The Return of the Queen

I like this guest-post thing, so when Tom van Engelen asked me if he could write one about Rosebank, one of his (and mine) favorite distilleries, I didn’t have to think about it for long! Read on!


 

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The Falkirk Wheel, for now the most famous of Falkirk attractions.

A whisky connoisseur never forgets a first time, especially when he gets to taste a whisky he never tasted before. On the road to Speyside in the year of 2011 a group of whiskynerds including yours truly made a stop at Daftmill Distillery in the Kingdom of Fife. After a decent tour we tasted a sample of quietly maturing Daftmill single malt straight from the cask. What a first time that was! Wonderful whisky, much in line with the Summer Release Sjoerd tasted a few weeks ago. In an article I wrote for the Dutch whisky magazine De Kiln I rejoiced in the fact that a new Queen of the Lowlands had returned, to follow in the footsteps of the then closed Rosebank Distillery.

Rosebank always was my favourite of the closed legends of Scotland. I can’t exactly explain why this is, but if I would pressure myself it would be 50-50 between accessible output and excellent quality. Read this review for instance and you need no more convincing. More importantly, in the early days of my whisky hobby I could just go to my everyday liquor store Gall & Gall and buy a small batch bottling like this one. It was my first Rosebank ever and the love is everlasting. For the sake of this blog I sampled a few cl of my precious last stock that has survived. My impressions:

rosebank

Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
The light gold colour indicates a light scent as well, and this is true. I experience wild roses in a garden that hasn’t seen rain for a while. Combine this with sweets in the mobile cart during a Summer carnival and you’re there. Rosebank all over.

Sip:
The taste is dominated by the two casks this bottling was created from. Nice, obedient oak combined with spicy flavours which really shine, despite only 43% abv.

Swallow:
A warm malty finish with just enough bite to make you warm inside and out. With a higher alcohol content this would have been a killing machine. Maybe too rough for some.

Score: 84 points. (Average value € 40,-? Then sell me three please!)

Thanks to a fellow (online) whisky enthusiast I was able to purchase a sample of a classic. Where the above notes are from a Rosebank 1991 vintage, the next is from a 1981 vintage A good year indeed for Rosebank malt whisky. Sjoerd tasted it before, too, here.

 

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
At this high volume abv of 62.3% it is not easy to get into the glass. This may very well be the killing machine I suspect the 1991 has the potential to. Close to the glass I only sniff banana, the overripe kind, but anything else is covered. I start to understand why the 1991 was diluted. When I add water to this one it becomes a lot brighter and then the name of the distillery does it justice. What an abundance of flowers and grasses where wind has free play. Freshness. Lots of lemon too. The previous sample was Autumn, this sample is Spring! I suspect very subtle casks were used for this vatting as well. But, yes there is a “but”, even if you have poured an ocean of water into your glass, this Rosebank does suffer some austerity. 

Sip:
A whiff of peat on an otherwise fruity palate (not the tropical kind, mind you), very old-style whisky where wood is not overpowering the distillate. I’m a sucker for that.

Swallow:
The finish goes on and on, with all of the aforementioned influences and the added pleasure of tea. This whisky is a good swimmer. The only complaint would be that it is a little one-dimensional.

Score: 88 points. A classic, but less to my liking than the Special Release.

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Another famous Rosebank.

Why these notes? Well, if you haven’t lived underneath a rock, you have read the news about the resurrection of Rosebank, in the wake of those other giants coming back from the dead. I decided to be enthusiastic about it, even though I will miss the melancholy of tasting a glass of a long lost classic, be it from Port Ellen, Brora or indeed Rosebank. A few weeks ago I was lucky to find a sample of the good old Rosebank Flora & Fauna 12 Years Old. I could cry over the simple beauty of it, and then I found myself longing for a new expression, to be in my glass by the time I will be 50. If it is of the same quality as the wonderful whisky the Cuthbert family is putting out, we can truly speak of the Return of the Queen of the Lowlands.


 

About Tom van Engelen

I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whiskymagazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.

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Barrell Bourbon, Batch 4, 6 years old, 58.4%

A few years ago, my mate Shai went back home to America, for some holiday. He thought it a good idea to do a bottle share of some things he picked up there. If I recall correctly there was a Maker’s Mark Cask Strength in that batch too. There were two others, but I don’t remember which ones. I might even still have the samples… Oh, the decadence…

Barrell Bourbon isn’t a distiller. They are not unlike many of the scottish blenders in that they blend their bourbons after sourcing them from undisclosed distilleries. They produce bourbon, rye whiskey, American whiskey (that’s not bourbon or rye) and a rum.

Unfortunately, I don’t think their bourbon is available in The Netherlands, or Europe for that matter. And in this case it is rather unfortunate.

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
Scharp, rich bourbon with a boat load of corn on the nose. Hard candy, lime, pear drops. Also some apple and oak scents. Charcoal and embers.

Sip:
Sharp, with a lot of alcohol and chili peppery heat. Very dry and spicy, mostly pepper and sawdust. Black and chili pepper. Some corn sweetness, but not as much as on the nose.

Swallow:
A long and drying finish. Still with some heat, but not as sharp as the palate. Not by a long shot. Dried apple peels, some sweetness.

This is a bourbon with a complexity that I don’t often encounter in the spirit. Generally, and this is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, bourbon is rather straight forward, with the pitfall of becoming one dimensional. Of course, there are others that are much better than that, but those aren’t readily available in Europe. Especially newer releases are increasingly hard to get.

This one I was very happy to taste and drink. Yes, it’s sharp, but that also fits it, since the sharpness is backed up with lots of bold flavors. Very enjoyable, and very good.

Barrell Bourbon, Batch 4, 6 years old, 58.4%

87/100

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Dutch Whisky Festival 2018

31870404_231401954105153_8042889374922178560_nIn twelve days the inaugural edition of Dutch Whisky Festival will take place. A couple of whisky buddies of mine (Jeroen Koetsier and Arno Borsboom, with help from Michiel Wigman) are organizing it in Arnhem with the festival focusing on super premium drams.

Contrary to, for example, The Whisky Show, the list of available whiskies shows lots and lots of ancient stuff from decades ago, whereas The Whisky Exchange’s Whisky Show focuses more on premium whiskies from modern times (unless you go to the Old and Rare version, obviously).

By the looks of it, they’ve taken a close look at Limburg an der Lahn’s Whisky Fair in their setup. There are lots of collectors and not as many importers and bottlers as you might think.

ben-nevis-1966-49-yAnd, even though September has been an insanely busy month at the De Haan Residence I am looking forward to spending my day drinking exquisite drams. Yes, I said ‘day’ since they’re not doing those annoying 3 or 4 hour sessions like most other festivals. By doing a seven hour session there’s ample time to wander into Arnhem center for a bite to eat or have a cup of coffee to regain a bit of your composure.

I, for one, am looking forward to meeting lots of likeminded people and drinking a few amazing drams like a 1966 Ben Nevis, Highland Park 1968 or Talisker 1979.

Also, I’m rather curious to their 4 year old sherried Strathearn. It’s my first from that distillery!

And I honestly think the ticket price is one of the best out there. You do pay € 50, but for that you get access, a glass, 25 tokens, two vouchers for a drink at the bar, and a € 25 Catawiki voucher!

Note: I’m not entirely unpartial in this, since I’ve helped these guys out with their website. I do believe they’re doing things right here, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted about it

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Miltonduff 2009 – Casqueteers

So, there’s not a lot of information on this bottling. It’s a bourbon cask from 2009, number 900068, to be precise. Also, the Casqueteers bought it in 2015 and plan to store it until 2021-ish.

The shares were available for buying at 180 euros a piece. They indicate excise, bottling, transport and such at another 240 euros, with some 8 bottles as the result for a share. Roughly 50 euros a piece, towards the end.

I got this sample recently from, I assume, a shareholder of the cask (RvB) and I just reviewed it. I figured I might as well get the review out of the way.

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Image from the Casqueteers website

Sniff:
Young, malty and strong. Toast, fresh barley, some vanilla and straw. A mossy green spirit is still rather prominent.

Sip:
Strong on the palate too. Close to 60% I guess. Straw, dry with some herbs. A hint of oak and fresh, young oak. A bit of nougat too. A hint of honey sweetness towards the back.

Swallow:
A bit syrupy and rather hot. Green, spirity and a hint of vanilla. Quite short and youthful.

Honestly, I find this hard to rate. Generally I like a good bit of spirit in my whisky, since that is what gives the whisky character. On the other hand, in this case the spirit is rather generic. It does everything you expect a Speyside whisky to do, but on steroids. The steroids, however, translate mostly to the fiery flavors and the alcoholic strength of it.

So, yes, there are certain things to like here. However, it’s all a bit generic. I think it’s a good thing they’re leaving it in the cask for a little while longer. Those three years (assuming this was sample was drawn recently) might improve this significantly.

At the moment I rate this 83/100

Miltonduff 2009, Casqueteers. More information here.

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Two Springbanks from the Cage!

When in Campbeltown you have to visit Cadenhead’s. Especially since Mark Watt took over they’ve quickly become one of the, if not the, best bottler I know. However, when at Cadenhead’s, you’re technically also at Springbank. And, maybe coincidentally, that happens to be one of my very favorite distilleries.

Apart from their older expressions quickly reaching a price point at which I can no longer afford them, I more or less love all their expressions to some degree.

So, when I was at Cadenhead’s and had just emptied my body of all spare organs I needed to sell to afford everything I wanted, I remembered ‘the cage’. The cage in which they sell some 1-of-1 bottlings of Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn. Maybe there’s Kilkerran too, but I’ve not seen it.

I picked these two, based on age and cask types used. A port cask and a sherry cask. Both types of cask that work well with Springbank’s products, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, they didn’t last long after selling some samples (at some point you do need a kidney, so I held on to the second one). The last bits I reviewed last week.

20180906_205557Springbank 12, Fresh Sherry Hogshead, Rotation 265, 59.2%

Sniff:
Lots of oak, sherry, leather and shoe polish. Dark chocolate, dried plums and sour cherries. Toasted rye bread. Very dark, roasty and gorgeous.

Sip:
Not as strong as I’d expect. Lots of sherry and fruit. Oak, some almonds and walnuts. Plums, cherries, chocolate and espresso.

Swallow:
Long on the finish, and more mellow suddenly. Fruity, with lots of leather and fruit.

90/100


20180906_212437Springbank 14, Fresh Port Hogshead, Rotation 392, 58.2%

Sniff:
Pretty heavy on the Port, but also with the known and loved Springbank funkiness. A whiff of diesel and engine grease, but with some old oak and stewed red fruits.

Sip:
Pretty sharp, but rich too. Port, and port casks. Earthy, dark and big in flavor. Slightly smoky and funky. Mushrooms, wet cellars and mold.

Swallow:
The finish quickly mellows, but stays on track with the same flavors as before. A bit more earthy, maybe, and some notes of flint.

90/100

As you might have concluded, correctly, these are tremendous whiskies. I absolutely loved them to bits. They are both intense and funky, just like you love Springbank in its teens.

I hope to go back there in February when I’m doing a tiny Scotland trip with my mate JP, and must remember to not blow my dough before I get there. In this case that might be a bit easier since it’s only Arran before Campbeltown, and not the entirety of Islay.

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Knob Creek 9yo, Cask 3080, 60% – OB for K&L Wines

September is Bourbon Heritage Month, apparently. For us outside of the USA it doesn’t mean anything and I’m not even sure it’s still a thing stateside. Anyway, I thought it was a good excuse to review a bourbon that I had recently.

It’s one of those samples that were sitting around on my shelf for far too long and I had completely forgotten about until I started digging around to find some things for our family vacation.

Normally I take the tail ends of bottles but with a third kid we didn’t have much room to spare for non-essentials. Samples are much smaller and can be stashed anywhere between other things.

Knob Creek then. My favorite go-to bourbon, even though I don’t drink much bourbon. I’ve had at least one bottle in my posession ever since our trip to the USA in 2009. It’s especially good since it’s rather affordable. A lot more expensive than in its country of origin, but still ‘only’ 40 euros.

I was rather surprised to find out this was made by Jim Beam, since I’m not very partial to many of their products.

1245898xSniff:
Big bourbon with lots of autumnal, cigar like scents. Not too sweet, and I even think I get an ashy note from the cask. Shortbread and some light spices.

Sip:
Sharp (no surprise at 60%), with a lot of wood spices. Hot cinnamon, ginger, stuff like that. Some sweetness but less than in regular bourbon. Dead leaves, cigars, ash.

Swallow:
A rather short finish in which all flavors from before show themselves again, but none stick around. There’s a hint of bitterness too.

Not bad, but not one I’ll recall in a few years time. It’s a bit thin compared to what I am used to and what I look for in Knob Creek. I’m not overly surprised, since I’ve found that I prefer the regular 50% versions over the 60% single casks.

Anyway, not bad, but not particularly good either. If I had a bottle I’d drink it, but I’d rather drink something else. Something with a bit more depth, and a bit less alcohol.

84/100

Knob Creek 9yo, Cask 3080, 60%, OB for K&L Wines. No longer available, since it was released in 2016.

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Highland Park 18, 1999-2018, 53.6% – Berry Brothers & Rudd

I was discussing a trip to Scotland I’m planning for winter with a friend, with said friend. We were debating whether or not to fly to Glasgow and do the Arran/Campbeltown/Fort William trip or to fly to Inverness and venture up to Orkney.

sinkThen, and listen to this, the idiot told me he didn’t like Highland Park. Let that sink in. I mean, I can understand that statement regarding the official bottlings that are actually affordable to people with a life to live. However, when taking independent bottlers in account, I don’t think there’s a distillery that’s better than Highland Park (except, maybe, Springbank and Bowmore, and Clynelish).

Anyway, you get it. EVERYBODY loves indie Highland Park. So, when this bottle popped up in my feed, I bought it, bottle-shared it and saved him a sip, which he will have to undergo next week, at Maltstock. Not liking Highland Park…

So, 18 year old, 16 on the label. Typo, according to my sources. It is actually 1999 to 2018, so all is good. From a refill butt nonetheless, although, based on the color I wouldn’t have guessed.

20180901_093632Sniff:
Malty with a whiff of highland peat smoke. Grilled fruit with apple and star fruit. Light, but with oak and straw. Some gentle scents of peach, other dried fruits too.

Sip:
A bit sharper than the scent, with more fruit. Tropical and more ‘northern’ as well. Apples, grapes, peaches. Lots of straw and a bit of smoke.

Swallow:
The typical Highland Park dryness is prevalent on the finish. Long, dry, fruity and straw like. Coastal too with a hint of salt.

It’s a very gentle sherry cask. I only get some minor hints of peach in the whisky, and there’s a bit more dryness than I am used to from bourbon casks. Apart from that, it is exactly what you’d expect from a bourbon cask Highland Park, but with an extra layer of things to discover.

In short, a whisky that is absolutely gorgeous. It does everything right, with it being deep and complex, with big flavors and some longevity to it because of the high alcohol percentage. Not too high, mind.

90/100

Highland Park 18, 1999-2018, Refill butt #28, 53.6%, Berry Bros. & Rudd. Still available internationally for around 100 euros.

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