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

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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

Inchgower 25yo (1980/2006 (53.2%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask #14161, 486 bottles)

After the “old” Teaninich, let’s have a look at something else from the attic that was also bottled a long time ago. Just like Teaninich, Inchgower is another lesser known Distillery owned by Diageo. And for me one of the better ones as well. I’ve come across quite a few really good Inchgowers. Long time no Inchgower though on these pages. It’s almost six years since I reviewed another Inchgower. One from 1982 bottled by Raymond Armstrong, remember Bladnoch? The 1982 was quite hefty and although very good, it was another Whisky, like the Teaninich F&F I reviewed just now, that needs a lot of attention, wearing you out if it didn’t get the attention it wanted. If carelessly sipped, it will kill you, so even though it is a very good Whisky with a quite a high score, I was glad when the bottle was finally finished. Strange ‘eh? Here we have another Inchgower from the beginning of the eighties, so I’m already bracing myself, especially since this is a Sherried one as well…

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Boiled eggs (not rotten). Very buttery and milky. Luckily, these off notes dissipate quite quickly. I have to say right off the bat that this Whisky got a lot of time to breathe. When it was freshly opened this had a lot of Sulphur. When the milky, baby vomit notes dissipate, it shows more woody notes. A minute amount of sulphur and some bitter black tea. Underneath (sniff hard), brown sugar and even some honey. Sulphur still detectable and now it rears its head (is it ugly?) like swamp-gas. Although a lot seems wrong with this, I seem not to dislike it. I never belonged to the I’m-allergic-to-sulphur-police, so I’m able to deal with it. In the depth, where the brown sugar is, are also the more soft woody notes. Some whiffs smell like Rum actually. Sulphur seems to be dying down, but when you move the Whisky around in your glass vigorously, you’ll be able to get some more. Spicy, yet not woody. Vanilla powder and altogether funky. Give it time to breathe. In the end the Sulphur is kept in check and all the remaining wonderful aroma’s get their room to shine. What a wonderful nose this is. The sulphur didn’t bother me that much, but the milky part did, this must breathe before sipping.

Taste: Big, woody and slightly soapy. After swallowing, the first sip, the soap, again, this time around, no too bad, is followed by a wave of liquid bitterness (and fruity acidity). I know, a strange sentence indeed. Fruity underneath and mouthcoating. Sweeter than expected, very, red, fruity. Cold black tea. And the bitterness seems ok. Very funky floral notes which mix well with the red over-ripe fruits. Berries, raspberry, little ripe forest strawberries. Mouth coating, very, mouthcoating indeed, leaving behind some bitterness, but more important, some priceless black fruits as well. For me the black fruits are the holy grail of Whisky. Nice finish, but who cares, if the long aftertaste shows you all those black fruits, dark chocolate and some wood. Sure it isn’t able to shed all of the soapyness, but with fruits like these, I’m happy to forgive it it’s soapyness and the many other flaws it shows. Special stuff.

Some Whiskies like this, over-the-top, can be bad. This one has a lot wrong with it but it’s not bad, There is a lot of fun to be had, if you like the extreme ones, if you are able to deal with a Whisky like this. If you are a novice, steer clear, please. If you are an anorak, a whisky-geek with tendencies towards SM, please pick it up at an auction, because as I said, it is not a bad Whisky. Too much of a lot, but therein lies the fun. A guilty pleasure. Aficionados like it, that’s why this doesn’t pop up a lot at auctions. I’m sure that when I’m going to clean my glass, it will foam like crazy! (It did). For me a no-brainer if it shows up somewhere. Don’t bid against me please!

Points: 91

(Freshly opened, without breathing, the score would be 84, so you’d better let it breathe, long time!)

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

Bowmore 18yo “Deep & Complex” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez Sherry Casks, 2017)

Lets start this review with a confession. I’m a faulty human, and I admit to having prejudices. I don’t know where they come from, I didn’t invite them into my mind, but still they are there and I am battling them. The prejudice I have is that I have a more than healthy suspicion towards travel retail bottlings. Compared to this, my feelings towards NAS-bottlings are pretty mild, since there are enough good NAS bottlings around. Bowmore travel retail bottlings are an excellent example why I have this prejudice. A few years back I wrote a review about the Bowmore “Black Rock“, and it is travel retail at its finest. First it comes in a big litre bottle and second, it was almost reduced to death by bottling it at 40% ABV. So to celebrate your trip you bring back a souvenir of a weak Whisky and a lot of it. When tasting bottles like this, I just knew I had to stay away from such bottles, and I still will steer clear of litre bottles bottled at 40% ABV.

In comes Nico. Nico is one of the founding fathers of the Whisky club I am a member of, and he invited me over to bathe in the excellence of one of the latest batches of The Balvenie “Doublewood“. Taking about ruining a perfectly good Whisky! Since we both are very keen on Whisky, obviously the evening didn’t end with several Balvenies. We had plenty more adventures in Whisky. Funny enough, the surprise of the evening (for me) was a Bowmore travel retail bottling! Nope not this 18yo Deep & Complex but the 17yo “White Sands” of the previous travel retail series.

In 2014, Bowmore released a trio called “Black Rock” (litre, 40% ABV), “Gold Reef” (litre, 40% ABV) and “White Sands” (70 cl, 43% ABV) and I should have known better. “White Sands” wasn’t a litre bottle, was the only one of the three with an age statement (17yo), and the ABV was slightly higher as well. Tell-tale signs that there was a possibility it would be a good one. Good? I loved it! I have met (the wonderful) Eddie MacAffer (voted Whisky distillery manager of the year at Whisky Magazine’s 2013 Icons of Whisky Awards) and “White Sands” is a favorite of his, so I definitely should have known better!

So why isn’t this review about “White Sands” then? Relax, I’ll get to that shortly. Probably in the next post. When I found out how good “White Sands” was, I ordered a few of those. At the same time, I got a pretty good deal on this “Deep & Complex” (What’s in a name), and knowing now that the top offering in Bowmore’s travel retail series might be quite good, I ordered it as well. So, let’s do this new one first and we’ll get to the old one later…

Color: Copper.

Nose: Sherry all right. I would say the PX is upfront. It smells sweet and dessert-like. Caramel. Cherries on syrup. Candied orange skins. Sweet alright. Raisins and dates (freshly dried). Fresh macadamia nuts. A nice typical smokiness (birch) I get from “White Sands”as well, although that is an entirely different bottling. Garden bonfire. Wood smoke. Lovely smoke aroma’s all over. Charred wood. Nice ripe black and red fruits and definitely more smoke than peat. Excellent balance. Vanilla and dust. Islay in the summer. Tar with hints of peppermint and menthol.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Round, they call it. Half-sweet Cherries and only some wood and peat. It has an even deeper lying smoky bit, but again a nice smoky bit. A bit thinner (and fruitier) than expected. Burning newspaper. Nice warming quality though. Warm wet earth and the fresh macadamia’s are here as well. Not too bitter dark chocolate, wood and toffee. Tar and coal. Licorice. Surprisingly short to medium finish and not a lengthy aftertaste as well. What happened over those 18 years? I’m trying this before breakfast so I have a fresh and eager palate, but still the Whisky is too weak. It’s lovely, but too weak, so don’t drink this in small sips, it won’t work as well that way.

It is somehow suggested and assumed this was matured solely in Oloroso and PX-casks, but I do have my doubts. In a way it’s almost like a “White Sands” with a Oloroso and PX-finish. Wonderful stuff, but like the 40% ABV travel retail versions. It’s a bit too thin. Even at 43% ABV, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It has the potential of being a wonderful Malt (scoring in the lower 90’s). It is actually a wonderful malt as is, but it could do so much better if it had some more oomph, something more to carry it. Now its like (white) sand running through my fingers…

Points: 87

P.S. In a head to head (H2H) with the 1995 Lagavulin its easy to see what I mean. The Lagavulin has only 5% ABV more, but it does so much more for the Malt. It gives it power and length. It even brings out the aroma’s more. I’m not afraid to say that this Bowmore, if it was 46 or 48% ABV like the Lagavulin, would even be better than it. Now, the Lagavulin beats it (just). Nevertheless both are damn good drams and easily worth your money. I’m enjoying them both.

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!