When anticipation and experience differ – Glenburgie 8 year 46%

You know when you are highly anticipating a treat? And then the experience falls short?

I’ve been partial to Glenburgie, appreciating the classic quality, the pears, yum! Like many distilleries making whisky primarily for blends, you can primarily find it from independent bottlers – particularly Gordon & Macphail.

So when I spotted this young Glenburgie in Edinburgh from Hunter Laing Hepburn’s Choice in August 2020, it was an easy decision to pick up this 200ml bottle – even if it was rather pricey. I wasn’t worried 8 years would be too young, reinforced by the most enjoyable TBWC 8 year! Then it sat quietly for a couple years.

Fast forward to May 2022 with visits from a few fellow whisky aficionados and it seemed the right moment. So out came this wee bottle, ready to be explored!

It took very little time to determine this was quite different from what I’d thought to find…

Glenburgie 8 year (2007) 46% (Hepburn’s Choice)

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Freshly opened it had an almost rubber element, almost like cod liver oil, sour, apple mash, young, hay or straw, cardamon….
  • Palate – Initially a bit rough… Then became a bit nutty – mostly hazelnuts, curious, waxy, a bit of a burn, but was growing on us

Not the elegant sophisticated Glenburgies I’ve come to expect… If anything, it reminded me a bit of Talisker…

Until we added water… what a difference!

At 46%, it was a bit harsh and imbalanced. Nothing like previous whiskies from Glenburgie. With water, I could finally find some elements I’d come to associate with the distillery, yet still quite different too.

  • Nose – Watermelon, cherries, raspberry, fruity, scones, honey
  • Palate – Don’t laugh – it reminds me a bit of creamed corn! Mellower and malty

I could see it working well with others but as a single cask on its own? Didn’t even come close to meeting expectations though with water was quite a decent dram.

So what about these earlier experiences with Glenburgie I keep mentioning? Well here are a few:

I still have 2 more Glenburgie bottles ready for another opportunity!

  • 14 year (2004/2019) 43% (G&MP Discovery)
  • 21 year 43% (G&M)

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Additionally, there are two ‘off-shoots’ with:

Chorlton’s Orkney 22 year (1999/2022) 53.4%

These days trying to acquire one of the beautiful bottles from Chorlton‘s  La Nouvelle Vague series requires lightning speed! If you miss the email for even an hour you very well may be out of luck!

When I scored this bottle in Feb 2022, I suspected it would be many months, perhaps even years before I would find the right opportunity to open it! First was getting it from London to Mumbai – which happened in March 2022. Then I needed to join from Nurnberg to Mumbai – also happened by April 2022. And most importantly, finding the right occasion? And that’s when India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula mentioned he would be in town, together with two founders of SMAC India. I also knew once opened, an additional tasting session could follow where this could be shared as a “bonus”! Including the very person who kindly let me use his London address and brought the bottle to India!

So what did we think?

Orkney 22 year (9 June 1999 – February  2022) bourbon hogshead 53.4% (311 bottles)

  • Nose – Subtle and mellow at first, salt spray from the seashore, lovely herbal notes, then started to reveal butterscotch and gingerbread, fruit strudel – perhaps apricot? Then pears and melons, then tart slightly sour stewed apples. Then sweet varnish.  A nice earthy element kept the desert qualities in check – sweet but not overly so!
  • Palate – Wonderful! Buttery brandy. Salted old-fashioned black licorice, a hint of tobacco. Such a fabulous mouthfeel – tempts you to just keep rolling it around, enjoying its marvelous viscosity, a marvelous mix – from herbal to lightly fruity to smoke and pepper – all beautifully balanced and creamy
  • Finish – Rewarding, dry, bitter cinnamon bark, more of that enchanting herbal element… only complaint is that it dissipates too quickly leaving only a faint impression
  • Water – Necessary? No however also lovely with! Makes it sweeter, black peppercorn pops out, cloves and still nice and buttery

Take your time with this one… the more time you give it, the more it gives you! I was so happy to revisit it a few days later in a leisurely long evening over excellent cheese, fresh bread, and conversation.

Simply put – what an utterly lovely dram. If you blind tasted it, I strongly suspect Highland Park would NOT be the obvious option.

What did David have to say in his email?

Also available is a new 22-year-old Orkney. H*ghl*nd P*rk produces a consistently excellent distillate, but I always think these late-1990s vintages have a special something about them.

So, the nose starts on soft notes of lemony wax, honey and orange, with a wee clean herbal backing (eucalyptus, spearmint, lime leaves) and then really opens up the longer it breathes. There’s something fruity and lightly medicinal happening (think cherry lozenges), banana Nesquik powder (my secret shame), sea air and a thin thread of bonfire smoke. Adding water is transformative: tangerine Altoids, spearmint chews, angelica, sea water and heather.

The palate is rich, resinous and honeyed in texture. I get malt extract, lemons & limes & salt, plus a peppery peatiness that almost has a gentle Talisker feel. I also find seafood with salty-buttered brown bread, herbal liqueur and cough syrup. The finish is really long, with dried herbs, sweet citrus, and lingering smoke. Water again opens things up in a herbal direction: crushed mint leaves, lemon tea, pine needles and salty orangey honey.

This bourbon hogshead produced 311 bottles at 53.4% for £135 plus tax and courier charges.

Here are more from La Nouvelle Vague series:

  • Mannochmore 12 year 58.7% – A delicious fruit basket!
  • Orkney 15 year 57.1%Absolutely gorgeous dram
  • Croftnegea 13 year 53.9%Enchanting!
  • Ledaig 12 year 55.5%, Speyside (Glenrothes) 13 year 64.6% – Waiting in Paris
  • Glen Elgin 12 year (21 April 2009 / summer 2021) refill hogshead 56.6%,  Tormore 28 year (16 Nov 1992 / summer 2021)refill hogshead 42.4%, Bunnahabhain 18 year (28 Feb 2002 / Dec 2021) sherry butt 53.4% – Waiting in London

Here are the Chorltons we’ve sampled from the L’Ancien Régime series:

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Blends of yore – Hedges + Butler 21 year 43%

Without a doubt, this blend made our evening “remarkable“! It also prompted our meeting as I had brought it back from Germany where Krishna Nakula – India’s Malt Maniac – had bought it at an auction nearly two years earlier. As he just so happened to be in Mumbai for an event, we naturally had to catch up for a dram or two! Very generously, he chose to open this particular piece of history… Lucky us!

So what did we think?

Hedges & Butler Royal Scotch Whisky 21 year (1950/60s – 1970/80s) 43%

  • Nose – Rich and robust, think German cherry liqueur or a single rum, dark fruits – particularly plums, earthy and bursting with character, buttery milk chocolate with a heavy fruit liqueur
  • Palate – It has a velvety silky smoothness, well rounded and balanced, waxy with some mineral and tobacco, luscious juicy fruits and berries, a hint of spice and wood at the back, chased by bitters
  • Finish – Long and lingering with a hint of sweet spices

Superb and simply delicious! This blend provided clear evidence that they don’t make them like they used to! Very different – incredibly complex, rich, rewarding… a big full whisky. The nose and palate are outstanding… and very memorable. Lucky, lucky us to have an opportunity to try something like this!

It is hard to find too much in the way of exact details however based on the label and auctions, it is likely from the 1960s / bottled in the 1980s. The auction price was around EUR 88 however with taxes and shipping, came to EUR 105. I thought it quite reasonable, however Krishna shared such bottles earlier were selling for significantly less. As more and more people are now discovering that these mere ‘blends’ are in fact hidden treasures from a time when the BEST malt went into a blend, the price is also rising.

Hedges & Butler (aka H&B) is a brand of blends part of the Ian McLeod group. They trace their history as a wine and spirits producer back to 1667, relocating in 1819 to Regent Street, supplying the coronation banquet of King George IV with wine, port, and champagne. Their relationship with whisky began in the 1830s with blended Scotch whiskies – gaining their 1st of several “Royal Warrants” by King George IV, followed by Queen Victoria, then eleven different Monarch’s.

Fast forward to the 1960s, H&B was acquired by The Bass Charrington Group, then from 1998 the brand name has been owned by Ian Macleod Distillers.

Today you can still find H&B with a no age statement and 12-year version.

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Getting started with Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%

There we were – one hot sweaty April evening in Mumbai – about to kick off a tasting with a random yet remarkable range of whiskies. Just like with fine dining, it helps to have an “amuse-bouche” to whet the appetite, so we needed a whisky to ease into our evening.

I considered a few options before settling on the Arran no age statement – Lochranza Reserve. Launched in 2014, it was intended to be part of the core range as the ‘entry’ dram replacing the Arran Original, easily accessible – in terms of flavour profile, price, and availability in travel retail. Today in 2022? It has joined the Limited Edition section with just a few bottles remaining… though if purchased in the UK it is still quite reasonable – at a mere £25.

So what did we think?

Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%  

  • Nose – Hmmm… after a slightly musty start, becomes a clean, classic whisky with green apples, dry leaves and toasted oats, dry desiccated coconut, citrus, a hint of honey… also a herbal element – rosemary or thyme? Or a touch of cardamon?
  • Palate – A light spice, slightly salty and initially a bit astringent, it then shifted into more of that citrus joined by crunchy tart green apples, oak, and a dash of cream, nicely coats your tongue
  • Finish – Pink peppercorns, slightly bitter, chased by bourbon vanilla
  • Water – One would think with such a low ABV there is no need… however a splash of cool water brings out the orchard fruits and citrus after the initial spice hit settles down

Whilst the nose had a honey sweetness on the palate it deepened into a creamy caramel toffee and milk chocolate, smooth and straightforward. We weren’t expecting anything complex, however, I will admit that I had anticipated something a bit lighter. Even still, this hit the spot as a teaser of tastings to come!

What do the folks at Arran have to say about their Lochranza Reserve?

Our Lochranza Reserve is back for a short time only as the very last bottles of this edition.

This light, fresh and fruity Single Malt is bottled at 43% and is delicious on its own, with a splash of water or a bit of ice.  It is the perfect Single Malt for mixing and is a marriage of both Sherry and Bourbon matured casks.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Vanilla and lemon
  • Palate – Fresh Island notes. A touch of salt and sweetness
  • Finish – Citrus. Vanilla. Salty.

What else have we tried from Arran? Rather a lot as this distillery has become a clear favourite with a few of us:

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Remarkable Random Range of Whiskies

What does a Scottish blend from the 1950 / 60s made for a Hamburg distributor and a German malt that barely qualifies as whisky have in common? Or what does a peaty coastal single malt bottled by an Indian distillery have to do with a sophisticated complex Island dram from a much-coveted Indie bottler? And how about the price range from an affordable entry-level Island OB in GBP 20s vs another over 150?! Or sourced from an auction some 40 years after bottling vs direct from bottler within hours of going on sale, to Le Clos Dubai duty-free or available exclusively in Bangalore only… Frankly speaking, they have practically nothing in common beyond a random sweaty evening in Mumbai where they just so happened to be tasted together!

A Remarkable (Random) Range

What a remarkable – if random! – range for a brilliant evening… which was revisited another night in Mumbai with more malt experts!

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Kilchoman Tequila Finish 53.4%

It has been a while since I sat down and properly tasted a Kilchoman… in truth, I don’t think even once since meeting Kilchoman’s charming founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale. I will fully admit to a certain fondness for Kilchoman – in part as this Islay distillery is part of the ‘new generation’ of distilleries who have proven with an eye to quality and artistry, you don’t need to wait more than a decade to produce a fine dram.

So what did we think of Anthony’s experiment with Tequila? Did it need salt and lime to knock back as a shot? Or favour an extra anejo? Or reveal little to no influence of the agave finish at all?

Kilchoman 8 year (11 Dec 2012 / 15 Nov 2021) Bourbon Cask No 824/2012, Tequila Finish 53.4% (50 PPM) TWE Exclusive, Bottle 147 of 267

  • Nose – Ripe mushy bananas, a fruity sour mash, leafy and a bit vegetal, saline with light hint of smoke, we even speculated if there was a touch of black salt? However the more time it spent in the glass, the more it opened up… shifting into candied red apples, marshmallows, then more tropical fruits
  • Palate – Unmistakable peat and sweet, powerful yet exceedingly well balanced, chewy with a good mouthfeel, some pepper and sweet spices, perhaps a bit of that agave element subtly peaking through
  • Finish – Sweet red cinnamon candies, followed by a nice agave finish
  • Water – Not necessary but holds well with a splash, becoming more herbal

So…. does the tequila work? Yes… as it has only a subtle influence rather than being very pronounced unbalancing the other elements. And that was the success here – everything in perfect harmony – sweet and salt, peat and sweet, spice and herb – all working together.

What more do we know? As usual, Kilchoman peats to 50 PPM and in this case used an ex-Bourbon cask for 8 years before finishing for approx 8 months in an ex-Tequila cask. It reminded me why Kilchoman has made its mark – there is no dramatic heavy peat here – instead, the peat provides a lovely interplay with the other cask elements.

I noted down the official tasting notes from the bottle:

  • Nose – Malted hay and tropical fruit sweetness
  • Palate – Herbacsious with layers of fresh fruits and burst of agave
  • Finish – Waves of agave freshness with soft sweet peat

In large part, I would agree with the notes… however, personally found the peat more pronounced on the palate with the agave much more subtle.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

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Talisker 8 Year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

Talisker is known for its lightly peated salty maritime character, situated on the Isle of Sky. Part of the Diageo stable of whiskies, their range has been quite stable over the years with a 10 year, 18 year, Storm… More recently, they have launched some variations with whiskies matured to 8 years – one of which I tried as an ‘Old Particular’ mini from Douglas Laing – quite a pleasant dram that hit the spot in colder climes…

So what did we think of this new cask strength experiment?

Talisker 8 year (2020) Rum Finish 57.9%

  • Nose – Hay, heather, leather, comes across as ‘dry’ yet also has a rum sweetness and raisins, heavy on the ripe bananas joined by other tropical fruit, some roasted pineapple, a hint of coconut and pepper spice chased by a light curl of smoke and sea spray
  • Palate – Jeera (cumin) tamarind ‘goli’… loads of bitter (almost edging into bitter gourd) that initially got in the way of discerning other elements… gradually easing into a roasted black pepper, followed by a sour rum, steeped neem leaves – slightly astringent, then salty
  • Finish – There but… didn’t have any predominant notes – perhaps a bit of black licorice at the end?
  • Revisit – After setting aside, when returned the rum dimension was much more evident – in a good way!

Whilst clearly not a typical Talisker, the light peat, pepper, and saline maritime elements were there. The rum certainly took it in a different direction however it wasn’t entirely harmonious. The nose was the most appealing part with the palate more curious than enjoyable and the finish almost forgettable.

I realized much later that I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to try with water – though this was at cask strength. Perhaps that would have brought out different elements and tempered the slightly strange palate.

So what more do we know? This is part of the Diageo Special Releases 2020 and was finished in pot-distilled Jamaican rum casks.

What else? There was also care taken with the packaging – certainly upping their ‘game’… Not just with this special edition – they have also refreshed their standard range too.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

This whisky joined an evening devoted to a curious trio of Rum, Tequila and Mezcal finishes… followed by:

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Arran Cask Finishes – Arran Port Cask Finish 50%

Last in our evening of Arran “finishes” was the Port Cask Finish, which followed the Arran Sauternes, Amarone and Sherry.

Years ago this Port finish was my first introduction to Arran, courtesy of purchase by an actuarial friend (on condition I could reimburse!) who was in Edinburgh. I recently came across the faded receipt for £45 from Stirling Whisky Shop, near Stirling Castle… It meant so much more given I’ve now both been to that very shop and the distillery!

Today in 2022, it no longer is part of their core range… Which is a pity. While it may not be for everyone, I remembered the Port Cask Finish as a rich intense whisky that stands proud at 50% yet also works with a dash of water.

So what did we think?

Arran Port Cask Finish 50%  

  • Nose – Heavy and intense – prunes, dark rich wood, then shifted to be intensely floral, rose, vanilla, then deep forest, even some slightly sour black cherries
  • Palate – Full-bodied, tobacco, a nice spice – think more of garam masala than sweet spices alone
  • Finish – Dry, very long, with more of that light spice
  • Water –  Just a dash opens it up nicely – after the extra kick of spice subsides, it makes this more approachable, dry to ripe fruits, yet still nicely robust

This whisky was full of dark heavy elements – from the dark fruit aromas to the tobacco… there is something that makes you ‘picker up’ with this one. It also paired rather well with a Cigar,

I’ve revisited this one a couple times – it’s more intense and flavourful than I prefer for a “daily dram”.

What do the folks at Arran have to say?

A fantastic choice at any time, particularly as an after dinner dram, especially with a delicious cheese selection.

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks for approximately 8 years, The Arran Single Malt in this bottling was finished in a selection of Port casks sourced from an artisan producer of this iconic Portuguese fortified wine.

The maturation process was monitored under the watchful eye of our Master Distiller, to ensure that the Port casks and the intrinsic character of The Arran Single Malt partnered with each other perfectly. The end result is a combination that’s full of charm and rich flavour, and a wonderful way to discover more about the Arran range of Single Malts.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Cinnamon, baked apples
  • Palate – Vanilla spice, ripe citrus & dried fruits and nuttiness. With a splash of water more depth of mandarin citrus with fudge and honeyed notes.
  • Finish – Spice, Bitter orange, Chocolate, Cherries.

We chose to try this Port together with three other Arran whiskies:

Whilst all from this finishes series are no age statements, there was no doubt that they are well-thought-out expressions that are worthy of attention.

So far, we’ve already tried the Arran Port Cask Finish 50% together with:

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Arran Cask Finishes – The Sherry Cask 55.8%

There are times when only a sherry bomb will satisfy. After progressing from the Arran Sauternes to Amarone, we shifted gears to the cask strength “The Bodega” Sherry finish. Just looking at the colour, there was every indication this would be one serious dram!

So what did we think?

Arran “The Bodega” Sherry Cask 55.8%

  • Colour – Deep burnt orange, almost a red copper
  • Nose – Oh my! Sherry meets banoffee pie! Rich, dry fruits, drunken raisins, intense, salted caramel, roasted almonds, dark berries, dates, a hint of leather, fruity sweet and sour cherries with a pinch of salt
  • Palate – Smooth! No burn even at 55.8% Proud and full-bodied, a complete sherry bomb, bursting with dark fruits and berries, a spark of spice, a swirl of dark chocolate and marmalade
  • Finish – Long finish with a dash of salt joining the dark dry fruits, chased by sweet dry spices
  • Water – Necessary? No. But a generous dollop opens up tames the aromas and transforms the palate into juicy ripe fruits – more plums than figs – delicious!

Well, well, well… There was absolutely no doubt this was matured in a Sherry cask. Too rich and robust for an ‘everyday’ dram, it had balance and charm. Fabulous!

What do the folks over at Lochranza have to say about The Bodega?

Sherry Cask ‘The Bodega’ is a stunning new addition to our core range of whiskies and is the perfect choice for someone who enjoys their Single Malt with plenty of body and complexity.

Matured in some of the finest casks available to the whisky industry, this cask strength Sherry matured Single Malt is both luxurious and elegant with layers of rich sweet spice and oak. Our Master Distiller has worked with producers in some of the most prestigious Sherry Bodegas in Jerez, Spain to select only the best quality casks to be filled with our precious spirit.

This bottling is a return to the style of some of the earliest Arran Single Malt, which was mostly matured in Sherry Casks.

And the official tasting notes?

  • Nose – Toffee, sweet spice and fruit
  • Taste – Ripe fig and cherries
  • Finish – Dark chocolate, Mandarins, Ripe figs.

And with that, we continued our evening exploring Arran Cask Finishes:

Currently, The Arran Sherry Cask remains available for approx GBP 46 / EUR 48.

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Arran Cask Finishes – Amarone 50%

Oh the beautiful Arran Amarone Cask Finish… we fell in love with you back in September 2017 during a delightful Sunday sundowner… I had such fond memories I feared trying again and being disappointed.

Back in 2017, there was an announcement that the Amarone would be back soon…. it was… but then next it wasn’t, and currently, there is no update on if and when it will return… much like some of the other cask finishes like Sauternes.

However for that fine evening in early January 2022, here is what we thought of the Amarone…

Arran Amarone Cask Finish 50%

  • Colour – A lovely bright pink rose blush
  • Nose – Fresh and fruity! Raisins then red fruits… ripe raspberries and cream, sour plum and cherries… then shifted back to raspberries but this time Rogers raspberry cream soda! Then back to cherries again… and then the slightly tart cranberry…. back to raspberries… simply yum!
  • Palate – Silky smooth… tempting and teasing like Turkish delight, fruit and berry sweet, slightly gingery with a touch of pink peppercorns
  • Finish – Slightly spicy, rich, and satisfying
  • Water – Does it need it? Nope! But if you feel like adding a wee splash… it greedily marries it with the whisky to become even fruitier

Did it stand up to my romanticized notion of this whisky? It did indeed… It is like a decadent dessert, yet not cloyingly sweet. A perfect balance of its different elements, harmonious from its intoxicating aromas to captivating taste which carries through in a lingering finish.

What do the folks at Lochranza distillery have to say about their “Out of Stock” Amarone finish?

Our Arran Amarone Cask Finish is the perfect partnership of rich, red wine and our iconic Arran Single Malt taste.

After initially maturing in traditional oak casks over a number of years, The Arran Single Malt in this bottling was ‘finished’ in a selection of Amarone wine casks. The wine casks used in this bottling were sourced from an artisan producer of Amarone wine in the Veneto region of Italy.

A luxurious Italian wine meets a complex and vibrant Scottish character – there is a lot to love and appreciate about this Single Malt and you will enjoy every dram.

And the official tasting notes?

  • Nose – Cherry, turkish delight, chocolate
  • Taste – Poached pears, touch of cranberry and honey
  • Finish – Sweetness, Pears, Turkish Delight, Cherries, Dark chocolate

Would we agree? Yes indeed!

We explored this together with:

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