Glenfarclas 16yo 1990/2007 (58.9%, OB, The Family Casks, Sherry Butt #9246, 617 bottles)

And we’ve already reached the end of our short journey of Whiskies left behind by Erik. Professional work has almost ended at our house (the ceiling has yet to be done) and the time has come for me to finish up in true amateur style. The final chapter of this brief tour will be this vintage Glenfarclas. This is the 1990 vintage from the original release of the Family Casks back in 2007. In that year The Grant Family released 43 cask strength single cask bottlings, with vintages between 1952 up to 1994. Many different casks were used, like ex-Bourbon casks, first to even fourth-fill Sherry casks, but also Port pipes can be found in this series, or the many series that followed later. This first 1990 vintage is from a pretty hefty Sherry Butt, I can tell you that!

Color: Warm orange brown. Definitely mahogany.

Nose: Big and spirity. If caught off guard, it almost seems as if whiffs of acetone pass by. Fresh oak, Earthy next. Spicy and meaty, with lots of gravy notes. Honey (The Bee stuff). Perfect thick and cloying Sherry nose. Fresh and woody. Lots happening, with already signs of excellent balance. Soft warm wood, nothing like the sharper style I found in the 25yo Cadenhead Highland Park. No, this is entirely different and also a bit younger. Sometimes it smells like a Bourbon from a very heavily charred cask. George T. Stagg style. Fruity, nutty, yet this still carries those nail polish remover notes. Weaved into the fabric of the aroma’s I mentioned above is a wonderful, and sometimes odd smell of happy red fruits. I tried to describe it differently, but it just smells fruity, sunny and happy to me. The Highland Park, mentioned earlier, could be thick, dark and brooding, more like a gray rainy day. This Glenfarclas, on the other hand, also is a big Sherried Whisky, but happier, livelier, with a more acidic fruity bit. Sometimes this smells like food, chewy, substantial. Hey after the first sip I smell some Jasmine in here too. So a hidden floral bit rears its pretty little head. Nice.

Taste: Yeah big again, very big, definitely loads of wood, with rich tannins and also some bitterness. Oak and ashes. Fruits overpowered and pushed back. Warming. Quite hot with rough edges. You even could call it harsh. Yes this takes no prisoners, and is definitely not for everyone. Very hot going down, this is beyond warming actually. Cola notes, and also some burnt notes. Underneath fruity and because of its age, an oaky bitterness kept well in check. Its only so…hot. Coal, licorice, oaky, its big and harsh but also shows quite some beauty. Something you know is bad for you, but still you can’t help yourself and keep being drawn to it. Very interesting. Its in many ways over the top, woody, drying tannins, yet not all that bitter. Already towards the end of the body, this gets very simple and good. Not a lot of development though. The Highland Park had a lot more going for it, especially after some (extensive) breathing. The finish of this Glenfarclas is about wood, oak, fresh oak, virgin oak, Fresh sanded oak planks, but definitely less bitter then the Highland Park. So chocolate yes, dark chocolate, no, not exactly. Milk chocolate then? Nope, lacks the sweetness of that. No, it’s more like cocoa powder. Yes that’s it. Wood, leather, gentleman’s club. Rich, but in the taste not fruity. For fruity Sherry I turn to old Longmorns and Strathislas.

If I’m not mistaken, Erik brought this bottle with him when our Whisky club went abroad and did a tasting in Hamburg, Germany some years back. When freshly opened this was considered almost to harsh to drink and we all tried to find out why it was actually being released in this new and prestigious The Family Casks series. It’s more do-able now, but still not a Whisky to tackle without gloves. A full bottle of this would last me for many, many years to come.

Points: 85

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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

Bunnahabhain 30yo 1979/2009 (45.5%, Ian MacLeod, Chieftain’s, European Oak Sherry Butt #9622, 612 bottles)

Back to some wonderfully Sherried Bunnahabhain. Most of the last few bottles of Bunnahabhain I reviewed were younger and much paler (and peatier) than the bottle I’m about to review. Here we have an independently bottled Bunnahabhain from a highly active European oak Sherry butt. Even though this has aged for a respectable 30yo, and was bottled 10 years ago, I still feel 1979 is not that long ago. If you try this particular expression, it seems to come from another century, or another dimension altogether. I’ll keep it short here, because I feel a lot of words will be needed th describe the complexity of this Malt.

Color: Dark Brown.

Nose: Fresh sea air. We didn’t see that one coming now didn’t we? Remarkably fresh, mint, yup mint. The mint you get from those hard mint sweets, not freshly cut mint, you make tea of. I did think it would be a cloying heavily Sherried Malt, but it’s not. Hints of toasted oak, charcoal and tar. Creamy vanilla powder, milk-chocolate, or better, plums in chocolate and a little bit of honey as well. Old distinguished wood. Wood polish without the petroleum smell, although very far back this does seem to have some petrol fumes going on. Caramel, tar, and some bits from an ashtray. Lots of Sherried notes obviously. Soft burnt sugar and a whiff of french cheese. Sherry and tobacco. It smells like it’s from another century altogether. Doesn’t really smell like a Whisky anymore. This must have been a very active cask. Still, nicely balanced and very chic. Fruity and coal, reminding me of early seventies Longmorn mixed with well aged calvados, since it has this apply feel to it as well. Just this bit though, not the whole experience, reminds me of Longmorn. Lots and lots of aroma’s and quite complex. Log fire and hints of fatty soft smoke. You can smell this one for hours before even thinking of taking a sip. You need to be alone for this one, and certainly not rushing it. If you smell it vigorously, it becomes meaty (gravy) for a brief moment, and some unexpected citrussy notes emerge as well. Beautiful wood notes re-emerge. Hints of old warehouse with old cardboard boxes in it. Dusty, quickly masked by the toffeed fruit. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, this is a very high quality nose, which is immensely complex and has a lot to give. Wonderful.

Taste: Quite dry and woody, but also very tasty. Slightly soapy on entry. With lots of spices and borderline bitterness. Again you’re in for a treat. I have smelled this for quite a bit now, and doing so, I warmed the glass up in my hand. Fruity, but not much. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fruit it would be. This has been a long time in cask. Tar and tobacco and maybe some leather. Not very heavy due to the relatively low ABV. Dusty and deep. So definitely a Malt that shows the Whisky can be about the wood it matured in. The creamy vanilla from the nose is lacking here, but definitely here, is the dry tannic wood and slight bitterness. Definitely not a chewy Whisky. Old and distinguished. Like an old mens club. Phileas Fogg style. The body falls back a bit. Finishes great, which makes up for the dry start, with a nice warming aftertaste. I like it. It’s a choice. Sure this could have been bottled (much) earlier. I don’t know if it was chance or choice, this has been allowed to age further, drying out considerably, yet picking up in “style”. It will be remembered for its great finish and the fabulous nose.

If you just pick this up and drink it, and don’t give it the attention it needs, you won’t pick up half of what its got to offer. If you do give it attention and time, wow! The more air it gets though, makes this Whisky less fruity and more about the wood, so know what you’re in for when allowing it to breathe for a while. Still, this is a wonderful malt either way, that develops enormously in the glass, so I can forgive its dryness with ease.

Points: 91

Glen Elgin 19yo 1991/2010 (53.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Refill Sherry Butt #2324, 412 bottles)

After the amazement of the Glendronach I recently reviewed, here is another shock (at least for me it is). I’m actually baffled I didn’t throw in Glen Elgin earlier on these pages, since it is one of my secret loves. Every Single Malt aficionado knows which Malts are just the best, but one always has a secondary, more personal, list of Single Malts. Everybody just loves Brora, or at least knows its one of the best around. However, not a lot of people would pick f.i. Teaninch as such, which is one of my other favorites. Usually it is a Malt with a less “easy” profile that somehow manages to tickle one’s fancy. It’s personal.

Glen Elgin. I love it. Many times it just floats my boat, and this one is no different. I brought it with me as a favorite to my Whiskyclubs gathering in Hamburg, where it failed to get the applause, I thought, it deserves. Yes, again, my opinion. The same club presented me a while back with a sister cask of this one, bottled something around the 61% ABV mark, and since then, I was looking out for a bottle of my own. This cask #2324, in Hamburg, was deemed too extreme and hot by many, but after a 1990 Family Cask of Glenfarclas, the Elgin was retried and deemed more accessible and creamy. So, remember, when tasting a lot of Malts in short succession, it is important where it is placed in the line-up, what you had to eat, how tired you are, and understand how your palate works. It all depends…

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Sherry, nutty, creamy with lots of soft vanilla notes. Soft wood fiber, but right from the start, not the usual oak aromas. I get hints of Rhum Agricole. Storm by the waterfront. Waterfront organics. Reed. Old air-dried oak (the outside of the cask). Vanilla, cream and wood, but not very fruity yet. Spicy and slightly grassy (wet). Sometimes hints of licorice (wood). Otherwise thick and syrupy with the sugar smell you get from a freshly opened sugar packet. The Rhum Agricole notes stay around, rendering the smell more dry. Add to this another layer of an acidic red berry smell (and some gravy) for complexity. Greek yoghurt? Only hints of sugared and dried yellow fruits now, but I couldn’t tell you which ones (dried papaya and pineapple come to mind).

Taste: Short attack. Big. Starts with some vanilla sweetness mixed with paper or cardboard. Wood, nuts and fruit. Fresh almonds (chewed). Creamy and dusty. Nutty and a medium wax aroma. Altogether a medium and very pleasurable body. The big start soon gets smaller. Fruity acidity on top, from red fruits. Berries. The acidity is quite unexpected and doesn’t fit the nose all that well, or the Whisky as a whole for that matter. Hints of Beer. Finishes (long) on the fruity acidity adding some light bitterness for the first time. The bitterness makes up the aftertaste as well.

I have to be honest. I don’t like it as much now as I did in the beginning. It is definitely one you have to work with, but you also need to forgive some minor flaws (like the acidic top note). I also fear this suffers a bit from oxidation. This is a bottle I often grab when I want a few cask strength Sherry expressions, so it is already 2/3 down, lots of air to play with.

Points: 85

Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!

Highland Park Week – Day 5: Highland Park 9yo 1988/1997 (59.6%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #10700, 630 bottles)

Lets backup in time even some more. We stay in the land of the independent bottler, this time Signatory Vintage. We are going to take a look at another Highland Park matured in a Sherry cask, a butt even. This one is an even younger example at 9 years of age. The G&M/Whisky Mercenary bottling was 20yo, The Wilson & Morgan was around 14yo, and this Signatory Vintage bottling is a mere 9yo. Highly unusual back then, not so unusual today, since demand has risen dramatically. There is no time anymore to age the bulk of Whisky when there are so much of you around, dear readers. We’ll also go back in time bit since this was distilled in 1988. That is almost 30 years ago!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry, but this time with some quality behind it. Meaty and buttery as well, with some nice distant fruit going on. Dusty mocha and milk-chocolate. Dark chocolate as well. Steam, sowing-machine oil. Clean toilet notes, not to be mistaken by a freshly cleaned toilet odour. I know this sounds pretty peculiar, but I get it in this, so I couldn’t help myself and had to write it down. Deeper and more brooding. Probably Oloroso. Cedar wood with an oriental spice-mix and pencil shavings. Even though it is a young Whisky, it already smells like something from another era. Christmas spices. Christmas cake. Dusty and very thick. luxury and velvety, just like the box. The more it breathes the better is gets, give it lots of room for development. A much better Sherry cask than the one, the 1992 Wilson & Morgan expression matured in. After this, forget about that one.

Taste: Well this is almost 60% ABV and that shows. Its big, thick and a bit hot, but also very fruity (meaty blueberries), and amazingly pretty woody as well, but not too much. Luckily it also has some toffee sweetness to it, to balance it all out. Steam and coal. You are conned, by the initial sip, this is going to be sweet, but the sweetness is shoved aside by bullying tannins and Italian laurel licorice. I’m guessing this came from a first fill Oloroso butt, which impaired enough onto this Whisky, so it could be used as a very nice refill cask the second time around. Long oaky finish, with an even longer aftertaste full of black fruits and (cedar) wood. It isn’t all that complex, but when a Whisky is as tasty as this, it doesn’t need to be. It’s only 9yo, but it is bottled at the right time, believe me. Probably Oloroso, but Cream Sherry or PX might be possible as well.

Ohhh, I want one of these. 1988, wow, 9yo, wow-wow. This in my glass and some 80’s music, and I’d have a great day.

Points: 90

Springbank 17yo 1997/2015 “Sherry Wood” (52.3%, OB, Fresh and Refill Sherry Butts and Hogsheads, 9.120 bottles, 15/24)

When attending the Whisky Show in London last year I absolutely loved this one at the Springbank stand. Sure there were better Whiskies at the show, but also you’d almost have to take out another mortgage on your house to buy those. Nope, I mean, this was definitely one of the best Whiskies at a fair price. Still, over here in Europe this sells for well over a hundred euros. Despite this, it was really a no brainer to buy, and remember, why get only one, when you gen get two for twice the price. When I just recently finished another Springbank, (more about that next time), it was time to finally break out this one. Distilled in 1997 and fully matured in fresh and refill Sherry butts and hogsheads. Possibly, but not necessarily, a combination of european and american oak.

Springbank 17yo SherryColor: Gold.

Nose: Nice, waxy and fresh, powdered vitamin C or should we call it vitamin W from now on? Dusty and dry and definitely lots of Sherry mustiness. Hints of apples (Calvados). Slightly wet forest floor with mushrooms growing. Unripe cold banana, some sweet malts, vanilla and quite vegetal as well. Ashy and slightly smoky (more so than peat). Hints of tar and charred cask and even some new wood, although that isn’t used for this expression. Even though this is 100% Sherry, this smells like a typical Springbank, minus the big sweet creamy vanilla that is, the Bourbon part always brings. Remember, Springbank usually is a blend of Bourbon and Sherry casks. Luckily the Springbank distillate does well in every kind of cask. However, all types of casks used, bring their own flavor to the Springbank spectrum. So there is no better Whisky to try different expressions from. This one reminds me of old Springbank in a way. Coconut and quite fruity as well. Very well made and extremely balanced smell. They are definitely doing everything right. The Sherry smells unbelievably fresh and defined. It must have some casks (if not all) that contained Sherries matured under flor. Fino and Manzanilla that is. I doesn’t smell like typical Oloroso matured Whisky to me, (although very dry Oloroso could be possible). The Sherry notes also smell a bit different from the Sherry in the 12yo Cask Strength. Lovely expression, which would have been nice to compare to the 18yo I reviewed earlier. Alas, that one is already gone, so that is not possible anymore. Bugger.

Taste: Yup, Sherry (from under flor) and typical Springbank. If you love Springbank like I do, it feels like coming home again. Waxy, vanilla and lots and lots of coconut again. Sometimes a bit soapy even. Welcome back: coconut! Peat (more so than smoke) and quite vegetal and fruity. Coconut mixed with almond cookies. Cookie dough and a nice friendly sweetness to it. Toffee. It also has a bite as well. Burnt wood and some peat. On top, as with many modern Sherry casked Whiskies, a slightly acidic red fruitiness that stands out a bit, less integrated so to say. It’s this aroma that dominates the finish as well. Thus the finish is less about the cookies, coconut, toffee and dough. Nevertheless, this one has it all. Super stuff with utter balance. Springbank works very well in Bourbon casks, and although you know what some Bourbon casks would have done to this Whisky, this time I don’t miss them. Nice Sherry expression this is. Well done Springbank!

I’d like to mention, that this review is written just a few minutes after opening the bottle. Springbank is never at its best right after opening the bottle. It’s a big Whisky that needs time to breathe. If you are patient with it and it has time to breathe, wow!

Points: 90