"My introduction to single malts happened quite accidentally.
When I was quite young I had some bad experiences with strong
spirits and grew to dislike and be nauseated by almost anything.
After "exceeding" a bit too much in the early 1990s, I couldn't
really touch a drop of vodka, tequila, grappa or whisky (or at least
the stuff that I called whisky at the time... Johnnie Walker Red,
Ballantines...) without having my stomach shut as if to say
"please no more". So, I became interested in beer mostly...
and thus I gained my nickname "Beer" (mispronounced by my
friends who say "Bear" instead) which I still have today even
if I rarely drink beer anymore."
That means that the chances of you encountering one in a bar (or a store) are relatively minimal.
Nevertheless, some are special enough to either actively hunt down or avoid like the plague. Since
the 'specials' on a regular menu are supposed to be refreshed regularly, I felt it might be useful to
include a few independent bottlings in our list of recommendations and warnings as well.
This list contains only two dozen malt whiskies - more recommendable single malts can be found
on the pages of the annual Malt Maniacs Awards competitions, in the mAlmanac on Malt Madness
or on Serge Valentin's Whiskyfun site - which provides fresh tasting notes (almost) every day.
And then there is our little (but growing) Malt Maniacs & Friends Group on Facebook, of course.
But if you are a (relative) novice in the world of single malts, finding MORE single malts may not
be your primary concern. Maybe you're still asking yourself: Why single malts?
Please allow our Italian maniac Luca Chichizola to explain:
We also needed a 'special' section to highlight some of the interesting independent bottlings
we encounter every now & then. They're not included in the regular MaltMenu because they tend
to be single cask bottlings, which means that no more than a few hundred bottles were ever made.
A few seconds after I proudly thought to myself that I had utterly finished the
MaltMenu I realised that it would never be really finished. Apart from the
dreaded phenomenon of batch variation, there are also several longer
term 'trends' when it comes to character and quality. These differences
between various batches are unavoidable - and they are usual minimal.
However, some show significant differences. When I decided to give
the Bowmore Darkest another try in 2007, I stumbled across a very nice
batch. Nothing overly spectacular (80/100), but at least a very enjoyable
and even recommendable dram; miles away from my previous encounter.
A few earlier batches tasted like the stale vase water of sickly flowers,
served in an ashtray - definitely not something I'd recommend...
And that made me think... I felt that changes (for better or for worse)
should somehow be highlighted on our site. So, we came up with this...
"And then, in 2003, I started to mysteriously grow some interest again.
I had some Jaegermeister and some grappa in the house, but on a whim I decided that maybe Scotch would be better: and here I was again, a bottle of JW Red, one of Ballantines, one of Glen Grant 5... all supermarket stuff. After many years, I physicaly tolerated them again, but I felt that they didn't offer me SATISFACTION. And then I remembered the words of an old (and quite alcoholic) colleague. I had paid no attention to his suggestions when he had preciously bestowed them upon me, but now his words echoed in my mind. He had clearly said: "If one day you will want to try some GOOD Scotch, and not the supermarket crap, try a bottle of Talisker and one of Lagavulin. A new world will open to your eyes." Now that I think of him, this colleague looked incredibly like Michael Jackson... probably something genetic! So, when at the supermarket I saw a bottle of Talisker on offer, it was mine. I bought it secretly on a Saturday morning, and as soon as I was home I immediately had a dram (on an empty stomach). I was hooked forever, and I started to slowly become a maniac: reading books, all sorts of websites, and finally Malt Madness/Maniacs with its impressive array of tasting notes and useful info. The rest is history..."
Benriach 15yo 'Madeira Wood Finish' (45%, OB - as experienced by Serge Valentin, France)
Nose: Nice notes of fresh walnuts and vanilla fudge. Less yeasty than the Dark Rum version. Quite some raisins.
Palate: Dried papayas and bananas, coffee-flavoured toffee, cappuccino… Maybe a little sweetish now, less dry than expected.
Verdict: 79 points - madeira is the finishing I usually like best (or dislike less) and this is no exception. Simply quaffable.
Caol Ila 1993/2006 Distiller's Edition (43%, OB - as experienced by Johannes van den Heuvel)
Nose: Light, sweet and slightly dusty. More 'veggy' than 'peaty'. And then the wine finish overpowers everything else.
Palate: Ooops.... Yes, there's peat here, but it's weak at first. It picks up, though. I got a nice touch of salted liquorice.
Verdict: 81 points - nothing wrong if you need a clean alternative for a limpy Bowmore, but a 'classic' it ain't.
Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #23
(60,2%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008 - as experienced by Lawrence Graham)
Nose: Strong, sweet and rounded, warmed brown sugar, chocolate, Christmas cake fruits, Demerara sugar pie.
Taste: Huge and warming, a hint of mint, oak, malt, oak and sherry (lots of sherry). Absolutely excellent.
Verdict: 87 points - Sweet intermingled with the dry. Excellent.
Dailuaine 1998/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer Best Casks, Sherry, 700 Bts.)
Nose: Light, subtle fruits over a more serious undercurrent. Something nutty too. More fruits and spices emerging.
Palate: Round and smooth like an Irish or grain whisky. Lovely fruity centre. Fairly short finish with a long afterburn.
Verdict: 82 points - Growing complexity over time. Pretty impressive considering the modest age of ten years.
Amrut NAS 'Cask Strength' (61.9%, OB, Bottled 2007, India - as experienced by Luca Chichizola, Italy)
Nose: Winey, dry. Strawberries, raspberries. Dried figs. Mint, camphor, wood polish. Good!.
Palate: Very dry and sherried. Licorice, getting peppery, nuttier and very oaky. Intense and chewy.
Verdict: 88 points - I also got some herbs, leather and fresh orange juice at the MM Awards 2008 tastings.
Dalmore 14yo 1992/2006 (62%, Cadenhead's, 306 Bts. - as experienced by Davin de Kergommeaux)
Nose: Candy, milk chocolate, dry hay, straw, very grassy and a bit grainy.
Palate: Quite sweet, lots of malt, nice burn, gets some dry grass and dry firewood, develops lots of cigar box flavours.
Verdict: 86 points - fairly complex woody sweetness on the palate, vaguest hints of vanilla.
Bladnoch 18yo 1989/2007 (47.8%, Cadenhead's, 156 Bts. - as experienced by Michel van Meersbergen)
Nose: Sour. Something went wrong... Loads of lemon and lime skin, varnish, glue, over-ripe melon, pickles and ghurkins.
Palate: Quite perfumed but it stays at an enjoyable level. Prune jam, some lemon skin and chemical vanilla essence.
Verdict: 67 points - The perfumy notes continue in the finish which fades away with notes of white beer. Weird nose....
Dallas Dhu 27yo 1979/2007 (59.2%, Cadenhead's Chairman Stock, 198 Bts. - by Michel van Meersbergen)
Nose: Waxy, pollen, pumpkin seeds, turpentine. Very classic old Speyside feel. Peach, mango and subtle lilacs.
Palate: Peach, malts, lilicas, pollen, very subtle soap. Goes on with hints of lychee.
Verdict: 92 points - Velvetty and silky mouth feel. Excellent Dallas Dhu.
Caperdonich 39yo 1968/2008 (56%, Duncan Taylor, C# 2608 - as experienced by Bert Bruyneel)
Nose: Nice old nose, a pinch of woodiness, dry leather, some vanilla.
Palate: Spicy and some cream, slightly alcoholic, vanilla, malty sweet. Enjoy a full crafty old Speyside finish.
Verdict: 90 points - Still very punchy and fresh to be a 39yo whisky..
Ardbeg 17yo 1991/2008 (46%, Hart Brothers, Finest Collection - as experienced by Robert Karlsson, Sweden)
Nose: Dry maltiness and a big clean smoke of the sour type. Clearly maritime, with iodine. White peppers, vanilla. Excellent.
Palate: The smoke is sooty and real nice. Citrus and malt as well. Clean and very nice.
Verdict: 87 points - at the MM Awards 2008 tastings all jurors except Davin gave this one a medal.
Benriach 20yo 84/2008 (54.2%, TSMOS, C#194, 214 Bts. - as experienced by Johannes van den Heuvel)
Nose: Clean with light peaty notes. No peat monster, just a crisp 'coastal' profile. Emerging organics too.
Palate: Solid and much peatier than the nose suggests. Good mouth feel with a decent amount of fruits in centre & finish.
Verdict: 88 points - the nose grows heavier, peatier and more complex with diesel notes after a few minutes.
Connemara 1992/2007 (50.5%, OB for Whisky Fair Germany, C# K92/34 4184 - as experienced by Johannes)
Nose: Odd combination of metallic and fruity notes. Very complex and expressive. Loads of development.
Palate: Round, big and fruity. A really beautiful mouth feel. Great combination of fruits and a fair dose of peat.
Verdict: 87 points - the quality of Cooley's product has been steadily increasing for a few years now.
Ardbeg Supernova ACR (58.9%, OB, Advance Committee Release, 2009 - as experienced by Lawrence Graham)
Nose: Sweet strong peat with the suggestion of some youth evident in the vibrancy of the aromas.
Palate: Quite vibrant and an accurate hand drawn facsimile of the nose; very strong with lashing of lovely peat smoke.
Verdict: 87 points - some sweet sherry notes on the palate as well.
Longmorn 15yo (45%, OB - as experienced in 2006 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland) - OLD BOTTLING
Nose: Malty and a little spirity at first, followed by a long fruity development (citrus into late fruits) after a few minutes.
Palate: Excellent mouth feel at 45%. Big, sweet, malty burn. They managed to keep this expression on track for a decade.
Verdict: 81 points - this has been a dependable, affordable favourite since the mid-1990's. A great multi-purpose dram.
Longmorn 16yo (48%, OB - as experienced in 2007 by Serge Valentin, France) - NEW BOTTLING
Nose: Spirity, oaky and very green at first sniff. Green apples, not too ripe kiwis, lime, grapefruits, green tea. Shoe polish.
Palate: quite strong, very lemony and oaky, fizzy, green… Not complex at all but quite acidic. Sauvignon blanc, anyone?
Verdict: 79 points - Curiously austere for a flagship bottling, but I sort of like its straightforwardness. Big price increase.
Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength (60%, OB, no age statement - as experienced in 2007 by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium)
Nose: nice sherry, slightly nutty, some cardboard, a true fruit basket.
Palate: starts peppery & rather dry, beautiful sherry experience, a slight nuttiness which evolutes to the fruit basket.
Verdict: 88 points - This one is the result of a great piece of vatting. A stunner too with a price of +/- € 48,-.
Imperial 12yo 'NC2' 1994/2007 (46%, Duncan Taylor - as experienced in 2007 by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium)
Nose: Some banana notes, malty, estery, waxy, straw.
Palate: Spicy and initially dry to get more oily, clean, salty, a nice & complex development. Very nice & warm finish.
Verdict: 87 points - this is a stunner in any sense of the word.... Price around 35 Euro's.
Glengoyne 1994/2007 (46%, OB, Rum, C# 90939, 378 bts. - as experienced by Davin de Kergommeaux)
Nose: Butterscotch, very strong caramel, rum and butter, quite one dimensional at first, but smells great.
Palate: Sweet, caramelly, creamy, nice and hot, quite unusual, I quite like this. Best and most obvious rum cask I've had.
Verdict: 86 points - curiously they had a cask strength rum cask last year from cask #9039.
Glenkinchie 19yo 1987/2007 (54.8%, Cadenhead's, 234 Bts. - as experienced by Michel van Meersbergen)
Nose: Quite sweet from the start. Vanilla pods, red apple and develops notes on rosted onion. Licorice and dry hay.
Palate: At first a bit vomitty followed by vanilla, some sharpish oak, apple kernels, almonds. Water brings out green notes.
Verdict: 79 points - enjoyable Glenkinchie, but no further comments to make it memorable.
Green Elgin 12yo (43%, OB - as experienced by Lawrence Graham, Canada)
Nose: Lightly floral with bourbon, cedar, oak, fruit and elder flower. There are both delicate and rich notes intermingled.
Palate: Powerful; the delicate notes previously described in the aroma are not in evidence.
Verdict: 89 points - after a few minutes the cedar and wood notes burst forth on the palate.
Laphroaig 18yo (48%, OB - as experienced by Lawrence Graham, Canada)
Nose: Peat smoke, delicate coal smoke, iodine and gauze and a faint burnt stick. Mild oak wood dust and furniture polish.
Palate: Sweet strong peat smoke intertwined with malt and oak followed by mild oranges and apricots.
Verdict: 90 points - Well integrated bits make this a welcome addition the line up.
Glenmorangie 'Astar' (57.1%, OB, Bottled +/-2008 - as experienced by Lawrence Graham, Canada)
Nose: Citrus, dry oak, pepper, very strong. Lots of wood notes, pine paneling, resin and rosin.
Palate: A continuation of the nose with increased fragrant wood; cedar? Like the paneling inside a blanket box of old.
Verdict: 87 points - No use banging on, it's an interesting & delicious whisky.
Or you could check out the E-pistles in the archive for other recommendations for decent drams, or the
complete MaltMenu of course. If you have a few hours to spare, check out the Malt Maniacs Matrix and
the Malt Maniacs Monitor for many more single malt whiskies - as well as various other types of whisky.
Alternatively, Malt Madness or WhiskyFun (updated daily) should offer many more tasting notes...
And if you want to get involved in the malt mania, why not join the Malt Maniacs & Friends group?
It's free, it's fun - and you might get to participate in a few interesting 'ask an anorak' discussions.
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
Yamazaki 12yo (43%, OB, 75cl bottle, Screw cap, age on neck - as experienced by Krishna Nukala, India)
Nose: Fresh oak immediately on nose, Nutty, oriental spices, mainly cloves?
Palate: Toasted cereals, veru sharp on palate, after some time rounding off. Finish Not much body, hot peppers.
Verdict: 82 points - I think it is not pricey and can afforded by a budget pocket.
Tomintoul 40yo 1966/2006 (45.8%, The Whisky Fair - as experienced by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland)
Nose: Fruity candy. Raspberries? Here's a malt that 'shakes its tailfeather'. A BEAUTIFUL nose that keeps surprising. Farmy?
Palate: Sweet fruits again. Surprisingly fresh for such an old whisky. Fairly short finish, but very good mouth feel for a 40yo.
Verdict: 91 points - which is an average of a nasal score in the upper 90's (!!!) and a palate that scores around 83 points.
Tobermory 32yo 1972/2005 (49.5%, OB, Brown/Purple Label - as experienced by Luca Chichizola, Italy)
Nose: Whoah! Old, dusty and musty drawers, wood furniture (pine), wood polish/wax, ancient leather book covers?
Palate: Oaky, tannic, bitterish… but never astringent or unbalanced. Lots of bitter licorice, Petrus Boonekamp liqueur.
Verdict: 93 points - If you like sweet, clean malts… stay away! This is a dark, brooding, moody old beast - but not brutal.
Talisker 57° North (57%4, OB, 100cl, Bottled 2008 - as experienced by Martine Nouet, France)
Nose: Intense, big. Farmyard by the shore. Dry straw, briny whiff. Autumn fruit. Medlars, quinces, apples, pears & sultanas.
Palate: Lusciously velvety. Deceitfully smooth then a spicy outburst shakes the tastebuds. Pepper, chilli.
Verdict: 83 points - Quite complex and mutilayered. The sweetness on the palate comes back with malty notes.
Port Ellen 27yo 1978/2006 '6th Release' (54.2%, OB, 4560 Bts. - as experienced by Robert Karlsson)
Nouse: Weird. Iodine and dryish fruits alongside each other. Very fresh and pure malt. Leather and loads of peat.
Palate: Iodine, with peat and smoke making this one quite medicinal. Some hints of dried fruits at the very end, oily.
Verdict: 91 points - almost enough for the very brightest green, but the price is relatively unfriendly for a 27yo.
Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2007 (56.7%, DL Platinum for Whisky Fair, 150 Bts. - as experienced by Johannes)
Nose: Whoah! The nose is extremely rich at first, but doesn't betray its peaty heritage. Burnt coffee? Meaty. Fabulous...
Palate: Very peaty and salty, but with a sweet undercurrent that ties everything together. A delayed 'Ardbeg' punch.
Verdict: 93 points - one of the very best Port Ellens I've ever tried. No need to add a drop of water....
Nikka 'Pure Malt Black' (43%, OB, Btl. 50cl - as experienced in 2007 by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium)
Nose: A typical Nikka nose, nice citrus but also some fresh oaky notes, subtile hints of peat.
Palate: Smooth and a little oily, peat is more present on the palate, orange zest, hits of vanilla: Nice long and warming finish.
Verdict: 86 points - Great balanced dram, nothing wrong with this one … yes, the Japs are coming. Good price; +/- € 35.
Macallan 8yo 'Fine Oak'
(40%, OB, Italy - as experienced in 2007 by Serge Valentin, France)
Nose: Not shy at all, starting on lots of apple juice and cider, with hints of mint and getting then much grainier and mashier.
Palate: The attack is pretty nice (nice caramel and toasted brioche) but it's then very weak and almost falls apart.
Verdict: 70 points - no middle and a very short finish, with just these tannins. It's extremely harmless to say the least.
Tobermory 10 (40%, OB, +/-2008 - as experienced by Lawrence Graham, Canada)
Nose: Slightly off track; varnish, wax, damp canvas, acetone and wet dog. Some sweet sherry notes fighting for attention.
Palate: A surprise over the initial bad news on the nose, it's warming and sweet with malt, marmalade, apricots and smoke.
Verdict: 75 points - Quite different. After a few minutes the malt is all that's left.
Springbank 11yo 1997/2009 'Madeira' (55.1%, OB, 9,090 Bts. - as experienced by Lawrence)
Nose: Very sweet and rich with a background of tea, mild damp tobacco and a slight rich mustiness.
Palate: Strong with the distinctive Springbank flavour (almost like wet cotton) jumping out layered with intense sweetness.
Verdict: 86 points - The experience is quite long and warming. At the very end you are left with mildly bitter oak and malt.
Octomore 5yo (63.5%, Edition 1, 6000 Bottles) - as experienced in 2007 by Lawrence Graham, Canada)
Nose: Deceptively subtle at first, creamy buttery peat, a deep waft up the nose strikingly reveals the alcohol.
Palate: Creamy and filled with loads of peat smoke and honey but still very strong despite loads of water dumped in.
Verdict: 88 points - Good fun and well worth a try.
And that's the list of 'specials' that we came up with around 2010, not knowing that this site would be turned into an archive later on.
The new Malt Maniacs website offers the opinions of the (current) malt maniacs on some recent bottlings.