Inchgower 1998/2013 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill Sherry Butt, AC/JIID)

Inchgower is not often encountered and therefore this whisky is often one of the great unknowns. Very understandable, when you consider the fact, this Malt is made for three well known blends: White Horse, Bell’s, and last but not least, Johnny Walker. Considering the cases sold of these, it’s almost a miracle they bottle Inchgower officially or even sell casks to independent bottlers.

Up ’till now, only two Inchgowers have graced these pages before, a Bladnoch Forum bottling and a Dewar Rattray bottling. Luckily for us, both have scored well above average. When reviewing the bottling at hand, there is only something like 30% left in the bottle, so it had some air to work with. At 46% ABV this is usually one of the first Whiskies I grab when taking a dram, and it is quickly surpassed by almost all of the follow-up drams. After all these drams from this Inchgower, I still don’t have a mental picture in my head how this particular Malt actually is, almost as if it just doesn’t leave an impression, unremarkable, forgettable. No, I don’t have a drinking problem, because I can fondly remember many, many different drams I had over the past 20 years or so. But let’s get back to this Malt we’re reviewing here, whatever it is…

Feeling an independent bottler as big as G&M probably don’t have just the one cask, I went out surfing to find another G&M Inchgower from 1998, and yes, there is. G&M have bottled another Single Cask, #11275 to be precise. It was distilled on 15.12.1998 and bottled in October 2011. That was a refill Sherry Hogshead @50% ABV. If our Connoisseurs Choice bottling is from the same distillate, our Malt is a 14yo.

Color: Dark Gold, hint of copper

Nose: Light, Sherried, very fruity and also a bit musty. Musty yes, farmy even. Still, there is this breath of fresh air to it as well. Fanta Orange and sinaspril, bordering on sulphur. Fresh and bubbly, appealing and likeable. Toasted almonds, but foremost, lots of citrus fruits. Zesty, apples. Warm apple compote. Very friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. Maybe slightly meaty, although it does retain its fruity freshness. Slight hint of oak and paper, but not a lot. Slightly smoky, whiff of cigarette? Licorice, and toasted oak. Also some black coal, mixed in with ahorn syrup on a bit of cardboard. Warm cooked vegetables. The breath of fresh air from the start returns a bit like menthol. Although there seems to be enough happening here, because it is an impressive list of smells, the whole does seem a bit simple, and light, too light. Strange, because it is really a wonderful nose, thin, simple and sharp. Lacks a bit of sweetness, roundness. Could have been more supple. All three words hated by connoisseurs, because, what do they mean? Still, a good nose though.

Taste: Half sweet tea, but not enough sweetness for this Sherried, fruity profile. Fruity acidity. Unripe pineapple. Caramel, toffee and toasted oak, yet not big nor sweet. Lacking depth. lacking development. Thin. It just shows you right from the start what it is, goes down well, and just waits, sits there like a puppy, waiting for you to take another sip (throw the bone). Its nice, but too narrow and too simple and it really, really lacks development. Very drinkable yet also quite simple and thin. It is a narrow path ahead, not a wide motorway of aroma’s. Pancakes with ahorn syrup. After tasting, the nose opens up a bit more, and there is nothing wrong really. Lets say this has a short finish, it isn’t even a medium fish. Slightly hot, but it might be me, this evening. Forget about the aftertaste, it was all washed down, nothing left for the aftertaste. This is why it is, and stays, anonymous and this is why next week, I will have forgotten, yet again, how this tastes. Nothing wrong, no off notes, no too young Whisky, just narrow, short and simple. Forgettable. Some moments later, this review still open on my laptop… dare I say that after all that, when casually sipping on, watching a re-run of Frasier, some sweetness does finally emerge and the finish becomes a wee bit longer? A tiiiiiny bit of oaken bitterness moves into the…..aftertaste? yes, an aftertaste, finally! So, maybe all is not lost after all.

Maybe the anonymity of this bottle was also brought upon by the Crabbie I reviewed earlier. I always started with that one, and since that one was essentially not OK, it may have ruined this one in the process, since I always grabbed this Inchgower next. The Crabbie is gone now, so maybe the bit that is left in this bottle gets the respect it deserves. Even though the nose it quite rich, it also predicts some sort of narrow Malt. Tasting it proves it. It is a narrow malt. It has the sharper notes, from toasted oak to Sherry oak and acidity, but it really lacks something bigger, no sweets no vanilla notes we know from American oak. Essentially, this Whisky lacks some more wood influence, so despite the color, the cask didn’t bring what it was supposed to. Not bad, but nothing you really need in your life as well. This one let me down a bit, but didn’t damage my faith in Inchgower. Bring on the next one please!

Points: 82

Glenfarclas 16yo 1990/2007 (58.9%, OB, The Family Casks, Sherry Butt #9246, 617 bottles)

And we’ve already reached the end of our short journey of Whiskies left behind by Erik. Professional work has almost ended at our house (the ceiling has yet to be done) and the time has come for me to finish up in true amateur style. The final chapter of this brief tour will be this vintage Glenfarclas. This is the 1990 vintage from the original release of the Family Casks back in 2007. In that year The Grant Family released 43 cask strength single cask bottlings, with vintages between 1952 up to 1994. Many different casks were used, like ex-Bourbon casks, first to even fourth-fill Sherry casks, but also Port pipes can be found in this series, or the many series that followed later. This first 1990 vintage is from a pretty hefty Sherry Butt, I can tell you that!

Color: Warm orange brown. Definitely mahogany.

Nose: Big and spirity. If caught off guard, it almost seems as if whiffs of acetone pass by. Fresh oak, Earthy next. Spicy and meaty, with lots of gravy notes. Honey (The Bee stuff). Perfect thick and cloying Sherry nose. Fresh and woody. Lots happening, with already signs of excellent balance. Soft warm wood, nothing like the sharper style I found in the 25yo Cadenhead Highland Park. No, this is entirely different and also a bit younger. Sometimes it smells like a Bourbon from a very heavily charred cask. George T. Stagg style. Fruity, nutty, yet this still carries those nail polish remover notes. Weaved into the fabric of the aroma’s I mentioned above is a wonderful, and sometimes odd smell of happy red fruits. I tried to describe it differently, but it just smells fruity, sunny and happy to me. The Highland Park, mentioned earlier, could be thick, dark and brooding, more like a gray rainy day. This Glenfarclas, on the other hand, also is a big Sherried Whisky, but happier, livelier, with a more acidic fruity bit. Sometimes this smells like food, chewy, substantial. Hey after the first sip I smell some Jasmine in here too. So a hidden floral bit rears its pretty little head. Nice.

Taste: Yeah big again, very big, definitely loads of wood, with rich tannins and also some bitterness. Oak and ashes. Fruits overpowered and pushed back. Warming. Quite hot with rough edges. You even could call it harsh. Yes this takes no prisoners, and is definitely not for everyone. Very hot going down, this is beyond warming actually. Cola notes, and also some burnt notes. Underneath fruity and because of its age, an oaky bitterness kept well in check. Its only so…hot. Coal, licorice, oaky, its big and harsh but also shows quite some beauty. Something you know is bad for you, but still you can’t help yourself and keep being drawn to it. Very interesting. Its in many ways over the top, woody, drying tannins, yet not all that bitter. Already towards the end of the body, this gets very simple and good. Not a lot of development though. The Highland Park had a lot more going for it, especially after some (extensive) breathing. The finish of this Glenfarclas is about wood, oak, fresh oak, virgin oak, Fresh sanded oak planks, but definitely less bitter then the Highland Park. So chocolate yes, dark chocolate, no, not exactly. Milk chocolate then? Nope, lacks the sweetness of that. No, it’s more like cocoa powder. Yes that’s it. Wood, leather, gentleman’s club. Rich, but in the taste not fruity. For fruity Sherry I turn to old Longmorns and Strathislas.

If I’m not mistaken, Erik brought this bottle with him when our Whisky club went abroad and did a tasting in Hamburg, Germany some years back. When freshly opened this was considered almost to harsh to drink and we all tried to find out why it was actually being released in this new and prestigious The Family Casks series. It’s more do-able now, but still not a Whisky to tackle without gloves. A full bottle of this would last me for many, many years to come.

Points: 85

Benrinnes 15yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, L8044CS000, Circa 2008)

Rummaging around the bottles Erik left behind, I found this Flora & Fauna Benrinnes 15. Wait a second, didn’t I already review this Whisky? Yes I did. Almost two years ago I reviewed The Flora & Fauna Benrinnes 15yo. Only that one was an earlier bottling from 2001 and this one was bottled some seven years later. But why not? I remember I liked the 2001 bottling, and we know Diageo doesn’t like batch variation, so now we have a chance to find out. All in good “relativeness” since I have to compare it with the “other” review, since I don’t have any of the 2001 stuff around any more. I’ll write this review first before re-reading the other review.

Color: Orange brown with a copper hue.

Nose: Sherried, with big notes of (fresh) oak. Dark and brooding, somewhat meaty and tarry with strong notes of (sweet) licorice. Dusty paper. Green notes, vegetal, with crushed beetle. So definitely both flora and fauna are in this Whisky. Hints of coal dust, and also something sharper. Smoke? Prickly. I can’t find typical PX-markers, so I do believe this is Oloroso Sherry only. Quite a nice Sherried nose. Seems to me pretty good casks were used for this bottling. Is it fruity? Yes fruits can be found, but not those I expected, what I find is marginally sharper, more acidic. Something like warm apples. Compote. Hints of raisins and honey. Nice stuff. Not a lot of development though. Every time I smell it it is more or less the same. So nice and big, very influenced by Sherry, but not overly complex. Hey, the paper note re-emerges.

Taste: Well who would have thought that the first note I taste is of warm apples again? Very nice as a whole, tasty stuff. Not as big as expected, but highly drinkable. Warming at first and quickly turning into a a pretty short finish with not a lot happening, apart from some sweetness from a coffee bonbon, in the aftertaste as well. Some woody bitterness, but the wood itself, pretty invisible actually. Hints of paper and cardboard, but nothing off putting. After every promising sip it is amazing how short the finish really is. Relatively big nose, big start, but weak finish. No off notes, but it is short. yes, Sherried, hints of some kind of petrol based solvent and woody bitterness. Not so dark and brooding, but sweetish and easy going. Hints of coals dust. Not as complex as it might have been, but its strength is its accessibility and overall taste. Pretty simple for a Sherried bottling with 15 years of age behind its belt.

It is a good Whisky, but lacks a bit of oomph, a bit of complexity and a bit of length. Other than that pretty alright for the price. I don’t have to read back my earlier review of an earlier bottle, to tell you the 2001 is better than this 2008 bottling. Having read the previous review, I believe, both are quite similar. Only the 2001 seems much bigger and longer than this 2008 offering, hence the score. I hope I get a chance to review an even more recent bottling of this, so see what happened next.

Points: 84

Macallan 9yo 1999/2008 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Speymalt, for Van Wees, First Fill Sherry Hogshead #12378)

Wow, look at his colour! I’ll explain shortly what I mean. Also, unusually dark for a Speymalt from this vintage. For those of you who don’t know, here we have an independently bottled Macallan. Maybe this is the way to go for the non-millionaires amongst us, since the owners of Macallan seem to have gone completely over-the-top bonkers with the “brand”, super premiumizing it, crystallizing the bottles, teletubbying the distillery and… well you know what I mean. Let’s shy away from the marketing and focus on quality then. The quality of Macallan’s distillate, the quality of what we’re getting, putting this quality distillate in a quality Sherry cask the good people of Gordon & MacPhail provided for this distillate and reviewing this drinkers’ Macallan…

Color: Vibrant mahogany! No it’s not just orange-brown, it’s mahogany, and it’s only mahogany when it has this redness to it, a red flame if you wish.

Nose: Restrained for a short while. Wonderful Sherry and woody notes. Ever so slightly waxy and also fresh and airy. Milk chocolate, with a tiny hint of smoke, which most likely came into the mix from the burnt insides of the cask. Next, some pencil shavings. Smells fantastic. Quality Sherry cask. Classic Macallan. Not a lot of vanilla, so, I’m hardly guessing, this was matured in european oak, although I do pick up on a slightly creamy note as well. Hard to explain why, but this smells luxurious, elegant and perfumy. Reminiscent of the great Macallans from earlier decades. Remember the times before Fine Oak, and all the stuff that came after that. Remember the days of, “…which science can’t wholly explain…”? Elegant and fruity and in no way, harsh nor overpowered by the first fill Sherry. Not cloying nor heavy. Excellent cask.

Taste: Smoky and slightly tarry. Black coal. Thin honey, yet not a lot of vanilla sweetness. Initially very, very nice. Reminds me of the Macallans, Strathisla’s and Longmorn’s, when Gordon & MacPhail bottles still had screw caps and were bottled @ 40% ABV. (…and still had enough power)! The body is about Sherry and wood, beautiful spicy, and perfumy, wood, and shows a little bit of nice woody bitterness as well. Soft and silky bitterness, which adds to the overall flavour of the Whisky. Quite fruity and almost drinks like red fruit lemonade. Nice notes of mocha and coffee with milk. Rather short finish though. This is where the relative youth comes in, but I don’t think this should have stayed in cask longer. First fill Sherry can be a brutal thing! Short bursts of warming and red fruity notes. And the aftertaste lingers longer than the finish was. Again classic style.

On the other hand, maybe, this could have stayed in cask longer, since in no way it is overoaked. The flavours could have been more powerful, and the cask itself seems very elegant and good. Or maybe it should have been bottled at cask strength, who knows. This might have had some more to it in the end. For me the best bit of this Whisky is the start, when you take a sip and keep it in your mouth for a while before swallowing. Nice woody and licorice notes start emerging that way. Tar and coal. Wonderful stuff. Tiny hint of the typical acidity from rather new oak, which is a different note from fruity acidity, mind you.

The ABV, is slightly higher than the regular expression of the Speymalt from 1999/2008 which was bottled @43% ABV. Darker as well. Still it manages to come across a bit thin. Would it be too harsh at cask strength or is it an economical move by Van Wees? As in, if you dilute it with water you get more bottles from the hoggie? Probably not since it’s a Speymalt. All things considered, this is a classic Macallan. Wonderful stuff. Sure, maybe more could have come from this, maybe not, but I’d still get it as it is. Most definitely I would. Much better than many, and I mean, many modern Macallans, bottled by the (owners of the) distillery themselves. Highly drinkable, so a bottle of this wouldn’t last long…

Points: 89

Tamdhu 15yo 1991/2006 (60%, Adelphi, Bourbon Cask #1955, 257 bottles)

Well let’s continue with another oldie, shall we? Clear out some of the sample bottles to fill it up with something new. This is Tamdhu, and Tamdhu is not on Islay, nor will this Whisky be peated. I expect a lot of this Whisky. First of all it’s Tamdhu, which makes a lovely distillate. It’s bottled by Adelphi, a bottler so good, it almost seems as if they can pick any cask they like. This has 60% ABV and just look at the color. Yeah baby, bring it on!

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Wood and sometimes a hint of an aromatic White wine. Very spicy. This must have been a very active (toasted) cask. Although you might think this cask previously held some sort of Sherry, I hardly doubt it. Creamy vanilla. American oak, all the way. No Sherry notes whatsoever and yet pretty sweet-smelling, although the dryness of the oak, soon takes over, to never let go. Ehhhm, is this all? Hints of fresh air, but it’s mostly all aroma’s that have to do with oak. It’s definitely not overoaked, mind you, but it seems to be rather mono-dimensional. I’m actually a bit disappointed now, since this is Tamdhu, from Adelphi, which has a reputation, and it’s 60% ABV. I love cask strength. Still, nothing happens for me. Sawdust and hot oak. It smells a bit like a carpenters workshop. This definitely could have done with some blueberry notes, now it smells a bit, dull…

Taste: Initially quite sweet, and again, everything you’d expect from an ex-Bourbon cask. Vanilla, powdered vanilla, creamy pudding, instant pudding powder. Milk chocolate (powder) and a totally different green feel to it, as well. My heart skips a beat right now, because, this is more or less it. Lots of oaky notes, and a strange sweetness. Not a lot more is coming to me to be honest. Earlier I already thought my nose was failing me, but tastewise I don’t “see” a lot of evolution in my glass. WYSIWYG.

Although Adelphi claim, Tamdhu prefers ex- Bourbon casks, I always thought Tamdhu was one of those distillates that work wonders with ex-Sherry casks, in both American and European oak. This particular example has no flaws, it’s nice, but it almost has no  complexity, nor does it evolve a lot after pouring or whilst drinking. I’m pretty sure I will forget rather quickly, how this tasted like, and I hardly forget the taste of a Whisky. Go figure.

Points: 83

Longmorn 20yo 1992/2013 (52.3%, Kintra, Bourbon Hogshead #86624, 132 bottles)

Longmorn probably was one of the best Whiskies coming out of the sixties and seventies of the previous century. There are so many remarkable bottlings coming from that time, it’s nothing but amazing. Because of this, it also might be its curse. It is almost impossible to drink something like this (a Longmorn from the eighties and later), without having high expectations and looking back to the old stuff instead of comparing it to its contemporaries. Sure we all know stuff from “back then” is different from the stuff today, but still, Longmorn, has a special place with me…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fruity, biscuity and malty. Fruity it is. Passion fruit and some pineapple, mixed with vanilla powder. Sugared and dried yellow fruits, but also a more waxy note. Meaty as well. Old warm dusty warehouse, more like a Kentucky warehouse than a cold and damp one in Scotland to be honest. So a lively, sunny, and dusty Whisky, from a dry warehouse with a summery feel to it. Nice fruity aromatics aided by a more creamy and vanilla note, backed by dust and oak. Character building. Nutty, with hot water. Overall laid back with a quiet disposition.

Taste: A sweet, nutty and spicy entry. Sometimes with a beer-like and hoppy note to it. The woody bit can taste this way when you try this early in the morning, when your palate is till fresh. In the evening its woody and spicy, nothing more. Typical Bourbon Hogshead Whisky. Funky green sweetness from the start, and even though not extremely high in alcohol, it does exert itself. Definitely fruity and nuttier than the nose. passion fruit again with old apricots next. Hints of toasted oak, this time more warming than sharp. Hints of clear glue and lots of fruits, apricot and to a lesser extent: peaches, even dried pineapple comes to mind. Nice touches of sweet vanilla and ice-cream, but never turning overly sweet and dessert-like by the backbone of spicy oak and toasted oak. Nice development though. It evolves over time.

Nice Longmorn, nice Whisky, but also almost anonymous. It could have been anything, apart from the amount of fruit in this one, which gives it away a bit. Keep in mind that this is from a Bourbon hogshead, so the distillate hasn’t been masked by Sherry or some kind of finish. This is pure Whisky. Its good, it does the job, however it’s almost not a ‘Longmorn” to me. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced and maybe I’m not truly objective as well. Am I capable to let the memories of old Longmorn go, for a review like this? I don’t know. This is a good one, but not a must buy for me, sorry. Come to think of it, this does have some similarities to the profile of the old Longmorn 15yo OB. That one is good as well, but also a bottling I don’t neccesseraly need to have. it doesn’t completely click with me. So If you really like the 15yo, by all means get this one as well when it pops up at an auction somewhere. For me, I’m glad I’m taking notes here, because after some time, I might forget how this tasted like, but thinking of the 15yo I’d probably remember.

Points: 85

The Benriach 18yo “Albariza” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Pedro Ximénez Finish. 3886 bottles, 2015)

2015 saw the release of the first of a trio of a brand new limited production series, “Albariza”, which was finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. I missed out on that one at first, so I started with the second one called “Dunder“, a Dark Rum Finish, which I got upon its release. After buying the final release of the trio, “Latada”, finished in Madeira casks, Master Quill got busy and bought himself Albariza at a well-known German Whisky-auction, to complete the trio. So after the second one, it is now time to get back to the beginning and try this Albariza before finishing off this series with the Latada in the near future. I still have the Dunder around for comparison, but sadly there is not much left. What to do when the time comes to review Latada?

Color: Dark copper brown.

Nose: Nice clean peat. Different from fatty Islay peated Whiskies, but very nice aromatics nevertheless. Breaths of fresh air and warm glue, with peat, peat and peat. Where is the PX? Just like Dunder this seems to be a bottling that has heaps of peat. It’s more about the peat than the particular finish. Maybe this has to breathe a bit more in my glass. Easy does it, be patient. After cleaning MQ’s lectern, and reorganizing the bottles a bit, I came back after some breathing. Well, it changed. Christmas spices, red fruits and black coal fire. More deep and brooding. Hints of sweetness and syrup have been added. So, fruit seems to wiggle its way in, how cute. Very strong aromatics, with sharp (peat) smoke right up my nose, opening it up for easier breathing. Nice fatty, big and dirty. Nice complexity, with a borderline classic peat-smell. Nice syrupy sweetness en fruitiness, but like Dunder this is primarily a Peated Whisky, yet, finished with taste. More than excellent nose if you ask me. Let it breathe.

Taste: I can feel the (sweet) PX when I sip this, the (thin) syrupy texture is there, but before you can taste it, the tarry peat slams it down with a vengeance. Well, almost. Maybe the words are a bit strong. This is definitely a Peated Whisky for sure! Second sip, again PX tries, but more like an engine that won’t start. For these three Whiskies I feel the focus of the naming and the labels, and the text written on it, is wrongly on the cask the Whisky was finished in, but should have been on the peat. Never mind that. Sure its peaty, but the finishes do add something to the whole, and good for us, they merely add, not overpower it. As I said before, finishing done with taste. If you let it breathe for a while, the Whisky gains more balance and the finish shows itself a bit more. Less peat, more smoke that way. More coal, licorice and a taste that brings images to my mind of crushed beetle. This is finishing done right. Excellent stuff and an example that it doesn’t have to be Oloroso alone, considering dark Sherries. PX has something to bring to the tabel as well. Just don’t over do it! Finish is great and of medium length. Aftertaste is short, and a bit too sweet, seems dissonant from the whole experience. If this sweetness would have been replaced by black fruits, this could have been one of the best bottlings from this decade.

Albariza is a very chalky soil, so how to taste this terroir, when the peat overpowers it all? Even in the taste it’s hard to find the PX directly. Again some more breathing is necessary. Dark chocolate and after a while a more sweeter note comes around, together with some ashes. Flint and a slightly burnt Sherry cask note with a hint of christmas again. liquorice in the finish and the sweetness manages to stay around for longer. Here the PX finally emerges.

When entering a shop, I never had a lot of interest in “newer” Benriachs. Some of the standard bottlings were ok, but not more than that and the rest were almost all finishes of some kind with labels in strange colours, looking like a bunch of skittles. However peated Benriach tastefully finished seemed something different, so this series sold very well, and sold out quickly as well. This year (2018) saw the release of the 22yo versions of “Albariza”, “Dunder” and “Latada” at what looks at first quite a hefty price, but then again, not a terrible lot more than these three 18yo’s fetch at auction today. I was already quite impressed with “Dunder” and this “Albariza” is in the same league as well, so I’m sure the 22yo’s will be pretty good as well. If only they would be higher in ABV and less expensive…

Points: 89

“Albariza” is darker and warmer and definitely different from “Dunder”, which is nutty, sweetish and funky. Where the peat subdued, making it more elegant, and the smoke is now more prevailing. I’m assuming since all three Benriachs matured in Bourbon casks first that they were pretty similar before entering the casks they were finished in. What’s similar as well is the peat part. The peat smells the same in both, so that corroborates my assumption. “Albariza” is bigger as well  “Dunder” is lighter and easily recognizable as a Rum cask finish. Rum casks gives off very specific aroma’s, both in the nose and on the palate. “Dunder” is now finished, so it tells you the bottle had plenty of time to breathe. Oxygen did bring out the aroma’s over time, so I’m guessing “Albariza” will change over time as well.

If you’re interested, here is some background on what Albariza actually is by Whisky’s (and Sherry’s) own, Ruben.