Now that I’m an established *cough* “Whisky Reviewer” aka Imposter-Journalist-with-a-Whisky-Blog, I get a decent number of samples mailed to me by distributors and importers. Some of them I ask for (Ok, Ok, BEG for) and some just arrive. The good people at ImpEx (Thanks Katia!) seem to like me, and have sent me another batch of little bottles to try. One of my favorite things about whisky in general (and scotch in particular) is that there are SO MANY whiskies to try that I’ve never had before. Even within a single distillery like Glenmorangie, the products of which I’ve tasted extensively, there is always another surprise bottle around the corner from an errant cask or special edition. This time, it takes the form of a 17 year-old independent bottling from Exclusive Malts (distilled 1996, bottled 2014 at 56.1% ABV) with the vague moniker “North Highland”. A quick Google excursion tells me that it’s pretty much uncontested that this bottle is from a Glenmorangie refill sherry hogshead. The label likely obscures this with the “North Highland” designation for legal and/or marketing and/or “building a mystery” reasons. Queue the Sarah McLachlan.
Alas, as is often the case these days with cask-strength independent bottlings with any kind of age to them, the price is astronomical. Let’s see if this is really worth $130 retail…
Nose: A sour tang, like fino sherry but fruitier – unripe figs? Stewed peaches, pits and all. Vanilla ice cream, which does remind me of Glenmorangie. After a rest in the glass, I can detect something like peach cobbler and buttery shortbread cookies, but that sharp “fino” note pervades all.
Palate: Hot, of course. Thin bodied. The sherry creeps in as a layer of fig and lemon, still on the sour side. There is a nice body of malt, with characteristic Glenmorangie shortbread and vanilla.
Finish: Medium-long and warming. Devoid of bitterness. The fruits become more subdued, and are suggestive of fruit pies and jams. Roasted chestnuts fade to the end.
With Water: A sizable splash of water brings out an astoundingly clear note of bubblegum. The nose takes on a waxy aspect, and the sour notes are reduced. The palate, which is far milder, retains the bubblegum and becomes a little blander. The finish acquires a slight menthol note. Definitely try this neat, then add a few drops of water, and then dilute it to around 50% for the full experience.
Overall: The “sharp” sour note on the nose definitely feels unbalanced. This is possibly an experimental cask that didn’t make it into one of the Glenmorangie special editions and was sold on the independent market. It reminds me somewhat of Artein, but only as a single component. While like most Exclusive Malts it’s overpriced, I can definitely see the appeal. This is a heady, individualistic whisky, and is exactly the kind of thing that people bored with the status quo of official bottlings are seeking, especially fans of Glenmorangie. I still think the cask was refill fino sherry, although that’s a stab in the dark.