Highland Park Week – Day 3: Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)

Day three of Master Quills Highland Park Week and after two OB’s, its time to see what the IB’s are up to with Highland Park. Here we have a special one since it is one independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, bottling a Highland Park for another independent bottler, The Whisky Mercenary. This may very well be the best of three worlds, first Highland Park make a great distillate. Second I love how G&M work, where they try to have as much in their own hands as possible, The wood, the maturation, the selection and the bottling to mention but a few. Third, Mercenary Jurgen has a good nose, and is able to pick some nice stuff, and believe me it’s hard to get what you really want as an independent bottler. So here we have a 20yo Highland Park from a refill hogshead. When looking at the colour it seems to be at least a third refill remade hogshead from staves taken out of Bourbon barrels. Now forget what I said, because looks can often be deceiving and it is actually very dangerous to do so. My bad, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake like me.

Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)Color: Light gold, almost White wine.

Nose: Right from the start, not even smelling from the glass, but whilst pouring, a nice creamy vanilla smell passes by. On top some Calvados. Quite some aromas that have to do with apples. Fatty red apple skin, but mostly warm apple sauce. In the background it has some more scarce notes of other distillates, other than Whisky. Can’t put my finger on it yet. Nutty chocolate paste with a trace of red fruit acidity. Warm soft wood with hints of semi-sweet yellow fruit and some dust. Underneath this has some smoke combined with soft woody spices and cold butter. American oak alright, and definitely not first fill or the next fill. So I guess my dangerous assumption plays out all right this time. So overall quite nice, good balance, but not very complex though. Adding to my feeling the cask may have been a bit tired already. I don’t think it was filled yet again.

Taste: The first note is that of wood. Soft wood. Next some sweetness. Honey, smoky toffee and caramel at first but the wood takes over again adding some dryness. Vegetal. Same as the nose. Good balance but not very complex. Tired cask again, even though the biggest influence seems to be that of wood. Medium finish and hardly any aftertaste. When its gone, its gone. No honey or wood stays behind. After some breathing and taking sips again, the Calvados notes emerge on the taste as well. The diluted toffee notes seem to grow not bigger, but wider, like butter candy with hints of lemon skin shavings or lemon curd, since that is sweeter. Also distinct notes of almonds. The smoky notes present themselves here as well now. So with extensive breathing there seems to be more (complexity) to this Whisky than I initially thought. See, how you have to be patient? Don’t fill up your glass too much, give it room for air, and be patient if you want to enjoy its full potential.

Connoisseurs, there is that dreadful word again, dislike tumblers or any other “wrong” glass. They are adamant about it. They don’t allow for flavour development, of which this Highland Park is an excellent example. This Highland Park needs a good glass. Personally I equally dislike it when one buys the “right” glass but then fill it up too much (and then post  a half full Glencairn glass on social media). This again doesn’t allow the Whisky to develop in the glass. You need a lot of room for air. Try it. Be patient, be smart!

The hint of smoke is actually very nice and makes it resemble Talisker and, to a lesser extent, Springbank a bit. So if I had to taste this blind I would have gone for Talisker, without the pepper though. Good distillate, reasonable cask and a nice profile. Needs some time, so don’t be hasty. Good Highland Park and just like the Leif Eriksson, again one without Sherry, and another thing becomes clear, 50% ABV > 40% ABV.

Points: 86

Benriach 36yo 1976/2013 (40.1%, OB, for Whiskysite.nl, Refill Hogshead #3012, 118 bottles)

After reviewing the Arran, a more recent Whiskysite bottling, I remembered I have already reviewed some other Whiskysite bottlings, like this Bushmills and this Port Ellen, but there are still more out there, even a Karuizawa! However, I have yet another one up my sleeve to review, and since I found out in the previous review I’m getting old, there is no better time than now for yet another Whiskysite bottling. Not just any other bottling I might add. Nope this time a 1976 Benriach. This was bottled for the boys from Leiden way back in 2013, and even then, sold out quite fast. Why? Because Benriach from 1976 have some sort of reputation, just like Tomatin’s from the same year. When we talked to Douglas Campbell (Master Distiller at Tomatin), he told us there was nothing special going on at the time, just a lot of distilling being done, as in the years before and after 1976. Any cask they could get a hold of was filled and later, when money was needed, a lot of that particular vintage was sold off, which might explain why a lot of 1976 Tomatin’s exist. However we also heard some compelling stories about fruity yeast strains and an exceptional summer making for super fruity barley.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Ahhh funky, old Whisky funkiness. Heaps of fruit with and edge of vanilla, more than an edge actually, giving it a creamy texture you can smell. You’ll never get this out of a NAS or otherwise young distillate. Sugared pineapple, dried and sugared papaya, lychee combined with refined creamy vanilla. Definitely a Hoggie remade with (mostly) American oak staves. Back then they didn’t care about 100% correctness, so when remaking the Hogshead, and if it would fit, the occasional European oak stave would find its way into a cask like this very easily. The wood note in this is very soft, not spicy. More about nuttiness than the wood-notes themselves. Uber-fruity with nice vegetal notes. Some less obvious notes emerge as well, hints of cardboard, lavas, coffee with lots of milk, mocha and latex-paint come to mind, but mind you, they only add to the complexity and do no harm to the whole. So don’t be alarmed. By the way, for all it’s fruitiness, this is not the most fruity smelling 1976 single cask Benriach, by far.

Taste: Oh my God this is good! Starts out with short bursts of the sugared and/or the dried yellow fruits I mentioned in the nose. When the body moves, rather quickly, through the cavity of your mouth it starts to develop black fruits in large amounts. Wonderful. This is what you look for in a 1960’s or 70’s Malt. The holy grail, at least for me it is! Also quite unexpected, since the blackcurrant and super-ripe blackberries are nowhere to be found in the nose. What a wonderful surprise.

I mentioned that the body moves rather quickly, What I mean is that it seems to have a start and a finish, but the body itself is very short-lived. It’s a bit thin and fragile, which can be attributed to the low ABV, but not only. The fragility of this malt has something to do with this specific single cask offering, since it is not always like this with older Malts or even sister casks. Luckily the black fruit thing is what makes up the finish, which is of medium length at best and should have lasted forever. Excellent! In the end a wonderful Malt, with alas a weak side. It should have had a little more oomph and staying power. It could have done with a bigger body, but in the end it is a remarkable, yet thin, Whisky. The aroma’s are wonderful and that also is worth the price of admission, although there are obviously better examples to be found. Don’t take too long since otherwise most of these Whiskies will end up in collections only, and therefore will cost more by the day.

Sure Whiskies like this will cost you a pretty penny (at auction), but its history in a bottle. More recent Whiskies will never smell and taste like this, it simply cannot be achieved, and if something like this would be marketed today in today’s market, it will be over 40yo old, and it will cost you 40 cars at least, and I don’t mean Dinky Toys! You have to taste something like this to be whole I guess.

Points: 92

Arran 19yo 1996/2016 “The Chosen One” (54.7%, OB, Limited Edition, for Whiskysite.nl, Sherry Hogshead #1390, 312 bottles)

One of the finer places to buy Whisky in the Netherlands is Whiskysite based in the town of Leiden. Excellent, wonderful looking store, good people, fair prices and a very handy Website which services the whole world. For me one of the go-to places. The same guys also host a Whisky festival called Whisky in Leiden. This years edition is next saturday on april 1st. No joke. If you are interested, I’m sure they will have room for you next year since this years edition is long sold out. Just like any real good festival, or retailer, the guys have special bottlings done for them. One of last years bottlings was a very old Arran. I can still remember Arran starting up, and here we have already a 19yo example of the Malt. I’m getting old.

Color: Gold.

Nose: First sniff and I’m guessing Fino Sherry casks. Nice Sherry note combined with nuts and wood. Mocha and a sweeter component in the background. Chewy toffee. As I said before, I never was a big fan of Fino cask Whiskies but just like Rhum Agricoles it is an acquired taste, and today, wow, I get it. They are very special. Vanilla and dried lemon powder, in part like in artificial sweets. Hints of high winds at sea, combined with cold dish water. Strange èh? But in reality not strange at all. Hints of wood come next, as well as some pencil shavings with floral notes and wood from cigar boxes. This smells very distinguished and luxury. Next a layer of cold fruitiness. Green and red apple skins, dried apricots and some dried basil as well. Sweet yoghurt. A promise of some fruity sweetness. Crushed beetle and rotting flower bulb, both a childhood memory. I’m sorry for the animal, I only did it once, by accident. Well balanced and none of the aromas presented here are overpowering. A quiet Arran. Toned down. Whispering. A sort of connoisseurs Whisky maybe. You need some experience to discover it all, as well as appreciate it fully. I hope I don’t sound arrogant now. If you are a novice, please buy it if you come across it, but wait a few years before opening it.

Taste: Half sweet and spicy. Nice wood-notes and soft nevertheless. Sweet fruit yoghurt. The stuff with peaches in it. White peach with a spicy bite. Warming. Mocha and hard coffee candy. Butterscotch and some aspartame sweetness. Pencil shavings. Again, well-balanced stuff and very tasty. If this would have been 5% lower in ABV, this would be dangerously drinkable and you’d finish the bottle way too quickly. Now it is slightly hot, which makes you appreciate it better and follow it up with a different Whisky. It’s almost as if the sweetness and the dryness of the wood are competing. one sip, and one manages to get all the attention, and in the next sip the other. Hints of Belgian Beer towards the finish. The finish itself is quite long.

Good cask strength Whisky from a nice (Fino) cask. No typical distillery character if you ask me, but also no particular aroma that manages to take the lead. Well balanced but with nothing really sticking out, making for a bit anonymous yet well-balanced Whisky.

Points: 86

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

Glenallachie 37yo 1973/2010 (46%, Mo Òr, Bourbon Hogshead #6746, 266 bottles, 500 ml)

After all those fairly recent distillates, I guess its time to look at something older. This time we’ll have a look at a 37 year old expression of Glenallachie bottled by the Dutch Whisky Investors: The Whisky Talker. The Mo Òr line of Single Malt Whiskies was thought of as an investment, or as a luxury gift for business people. Sometimes you can even encounter a bottle like this in a super-duper hotel bar. Yes, Whisky is the new Swiss Watch or a premium golf-set. Glenallachie though, is one of the workhorses of Pernod Ricard, a laborer, meant for the Clan Campbell blend, not really a luxury brand isn’t it? But if you are worrying about the size of your next yacht, who cares? Ignorance is bliss. Let’s see if this old Glenallachie is any good.

Glenallachie 37yo 1973/2010 (46%, Mo Òr, Bourbon Hogshead #6746, 266 bottles, 500 ml)Color: Almost gold.

Nose: Soft and fruity. Next, some old bottle effect and great Speyside seventies fruity wax. Anoraks know this from Caperdonichs from 1972 and Tomatin’s from 1976, to name but a few. Vanilla plays a nice part in keeping the whole together. Definitely a (second) refill Hogshead. The cask wasn’t very active, but over almost 40 years, the wood did play it’s part in ageing this Whisky. Just let this breathe and it gets even better and better. Hints of old soft (sugared) mint in the background. Almond cookies with a bit of dust on them. Old wooden floor and a very distant smoky touch. The mint holds its ground and keeps accompanying the rest of the aroma’s from the nose. Great old malt, but it has its limitations. Lacks a bit of development compared to some of the (non-Sherried) greats from that era, but the whole is still fantastic and a treat to nose. Don’t get me wrong. Maybe this one shouldn’t have been reduced, although at 46% it’s still no dud.

Taste: Quite light and fruity. Sure, Speyside peach from old American wood. Hints of paper. Slightly sweet black tea with raspberry flavour. Especially here tasting it, the reduction shows itself. Making the whole a bit thin and shortening the finish. Also the cask seems to have been a bit tired. Hints of wood and sawdust and a hint of white wine. Sweaty high quality Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. The wood shows a more soft mocha note now. Sawdust and pencil shavings. The mint from the nose stays behind in the back of my throat.

Whisky from a great time, but not the best expression from that time though. Probably a bit too tired a cask, and certainly should have not been reduced. It may have been already a bit frail and reducing it may have dulled it down. However, it still is an example of aged Speyside Whisky from the era, with this wonderful fruitiness and lighter style. I don’t know why, but this screams for some Roxy music from 1973. “The Bogus Man” sounds just right.

Points: 87

Followed this up with the 1976 Benromach. Both are 46% ABV, and both score 87 points, but the The Glenallachie is lighter, and smells more like a Whisky from another time. I would prefer the Glenallachie, especially for its nose.

Clynelish 1997/2014 “Cayenne Cocoa Bean” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Hogshead, 373 bottles)

You get only one chance to make a first impression, and that is what he did, William Wemyss. Carrying around my bottle of Strathisla I ran into William in London and I offered him a dram. Talking about the Whisky Business in general and Wemyss in particular, he sniffed it for a while, and sniffed it some more, talked a bit, and then…chucked the whole stuff in a spittoon claiming that it was great stuff. He probably had to drive home later or was late for a meeting or something. People around me were shocked a bit, but I know this is how memories are made. Maybe just not right away!

Wemyss is known for naming their Whiskies. The Clynelish I’ll be reviewing today is called Cayenne Cocoa Bean, since it reveals bittersweet cocoa beans mingled with cayenne pepper.

Cayenne Cocoa BeanColor: Somewhere in between white Wine and light gold.

Nose: Sweetish and fruity. Definitely some barley, but also a dry grassy note. The color gave it away a bit, this is from a refill hogshead, so it lacks the in your face vanilla and toasted cask aroma’s. It’s more refined. It has a creamy and fatty element. Vanilla pudding, but it is all very restrained and well-balanced. Fatty not waxy, what it usually the marker for Clynelish. Dusty oak. Dry old vanilla powder. Dried peach and pineapple. Semi sweet black tea. Leavy and hints of a dying out small garden bonfire. Burning off old branches. The sweetness throughout is toffee not sugar. Lovely stuff.

Taste: Nice thick fruit with toffee. The toffee substituting the wax you’d expect to find in a Clynelish. It starts out almost chewy. The whole it held up by a toasted wood note, with the faintest hint of bitterness and tree sap. On entry very good, from the start a lot is happening. After that a mixture of mint, sugar and a small amount of licorice. It is big and holds up. Finish starts prickly, and swiftly whiffs away, only the toffee stays behind as well as some warmth. Medium finish with a warming aftertaste. A good Clynelish and I’m guessing for those of you who didn’t like it as much, the leafy quality is a bit off, and the finish is a bit too short. So it has its flaws and weaknesses. But it has its big aroma and the start is almost spectacular. The body starts well, but breaks down too soon. The finish should be better and the aftertaste has some pineapple but not much more. It is reduced to 46%, and maybe that’s the culprit for the finish and aftertaste. The beginning is great, and for that part of the experience the 46% ABV seems just about right.

I’ve encountered quite a lot of people on festivals who say they don’t like these names. They say it creates a certain expectation and with that they can’t taste it objectively anymore. A very anorak-y statement from people lacking humor? I for one, like the names, it gives them an identity, even though I might not encounter the aroma’s from the name in the Whisky. Everyone tastes differently, depending on time of day, upbringing and associations with tastes. Clynelish is an excellent example. I like Clynelishes just as the next guy, but I always seem to like different Clynelishes. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs, I really liked a 12yo Clynelish bottled by Adelphi. I didn’t know it was a Clynelish, since it was part of a blind competition we know as the Malt Maniacs Awards. At another blind tasting session, at least a year later, I tasted another wonderful Clynelish, which turned out to be the sister cask of the first Adelphi Clynelish. I mention those since, a lot of people didn’t care for those two Clynelishes. Same with this Wemyss expression. I first encountered it at a Wemyss tasting, led by Ginny, and I absolutely loved it, where most of the public preferred other Wemyss expressions. So never take anyone’s word for it, make up your own mind, although I have to say that all the Clynelishes I mentioned above, were casks picked by Charles MacLean, even this Wemyss one…

I managed to forget the name during the writing process. I did get the bittersweet part, but couldn’t say if it’s from cocoa beans. Definitely didn’t get the cayenne though, but I still like the name. It’s only a name, nothing more.

Points: 85

Glen Scotia 14yo 1991/2006 (61.6%, Adelphi, Refill Hogshead #1071, 258 bottles)

After two more Wheated Bourbon’s it’s only a short hop across the pond to land in the west of Scotland. Campbeltown to be precise. Today we’ll spend some time with a Whisky from the “other” distillery from Campbeltown Glen Scotia. Well. it used to be the “other one”, But today Springbank isn’t just Springbank anymore, with their Glengyle distillery producing the excellent Kilkerran. Here we have an almost 15 year Single Malt Whisky that managed to stay at 61.6% ABV, quite a feat. Let’s see where this will take us…

Glen Scotia 14yo 1991/2006 (61.6%, Adelphi, Refill Hogshead #1071, 258 bottles)Color: Very light gold.

Nose: Spicy, smoky, grassy and extremely fruity. Warm in its appearance, maybe because of the cookie dough? Lots of barley and a hint of rubber. Not your ordinary Bourbon matured Whisky. Very nutty and waxy, but again a kind of industrial waxy rubber. Rubber bands mixed with gravy. Next is a lemony fresh fruitiness wich in turn mixes with the smell of a freshly printed newspaper, warmed up a bit on the radiator. Hints of warm water you used to cook mussels in. Dis I say this was a bit unusual? I did? All right. Salty and sweet barley I imagine with a snuff of white pepper, ashes, and smoke. Warm custard, but very restrained. Quite complex and special.

Taste: Lemony paper. Warm Chivas Lemon Curd. Lots of sweet barley and here too a whiff of rubber passes by. Band aid I would say. The taste is definitely less unique that the nose was, but still not your usual suspect from a Bourbon Hoggie. Hints of nuts and lemon, and a little bit of cookie dough. Hints of rettich and a tiny, tiny amount of woody bitterness in the aftertaste.

An excellent nose you almost never come across. It’s easily understood, why this Glen Scotia got selected by Adelphi. Especially the nose is quite complex. Balanced stuff, the nose matches the taste. They belong together although the nose was more complex. Not everything from the nose was to be found in the taste. The beauty lies in the detail with this one. And I’ve said this before, give this time to breathe.

Points: 86