What better way to start a Christmas whisky tasting, than with [Matt on] bagpipes – a total surprise!
Glasses set, the pouring begins
Fettercairn 2003/2016 12yo Distillery Exclusive cask #3392 [276 bts] 54% WB88.25
- N: I had tried this before [at the distillery], but didn’t get it blind. Smelling blind or otherwise, this is a confusing nose. Initially it smells like,… a grain, a buttery grain. Oh wait, is it sherry? – Madeira, or maybe it’s a port pipe or Springbank’s burgundy cask? Wait, is this Rampur? Puh, let’s start over. I get rubbery and fruity notes in equal measure with a slightly toasted and burnt note. There’s a little [Clynelish] funk with a touch of rotting, over cooked, [crinkled] cabbage with sherry moving to chocolate. I’m guessing abv wise it’s up in the high 40’s. Later it becomes really caramel-y whilst the nose overall improves significantly over time. Notes now of ginger, white-tac and a touch of peat even amongst other weird & wonderful notes of complexity.
- T: A fine, pokey and peppery attack with notes of rubbery peat before the sherry cuts. Things sort themselves out as it’s on the move. Caramel raisins lead to lots of chocolate before moving towards caramel and caramac – you get the picture. There’s a good, long travel here alongside a smooth, waxy mouthfeel. There’s a favourable wood energy, well balanced, present yet just so. Then there’s the sweet medicinal liqueur note that grows and grows.
- F: The finish is a long time in the making but once it comes it’s purely Amontillado on the finish. That [2nd Fill] González Byass Vina AB Sherry Butt unfortunately monopolises the finish but to it’s credit, it’s served the spirit rather well up to this point.
- C: Dalmorisation waves it’s magic wand and delivers, providing an unusual whisky from an unusual single cask. I thought some were too quick to dismiss it on the night but it’s one that gets better and better if you allow it. In fact i dismissed it somewhat first time round. For those looking for something a little different, look no further – an excellent single cask Fettercairn.
Scores 86 points
Next day, i saw it as follows:
- N: Ha, this really is rather outrageous with a thick creamy, sherried funk, cinnamon & ground ginger, eggy & raisiny bread & butter pudding and Advocaat – with none of the sulphurs being undesirable mind.
- T: A moorish, rubbery chewy on sweetish sherry.
- F: It’s quite peppery but the highlight is the caramac, caramel, chocolate, white chocolate – specifically Wispa/praline. Amontillado sherry, straight up at the end.
- C: I dig this again and again and again. Fabulous, odd and youthful Fettercairn.
Scores 87 points
Togouchi 18yo blend Chugoku Jozo 43.8% WB85.50
Aged in an old 400m exploratory railway tunnel that was never used for said purpose, this is a blend from near Hiroshima, first available [as the 18yo] around 2012. Chugoku Jozo (sake, liqueur, shochu) does not distil whisky but imports it already distilled, directly from Scotland for the malt whisky and from Canada for the grain. Only the operations of ageing and blending are performed by Chugoku Jozo master blenders. [Info thanks to Nick]
- N: Fruity with lots of candied [citrus] fruits and bourbon vanilla ice-cream. It’s what you might call a summer whisky, one that’s beautifully balanced with a fine strength.
- T: Oh so dry and oaky [walnut oak], yet it’s nowhere near over-tannic although the cask element has a hollow quality to it – a sign of age certainly. There’s a touch of ash. Reminds me of the William Grant 25yo WB i have currently open.
- F: Well balanced blackberry eau de vie. The hollow, dry casks [i imagine] seem to have soaked up the spirit, yet with some youthfulness remaining. The dryness finishes ashy.
- C: Don’t get me wrong, it’s good but further investigations fail to sustain my more favourable first impressions. A bit characterless.
Scores 81 points
- N: Not dissimilar to the Togouchi but this is more oily with liquorice, old raisins [a touch dusty] and pastries with tutti fruity and fruity meats – so sweet suet then. Settles and gets down to it’s oily, malty barley business – a little Mannochmore like yet less austere.
- T: Lots of fine, prickly, peppery sprinkles. I reckoned on this being another 18yo, but hey i was way out. More chocolate liqueur, tutti fruity and hints of pecans and caramac. The mouthfeel is a soapy=milky combo but that’s not undesirable.
- F: The prickly intensity continues but it’s never that obtrusive. Concludes with dry vanilla cream and some [bourbon] oak tannins.
- C: With form consistency throughout it’s a good all-rounder if a little misshapen and certainly worthy of being saved from the Bell’s. Very light sherry cask.
Scores 84 points
It’s been more than ten years since the first release of Spice Tree  that controversially upset the industry, yet demonstrated once again that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
- N: If the Blair Athol was similar[ish] to the Togouchi, this Spice Tree is more similar to the Blair Athol. Initially i pick up it’s rather direct honeyed barley oiliness along with slightly earthy notes and clear signs of some decent age from what comes across as willing second-fill casks. Changes as it opens up include ginger, crystallised ginger, deep sweet sugars, rum-like molasses and sweet, squidgy sponge cake with bourbon sugars and marshmallows for sure. This appears to be 18yo going on some, but it’s complexity is convoluted.
- T: The arrival isn’t perfect but fairly soon it heads straight towards a chocolate maltiness with some light softish fruitiness – but it’s the chocolate malt that’s driving things. A side notes includes chalky popadom. Overall it’s equally spirity & woody yet the wood speaks of deep old oak with a dense sour cream chew coupled with a deep complexity. Takes a long while to reach the finish.
- F: A sweet-fresh, again with a waxy-soapy mouthfeel like the Blair Athol. The finish will stretch out for you if you want it.
- C: You begin to understand what kind of complexity the nose and palate is attempting to make sense of when you see the breakdown of what’s gone into this blend. There’s some confusion amongst the commentators regarding the makeup of this blend. Here’s how i understand it [with thanks to Nick].
- 32.6% FFS 20yo Glen Ord (rich, sherry wine, decadent)
- 17.2% FFS 11yo Benrinnes (peach apricot soft fruits)
- 2.6% Refill ASB 19yo Alt a Bhainne (fruity creamy herbal)
- 27.7% Light/medium toast hybrid cask, Highland malt blend*. (grilled marshmallow, fruity, bold)
- 4.3% Refill hybrid cask, Highland malt blend. (fruity, toasty, perfumed)
- 15.6% Heavy toast hybrid cask, Highland malt blend, (spicy, rich, cloves)
The three blends [4-6 with various toastings], that make up 47.6% of the total amount, consists of:
13 yo: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine and 20% Teaninich, vatted before being re-casked for another 4.5years in a active hybrid cask, custom barrels with heavily toasted new French oak heads sourced from 195 year old Vosges forests.
Scores 89 points
Next day, i saw it as follows
- N: A dense, sweet cream note with a notable barley oiliness. Jim McEwan says that the oily richness in Bruichladdich malt is down to a slow fermentation & distillation and i believe the same is true for Glen Ord, making up 32.6% of this blend. There’s also sponge, marshmallows, ginger, biscuits with a thin chocolate coating, light yet fragrant fruits, lilies, orange-y essential oils, some dunnage and oak shavings from a wood plane. Overall it’s a soft moorish malt showing age and depth with an assured self control and poise. Settles with a faithfulness more to the bourbon casks and the wort-y distillate. Even though this is a blend from an array of distilleries from around Scotland, it’s so integrated as if to come across united like a single malt. As for the sherry element, i find it rather quiet considering all that first fill activity, integrated again however with dry, dried fruits acting as base notes rather than colour fills. In fact, I failed to pick up the sherry notes both times [once blind], with it’s leanings more towards a bourbon Highland style than anything else. It’s lovely regardless. In fact i find the Highland Balblair 1983 WB more sherried and yet that’s all ex-bourbon.
- T: Oily again with sweet grain sugars and a very smooth creaminess on delivery before becoming rather peppery later on. Very much a savoury sweet development with a desirable mouthfeel chew. It has a soft-firm body, one that pleases my taste buds instantly. Moves on to a honeyed, fruity graininess with soft, empathetic oak support, beautifully united. Straight ahead, like a Mannochmore wrapped in soft cotton.
- F: Bourbon-honeyed sugars with a little spearmint gum, sweet liquorice and bubblegum certainly, with a very gentle warm pepperiness that gently builds and warms the cockles from the inside – a note more about the ethanol character than anything else.
- C: CB: ‘Extravaganza’ – Noun. A literary or musical work marked by extreme freedom of style and structure’, yet on the contrary, i find this extremely well structured, beautifully balanced and rather terrific. There are plenty of bottles of this  so don’t be in a mad rush to pay silly prices, the auctions’ will no doubt will be awash with them in due course, that’s if the shops can shift them all. Currently around £90
Scores 88 points
Linkwood 1997/2016 18yo HL OMC #11565 [257 bts] 50% WB87.33
- N: Again, similar to the Compass Box – so in fact the last four drams have shared characteristics of style relatively speaking. Compared with the Compass Box, this appears stronger abv wise [yep] and younger [pass], a speysider no doubt with a clean lemon citrus profile and a touch of oily fruit. It’s the most Mannochmore-like of the bunch so far, a style i’m fond of. There’s good age here for sure but with a youthfulness also.
- T: Savoury<sweet, peppery-herbal maltiness with a decen0t/robust enough body and a soft oakiness.
- F: It stays herbal yet it’s always sweet, barley sweet with a touch of grainy dunnage.
- C: Another good all-rounder with a firm speyside character from bourbon casks, revealed!
Scores 85 points
- N: This is some nose. There were many changes in descriptors over the course of an hour, such was the evolution of complexity. Descriptors that remained most robust included smoked [peppered] ham, allium [onions], chemically-treated leather, old rose water, fishing trawler diesel, kippers, hard goats cheese and so much farm! It’s a fabulous nose with lots and lots to peruse.
- T: Rather more simple on the palate than on the nose. First establishes itself on smoked barley spirit with a herbal, fresh oily side. Appears slightly juvenile first off but the more i get to know it and the longer i retain the juice in the mouth, the creamier it gets with a dry body and plenty of tannins – which suggests it’s way older than it first seemed. A little thin yet its not soft nor fragile, resulting in a style full of grace and charm.
- F: Smoky and dry with Kit Kat chocolate and mange tout. Old dry finish.
- C: A great nose ramps the score up significantly from the off but it’s very decent throughout.
Scores 88 points
Next day, i saw it as follows
- N: Fruit sugars so dense and dry [oaked], the sugars have turned savoury. Reddish Pippin apples, Paxo [sage & onion] gammon and perhaps some umami? – oh yes, a little. The wood has imparted such a rich creaminess.
- T: It’s impossible not to appreciate what the years in decent casks have done here. Lots of sweet bourbon notes come through later. It’s not overly complex on the palate but boy is it delicious.
- F: Wood tannins, peat<smoke [by now permeated and infused in the mix], and lots of bourbon cask action. Some raw potato appears alongside more bourbon honeyed sugars, the tannins balanced with the peat<smoke.
- C: Wowee, what a cracker. I’m getting a bottle, and significantly upping my initial score. A fabulous end to another cracking Malt n Copper.
Scores 90 points
Last word surely from Matt.