BenRiach 12 year (2005/2018) Sherry Cask No 5052 59.3%

When planning my sherry unusual evening, I wanted there to be variety – hence Irish, Indian and Islay – yet also knew we needed at least one “proper” classic sherry dram.

Enter the BenRiach single cask, single malt bottled for World of Whisky, Heathrow Airport. Now lest you think this was standard travel retail fare, this cask was launched for World Whisky Day in May 2018 for a slightly pricey £120.

Matured in Olorosso Sherry, non-chill filtered with natural colour, we managed to nab bottle 292 of a mere 597… and discovered it was worth every single pound!

BenRiach 12 year (14 Oct 2005/2018) Cask No 5052 59.3% 

  • Nose – Milk caramel sweets, slight citrus hint, heavy toffee, rum raisins, chocolate eclairs…  started to shift into chocolate liquor, dark fruits, nuts… after quite some time there was almost a hint of blue cheese
  • Palate – Gorgeous! Simply a class act. Dark plums, black cherries, rich and simply outstanding. Lovely cinnamon, raisins, complex, so well balanced, every sip a reward.
  • Finish – Huge long flavour. Everything we loved about the palate simply carried through… for an incredibly long time… superb!

There was no doubt this was an exceptional single malt.

Not one of us were tempted to put even a single drop of water. Each sip we enjoyed more… and it kept evolving. By the 3rd we discovered cayenne, by the 4th chocolate, by the 5th the dark fruits again came to the fore… and the next dripping in honey… you get the picture!

This was one worthy whisky that invited you to slow down, take your time, savour each sip and be rewarded with the most marvellously long finish.

A brilliant reminder of what a quality sherry dram can and should be!

BenRiach tasting notes with the bottle:

  • Colour – Amber
  • Nose – Honeycomb, chocolate, honey covered dates
  • Taste – Rich dark chocolate and herbs, honey coated almonds and figs

Here are the whiskies explored in our Sherry Unusual evening:

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Paul John 7 year Oloroso (2009) 57.4%

I’ve been ever so patiently waiting to sample this whisky… wanting just the right opportunity to share it with one of my Mumbai based whisky tasting groups.

Finally… nearly 2 years after I acquired this lovely bottle, it graced an evening of Sherry explorations…

What did we find?

Paul John 7 year (2009) Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish 57.4%

  • Nose – Starts quite nutty – specifically walnut, some balsa wood, toast then starts to shift into sweet dry fruits and spices with an inviting warm cinnamon, mince pie, dates, fresh figs, orange citrus, a delicious drizzle of honey or perhaps maple syrup?
  • Palate – Full force and fabulous! There was a lovely spice, cherries, rich and full bodied while remaining nicely rounded. Some black pepper and cinnamon bark, complex and dry.
  • Finish – Long, strong, sweet and sumptuous, even a little hint of licorice at the tail
  • Water – Wow! Really opened it up… Much fruitier, dried apricot, still keeps the orange, rum raisins, even sweeter yet without losing the lovely “Ooomph!” and character…The nose then took on some vanilla, cream, think of a yummy egg nog with a generous dash of nutmeg

What a whisky! Even before  the 1st sip, we already heard comments like “Beautiful!” and “Remarkable!”

No question this was cask strength. And equally no doubt this was one exceptional whisky. Full flavoured and quite fabulous, it really came into its optimal character with a splash of water.

To put it in desi terms – we were “maha” impressed! Even more so when the reveal was Indian, provoking much national pride. Bravo Paul John!

And what the folks at Paul John have to say?

A limited edition of the Indian single malt from the sunny Goan coasts, Oloroso presents an aromatic tapestry of complex yet gorgeously weighted fragrances, from toasted honeycomb to figs and a touch of dry raisin. Matured for 3 years in American bourbon barrels and finished in sherry casks for 4 years, its creamy flavours offer a delectable blend of barley with grape. The intense sherry richness towards the end, gives this rare whisky its name. The finish is long and luxuriously spiced, with a cocoa tinged vanilla. It is a wholesome Goan experience, packed into every sip.

  • Nose – Complex and gorgeously weighted, Toasted honeycomb, dry resin, dates, figs and apricot, its almost an aromatic tapestry.
  • Palate – Magnificent mix of barley and grape, sweet and creamy, intense richness of sherry in the end.
  • Finish – Long and luxurious, with pulsing vanilla-cocoa mix and a build-up of spices.
  • Colour – Dark Amber
  • Pairing – This extremely complex whisky needs food that can complement it well. Tender, juicy steaks and blue cheese can help you unravel every nuance of this magnificent malt from Goa.

Paul John Whiskies:

Here are the whiskies explored in our Sherry Unusual evening:

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Sherry Unusual – Hyde, Paul John, Kilchoman, BenRiach

Sherry’s effect on whisky can be a marvel. And I wanted to do something a bit different for our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents to push the boundaries beyond the known sherry drams like Aberlour, GlenDronach, Glenrothes, etc.

Normally we dive straight into whiskies, knowing what we are trying. However I wanted to have a bit of fun with a surprise…. So kept my fellow tasters “blind.”

Next, I introduced a “reference” pour.

I said nothing about it – merely to smell (not sip) with a request between each whisky to go back to the “reference” to recalibrate senses and compare.

It didn’t take long til they realized the “reference” wasn’t whisky at all but instead a sherry… with speculation it may be a “cream” or sweetened avatar rather than a dry fino or amontillado.

I later revealed that it was a Kingsgate Canadian sherry from KittlingRidge Ontario, Canada  described on the bottle as:

“A premium medium dry sherry, barrel aged in oak for extra smoothness.”

However this Kingsgate is now known as Apera with an explanation that it is medium dry Oloroso sherry “style” dessert wine. This 2013 nod from to EU regulations recognizes that a “true” Sherry can only come from the Spanish triangle.

Which tells you this funny little bottle, inherited from a friend who was leaving India, has been around for a few years…

As for what we tried? Not quite your usual fare…

Here is the progression we explored with our Sherry Unusual evening with whiskies from Ireland, India and Islay…. plus an extra special single cask:

Hyde #6 President’s Reserve 8 year single grain + 18 year single malt 46%

From Ireland, picked as an appetizer, the bottle stated it was finished in Sherry. What made it unusual is that it is a new brand, released to help promote the Hyde name before their Hibernia distillery in Cork is fully producing.

Paul John 7 Year (2009) Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish 57.4%

This was the biggest surprise – none imaged it could be from India! We were mighty impressed with what the folks from Paul John produced with four years in ex Bourbon then 3 years in ex Sherry casks. It also opened up beautifully with a bit of water.

BenRiach 12 year (2005/2018) Oloroso Sherry Cask No 5052 59.3%

A true class act. Selected just to be sure we had at least ONE proper single malt in our evening. Gorgeous and astounding how at 59.2%, not a drop of water was desired.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm (2010/2016) Sherry 46%

A pure peat monster tempered with 100% sherry from Islay. Not everyone’s tipple but certainly demonstrated how peat and sweet can combine!

Just click on the whisky links to find out even more about what we discovered!

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Macallan Terra 42.8% with a Sherry “Seasoning” of Spanish + American Oak…

Our host for the evening had a clear plan – explore different dimensions of sherry influences. He started our evening with one that had a subtle yet unmistakable sherry element… with a twist!

We sampled it blind then the whisky was revealed. Here is what we discovered…

Macallan Terra 42.8%

  • Colour – Dark burnished copper
  • Nose – Spice fruit, lemon, raisins, sour plums, figs, quite sharp with some lactone acidity, wood… then it started to mellow, the dry fruits remained as did the sweetness… After even more time, the nose held a distinctive prune and plum element that also had a gentle sweet lemon curd too, perhaps even some cake-like elements too
  • Palate – First sip was full of honey, caramelized sugars with no burn initially then from behind the spice came out – direct, full of red pepper spice. It was oaky, dry, with a khatta meetha (sour sweet) quality, medium body….
  • Finish – No mistaking the sherry element on the finish yet it also retained that lovely spice tail, long, slightly bitter too
  • Water – Some tried, some did not. For this who did, water initially kicked up the spice then mellowed it

We spent a long time speculating about this one before our host revealed the bottle.

There was something familiar – the nose clearly had a sherry influence, and yet on the palate we thought of the spice from a French oak cask or at least a European one. Talk turned to the French Oak Chichibu and discussions of how much more expensive European oak is over American… and then Japanese Mizunara oak even more so!

In terms of palate profile, it most closely reminded us of Compass Box’s Spice Tree yet the aromas clearly meant there was a sherry dimension at work too. What was interesting is the nose made us expect something quite different from we discovered on the palate – less complex than anticipated yet the sweet then spice really grew on all of us.

In terms of age, many of thought it may be young, still playing around with its different elements, yet was well crafted. Above all, we appreciated the quality and balance of this whisky.

And the reveal?

Unbelievable!  A Macallan?

Even more so, a careful interpretation of the wood wording helped clarify what we had puzzled over in our speculations…

The whisky was aged in first fill sherry “seasoned” American and Spanish oak casks – with “seasoned” being the key element. Somehow the Macallan team managed to ‘crack’ having sherry in the casks just long enough to bring a lovely sherry touch to the nose yet not so long that it impacted the new oak quality on the palate.

We were impressed and concluded this was one classy whisky where the quality of wood and care in approach produced a rather enjoyable dram – one that harkened back to the days when one could count on Macallan producing a mighty fine malt.

And what do the folks over at Macallan have to say?

A complex, yet balanced single malt, with a distinctive character of toffee, sweet dried fruit and rich wood spices.

  • Colour – Sunset Orange
  • Nose – Dried fruits are tempered by lemon zest, toffee and light ginger. Aged oak rises.
  • Palate – Sweet dried fruits, subtle tones of ripening apple. Heavy and fresh on the palate.
  • Finish – Medium length. Dried fruit and wood spices.

Terra was released late 2017 for travel retail, part of The Macallan’s Quest Collection. In this case, the aim was to explore the balance between the spice of first-fill oak with the sherry influence of sweet dried fruit. Clearly we found this quest a success!

And while it is duty-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Master of Malt had it listed as $171… before it sold out!

Here is what we explored with our Sherry expressions evening:

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Chieftain’s Choice 22 years (1993/2015) 52.7%

There are an increasing number of independent bottlers putting out single malts with the distilleries kept deliberately undisclosed. In this case, the bottle was part of Chieftain’s Choice, from Ian Macleod, which tend towards rare whiskies  – be it the distillery such as ones that are now closed, age or something specific that makes it unique.

Chieftain’s Choice 22 years (1993/2015) 1st Fill Sherry Cask No 3612 52.7%, 579 Bottles 

  • Colour – Bright ruby
  • Nose – Pure sherry bomb – in every way. Press hard and the different dimensions of prunes, raisins, bitter, rum soaked tart, stewed brandied fruit, then even sweet almond milk is revealed.
  • Palate – Honey sweet with spice then pure sweet with some tannic woods – again perfect sherry balance
  • Finish – Exceedingly sweet

We pronounced it “Pure desert!” And while it reminded us a bit of a Glendronach, that is pure speculation and we could be off completely.

What do we know for certain beyond it being matured in a 1st fill sherry cask? Only that it is from Speyside… and it is an exceptionally good example of an unadulterated sherry cask.

If ever anyone is able to share more, we would be most curious to know!

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Yamazaki 25 year Sherry Cask 43%

There is no question that Japan, and specifically Suntory, has produced some exquisite whiskies over the years. Yamazaki holds a core place in Japanese whiskies rise in global prominence.

In recent years the Yamazaki 2016 Sherry has auctioned for as much as EUR 1,950! To then think of what a 25 year old can attract? This particular whisky is an official bottling and my whisky companions and I shared a small sample in April 2018.

(Image Master of Malt)

Yamazaki 25 year Sherry Cask 43%

  • Colour – Incredibly dark – almost unbelievable
  • Nose – Varnish, old wood, dark fruits, stewed plums, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, Christmas cake, enriched spices of nutmeg, butter cream, coriander
  • Palate – Very sweet, spices, very dry, more of the star anise, some dark juicy fruits or berries, a little cocoa
  • Finish – Long, solid with some bitter tannins
  • Water – One would ordinarily think at 43% the addition of water would be a crime. In this case, with such a concentrated flavours, it helped to open  up the whisky in the most marvellous way

Overall it was a brilliant whisky – rich, complex, intense. And one well worth sampling if you happen to be so fortunate to come across it.

I will admit that most Yamazaki’s I’ve enjoyed were long before I started to record tasting notes and most certainly before prices rose astronomically. However here are two Yamazaki‘s that stand out which I had the pleasure of sampling in the last few years:

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One amazing Ardbeg (1990/2003) Sherry 46% (G+MP)

Ardbeg is one of the Islay peaty “kings”… known far and wide for its strong distinctive character… which makes an interplay with sherry all the more interesting… courtesy of a Gordon + MacPhail’s experimentation.

What did we find?

Ardbeg (1990/2003) Sherry Cask 3133 46% (Gordon + MacPhail)

  • Nose  – Initially a bit ‘soapy’, then clear stamp of sherry and peat, cinnamon, wood fires burning, old books, quite rich, some dry hay, tannins, ash
  • Palate – Pure wildfire! With lots going on, fire and spice, chocolate, lots of ash, really quite brilliant!
  • Finish – Long finish with peat, chocolate and don’t laugh –  watermelon rind
  • Water – While ordinarily would not add to a 46%, please do in this case! It then reveals delicious bacon, maple syrup  along with cinnamon spice

Overall this had a brash “Pay attention dude!” quality – a “text book” Islay whisky – in the best possible way.

You won’t easily find this whisky as it was specially bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for Symposion Sweden.

While I couldn’t find any official tasting notes, recommend you check out WhiskyFun‘s review!

Other Ardbeg tasting experiences

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Armorik’s Bretan Whiskies – Breizh, Armorik Classic + Double Matured

The great thing about going to any Whisky industry event is an opportunity to try a range of whiskies – including those you would be unlikely to buy. Even better is when there is a chance to sample drams you would otherwise find challenging to encounter.

I first sampled an Armorik whisky from the Warengham distillery in Bretagne in June 2015 at La Maison du Whisky, Singapore. It was the Classic and while it didn’t compel me to add it to the final selection from that shopping expedition, it certainly was no disaster. Since then, I’ve had limited encounters and none with an opportunity to try a trio side-by-side.

For those unfamiliar with the brand and distillery, there is a 100 year distillation history in creating elixirs and other spirits, expanding into launching whisky blends in the late 1980s and single malts late 1990s.

So what did I trio at Whisky Live Singapore 2017?

For all, I was informed though providing No Age Statement (NAS), each was matured for a minimum of 5 years.

Breizh Blended Grain 42%

  • Nose – Young, lightly malty, sweet
  • Palate – Soft, hint of cinnamon, cereals
  • Finish – Minimalist, light spice

While fleeting, the impression was of something light, young, nothing offensive but nothing drawing me into it further either.

And what do the folks at the distillery have to add?

50% grain, 50% malt. The double distillation in copper stills is followed by an ageing in traditional oak casks, all matured by the climate with a particular climate in Brittany. Here are a few of the factors that now lead Distillerie Warenghem to offer this excellent Blended Whisky at 42% ABV. Breizh is a famous cousin of the WB, which was the first Breton Whisky. EUR 35.

Armorik Classic 46%

  • Nose – Lots of cereals, fruit, vanilla
  • Palate – Again quite soft, light, fruit, almost a hint of smoke, woodsy… reminded just a bit of a Japanese whisky matured in French Oak
  • Finish – Has quite a sharp spice that grows stronger – not in an unpleasant way but hard to ignore

It wasn’t quite what I remembered – quite a bit more approachable and I was informed they have ‘tinkered’ with the target whisky style to achieve just this easier to access element.

What do the Warengham folks have to add?

Cornerstone of the range, ARMORIK Classic comprises the best of our cellars in a highly refined edition. As a marriage of sherry and bourbon casks of different ages, it highlights the quality of the ageing on the Breton Coasts and the expertise of our cellar manager. This ARMORIK Classic comes in a non-chill filtered version, thus refining its aromatic qualities. EUR 41.

Armorik Double Maturation 46%

  • Nose – Light cereal, less of the spice, more citrusy
  • Palate – Soft, fruity, an almost apple sauce quality, woody oak
  • Finish – Spice burn with a light fruity finish

The Warenghem is double matured in Oak and Sherry casks, which would have lead one to believe even more of the Sherry character would have infused the whisky. Whereas it was a light touch.

What more do the producers of Armorik have to say?

Genuine symbol of the Distillery’s values, this Armorik highlights both the quality of its know-how and its attachment to the Breton land. In partnership with a local cooper, the Distillery designed unique Brittany oak casks. Armorik Double Maturation remains in them for many long years before being transferred into Oloroso sherry casks for a second maturation. Reduced to 46% and non-chill filtered, it pleases through its richness and elegance. EUR 46.80.

To be honest, the Armorik Classic was for me the most enjoyable of the trio. It was my introduction to this range and would remain the one I would suggest folks start if exploring whiskies from Warengham. You also have to appreciate their price point – they are very much keeping their whiskies in the affordable range.

What I would like to try next is something a little older, preferably cask strength… like their 12 year or 13 year. Let’s see if such an opportunity presents itself one of these years…

Interested in more French whisky experiences? Check out:

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Glen Garioch 17 year (1996-2016) Cask No 3730 55.7%

After the absolutely stunning Glen Grant 60 year, dangerously drinkable Bowmore 12 distilled in the 1970s, the peculiar The Prestonfield Vintage 1972 Bowmore 16, we shifted gears to a meatier sherry style whisky from Adelphi‘s single cask bottling of Glen Garioch.

Adelphi Glen Garioch 1993 (note image from different year)

Glen Garioch 17 year (1996-2016) Cask No 3730 55.7% (Adelphi) 152 bottles

  • Nose – Top note of varnish, orange cream cookies or that fanta fizz, citrus zest, sweet honey, clove, a teasing nose that later revealed a musty quality – in a good way
  • Palate – Spicy, old style wood, sweet spice orange like clove studded oranges at Christmas, an almost brandy-like quality, red and green stewed apples, a dash of cocoa, continued to evolve taking on a meaty quality like a quality wagyu steak
  • Finish – Lovely chewy dates

There was a nicely mature quality to this dram, exceedingly smooth and no sense of it being full strength at 55.7%. A lovely sherry quality, more in keeping with what we normally expect – and that’s a mighty fine thing indeed!

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

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A 60 year old whisky?! Yes please! Glen Grant 60 year (1950-2010) 40%

Mature whiskies are rare and beyond the means of most whisky imbibers.

Thanks to a few events, generous fellow malt explorers, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling a couple of older drams – Glendronach, Glenfarclas and Auchentoshan come to mind. Yet none crossed the 50 year mark, let alone touched 60 years…

Until a fine evening of malting with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula who started our evening off with this beauty from Glen Grant.

And best yet – my sample began completely blind so I had no idea what I was experiencing…

Glen Grant 60 year (14 Oct 1950 – 22 Nov 2010), Cask Strength No 2750, 2760 40%

  • Nose – Musty, like a granary with my being transported to the Manitoba farms of my youth, cereals, then shifts more into the old, polished wood of antique furniture, followed by a light sweet honey, a delicate perfume, flowers, fruits, cream, the slightest hint of bitter mocha, as it kept airing with a just drop remaining, a delightful piquant aroma emerged
  • Palate – Rubber, smoky, more of that antique wood, coffee, very elegant and nuanced, exceedingly easy on the palate, great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Such staying power! Yet delicate with a light clove spice

Slow, complex with a hint of smoke without a pinch of peat. The more you sip, the more you marvel. Very sophisticated. This was one that if you had a full dram, it could last hours… sit, savour and let it continue to speak to you, revealing different elements along the way.

The two casks were both ex-sherry – one first fill and the other re-fill. While we do not know the balance between the two, given its nuanced character, the re-fill may have had more play.

We spoke of the contrasting character of sherry matured whiskies – with the younger Kavalan’s on one end of the spectrum with its intense very berry sherry character to the Glendronach grand dames matured for 39 – 42 years in Pedro Ximénez Sherry puncheons dripping in rum-soaked Christmas cake with dry fruits and nuts.

Whereas this Glen Grant was much more gentile, with a fresh ripe fruitiness not dried dates or prunes, light honey drizzle not rich dark maple syrup… a quite fabulous balance of subtle elements in perfect harmony.

Apparently this is a Gordon & MacPhail bottling can be found for £3,500 through Whisky.online. Here’s what they have to  say:

A 1950 Glen Grant bottled in 2010 at 60 years of age. There is no other company in the world that still holds stocks of whisky like this, another super aged masterpiece by Gordon & MacPhail. Glen Grant is a spirit that ages beautifully, this is a beguiling mix of antique wood aromas, simmering spice, all kinds of layered fruit complexity and utterly perfect balance. A truly beautiful, utterly classy whisky that captures just how beautiful the really old whiskies can be, mesmeric stuff.

And yes, for once, words like “beguiling”“layered fruit complexity”, “classy” and “mesmeric” really do apply…

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

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