Tomatin 14yo “Port Casks” (46%, OB, Tawny Port Pipes Finish, 2016)

I come from a time when Distilleries started experimenting with other casks than the usual Bourbon and Sherry casks. When Whiskies finished in Wine casks, Port casks and Rum casks popped up in the market, I actually preferred the Rum cask versions the most. I didn’t particularly like the Wine and Port finishes. It’s not because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of change, because today there are lots of these finishes around that are pretty good, but when I taste back the first examples they still are not-so-good. Port was an easy choice for distillers and blenders I guess, since it is related to Sherry and both are fortified Wines. However Sherry casks and Port casks yield very different Whiskies.

I guess the early versions were finished in casks that previously held Ruby Port. Young and bold stuff, which made for a very raw and harsh Whisky, especially when finished for too long. The U.K. loves Vintage Port which are excellent Ruby Ports, 2 years old, so the obvious starting point for experimentation with finishing. Today we see more and more Port finishes done in Port Pipes that previously held Tawny Port. Tawny Ports are older Ports, that turn (reddish) brown from oxidation. For this 14yo expression Tomatin first matured the Whisky in Bourbon barrels and for the finish they used Port Pipes that previously held Tawny port for 50 years! The 14yo Tomatin was first introduced in 2014, a replacement for the 15yo, which came from Bourbon casks only. Tomatin also discontinued the 25yo which also was from Bourbon casks only. In 2016 we saw a complete revamp of the design, so this review is for the “new”14yo, number four in the core range preceded by the “Legacy”, the 12yo and a Cask Strength version without an age statement (We’ll get to that one later).

Tomatin 14yo Port Casks 2016Color: Gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Musty and definitely recognizable as a Port finish. It is quite obvious to say the least. Also the color gave it away. You don’t get this pinkish hue, from caramel coloring, and wine finishes smell differently, however it also reminds me a bit of a Jenever fully matured in a Bordeaux cask. Apart from the typical fruity Portiness there is an unusual hay-like aroma, like Grappa has, it is different from your usual Whisky. In the back there is also a more creamy, vanilla note, softening the whole up. Nice soft wood as well. Although the finish is quite strong, it isn’t overpowering, and the Whisky remains balanced. Nevertheless, the finish ís strong enough not to let Tomatin’s signature tropical fruitiness through.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Chewy. Here the finish isn’t as strong at first like in the nose. Here it starts with sweet and creamy Bourbon cask notes, but the Port quickly exerts itself. I don’t know yet if the burnt note I get, comes from toasted oak, or from the Port pipes (or both). A fruity acidity lies on top, so less balance here than on the nose. Hints of paper (not cardboard, which is heavier and less likeable). The whole is quite creamy and friendly. Well made and quite bold to let the Port finish speak its mind. Creamy, fruity, slightly burnt and some nice wood. That sums it up. Medium finish.

This is daily drinker material. Something I would reach for quite often. Sure you can analyze it to death, but why should you. I already did that for you. Not very expensive and fun to drink and definitely different from most other expressions in the shops today.

Points: 84 (same score as the previous version)

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Foursquare 9yo Port Cask Finish (40%, R.L. Seale, Foursquare, Blend No. 162, Exceptional Cask Selection, 2014, Barbados

I had planned to open a bottle of Plantation St. Lucia Rum after I finished both the Plantation Jamaica and Guyana, but after the Doorly’s 12yo I reviewed last, I just had to open a bottle of the Port Cask Finish as well. I just couldn’t help myself, I was so curious, especially after all the rave reviews. The St. Lucia just will have to wait a little longer. Port cask finish? The Rum is 9 years old, of which the “finish” took a whopping 6 years. The start was carried out in a Bourbon cask.

But first we have to get back to 1926. Back then, Reginald Leon Seale started the R.L. Seale & Co. Ltd. A company that is of interest to us since it was trading Rums. Sir David and now his son Richard are the Seale’s that also started distilling their own Rums in 1996 after they bought a defunct sugar factory a year earlier. Simply because it is better to trade Rum you made yourself, than constantly sourcing other Rum’s.

Although Foursquare is a Bajan Rum distillery, molasses are mainly imported from Guyana and the yeast used for fermentation is South-African. Foursquare Rums are blended from a pot still and a two (or three?) column stills. The copper pot still even has a copper column fitted on top, which looks funny for one that is used to Pot Stills with lyne arms on them.

ColoFoursquare Port Cask Finishr: Orange gold. A tiny fraction darker than the Doorly’s 12yo. No red hue.

Nose: Toffee and caramel. Fresh wood, sappy and spicy. A breeze across a dry grass field on a hot and silent summer’s day. Distant fruit (more red this time) and a definite winey note, with slightly burned wine cask notes). On top of the medium sweetness lies a nice acidic red fruit aroma which is different from the 10% Madeira (a sweet fortified white wine) you can find in Doorly’s 12yo. The fruit is redder. The is also a nice nuttiness and dustiness surrounding this Rum, which mixes well with the medium sweetness and (red) fruity acidity. This Rum isn’t about finding lots of aroma’s and complexity. No, this one shines because of its balance. Well constructed, but is a bit middle of the road. It does its best to be liked by everyone. Although the label is pretty anorak, it really is a Rum for everybody, hence the reduction to 40% ABV. Luckily this Rum can handle the reduction, at least on the nose.

Taste: Ahhh here is the greatness. Spicy Indian feel, Cinnamon and exotic wood. This reminds me a bit of an Amrut I reviewed last. It’s still Rum by the way. Even though six of the nine years this was matured, was spent in Port casks, it hasn’t become Port of even Port dominated, but obviously the Port impaired some nice flavours to the Rum. I recognize the nuttiness and the hint of glue from the 12yo (the 12yo has more glue). Wow, amazing balance between the sweet and the dry. It is actually more dry than sweet, influence of the wood of both casks, again a bit virgin oaky, but the wood doesn’t dominate here as it does in the 12yo. Slightly longer finish than the 12yo, but still not very long. The Port starts to really assert itself way into the aftertaste, with the wood of the cask it came in. Nice fruity acidity. Very accessible and extremely drinkable.

This one is younger than the Doorly’s 12yo and therefore less heavy on the wood aroma’s. It seems perfect. Enough to give it character and a backbone, but never dominating the spirit like in the Doorly’s 12yo. Having this, it’s nice to have the woody 12yo open next to it. Personally I don’t have a problem with the wood in the 12yo. It fits the profile Richard went for blending the 12yo.

Highly drinkable, and well made. Not as complex as I expected, but good nevertheless. Again a bottle that will be gone soon I fear. 40%, yeah all right, it will do, but I would prefer a higher ABV. I understand the next Exceptional Cask Selection, The Zinfandel finish is 43% ABV and there will be a Vintage 2004 that will be much higher. I can’t wait. Good stuff especially considering the price. Daily sippers (at 40% ABV), both the Port finish as well as the Doorly’s 12yo, which is a bit more chewy, woody and somewhat sweeter and imho a bit bolder. I did several H2H’s with both and sometimes it’s hard to pick a favorite. Both are equally good. On some days I prefer the 12yo, and on others I like the Port better.

Points: 83

Amrut Portonova (62.1%, OB, Batch 5, 2014)

Ahhh, another Amrut. Nice. I had the pleasure to try some Amruts in the past and was very nicely surprised by the Intermediate Sherry (which I then bought) a Single PX Sherry Cask #2699 (which I then bought) and the Kadhambam (which I have yet to buy). I also tried the “plain” cask strength version, and although pretty nice, I preferred the former ones. Now this Portonova crosses my path. This time a Port finished Amrut, and yes, I have high hopes for this one too…

Amrut Portonova Batch 5Color: Light orange gold. No typical Port pinkishness.

Nose: Although this has a huge ABV, this doesn’t leap out of the glass. Give it some time and some dust and cinnamon emerges. Wow. Cookie spices, dried plums and raisins. Exotic and Christmas in a bottle. Fresh air after rain. Creamy and soft oak. Hot metal. Barley, but different from barley you get from (young) Scottish Whisky. Sweet milk chocolate and red fruit juice. Apart from this all, it has a sweet and deep feel. Exotic spices, curry, cardamom, but where is the Port? I already missed the pink hue, but I also miss its smell. Complex stuff this because there is even a lot more happening in the nose than what I noted here.

Taste: Condensed red fruits. Thick, but initially simpler than the complex nose promised. Obviously quite hot with this high ABV. The wood tastes more like paper and cardboard, than any kind of wood. Not a lot of the wealth of spices shine through on the palate, and that’s a shame. Its more a fruity Whisky with maybe some faint hints of Port. Vanilla comes next. With time if becomes more outspoken and creamy. Nice evolution though. Hints of banana in the aftertaste. Lovely.

First I have to air a disappointment. This would be a stellar malt if the spices from the nose were noticeable so more in the taste as well, without being overpowering of course. Missing the spices on the palate makes the taste of this Whisky a bit simpler than it could have been. Now that we have that out-of-the-way. The whole is still an utterly good Whisky. Very much recommended. An excellent winter warmer I would say. I will have to get me one of these soon.

Points: 88

Spey Tenné (46%, OB, Selected Edition, Tawny Port Cask Finish, 18.000 bottles)

The Speyside distillery was officially founded in 1976 by George Christie. Distillation was in George’s blood since he used to be a… submarine captain, who probably missed the sound of trickling liquids. Building of the distillery commenced already in 1962 and was finished in 1987. Lots of the building was done by George himself, so it took him a while. We have to wait a further three years for the first distillation. (December 1990), The spirit has to age for at least three years to be called a Whisky, so in 1993 the first Whisky was released under the name “Drumguish”, from the name of the place the distillery was built. In 1999 the first Single Malt was released under the “Speyside” name, an 8yo. In 2012 the distillery which already changed hands a few times was sold to one of its clients. Harvey’s of Edinburgh. Harvey’s again changed the name of their Single Malt, calling it simply “Spey”. In 2014 the new range was released, starting with this Tenné, but also a 12yo and a 18yo were released.

Spey TennéColor: Salmon, like a modern rosé wine from the south of France.

Nose: Extremely malty. It’s like holding the grain in your hand. This smell makes up most of the beginning of the nose. Given some time the Port starts to “work”. Initially a more glue like sensation which turns into an overly fruity and acidic distilled Port that is used to fortify Port. With even some more breathing, a hint of sweetness and wine gums come to the fore, combined with some rural or farmy notes. After that it tones down and gets more powdery with even a tiny hint of gunpowder. Stale beer in the finish but also some vanilla. Wine finishes can be pretty funky.

Taste: Pretty sweet, bitter oak and again malty. It comes in layers and in that particular order. First a very friendly sweet candy like aroma, when that moves over, the roof of your mouth gets a bitter sap attack which evolves into a slightly toasted and oaky taste, mixed with sandalwood, (the Port probably did that), and licorice. Intertwined is the taste of malts. On top, a slightly acidic and fruity note, but that’s it actually, not a lot more is happening. The ABV of 46% gives it some strength and some hotness for the finish.

This expression is said to be a minimum of 8 years old. It is an extremely malty and pretty simple Whisky. For me, the Port finish didn’t bring a lot of complexity to the mix. Just giving it a shift in profile. Malty and simple, not bad, but also nothing to get overly exited about. Anonymous at best, except for the bottle itself. Looks very luxurious with its beautiful tartan ribbon.

Having said all that, it’s a lovely distillery and I hope they will get better with every release.

Points: 73

Irish Whiskey Week – Day 2: The Tyrconnell 10yo (46%, OB, Finished in Port Cask, Circa 2007)

Irish CloverWhy not continue our Irish Whiskey Week with another Tyrconnell, but first I’ll start with my thoughts about finishing Whisk(e)y in casks that previously held(fortified) Wines.

I come from a time where every single cask that was released was good by itself, so when the first finishes emerged we were quite suspicious of them. Was the Original cask too tired to produce a well aged Whisk(e)y? Especially Port finishes were considered to be strange. The color turned slightly pink, and the Wine bit, that leaped out of the glass was pretty harsh. Now that I (and Whisky makers) understand Port better we have learned that the best kind of Port for Whisk(e)y is Tawny (or Colheita or any other form of a Tawny, or oxidized Port, like old Whites). So today finishes have become more popular. I see a lot of people raving about different kind of Sauternes finishes, Marsala finishes, PX finishes and so on. On a more personal note. In the old days I found the odd Rum finish pretty pleasing, but it seems to me Rum isn’t a first choice from the industry anymore.

The Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask FinishColor: Light copper gold

Nose: Strong and spicy. Malty and winey, but the winey bit isn’t overpowering the whole. It really is only an (balanced) addition. Adding something new to the Tyrconnell profile. Quite some creamy, wooden depth with licorice. Fresh cut oak. Earth and clay. Fresh butter. Good stuff. Spicy and powerful.

Taste: This packs a lot more punch at 46% ABV than the standard Tyrconnell. This version is also a lot more spicy and “older”. Cask toast and licorice, and medium wooden bitterness. All kept in check. The body is well-balanced and creamy, but towards the finish a sweet and slightly sharp and acidic winey note comes to the top, that also throws the Whiskey slightly off-balance. I also get some cardboard and bitterness in the finish. It doesn’t take air so well, so drink up, don’t let it sit too long in your glass.

Since I have just recently tried the “normal” Tyrconnell, does this one resemble the other one? Well no, but that may not only be the Port finish. First of all, a huge difference is made by the 46% ABV. 6% more alcohol is quite a bit. Second, this version is 10yo, and may even hold older Whiskey in the mix. And yes there is some Port going on, but as I mentioned above, this is not overpowering. If you can get past the finish, it does resemble a Tyrconnell though, again a sign they didn’t overdo the Port. Definitely a step, or two, up from the standard version, but still it didn’t quite work for me. Still not a big fan of finishes I guess…

Points: 79

Warre’s Heritage Ruby

Heritage Ruby is Warre’s entry-level red Port. I attended a tasting lately where a lot of different products were presented and some cross-references were made. Arran finished in an ex-Amarone cask Whisky was matched with a Lenotti Amarone wine, but also an Edradour 10yo Port casked Whisky was matched with a Port. That Port was a Niepoort Ruby, yes a basic Port and it was so good, that it sold out completely that evening. Very fruity and extremely accessible and drinkable. So I thought, let’s have a look at another basic Ruby. Warre was my introduction to Port so I have some of those bottles lying around. A short trip to the cellars of Master Quill produced this (not the most current) bottle…

Warre's Heritage Ruby PortColor: Dark ruby-red with high viscosity.

Nose: Syrupy red Wine. Very fruity (but not as fruity as the Niepoort offering was), strawberry, blackberries and some blossoms as well, slightly perfumy. This is slightly darker (as an experience, as well as in color) but still very fruity. Jam, syrup. The added darkness comes from hints of soil and dry sunny earth. Small hint of petrol adds to the depth. Do I detect a tiny hint of coal smoke? Excellent nose.

Taste: Starts out with a very pleasant kind of sweetness, very restrained even when the whole is pretty syrupy and chewy. Not cloying. a very refined kind of sweetness, pure. Ahorn maybe. Next a balancing act with some lime-like acidity. The nose is fantastic and when you take a sip all is well too, The body itself is more on raisins and the sustained acidity, but not completely integrated. The acidity is maybe a wee bit too high and in the finish it all falls apart for a bit. Finish is also not very long.

I might have been a bit harsh on this one, for I still find it a very pleasant and drinkable Port. It has some faults towards the end, and for the money it is an excellent Port.

After a lot of the other types of Port like Vintages, Colheita’s, LBV’s and so on, I have to say that even an entry-level Port like this one or the Niepoort I tasted is still very good. You get a lot of quality from even a dirt cheap bottle like this or any other Ruby I guess, (or even Tawny, White or Pink Port). The quality assurance of the Port Institute makes sure that probably every bottle that goes out to the consumer meets a high set standard. Maybe we’ll know when I taste a no-name Port with the seal of the institute. ABV is 19%.

Points: 82

Warre’s Colheita 1999 (2012)

Yes another Warre’s Colheita! This is an earlier one from 1999. Just like it’s predecessor, both 1999 and 2002 weren’t declared as Vintage Port years, so the wines that were meant to be vintages were used for L.B.V.’s and Colheita’s (amongst others). Although the wines weren’t good enough to declare a vintage, most probably the best the year had to offer ended up in these Colheita’s.

Warre Colheita 1999/2012Color: Much paler than the 2002 Colheita. Pale red and less viscous than the 2002 reviewed earlier.

Nose: Fresh and some wood. Powdery, nice complexity. The wood added a lot of nice notes in here, From a Whisky point of view this nose is better than the one from the 2002 Colheita. A fantastic and delicate balance. Dry and complex. A little soap in this one too. Licorice and elegant wood. Hints of wood polish and petrol. Hints of old furniture. Definitely a more interesting nose. Nutty.

Taste: More syrupy and sweeter than the nose promised, but still enough acidity, maybe even better balance and a little bit more depth to it. Seems also higher in ABV (although it is not) than the 2002 Colheita, the alcohol is more present in this one. Less sweet and again the complexity shows over time. Less lively and summery red fruit, but that doesn’t mean its less everything. This has a lot going for it too. It has added depth and is a different Colheita from the 2002 Colheita.

The 1999 Colheita is a more refined and delicate Colheita than the 2002, which is simpler, sweeter and fruitier in it presentation and is more Obvious. The difference between both is in the details for sure, so it probably was a good thing I had a few sessions comparing both to each other. It hardly makes any sense to score both differently and a difference is purely a matter of taste, but I will score this one point higher for its elegance.

Points: 85