Benrinnes 14 Year Single Cask 1998 Master of Malt

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Distillery/Brand: Benrinnes
Region: Speyside
ABV: 55%
Color: Deep Gold

Nose: 22
Taste: 23
Finish: 23
Balance: 22

Review
The guys over at Master of Malt are quite accomplished independent bottlers and their range of self-titled single cask releases are supposed to be quite delightful.

So I was glad to finally make acquaintance with this 14 year old sherried Speysider from Benrinnes.

Distilled in 1998 it spent 14 years in a sherry butt before being bottled at 55% as one of 570 bottles. And I tell you this is a damn fine whisky.

Nose: Lemony sweet and sharp watermelon at first. Allow it to breathe for a dollop of warm toffee, cloves and cinnamon. There are rum soaked bananas sprinkled with salt and lovely drying Vermouth.

Palate: Citrus first and then a chocolate spice rack on the heels of stewed peaches and red grapes. The flavors are on point and made that much more intense with the high alcohol strength and that much more delicious with the creamy mouthfeel.

Finish: Gorgeously long with lip smacking spices.

This is quite a fantastic drop and just goes to show how good the guys over at Master of Malt really are.

Rating: 90

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Bunnahabhain Batch 1 That Boutique-y Whisky Company

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Distillery/Brand: Bunnahabhain
Region: Islay
ABV: 46.1%
Color: Pale Straw

Nose: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 21
Balance: 22

Review
That Boutique-y Whisky Company is the brainchild of the chaps over at Master of Malt. While many independent bottlers will bottle single casks or blended expressions TBWC (can’t be fussed typing the whole thing over and over again!) actually bottle blended malts from the same distillery as unofficial single malts.

In case you’re wondering they’re the ones with the cartoon illustrations on 50cl bottles. Quite stylish.

Apart from their artistic approach to labels I realized there was a complete lack of information on their bottlings. Definitely no age statements. Just batches. They claim that even they don’t know what they’re going to get next time around so their might be 30 years between batches.

Nothing much about the casks used or any type of special maturation or blending. Nothing.

Now I don’t mind a bit of mystique but I would like some type of information on what I’m throwing back. Especially since they’re not exactly cheap.

But, hey, what are you gonna do?

This expression is a No Age Statement Bunnahabhain bottled at 46.1% and is one of 233 numbered bottles.

Nose: Hint of smoky peat with a mild ginger spice. It’s quite musty and reminds me of moist mushrooms and bran soaked in warm milk. Get past that and some sweeter citrus honey and chocolate notes emerge. Finally ends with an air of coastal sea salt, kelp and rain-soaked jute bags.

Palate: Starts off savory with dark cocoa beans and black pepper. The second sip brings out a lot of honey sweetness and fruits. But it’s the brown coffee and cinnamon toast that largely define this palate.

Finish: Medium oily with the same salty cocoa beans.

This is quite an accomplished little whisky and is a touch edgy compared to the original bottlings. I like it.

Rating: 87

Overeem Port Matured (Cask Strength)

Overeem PortCS

Distillery/Brand: Old Hobart | ABV: 60% | Region: Tasmania, Australia | Colour: Copper
Nose: 24 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 96

Review
Now this is what I call a stunner! Where I come from the phrase when you are knocked off your ass with awesomeness is ‘Uff ho!’

I had the chance to taste this spirit from a sample bottling (which is why I don’t know the cask number of this single cask spirit) and was completely blown away.

I’m pretty sure other casks will be in the same brilliant league as this sample.

Old Hobart, in Tasmania (Australia) got it’s license in 2005 and is the brainchild of one Casey Overeem who tried his hand at micro-distilling many winters ago in Norway and decided that was his dream. And boy what a dream!

There are two versions of the same spirit served up at different strengths. One at a measly 43% and this one at a perfect 60%. Well, to be fair I haven’t tried the 43% offering but I’m not sure if I want to after the 60%.

Matured in French Port Quarter Casks the spirit cannot be more than 8 years old. Could be younger but certainly not older given that the distillery started working in 2005. I’m guessing hot Australian summers are key to such intense maturation at a young age. Very much like the various Amruts out there.

Nose: Deep deep caramel, chocolate, roasted cocoa beans, mocha chino and dark oranges. Like stepping into a marmalade barista. Creamy and amazingly robust nose feel. Crumbling wet brown sugar with a hint of woody rose and dark honey. Finally warm clove to round off a stunning nose.

For want of a better description I feel the nose is smack in the middle of Amrut Intermediate Sherry and Amrut Portonova. You’ll know what I mean when you stick your nose in the glass.

Palate: Now let me tell you something. In my hometown there is a small bakery called the Bombay Bakery (no, I’m not from Bombay in case you’re wondering). They have been there for over a hundred years and they sell the most amazing Coffee Cake you will have ever tried in your life! This palate is a carbon copy of that cake! It literally took me back to my childhood.

The creamy coffee cake explodes on your palate amid a shower of cloves and cardamom. Moist ginger digestives lathered in maple and chocolate syrup with a dusting of cinnamon powder. A beautifully textured experience.

Finish: Long and gorgeous. Lots of spice. Lot of chocolate. And, oh, that Bombay Bakery Coffee Cake.

I had heard good things about this whisky. Just how good it was going to be I had no idea.

Rating: 96

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

JW BlueLabel

Distillery/Brand: Johnnie Walker | ABV: 40% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 85

Review
Let me start by saying this is not a bad blend at all. It has some Port Ellen in it, though I don’t know how much. All the whiskies in here are at least 20 years old which, I suppose, in a way could begin to justify the high(ish) price tag – over US$250 travel retail.

That being said I have a pet peeve when it comes to products that are merely half way decent but are made to appear as if they have come down from the heavens on Gods’ own winged chariot. Now multiply my peeve by 10 when it comes to whisky.

Which is why I am a little miffed. Sitting atop shelves and commanding top dollar at bars just because of some snazzy packaging, a scroll and a marketing budget the size of Liberia’s trade deficit?

Sorry, but that’s not supposed to happen.

So the only thing I can do to balance out this equation is deduct one point from my review for excessive marketing and deluding innocents. That should make the brass at Diageo sit up and take notice.

Right, what else is there to do now but share my thoughts.

Nose: It’s not bad. Fresh out of the bottle the peat is quite strong (must be that drop of Port Ellen). There’s a nice wisp of smoky, salty butterscotch toffee on almonds. Let it settle and the vanilla starts coming out but now with some ginger spice and red apple. I think the nose is decent but definitely not as complex as promised on the velvet blue box.

Palate: Quite creamy if a touch one dimensional. There’s smoke on pear pudding and grated ginger. Touch of woody vanilla and chocolate lemon tart. A second sip brings out the savory salty nuts. Mull it longer and experience a drop of fish oil. Must be that Port Ellen.

Finish: Medium oily with that same grated ginger which is there through out your journey. But now with a sprig of bitter mint.

I think this is a half-way decent dram which should be treated as such. If the less-informed want to plonk their hard earned cash to fulfill some marketing generated stab at a status symbol then I wish them good health.

For everyone else may I suggest five Ardbeg 10s in the same price.

Rating: 85

Springbank 21 Year Old

Springbank 21

Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 94

Review
Let me just come out and say this. Springbank is tied with Ardbeg and Amrut as my favorite distillery in the whole world. Not only are they a genius distillery (creating three expressions from the same equipment!) they also claim to be the only distillery that performs the complete production process in its own facilities — including floor malting, maturation, and bottling.

Add to that their consistently brilliant flavors and you’d guess why I hold them in such high esteem.

I’ve sampled their 10, 10CS, 12, 12CS, 15 and 18 and each one, while similar in profile, has it’s own subtle nuances that sets it apart.

Now here I was ready to test the flagship 21 (complete in blingy gold packaging). This age is a bit of a legend and there are many versions of this 21 year old spirit.

They were bottled in dumpy bottles during the 1980’s. After that, regular bottles appeared with a cardboard box and slightly different printing, first with a jagged label and then with a straight cut label. In 2005, the last batch was released (2400 bottles).

Since the distillery was closed between 1979 and 1989 it was only very recently that the 21 hit the market (2011) again. Now I never got the chance to sample the pre-2005 expressions but if this is any indication then they must have been gorgeous.

The liquid has been matured in both fresh and re-fill sherry casks.

Nose: Brilliantly balanced sherry with hints of black peppercorns. There’s a touch of smoky meat stew with underlying salty peat. But it’s the fruits that bring up the rear so admirably. Red apples and bears mulched with a honeycomb sweetness that make you savor the nose longer than most whiskies.

Palate: Crisp dark honey with pepper dust. There is that mild salty peat again but now with a lovely woody chocolate cinnamon paste. But it’s the perfectly balanced consistency of liquid that forces you to hold on to it for so long.

Finish: Unbelievably long with the same dark peppers and woody cinnamon.

This one reminds me of the 18 a lot but there must be something in that extra three years that make this one that much more complex. Don’t be put off by the snazzy gold packaging. It’s the spirit inside that is pure gold.

Rating: 94

Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Caribbean Rum Finish

Glenfiddich 21

Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Now here’s another distillery that is owed a lot by single malt snobs all over the world. Thanks to Glenfiddich, and their enormous marketing budgets, the world has some idea of what single malts are.

This interest keeps the industry alive and allows nerds like me to savor the fruits (or should I say nectar?) of this labour of love.

Now I’m not saying Glenfiddich are only popular on the back of the marketing dollar (unlike other distilleries). No. In fact they are one of the only mass produced whiskies with a truly remarkable level of quality and craftsmanship. Their core range and recent experiments are all extremely competent.

Which brings me to this 21 Year Old Caribbean Rum Cask finish. Had at a tasting recently this is a wonderfully crafted expression. After spending close to 20 years in bourbon barrels it has been finished in rum casks from Sancti Spiritus in Cuba for period of 5 to 9 months.

The result is pure toffee.

Nose: Toffee. Lots of it. A lot of bananas, apricots and blood oranges. All smeared with toffee. Chocolate fudge cake with dates sealed in a box of Quality Street. Hint of salt with a touch of ginger.

Palate: Smooth and creamy delivery of dates and cherry liqueur. The ginger is back and it’s grated on top of the toffee bananas. Finally black pepper on Quality Street with a hint of mint. This is a super robust delivery.

Finish: The woody chocolate peppers are long and true.

A fantastic dram that holds aloft the brightly burning torch that is Glenfiddich.

Rating: 92

Glenmorangie 18 Years

Glenmorangie 18

Distillery/Brand: Glenmorangie | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94

Review
Glenmorangies rate consistently high on my scale and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. It’s generally year after year of solid whiskies even if they’re putting out experimental wood finishes like the recent Burgundy, Madeira and Sherry offerings.

I was, though, a touch disappointed with both the Ealanta and the Companta but only because I expected them to knock me out. However, I am told they need to be revisited some time after opening them so maybe that opinion changes as well.

Ok enough chit chat and on to, what is truly a scrumptious dram, The Glenmorangie 18. It’s my first time tasting this and all those who call it the stuff of legends, well, they’re bang on.

Now I’m not a huge fan of Oloroso Sherry maturation largely because it has a tendency to overshadow the actual spirit if left long enough. And I suspect it is a trick oft used to mask otherwise substandard spirit. I won’t point fingers at anyone but there’s a certain well known distillery that’s made a fortune out of doing that. You know who you are.

However, the Oloroso Sherry here is used so expertly that it transforms the beautiful American Oak spirit into a gorgeous sherried dram.

And how it’s done is a testament to poise and control.

Once the spirit has spent fifteen years maturing in American white oak casks approximately 30% is transferred into Spanish Oloroso casks to spend a further three years maturing. Then, when both elements have reached 18 years, they are blended together.

The result is a beautifully controlled spirit that hits all the high notes in perfect harmony.

Nose: Delicately floral with lovely sweet candied oranges. Tropical fruits and peach sweets sprinkled with rose water. And the strongest most vibrant of sweet melons I have ever come across.

Palate: Crisp, gorgeous delivery with just the right amount of sherry to pucker up your mouth. Lovely black and white peppers with that sweet melon chocolate. But the fruits are king here. Papaya and passion fruit with a touch of aniseed. Such controlled grace.

Finish: Long chocolate wood spices with a touch of fennel.

This is truly a masterclass in elegance.

Rating: 94