Such a moment is really important to me. I was about to try oldest malt I ever had (by vintage). This is inter-war Strasthisla 1937 (even my dad wasn‘t still born!). Comparison is always important, especially tasting serious stuff, in my opinion. So I should find something worth a sparring with Strathisla. In my humble samples selection I still had Glendronach 1972. Good reasons to choose it – it is also sherry matured malt. I think Strathisla also could be vatted from malts coming mainly from sherry casks. If not, they have very similar age – 38 and 40.
Anyway I have 2 very nice malts – „from very long time ago“ and „more modern one“. If whisky from 1972s can be called modern..
I‘m starting from Strathisla, as it is bit weaker in strength and more like – slightly more delicate. Freshness is pleasant. I had expectation to get more „damp“ one. Elegant notes of honey, fruits and berries. Palate is bit weak, what isn‘t surprising for so old malt, but still very nice, fresh and full-bodied enough. I‘m sure it had much more power when released. And if it had 46%, I‘m sure I would have even more pleasure now.
After a pause, I take Glendronach. Dark and powerful. I‘m not sure now about casks that Strathisla came from. I‘m not strong in history what was happening these times and if they were using bourbon casks already. So Glendronach is way much different – notes of leather, coffee and chocolate. Interesting thing also – I find lots of sour notes – berries, roses. Are these notes from long maturation? But I had similar notes from younger malts also. Maybe just chemical reactions with sulphur traces? I won‘t be guessing anymore, these malts are to good, so I‘m coming back to them.
And both of them are great. I‘m happy to try them. Special thanks to Tim Forbes for Strathisla! Those malts are exceptional. But only when you ignore the price tag. So I will dare to say that there are so much alternatives. Younger malts from Glendronach aged 18-22 years are still accessible in the market and are giving lots of pleasure for a still decent price. And Michel Couvreur, who was great advocate of sherry casks, still has its legacy left and going.
Person who doesn‘t know much about whisky would definitely guess that Karuizawa is japanese name. Those who know more will tell, that this distillery was closed in 2011, while production ceased on 2000. So I have 2 bottles here of malts which were vatted of very last drops made in 1999 and 2000. Those are releases of 2012, vatted from malt matured in sherry casks. As already tasted before some older ones (most of them were subalime, you check them on Japan malts menu, top right corner), I‘m really curious about these two, about 12 year old with just difference in strength. So let‘s go with Karuizawa „Spirit of Asama“ (48%) and Karuizawa „Spirit of Asama“ (55%). I believe beferences will be minimal, I took a chance to buy both as prices are within my budget, keeping in mind this is closed distillery.
I will start from lighter one. Pleasant notes confirm that malt was matured in sherry casks, palate even more – lots of nuts, leather, chocolate notes. Really pleasant and well balanced. Long and firm finish permits to have full pleasure. Maybe even too much of everything – chocolate, leather, spices.
The second, higher in alcohol is very similar. More freshness and more nuttiness than previous one. More power, obviously cause of higher alcohol content. Taste is identical also. Maybe tiny bit more flavor. Maybe little better then the first. Because I‘m a whisky geek and I love malts that are undiluted or diluted to higher than standard strength. You can dilute it by yourself always! And to your preferred strength. But I‘m sure, for majority, lower strength version would go better. It is balanced very well.
Master of Malt are known nota s online whisky retailers but as bottlers also. They release their malts under series of Master of Malt and That Boutique-y Whisky Company. With former, they do offer some undisclosed malts also. And they have already secret bottlings of 30, 40 and 50 (!) years old. Last week this family was complemented with eldest one - Master of Malt 60 Year Old Speyside (1st edition). Very best new is that sample of it sits in my glass no and we will try it without any delay.
Aroma didn‘t disappoint – because wood is not dominant element and it lets to enjoy another notes. Although I’m always expecting those wonderful tropical fruit notes I love from such an old malt. This time I’ve got more cacao, nuts. And that good mix of honey and fruitiness with spices and cedar is really pleasant. Palate is more fruity backed with good portion of spice and herbs. Overall I like this style (well present, but not dominant wood), it’s a very good malt and most likely worth it’s price.
Oh.. almost forgot the most important! Guessing what distillery product we have inside? Logical thinking should help more than memory of tastes. There are not so much distilleries who could have such deep stocks, who withstood well whisky world crisis. I would point out the ones who had long-term views instead of quick profit goals – so my eyes are looking to family owned ones like Glenfiddich and Glenfarclas. Both have proved us already they can save up some stock and their malts age very well. Dalmore, would never give the right to sell their “gems” for such a poor price and under “no name”.
Not so long ago I had a chance to try well known blends. Worth mentioning they weren‘t common – those I had were from the past – around 80‘s. So we tried Teacher’s, White Horse and Dimple 12 Year Old. All bottled about 30 years ago. For my own interest, I will compare them with recent versions. All of them still exists - Teacher‘s and White Horse, while I took Dimple 15 year old, as I didn‘t find 12 yo version. Some may ask why I want this? Simply enough – I have heard enough that older blends were better, they had higher proportion of malt whisky, higher quality, etc. On the label of old Teacher’s I have there’s even written that malt proportion is ‘higher than 45%”. Most likely it’s Ardmore, right? So let’s just try and see what happens.
First one is White Horse – some may know, that in older times one of the ingredients, maybe even the most important one was Lagavulin. Yes! So older one is really richer blend ir more delicate at the same time. New one is very aromatic – lot’s of vanilla, you can also feel more citrus fruits and alcohol. Had to say if the time made first one more gentle or malts proportion was high. But I liked that one much more. I could even choose it for enjoinment instead of some nowadays malts.
For Teacher’s case the difference is even higher. With new one – it’s even worse and I really liked the older one, which has less intensive aroma, but much deeper character, more notes. Modern Teacher’s punches me back with its synthetic vanilla and caramel, hard to find other notes.
With Dimple we have bit different situation, as whiskies are matured for longer period – 12 and 15 years, comparing to former ones where age most likely is 3-4 years. And the difference is way much lower – both are drinkable and pleasant. And older one, aged for 15 years becomes this session favorite. These nice notes of honey, wood, spice and ripe fruits win my attention. Modern Dimple is less natural, sweeter, more alcohol.
For conclusion – for all 3 fights I appreciated old version more. I think others might have different opinions. For sure, blends are less interesting, unique and colorful comparing them to malts. But if there is (and I’m sure there is) such a tendency that majority of blends are becoming undrinkable, I don’t like that. Anyway, I believe some changes occur in the bottle also – older ones were more gentle, didn’t have any traces of alcohol.
I do not miss „good ol‘ times“, I‘m young enough not having opportunity for this. But I do believe in some cycles. This time whisky is on the edge, demand is high and not every distillery can satisfy it. In single malts world we see much more younger bottlings and ones even without age statement. Obviously blends are become more dull cause of lack for malts to fill in. So we, whisky lovers, anoraks, geeks, or how we call themselves, are waiting when this wave will slow down a bit and whisky makers will be able to catch their breath. And whisky will be more accessible again. In the other hand I’m happy that single malts are becoming more and more popular – people rather choosing less, but better.
On April I have got several samples from Whisky-Fässle. I‘m catching up with them now only. For good malt it‘s never too late. In the parcel I have found not only their early 2013 editions, but also older Bowmore (2010) and Littlemill. Huge thanks to Jens Unterweger – you are great guy!. Anyway, I just had opportunity to try few bottlings from Whisky-Fässle before, I can say, there was no any bad. These german (other names to mention – TWA, Malts of Scotland, Whisky-Doris) bottlers gives me good impression! Enough praising, let‘s taste! I will take a sip of Glen Grant 1992/2013, Littlemill 1988/2012, Bunnahabhain 1990/2013, Bowmore 1993/2010 and Ledaig 2005/2013. This is my tasting order, after I will see if I chose well.
I‘m starting with Glen Grant 20 Year Old 1992 – matured in ex-bourbon cask for 20 years. Clean, grassy and spicy aroma and robust palate strengthens my impression that Glen Grants malts are powerful malts and are very suitable for long maturing. It would be interesting to compare with Caperdonich from the same vintage – they were sister distilleries and had connection with spirit pipe, legend says. I’m sure locals were visiting that pipe regularly to drill out some malt. Coming back to whisky – robust, clean, pleasant to taste. Has everything to call him “simple” malt, when sherry monsters or young Islayers become boring.
Now it’s time for one of my old sympathy – Littlemill 23 year old. This one is sherry matured. Symbolic – this is my 300th record / tasting note (yes, I’m bad on timing to upload all of them on the web), when I started to put tasting notes. This is my first sherried Littlemill. And I can say it’s wonderful – lots of fruity notes, which go well with wood, leather, tobacco. One of these wow malts. You can enjoy slowly and appreciate full bouquet. It’s sad I have sample only. It would be nice to have more to sharing with others.
Another for the evening - Bunnahabhain 22 year old 1990, also sherry matured. I had enough sherried Bunnahabhains to know what that means. Now it’s harder to surprise me. Funny fact – strength of Bunna is identical to Glen Grant I had first (fact that says nothing, anyway). It’s also my 15th Bunnahabhain as my notes are saying (another useless fact, besides showing how few of them are still on the website).So, aroma is much different from the former. Maritime character and remarkable nutty notes. Another nice sherried Bunna. Seems that their malt and sherry casks are great pairing. More age would be interested. I think I’m still feeling notes of tasted Littlemill ..
It‘s harder and harder to surprise me – malts are really good quality today. Bowmore – also. But this one is matter of taste. In a good sense – clean Bowmore. It‘s a while I had such. Reminds me Bowmore Tempest, which I like a lot. This one is even slightly better.
For the final one, Ledaig, it’s a challenging time as we had such nice malts – this one is young, 7 year old. You can feel the young age while nosing, but I like the taste. Young peated malt, with nice notes of peat and pepper is another example that short age is not the problem for smoky whiskies. Even in contrary.
In summary, I don’t know if I have got great malts only, or the rest of Whisky-Fässle are of the same quality cause of choosy selection of best casks, but I’m really happy with my tasting.