Whisky Live 2018 La Maison du Whisky Exclusives – Clynelish + Glenburgie

At Whisky Live Singapore 2018 there were many La Maison du Whisky exclusive bottles…. No surprise given who organized the event!

I tried the Clynelish and Glenburgie side-by-side in the VIP room…

The Glenburgie was selected by Florian Were for the 50th anniversary of La Maison du Whisky which was started on 20 rue d’Anjou, part of their Whisky Chronicles series.

Glenburgie (1995/2018) Cask #6542 55.6% (LMdW 20 rue d’Anjou) Limited 221 Bottles

  • Nose – Light and bright, some lovely fruits – particularly peaches and apples
  • Palate – Warm and comforting, tropical fruits and a hint of leafy tobacco
  • Finish – Beautiful and long with a lovely spice and hint of cocoa

Even though I only had a wee nip, it was utterly delightful and certainly a style I appreciate. I would have loved an opportunity to come back for more of this…

Clynelish (1997/2017) Cask #6922 55.8% (LMdW)

  • Nose – Lovely light crisp fruits like apples and pears, nicely fresh
  • Palate – The aromas follow through on the palate, dripping with honey and fruits
  • Finish – A bit of spice, more than expected given how initially delicate and light it was on the palate

Again, easy and accessible with enough character to make you pay attention. Incredibly balanced and deceptive as didn’t come across as cask strength.

What an enjoyable pair… both were simply unique bottles to sample and not available for purchase. Clocking in around 23 and 20 year for single casks at cask strength, this was clearly a case of trying  “once” not more…. however if you do come across either and enjoy lighter more nuanced styles, take advantage of the opportunity!

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Signatory session take two with cigars!

Quick before oxidation did too much damage, I wanted to share with the BMC lads a sampling from my earlier Signatory session.

However as whisky gremlins (aka friends and I) got into the Edradour and the Bunnahabhain too, it was clear augmentation would be needed to have sufficient for my sipping companions as we puffed on our cigars, post initial tasting. With this group, tasting is not the end, merely the selection process to settle down to savour a further dram or two with a cigar, some nibbles and convivial conversation.

2016-02-19 Oak League1

So what did I do? First began with what our merry malt men had to say about the whiskies…

We kicked off with the Speyside – Glenburgie 18 year (13 June 1995 / 20 Feb 2014) Cask No 6451, 391 bottles 46%.

  • Nose – Flowers, perfume, summer meadow
  • Palate – Surprisingly robust
  • Finish – Spice
  • Water – Adds ‘wood’ brought out vanilla and moss
  • Overall – Light bright and sprightly

Then followed up with the Islay – Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%.

  • Nose – Varnish, lots of esters, pineapple, a flick of mint?
  • Palate – Smooth, a bit oily, tart granny apples…
  • Finish – Sits… very dry, black pepper
  • Water – Spicier, less acidic, brings out the peppers and even a medicinal quality on the nose. Then was that gasoline??
  • Overall – One commented the whisky made his lips numb! Certainly not a favourite (and yet the bottle was empty by the end of the evening… Oh the sacrifices these gentlemen will make!)

Closing our Signatory trio in the Highland‘s with the Edradour 10 year (2 Nov 2004/26 Mar 2015) Cask No 406, Bottle 440 46%

  • Nose – Very chocolaty, vanilla, prunes, fig newton, varnish, rum raisin
  • Palate – Very smooth, little pepper, lime?
  • Finish – Not long but rather pleasant
  • Water – Softens, mellows it out and makes it even sweeter
  • Overall – The kind of whisky to sip in a comfy chair, very palatable, well balanced and well rounded

Having tried all three before, I found the Edradour stood up best after being opened. Alas the Glenburgie had clearly lost some of its earlier nuances. And the Bunnahabhain? Let’s just say it is not one to sit in a bottle. The most expensive of the trio was also the most disappointing.

But what to sip with our cigars?

One already has clear sherry preferences. For him, he likes his whiskies robust and full of flavour. Aberlour just so happens to be a personal favourite, so it was only natural to introduce him to the gorgeous A’bunadh Batch 35.

For another, we earlier spoke of enjoying a good Irish dram – when in the mood for something a little simpler and sociable. He’d sampled Tyrconnel before – even has a bottle at home – however had yet to try the Madeira finish.

Now, another member knows his stuff and nothing less than a complex, nuanced and very special dram will do! I knew what remained in my whisky cabinet would not meet such standards. Closest was a few remaining rare Japanese whiskies yet only a single dram left – clearly insufficient to support a good cigar. So the Signatory trio would simply have to do.

And the last? I still haven’t pegged his preference beyond a desire to try something ‘different’. So added an unpeated Paul John Classic into the mix.

My experience pairing with the cigar? I initially thought the Edradour with its rich sherry notes would pair best with my robusto. Imagine my surprise to discover the delicate Glenburgie held its own.

Slainthe!

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Signatory’s Glenburgie 18 year (1995) 46%

As we have already tried many of the ‘known’ and readily accessible distilleries, it is always a treat to add a less readily accessible distillery to our list!

So back in 2014, I proudly picked up a bottle of Glenburgie from the prodigious Speyside region. At the time, we never tried anything from this distillery, primarily as it is used in blends like Ballentine’s with no “official” distiller editions. I looked forward to showing off something ‘different’ when it came around to my turn to host!

The irony is by the time we cracked open the bottle in February 2016, it was no longer the ‘1st’ Glenburgie to cross my palate:

So much for bringing a little novelty to our tastings!!

2016-02-19 Glenburgie 1995

As always, our blind whisky tasting approach reigns supreme… so how did this one fare?

Signatory Vintage – Glenburgie 1995 46%

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Bright, fresh, clean fruit, sweet, hint of coconut, toffee, oily, no peat or was there a whiff? Fresh grass, much more fruit than spice or flower, lovely yet quite linear, no major surprises
  • Palate – Initially much sharper, sour and very different than we expected from the nose, sweet, spice and bitter, a tingling on the tongue, mild citrus. The bitter gives it character – in a good way. Has a very good palate, sits on the tongue and is well rounded.
  • Finish – Bitter – some initially thought it short, others found its like a punch that you still feel after some time topped with a  dash of cherry cough syrup
  • Water – Opens it up, makes it even more approachable, however loses the light coconut nose, though the syrupy element stays
  • Speculation – Immediately thought likely an independent bottler – possibly Gordon & MacPhail. Single Cask? Could it be a Highland Speyside? Perhaps younger? Speculation ran riff!
  • Overall – Approachable, one of those books that is easy to read, quite pleasant. For some this was the favourite of the evening.
The reveal was a surprise – both as it was older than most thought and we relatively recently sampled the G&MP 15 year Glenburgie. For comparison, I pulled out a Ballantine’s 17 year set which featured blends that ‘celebrate’ the characters of the different component single malts such as Glenburgie.
This Speyside may mostly go into blends however it is worth enjoying in both its independent bottler Signatory and G&MP avatars!

Here are the only details available about this Signatory Vintage:

Aged 18 years, distilled on 13 June 1995 and bottled on 20 Feb 2014. Matured in the Highland. Cask No 6451 with an outturn of only 391 bottles. No chill filtration, natural colour.

A bit of trivia I find interesting is Glenburgie was run for a time in the early 20th century by a woman – Margaret Nichol – reputed to be the first female manager of any whisky distillery.

Up next in our Signatory Session:

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Signatory session with Glenburgie, Bunnahabhain + Edradour

Most single malts tell you surprisingly little about exactly when they began their life.

Sure – the bottle says 10 year but what that really means is the youngest whisky in that bottle in front you was matured for 10 years.

As for the year it was bottled? Look closely… many do not tell you this.

The key with most age statement whiskies is carefully playing around with stock to produce a consistent flavour profile. Which means more mixing and blending between casks than you might imagine to achieve that distinctive taste you have come to call a familiar friend.

However if you really want to explore the nuances of a ‘pure’ single malt, then a single distillation in a single cask preferably at cask strength is the way to go.

And no one does that better than some terrific independent bottlers who keep an eagle eye (or acute nose and taste buds) out for something truly special.

This is the territory that tells you when that whisky hit the cask, which cask and even how many bottles exist… perhaps your bottle even has its own number.

Over the years we’ve had some fabulous Gordon & MacPhail offerings, a few Douglas Laing & Co, however less from Signatory.

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So for three years, I’ve slowly acquired three distinctly different whiskies – two examples of Signatory’s independent bottlings and one from their own wee distillery – Edradour, each from a different region in Scotland.

What pray tell did I manage to track down?

It seemed a fitting trio to fete the beginning our fifth year of whisky tastings as a dedicated group in Mumbai.

Anyone have a favourite independent bottler? Or tried a particularly interesting Signatory bottle?

Slainthe!

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Ballantine’s 17 year Glentauchers 40%

Last in our Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection was Glentauchers.

While there is apparently an official bottling kicking around, it certainly isn’t one our merry malters have stumbled across… not even readily listed online at either Master of Malt or The Whisky Exchange.

More typically, Glentauchers is found in Ballantine’s and Teacher’s – both widely consumed blends. As in 99% of it goes to blends! So you can appreciate my interest in exploring a sense of its character through Ballantine’s eyes (or taste buds / nose as the case may be!).

Ballantine's Glentauchers

Ballantine’s Glentauchers

Ballantine’s Glentauchers 17 year 40%

  • Nose – Strong nose, piney notes, earthy like a forest, toasted hazelnuts, a nougaty sweetness… as it continued to air after 15-20 minutes it was like reaching out to dip your hand straight into a honey-comb with the bees still buzzing!
  • Taste – Slightly bitter, hint of spice, much lighter body than the nose, smooth
  • Finish – Bitter almonds, like the Glenburgie, an unremarkable finish yet a far easier dram
  • Overall – The nose showed promise which alas didn’t carry through on the palate… however at least the nutty quality continued throughout in a rather pleasant way. Overall, quite a drinkable dram.

The preferred setting for this whisky? Could drink by the fire, in a more social manner with the caveat that it goes down so smoothly that you may not even realise that you’d finished it and reached out for more!

Overall, I must say, it was interesting to have a blend pay homage to the characters of its single malt components. We each did our ‘preference’ line-up… for my friend it was:

  • Miltonduff by a mile, then Glentauchers, Scapa and Glenburgie

For me, it was along the same lines, except I would swap the ‘last’ two with Glenburgie just a smudge ahead of the Scapa.

But the very fact that the Miltonduff even made both of us pay attention was saying something.

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Ballantine’s 17 year Glenburgie 40%

Third in our sampling quartet of Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection was Glenburgie…

I will admit to having certain expectations of this expression… Late 2015, we sampled the Glenburgie 15 year and two years ago, I also briefly sampled a Glenburgie 18 year old independent bottling… Between past brushes with this distillery and particularly after the surprisingly good Miltonduff, I was primed to enjoy!

So, did this Ballantine’s blend meet or exceed my anticipation?

Ballantine's Glenburgie

Ballantine’s Glenburgie

Here is what we found:

Ballantine’s Glenburgie 17 year 40%

  • Nose – When first opened sour notes – cereals, maltiness, sweet but with a musty undertone, then dried orange, vanilla, some dried rose petals, slightly earthy though on the lighter side
  • Taste – Just managed to avoid (barely!) being cloyingly sweet, then moved into woody notes, and finally a little spice with pine
  • Finish – Starts a bit smokey but relatively unremarkable, then shifts into a bitter after taste

Overall – The most complex of the bunch yet also vaguely schizophrenic. For my companion, it simply was not worth the effort and time to unwrap the full flavour package. The nose at least initially took us on a journey however was belied by the overwhelming sweetness on the palate… There was at least some different elements however they simply didn’t come together harmoniously.

I couldn’t help but recall the delightful Glenburgie 15 year Gordon & MacPhail bottling we sampled in November. It was pronounced the “Downton Abbey” of whiskies as there was an elegant refinement to it, yet still had sufficient happening to make it worth paying attention to…

It’s Ballantine’s blend cousin? Just couldn’t match up. Not even close. Pity.

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Ballantine’s 17 year Miltonduff 40%

Next up in a sampling series of Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection is the Miltonduff 17 year.

So what do we know about Miltonduff?

Well, it is said to have been established in 1824 and located in the Pluscarden area of Speyside, near an old Abbey. There is a Canadian connect via Hiram Walker’s purchase of the distillery in 1936, along with Glenburgie to produce malt whisky for their blends. At the time they used Lamond Stills which then, in 1981, were replaced with regular pot stills to increase production. Relatively soon thereafter the Hiram Walker stocks were acquired by Allied – its largest distillery at the time. Then in turn, it was further acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2005.

While you won’t readily find too many ‘official’ Miltonduff single malts out there, it has certainly been around and a mainstay for Ballentine’s blends.

Ballentine's Signature Distillery Collection 17 yr - Miltonduff

Ballentine’s Signature Distillery Collection 17 yr – Miltonduff

And what did we find?

Ballantine’s Miltonduff 17 year 40%

  • Nose – Much more complex, cinnamon, cloves, winter berries like cranberry, after airing sweet toffee
  • Taste – Darker, deeper, woodier, sweet and smooth, certainly not complex as it opens up however still rather appealing
  • Finish – Cinnamon candy bite that then mellows out… just continuing the Christmasy feel
  • Water – A drop (please not more!) opened up the sweetness shifting the winter berries to summer raspberries and strawberries
  • Overall – Nicely balanced with everything in harmony. Certainly not complex but still sufficiently worth paying attention to that my gal pal call it a ‘Select’ for her, prompting online searches to buy an independent bottler’s offering when back in the US next week.

We revisited this whisky after about 20 minutes… alas the nose had all but disappeared – leaving mostly a toffee sweetness. However it was a completely comfortable, enjoyable dram. Nothing fancy about it but with the twinkle of the Christmas tree lights and the slight nip in the air (for Mumbai!), it was good enough to prompt after our light sample of all four whiskies a return. Yup! It was the dram of the night for us.

This one had enough going on to prompt a ‘setting’ to sip….

“Cashmere sweater and jeans in front of the fire – comfortable and anti-social but at least you got out of bed today.”

What the Ballantine’s folks had to say:

Its cinnamon spiced notes bring warmth to the Ballantine’s 17 year old blend while its creamy sweet texture forms the foundation of the blend.

And our final thoughts? The very fact that the Miltonduff even made both of us pay attention says something and my fellow taster decided it just might be worth trying to track down a Miltonduff single malt!

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Ballantine’s 17 year Scapa 40%

Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection 17 year are blends… that were designed to show off their component whiskies.

First up in our sampling was the Scapa from the Orkney Islands in the north Highlands, not far from the Highland Park distillery. Of the four Ballantine’s whiskies featured in the Signature Distillery Collection, Scapa has distillery produced single malts – initially a 14 year which was then replaced in 2008 with a 16 year avatar.

While not stated on the label, the gents over at Malt Madness share that Scapa is matured exclusively in bourbon casks. The whisky is unpeated though the water supply is known to be quite peaty, hence is piped for over a kilometre in large iron pipes to keep its more delicate quality.

20151224_Ballantine's Scapa

Ballantine’s Scapa 17 year 40%

What we found:

  • Nose – Piquant, lightly floral, almonds, hint of sea salt, light honey, some hay (sez the country gal whereas the city slicker couldn’t identify), as it aired slipped into a candy sweet with a drizzle of honey suckle
  • Taste – Woody, earthier version of the nose, following the hay back to its roots
  • Finish – Slight bite but general continuity of the nose and palate
  • Comments – “Sweetness & light, rainbows & butterflies” “A demure romp in a meadow”
  • Occasion – The kind of whisky you have when you want something light in the background but not requiring any focused attention.

Quite drinkable, linear nose, flavour and finish however all aligned and overall pleasant.

I will be honest, I expected something with a bit more of a maritime feel… When you think Orkney Islands, you think of sea spray from a wild remote corner. I recalled an earlier sampling of the Scapa 16 year it had more of that element… plus a distinctive heathery honey.

While I supposed we could morph the hay quality with the perfume notes into something in spitting distance of ‘heather’ and it certainly had the honey, we didn’t find the fruity quality the Ballantine’s folks describe or what I remembered from sampling its single malt cousin.

Here’s what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say about this one:

  • Nose: The nose is fruity and floral with icing sugar scattered on top.
  • Palate: The palate develops orange zestiness with fleshy stone fruit flavours, notably peach.
  • Finish: The finish is creamy and smooth with hint of nectarine and Seville orange segments.
  • Overall: Another excellent seventeen year old Ballantine’s intriguingly displaying a stronger Scapa character.

Would I say it represents a ‘Scapa’ style or its contribution to Ballantine’s? Hmm…. It is easy to see why most of this whisky goes into a blend. It has a restrained quality that would play well with other profiles.

As for this expression? Does it stand on its own as a credible blend? It was ‘nice’ and definitely drinkable. However would I run out and buy a full bottle? Nope… just not my kinda whisky.

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Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection 17 year Scapa, Miltonduff, Glenburgie, Glentauchers

Is it a blend? A single malt? Clearly Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection are blends… yet are they the slippery slope of introducing loyal blend fans to single malts? Or trying to woo promiscuous single malt explorers to the land of blends by enticing with ‘showcasing’ Ballantine’s ‘iconic malts’?

My curiosity got the better of me…. so picked up this sample pack in Singapore and cracked it open a cool December evening with a merry malt mistress!

Here’s what they have to say about their special Ballantine’s 17 year olds:

Ballantine's Signature Distillery Collection 17 year

Ballantine’s Signature Distillery Collection 17 yr

Ballantine’s Scapa 17 year 40%

Its rich sweet top dressing contributes to the initial burst of fruity and floral flavours providing the Ballantine’s 17 year Old blend with incredibly smooth, rare and delicate notes.

Ballantine’s Miltonduff 17 year 40%

Its cinnamon spiced notes bring warmth to the Ballantine’s 17 year old blend while its creamy sweet texture forms the foundation of the blend.

Ballantine’s Glenburgie 17 year 40%

Its fruity, floral and rich-flavoured malt sits at the heart of the original Ballantine’s 17 year old blend.

Ballantine’s Glentauchers 17 year 40%

Its delicate fruit and rich nutty flavours form the Ballantine’s 17 year old blend’s long sweet and smooth finish.

Here is what they say about their standard Ballantine’s 17 year:

  • Nose – Deep, balanced, elegant and smooth with hints of sweet vanilla, oak and a sensation of smoke
  • Taste – Full and complex, vibrant honey sweetness and creamy vanilla flavours with hints of oak and spicy liquorice
  • Body – Full, creamy, luscious
  • Character – Creamy, harmonious & oak-sweetness
  • Colour – Clear, golden amber
  • Finish – Long, sweet and smooth with a hint of spice

What did we find? Ah… you will just have to check out the links to the different expressions:

Ballantine's Signature Whiskies

Ballantine’s Signature Whiskies

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The ‘Downton Abbey’ of whiskies – Glenburgie 15 year 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Glenburgie is another one of those Speyside distilleries that you’ve likely had before in a blend, just didn’t know it! Ever had Ballantine’s? If so, you’ve had plenty of Glenburgie whisky!
20151119_Glenburgie 15
As usual, we sampled blind then revealed the whisky.
Glenburgie 15 year 43% (Gordon & MacPhail)
  • Colour – Pale honey
  • Nose – Lots of honey, overripe fruit, dry
  • Palate – Very smooth, well-rounded, buttery, sweet spice… did we mention smooth??
  • Finish – Quite peculiar and tough to pin down initially, bitter dark chocolate, a bit like a dry chardonnay, dusky
  • Water – Um… I think we forgot to try….
  • Speculation – Sense of being a whisky that may typically be used in a blend
  • Comments – A perfect example of a whisky that is light yet complex, like the ‘Downton Abbey’ of whisky, there is a certain elegance and style

The hit of the evening? The Glenburgie though the Aultmore was also both interesting and enjoyable. Absolutely nothing wrong with the Hibiki however nothing exceptional either – just a rather pleasant dram.

However it once again reminded us – Yup – blindly just buy Gordon & MacPhail. Period. And just to re-inforce, our host pulled out the Mortlach 15 year to revisit.

Another member noted that the bottle indicates this Glenburgie was ’selected, produced & bottled’ by Gordon & MacPhail with the ‘produced’ element not standard statement in Gordon & MacPhail bottlings. Hmm…

Naturally, this prompted interest in comparing the Gordon & MacPhail Aultmore 14 year (2000) with the Aultmore 18 year we just sampled.
The other whiskies sampled in our November session included:

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