Clynelish 1997 (Berry Bros)

Distillery: Clynelish
Bottled: 2010, Distilled: 1997
Age: 12 years old
Bottler: Berry Brothers & Rudd
ABV: 56.8%
Cask: American Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Clynelish is a Diageo-run distillery in the coastal village of Brora in the Northern Highlands built to replace the now infamous Brora distillery.

Somewhat cheaper than the legendary silent stills of Brora, the Clynelish has proved very popular with indy bottlers and the vast majority of bottlings in the wild are not official bottlings. Which is a shame, not least because there’s a picture of an angry cat on the label…

Nose: Raisin vanilla fudge, egg custard, nutmeg, pebble beach, cedar wood shavings.

Palate: Starts sweet with fragrant pear, and honeydew melon with a slab of salted Scottish tablet. Sweetness gives way to spices with cinnamon, sweet chilli peppers and cloves.

Finish: Waxy, with a peppery tang.

Lovely Highland profile this. Not as powerful as Brora – more mild, sweet pussycat than a fierce predator.

Highland Park 30

Distillery: Highland Park
Bottled: 2007
Age: 30 years old
ABV: 48.1%
Cask: American Oak and European Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s the first of several 30-year-old whiskies I’m trying this year in the run up to my thirtieth birthday.

Highland Park endeavour to maintain the 25, 30 and 40 year-old expressions available as part of their core line-up with several different versions of each appearing over the years. This version, to my knowledge, is the most recent 30-year-old bottling and is still widely available.

Nose: Grassy and gristy, with honey-roast ham, sultanas and sea-spray. Some herbs and spices as well: cardamom, paprika, thyme, and mint.

Palate: Barley candy, spiced honey, tinned peaches with cinnamon; leading to a smoky mix of cacao, tobacco leaf and burnt coffee.

Finish: Very long and oaky with toasted hazelnuts.

Distinctively Highland Park’s flavour profile – gentle savoury smoke, a little saltiness, and some deep and rich malt and spice.

The time spent in barrel is very apparent here with a lot of the flavours coming directly from the wood. It’s not unpleasant at all but the oak is very much in-evidence. Though not made clear, my money’s on a vatting of bourbon-matured spirit with some refill sherry butts.

Personally, I would’t buy one of these. There are some sensational indy bottlings of Highland Park out there for a lot less money and I’m not convinced the age is bringing anything special to the table in this case.

I do like it, though – it’s refined and restrained with the flavours coming out slowly and gently. A quiet sipper and contemplater for special occasions.

This is at the higher end of Highland Park’s core expressions, with bottles going for £400 on their online shop. You can also get 3cl samples of the Highland Park 30 on WhiskySite.nl for €19.99.

Springbank Sherrywood 17

Distillery: Springbank
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 1997
Age: 17 years old
Bottles: 9,120
ABV: 52.3%
Cask: First-fill and refill sherry butts
More Info: WhiskyBase

Over to Campbeltown this week for the newly released and much-sought-after sherrywood 17 from Springbank.

Typically, I expect an oily coastal mix of salted-caramel and gentle smoky peat from Springbank but it’s not often you see an expression from them that’s matured full-term in sherry casks so I’d imagine that’s going to knock the typical flavour profile far beyond recognition and into a whole new adventure…

Nose: Acrylic paint, dry paper, salty pork crackling, tangerines in syrup, coal-tar soap, nettles and damp moss.

Palate: Mouth-coating with juicy peaches, gooseberries, raspberries, white grapes and elderflower cordial with a rising soft and tangy smoke through the middle. Develops further into crystallised orange peel with grapefruit.

Finish: Sea salt and burnt caramel with gentle wafts of toasted oak and soft smoke.

Water: Reduces the fruit and increases the smoke.

Mmmm, now this is a lovely, (and atypical) sherried whisky. The nose is very savoury and meaty with a coastal edge, and the palate has some excellent fruit notes rising on a core of gentle smoke and oak-spices.

The fruit notes, rather than developing towards the dark grape flavour profile (plums, raisins, cherries, christmas cake, chocolate, etc), lean towards the light grape flavour profile instead. It’s still an oily mouth-coater, but it’s more about the lighter and fresher flavours than the dark and rich ones.

This is a very appealing and intriguing dram after trying so many other delicious (but ultimately predictable) sherried whiskies.

Well done to Springbank for keeping things interesting!

You can order a 6cl sample of the Springbank Sherrywood 17 from WhiskySite.nl for €12.49 – take advantage of the favourable exchange rate if you’re in the UK!

Bowmore Laimrig

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 15 years old
ABV: 54.1%
Cask: Matured in American Oak, finished in Spanish sherry butt
More Info: WhiskyBase

The Laimrig is the cask-strength version of Bowmore’s popular 15 year old core expression.

Nose: Opens with coastal air – salt and wet rocks. A little leathery with smoky milk chocolate and sherbet mingled with violets.

Palate: Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate! Rising smoky, salty tang with lots of spicy dried fruit. Dates, sultanas, raisins – very juicy.

Finish: Salty brazils, warm oak and a whisper of peat.

I was unsure at first with Bowmore. The entry-level expressions didn’t really get my tastebuds dancing.

This stuff, though, is dangerously quaffable. A refined salty peat, with a juicy, sweet sherry and chocolate character. Complex enough to be interesting, but at a respectable price for the age and ABV.

Highland Park Odin

Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 16 years old
Bottles: 17,000
ABV: 55.8%
Cask: First fill and refill sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

I have to say, I’ve been looking forward to this. Highland Park’s Valhalla series ends with year four’s release, Odin, following in the steps of Thor, Loki, and Freya.

As ever, the lads from Orkney have done a cracking job with their marketing and the online buzz for this whisky reached absolute fever pitch a couple of weeks back when the whisky was released.

But what’s it like..?

Nose: Sticky dates, lime skin, tangerine juice, spiced honey and grated chocolate. With time and water, brandy-soaked apples, sweet rolling tobacco and burnt paper ashes.

Palate: Thick and sticky with muscavado, fruity coffee, metallic tinned peaches, and crystallised ginger. A rising edge of smouldering tangy peat that brings sea salt and dusty dark chocolate powder.

Finish: Long, oily, smooth and drying with powerful smoked oak and soft ashes.

As ever, the Highland Park peat is dry and restrained, adding great smoky, ashy elements to the whisky without drowning out the softer fruity notes beneath. A splash of water really opens this up as well, though the full cask strength mouthfeel is gorgeously syrupy.

The sherry casks used here are absolutely wonderful. Such dark and rich bass notes of fruit and chocolate, but interesting flavours rise up beyond the clichéd “christmas cake” profile that we expect from other alleged sherry monsters.

I have to say, I think this whisky is worth the fuss and the price tag. It’s neither a peat, nor a sherry monster; nor is it a monster of any other kind.

Odin the Allfather is a gentleman of depth, power, subtlety and character.

Well played, Highland Park. Make more whisky like this soon!

Bruichladdich Black Art 04.1

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1990
Age: 23 years old
Bottles: 6,000
ABV: 49.2%
Cask: ?????
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s the 4th release of the Bruichladdich Black art, a 23-year old mystery expression whose secret recipe is known only to Jim McEwan himself.

It’s bottled at 49.2%ABV, most likely has a sherry influence, and that’s about all we know. People have pondered over the years whether it’s port, sauternes, shiraz, fino, PX, oloroso, rum… we’re told it’s likely around 6 different casks.

Nose: Icing sugar, slight smoke, dates, sweet tobacco, custard powder.

Palate: Golden malt, rich and oily with spices. Green apples, then sticky figs, soft dates, chocolate, Brazil nuts, and banana bread.

Finish: Long, chewy, oaky finish with wafts of fruit coming through.

Mmmmmm, interesting!

Jim mixes up every release of Black Art, so each one has different characteristics. I enjoyed the 3rd release very much, and this one’s just as appealing. Given time, it yields a lot of different flavours…

The Botanist Gin

Distillery: Bruichladdich
ABV: 46%
Style: Scottish Gin
More Info: TheBotanist.com

You’re seeing this increasingly – distilleries producing clear spirits in addition to aged spirits. Whisky’s a long waiting game, so being able to distill something that can hit the shelves immediately really helps cash flow in a small distillery.

Jim McEwan, the master distiller at Bruichladdich, entered into the task of gin production by sampling different grain alcohols. Typically, a gin is made by buying pure neutral grain alcohol and soaking botanicals in it. This is then re-distilled with a still that filters the vapours through a container holding more botanicals.

Jim went for a 100% wheat alcohol, due to the sweeter flavour. This gets loaded into the Laddie gin still, the fierce lady known affectionately as “Ugly Betty”. Betty is an old Lomond-style still, and so is squat and dumpy compared with the tall, slender necked whisky stills. She puts out an 80% ABV gin which is then watered down with spring water to a bottling strength of 46%.

Mary, one of the distillery’s “ninja grannies” decided one day to make a cheese cake. To make it more fun, she decided to add some Botanist gin to the recipe. Somehow, she “accidentally” used the concentrated pre-bottling strength gin… and you can guess what kind of an afternoon the staff had at the distillery when she shared it out!

Nose: Mint, juniper, aniseed, cumin, lemon, touch of coconut.

Palate: Very refreshing neat. Tangy salted lemons and bitter citrus peel.

Finish: Slightly drying cloves.

The Botanist contains nine base botanicals which include juniper, cassia bark, angelica, liquorice, and citrus peels.

The condenser box contains twenty-two foraged botanicals from Islay which are infused during distillation – these include three types of mint, bog myrtle, sweet Sicily, heather, and (to my delight) gorse.

Gorse is that yellow flower you see growing on knarled clifftop bushes by the coast. At the right time of year, they smell of coconuts – a bit like the smell of some sun cream, or maybe even a Piña Colada.