Brora 18 – 1981 Signatory

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Distillery/Brand: Brora
Region: Highland
ABV: 43%
Color: Sunlight

Nose: 24
Taste: 23
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
This is the first ever Brora I have ever tasted, although, I have a couple of original bottles stashed in my bar for a momentous occasion. I have always been fascinated with this distillery given it’s consistently well-reviewed bottles; original or independent.

Now I’m a bit wary of independents given the uncertainty of flavor one may find in various bottlings. However, I seem to have struck gold with this little sample.

Picked up as a 5cl mini from an auction site this 1981 Signatory bottling of this 18 year old spirit (matured in a sherry butt #1081) is an absolute class act. I have never experienced a nose change so dramatically as this (especially after being left to breathe for over an hour).

Nose: Immediately good quality sherry. Not so much from the color, mind you, but the first nose is unmistakable sherry with a dash of peat. Extremely fresh and extremely sweet. Like a hard-boiled butterscotch sweet smothered in grass. The sweet perfumed citrus is next covered in a dollop of honey and delicately smoked piece of vanilla wood. Quite glorious.

Leaving it breathe for an hour turned the nose on it’s head. It took on a peculiar supermarket aisle quality – fresh grains in a jute bag surrounded by detergent and cleaning liquids. I’m not sure where that came from but it was a huge surprise to see the nose change so much. It wasn’t bad, mind you. I was just taken aback, that’s all. This is probably one of the most complex and multi-layered noses I have ever come across.

Palate: There’s brittle honey and dark sugar with just the right amount of smoke. The butterscotch re-enters the fray only this time with a sprig of mint and a squeeze of citrus in it’s corner. The extended oxidization gave the spirit a lovely lemon sponge cake quality. Quite homely.

Finish: The long dry finish is quite woody with vanilla drops on cinnamon.

I had built up the Brora in my head and this independent offering managed to, not only prevent me from disappointment, but further fueled my curiosity about this great lost distillery.

Rating: 93

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Berry’s Islay Reserve

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Distillery/Brand: Berry’s
Region: Islay
ABV: 46%
Colour: Sunlight

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

Review
Berry’s (or Berry Bros & Rudd if you like) are a dependable independent bottler responsible for a string of award winning experiments. Including winning Independent Bottler of the Year on multiple occasions.

Which means that this Islay blend was under tremendous pressure to perform. And it looks like it suffered from a case of performance anxiety.

Nose: Hhmmmm is there a Laphroaig in here some where? The mild iodine certainly thinks so. The hardboiled sweets and sea salt come next with a side of cardboard peat. But I feel there is something missing.

Palate: A touch one-dimensional in my opinion. A spicy lemon tartness with a touch of honey and chalky limestone. Is this a Caol Ila mixed in with the Laph? Could very well be.

Finish: Quite spicy though too short for my liking.

It’s half decent. But don’t expect it to blow your socks off.

Review: 85

Royal Lochnagar 10 Years Provenance

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Distillery/Brand: Royal Lochnagar
Region: Highland
ABV: 46%
Color: Sunlight

Nose: 22
Taste: 21
Finish: 20
Balance: 21

Review
There’s not a lot to say about this whisky other than it’s been bottled by Douglas Laing as part of the Provenance series. It is a Winter 2001 distillation and bottled in the Summer of 2011 from a single re-fill hogshead.

And it’ quite boring.

Nose: Shows initial promise with it’s multi-layered approach. It’s young and sprightly like fresh cut grass. Coconut shavings and warm toffee mix in sweetly with lemon drops and something a touch floral.

Palate: Not as complex as promised. Minty greens, fennel slices and lemon drops roll around in a layer of coarse brown sugar and white pepper. It was all going well until a mysterious bitterness started creeping through and began to distract. This is a brand new bottle so to be fair I’ll give it a couple of months to see if that bitterness still remains.

Finish: Medium oily with a lot of spicy herbs. And that same irritating bitterness.

Move along folks. No fireworks here.

Rating: 84

Glenlivet Mackillop’s Choice Single Cask 1990

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Distillery/Brand: Glenlivet
Region: Speyside
ABV: 52.7%
Colour: Sunlight

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

Review
I’m wary of independent bottlings, to be honest. I never know what to expect. There’s not a lot of information on most of them. And they can go horribly wrong. So when I happened to taste this with a friend I had no expectations.

Which I think is the best way to taste a whisky because if it’s not good you’re not let down and if it is then you’ve scored! And, luckily for me, this expression falls into the latter category.

This one was distilled on October 4 1990 and bottled from cask 22393 in April 2011 and is bottle #141 taken from a single cask.

Nose: Sweet, classic Speyside. Lots of vanilla, pudding and toffee. Sugared barley amid crumbly biscuits. Sprinkled with a touch of white spice and a garnish of mint.

Palate: Silky with a wonderful delivery. There is honey mixed in with the same butterscotch drizzled on green pears and a hint of oak with a touch of fennel shavings.

Finish: Spicy with sugared pears. A memorable end to this treat.

A lovely dram.

Rating: 90

The Lost Distillery Company – Gerston

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Distillery/Brand: The Lost Distillery Company
ABV: 46%
Colour: Gold

Nose: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 23
Balance: 24

Review
So here’s a nifty little trick. Find out which distilleries closed in the last 100 years or so never to open again. Do extensive research and get an understanding of what their malts might have tasted like. Blend some malts together to recreate that whisky. And then proceed to blow me away!

Thank you Lost Distilleries for what you have undertaken for it is nothing short of brilliant!

I will not go into the history of the Gerston Distillery (1796-1882 & 1886-1914) but suffice to say they ran out of business after a good long run. The distillery was located in Halkirk in Caithness – a remote area in the far north of Scotland. So expect a lot of salty and briny peat in the mix.

Nose: Wonderfully sweet with a strong salty peat lash. Some vanilla and tropical fruits in the second breath and then a long lasting rosemary, five spice and thyme combination that stays on for hours and hours. A lovely beam act between sweet and spice.

Palate: The robust spirit is confident in it’s maturity. I am told there are spirits older than 20 years in this bottling. They don’t mention it but I’m told. The chocolate honey is smooth and silky with a smear of spicy plum jam. Really quite well balanced and lovely.

Finish: Satisfyingly long and full of spicy cocoa.

This is a treat to drink and I’m pretty sure the original was no where close to being such a class act.

Rating: 94

The Lost Distillery Company – Stratheden

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Distillery/Brand: The Lost Distillery Company
ABV: 46%
Colour: Gold

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

Review
I was at this tasting recently and someone told me about The Lost Distillery Company. Quite genius actually. They literally imagine what closed distillery malts may have tasted like and go about recreating them. I think that’s one of the most creative ideas to come out of Scotland of late. And boy, do they do a good job!

This particular bottling of the Stratheden Distillery (1829-1926) is a throwback to the time the distillery served it’s whisky to smugglers and other illegal distillers in the area. Set in the centre of Auchtermuchty, the distillery was in the middle of flat farmland with the skyline dominated by the nearby Lomond Hills.

This one is made with a Lowland malt base and uses peat from Orkney.

Nose: Toffee sweet with a dominant creme brulee and butterscotch attack. Some dates, some almonds and a hint of something musky and floral. Quite generous in it’s approach.

Palate: Creamy smooth and is like stuffing your face with a fruit basket of apples, pears, oranges and bananas. All at the same time. Quite a colorful fruity pounding. One which puts a smile on your face.

Finish: Brilliantly long with a sugarcane essence.

These are beautifully crafted representations and, as I mentioned in another Lost Distillery review, there is no way the originals could have been this good.

Rating: 92

Wemyss Hive 12 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Wemyss
ABV: 40%
Colour: Sunlight

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

Review
Sampled at a tasting the night before I hadn’t really heard much about Wemyss other than they were an interesting independent bottler with none other than the great Charlie Maclean chairing their nosing panel.

The first in the series was the 12 year old Hive named for the flavor profile they were trying to create. In this instance something quite honeyed. And they seem to have succeeded.

Nose: Invariably sweet honey-comb and beeswax with just the mildest hint of spice and coastal sea-salt. Pleasant and uncomplicated.

Palate: Quite one dimensional with the same honey chocolate fudge quality to it.

Finish: A medium finish brings out, yes you guessed it, honey.

An early morning dram if there ever was one.

Rating: 86