Sansibar’s Glentauchers, Spicely Sweet + Smokey Peated

At Whisky Live Singapore 2017, the Sansibar booth was manned by a local bartender who was so passionate about what the folks at Sansibar are doing, it was positively infectious.

Thanks to La Maison du Whisky, I’d already encountered the Islay Malt 8 year and brought it back for a special undisclosed distilleries evening.

Now, as it was at Whisky Live, it means my impressions were fleeting… however enough to cement an opinion that Sansibar is worth continuing to keep an eye on!

Glentauchers 8 year 48.2%

  • Nose – Soft, sweet, lightly elegant
  • Palate – Not just sweetness and light, a bit bitter, toffee, butterscotch raisin
  • Finish – Bitter nuts

Overall this is a light desert in a bottle.

Spicily Sweet 48% – Blended Small Batch, Batch #1 “Sunset”

  • Nose – Very fruity, aaaah… yum!
  • Palate – Smooth, sweet, soft fruits, light spice
  • Finish – Here is where the spice peeps out even more

My initial thought was this is a summer dram – sun soaked fruits – with a name that perfectly personifies its name “spicily sweet”! It was so enjoyable that I thought folks back in Mumbai might enjoy it too. And sure enough, “Sunset” closed an evening exploring independent blends

Smokey Peated 48% – Blended Small Batch, Batch #1 “Signal Fire”

  • Nose – Bacon, wood fire, fruit behind the smoke like pineapple and other tropical fruits
  • Palate – Holy toledo peat! Turbo charged peat yet not in the least harsh, more fruits
  • Finish – Captive ash. No messing with it peat. Bit of a pepper chaser

I thought of the Sansibar Islay Malt 8 year cask strength which brought an elegance to peat. By contrast the “Signal Fire” was unabashed peat.

Quite interesting to try this trio and I planned to return to continue sampling… however all the other whiskies I had hoped to try were polished off. Clearly others found the offerings also appealing.

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Glentauchers 18 years (1996/2014) 2 casks 46%

I first flirted with Glentauchers as part of a set of 17 year old Ballantine‘s blends ‘featuring’ variations that focused on exploring the component distilleries. While an interesting experiment, nothing substitutes for experiencing a whisky in its single malt avatar.

Given nearly all Glentauchers goes into blends – primarily Ballantine’s and Teachers – this isn’t so easy to accomplish.

So I was particularly pleased to have a chance to try a Carn Mor bottle at The Single Cask.

Glentauchers 18 years (1996/2014) 2 casks 46% 443 bottles

  • Nose – Cereals with lightly toasted seeds, apple sauce, quite sweet with a hint of very faint jasmine
  • Palate – This is where more character reveals itself, almost reminded me of a lemon barley squash, gentle malt, sweet and fruity, with a hint of toasted nuts and something else elusive I couldn’t quite catch!
  • Finish – Retrained and gentile, quite lovely

Overall it is exceedingly easy to drink, smooth, approachable, entirely civilized though not terribly distinctive… In short quite ‘likeable’ and one for folks enjoy a lightly fruity whisky. Though restrained, the finish was truly quite enjoyable… nuanced yet very much present.

Here is what The Single Cask folks have to say about this Glentauchers (SG$198.80):

This is a sweet easy, fruity Speysider! 

  • Nose has sugar, sweets, overripe apples and maybe whiffs of flowers.
  • Taste is sweet and green apples, lemon drops, sweet barley, tinned pineapples, maple syrup.
  • Finish is nice, with a little more caramel

Reading their description after sampling the whisky, I would overall quite agree!

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This whisky was sampled as part of a whisky flight at The Single Cask together with:

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A lighter touch… Whisky Flight at The Single Cask

Often when one thinks whisky, what jumps to mind are the sherry bombs, the power packed peat monsters, the salty brine maritime malt, or even a bourbon banana sweet… yet nestled amongst those bold, sometimes brash characters are a subtler lot…

One tends to associate a lighter, slightly sweeter touch with whiskies from the Highlands or  Lowlands… though not necessarily so…

On my 2nd stop to The Single Cask, we picked the featured whisky flight with:

Some of these whiskies are found primarily blends – such as Deanston in Burn Stewart’s blends, the Glentauchers or Miltonduff in Ballantines. Whereas Glen Moray, a neighbour of Glentauchers and Miltonduff, is known for affordable single malts.

What did my sampling companion and I think? Click on the whisky links above and find out!

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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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