Sherry Sublime

or at least not always?

Heavily sherried whisky is incredibly popular nowadays, although it always had a significant share of fans. What particularly stands out are many young sherry bombs from multiple (mostly Speyside) distilleries that appear more like coke than whisky/coke mixtures do. “Look at that colour!” might also be the most used sentence in these circles. On the other side, most whisky enthusiasts know (or should know) that the available casks that previously contained sherry is by far not enough to feed the greedy whisky market (please read this for an excellent article by Ruben from whisky(and sherry)notes). This has lead to different types of sherry cask “preparations” using sherry concentrates, especially since the Scottish Whisky Authority (SWA) prohibited the use of . On the other side the use paxarete to season casks (more info on paxarete in this article from Michel van Meersbergen,  one of the MaltManiacs). 

Or read a further debate between whisky writer/connaisseur Angus MacRaild and Macallan’s creative director Ken Grier.

So far, I have not been very fond of this modern sherry maturation. For one, since the character of the distillery’s original spirit is more than often almost completely hidden behind the thick layers of sherry wood, resulting in many similarly tasting whiskies. Secondly, because the overpowering sherry destroys many beautiful subtleties that I adore so much. However, this might reflect modern times when many of us prefer a simpler profile that boldly numbs your senses, saving time by not having to spend a whole evening figuring out a complicated dram. But of course I do not want to judge too soon. Let’s give the floor to some recent, potentially sublime, sherry monsters.

"...and it was only a matter of time before some whisky merchant would discover how extraordinarily beneficial ageing whisky in these empty barrels would be"
The History of Sherry Casks (sherry.wine)

A Short Film by Daniel Florentino about the beautiful art of making sherry casks.

Photo from Whiskybase
Photo from Bunnahabhain
Photo from Whiskybase

Nose

Starting off with the youngster from Miltonduff that begins with raisins, varnished chestnut wood, dried apricots, all giving a clear Olorose sherry smell. The fruitiness is thick and rich, slightly dusty (like in old libraries) with a hint of strawberries. I would almost say that we are going into port-finish territories (which is not always a good sign). Water smoothens the whole but also makes it less complex.

Next on to the Bunnahabhain PX finish, which has been around for a while (and sold out) in the Netherlands, but has only recently been released in the UK. I find a pleasant start to the nose with a clear sense of sherry, sweetness of the PX against a backbone of Oloroso sherry spiciness. Aromatic honey, golden raisins, fresh figs, cranberry sauce, white chocolate, altogether a combination that is very much to my liking. The nose feels round, well composed and with a certain deepness, without being overly complex (not sure if I can follow myself now…). Butter on hot croissants, cappuccino, tiramisu. This brings on the sun in these still cold days! There is even a hint of liquorice. The nose reminds me of another Oloroso to PX re-casking, which was the Glenrothes, bottled by Wilson & Morgan. I found that one really excellent (reviewed here). I think this one is slightly sweeter. Otherwise, there hints of leather chairs and and old library, and the nose keep sevolving.

Finally, nosing the Glendronach from 1995 of which we have quite high expectations. A heavy fragrance fills the air with rum-soaked raisins, hints of inner bicycle tube and blackberry muffins overly-filled with blackberries. Clearly, we are in the territory of Pedro X., but it is not cloyingly sweet. There is a strong smell of all kinds of honey, accompanied by some floral notes (sweet) and a light sense of fresh fruitiness. Add to that subtle hints of caramel, jasmine tea, and chocolate brownies. It does not feel very old, in fact, younger than the 18-year-old Allardice that I recently tried. And what I like is that there is a sense of the distillery’s character, although it tries quite well to hide behind the sherry. More honey, fudge, short bread cookies (covered with honey). A fairly satisfying, though not overly complex, nose.

Taste

Again beginning with the Miltonduff which, as expected, proves to be a feisty one. Besides the alcohol overload, I can find mostly dry Oloroso notes. Water then. Better, but still not great. Bitter wood, cry cacoa powder, 100% pure chocolate, peppercorns. I find it pretty tannic, acidic, some balsamico and peppered raisins.

The palate of the Bunnahabhain PX finish brings a sweet opening on the tongue, which is side-kicked by modest spices. Figs, orange skin, overripe red apples, purple prunes, build up onto a long drying aftertaste containing multiple spices and herbs. There is dragon, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon and fennel. Lovely. Obviously, we find lots of typical sherry note (raisins, dried figs, chocolate cake), but also leather, lavender, and cranberry juice in the aftertaste. It would say the balance is utterly perfect. Again, the PX really supplements the influence of the (refill?) Oloroso. We do probably not taste too much of the distillery, we this time we don’t mind. We just enjoy it.

Again, we finally go for the highly regarded Glendronach. Can it beat the the excellent Bunnahabhain that we just tasted? Sweet, floral, and slightly drying are the first impressions. Gentle sweetness, accompanied by dusty libraries filled with old books and leather chairs, at least what I imagine these could taste like. I did not actually go licking my way into one of them, of course. Crackers with honey, accompanied by a strong peppermint tea. I must say that I was more a fan of the nose. Grapes, white and red, dried figs, and a hint of molasses and gunpowder. It gets slightly cloying after a while. The development is fair, the very drying finish with quite some tannins playing their role is less pleasant. The aftertaste brings roses, raisins, rosemary, red grape juice and rambling sherry and is satisfying long. I even get a clear hint of strawberries after a while.

Overall

One overall conclusion is that we did not come anywhere close to tasting something from the distillery character of these three producers. However, these would be perfect for sherry lovers. I, for one, am not particularly part of that ensemble, however, the composure of the Bunnahabhain and to a lesser extend the GlenDronach, did even charm me.Therefore, I could definitely recommend these two sherry monsters. The Miltonduff was much too much young sherry for my liking. Probably, one to try before you buy.

Big thanks to for sharing the samples!

Scores

these are my personal views, so do not take them too seriously… nothing beats tasting these for yourself •

Miltonduff 2006

Cask influence
85%
Peat/smoke
0%
Nose 85%
Taste 81%
Balance 78%
Depth 82%
Finish 80%
Score

Bunnahabhain 2003

Cask influence
80%
Peat/smoke
2%
Nose 87.5%
Taste 86.5%
Balance 87%
Depth 86.5%
Finish 86.5%
Score

GlenDronach 1995

Cask influence
70%
Peat/smoke
0%
Nose 86%
Taste 87%
Balance 86%
Depth 87%
Finish 86.5%
Score

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