Sample 1: Glenrothes 10 years Old Dram Mor Cask 5280 58%
Recap Day 1
We had some fun yesterday revealing the first sample in the Blind Tasting Competition 2020. At this moment Benny S. is in the lead, with 80 points.
Established in Speyside in 1878 by James Stuart, the Glenrothes Distillery was the second distillery ever build in the city of Rothes. The distillery is located at the foot of the Mannoch Hills adjacent to the Burn of Rothes. This is why it was called Glenrothes, which is Gaelic for “The Valley of the Rothes.”
This edition was released by the independent bottler Dràm Mòr. A family-owned business by the Macdonalds, Scotch single cask whisky bottlers, choosing individual casks to showcase the best of every Scotch whisky.
We picked this sample to kick off our competition as we cherish its taste. The first time I opened it I was immediately impressed. At just 10 years, it packs flavours of butterscotch, honeycomb, caramel and a wonderful creaminess. An atypical Glenrothes, as most would be accustomed to one matured on sherry casks. But sticking strictly to sherry casks can hide the beautiful spirit it can be. This dram is just that. Therefore, picking out the right distillery would have been a challenge since this is quite a unique Glenrothes. Still, the honey, orange, and caramel tones in combination with tobacco and cinnamon flavours in the background would have pointed in the right direction. Tasting notes: cinnamon, oranges, honey, burnt sugar, tobacco, caramel.
What’s not to like about this bang-for-your-buck whisky? We wish you good luck with tomorrow’s dram!
Recap day 2
The second sample was indeed from the beautiful island of Islay – Caol Ila to be specific. For 12 contestants, this was obvious. Forty-nine contestants knew to place it in the Islay region. And with a perfect score on day 2, De Schelf Spirits from the Netherlands is in the lead with 145 points.
The Caol Ila distillery was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson, who unfortunately failed to make the distillery a success. Henderson sold Caol Ila to Norman Buchanan, the owner of the Jura distillery. In the years that followed, Caol Ila changed hands several times, but the distillery continued to produce fairly continuously despite the irregularity in ownership.
Around 1930, Caol Ila was taken over by Scottish Malt Distillers (Diageo), who had the distillery demolished and reconstructed in 1974 and is residing at Port Askaig, Islay as we know it today. Today again an independent bottler (Morrison and Mackay).
This sample had all the makings of an Islay. A very technical Caol Ila that is close to their flagship 12 years old, just with more complexity. The liquorice and somewhat sweet style of apples and peat smoke is recognizably a Coal Ila, indeed the correct answer.
I expected it to be young, and at only seven years, it owes its flavour profile mainly to sherry butts, which go remarkably well with drams from this distillery. A great whisky to enjoy on a long winter evening in front of the fire. It has liquorice, red apples, and hints of chocolate. And who doesn’t like chocolate?
Tasting notes: Sweet apples, peat smoke, chocolate, laurel, liquorice, oyster-like
Recap day 3:
As the French say, en route: the Blind Tasting Competition is well underway and we have seen some impressive scores, while we can prepare for many more great drams the coming days.
At the moment Benny S. is in the lead attaining a perfect score yesterday and a total of 250 points, but De Schelf Spirits and Kento Yamasaki are close by. Worth mentioning is that Thijs100 also scored the full 100 points for this sample, well done!
Not many people would have tasted this lovely dram before, and having it directly follow yesterday’s Caol Ila (especially for those who are tasting ahead) may have led you in the wrong direction. Most whisky drinkers have not had a whisky from the Loch Lomond distillery since they are not very well known. And that is a shame, as they are truly hidden gems. Angus MacRaild famously called this one “a slightly schizophrenic wee peat monster.”
We can’t really blame anyone for not getting the distillery right this time, as it was a hard choice. The closeness to a Talisker suggested an Island whisky, while the finish spoke more of a Highlander. Thumbs up for those who correctly guessed the Highlands! Lemon zest and coal ash are flavours that hint toward a whisky from the Loch Lomond region; Croftengea to be precise. (Although Croftengea is distilled at Loch Lomond, as explained in the playbook we only award points for the name of the whisky itself.) Flavours of brimstone, bonfires, and farmlands greet you, while complexity is added with goat cheese flavour. We hope the tasters have embraced this edition just as much as we did.
Tasting notes: Lemon zest, brimstone, bonfires, goat cheese, hay, ashes, peat smoke.
An introduction to Michiel Wigman
For those who have heard the name, Michiel Wigman is an internationally famed Dutch whisky collector and connoisseur. Co-founder of ‘Dutch Whisky Connection‘ and with the badge of honour ‘Mr. Springbank’ to whisky fans across the globe.
Michiel recently started his own independent label M. Wigman with the ‘They Inspired’ series. We loved the quality of this Croftengea, and for that reason the bottle was selected for the competition. Or as Angus MacRaild puts it:
“A slightly schizophrenic wee peat monster that would have you feeling at times that you’re wandering farmlands in heart of the highlands, then the next moment on the south shore of Islay, until you wind up in a particular aromatic hospital corridor. Diverse and extremely fun while also being deceptively complex.”
We couldn’t agree more!
Good luck with tonight’s dram!
Sample Day 4: Kingsbarns Limited Release 3 Years Old 59.2%
Recap Day 4
At this moment Benny S. is in the lead with 240 points but others are closing in. Worth mentioning is that 2 contestants guessed today’s distillery correctly, and nine guessed the correct region. Well done, all of you! Also worth mentioning is that Tijo was very close to a perfect score, only just missing the right bottle. Still managed to get the high score for the day, 70 points!
Of course we had to have a Lowlander in this competition, since every region would be featured at least once. This sample was chosen with care: even though it’s only 3 years old, many of you thought it was much older (with guessed up to 24 years old), and other regions as well. It keeps the competition interesting as we are separating the men from the boys, so to speak.
Kingsbarns is family-owned by the Wemyss family, who many of you know as an independent bottler. This Lowlander resides near the illustrious St. Andrews Golf Links and was founded on St. Andrews Day in 2014. The distillery is relatively young, and there have only been a handful releases so far. Therefore, not many whisky fans have been able to try it yet. For a young dram it shows a lot of potential once comes of age.
This whisky from a new distillery in the Lowlands reminded me of a young Aberlour from Speyside. The mouthfeel would have revealed its young age, as well as the absence of tall cathedrals in the glass. And it is indeed very young!
At only 3 years, this lovable Lowlander has set the bar for the region. We absolutely love it. The distillery itself may be a little young to have established a distinct profile, but my guess is that we will be seeing much more from this Lowland Distillery. It tastes more like a Speyside than a typical Lowlander. It has savours of melon and pear that those who have tasted a Kingsbarns whisky before, would instantly recognise. And for those who haven’t, the slightly grassy note on the finish would have nudged you in the direction of a Lowlands. It is a fresh, clean dram.
To this day there is a lot of activity in the Lowlands with new distilleries being built and new styles explored other than the region’s accepted “3 times distilled” style.
Tasting notes: grassy, melons, pear, elderberries, oak, basil (almost Mojito-like)
Sample 5: Glenlossie 12 Years Old Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited Edition 47.5%
Recap day 5
At this moment Benny S. is in the lead scoring 285 points. The top three remains solid for now.
A second bottle from Morrison & Mackay which was very popular in Europe, especially in Germany. For that reason we added it to our competition.
Perhaps a slightly lesser-known distillery from Speyside, Glenlossie might not be the first name that comes to mind. However, the Diageo-owned distillery is definitely at the top of their game, in spite of the fact that it is mostly used in blends. An independent Glenlossie is a rare find. This affordable, likeable spirit brings out all the goodness of the sherry butts used for this edition. It is packed with forest berries and raspberries, red apples, and moulded wood. On the finish, pepper notes add complexity.
A harmonious marriage between the spirit and the sherry casks bring out the typical sherry flavours of red forest fruit, packed with berries, raspberries and some moulded wood. This combination of sherry notes and bitters could have put you on the right path to the distinctive character of a Glenlossie. Delicious, those caramelized apples! Obviously this is a Speysider. The most interesting thing about this dram would be its finish: it brings out the true complexity of moulded wood and red apples.
Tasting notes: Red apples, cherries, raspberries, moulded wood, wild strawberries, angostura bitters.
Enjoy tomorrows sherry bomb!
Recap day 6: At this moment Benny S. is still in the lead with 314 points. Also worth mentioning is that Madmaster scored 94 points, choosing a different cask but coming very close to scoring 100 %.
Sherry bombs away! Packed with sherry flavour and the colour of dark deep waters. In the proximity of Edradour Distillery lie the ruins of Lindores Abbey, the birthplace of whisky, or aqua vita (water of life) as it was referred to back then. But of course, it doesn’t taste like water!
This Highlands distillery is currently owned by independent bottler Signatory. The whisky we tasted today is a popular fresh fill sherry butt that was released by Van Wees for The Ultimate, a Dutch independent label. Lately there has been a run on the various releases in this series, as The Ultimate always brings nice and affordable single cask release.
You either love it or you hate it. The sherry tones obscure the distillery’s character making it hard to pick the correct distillery. This is of course exactly why we had to include it in the competition, as we expected people who were unfamiliar with these releases to be led into different directions, such as Glendronach.
They don’t make them much darker than this. It’s a dark espresso or cola coloured Edradour. This highly sought after, highly appreciated whisky may have sparked some discussion as the sherry flavours are prominent, masking its true identity somewhat, making it harder to pick the correct one for quite some participants. All to make the competition a little more fun. With dark and heavily sherried whiskies like this you could have expected it to be a Glendronach. This would have been the correct region, but the somewhat sour nose and taste, and the still perceptible mushrooms point toward Edradour. It truly is a “love it or hate it” kind of whisky, but I did enjoy the orange peel bitters in the finish.
Tasting notes: Sherry, liquorice, laurel, mushrooms, caramel, green apples, peat, autumn leaves on a rainy day
Sample 7: Glenfarclas The Masters Selection 9 Years Old Cask 2777 56.6%
Recap day 7
At this moment, Thijs100 has taken the lead with 326 points, closely followed by Benny S. who still managed to retain second place with 319 points. Risen to number 3 we find Sergio with 247, overtaking De Schelf Spirits by just one point.
We are still in the sherry regions, with a Speyside this time. In the heart of Speyside at the foot of the Ben Rinnes Mountain, the Glenfarclas Distillery is known as one of the most traditionally operating distilleries in Scotland today, and it is still family-owned.
We were saving this bottle for a special occasion, and to share it with you in this competition was more than warranted. It should be tasted and enjoyed by many.
This bottle was released as a commemorative bottling when Han van Wees was appointed as Master of the Quaich. This high honour was bestowed on a Dutch citizen only three times. This cask was released under the Family Cask label, selected by Han van Wees and Glenfarclas’ production manager Calum A. Fraser.
It is not your typical Glenfarclas, but an interesting and complex dram. Apart from the aforementioned sherry tones, there’s more: tobacco, cinnamon, spices, and hazelnuts. Highly rated in many bloggers’ reviews, I certainly enjoy this good Glenfarclas. The oily cathedrals in the glass might have suggested a much older dram, but the alcohol percentage and mouthfeel reveal it to be younger. As some would suggest, this is not a typical Glenfarclas, if there is such a thing. The savours of orange peel, honeycomb and raisin, chocolate, and coffee notes clearly point to a Glenfarclas. At least that’s what greeted me from the glass at the first whiff and the first sip. In my opinion, this is a great selection made by Han van Wees, Master of the Quaich. Glenfarclas at the top of their game.
Tasting notes: raisins, orange peel, honeycomb, chocolate, coffee, dates, caramel, and a Dutch coffee-and-caramel hard candy known as ‘Hopjes’
Recap day 8
Today, Thijs100 is still in the lead scoring 426 points and Benny S. is second with 319 points. Amsterdam is in third position with 284 points. Thijs100 and Amsterdam were also the only 2 contestants picking the correct whisky and scoring 100 points, well done!
This 25 year old Tobermory is a loveable whisky like a Labrador, aiming to please everyone. When I first tasted this affordable drinking whisky, it instantly put a smile on my face. I loved the combination of shortbread, raisin muesli, and almonds. A dram that tastes a little like breakfast, though I’m not actually suggesting that of course. It’s not the most typical Island whisky from Tobermory, and many will love it just for that. The hint of green tomatoes in the background suggested the distillery. And for the nerds: even though it is made at the same distillery, it wasn’t a Ledaig!
Tasting notes: Shortbread cookies, muesli, raisins, almond, chocolate, green tomatoes.
Recap day 9:
At this moment Thijs100 is in the lead scoring 429 points and our top 3 in the competition remains unchanged.
We agree this was somewhat tough to guess as it’s a vintage bottle we came across as part of a large collection. It was a nice opportunity to add it to the competition.
Specially bottled for the 2nd Edition of Whisky festival in Leiden in 2013, this Dailuaine is old-school as it was distilled before the turn of the millennium, a whisky from 1998.
When I saw this bottle in the offered collection, I knew I had obtain it for the competition, because this dram is not so recent, and not many would have seen or tasted it.
Dail Uaine means “green valley” in Gaelic. Green it is, as this whisky is a little different from what we get from Dailuaine nowadays. Most of the whisky made here is actually used as part of Johnnie Walker blends, and some enter the market as single malts for Diageo, but in this case it was released as a vintage independent bottling.
I love the complexity of grapefruit turning to almost floral notes. It makes it a fun and playful whisky, with notes of grapefruit, tangerines, white fruit (pears, apples), banana, and honey. Some may have thought it was a Ben Nevis, which wouldn’t be a strange guess. However it is a Speyside! Tasting notes: grapefruit, tangerine, honey, pear drops, apples, banana, tarragon.
5 more drams to go for this competition. Good luck!
Sample 10: Longrow 17 Years Old Single Cask The Netherlands 49.4%
Recap day 10
At this moment Thijs100 is still in the lead with 449 points. Followed by our new second position holder Tijo with 344 points, beating Amsterdam by just one point.
Worth mentioning is that the Wigtown Blind Tasting Team scored the full 100 points, well done. WhiskyUtopia also scored a very high 97 points, in spite of the admitted typo when entering his guess. You did well anyways!
Longrow, now part of the Springbank roster, once a distillery where Springbank’s bottle hall is located nowadays, and is considered the most peaty of the three whiskies made in the distillery, different in character from its siblings Springbank and Hazelburn.
Longrow was originally built in 1824 and then closed down in 1896, until Springbank revived it by producing it in their distillery in 1973. This is sticky candy and caramelised figs accompanied by peat smoke.
This is one of those drams that I enjoy any day. It is totally my cup of tea (see my tasting note). This one was an exclusive release by Fourcroy Netherlands, for one of their tasting events. We were able to add this bottle to our competition as it was graciously made available by the distributor. Obviously it’s not an Islay, since it is too mildly peated for and Islay. It is also not the right character for Benriach. The correct answer is Longrow from Campbeltown.
To me, it is pure happiness in a glass. Complex peat smoke combined with sticky candy, caramelised figs, a dusting of nutmeg, and nuts. The most prominent savour is on the finish: liquorice. This would have instantly pointed to Campbeltown. And since it is more peated than a Springbank, it could only be a Longrow.
Tasting notes: Dates, liquorice, figs, sticky candy, peat smoke, Lapsang Souchong tea, caramel, nutmeg, almonds
Sample 11: Tomintoul 12 Years Old Cask 9261 Bottled for The Netherlands 62.7%
Recap day 11
We had to do something to make the competition a little harder for our beloved contestants . With a staggering 62.7% this was alcoholic in taste and very hard one to analyze, which was of course done on purpose to keep the competition interesting.
Thijs100 still in the lead position with 472 points, followed by the new number 2 Sergio with 371 points, and the a very close third place by De Schelf Spirits with 369 points. With the current top-10 having such close scores, anything can happen. And we expect see more shifts these next few days.
Ouch, this is a dram with a particularly high alcohol percentage, that is hard to categorize. Of course we had to include this special edition! It has similarities with Highlands, and the organic green notes may have hinted toward a Lowlands, it is actually a Speyside whisky. You have to really take your time with this dram, as it remains closed for quite a while. But once it opens up, it reveals its true colours and warmth. If you have managed to parse it, and detected all the flavours, you will have found citrus fruit (lemon in particular), green apples, a somewhat grassy note, moving on towards a banquet of floral sorbets. The characteristic flavour of this distillery is tea, which would have led an experienced taster in this competition to Tomintoul. Where you one of them?
Tomintoul is owned by the same owner as Glencadam, this “Ballindalloch, Speyside” Tomintoul distillery edition was a single cask specially released for the Netherlands.
There are 3 more drams to go. Good luck!
Sample 12 Bunnahabhain Limited Edition Manzanilla Cask Matured 52.3%
Recap day 12
Thijs100 is still in the lead with 482 total accumulated points. We have a new number 2, Kento Yamasaki with 406 points total followed by De Schelf Spirits with 389 pints in total. Vis2020 was the only one scoring the prefect 100 score yesterday.
Although the nose may have led you in the direction of Campbeltown or the Islands, it is in fact an Islay. It is an atypical dram though, more peaty than most Bunnahabhain’s whiskies generally are. The Manzanilla cask threw off some people, masking the spirit’s character a little. This is the kind of dram that makes a competition interesting! It’s the little flaws that make this dram catch your attention: they add complexity. Despite the Manzanilla Cask’s masking effect, in this Northern Islay whisky I tasted dark forest fruit, raisins, dark chocolate, caramel, and demerara rum accompanied by peat smoke, and it is sulphury, mainly due to the Manzanilla. The sherry notes may have also hinted at the correct answer. Sherry and chocolate are after all the obvious characteristics found in a Bunnahabhain. Tasting notes: Chocolate, dark chocolate, extra dark chocolate. After that, forest fruit, raisins, Manzanilla, peat smoke, sulphur, coffee, caramel, demerara rum
Recap day 13
Thijs100 is still in the lead with 511 total accumulated points followed by Kento Yamasaki with 426 points total followed by our new number 3 Sergio with 415. The highest score for this sample was by JarJar, with 70 point. Well done!
You think you know Longmorn, but it can absolutely surprise you: one is like a fruit punch, another one very herbal, and yet another can be packed with spices. I picked this one just for that reason, with an even higher alcoholic content than the Tomintoul from two days ago. It has a staggering 63.1%, but in this dram the alcohol is more integrated. The first time I nosed this wee monster in my glass, I embraced the umami notes and dark forest fruits, which can be expected from a dark sherried Oloroso cask-matured Longmorn. Espresso coffee and tobacco came right after, followed by Lapsang tea and the aforementioned spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Glendronach would have been a good bet, however, the spices would have given away the distillery. This is a Longmorn at its best, ranking highly in my book.
Tasting notes: Forest fruits, cherries, blackberries, espresso, tobacco, lapsang souchong tea, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. Tomorrow we taste our last sample, and I wish you all the best!
Longmorn is not a very visible distillery. It doesn’t have a visitor centre, and it is not open to the general public. You don’t see many independently bottled Longmorns on the market. Independent bottlings have gotten rare these days, and there aren’t many distillery releases either, as most of the spirit produced is used for blends, such as Chivas Regal. This sample is matured on an Oloroso cask. Great marriage between the two! A great pick by North Star Spirits.
We wish everybody good luck for tomorrow, the last day to go for gold and glory, but above all lots of fun!
Recap day 14
WhiskyNerds is liquid gold! Every single bottle they have released is complex, well balanced and always high in points, and this dram is no exception. They’re extremely passionate about what they love and so are we.
Going out with a bang: we finish the competition with the Ledaig bottled by the WhiskyNerds. Different from the Tobermory by Kintra, as we considered them two different whiskies for the purpose of this competition. Many of us could only dream of tasting this lovely, rare dram. We are happy to have done it justice by making it available to get at least a taste for as many people as possible.
It makes this competition so much more fun, getting a chance to bond over this fantastic dram. As for the dram itself, I expected the ‘dirty style’ and earthy notes that Ledaig is known for. A whiff of peat smoke, nicely integrated and balanced. Nice and creamy, with a smooth, long and lingering finish. Tasting notes: earthy, truffles, dirty, apples, peat smoke, cream, very ripe bananas
At the end of the competition, we want to thank everyone for participating. We hope you all enjoyed it, and we look forward to welcoming you for the 2021.
We congratulate the 3 winners, and we will be in touch to arrange your prizes shortly. Cheers!
1: Thijs100 with a grand total of 538 Points
2: Kento Yamasaki with a grand total of 442 points
3: Sergio with a grand total of 431 points
The Best of Whiskies team