get MASTERQUILL.COM. Not long after I started publishing my tasting notes, someone was very quick to snap up this domain. Once I had a look around, what buying this domain would cost, but I thought the $1.800 was a bit too steep, I’d rather buy me some Whisky for that, thank you very much. Yesterday I had another look around and it was available! This time I was quick to snap it up myself, and anyone of you who have registered their own domain (that is available), know that this doesn’t break the bank. Great! Back to Whisky now, and back to Jürgen…

Time for a Whisky that hasn’t been featured before on these pages. A new name on my new domain so to speak. Braeval as it is called today, Braes of Glenlivet was its old name. Not an old distillery though, but more on that next time…

Braeval 21yoColor: Gold.

Nose: Clean buttery vanilla, caramel and lots of toffee. Promises a lot of sweetness. Dry vegetal notes. Nutty but also slightly perfumy. Sinaspril (a Paracetamol tablet for children, with a powdery orange flavour). This reminds me a lot of Sinaspril from the seventies. Somehow I don’t use it a lot today anymore. Got older you know, need veterinary strength Paracetamol now. Let’s get back to the Braeval shall we. Very creamy and dry, but not a lot of wood yet. Definitely some laid back fruity notes and cookie dough and almond paste. Orange obviously, just not the freshly pressed kind, but also succulent and with hints of over ripe kiwi. Yes that’s a first. Behind the fruits also a meaty component is present. In the end it’s all about fruit and cream. Quite complex, there seems to be happening more that I have mentioned. For instance, it takes the wood quite a long time to assert itself.

Taste: Sweet and again very fruity. Thinner than I thought with an ABV of 47.7%. Very fruity (cherry bon-bon) and nutty and yes, quite sweet, but also a nice touch of acidity to prevent this one from being overly sweet or cloying. Creamy vanilla and cheap milk chocolate is present. Definitely a woody backbone now. Unpolished edges of oak. Watch out for splinters! Oaky sourness in the finish, and speaking of the finish, the big body this Whisky has, does fall apart a bit in the finish, where the oak starts to dominate. A shorter finish than expected, so you want your next sip quite soon after the previous one, but you wouldn’t mind because you already developed a craving for the great fruitiness of this malt. Prominent oak though.

Actually this could have been better, because towards the finish the oak plays and ever-growing role. You do need to like your oak with this one. Luckily this Breaval has a nice nose and a body full of thick toffee and fruit. In the end, this is a very enjoyable dram and thus rightly picked by Mr. V. Not the best of the bunch though.

Points: 84

Caol Ila 21yo 1981/2002 (58.2%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #465, 364 bottles)

Just recently I reviewed a 21yo Caol Ila from Signatory Vintage Cask #467. When rummaging through some sample bottles I collected over the years one of its sister casks popped up. This time it is Cask #465. How’s that for luck. And as luck would have it, I still have a wee bit of cask #467 left, so a comparison can’t be avoided. Again no picture available for this particular cask, seems to me this is very obscure stuff. I’ll use the ol’ picture of cask #470 again. So without further ado…

Caol Ila 22yo 1981/2004 (59.0%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #470, 281 bottles)Color: Light gold. The color of this one is ever so slightly lighter than cask #467.

Nose: Grassy and vegetal. Citrussy. Fresh and actually young smelling. Even the wood smells sappy. Powdery. Hints of soft, fatty, and creamy smoke. Appetizing. Milk chocolate (with sugared citrus in it) and a tiny hint of latte. All very friendly smelling, and although this is not a heavily peated Caol Ila it is very attractive. Good balance.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. prickly smoke with some late development in the licorice department. Light licorice. also a tiny hint of cannabis, so probably a lot was allocated to the Netherlands. Alcohol and again a small hint of coffee and fern. Milk chocolate again. Small amount of woody bitterness starts the finish and lingers on the back of my tongue. Not the most expressive of Caol Ila’s but quite nice in its own way. Not a very long finish. The high strength is obvious on the tongue, but not a lot of aroma is left in my throat. It’s not what you would expect from a Caol Ila like this, but when you let that go, it’s pretty rewarding.

Comparing the two, the noses of the two are obviously pretty similar. Cask #465 has the better nose, more balance to it. Aroma’s seem to fit together better and has more depth and complexity. Still the difference is not great. The taste is very similar too. Cask #467 seems to be somewhat more raw at first, and less balanced.After a while it is also softer and sweeter in the finish. Cask #465 is for me the better pick of the two, with even a slightly better finish, so overall it performs better. Still they are really twins and the differences are in the details and easier to pick up on when doing a H2H.

Points: 86

Thanks go out to my mate Michel for providing this sample (a long time ago).

Glengoyne 21yo 1985/2006 (53%, OB, First Fill Sherry Butt #629, 632 bottles)

Two years ago Master Quill had a week specially dedicated to Glengoyne. In that week I reviewed a Glengoyne from 1985 called “Summer” a Limited Release. There also was a Winter (1984 Vintage), a Spring (1972 Vintage) and an obviously an Autumn (1969 Vintage). Essentially all four are Single Cask releases (SC) like the one I’ll be reviewing shortly. This 1985 should be quite interesting since it was drawn from a sister cask of the “Summer”. Summer was drawn from cask #608, and this SC was drawn from cask #629, so that should be interesting.

Glengoyne 21yo 1985/2006 (53%, OB, First Fill Sherry Butt #629, 632 bottles)Color: Mahogany brown.

Nose: Nice Oloroso Sherry nose, with lots of fruits. Fresh and acidic. Wonderful depth. Earthy and dusty, but never dull or heavy. Creamy with hints of vanilla. A very vibrant fruity nose. This probably was a considered a contender for the “Summer” spot. Small hints of warm asphalt. Dusty with some licorice, mocha and licorice. Meringue. Extremely balanced and likeable.

Taste: Cardboard, almonds and quite some licorice again. Warming. Spicy and soft old wood. Creamy and very nice. Fruity vanilla, pudding with warmed up red fruits on top (part fruit, part sauce). Spicy sharpness (hot) because of the alcohol, without that, quite soft and creamy. Slight acidic touch towards the finish, and enough wood. Again, just like the nose. Extremely balanced. Wonderful Oloroso Sherried bottling.

Although a very good Glengoyne Single Cask, I thought the “Summer” was even better. More complexity and even better integrated aroma’s. A bigger body and an even better finish. However, make no mistake. This Butt #629 is no dud, far from it. Hardly any Sherry bottling these days is a good as this is. You know the lonesome tropical Island question, and what to take? If I had to take this one instead of the “Summer” I still would go in a heartbeat!

Points: 89