About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

KARUIZAWA 1981 VINTAGE SINGLE CASK - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

Again, let's make some whisky investors happy and drink a whisky form a closed cult distillery.

This is certainly a mixed feeling drinking stuff like this, 'cause the prices go up on the remaining bottles - let's just hope most of them are in the hands of drinking collectors and not just investors... Not going to get into this subject any further at this time, 'cause it can really fuel some whisky fires.

Just remember, boys & girls - whisky is made for drinking, not investing!

Karuizawa 1981 (b. 25.05.2007) 26yo cask#103, Distillery bottling

Colour is amber

Nose:
Whisky soaked BBQ wood chips, grilled banana, burning foliage, lots of cloves and nutmeg, tea, vanilla pods, freshly squeezed olive oil, allspice, quite tannic as well

Taste:
Smokes oranges and sherry, very 'dunnage' earthy notes, grilled vegetables, cardboard/newspaper, soy sauce saltiness, more banana and with something vinous popping up once in a while. Dried fruits, oily and tarry on the back of the mouth and on the finish, along with some oak spices.

This one is all over the place, IMO, but still maintains a certain balance and making it just short of a 9x-mark

89/100!

Friday, 27 September 2013

KARUIZAWA 1986 VINTAGE SINGLE CASK - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

I was about to review another Karuizawa bottling, but a tasting of all 8 (so far) batches of the very, very delicious Balvenie Tun 1401s sorta got in the way ;-) The novelty and the sheer quality of the tasting was just so high that I had to post it shortly after the event.

This particular 1986 bottling of Karuizawa is not much older than the previous one reviewed, so maybe they're similar in style? or maybe not since they're both single cask bottlings.

Single cask bottlings is actually one of the many delights of the whisky world that I really appreciate... Why? Because it gives the you a chance to taste spirit from the same distillery, sometimes even distilled on the same day, but matured in 2 or more different cask types.

This is something you almost only see in bottlings from independent bottlers... and sometimes you maybe have to span more than one bottler to get spirit distilled on the same date and/or bottled closed together... and then cask types maybe be the same as they're often sold in large batches from the distillers, that... But sometimes you're lucky that a batch is filled into different style casks and they're great fun to compare.

Anyway, this is not the case with this Karuizawa and the above is only to highlight some of what I feel is fun about whisky.

On to the review now:

Karuizawa 1986 Vintage (b. 12.02.2008) 60,7%, sherry hogshead#7387, Distillery bottling

Colour is amber

Nose:
Just after the pour I get a distinct whiff of urinal 'mints' but this goes away after a very short time (thank the whisky gods!). Its replaced by vanilla oak, ginger, hint of mild cheese and a little spent fireworks and wood burning ash - fireplace style. Some fresh outdoors notes as well, wet forest - all covered in sweetness.

Taste:
Musty, American oak cask sherry style, which is very likely since this is a hoggie, sandalwood, mushroom, herbal notes, sage and fennel, ginger, some orange and a slight spicy edge to round things off. Not really any spent fireworks/sulphury notes carried over from the nose that I can detect - or its just so light is gets buried under the other notes.

Pretty nice dram, although I liked the style of the Whisky Live bottling just a little better...

89/100!

Monday, 23 September 2013

TASTING BALVENIE TUN 1401 BATCH 1 - 8

This has never been done before...

A tasting with all the currently released 8 batches of Balvenie TUN 1401s.
Until now - September 21st 2013 in Aarhus, Denmark.

It all started out with the Danish Balvenie anorak Peter Lading playing with the thought of tasting a few of the batches head-to-head but it soon evolved into all batches except batch 1... and after consulting a couple of fellow anoraks, a decision to include the very exclusive, and now very expensive, batch 1 was taken.


Stylish TUN 1401 shot by Peter Lading
So I'll start by thanking Peter Lading, Benny Uldall and the organisational elf Al Jones for this amazing opportunity to try all 8 batches. To top things off, Balvenie's Global Brand Ambassador Sam Simmons had agreed to fly in from London to host the tasting as well.

So whats the story behind these bottlings to begin with... and why is it called TUN 1401?

Sam Simmons © The Malt Desk
The TUN 1401-series was originally done as a malt blending job by the Balvenie Master Blender David Stewart to help the distillery to use maturing single casks that may not usually fit the normal Balvenie character or to allow the use of casks that do have the Balvenie character but have gone underproof (less than 40% abv).

TUN 1401 is the 2000 liter vessel in which this series undergoes its marrying of spirit - usually 3-4 months as with all other Balvenie as well. This allows for the whisky settle and interact with each other before finally being bottled.

So is this it? 8 batches and we're done? No, Sir! More are to come... Batch 9 is on its way to the stores shortly and Batch 10 will soon be marrying in the tun.

Balvenie was surprised as to the popularity of these bottlings and will, to try and satisfy demand in the future, see if its possible to style of these bottling, but doing them with 70's-90's vintages and in larger batches, maybe adding in some 60's and 80's underproof casks.

...but down to the whisky... I only too a few notes on each one, as this IMO was very much about enjoying this rare opportunity, but I'll try relay my experience as best I can and of course, tell you about my favourite(s).

Warm up dram:

The Balvenie Portwood 1989 40%

  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 48,1% - Batch 1, Distillery only, 336 bottles:
A vatting of 6 casks - 4 American oak cask and 2 European oak sherry casks

Orange, honey, old mellow oak, barley juice, vanilla just lovely and incredibly well balanced

  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 50,6% - Batch 2, 2226 bottles (Europe, Asia & South Africa):
A vatting of 10 casks - 7 American oak casks and 3 European oak sherry casks

Alot more sherry influence, varnish notes, orange chocolate, nutmeg, deeper and more spicy, nutty and dried fruit, very drying

  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 50,3% - Batch 3, 1800 bottles (US only):
A vatting of 10 casks - 7 American oak casks and 3 European oak sherry casks

Carries some of the notes of batch 1, but with just a little more sherry, strong cinnamon, nutmeg - very oak spicy but never going over the top - delicious!

  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 50,4% - Batch 4, 2500 bottles (Travel Retail):
A vatting of 10 casks - 7 American oak casks and 3 European oak sherry casks

Lighter and initially less expressive, getting massively honeyed and vanilla'ed, along with some lemony notes - good, but not the best so far...



The Balvenie TUN 1401, batches 1-4, September 21st 2013 © The Malt Desk
 
  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 50,1% - Batch 5, 2862 bottles (Europe only)
A vatting of 9 casks - 5 American oak casks and 4 European oak sherry casks
 
Incredible sherry mellow, sherry style as clean as they come, IMO, this could be any old sherried Speyside whisky and it certainly tastes like something I've tried before. Very good though, no doubt about that - just not very distinct!
  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 49,8% - Batch 6, 2500 bottles (US only)
A vatting of 9 casks - 7 American oak casks and 2 European oak sherry casks
 
Orange peel, vanilla, honey, ginger and nutmeg, caramel, oak spices - lots of wood in this one
  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 49,2% - Batch 7 (Travel retail)
A vatting of 9 casks - 7 American oak casks and 2 European oak sherry casks
 
Spicy European oak notes in this one despite it only being 2 cask in this vatting. Dried fruits, cinnamon, a little clove, chocolate, coffee, sweet wood sap (resinous)
  • The Balvenie TUN 1401 50,2% - Batch 8 2700 bottles (UK only)
A vatting of 12 casks - 9 American oak casks and 3 European oak sherry casks
 
Again lovely clean sherry and honey, spicy edge, floral hints, almost Highland Park style sherry here, wood polish and fruit.  Orange peel too as in batch 6 along with cinnamon and creamy toffee - great stuff!
  

The Balvenie TUN 1401, batches 5-8, September 21st 2013 © The Malt Desk

 
What a lineup! But we weren't done yet - 3 cask samples were yet to come :-O
 
  • 1992 cask#4380 53,4%
Heavy sherry style Balvenie, seems not to deliver more than some heavy sherry notes at this point, but my tastebuds are getting pretty tired by now...
 
  • 1973 cask#8556 47,2%
Pleasant style older whisky, very much on the freshly baked Danish spice cake - very nice!
 
  • 1964 cask#10379 33,2% (underproof)
A sample brought along to show how underproof whisky can be and this also carried a style of what I'd call oriental spices and something I'd certainly not associate with The Balvenie - fun to try!

Balvenie Cask Samples, 1992, 1973 and 1964, September 21st 2013 © The Malt Desk

Finally, a conclusion to sensory overload afternoon of September 21st 2013...
 
I'll not be scoring these whiskies, but I will tell you that this is all very, very good whisky!!
 
Instead, I'll just tell you which batches I had 1, 2 and 3...
  1. Batch 1
  2. batch 3
  3. batch 8
What a privilege it was to participate - Thanks again to Peter, Benny, Al and Sam Simmons!
 
(oh, if only all NAS whisky tasted like this) ;-)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

KARUIZAWA 1990 FOR WHISKY LIVE JAPAN - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

I'll start by saying congratulations to all Karuizawa owners out there. Your bottles have just gone up in value as 3 more bottles are gone, incl this one for Whisky Live Japan, which I'll be reviewing below... Also 2 more to come over the next days, so stay tuned! ;-)

But back to the whisky... I could be wrong, but this is what struck me after tasting 3 more Karuizawas recently. I think that when Karuizawas reaches around 20yo it takes on a certain more exotic style. I had a couple of sips of a 12yo at a private function and didn't get the same notes. Maybe its just me, but I get lots of more 'open street food market'-notes, more hardwood, fern, musty and oily barley notes. Oak influence for sure and I'm sure also the climate in Japan has contributed to this.

When coming to the other 2 Karuizawas, I also think this time, I've stumbled over something equally special as well as good.

Karuizawa 1990/2009 19yo 60%, sherry butt#6446, Distillery bottling for Whisky Live Japan 10th Anniversary

Colour is mahogany

Nose:
Dark fruits, alcohol, hardwood, tea, mint, fresh leaves. Oranges and chocolate and a bit of fresh roasted coffee beans comes through as well when some water is added

Taste:
Very powerful mouthfeel - even with water. Oily, clean lovely sherry, heavy on the malt, raisin, sukat, warm apple and oranges, ginger and cut pepper fruits, fresh tobacco leaves, mushrooms and slight hint of peat.

This tastes like something you can also find in a Scottish malt but I just adore this sherry style. Excellent stuff, nonetheless!

90/100!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

'FROM THE BARREL' - NIKKA

Moving from 3 blended malts - Taketsuru - on to another product from the gentlemen at Nikka Whisky. Again, as with the Taketsurus, we're dealing with whisky from Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries, but this time grain whisky has also been added.

As to the origins of the grain whisky, it most likely coming from Miyagikyo distillery as well, since some of their production equipment is also configured to make grain whisky. This is, though, just my qualified guess... Why, you ask? Well, it's most likely not bought from other Japanese distillers, since its not a part of Japanese culture/tradition to do business with their competitors... therefore, I'm guess it's either Miyagikyo grain or grain whisky bought in from i.e. Scotland.

Another trait of this blend is that its gone through a period of 'marrying', which means its not just blended and then bottled - 'Marrying' means it has been recasked for a period of time to allow for the malt and grain whisky to interact with each other, providing a more harmonious product.

Oh, and then its bottle at a very nice 51,4% alcohol - big thumbs up for that!!

Now the big question is... is it really more harmonious?

'From the Barrel' blended whisky, 51,4%, batch 02B62A, 50cl bottle, Nikka

Colour is light mahogany

Nose:
Hints of ale and peat, vanilla, light oak/sawdust, some fruit, tobacco, moss and mere hints of burning incense

Taste:
Dark fruits sherry style, spices - cloves and nutmeg, good malty edge suggesting a high malt content. Mulled fruit, mild honey and some vegetative notes and a clear burst of peat. The grain in this is not really showing and I'm betting this whisky could easily fool a lot of people into believing its a malt.

Also the 51,4% alcohol does quite a lot for this whisky, making sure its delivery is powerful enough to impress from the first sip, yet it also manages to be not be overpowering in its delivery of the underlying notes.... and the reason for that is probably because of mellow grain whisky influence. This is high quality stuff!! and at a decent price too...

Please note that it only comes in a 50cl bottle and that this whisky comes in marked batches...
The batch number is located in the lower right corner of the front label on the bottle.

87/100!

Note 05.10.2013: After the bottle have been open for about 1 month now, more grain notes are starting to come through, making the whole experience quite sweet and less complex, the peated notes are gone too. This is making me drop my score from 87 to 83... but still good whisky, no doubt about that!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

PLANS FOR A 9TH DISTILLERY ON ISLAY

Rumors of plans to build a 9th distillery on Islay has emerged. The name should be Gartbreck.

You can read more here

Source: Whisky Advocate Blog

Friday, 13 September 2013

TAKETSURU 21YO BLENDED MALT - NIKKA

Personal has had me tied up this week, so I've been delaying the review of the 21yo Taketsure for a bit, so here we go:

Taketsuru 21yo, 43%, Blended Malt, Nikka

Colour is deep amber

Nose:
Clearly older content malt (Good observation as the label says 21yo, Claus). I find some notes of what seems to be even older malt in there, IMO... or maybe its just a result of those hot summers, cold winter maturation conditions they have in Japan. Dried fruits accompany some tropical fruits juice/citrus freshness, banana, exotic wood, floral, heavy malt, honey, resin and hint of leather

Taste:
Caramel, orange, honey, hint of peat, hardwood, pipe tobacco and a little earthy/musty too.
Hint of tea and chocolate and a spicy edge,mainly nutmeg and allspice. Very malty and this really shows on the finish as its just sits there for quite a while.

A very well balanced whisky and quite a step up from the 17yo, IMO

86/100!

Monday, 9 September 2013

TAKETSURU 17YO BLENDED MALT - NIKKA

Not much more to say about the Taketsuru blended malt fra Nikka, so I'll skip right to the review of the 17yo version, which has a slightly higher alc% of 43% as opposed to the 40% of the 12yo.

Taketsuru 17yo, 43%, Blended Malt, Nikka

Colour is amber

Nose:
Woodshavings, some fruit, vanilla, dark sugar, cigarbox, more sherry influence here than in the 12yo version, but also more oak.

Taste:
Its funny how much more that 3% alcohol shows, especially on the initial arrival here...
The arrival confirms my suspicion on a higher sherry cask content and all in all, the malt is noticeably heavier here than in the 12yo.

It also carries over some oranges and dried fruits as well as some ginger, but as on the nose, the oak is noticeably stronger in this one, finishing it off with a tannic edge.

Good dram if you don't mind a slight oaky edge without it being offensive.

82/100!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

NEW HIGHLAND PARKS FOR TRAVEL RETAIL AUTUMN 2013

As mentioned earlier on this blog, Highland Park distillery will expand their travel retail 'Warrior'-series this autumn. This will add the expressions 'Sigurd' 'Ragnvald' and 'Thorfinn' to their range.

Prices have taken a heft bump upwards, as have the packaging - see below (official notes):


Highland Park 'Sigurd' 43% - Price €150

Colour:
Autumnal gold, clear and bright

Nose:
Fresh hay bales, mango, golden syrup sponge, caramelised pineapple and a fragrant smokiness

Taste:
Sweet lemon peel, spicy cinnamon bark, oaky woodiness and hint of lavender
Finish:
Spicy smokiness with lingering dusty wood notes

Highland Park 'Ragnvald' 44,6% - Price €400

Colour:
Medium russet, clear and bright

Nose:
Ripe damsons, oriental spices, candied peel and night scented stock

Taste:
Well-balanced smoke and sweet, grated nutmeg, vanilla pods and high cocoa chocolate

Finish:
Complex lingering gingery spiciness and smoke





Highland Park 'Thorfinn' 45,1% - Price €1,000

Colour:
Dark russet, clear and bright

Nose:
Cedarwood, camphor, mango, coriander, spicy smokiness and vanilla pods

Taste:
Very complex, ginger root to the fore followed by smoked oak.

Finish:Complex lingering spiciness and smoke

The Thorfinn youtube video is for some reason hidden on youtube, but you can access it through this link... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9j6ZweEPL0

Official pictures by Highland Park

Saturday, 7 September 2013

TAKETSURU 12YO BLENDED MALT - NIKKA

The next line of reviews, 7 of them, will feature Japanese whiskies. 4 blended (vatted) malts and 3 single malts from cult distillery Karuizawa... but you'll have to check back regularly for reviews on those...

I'll be doing a small vertical of the Taketsuru blended (vatted) malts - aged 12, 17 and 21.
A 35yo version is also bottled, but I won't be reviewing that.

Masataki Taketsuru was the name of the Japanese gentleman that travelled to Scotland in the early 20th century to study at Glasgow University and learn the secrets of whisky making, first at at Longmorn in Speyside and then (the original) Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown.

He then returned home to Japan to start a distillery himself and the first one built was Yoichi on the north island Hokkaido, close to the city of Sapporo.

This series of blended malts were made in his honor...

Taketsuru 12yo, 40%, Blended Malt, Nikka

Colour is amber

Nose:
Some sherry as in dark fruits, overripe apple and vanilla and something herbal (tea?)

Taste:
Sherried edge again, hardwood, malt, natural caramel, peppery and cooked apple. The oak and caramel and finish is is a bit too bitter for me

Hmm... decent sipping whisky, but IMO the finish isn't all that great!

79/100!

Monday, 2 September 2013

GEORGE T. STAGG HAZMAT IV EDITION 2007 - BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY

George T. Stagg, the World's best bourbon... or that's at least what a certain whisky writer says, a writer that releases a publication with a religious title each year...

This whisky writer also tastes about 1500-2000 new whiskies each year along with doing distillery visits, tastings, writing and having a personal life along with travel, eating and sleeping... does that add up?? I don't think so... just not enough hours in a day, IMO.
Does he have other people nosing and tasting for him?? If he does it should account for the discrepancies found in the publication of his. I know quite few people has raised this issue here and there, but I've only seen a few air it on forums and blogs. Some Facebook groups on the other hand, has had a quite a few people question the validity as I do above, so I know I'm not the only one... and I thought, as this Gent rates this bourbon the World's best bourbon, I'd raise the issue again... 'Nuff about that for now.

The BTAC collection comes out every year and sometimes the abv% of the bottlings are above 70% abv, which means there has been some very hot summers involved during the maturation of the casks gone into those... so hot that the water evaporates before the alcohol does!! Something you sometime see in the Southern US...

The maturation has brought this bottling and a few other GTS bottlings above 70% abv, which classifies it as 'hazardous goods' and you can't bring bottles like that on e.g. a plane... it's simply not allowed since its highly flammable. Fun fact, yes... but remember that if you buy and plan to fly later!

On a final note I have to, again, mention the price on a bottle like this in Denmark... around 2700,- Dkr. or about €360/£300/$450, which is just crazy for a bourbon! Its taxed -of course- but that only about €20/£17/$25 of it, so the Danish importer should have a smack on his head for charging that kind of money for it, since its only about $100 in the US... and for slapping extras on it because someone names it the World's best Bourbon!

We've come to the final US whiskey review for now...

Wall at the main road entrance. Picture from Buffalo Trace Media Kit

George T. Stagg Hazmat Edition IV, 72,4% (2007), Buffalo Trace Distillery & Antique Collection

Colour is dark mahogany

Nose:
Oranges, cocoa, peppery, almonds (marzipan), ginger and cloves, toasted oak and cinnamon, solventy, cherries, floral and lots of vanilla

Taste:
Alcohol for sure, some citrus (oranges again), BBQ tomato glace, cinnamon, mint, clove corn and syrup, pine and polished wood. With time and water notes of peach and coconut comes through...

Another good, but no where exceptional whiskey IMO

82/100!


With that, it's time for a controversial conclusion!

Now I've revisited some bourbon & rye... and my conclusion?? Fun to try, yes, but I'm not gonna put much more effort into it. I'll try if offered, but other than that I'll not be spending my money on it as its not, IMO worth it!! This may sound harsh, but there's so much good malt out there, so why bother with a spirit that's proved inferior to malted barley, right?

Numerous reports has concluded that barley malt spirit is probably as complex a spirit as you can get, which is partially why you won't see me review much else on this blog. Some may call this narrow minded, but really - aren't some of you also just drinking other things, so you won't be branded as being narrow minded?? I try other stuff, yes, but I will always return to single malts... and luckily I have no trouble being branded a malt snob...

Guess there a reason why my blog is called 'The Malt Desk' ;-)