About Carissa Hickling

Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, has called India home since 2003, working in Asia Pacific and traveling all over! She's also a bit of a 'Whisky Lady' too!

Wolfburn Morven 46% vs Aurora 46%

Wolfburn is a newer distillery from the Highlands…

So the story goes, once upon a time there was a Wolfburn distillery based in Thurso, Caithness that was founded in 1821 by William Smith that time produced approximately 1,25,000 litres a year… yet ceased operations sometime in the 1850s. Though the old distillery is long gone, the folks who founded Wolfburn 2.0 in 2013 based it in a similar location to take advantage of the water from the Wolf Burn.

Our host was captured by the quality and character of its new make spirit and has been a believer in the distillery ever since.

And what did we think?

Wolfburn Morven 46%

  • Nose – Hard boiled sweet, bubble gum, cherry, pure sure with red dye, white grape, honeyed ham
  • Palate – Peat, very sweet, a bit of spice, sweetened condensed milk
  • Finish – Bitter sweet
  • Water – No temptation to add

Truth be told, we found it almost too sweet… for me it almost reminded me of being matured in a cognac cask like Brenne… The peat has a light touch… a mere 10 ppm.

While there are no official tasting notes on the Wolfburn website, the chaps over at  Master of Malt have something to say….

A late 2017 addition to Wolfburn’s core range, Morven is a lightly peated single malt from the northernmost distillery in mainland Scotland. This expression rounds out the distillery’s range well (which also features their signature Northland Single Malt and the handsomely Sherried Aurora Single Malt) and shows that the relatively new distillery has plenty to offer already.

  • Nose: Fresh notes of juicy apple and white grape are deliciously juxtaposed with earthy, mineral-y peat.
  • Palate: Nutty malt pairs well with soft smoke, joined by peppered oak and caramelised fruit developing later on.
  • Finish: Sweet hints of shortbread and ginger stick around on the finish.

Just to contrast we decided to try the Wolfburn Aurora side by side…

Photo: Wolfburn

Wolfburn Aurora 46%

  • Nose – Sweet, yoghurt, capsule, over-ripe pineapple, boiled sweets
  • Palate – Sweet spice, could there be some light smoke too?
  • Finish – Liquorice
  • Water – Again, no temptation to add….

This was much more our preferred style… still sweet but in moderation with enough other elements to hint at a character worth waiting to see its future avatars.

And what do the folks at Wolfburn have to say?

MELLOW AND GOLDEN
This beautiful sherried whisky is made from spirit laid down in a combination of American oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Benefitting from long fermentation and slow, gentle distillation, the spirit is laid down on site in our purpose-built warehouses. At the end of the maturation process the casks are brought together to create an exceptionally smooth and perfectly balanced dram.

We had to wonder, where is the light peat from?  Our host shared that while the malt is unpeated, it is matured in an ex-Islay cask for a “kiss of peat”… making for just a hint not more.

For those curious, Wolfburn is available in India… check out The Vault Fine Spirits or Mumbai airport duty free.

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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GlenDronach 21 year (1993/2014) 58.1%

Glendronach is known for its rich deep sherry character. Over the years we have enjoyed many a marvellous malt from this distillery.

So in our relaxed evening exploring samples we were delighted to have a GlenDronach in the mix… well-timed after just having the Dutch Zuidam’s Millstone sherry dram.

And what did we think?

GlenDronach 21 year (1.1993/9.2014) Olorosso Sherry No 35 58.1%, Official Bottling for Beija-Flor and Silver Seal, bottle 523 of 605

  • Nose – Sheeeerrrryy!! Rich, wet prunes, gigs, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark chocolate, spice, wine soaked Christmas cake
  • Palate – Full, rich, intense, dark chocolate and tobacco, such full on sherry, quite dry and astringent, betel nut, red wine tannins, with pepper that morphs into chilli chocolate
  • Finish – Fabulous finish, long warm spice, stays and stays
  • Water – Makes it super spicy, not needed

One of those whiskies which can go on and on and on… where a little goes a very long way. However not one you could have much of… however fabulous for that moment.

Here is the point we had to admit, as marvellous as the Zuidam Millstone dram was, GlenDronach is in a different class completely.

While this was an official bottling, there are no notes available… It was last found auctioned for £240 at Whisky Auctioneer.

Some other fine GlenDronach drams:

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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Zuidam Millstone Sherry 55.5%

This was my 1st taste of Zuidam’s Millstone Whiskies… This Dutch distillery is known for its uncompromising quality.

Malt Maniac 2016 Awards

Zuidam Millstone (11.9.1998/5.8.2016) Odoroso Sherry Cask #2530 55.5% OB 44 of 203 bottles

  • Nose – Sharp juicy fruits, plum wine, dash of sweet spices with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, back to a burst of red fruits, sultanas, honey water then prunes, a shifting spice from black pepper to cayenne, then back to fruity boiled sweets or candied orange
  • Palate – Wow! Now we are talking a serious dram. Om biscuits with that distinctive caraway, perhaps a bit of kalonji too. Clear stamp of sherry with some age behind it too…
  • Finish – Gorgeous finish
  • Water – No interest in adding…

An unmistakable Christmas dram. Stunning.

While this was an official bottling, there are no notes on the Zuidam website…  however this dram won Malt Maniac’s 2016 “Thumbs Up” award so clearly someone agrees this is a mighty fine dram!

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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Tullibardine 228 Burgundy 43%

I will admit I’ve had very limited experience with Tullibardine…. My one passing sample was a 20 year old at a Winnipeg whisky bar that I didn’t even finish.

The Burgundy is part of this Highland distillery’s wood finish series with Sauternes, Burgundy and Sherry finish using the number of  litres to label the expression.

Official distillery photo

Tullibardine Burgundy 43%

  • Nose – Crisp with a piquant quality, very fruity – lots of white fruits like pear, apple then settled into a pronounced green melon like a honey dew melon, green toffee, honey
  • Palate – Light spice, quite direct
  • Finish – Spice finish
  • Water – Capers… bitter… then… believe it or not lifebuoy soap

We puzzled over the Burgundy dimension… “Where is the Burgundy” It had none of the colour or red fruit quality we tend to associate with a Burgundy finish…

To be honest, it wasn’t a “keeper” for any of us.

And what do the folks over at Tullibardine have to say about their 228 Burgundy whisky?

THE AUBURN HUE OF THIS WHISKY COMES DIRECTLY FROM ITS TIME SPENT IN THE 228 LITRE BARRIQUES THAT PREVIOUSLY HELD PINOT NOIR FROM CHATEAU DE CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET.

  • THE NOSE OF THE 228 FEATURES RED CHERRIES AND VANILLA WITH HINTS OF CHOCOLATE AND TURKISH DELIGHT.
  • ON THE PALATE, THERE IS A REAL HINT OF RED SUMMER FRUIT, MORE CHOCOLATE AND A SWEET SPICE NOTE ON THE FINISH.

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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Bunnahabhain 24 year (1990) 51%

Bunnahabhain is one of those distilleries that is defined by more of what it is NOT than what it is… Kinda like how Canada describes itself by its differences from the United States.

The most obvious is that while an Islay distillery…. it generally does not peat its drams.

When I was first introduced to Bunnahabhain it was described by my friend (who is a fan) as “What women at the pub drink.” Nothing complex or classy, just straight forward and a bit sassy…. having the Islay oomph without the peat clobber.

So what would be its 90 sec “elevator pitch” description? And would this sampling help us answer the question….

Photo – WhiskyFun

Bunnahabhain 24 year (1990) “Blosson” Hogshead cask #7398 51% Hot Malt Taiwan (270 bottles)

  • Nose – It started off by playing “hard to get” then revealed a ladies perfume with a sharpness too, a waft of tropical fruits, then men’s cheap cologne
  • Palate – Hot spice, a sour funky almost rubber quality, a bit of mineral rocks? A seriously solid dram… as it settled had a hint of chocolate
  • Finish – Long and strong
  • Water – Oh please! We found a few drops really opened it up so much… morphing from being in the “I’m not entirely  sure about this one” to a rather beautiful dram

While it is unpeated… that slight rubber or plastic element on the palate could also be describe as almost smokey. Certainly  a conversation Bunnahabhain… where there is more than meets the initial sniff!

This is one of those rare drams that if you don’t happen to be a Malt Maniac are unlikely to encounter… even trying to track down an image was challenging until I went to Serge’s marvellous encyclopaedia of whiskies – WhiskyFun!

So would this experience give us the answer to the “distillery character”? Probably not. But was good to try!

Other Bunnahabhain tasting experiences?

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Sinful Samples – Bunnahabhan, Tullibardine, Millstone, Glendronach, Wolfburn

Tis the season to be jolly… and all that jazz! Yet before all the mad social rounds of the season kicked off, we snuck in a completely chilled out informal sampling of samples…

Call it a “Pajama Drams” night, it had no formality just a few folks, more than a few samples to put side by side to provoke some interesting tasting experiences…

What did we try?

It may seem like a prodigious amount for one sitting but we were a disciplined lot… some sniffing, swishing and spitting went on plus a swallows and discarding the balance. Sacralige to some but sensible for us.

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Sherry Element – Kilkerran 10 year WIP #6 Sherry Wood 46%

Last in our Sherry Elements evening was a Kilkerran from Campbeltown.  As it was our original club, we tasted strictly blind… leaving the reveal until all three whiskies were sampled.

Kilkerran 10 year “Work in Progress” Batch #6 Sherry Wood 46%

  • Nose – Peat,  medicinal capsule, stern, burnt wood, forest, a coal steam engine, then started to shift into lemon, licorice, coca cola, BBQ Sauce yet still some of that camphor peeping back, then shifted to candy floss super sweetness, what was so terrific was the way it kept evolving, even revealing brine
  • Palate – Sweet, thin, honey water, then as we kept sipping, it took on more character, yet very sweet – almost too sweet… then with more time the sweetness began to drop and it became much more balanced
  • Finish – After taste had peat, bitter and very long… then just as the nose… began to evolve and over time had a marvellous balance of sweet sherry and nuts
  • Water? Must admit none of us were tempted…

This time, our speculation on colour was that it seemed natural. We also thought it had a lower strength alcohol – somewhere between 43 – 46%…

Our conclusion was that this is a whisky that stands on its own, growing, taking its time to reveal more… one that needs you to wait… wait for it… wait for it… and be rewarded.

And the reveal? Bright cheerful pink packaging accompanied the Kilkerran sherry dram. For most this was a 1st experience with Kilkerran though we are certainly familiar with other Campbeltown drams with Springbank, Hazelburn, Longrow

Opened in March 2004, Kilkerran, is the first distillery to open in Campbeltown in over 125 years, and the first new distillery in Scotland this millennium.

And what do they say about their Work in Progress #6 Sherry?

  • Released in 2014. Only 9000 bottles available worldwide.
  • Nose: Bold and Beautiful. Clear, but subtle, European red oak notes, a real sherry matured star.
  • Palate: The sherry notes goes deeper on the palate. Dark chocolate, dates, prunes, hard toffee, molasses and gingerbread syrup. Honey-BBQ coated ribs without any of the smoke.
  • Finish: This Whisky holds a great poise, almost ballerina like. There is a true harmonious balance between all the components in this dram. It has a seamless, resonant finish, echoing in a deep, loving, sherry tone.

What did we sample in our “Sherry Elements” evening?

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Sherry Element – Amrut Intermediate Sherry 57.1%

Next up in our Sherry Elements evening was a complete surprise – An Amrut Intermediate Sherry, part of their core line-up purchased by our host around 7 years earlier.

We sampled it completely blind, with the reveal shared only after sampling all whiskies in the evening.

Amrut Intermediate Sherry 57.1%

  • Colour – It initially struck us incredible – a deep ruby, exceptionally dark. Could it be real? It seemed impossible, til we started to really get into the whisky and then it didn’t seem so improbable after all
  • Nose – Initial sniff was sharp, medicinal dispensary, came across as having high alcohol, homeopathic sulfur, then began to open up… banana, tropical fruits, caramel, a children’s sweet chewable multi-vitamin, lemon hint, the aromas just kept dancing around… needing time to settle…. then prunes, gave a sense of being oily, perhaps some spice… going through several cycles, including tobacco, burnt matches, cocoa, juicy plums, opening up more to reveal different dimensions. After sipping, the aromas revealed clear sherry, peppers
  • Palate – At first quite intense, bitter, sour then Wow! Raisins, cocoa, a clear stamp of “Now this is a whisky!” Sharp, bitter but balanced. Then shifted into orange and chilli chocolate. With a lovely mouthfeel, fabulous balance.
  • Finish – Long, starts like bitter chocolate and ends with sweet
  • Water – We decided this one could have a few generous drops of water…So smooth! The Diwali explosion  of flavours were softened yet retained its full character. Became even sweeter, almost floral, a crisp dosa smell, then more like crepes with the orange really popping out.

It was in many ways a complete chameleon… Hard to pin down, needed time to open up. We thought it could make a marvellous cigar malt – holding its own and pairing well. The nose and  palate were beautifully matched. It was clearly an interesting whisky, complex, the kind where a little goes a long way. A few in the room pronounced it “Stunning.”

And when it was revealed? Amazement. To put it mildly, what we had otherwise sampled of its core line available in India… let’s just say we’d be underwhelmed. Whereas this was a fabulous dram. Leading talk to frustration with the inconsistency of our Amrut experiences. This one was without a doubt a ‘keeper’…

What do the folks over at Amrut have to say?

  • Nose : Instead of the usual biscuit aroma, we now get moist cake. And my word: is it fruity and spicy!! Love the freshly waxed oak floor, too. Brain-explodingly complex and multi-layered with one of the most intriguing sherry-style-bourbon-style marriages on the market
  • Taste : Cracking delivery and entirely unique in form. The structure is decidedly oak-based, but acts as no more than a skeleton from which the juicy sultana and spices drape. Salivating, too, as the barley kicks in powerfully. But the liquorice-orangey-honeycomb bourbon theme quietly shapes the flavour profile; the spices pulse and glow
  • Finish : Quite a chunk of natural caramel quietens the more exuberant characteristics; long and elegant

What did we sample in our “Sherry Elements” evening?

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Sherry Element – Oban 15 year (2015) Fino Cask 43%

First up in our “Sherry Element” evening was Oban… yes Oban… with a Montilla Fino finish.

Our original club kept to its preferred tasting approach of sampling completely blind. In this case, the reveal waited until the very end after sampling all three whiskies.

Oban 15 year (2000/2015) 43% Bourbon / Fino cask Special Release OD 164.FA Limited Edition

  • Nose
    • Before tasting – Immediate brush of bourbon, super overripe bananas, coconut, fruits, very sweet… then began to take on a musty clothes quality like after the rains…. a shift into a medicinal element, paan, then watermelon, steamed rice shifting into biscuits – Crackerjack salty then mangaram sweet wafer, cereals
    • After tasting – Lemon fruit base, then plasticine… somehow it lost its distinctness
  • Palate – Spice, clove, sweet and yet also very bitter with that medicinal quality on the nose following through on the palate, neem leaf, has a certain intensity yet overall quite a light body
  • Finish – Short with a bitter edge
  • Water – Kills the nose, kicks up the spice on the palate and also dampens the bitterness, however one found it reduced it to ‘pure alcohol’… would not recommend adding water

For the most part, colour isn’t a primary focus of our tastings… more as one facet to consider. Yet speculation was rife from the outset that surely this could not be natural… I do believe one comment went along the lines of “Has an almost yellow shine like its on steroids.”

The aroma came on with a decent strength initially, then quickly dropped and became muted. As for its character? We found it quite straight in, straight out. Young, sweet and largely remains on the front of the tongue, with a bitterness on the sides.

And when we revisited after nearly an hour?

Discovered it made it much more approachable, hardly any bitterness remained and oddly came across as almost oily. Alas all the aromas we found earlier were elusive. Yet overall with extra air it became quite drinkable.

With the reveal there was surprise. There were certainly a few who have fond memories of Oban 14 year as being reliable bar stock.

Even our host admitted to being a tad disappointed… as clearly had expected more… and yet the revisit certainly showed it is not too shabby after all.

Here’s what the folks over at Oban have to say about this Distillers Edition on the label:

The Western Highland style of Malt is epitomized by Oban’s gentle sweetness and surprising richness of palate and finish. The pettiness of the Islands it faces across the Firth of Lorn is softened by the influences of the Highlands at its back. To underline its sea-laced flavours, Oban’s Master Distiller has chosen Montilla Fino. This dry, delicate cask-wood beautifully enhances Oban’s distinctively graceful style.

What did we sample in our “Sherry Elements” evening?

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Sherry Elements – Oban, Amrut, Kilkerran

As a whisky tasting group, we’ve sampled many a sherry matured cask over the years.. however we have not had an evening dedicated to different elements of sherry… until one fine evening in November 2017.

What did we sample?

And what made each of these distinctive?

1st off the Oban was not your standard familiar friend – the 14 year – no siree! It was instead a 15 year limited edition initially matured in an ex-bourcon cask then a Montilla Fino Cask.

Next up was an Amrut Intermediate Sherry purchased some 7 odd years ago and carefully kept. Again a combination of bourbon and sherry… with quite a complex and different character than the Oban.

And the Kilkerran? The Campbeltown offering was again Sherry wood… with a peaty element too.

None were full force sherry, each had a unique dimension, making our evening a most enjoyable exploration. All had been carefully collected over years by our host… none can be readily obtained today… of if you do, likely not quite the same as what we sampled.

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