Glenburgie 26yo 1983/2010 (53.7%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #9801, 204 bottles)

Kilnflat was founded, by William Paul in 1810. The distillery was closed between 1870 and 1878. When it was opened again, by Charles Hay, he also renamed the place to Glenburgie, a name are more familiar with. In 1884 Alexander Fraser & Co. takes over only to go bankrupt in 1925. Again the distillery changes hands, and this time to those of James & George Stodart Ltd. In 1927 the distillery was mothballed and stays that way untill 1936, when Hiram Walker buys the distillery. In the mean time in 1930, Hiram Walker also gained a majority of James & George Stodart Ltd.

In 1958 the distillery also gets Lomond Stills to produce another SIngle Malt you might have heard of: Glencraig. This will go on for several years but finally in 1981 the Lomond Stills are removed again and replaced by conventional stills, making Glencraig a “closed distillery” and somewhat of a collector’s item. In 1987 Hiram Walker is bought by Allied Lyons. In 2005 Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) buys Allied Domecq becoming the current owner of Glenburgie.

In 2003 the distillery was demolished entirely and replaced (a bit further down the premises) by a new and highly modern distillery. Only the old customs house remains and the four stills, the boiler and the mill were brought in from the old distillery. By 2006 another pair of stills were added.

Unbelievable, this is only my first review of a Glenburgie. Amazing. That’s why I stared with this brief history “lesson”. Not so long ago I was asked about great, lesser known, Malts (from Scotland) a.k.a. personal favourites off the beaten track. Glenburgie managed to get into that top 10, that’s why I’m so amazed this is just the first review of Glenburgie, should have been much sooner. Glenburgie is a distillate that works extremely well in Sherry casks.

Glenburgie might be lesser known as a Single Malt, but that’s because a lot of it goes into the Ballantine’s Blend. In 2017, Chivas Brothers released three Single Malts under the Ballantine’s name. Huh? Yes Glenburgie 15yo (the heart), Miltonduff 15yo (the foundation) and Glentauchers 15yo (the finish), were released as such, to tell the story how they make up the Ballantine’s Blended Whisky.

Color: Almost copper gold.

Nose: Very big aroma, this leaps, or rather, attacks you, with a soothing friendly voice, from the glass. Nutty and fruity. Meaty and dusty. Some soft old oak right after that. Dusty old oak. Quite big and holding a promise of sweetness, sweet (and meaty) apples rather than the usual Sherry notes. The oak has an aroma reminiscent of tobacco and leather and hints of old Calvados. Very fragrant Glenburgie. Nice and spicy. In fact, this holds it all. Quite balanced, and very big, it’s so big it hides the complexity a bit. Try not to forget, this is a 26yo Malt. It doesn’t show a lot of evolution over time as well, it stays more or less the same when nosing it. But with a Malt so big and nice, who needs complexity and evolution?

Taste: Yes sweet on entry, but with a lot more. Cannabis and toffee. Crushed beetle again and lots of nuts. Yes, let’s throw in some caramel as well. The start is sweet and sticky. Quite hot and the 53.7% ABV printed on the label, seems a bit low. Very fruity but grassy as well, thick fat grass notes, different from fresh-cut grass or dry grass and hay, but as mentioned above, also the grass you smoke. It’s fatty grass and cannabis. Do I detect a nice tarry edge right behind the spicy oak? Hot black tea. Dries out towards the finish. What a wonderful complexity and blend of aroma’s. This bottle is now 1/3 down, and that’s a good thing, because right after opening, this was much tighter and closed. Amazing how the nose lacked complexity and evolution, and when tasting it now, it is all but complex and shows a lot of evolution as well. One has to stop oneself writing notes, since, this keeps emitting more aroma’s from my glass…

Wonderful Glenburgie, extremely drinkable, even at cask strength.

Points: 89

Advertisements

The Benriach 10yo “Curiositas” (46%, OB, Peated, Circa 2006)

After all those very special expressions of “The” Benriach, it’s finally time to have a look at a more mundane Benriach. The standard 10yo, with peat, carrying the less mundane name of “Curiositas”, since it must have been very, very strange for Benriach to use peat? One just has to love the names they give their Whiskies. Curiositas was released in 2004. The expression I’m about to review was bottled in 2006 or earlier, so this is one of the firsts. Today the Curiositas is still a part of Benriachs core range, so it has proven itself to be quite a success.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fat peat, creamy and fruity. It’s peat alright, but elegant peat, if there is such a thing. Sounds a bit like an elegant Hummer or like claiming a pair of muddy Wellington’s can ever be called elegant. Compared to scruffy and iodine laden peated Whiskies from Islay, this is peated alright, but also very different. Crushed bugs (you had to be there), dabs of mud and gentle smoke. Big aroma at first, and also soft. However, the “bigness” gets less with breathing. Floral and soapy notes emerge. Cold dish water with a plethora of spices. Not really “farmy” but definitely a vegetable garden, Were Rabbit style.

Taste: Wow, this wasn’t what I expected. This starts out fruity and sugary. Very fruity in fact. One might ask, where is the peat? Cardboard and paper, soft wood and even more fruit turn up. A tiny smoky prickling sensation comes next, quickly followed by nice licorice notes. Creamy vanilla pudding with hints of coffee candy. Not a big body though, and to be frank, (not Dave), this has quite a short finish as well. This peated Whisky isn’t about power at all (alas), but more about the Speyside fruitiness, maybe rightly so. Ain’t that curious, yet logical too, when you think about it for a while. You gotta love the name now.

Peated Whiskies are very interesting, since especially “young” peated Whiskies can be very good without long ageing. Although I understand the Whisky, it’s not an expression I like best within the peated category. It’s nice, but from the body onwards. I feel, lacks too much oomph. I would have liked it much better if it would build more on the groundwork laid out by the nose., which seemed more peaty and smoky, but also more complex. Maybe it got better with the later batches.

Points: 82

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!)

The Balvenie 21yo “Portwood” (40%, OB, Circa 2002)

Just like some of the previous reviews, here is another bottle from my lectern. I bought this one way back in 2002 after I sampled it at a friend’s house. I have very fond memories of this one, so in my case the disappointment was humongous when I tried the freshly opened bottle. Almost a year has passed since then, so I believe it is time to have another go. Truth be told, In the passing year I have sampled it several times and found it to be better every time I tried it, so for the second time around I again have high hopes for this one. Oxidation rules! Often, not every time, but often.

Color: Copper gold, with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Winey and sweaty. Nice old, soft and wet, wood and warm wax. Underneath some old vanilla lingering, mixed in with a winey note, sweetish Port. After the initial wet wood, the note shifts into old dry oak. So the original Whisky matured in American oak alright to be finished in Port casks. Very perfumy. Very distinguished. It feels like a member (not a Whisky) of a members only gentleman’s club. Fresh homemade pot-pourri, not the soapy dried hideous stuff, that smells of grannies closet. This bottling oozes the sense of a Whisky from yesteryear, something that can’t be repeated. It also gives me the feeling the whole has worn out a bit, again adding to the note af antiquities. If there is a beef to be had with this Whisky it’s that even with this many years under its belt, it does lack development. The Whisky establishes itself big time, only to not change much in your glass. So breathing in the glass doesn’t do much whereas breathing in the bottle did bring a lot of balance since opening. Oxidation can be a strange phenomenon.

Taste: Not as big as I’ve expected from the nose alone. A bit simple on entry. Sweet and nutty. Yes moving into fortified Wine territory now, complete with a raw and bity (and a soft bitter) effect right after the start (typical for Port finishes). Red fruits and more nuts and wax. The red fruits form a very nice layer on top of the nutty bit. If you’re familiar with tasting Wines, this Balvenie gets richer when you take in some air while you sip this (the more the better actually). Since is so low in ABV. take big gulps! Vanilla, raisins. yeah, now we’re talking. Sure raisins, but in no way does this taste like a Sherried Whisky, no its raisins, but different from a Sherried Whisky. The low ABV. isn’t capable of carrying the finish for a long time, nor does this Whisky have a noticeable aftertaste. After the finish it gets weak quickly and you wait for an aftertaste that doesn’t come. When its gone, its gone. So, in the end, this is very, very nice, all aroma’s fit together nicely, but also (and I hate the word but) I still expect a bit more form a Whisky with a reputation like this one. It’s very nice, highly drinkable, but lacks complexity, development and a bit of oomph. On the other side, after extensive breathing this is a balanced whisky with nice aroma’s and no off notes whatsoever.

Just like the Kilkerran I reviewed last, both are examples of Whiskies that weren’t all that great right after opening. I took this bottle with me when I was invited by Nico to sample some odd Balvenie 12yo from 2016, alongside many other Balvenies. We both had high hopes for this one, since it is an oldie, and everything was better some decades ago, wasn’t it? Yet all we could muster was “is this it?” Again rightfully disappointed with a freshly opened bottle. Did it get better? Yes it did, is it as great as memory serves me? No not really, so this goes to show, that oxidation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that tasting Whisky can be a very subjective matter to boot.

Points: 88

For fun, I unearthed a Port finished Imperial, but both are remarkably different so there is no sense in comparing. Where one seems old and distinguished, the other is more modern and even bigger on the nuttiness. Both are quite sweet and they share the need to be had in big gulps. Maybe 81 Points for the Imperial was a bit on the conservative side though (but not by much).

 

The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84

Benrinnes 15yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, L15P00535367, Circa 2001)

Long time no see! I took a month off, since a lot happened lately. First of all, a new job, which is nice, takes up a lot of time though, and the moments I did have left for writing reviews, were also spent differently than I initially expected. Apart from that, also The Whisky Show in London happened. Today, instead of reviewing something new from that show, I chose an oldie from my lectern.

Just like the Flora & Fauna Mortlach bottling I reviewed earlier, this is a bottle I brought with me to a gathering of my Whisky club, and as can happen when opening old bottles, the cork broke quite easily, crumbled to a pulp. You gotta love those corks now don’t you? Of all the Flora & Fauna bottlings, Mortlach, Dailuaine and this Benrinnes are the really Sherried ones (but there are more). Experience also shows us there is definitely some batch variation going on in the Flora & Fauna series. Here we have an oldie, supposedly bottled in 2001 (or 2002), so not a recent one, which might be entirely different.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Heavy on the Sherry. Nice and earthy. Meaty, cold gravy. Thick aroma. Coal and steam. Is it already a sherried bottling from a different time than ours? How would a more recent example compare? This was distilled in the eighties, which was a different era compared to a Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn from 1971. So heavy on the Sherry. Thick and astringent. Dry and not as fruity as Longmorn. If you ask me, this compares more to the style of Glenfarclas, drier and not-so-fruity. Funky, tarry, musk, brown sugar, coffee creamer and definitely Vanilla. American oak. Still not a lot of fruit though. Hints of very ripe cherries mixed in with oak. Dry, dusty and quite spicy. Hints of cask toast including the smell of molten plastic. Meaty, cooked vegetables with more oak and spices. Hard to tell which spices though, although anise and cloves come to mind, as well as some crushed beetle (that’s not a spice isn’t it?). I can’t help but feel there are some older casks used for this particular expression. Good and interesting, but also a bit “strange”. A hint of soap (not of the perfumy kind) and mocha.

Taste: On entry, a brief light moment, almost like a underproof Whisky (which it is not). Soft, but luckily not “smooth”. It has wonderful raw edges and does show some bitter (and soapy) notes as well, which do work well. Fruitier than the nose, and already one that needs to breathe. Somewhat sweeter than expected, caramel but also the brown sugar I got from the nose, all in good measure though. Tar and plastic yes, cherries? yes as well, but that’s about it. Does it matter? No, since it is a different kind of Sherried Whisky. Lots of (sweet) licorice (and toffee) in stead, it almost tastes salty. Again, a very interesting and tasty experience. Wonderful body, but it sometimes falls apart a bit in the finish (depending on the moment). Finish isn’t as long as one would think, but still has enough length. Well, if it’s a problem, take another sip then. Tar and coal make up the aftertaste, and Sherry of course.

For me, another gem in the Flora & Fauna range. Especially looking at those earlier bottlings, there were quite a few more than wonderful examples there. Mortlach, Blair Athol, Rosebank, all excellent. Worth looking for. I really need to have a look at more recent bottlings in this range to compare them to the older ones…

People start to pay silly money for the Flora & Fauna Mortlach, and it doesn’t even seem to matter if it’s an older one or one of the last. Granted, they are very good, but really, this 2001 bottling of Benrinnes is equally as good!

Points: 88

The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85 (original score)

Added note (September 10, 2018): I’m now drinking the last drops from this bottle, and man did it come around. This needed a lot of air, and time to open up, but it did come up trumps. The nose is utterly wonderful, on the palate it didn’t change as much. Sweeter, more malty, very well balanced. Comes close to the Glen Keith mentioned above, which i still prefer.

Points: 86 (new score)