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.

Glen Garioch 15yo (53.7%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Cask Matured, 2016)

Back in 2013 I reviewed Glen Garioch’s entry-level Founder’s Reserve bottling. Maybe a simple Whisky at first, but showing potential with its development in my glass. In the end it scored (maybe only) 83 points, and I concluded that my interest in Glen Garioch was rekindled. Fast Forward to 2019 and here finally is my rekindled interest with this Glen Garioch bottling. Took me long enough! I picked this one from my lectern because it goes fast, very fast, and the bottle is only 1/4 full, (or 3/4 empty if you are a pessimist). Considering I opened it not too long ago, you can already conclude I like it very much, although I could have had other uses for tasty Whisky as well.

This particular bottling saw the light of day in 2016 in travel retail outlets, like airports, on ferry’s and such. However by 2018, and maybe sooner, this bottling seems to be more widely available. Maybe Glen Garioch is our little secret and not widely known to the general public. Well if you ask me, this bottling should stay our little secret and I also feel this isn’t very suitable for the general public to boot, but more about that later. As far as I know, there are two batches made of this: L162341 and L162342. The bottle I have carries the lower of both numbers.

Color: Copper orange brown.

Nose: Creamy, spicy and fresh. Very exotic. Almost Indian, tasted blind I might have said Amrut. Lots of creamy woody notes quickly follow suit. Sawdust and pencil shavings, not old wood. Lots of backbone to this. Typical Oloroso notes we also know from Aberlour A’Bunadh, yet here it is somewhat less harsh, less alcohol as well, but also older and the spiciness is definitely more exotic. Which Oloroso Sherry was in these casks, I wonder? Hints of vanilla and some tar. Tiniest hint of sulphur adding to the backbone. Honey and overall quite dusty. Dark, deep and brooding Sherry notes, but not too much. It also has a lively vibrant side to it (as opposed to the Bunnahabhain I just reviewed). Lots of character to this. Appetizing. I need a Pizza after this review! (I did!).

Taste: Big and very creamy. Sweet as well. Toffee, caramel, the lot. The (fruity) sweetness is less pronounced in the evening. Starts with quite a big wonderful spicy woody note and some tree sap. Slightly dry and soapy, with tar and Sherry, but it’s a beautiful woody note. It fits the nose perfectly. Hints of black fruits start to emerge. Well balanced but not as much evolution as one might think after 15 years, not as complex as well. However, what you do get instantly is a very well composed, and utterly delicious Sherried Whisky. Sometimes I pick up some bitterness in the finish, but that is no problem whatsoever. Wonderful expression. Probably best after dinner and a cigar can’t hurt it either.

Trying this one right after the Bunnahabhain, I just reviewed, I have to wonder how stuff like this would be after 30 years of ageing. Nevermind this. Tasting this after the Bunnahabhain is bliss. They differ so much, but go together very well. The Bunnahabhain today is quite pricy at auctions, and If you’re quick, this Glen Garioch seems to be on sale quite a lot, but it will sell out eventually, and then its gone.

Finally, I often give the advice that you should give a Whisky some air and time to breathe. Just pick any Springbank review and it’s there. Surprisingly, that is not the case this time, This Glen Garioch is best right after pouring it, just sayin’.

Points: 88

Ben Nevis 10yo (46%, OB, 2018, L18/8069)

I’m a big, big fan of Springbank and all of its output. I love the taste, the independence, the batch variation, the society. Buy a bottle and you never get the same Whisky twice. Above all however, I love the taste in combination with the sheer quality. Springbank 10yo was always the )only) Whisky I mention to people when they ask me for a bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Nevertheless, I’m always open to other Whiskies as well, I’m not bound to a few distilleries, or to one type of Whisky. I love a lot of different Whiskies with different styles. Dear readers, Springbank 10yo is about to be dethroned from that first place. I will still mention it, but with the same breath I will also mention this Ben Nevis 10yo. It’s fabulous. It’s complex, its unexpected, it’s simply wonderful. It has aromas I only encounter in Whiskies from yesteryear and not in modern stuff like this, distilled in the 21st century. I’m not sure if only this particular batch is so good, or that all Ben Nevis’ 10yo are this good, but we will find out someday, won’t we? Although I’m sure the latter is true!

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Fresh, flowery, malty and fatty. Lightly sweet and very, very seducing. Smoky and fresh. Sweaty (Sauvignon Blanc), yet also lots of aroma’s from Alsatian White Wines and Rieslings from across the border (that would be Germany). Nice notes of subdued oak and even honey. Warming and big. Toffee, without the sugar. Creamy and nutty. Sweet yellow, tropical fruit yoghurt. Very special. Tiny, tiny, tiny hint of peat (and smoke) and also some Sherry. Tiny hint of pencil shavings and some sawdust as well. Extremely well-balanced.

Taste: Sweet, sweaty and big. Toasted oak. Benefits from air, so let it sit in your glass for a moment. The sweaty notes from the nose are here for you to taste as well. Tropical fruits, yes. Dried pineapple and papaya come to mind backed by a bitter oak note. This has definitely older Whisky in the mix. (18yo is rumoured). Where others probably sell a lot of Whisky and are aching for NAS-expressions. The owners of Ben Nevis (The Japanese) are taking it zen, and have older Whiskies to spare to make this special 10yo even more special. In fact the profile lies somewhere between Springbank 10yo (fatty, oily, warm motor oil, hints of peat and big) and Caperdonichs from 1972 (the fruit man, the fruit). Great body, medium finish (turning a wee bit sour for a moment), with a nice long warming aftertaste (not sour anymore). When its gone, its gone (and you need another sip). Complex, but not too much.

Ben Nevis 10yo looks like this, since 2016 and is released once a year, and it seems to me it sort of sells out before the next release has been bottled. For instance the 2019 versions hasn’t been released yet, but this 2018 I’m reviewing now, has all but vanished from many shops I know. It is the only standard bottling, with the rest of the output being specials and single cask bottlings. All sold at special prices indeed, making this the only standard bottling of Ben Nevis and also the only affordable one. I wish they would expand a bit with their standard range, like a 15yo for instance, and some others after that? Yes please!

Points: 88

Teaninich 10yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, Circa 2004)

In 1991, the predecessors of Diageo, the owners of Teaninich, introduced us to Teaninich and many other lesser known distilleries they own, through this series we now call Flora & Fauna. The labels depict local wildlife and sometimes plants. We have Michael Jackson to thank for the name, nevertheless, Diageo never adopted the name. In 2001 four new ones were added (Glen Elgin, Auchroisk, Glen Spey and Strathmill). For a short while nine cask strength versions were also available. Many of the original 22 entries have since vanished. Sometimes Diageo closed the distillery (Rosebank & Pittyvaich) or sold it off (Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore, Aberfeldy, Balmenach and Speyburn), and in several cases Diageo put the distillery forward and graced them with their own series (Clynelish, Caol Ila, Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Elgin). The latter just added to the series in 2001. Today all that’s left of the Flora and Fauna series is (Teaninich, Benrinnes, Inchgower, Blair Athol, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Strathmill, Auchroisk, Glenlossie, Glen Spey and Dailuaine), although it seems Dailuaine is disappearing as well…

In this series I usually tend towards the more sherried expressions, since especially bottles bottled more than a decade ago show a lot of quality. The Whisky-boom wasn’t really there so lots of excellent Sherry casks found their way into this series. We already had a look at Mortlach and Benrinnes, but also Dailuaine and Blair Athol come to mind. Someone once gave me the Blair Athol to taste next to one bottled ten years prior, and the difference was amazing. A whopping 10 points. So yes, the best casks don’t seem to find their way anymore into the F&F series. However, for some distilleries the second best Sherry casks are still pretty decent, especially considering the bottles from this Flora and Fauna series are quite affordable to boot.

In comes this Teaninich, most definitely an expression that has never seen Sherry casks, and at 10yo, a very young one indeed. Still it’s a Teaninich and you know I love Teaninich, so even though no Sherry was used (probably), I still have some sort of high hopes for this one, since there is nothing to scoff at when Whisky has matured in Bourbon-wood. Barrel or hogshead alike.

Color: Dark straw yellow.

Nose: Buttery and woody. Yes, American oak for sure. Buttery and creamy. Custard pudding, coffee creamer (powder) with added sweet, ripe yellow fruits and a lot of influence from the wood. I said wood influence, not woody. Leafy. Dry plants and dried ice cream left over in the bowl. This seems like a typical (young) Whisky that has matured in American oak. If you are familiar with it, the profile can’t come as a surprise to you. As is the case with Whiskies like this, the beauty has to be found in the details. Occasional whiffs of fresh acidity (oak).

Taste: Short lived sweetness from the start, quickly to be overtaken by hints of fireworks, flint, sulphur (huh?) and liquorice. Didn’t expect that. Never simple, Teaninich. The sweetness doesn’t have any staying power though. It isn’t really present in the body nor in the finish. Maybe I’m interpreting the creamy notes with sweetness? Spicy notes emerge next. However it isn’t an easy Malt. This won’t do if you think you need a simple, American oak driven Whisky you want to drink playing cards with the boys. Because, if you give this enough attention, not all aroma’s are easy on the palate. Darn Teaninich, again more than you’d bargain for. Tea, with citrus aroma. sweet yellow fruits like dried apricots. This is a Whisky drinkers Malt, which is a very anoraky thing to say, Quill!

As I said above, if you drink this not giving it the attention it needs, it will let you down. For a careless drinker this isn’t really suitable. This means, not everything works as well as it should, because you, the sipper in this story, have to make it all fall into place, so without flaws this is not, and I have to score this accordingly.

Another word of caution. Flora & Fauna bottlings can be (very) different from batch to batch, decade to decade. This is a bottle bottled some fifteen years ago, so hard to tell what you get if you buy the latest release.

Points: 82

 

Ardmore 1996/2014 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

Why review one Ardmore, when you can review two? Hidden far away in a wooden box, where I keep my odd-shaped sample bottles, I found this more recent Ardmore. All Ardmores I reviewed up ’till now, were somewhat older bottlings, and this one is more recent. 2014 is not that long ago isn’t it? Gordon & MacPhail released 1996 Ardmores in 2013 and 2014, and both are still available, so I guess they hold off a new release, untill both of these sell out. Where on one side we have official bottlings (OB’s), in this case the range released by Beam Suntory (the owners of Ardmore), on the other side we have independent bottlers (IB’s). Usually, firms that buy casks of Whisky and bottle them as a single cask (usually).

However, this particular Gordon & MacPhail bottling lies somewhere in between. This series is known as the licensed bottlings, but are also known as the distillery labels. This comes from the time the owners of certain distilleries allow Gordon & MacPhail to bottle a Whisky and market it as the “official” release, since back then the owners didn’t release an official bottling themselves, probably using the output from that distillery for blends.

Gordon & MacPhail do their own wood management (The wood makes the whisky). They bring in their own casks and fill them at a distillery. Sometimes they leave the cask to mature at the distillery, but more often they take it with them to their own warehouses.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and ice-cream, oh and Sherried as well. On top some smoke. Right from the start this is very well-balanced. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. Sherry casks from American oak. Very sweet, big and thick smelling. Nutty. Almonds, with hints of clay. Add to this a fruity cloying sweetness with an edge of perfect peat, with sometimes some burnt match-stick aroma’s, with only a tiny hint of the sulphur. The sulphur is a mere trace, and I don’t pick it up every time I try this. Next to this the Sherry gives off a funky note which should be an off-note, but here, it works well in the construct of the nose. Almost like artificial orange powder (Sinaspril). Fire-place in the middle of winter. Almost christmas. Lots of vanilla comes next and the smoky note stays. Works very nice together. As I said, very well-balanced indeed. Medium complexity though, and it shows its hand quite quickly. After that, not a lot of development is happening.

Taste: Ahhh, yes. Nice (simple) sweet, creamy, nutty and (red) fruity Sherry nose, mixed in with vanilla and big toffee. Cold black tea. It’s big on the Sherry, the almonds and the cream this is. Also a slightly bitter oaky edge. Peat, but it’s aroma is different from the nose. Stricter and more modern. The fruit evolves in acidity. Excellent smoky note. Come to think of it, where is the wood influence? The wood may have made this Whisky (imho, the Sherry did), but where is the wood itself? Sure it has a lot of vanilla and creamy notes, so American oak was used, I believe, this one would have been better in European oak. A similar thing happens as it did with the nose. Everything is there right from the start and hardly any evolution happens after that. Balanced, yes, sure, but not as much as the nose. Lacks even more complexity than the nose.

Right from the start I thought it was nice, and it is. The journey, however, I was about to take with this Ardmore didn’t happen. Alas. A good Whisky, but it is what it is. The start was promising, and it started with a nice statement from the nose. After that it all went a bit downhill and simple. The Ardmore I reviewed last, also has its flaws, and I can’t say this one is better, hence the similar score. Both are good, but I expected a bit more, especially since in this one, the Ardmore distillery character is obvious in the nose, but not on the palate.

Points: 85

Ardmore 13yo 1994/2008 (56.8%, Specialty Drinks, The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead #65, 303 bottles)

Ardmore, my poor-man’s Brora. Since coming across several Ardmore’s over the time, I see huge potential in this Whisky. Very good spirit, and if it is filled into a cask of equal quality, activity, this stuff can really shine. Just have a look at the three I reviewed earlier. Whiskyman’s 1992 (89 Points), Gordon & MacPhail’s 1993 (87 Points), and finally Mo Ór’s 1992 (84 Points), where the last one was reduced to 46%, Why would one do that? All three were bottled some time ago and the reviews were written a few years back as well, so let’s continue with another one from the past. We move up only one year, since this was distilled in 1994, and bottled some ten years ago.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Well, this most definitely doesn’t smell like White Wine. Slightly buttery, with vanilla, some soft oak, and a slightly acidic side-note. Typical Hogshead remade with American oak staves. Green, grassy and even slightly meaty. Gravy? Not very peaty and hardly any smoke at all. When searching for peat I’m welcomed by a more fruity and lemony note as well as a leafy and green note. Hmmmm, it is the lemon you get from detergents. Nice oaky note taking over from this little faux-pas though. Pencil shavings even. Yes some peat seems to be coupled with the oak, soon to be followed by the return of the creamy and buttery notes from the start as well as some cold dish water. Remember you washed the dishes yesterday and forgot to pull the plug? This may not be one of those complex Ardmores, since it is clearly from a cask that has been filled several times before. Its friendly and fruity, almost summery in demeanor. Some notes seem a bit off, but pull together just in time. Interesting feat.

Taste: Oak and sawdust first. Hints of pepper. Yeah. Right after the characterful statement, the more fruity, citrussy, notes appear. Almost with a carbonated quality to it. Although very tasty, friendly it is not. Too much alcohol for that. I love the oomph which you can sense does great things to balance this Whisky. Ashtray and nice peat mixed in with the citrus fruit. It switches effortlessly between the (fatty) creamy & woody/cardboardy part and the more fruity acidity. Although not very complex, what it does, it does it good. Quite a long finish, although it maybe better to describe it as a prolonged body, since you get all the aroma’s, all the time. Aftertaste is bitter (wood) and again all of the above. This one fools you into thinking its simple, and fruity, it is, but it is not an easy one, and that’s not only because of the high ABV.

Definitely not your typical Ardmore. Where in the past I called a particular Ardmore a potential Brora, this one most definitely isn’t. This bottling is an interesting Whisky, made form excellent spirit, but not good enough to be a Brora to be. I feel Ardmore is somewhat overlooked and underestimated by its owner Beam Suntory in favour of the other distilleries in their portfolio. Ardmore has to compete with Auchentoshan, (one of the last Lowland distilleries), Laphroaig and Bowmore (big, big Islay brands) and Glen Garioch (Highland), which seems to get a lot more love and attention than Ardmore (also Highland). So Ardmore seems to be the ugly duckling in the portfolio. Maybe Ardmore isn’t getting the best casks the company owns, since the Mo Ór example and this The Single Malts of Scotland offering seem to come from somewhat less active casks, yet still manage to turn out quite good. Apart from this, the official output doesn’t seem to be hurling at the consumer as well. Still, I have a lot of faith in Ardmore, it holds a place on my favourites list. It can be a truly amazing Whisky. As long as it stays under the radar, we have to hunt for examples from the independent bottlers world, that were ‘accidentally’ filled into good casks.

To the people of Ardmore Distillery. Keep doing the excellent work, your moment to shine will come!

Points: 86

Balblair 1990/2014 (46%, OB, 2nd Release)

Unbelievable! Here we have another Distillery that has never featured on these pages before. Balblair. Just like Glenrothes, Balblair is a distillery that has gone down the road, laid out by Wine. The long and winding road of releasing their products as vintages (in a reduced state, ABV-wise, that is). On the back of the bottle, in rather small print one can find the statement: “2nd release”. It implies that there has been an earlier 1st release, yes? Well, yes, but…

Since 2008 there has been an 1990 release which was a lot lighter in colour and which was only released in litre bottles for travel retail. That one was matured solely in ex-Bourbon barrels. It was released annually untill 2011. So there was a 1990/2008, a 1990/2009 etc. Since 2013 the first 2nd release, was released. the second in 2014, the third in 2015 etc. So what we have here are multiple, annual, batches from different bottling years of the 1st release, as well as of the 2nd release. So not only Glenrothes style vintages, but also Springbank style batches. Again the industry seems to consider batch variation to be a dirty word(s), yet I hope there is some adventure in these different batches. This will be a review of the 2014 batch (the 2nd batch of the 2nd vintage 1990, can you still follow? However, if a different batch falls into my hands, I’ll compare it to this one. By the way the 2nd release comes from the same casks and the same vintage as the 1st release, the only difference being this second release has spent about two years in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts. Oh, and with each new batch, it gets older as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Quite creamy, with sweet vanilla, ice-cream, fresh cold butter and Sherry. Hints of oak, fresh and toasted. Dry (scorched) leaves and herbal. Hints of coal even. Hints of paper, cardboard, toffee and honey. Cough syrup. This smells so sweet and syrupy that it is easy to conclude it lacks a bit of the woody backbone to keep it standing. This Whisky smells like a dessert by itself. The wood that is here, smells like pencil shavings.

Taste: Quite big, matching the nose. Sweet (Sherry) and syrupy. A bit too sweet imho. Maybe these casks didn’t contain the highest quality Sherry in the first place. Sweet milk chocolate, vanilla and vanilla ice-cream. (Now the honey in the nose becomes more pronounced as well.) Butter and more chocolate. Almonds with fruity acidity on top, as often this fruity acidity doesn’t blend in all that well. There seems to be a little problem with balance as well.  This acidity also has quite some staying power well into the finish only to dissipate in the aftertaste.

One sunny afternoon I tasted this 1990 2nd release and I loved it. Now, when giving it almost too much attention and analyzing it, there are some flaws that distort the balance a bit. It’s a bit too sweet and I don’t think the Sherry finish worked quite as it should. It’s completely fine when you have a casual dram and that is precisely where it’s for. I really liked it on that sunny afternoon, outside, with nice food and friends. When sitting at home, analyzing it, in a controlled environment, these flaws become more obvious, but I still like the Whisky very much. I wish I had the first release for comparison.

Ok, now I ask you to look past the flaws I described above, because as a whole this is definitely a good Whisky, so I stand by my score, which might be higher than you might expect from the text alone, and yes, at a good price, I would even buy it again. How is that for a recommendation. Just pick your moments to drink this, wisely…

Points: 87