Glen Garioch ‘Virgin Oak’ (48%, OB, 2013, L132293)

Whisky is already around for quite a long while. Just pick up any general Whisky book, have a look at chapter one and the first year mentioned is definitely a long long time ago. In all that time, Single Malt Whisky was always about ageing in previously used casks. Oloroso Sherry casks turn out to give nice results, but also the abundance of Bourbon casks showed us, that wonderful Whisky could be made with those as well. So, Single Malt Whisky is to used casks what Bourbon is to new casks. For centuries and centuries this situation stayed like that. It was traditional and just the way it worked, why change it? Many variants were tried before and these two were the ones that worked best. However, the world is ever changing, and the demand for Sherry casks has risen considerably, since Whisky isn’t the only distilled spirits industry interested in these kinds of casks. Also, I guess, the consumption of Sherry is lower than it used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. In comes the adventurous modern Whisky drinker and the modern Whisky industry, both with modern ideas (and facing shortages and steep prices for Sherry casks). Modern marketing is all about product diversification, catering to the adventurous or novice Whisky drinker. In time there just had to be someone, sooner or later, who would come up with the novel and outlandish idea of putting Scottish new make into a virgin oak cask. How bold!

The use of virgin oak is one of the steps taken by the industry alongside f.i. the explosion of NAS bottlings. Some virgin oak casks were blended in to the final Single Malt Whisky expression to add an element to the Whisky, or used merely as a finish. Laphroaig ‘1815’ and Ardbeg ‘Corryvreckan’, to name but two (again), are known for using, in part, virgin oak. Sometimes with European and sometimes with American Oak. Maturing full-term though, was initially unheard of! Nevertheless today there are several full-term matured virgin oak bottlings, and this Glen Garioch from 2013 is one of them, fully matured in North-American white oak. Deanston has another. Glen Garioch calls this an artisanal small batch release. The public calls this a “Bourbon”…

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Grassy and sappy oak. Green. Sweet and fresh. No signs of new make or under-matured Whisky, but there is some resemblance to the honeyed nose of a Bourbon. Lots of fresh woody notes. Sawdust, caramel. Sweet ginger and some more wood spices. Milk chocolate and oak sap. Green leaves. After these expected suspects, come in the more fruity notes, well one actually. Dried orange skins, quickly to be overtaken by more wood and paper notes. So yes, lots of woody notes, but nothing too spicy or too overpowering. Its fresh, green, sweet and fairly simple.

Taste: Sweet, creamy and slightly bitter, (fresh tree sap). Spicy right from the start. Sweet at first and wood-spice next. Warming going down, giving dried ginger, sugared nutmeg, spicy cinnamon and half-dark chocolate notes in return. The nose wasn’t all that complex and the taste is even less so. It shows you all its got right from the start. No development over time. Quite green and vegetal tasting as well. Like eating the cuttings from your early summer garden. Have you ever cut off a small branch from a shrub or small fruit tree? Remember the smell of the fresh wood, the sappy bit? Well, this tastes a bit like that smells. Towards the finish, still warming and with even more length to it than I expected. Quite spicy, again on cinnamon and the medium bitterness has a lot of staying-power as well. A shame really that the sweetness in the finish is gone. Also it seems to lose a bit of balance towards the end. The finish is not the best part of this Whisky.

So there you have it. A fully virgin oak matured Whisky. Now you know which element this brings to other Whiskies that only use partial maturation in virgin oak. Interesting, yes, there is this dreaded I-word. Full maturation virgin oak is an education. It is something you should fathom, when you want to know stuff about Whisky. To be short, it gives us a rather un-complex Whisky. Wood, spices, and some nice sweetness to balance it out, just lacking in the finish. Slightly fruity but not much.

I always liked Glen Garioch. It is one of those Malts that suit me. Glen Garioch is somehow a powerful Malt, with many possibilities. So if any distillate could handle Virgin Oak, Glen Garioch should be one of those. This is a nice experiment of which recently a second attempt was released.

Points: 81

Even though this score might be somewhat low, I have to admit that I’m amazed this bottle is already empty. No, it isn’t one of those malts you are drinking to get out of the way and replace by something new (and better). I do have fond memories, already, of this one. As I said before, an interesting Malt and and most definitely an education. Goodbye sweet Geery. See ya around.

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (60%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Virgin Oak & First Fill Bourbon Barrel #3445, 172 bottles)

Maybe Amrut is a true Malternative, because it’s another Malt Whisky. If you love Scottish Single Malts best, why look at other distillates? They are just different. Other distillates can broaden your horizon, but will not replace your Single Malt that has become too expensive. For instance look outside of Scotland.

Looking back I seem to like Amrut. This is now the third review, and after the Intermediate Sherry (87 points) and the Portonova (88 points), this is something of a speciality. Maybe I should take that back. Most Amruts are in fact specialities. Something out of the box is often done. Maturing on two continents, or blending many different casks together, to name but a few of things Amrut does.

This time a single cask bottling. Often, you will have a Whisky that has matured in a first fill or second fill Bourbon cask, barrel or hogshead, but no, Amrut had to do it differently. This particular example was first matured in charred virgin oak and then transferred into a first fill Bourbon barrel. Barrels being the original casks Bourbon matures in, where hogsheads are remade casks from the staves of barrels. Hogsheads are bigger than barrels. Most barrels are shipped in staves anyway.

There is some additional useful information on the label as well. I like that. In the four years this Whisky has been maturing, 42% has evaporated over time, as compared to around 8% in that evaporates is Scotland over the same period of time. By the way, unpeated (six row) Indian barley was used.

Amrut Single Cask #3445Color: Gold.

Nose: The first whiff that enters my nose is of virgin oak. Creamy sawdust and vanilla. Although only four years old, at the fast forward maturation rate, this can be called a woody Whisky. The typical American oak notes are here, but I actually miss the typical Amrut spiciness. Amrut is indian, and Indian Whisky should be a bit exotic, not just another copy of Scottish Whisky. This Amrut does hide it Indian. After some vigorous movement in the glass and some patience, there is exotic spice emerging and apart from that the Whisky becomes a bit dusty.

Taste: Initially hot and then an explosion of sweet Vanilla. When the thick vanilla, travels down, quite some (virgin) oak, emerges here in the taste as well. So we have wood and vanilla. What else? Over the top vanilla combined with hot butter. Just as with the nose this needs air to show some exotic spices. Luckily it’s Indian-ness is here at last. Spicy hot sawdust from Massaranduba. A very hard tropical wood. It’s so hard in fact that you can’t cut it without the saw charring the wood. This slightly sour odour is very similar to the spiciness of this Whisky, especially in the taste of it.

I mentioned decanting Whisky before. This Amrut is one that needs a lot of air as well to fully blossom. This is still a pretty full bottle, but already there is a difference to the first taste of the freshly opened bottle. I will score it now (after lots of air in the glass), but I feel this will grow even better and more balanced over time. This may very well be an example of a Whisky where the last drop from the bottle will be the best drop.

Points: 88

The initial score was 86 points, but as I expected, this got only better over time. The bottle is gone now, but the last third scored an easy 88 Points. Again lesson learned. Give it time to breathe…

Benromach 2008/2014 “Organic” (43%, OB, Virgin Oak)

Not really a NASser since this is a vintage 2008 bottling. We also know this was bottled in 2014 so it is a 5yo or 6yo. Benromach doesn’t like hide its Whiskies in a shroud of mystery. Of course I love an aptly named Whisky but I was brought up with age statements so I like to (officially) know what I’m getting. Maybe all those NASsers are for a younger, more hip, generation? We’ll see. This “Organic” was distilled in 2008 and filled into virgin oak casks, just like they do with Bourbon spirit. Don’t worry, this will not turn this Whisky into a bourbon since only malted barley was used, and no corn nor rye. Why not make a rye Whisky then Benromach, wouldn’t that be something different and exiting?

Benromach Organic 2008Color: Gold

Nose: Yes woody. Sawdust, but also vanilla and warm vanilla pudding. Custard. I would say American Oak, wouldn’t you? Sugary sweet. The apparent sweetness is balanced out with some spicy oak, but not all oak is spicy, it also has a sappy oak quality to it. Sweet barley. Given some time, (when the taste becomes waxy), the nose tuns more floral. Floral with sandalwood.

Taste: Sweet at first, then vanilla and a more fruity note. Still all sugared fruits. Behind that the oak comes in again, but it’s not all wood alas, The wood also emits a cardboardy taste. Luckily that is soon exchanged with the sappy oak. That sappy oak turn a bit waxy and that in turn becomes a bitter edge into the finish. The bitterness also has some staying power. The finish is rather austere, so its quite different from the sweet start. The florality and waxiness of the nose, becomes also evident in the aftertaste.

For a Whisky this age and only new wood was used, this has already picked up a lot of color (as do Bourbons). Nosing and tasting this Whisky it really is what you may have expected. A Whisky that is defined by the use of new wood. Otherwise quite sweet and obviously not very complex, but more than expected.

Points: 82

Spey 12yo (40%, OB, Selected Edition, Virgin Oak Finish, 8.000 bottles)

When the Speyside distillery was sold to Harvey’s of Edinburgh in 2012, the new owner changed the name of the Whisky to “Spey” and by 2014 released three new versions: Tenné, this 12yo and finally a 18yo. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the Tenné. Let’s see if this 12yo is any better. The Tenné is a rather young Whisky, finished in Port pipes. The 12yo is…well, 12 years old and was given a finish in new wood. Strange enough this older Whisky was given a lower ABV than it’s younger sister Tenné. 40% ABV compared to 46% ABV. For me that is usually not a good way to start…

Spey 12yo (40%, OB, Selected Edition, Virgin Oak Finish, 8.000 bottles)Color: White wine, much less color than pictured here.

Nose: Fresh, citrussy with hints of smoke (probably from toasted wood). Fresh oak and toasted fresh oak. Clean but also a dirty edge to it. Mocha and milk chocolate. Powdered sugar. Maybe simple but well-balanced. Leafy and dry grass. No off notes whatsoever. Shows a lot of potential, but, it’s already 12yo and it smells much younger. Young but without the typical smell or even hints of new make spirit. Hints of pencil. Not only shavings of the wood, but the whole pencil with the painted wood and the lead. Very interesting and surprising compared to the Tenné. Seems to let aroma’s pass in layers.

Taste: Sweet and barley. Sugary sweetness, which matches the powdered sugar from the nose. Malted barley. These two notes make up the taste. Again this seems very young without even hinting at new make spirit. (I recently reviewed The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, thát has the notes of new make spirit). Clean and grainy spirit. Sweet and vegetal. Has some staying power. Virgin oak and tree sap, reminiscent of ripping a branch of a shrub or tree. Although low in ABV, this Whisky doesn’t seem to suffer from it. Hints of sweet apple juice, freshly pressed at home, and a flowery note, Jasmin.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I like this. The sugar levels are just in check. It is no high-flying Whisky, but it has some lovely aroma’s to it. This time, I won’t even ramble on about the low ABV. This does nicely at 40%. Fruity and likeable. Surprising stuff. Who would have thought this about a Whisky from a young distillery, which found it necessary to finish its aged Whisky in new oak. Interesting. Almost ten points more than the younger offering called Tenné.

Points: 82

Tomatin Cù Bòcan (46%, OB, Virgin Oak, Bourbon and Sherry casks, 2013)

In 2013 the people of Tomatin Distillery started with something new (for them). They released a lightly peated dram that has aged in three different types of casks. Virgin oak and the usual suspects of Sherry and Bourbon casks. They invented a new brand called Cù Bòcan rather than calling it an official Tomatin Cù Bòcan although everyone views it as such. After this Cù Bòcan which is placed in the standard range, two more versions were released as Limited Editions. A Sherry version (6.000 bottles) and a vintage 1989 (1.080 bottles). Cù Bòcan is a legendary hell-hound that stalked the people of Tomatin (the town) for centuries. So it is a Whisky with a story, but don’t expect a Whisky with a hellish amount of peat. Compared to Shorty, Ardbeg’s dog, Cù Bòcan must be the size of a Chihuahua (from hell).

Tomatin Cù BocànColor: Light gold, with a hint of pink.

Nose: Extremely malty. Coffee and new oak. Tiny note of smoke, and I’m still waiting for a little bit of peat. Vanilla and again some smoke. Vegetal and buttery. Ice-cream with ferns and a drop of sweat. Good balance though, everything seems to be in the right place. A bit late in the mix come the fruits, yellow and tropical. Yes Tomatin all right. Reminds me also of the Tomatin Legacy. I’m working at it, but no peat. Still a likeable nose nevertheless.

Taste: Young and estery. Sweet and vanilla ice-cream. Fresh virgin oak bitterness. A prickly sensation like smoke, burnt wood and the contents of an ashtray. In no way bad or overpowering though. Like the nose all in good balance.

This Cù Bòcan is in good balance, well made yet very young tasting. A true stereotypical NAS Whisky. In the end I didn’t get the peat, but enough smoky notes. Tomatin Legacy is also a NAS offering and uses the same casks minus the Sherry casks. In some markets the Legacy costs half of this Cù Bòcan. Cù Bòcan is nice stuff but is too close to Tomatin’s Legacy offering to justify the price tag.

Points: 83

Tomatin Legacy (43%, OB, Bourbon & Virgin Oak Casks)

There is a new Tomatin in town, and they’ve called it Legacy. No age statement on this one. First of all what does legacy exactly mean? Searching on-line I find this: anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor. We know this “Legacy” is aged in Bourbon and Virgin oak casks, so is this the way Whisky was made in the past? I will have to ask, but surely my interest in this Legacy has been aroused. maybe it’s not about the casks, but the way the distillate shines through?

Second thing i noticed is that it’s 43% ABV, making the 12yo the only one in the standard range this is 40% ABV. The rest is higher with 43% and 46%. Having said that, Tomatin placed this Legacy before the 12yo, simply by making it cheaper. Pretty neat.

Recently The Glenlivet released the Alpha, of which in a weeks time the true contents will be released. The Glenlivet used a huge social media ad campaign to aid its sale, whereas Tomatin did not. By now we do know that is also is made using Bourbon casks (first fill) and new wood (second fill). Alpha is 50% ABV. and costs 4 times as much as this Legacy. Let’s have a look…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Clean and youthful, hints of mocha, caramel, toffee, but the hints don’t smell sweet. Wet new wood, freshly cut-down tree. tree sap (not resin!) and some nuttiness. Very toned down, no sharpness and only some spiciness from the wood but no burning alcohol of very young distillate. Very honest. Some vanilla and warm butter. Not bad!

Taste: Malty and half sweet. Wood and cardboard. Again wet fresh wood and tree sap, and again a very toned down profile, laid back. A hint of licorice and even an even smaller hint of tar. Not a very long finish. The virgin oak isn’t omni-present in this one so it doesn’t dominate. It’s not very sweet, but the sweetness is sugary. Good balance.

In the nose very different and younger from the Alpha. Extremely drinkable. This would be the lemonade in my lectern. The last bottle opened, but also the first one finished.

Alpha has the same color and is higher in ABV, smells spicier (older) and definitely more mature, the wood on the Legacy smells like a freshly cut down tree. Tastewise the Alpha comes across as older, spicier and bigger bodied, aided by the ABV. Conclusion: incomparable, the Whiskies are quite different and aimed at different people. Legacy is one to give some time to and feel what and aged whisky distillate really is. One to analyze, but also the easiest drinkable malt around. And it costs next to nothing to boot!

Points: 82

Thanks go out to Jennifer for providing me with this sample!