Ardbeg 15 Years Cadenhead 1994

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 56% | Color: Chardonnay
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
There’s a certain old school way of making single malt whiskies that I really like. No frills. Just good old-fashioned traditional whisky making.

Distill some quality spirit. Stick it in a high quality bourbon cask. Let it sit and pull out all the flavors. Don’t mix it with any other liquid to balance out any flavors. Serve it at cask strength. Sit back and enjoy.

I miss those days. Of whisky making, that is. I’m not old enough to miss those actual days. But I sure as hell can appreciate them. Which brings me to my first ever Cadenhead whisky. It is also my first ever independent Ardbeg. And most importantly it is my first ever single cask Ardbeg.

So there’s a lot of special firsts here for me. And I tell you this is well worth the occasion.

There’s not a lot of literature for this particular bottling (most independents are notoriously difficult to get info on) and so the only thing I know is that this was distilled in 1994, bottled in February 2010, matured exclusively in a bourbon hogshead for 15 years, one of 268 bottles produced and served at a cask strength of 56%.

Nose: Peat. Grist. Lemon. Lime. Citrus. Fruits. Melon. It’s very sweet. Crystallised sugars. Cigar ash. Vanilla. Liquorice. Barley. Oak. Toast. Smoked oysters. Green apple. Reminds me of the Still Young when I first had it. Same controlled peaty elegance. Also very similar to the recent spate of young Kilchomans that I’ve been tasting. This is a beautiful nose. Something very old-fashioned about it.

Palate: Lemon. Spices. The delivery is quite sharp. Sponge cake. All spice. Mid-palate it starts to get a little burnt. Oak. Cigar leaf. Quite salty. But very crisp. Young green apple crisp.

Finish: Long. Oak. Spices. There’s something mildly bitter here.

I love whiskies like this. Straight up no nonsense. No maturing in ten different casks with ten different types of vatting. No marketing BS. Let the spirit speak, I say, if you’re brave enough.

Also makes me realize why Ardbeg is cult. All the stock from the 90s that I’ve tasted is insane. Why are they having such a hard time re-creating the magic? Why?

Rating: 93

Glenugie 1977 Part Des Anges 29 Years Old

Glenugie 1977 part des anges
Distillery/Brand: Glenugie | Region: Highland | ABV: 49.6% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
This is part 3 of three Closed Distillery whiskies that I tasted recently. After tasting the 1979 Glen Albyn and the 1977 Inverleven the third one in this lineup from Part Des Anges was this Glenugie.

Distilled in 1977 this single cask, cask strength is 29 years old. After almost three decades in a barrel it barely squeaked through being an actual whisky. Barely 50% ABV at the time of bottling. Another few years and the ABV would have definitely dropped below 40%

Established in 1831 Glenugie was quite a prolific little single malt distillery and in the late thirties even managed a total overhaul to it’s equipment with oil replacing the coal fires used to operate the stills.

Silent during World War I it resumed distilling soon after but 1983 saw it (and a dozen other distilleries) being mothballed due to extremely high competition and a drop in global demand for single malts.

The distillery has since been demolished.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a cask strength of 49.6%

Nose: Chocolate. Honey. Toffee. Tobacco. Coffee. Oak. Seems like there’s some old school sherry involved here. But given that it’s a single cask may seem unlikely. Though there’s every possibility this may have been re-racked earlier on in it’s maturation. Let it breathe and it mellows out. Lemon. Rock salt. Cherries. Sherry.

Palate: Dark honey. Sherry. Chocolate. Coffee beans. Mint. Lack of literature on this particular expression leaves a lot of room open for interpretation. I’m guessing some Oloroso influence early on in life and then a re-rack into second-fill bourbons. I could be wrong or dead right!

Finish: Oak. Eucalyptus.

I’d say this is another fine whisky from Part Des Anges. The general consensus, when we tasted the three that night, was that all were at par with each other and generally of a high standard.

What was truly amazing was how all three morphed into completely different animals the longer you spent with them.

This will need your undivided attention.

Rating: 89

Balvenie 15 Years Single Barrel

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.8% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 20 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84

Review
Early on in my career as a whisky enthusiast I made the wise decision of picking up a bottle of the Balvenie 21 year old Portwood and the 17 year old Sherry Oak.

What an amazing stroke of luck on both bottles because back then I didn’t know my peat from my tun. Luckily for me I ran into a well informed sales person who decided to hit me with these two. I have been a fan ever since.

I think they have a solid range which covers a nice spectrum of flavors. The 12 Double Wood and the 12 Triple Cask are nice for easy drinking. As are the 14 Golden Cask and the Caribbean Rum Cask. The 17 has both a Sherry Oak and Peated Cask version which I find very interesting. Then there’s the gorgeous 21 year old Portwood.

This is without mentioning the cult classic Tun 1401 and the new Tun 1509. And also a smattering of travel retail exclusives that keep popping up frequently.

One of the newer releases from this Speyside standard is the single cask 15 year old matured exclusively in European Sherry. I notice they don’t say cask but choose to use barrel instead. Don’t know why.

My sample is from bottle #84 from cask 610 and served at an alcohol strength of 47.8%

Nose: Sour tamarind. Really sour. Rum. Bananas. Tobacco. Sweet cigar leaf. Toffee. Butterscotch. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Chocolate. Dry fruits. Nuts. Dried raisins. Prunes. Cold cuts. Stale oak. I don’t the like the nose. It’s far too sour for me. The oak seems stale too. A case of Oloroso overpower.

Palate: Surprisingly better than the nose. Chocolate. Black pepper. Oloroso sherry. Dry fruits. Cinnamon. Fudge cake. Tobacco leaf. Dark toffee. The palate works better for me. Not so sour as I was expecting. Quite thick and syrupy.

Finish: Licorice. Oak. Chocolate. Brownies. Lingers.

This is, in my opinion, not up to Balvenie’s usual high standards. There might be other casks that have fared better but this one doesn’t really cut it for me. Especially the nose.

Rating: 84

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask #537

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Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
I read about Sullivan Cove’s award winning single cask whisky only quite recently after it won some of the top accolades at the World Whisky Awards this year.

I don’t really care much for awards, mind you, but this one truly deserved all the praise it was getting. It was cask #525 which was responsible for taking the whisky world by storm.

I was lucky enough to sample that and was suitably impressed. OK extremely impressed. Here’s a link to that review if you don’t believe me.

Now I was quite curious to see how the other casks would play out. After a bit of hunting I managed to get my hands on Cask 537.

While quite competent it does not hold a candle to the award-winning Cask 525 which, in my opinion, is asking for a lot. And it is precisely the reason why whisky fascinates me so much. The same spirit matured in exactly the same way can yield such contrasting results.

Nose: Clove. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Red plums. Lots of berries. Black peppers. Mocha. Caramel Marchiato. Red grapes. Overwhelming red apple. Sandalwood. It’s a nice unusual offering with the French Oak imparting a lot of spices.

Palate: Not a lot on offer here. Oak. Apples. Brown dates. Chocolate mocha. Cinnamon. And did I mention oak? Doesn’t deliver the same level balance and intensity as 525.

Finish: Medium. Cinnamon. Oak.

While this sample may not have lived up to it’s brothers’ stellar reputation I respect the art of the single cask process. Spirit the way it’s supposed to be.

Rating: 87

Sullivans Cove French Oak

Sullivans Cove French Oak
Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 24 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 97

Review
Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on in Tasmania?

I can swear the whisky distillers Down Under have made a pact with the Devil. In exchange for their souls, and the souls of their loved ones, they are being given magical powers to create the most delicious whisky ever made.

I thought after tasting the Overeem Port Matured Cask Strength, another Australian Devil spawn, I would not taste a better whisky this year.

I am so elated to be wrong.

Winner of the World Whisky Awards 2014 this spirit is any where between 11 to 13 years old. Matured in French Oak Port casks my particular sample is one of 516 bottles to emerge from winning cask No. 525.

Founded in 1995 in, you guessed it, Sullivans Cove this distillery is now home to one of my favorite whiskies.

Nose: Dark chocolate. Black peppers with a touch of cinnamon. Scented tobacco. Warm hazelnut toffee covered in praline sauce. Dark fig jam and natural caramel. Very high quality leather. This is such a beautifully intense nose. It’s like nosing a 60% whisky only to realize it’s not even 48%.

Palate: Crisp maple syrup. Black pepper. Dark jam. Mild tobacco leaf. Roasted nuts and dry figs. Dark raisins covered in chocolate. The creamy, perfectly balanced delivery will make you salivate. While the whisky’s in your mouth.

Finish: Gloriously long with a mocha caramel swirl.

Truly one of the great whiskies of the year and, for once, I whole heartedly agree with the truckload of accolades this wee dram has won.

I am so moving to Tasmania….

Rating: 97

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

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

Glenlivet Mackillop’s Choice Single Cask 1990

MackillopsChoice Glenlivet

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

Amrut Single Cask #3437 (Bourbon Cask)

Amrut bourbon

Distillery/Brand: Amrut
Region: India
ABV: 62.8%
Colour: Young Sauternes

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

Review
I was fortunate to host Mr Ashok Chokalingam at an Amrut tasting in Dubai and he was kind enough to bring with him no less than three single cask expressions – recent releases from Amrut. One of them was a cask strength ex-Bourbon expression served up at a glorious 62.8% ABV.

What an absolute gem!

Nose: Multi-layered and highly complex. Butterscotch, dark toffee and apples are brushed with aromatic tobacco leaves. Let it breathe and out comes through a mound of vanilla chocolate covered in coconut. Exactly like a Bounty chocolate bar!

Palate: The unrelenting palate is dark pepper spicy with chocolate fudge and orange with a healthy grating of ginger. Adding a drop of spring water allows you to mull it on your tongue for longer.

Finish: The long cinnamon and dark chocolate finish gets a touch nutty with some water.

It’s easy for distilleries to hide behind gimmicky maturations but this expression puts its’ money where its’ mouth is.

Rating: 92

Amrut Single Cask #2699 (PX Sherry Cask)

Amrut sherry

Distillery/Brand: Amrut
Region: India
ABV: 62.8%
Colour: Deep Gold

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

Review
At a recent Amrut tasting which I hosted for my good friend Mr Ashok Chokalingam we were treated to three (as yet un-released) single cask expressions that the distillery had decided to put out. Of the three one of them was PX Sherry matured spirit served at a no-nonsense 62.8% ABV.

Nose: Big and fruity with a lot of clove followed by a tumble of dark autumn fruits. Reminded me of dark currant jam on brown bread.

Palate: Intense chocolate, cinnamon with toffee dusted with dark coffee powder. A few drops of water allows the flavors to mellow out and be enjoyed for longer. Very creamy mouthfeel.

Finish: The long woody cinnamon finish makes you sit down for a while and keep taking deep breaths.

This series of single cask releases is going to go a long way!

Rating: 90