Cheers to !
What will the new year bring us?
While the new year is dawning upon us, this is often the time to cast our expectations for the year ahead. So what can we expect in 2018? Well, I spare you my thoughts and will not go down that road. No kicking in open doors about rising prices, shrinking stock or new distilleries. This blog will, or at least try, to explore the world of whisky and other spirits with a positive and open mind. However, I do have some personal goals for exploration based on some wonderful experiences I came along in 2017, like discovering more of those wonderful malternatives (rums, armagnacs, cognac, brandy, calvados) that are out there with a very favourable price/quality ratio, finding more interesting bourbon and rye made by American craft distillers, and explore the whisky scene outside of Scotland. In addition, I would like to unravel the past of Scottish whisky making by tasting a series of yesteryear bottlings. But do not worry, there will also be lots and lots of new tasting notes from recent Scottish bottlings, more reports from tastings and festivals, and other background stories and personal opinions. It will be an exciting year, that’s for sure.
Albeit not very original, we’ll take off in 2018 with a few Scottish 18-year-old distillery bottlings that are still fairly priced. For distillery bottlings, 18 years is nowadays the limit for what is still affordable for a whisky lover with a reasonable budget (let’s say up to 100 euros), at least that is true for some distilleries. Other so-called premium brands have gone so far up that it becomes quite difficult to talk of a good quality/price ration anymore (IMHO). Anyway, let us consider these five Scottish grown-ups.
The Glenlivet 18 years
Probably one of the flagships from one of Scotland’s oldest and largest distilleries that is matured in First and Second Fill American Oak and ex-Sherry casks. The nose starts with a fruity, fresh sweetness containing nectarines, oranges, and lots of bananas. I get a lot of American oak notes with marmalade and orange skin. The fruity notes are nicely balanced, stay fresh and deliver a reasonable complexity. Adding some water brings a slighter more acidity. The palate also brings oranges, in particular freshly pressed orange juice and orange skin, along with fresh nectarines, less banana, and some lemon juice. I find this quite acidic at first, but it balances out with more sweetness. Adding water brings out more oranges makes it slightly drying. It is difficult to find many faults in there, although in some instances it is fairly acidic and misses some complexity. This is a friendly and easy style. So can I recommend it? Not entirely, since I believe there might better 18-year-olds available for a similar price.
Score: 83.8% (±€70)
More details here.
Tomatin 18 years
Described as the softer side of the Highlands, Tomatin has lately gained the attention of whisky enthusiasts by their attention in the selection of casks to mature their distillate. The nose appears fairly quiet at first, but giving it some time releases biscuits, sweet barley, fresh and dried apricots, honey and beer. It all has a very natural vibe to it. The sherry cask enters the mix with sweet cherries, dark chocolate cream, along with a hint of leather. The whole is round, but not boring, in fact in a modest way quite complex. Water makes it slightly softer, and the sherry influence goes more towards chocolate milk and dried figs, while there are also multigrain toast, barley, and honey. The palate proved a good blonde beer. You know those you can get from a quality small scale brewer. Then it evolves with more sherry influence containing cacao dust, cappuccino and dried figs. Water makes it slightly softer, but that doesn’t harm the complexity, in fact it brings out new sides with soft raisins, toast, sunflower seeds, a mix of different kinds of muesli, and tangerines. If you want a smooth easy-going, friendly older single malt, but do not want it to be boring or completely cask-driven. Well, this could be something for you. Very well composed, and I do agree that their cask selection and maturation was top-notch.
Score: 86.9% (±€65)
More details here.
Glendronach Allardice 18 years
Glendronach built up a respectable reputation the last decade with their sherry cask-matured releases, including their 18-year-old that is named after their founder. The sherry influence is clear from the start in the nose. There are a bowl filled with currants, a bar of 50% chocolate and some slightly over-baked cake crust. Time brings almond cake, a whiff of an old library, hot dried apricots, before it develops into liquorice, hints of dried black currants and dried cranberries, and some cranberry juice. The palate starts with raisin cake, followed by roasted hazelnuts, could also be pine nuts, black currant juice, and fresh walnuts. Each sip posseses a nutty finish, and there are dreads of dry Oloroso sherry throughout the palate with chocolate brownies and coffee. It becomes slightly to dry, very dry in fact, like putting a spoon of cacao powder and coffee powder in your mouth. I find it distinguished and balanced, and I actually prefer this to the 15-year-old and cask strength versions, both also very popular. It lacks the youthful vibrancy of the sherry cask influence, and that is exactly what I like so much. It feels much more integrated and distinguished, things I like to see in a whisky of this age.
Score: 86.6% (±€75)
More details here.
Bunnahabhain 18 years
Quite an odd distillery on Islay with its heavily sherry cask-matured non-peated range of whiskies. Directly, I find that this has something different, some character of its own. The nose is filled with lots of meat, salt, make that salted fried meat, and Chinese sweet-sour sauce next to some fried duck. After a while it becomes slightly dusty, damp, like walking into a dusty room filled with old books. There is also an old leather arm chair, and somebody left a pair of socks somewhere… along with cake crust, fig sauce, and lots of freshly baked gingerbread. The palate begins rather dry, but then becomes surprisingly fruity with black berries, raspberries, both in a well-reduced sauce. There is obvious salt, a lot, and it is slightly medicinal with some see weed. No smoke detectable, neither is there any peat present. There are some vague vegetal notes, before it becomes rather bitter and spicy, with lots of ginger, peppered salty fried duck, a few pieces of bitter chocolate, and strong coffee. The finish is particularly spicy. I already mentioned, this is very characterful. It is not one of those standard sherry matured whiskies full of raisins, Christmas cake and other sherry-associated features, and I must say I admire it for it.
Score: 86.7% (±€100)
More details here.
The 10-year-old version of Talisker has so far been one of my favourite whiskies, so I was eager to try this matured version. The nose brings whispering smoke, brine and something sweet, which after some time start to develop into a light breeze carrying many subtle smells, such as smoked raisins, salty crackers with honey, freshly caught shrimps with a hint of garlic, walnuts, fudge, natural vanilla, leather and some freshly painted wood. Add to that some wet wood, wet coats, lobster, salted fish, grilled salmon, a smouldering fire and a fruit salad of raisins, grapefruit and oranges. The palate brings a gentle mix of smoke, salt, sweetness and spices. White peppercorns on salty crackers, a pinch of nutmeg, smoked raisins, smoked seaweed, walnuts, grilled crab. I also find a burlap sack, wet wood, smoked grasses, wet paper, mud, along with bonfire smoke. I find this absolutely fine. It doesn’t have the zingy peppery smoke of the 10-year-old, in stead it is a gentle middle aged whisky that knowns its ways to please you senses. Great balance, profound complexity and a great pleasure to drink.
More details here.
My final conclusion is that I have tasted some very good and reasonably affordable 18-year-old distillery bottlings. The Talisker was my clear winner, but that is just my personal opinion, although the Tomatin, Glendronach and Bunnahabhain are also very well recommended to add to your collection.