North Star Regions – Speyside 12 year 50%

North Star has a Millennial Series with whiskies from Scotland’s four main regions – Highland, Speyside, Islay and Island. I started with the Highland and have now cracked open the Speyside! Alas I haven’t been able to get my hands on either the Islay nor the Island, so this will conclude my exploration of this series.

The distillery isn’t directly stated, but the longitude and latitude provided on the bottle brings one to Aberlour distillery in X (N 57° 26’36.14″ by W 3° 14’17.04′). When I think of Aberlour, what comes to mind is a robust sherry bomb – particularly A’bunadh which was once upon a time regular duty free cask strength purchase.

So what about this one? Well… it was sampled over a few sessions – including with our Whisky Ladies of Europe!

The Speyside 12 year 50%

  • Colour – Dark copper
  • Nose – Rich, fruity with apricots, pineapple, heavy with honey or maple syrup, rum raisins, as it opened up some dark bitter chocolate (think 95%), more raisins which were joined by nuts – particularly walnut, dried figs, some cherries…
  • Palate – Very tasty! Pepper, sweet spices of cinnamon and cloves, dark berries, more of that apricot, perhaps a bit of melon? Nice creamy butter that coats the palate with oils, buttered toast
  • Finish – Quite long. There was an almost coffee-like quality or betel nut? A bit bitter, with some chilly spice.
  • Water – Dampens the aromas… however nuts became slightly more pronounced. Less spice, more sweetness, betel leaf and melons. In some cases adding water transforms a dram. In this case? It neither added dramatically nor detracted.

Overall it lived up to its promise of being a proper sherry dram – though not as overwhelming as some cask strength A’bunadh’s I’ve experienced! What was remarkable was the consistency – from 1st whiff to finish – it followed a common theme. I had jotted down a few notes from an earlier solo tasting months ago… to then see notes from the tasting with the ladies was practically identical!

The only shift was after we set it aside and returned after an hour. We immediately found it a bit sour or tart – crabapples with a bit of medicinal sweetness, orange peels and cloves. And yet – even this was all aligned to the overall character of the dram.

Rather than tasting notes, the North Star team share the following quote from Aedan Andrejus Burt:

Speyside is often considered Scotland’s sweetest and most approachable region. Wherever you go, they’ll introduce you to a dram, and probably something the locals call a ‘breakfast whisky’ soon enough. Home to around 50 distilleries, over a third of Scotland’s total, the area covers a 50-mile strip between Inverses and Aberdeen, around the River Spey. For that, most distilleries have their own water source, of which they are immensely proud. The honeyed and fruity character of Speyside whiskies make them highly sought after, and the banks of the Spey accommodate many of the country’s best known stills.

I purchased this bottle in May 2020 during our COVID ‘shut-in’ from Sansibar for EUR 37.82 plus 19% tax. There is zero doubt this is a value for money dram!

Curious about earlier Aberlour tasting experiences? Well… there have been a few…

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Teeling Brabazon Bottling 49.5% – Sherry Twist?

For those who make it to Ireland and start to explore beyond the big daddy Midleton, known best for its Jameson brand, there are a plethora of options… yet still only a small yet growing number of distillers.

Teeling is one of them and relatively recently launched a new “Brabazon Bottling” series – to explore maturation experiments with fortified wine – kicking off with this Sherry avatar and then launching a Port version for the 2nd series. Our host had tried both and knew to reverse the tasting order so we had the 2nd first and the 1st second. But what matters more than series and tasting order is what we thought!

Teeling Brabazon Sherry 49.5% (Series 1, 02/2018)

  • Nose – Heavier than the Port, dark plums, fruity, sharp cheddar, direct, liquorice, black olives or capers… and after the 1st sip, it was an explosion of Christmas qualities, dried fruits, cinnamon, cloves, ginger…. then settling into a caramel with a hint of salt and toast
  • Palate – Usual… like a sweet apple and ginger chutney, kiwis, cloves, chocolate… while wasn’t massively complex, it had a strong character, quite tasty with a light Christmas pudding
  • Finish – Beautiful! The finish was really long… really really long… with a curl of liquorice

Early reactions to this one after the 1st sip was “I like it! I really like it!” With comments about how it simply envelops into a nice warm hug… In many ways it was the yin to the yang of the Port with a slower start on the nose, blooming fully on the palate, and slowly tapering into a lingering finish.

Which sparked a lively comparison between the two non-chill filtered Brabazon Bottling boys… Which was preferred? Why?

Some were decidedly against this one. Finding it a bit challenging and lacking in a certain something required to make an appealing tipple. Others had the opposite reaction, really enjoying it.

I’ll admit I was in the 2nd camp and found it an interesting twist on the sociable quality I’ve come to expect from Teeling

And what do the folks at Teeling have to say?

The Brabazon Bottling Series is a limited edition collection of unique Irish Single Malts capturing the full impact and flavour crafted through fortified wine cask maturation.

Series No. 1 focuses on sherry cask maturation and consists of a range of carefully selected sherry cask aged whiskeys producing a full flavoured sherry influenced Irish Single Malt. This bottling consists of a vatting of 6 different sherry casks, carefully chosen for their complementary character. The Brabazon Bottling Series 1 is bottled at 49.5% ABV with no chill filtration allowing for all the natural flavours of this whiskey to be retained. Limited to just 12,500 bottles, this is a whiskey to savour.

Teeling’s Tasting Notes:

  • Nose – Earthy dried fruit and roasted hazelnut, with marmalade, peach, plum and burnt toffee.
  • Taste – A rich sherry sweetness, red berries, nuttiness and toffee, with a hint of of liquorice and clove.
  • Finish – Lingering mixed spice, trail-mix, crisped marshmallow, dry tannins and spice with toasted wood.

What else was picked up Whisky Ladies Irish Trio:

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LMdW Artist #8 – The Glenrothes 20 year 52.8%

Our first sherry dram from the La Maison du Whisky’s Artist Series 8 was from The Glen Rothes distillery.

Even our wee nip at Whisky Live Singapore 2018 was enough to establish this as a solid sherry specimen in a beautiful bottle with art by Takehiko Sugawara.

Glenrothes 20 year (1995/2018) Sherry Butt Cask #909700 52.8% (530 bottles)

  • Nose – Classic sherry notes with sweet spices, dates, prunes! With a lovely toffee, chocolate orange
  • Palate – Full flavoured, well rounded and robust! Loads of sherry dry fruits with and a touch of blue cheese or rancio
  • Finish – Sherry, spice and cloves, toast, salty caramel and chocolate

What a whisky! No doubt this dram delivered! If you happen to be in a sherry mood, this one is a marvel…

However with only 530 bottles in existence, available only through La Maison du Whisky, you may find it challenging to track down. Not to mention the pricy price tag at SGD 725.

However I was rather delighted to have a chance to try a quick sample…

Here is what the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say:

  • Nose – Fine, ample. At first, beautiful notes of bitter orange are coated with dark chocolate. This wonderfully classic starter is also composed of red and black fruits (blackberry, strawberry) and noble spices (cardamon, ginger, cinnamon). At aeration, it evolves on precious wood (beeswax), vanilla and leather. Dried fruits (dates, figs) then add complexity to the aromatic palette.
  • Palate – Lively, racy. In attack of mouth, the orange releases their juice at the same time sweet and acidulated. Very tense, it reveals notes of salted butter caramel, exotic fruits (guava, persimmon) and creme brûlée. Unveiling gianduja, the mid-palate is also close to malted barley. In the back of the mouth, strawberries and blackberries make a particularly tasty and fleshy taste return.
  • Final – Long, balanced. Change of scenery. Heady flowers (iris, purple lilac, peony) make their appearance and perfume the atmosphere of one who also shines by the delicacy of his touch. In retro-olfaction, chocolate and salted butter caramel accompany notes of toasted bread and aromatic plants (chervil, laurel). Original the empty glass lets admire a wood that is reduced to dust giving way to cocoa beans and very ripe bananas.

—- From LMdW website with an imperfect google translation from French.

La Maison du Whisky Artist #8 with Sherry

Want more Glen Rothes tasting notes?

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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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