Royal Brackla d.1969 (40%, GMP Connoisseurs Choice, b. mid-1980s): nose: dust and musty warehouses, of course -- old Connoisseurs Choice miniature in full effect, innit. Let us give it some time... It becomes earthy as anything, with ploughed fields, dirty shovels, gardening tools, tyre marks in the mud. Brine-y notes then come through; pickled onions, some sort of relish, then furniture polish on dusty furniture and a walnut dashboard. A vinegar-y touch completes the picture. Gherkins in vinegar? Capers? Donichs? (Boom-tschhh). Water makes it brinier, strangely, with bold pearl onions shining through. Mouth: I chose this one because the fill level looked horrible and I feared it had evaporated too much, but it is not tired at all! Furniture polish, copper coins, perhaps a hint of wood stain, then walnut oil -- wow! This is oily, coating, lively yet soft at the same time. Honey-glazed nuts, old keys. With water, the spiciness turns more gentle, coated in more honey, yet the heat still rises from the depths, and keeps this dram gingery alright. Finish: a nutty finish, with furniture polish, walnut oil again, a drying note not unlike licking a freshly-cleaned, wooden dashboard (for those who know). Again, the low fill and the low ABV are unsuspected, so spicy this remains (freshly-ground ginger). It still has that coat of dust (OME© -- Old Mini Effect©, you read it here first) and actually, a distinct bitterness from the wood, though it is not unpleasant. With water, a fleeting touch of Southern fruits appears; apricots, dried dates or figs. Lovely. I am not very knowledgeable, when it comes to Brackla, I must confess. This is a good one! 8/10
We will stay in the erotic year, as Jane and Serge sang. Not the volley-ball players, it goes without saying.
Royal Lochnagar d.1969 (40%, GMP COnnoisseurs Choice, b. mid-1980s): nose: this seems to not be subjected to the OME so much. Immediately, a strong sherry influence is palpable: fortified wine, soy sauce, dark chocolate. Some gas, in the back (steamed sprouts), then brine, then ink, old corks, old staves and heady liqueur-filled, dark pralines. After a few minutes, a musty-warehouse scent comes forth, with lichen on casks. Flat, lukewarm cola, nail varnish -- meow! A nose and a half, this. Most interestingly, water seems to make it stronger, or certainly spicier, with more brine and ginger powder. It also has apricot pulp amongst the spices and the chocolate. Mouth: voluptuous, with coating chocolate, Belgian-praline style. Syrupy, it has the texture of fortified wine (this is obviously a sherry maturation), Dr. Pepper soda, corn syrup (or is it maple syrup?) It feels much less strong than the Brackla, although they bear the same ABV. This is even more elegant, on the other hand, velvety, with just enough alcohol to avoid being too comfy. Water allows ginger and milk chocolate to emerge. Interesting, though I do prefer it neat. Finish: syrup, fortified wine, then a brief, but strong taste of burnt wood that quickly recedes and makes room for the wine (sherry of port). It is devoid of heat, yet it lingers on forever on the taste buds like a sticky confit d'oignon. Water makes the wine character come out even more, with tannins and, well, red wine. Nice, though probably better neat. This is a bit of a masterclass in sherry maturation! Lochnagar is another distillery I cannot claim to know very well; this one is one of the best expressions I have tasted. 9/10
Royal Lochnagar 17yo 1996/2013 (57.4%, Cadenhead, Rum Cask): the outturn was limited to 606 full bottles, and then some minis. We had this in the past; this is a nice opportunity to try it in good company (another Lochnagar). Nose: this could not be more different! Soaked cork, soaked staves, dunnage warehouse. Soon, it turns into a carpenter's workshop, though the carpenter has a soft spot for dried fruits -- it is dry and sweet at the same time, woody and fruity, soft and strong, not unlike rum, I suppose. A leathery note appears, after a long moment, faded, dry leather. Water makes the cork note go away and enhances the fruity profile. Tinned pineapple, sweet grapefruit slices and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Mouth: sugary, it has the same impact on me as sugar-cane juice, marvellously fresh and sweet, the sort of drinks that spell diabetes, but feels healthy at the same time. It carries a message of holiday under the tropics -- Cuba Libre, piña colada and all. Crazy to find those flavours in whisky. It is very, very sweet, like a pineapple crumble. With water, the fruit comes out more on the palate too; pineapple and grapefruit. Oh! it is no 1966 Bowmore, but it is pleasant all the same. Finish: weirdly again, it feels less strong than the previous two . Sweet, with a rich marinate in which to coat ribs before sticking them onto the barbecue. The second sip gives away more complexity, with dried-grapefruit slices, muscovado sugar and delicious crumble -- sweet indeed! With water, the balance is now perfect, with sweetened grapefruit and pineapple in syrup. Not as complex as the 1969 (no shit, Sherlock), but more immediate and very pleasant. Better than the first time too! 8/10
Shifting gears: we go from royal to imperial.
Imperial 23yo 1990/2014 (58.4%, Ian McKillop McKillop's Choice, C#11974, 216b): nose: olive oil, plain and simple. Hot custard, leeks, sizzling in butter, coconut paste on toast, wood staves, cereals in milk, dried lemongrass stalks. This is woody, spicy, yet never enough of one or the other to allow clear identification. What I mean by that is: if one does not know that coconut and custard are wood-imparted flavours, if one is not aware that ginger and galangal make up the spicy character usually given by the wood, one would probably not think this is woody or spicy. It is milky, coconut-y and gently spicy on the nose. Cooking vegetables become louder, as time passes (cabbage? Carrots? Peas?) With water, the nose becomes milkier -- milk with spices (ginger and galangal) and a green-plant-sap bitterness. Mouth: creamy and peppery, this mouth is like a good steak sauce, marrying the mellow and the coarse. More custard, galangal shavings, sawdust, toasted coconut, olive oil, ginger shavings ad a slight herbal bitterness -- is it lovage seeds? Perhaps mango powder (amchur), rather. With water, the spiciness is more pronounced, almost unbalanced, with lots of galangal and turmeric, mango powder and balsa wood sawdust. Finish: wow. Wood spices arrive first, then custard and coconut yogurt, before olive oil takes over, coating the whole mouth, yet letting coconut have a say regardless. An evanescent fruitiness appears too, probably mango powder again, as it is not bold enough to be fresh fruit. The very end of the finish is gently drying in a comforting fashion. With water: lemongrass, citrus, then distinct wood spice on milk chocolate and a discreet kick of peach, including the stone. Good, though water made me think it spent too long in the cask. 8/10
Let us finish in style.
Glenury Royal 23yo 1971/1995 (61.3%, OB Rare Malts Selection): ha! ha! This is a sample left over from September. It seems fitting to have it today. Nose: it is obviously very powerful, but it reeks of musty warehouses behind that power -- clay floor, lichen on staves, flint. Pepper then grows, black pepper corns, juniper berries and cracked walnut shells, as well as dried orange peels. The orange grows bolder, acidic, covered in mud. With water, it seems stronger, with limestone and heather stalks -- or are they saxifrage stalks? Mouth: orange juice, pulpy and zesty, with a pinch of sawdust thrown in for good measure. It turns creamy -- no! jammy, with marmalade (bitter Seville oranges, here), wood spices (cumin, this time, ground coriander) and aromatics thrown onto a camp fire. Water rids it of the spices to leave but the marmalade, albeit less sticky. A pinch of herbs remain. Finish: aromatised marmalade, quite simply. Rosemary and candied orange, gunpowder and dried earth. The high ABV does not feel hot (four drams in, mind). This is now perfectly integrated and has become quite easy to drink. Complex, but not the brute it was a few months ago. With water, it turns very aromatic, with dried basil, dried sage, thyme and still a hint of marmalade. What a drop, this! 9/10