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

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

Color: Light gold.

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

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

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

Points: 84


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

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (60%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Virgin Oak & First Fill Bourbon Barrel #3445, 172 bottles)

Maybe Amrut is a true Malternative, because it’s another Malt Whisky. If you love Scottish Single Malts best, why look at other distillates? They are just different. Other distillates can broaden your horizon, but will not replace your Single Malt that has become too expensive. For instance look outside of Scotland.

Looking back I seem to like Amrut. This is now the third review, and after the Intermediate Sherry (87 points) and the Portonova (88points), this is something of a speciality. Maybe I should take that back. Most Amruts are in fact specialities. Something out of the box is often done. Maturing on two continents, or blending many different casks together, to name but a few of things Amrut does.

This time a single cask bottling. Often, you will have a Whisky that has matured in a first fill or second fill Bourbon cask, barrel or hogshead, but no, Amrut had to do it differently. This particular example was first matured in charred virgin oak and then transferred into a first fill Bourbon barrel. Barrels being the original casks Bourbon matures in, where hogsheads are remade casks from the staves of barrels. Hogsheads are bigger than barrels. Most barrels are shipped in staves anyway.

There is some additional useful information on the label as well. I like that. In the four years this Whisky has been maturing, 42% has evaporated over time, as compared to around 8% in that evaporates is Scotland over the same period of time. By the way, unpeated (six row) Indian barley was used.

Amrut Single Cask #3445Color: Gold.

Nose: The first whiff that enters my nose is of virgin oak. Creamy sawdust and vanilla. Although only four years old, at the fast forward maturation rate, this can be called a woody Whisky. The typical American oak notes are here, but I actually miss the typical Amrut spiciness. Amrut is indian, and Indian Whisky should be a bit exotic, not just another copy of Scottish Whisky. This Amrut does hide it Indian. After some vigorous movement in the glass and some patience, there is exotic spice emerging and apart from that the Whisky becomes a bit dusty.

Taste: Initially hot and then an explosion of sweet Vanilla. When the thick vanilla, travels down, quite some (virgin) oak, emerges here in the taste as well. So we have wood and vanilla. What else? Over the top vanilla combined with hot butter. Just as with the nose this needs air to show some exotic spices. Luckily it’s Indian-ness is here at last. Spicy hot sawdust from Massaranduba. A very hard tropical wood. It’s so hard in fact that you can’t cut it without the saw charring the wood. This slightly sour odour is very similar to the spiciness of this Whisky, especially in the taste of it.

I mentioned decanting Whisky before. This Amrut is one that needs a lot of air as well to fully blossom. This is still a pretty full bottle, but already there is a difference to the first taste of the freshly opened bottle. I will score it now (after lots of air in the glass), but I feel this will grow even better and more balanced over time. This may very well be an example of a Whisky where the last drop from the bottle will be the best drop.

Points: 86

Heaven Hill 9yo (61.5%, Cadenhead, Individual Cask, Bourbon Barrel, 192 bottles, 2006)

All that talk about soapy florality in the Millstone “100 Rye”, made me remember this bottle of Heaven Hill bottled by Cadenhead. Actually this is a very interesting bottle since it is from Heaven Hill’s previous distillery. Heaven Hill Bardstown FireThe Heaven Hill distillery was located in Bardstown (DSP-KY-31) and it burned down on the 7th of november 1996. With the distillery, also 7 of the 44 warehouses were destroyed by the fire, containing some 90.000 casks. Even the water supply caught on fire. Since this bottle is 9 years old and bottled in may 2006, it is distilled somewhere between may 1996 and may 1997. The new distillery, Heaven Hill bought, is the former Bernhem distillery (DSP-KY-1), which is located in Louisville. The Cadenheads label clearly states that the distilling was done in Bardstown, so this means that this particular bottle is yielded from a single cask that was filled just before the fire and somehow managed to survive the fire, assuming it was ageing on site. One question thus remains, is this Bourbon going to be smoky or did it sleep through the fire?

Heaven Hill 9yo (61.5%, Cadenhead, Individual Cask, Bourbon Barrel, 192 bottles, 2006)Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Initially very floral, but that somehow manages to escape. Typically high Rye mashbill florality, or is it wheat, since this does remind me quite a bit of the very special Old Fitzgerald 12yo, also distilled by Heaven Hill. Otherwise not very “big” but soft and dry, dusty even. Caramel. Toasted cask. Hints of gravy and toffee. Soft oak and a bit sweet. Promises some sort of chewiness. Pretty is probably a good word for it. Give it some time, or better, al lot of time to breathe the more classic notes emerge, like honey, which finally defines the sweetness. The honey is well-integrated with the woody nose. Burnt wood yes (cask toast), but not smoky.

Taste: Quite a woody bite and there you have it, quite the soapy, floral Rye experience. A lot of flowers pass over my tongue. Lilac, lily-of-the-valley, lavender and tulips. Wow I never got this before! Grannies laundry. Very unusual stuff. The florality disappears down my throat, leaving me with a less floral finish than I initially thought. The aftertaste is more centered around a burnt toffee and creamy soft caramel, wood and soft leather. Only a mere hint of florality. Very unique and layered Bourbon. Never tried anything like this before. Even the most floral Four Roses, is not as floral as this. This one needs some time to develop and definitely needs time get used to. In no way is it a bad Bourbon though, but this will never be your average daily drinker stuff. Very educational. I’m pleased I came across this one.

Again a very good reminder that many Whiskies, whichever kind, need time and air to breathe and compose themselves. A lot is said about using water with Whisky, but air is just as important as water. I prefer giving Whisky some time. Maybe I should be starting to decant my Whiskies some more?

Points: 82

Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 (52.7%, The Whisky Fair, Heavily Peated, Bourbon Barrels #541 & #542, 464 bottles)

How ’bout another Glen Scotia then. One in its youth. This heavily peated Glen Scotia has a mere 6 years under its belt. Yes you read it right, a heavily peated Glen Scotia, move over Longrow? This is a Glen Scotia that was bottled for the 2006 Whisky Fair in Limburg, Germany. Most definitely a festival you shouldn’t miss. I like the label of this Whisky Fair bottling, since it looks similar to other Glen Scotia’s from that time. Lets have some peat then…

Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 (52.7%, The Whisky Fair, Heavily Peated, Bourbon Barrels #541 & #542, 464 bottles)Color: White wine.

Nose: Soft elegant peat alright, but also very grassy. Lots of grass, dry grass, and hay. A confectionary sweetness, like warm icing sugar, but mixed with a little milk chocolate and the grass, peat and sweet ashes. Cocos macaroon with more than a hint of almond. This is already wonderful smelling after the mere 6 years in cask. Although this is from Bourbon barrels, I do encounter some sulfury compounds. Still grassy and some typical vanilla, with lemon freshness. Typical for Bourbon Barrels. Barrels are 20% smaller than (remade) hogsheads, so in theory the spirit ages more quickly, but not twice as quick, since nobody wold argue with you if you claimed this to be 12yo. Quite some active barrels. Nice.

Taste: Sweet barley, yup sweet barley. Diluted lemon curd. Altogether quite lemony. Where the nose was quite complex and didn’t show its age, the taste is much simpler and seems young, but not alcoholic. A sweet and creamy rounded off taste. Some prickly peat but not a lot. I wouldn’t call this heavily peated, at least it doesn’t seem heavily peated. Sweet barley and sweet yellow fruits, but none in particular. I guess dried apricots are the closest. Sweet Earl Grey tea with a hint of honey and a lot of lime. Medium to short finish and the same goes for the aftertaste. Which is about young soft peat added to warm diluted lemon curd.

Even though this tastes quite nice, I’m a bit disappointed that the taste didn’t live up to the promise of the nose. I was quite surprised at first in what the nose achieved in 6 years. Still an experience and a nice surprise. I wonder how this would have turned out with some more age to it.

Points: 84

The English Whisky Co. 3yo 2007/2010 “Chapter 6” (46%, OB, American Standard Barrel #001-011)

Next stop is in Roudham, Norfolk, UK. Although close to the source, from a Scottish perspective, this is a World Whisky. The English Whisky Co. is the brand name and the distillery is called St. George’s Distillery. Founded by James and Andrew Nelstrop, its location was chosen because of clean and pure water, and well Barley and Norfolk, need I say more? Initially they wanted to build a micro distillery, but customs and excise wouldn’t have it, they wanted a big distillery, otherwise they wouldn’t bother giving off a licence. In december 2006, distilling commenced under the supervision of Laphroaigs one and only Iain Henderson. 29 barrels were filled. This particular Whisky was distilled two months after opening by Iain, aged for three years so it is barely legal…

The English Whisky Co. 3yo 20072010 Chapter 6 (46%, OB, First Fill American Bourbon Casks #001-011)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, and noses like new make spirit. White bread used for sandwiches dumped in water. I guess the eleven casks used weren’t very active. Grassy, lemongrass and sugar. Hay and all sorts of grass plants. Citrussy. It will remain the new make spirit it essentially is. Malt, bread and Vodka. That’s it. Sure, noses like this are part of the Whisky industry as a whole, so you “gotta love it”. But I don’t like it when I buy a bottle of a finished product. I’m not nosing this and enjoying myself, to be honest.

Taste: Soft and sweet. At least the taste shows some potential. Well rounded, and just the right amount of sweetness. Taste wise no off notes whatsoever, just plain young and massively un-complex. Enjoyable? Very! Toffee and vanilla. light and sunny. You get my drift.

Nosing this stuff I really asked myself why would anyone bottle this when it is clearly not ready. This is why they came up with the rule that Whisky must be three years old. Well, if you make stuff like this in a cold climate with inactive casks (first fill, really?) and it reaches three years of age, then it hardly meets requirement doesn’t it. Tasting it is a different story completely. Good potential, and I’ll be watching this Whisky grow. I hope they will succeed. Good luck!

Points: 75

Fettercairn 16yo 1995/2011 (46%, Van Wees, The Ultimate, Bourbon Barrel #408, 226 bottles)

Careful readers of the last few reviews have noticed there are some entry-level malts there and the odd Irish stuff. Coincidence or not, there were some points given in the 70’s. Like for instance The Macallan 10yo and Inchmurrin 15yo. Through the wonderful medium of Facebook I got comments like “did you lose a bet?” or “got some imposition?” or “What’s next: Fettercairn?” I initially wasn’t planning on reviewing Fettercairn just yet, but with comments like that who could resist. I have to be honest, I don’t own a bottle of Fettercairn. I had no money left when I spent it all on Brora. Luckily in the ever-growing bank of samples I did have a sample of this Ultimate Fettercairn. Hurray! Yes, you read correctly between the lines. Fettercairn isn’t a very popular Whisky, but is that fair? When I look at my list of previously tasted Fettercairns, I actually haven’t scored one below 81 points, so it can’t be bad, right?

Fettercairn 16yo 1995/2011 (46%, Van Wees, The Ultimate, Bourbon Barrel #408, 226 bottles)Color: Light gold

Nose: Creamy vanilla. Ice cream, but also small hints of a whiff of (burnt) garbage. What!?!?! Let’s put that particular smell away and move on. Spicy wood, dark chocolate, nice oak actually. With some air, pencil shavings and more floral and slightly soapy. Move the Whisky around in your glass and you’ll pick up the more floral bit. Wet flower-pot soil and half-dried grass. I’m thinking first refill (not first fill) Bourbon barrel. Apart from the little off-note I picked up earlier (I actually did just take the garbage out), there is nothing out of the ordinary here. It smells like a typical Whisky from a Bourbon barrel.

Taste: Somewhat sweeter initially than I expected. Creamy vanilla. Warming and quite some wood, less of the oak, but more of the pencil shaving that are there in the nose, but also cardboard. Pepper and a hint of acidity (also from oak, that reminds me again of garbage. What!?!?! No, I’ve never eaten garbage in case you’re wondering). Small amounts of the vanilla/caramel/toffee group are rightly detected. Warming finish that is a little bit hot (and woody).

So why does Fettercairn have such a bad reputation? I honestly couldn’t tell you, since I have only tasted a mere five expressions. I have tasted this independent bottling now and another one from Cadenhead’s (a 10yo from 1993, 81 points). The other three were the official 24yo (85 points) and 30yo (82 points), both from 2009, and the 30yo “Stillman’s Dram” from 2005 (83 points). It seems to me older is not always better with Fettercairn.

Points: 81