Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Tasting notes for the Signatory 100 proof bottlings (1)

 Signatory Vintage, one of the more stable and consistent independent bottlers out there, released a new series. Under the name "100 proof" they spoil the whisky enthusiast with affordable, relatively young single malt whisky, bottled at 57,1 % abv. Thanks to a generous share, I was able to obtain all the releases thus far and will take two blogposts to go through them.

Signatory Vintage is, to me, a very nostalgic name. My very first bottle of whisky bottled by an independent company was a 1980 Inchgower. It was gifted to me, and it came in a beautiful tin tube. Via Signatory I could really lay the groundwork for my whisky passion some 20 years ago. Bottles by them were affordable then too, and they would also bring out rather unknown distilleries like, well, Strathmill to name one. But also a range of single casks or small batches of Rosebank. I adored those! In short, a big name in whisky, with a plethora of different ranges. 

Fast forward to 2023/'24 and let's dive into those 100 proofs. A lineup made in two times 4 glasses. Today we present:

Tullibardine 2015, 8 years old, bottled at 57,1 % abv

Makeup: Matured in First Fill Oloroso Sherry Butts, producing 2949 bottles.

General impressions: We start off with a creamy, buttery aroma. A slight touch of sulphur. After some breathing, it leans more to sourness. Elements of milk chocolate from which you just took the wrap off. It's not unattractive, but it borders on some off-putting notes. It's a delicate balance. Then a sip. Of course at this strength it is fierce, but that is good. Loads of chocolate again and a very warming finish. The cask influence is not shy. This is a fun one. With water a sweeter note, but in the end just more forward chocolate delight.

Conclusion: Maybe an unconventional opinion, but I think Tullibardine combines well with noisy sherry casks. I tasted a few examples to back that statement up.

Score: 83 points

Ben Nevis 2019, 4 years old, bottled at 57,1 % abv

Makeup: Matured in Refill Oloroso Sherry Butts, producing 2988 bottles. Heavily Peated.

General impressions: Daring to bottle a 4 years old Ben Nevis. Big butt casks. Lots of spirit influence remaining then? Well, it has charm, for sure. Lots of sour fruits on the nose. Lemon, grapefruit, green apples, also a sour milky tone, which I think is the peat coming through. Very fresh. Like pulp on the bottom of an emptied bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice. Haven't taken a sip yet but count me in as a fan. On the tongue this is surprisingly silky, but after a moment the alcohol kicks in. The taste is very centred on a bitter accent right through the middle. What an unorthodox animal, this Ben Nevis.
The spirit reminds us the distillery is always a contender for the rule of the western Highlands. What a discovery by Signatory, and very ballsy to put it in a bottle. It develops a delicate tropical note even, fighting off that bitter hint. Can you deep-fry a pineapple? The label promises heavy peat, but I needed a drop of water to release it. Somehow I think I'd leave it undiluted. The peat is then part of the entire Box of Pandora that this Ben Nevis is. Let it grab you.

Conclusion: This is nerdy stuff, where flaws become an asset.

Score: 84 points

Caol Ila 2015, 8 years old, bottled at 57,1 % abv

Makeup: Matured in First Fill Oloroso Sherry Butt and Hogshead.

General impressions: Young Islay, from a distillery consistently putting out high quality spirit, this should be predictable. Opens on loads of bread with a smoky edge, like a baking machine that you neglected to clean for a little too often. After some breathing this Caol Ila turns a maritime leaf, on smoked mackerel first and then a puddle of sea water standing still under a hot sun. All this from a glass of whisky, mind you! If this does not illustrate the depth of the distillate, what does? A wonder. Then a sip. First a sweet edge around the peated core of this Caol Ila. The smoke and brine is strong, the full power of youth and the peat levels at their optimum. With water: sweeter, not better.

Conclusion: High quality Caol Ila, with a side note that the traditional oiliness of the liquid is a bit subdued by the sherry casks. But all in all, brilliant stuff, and certainly not as predictable as expected. I have not said anything about prices yet, but in recent years I have paid two or three times the price for similar Caol Ila.

Score: 88 points

Staoisha 2013, 10 years old, bottled at 57,1 % abv

Makeup: Matured in First Fill Oloroso Sherry Butts. These extremely peated Bunnahabhains are coming of age now!

General impressions: Signatory had loads of these hard-hitting peat monsters Staoisha and we can see what the attraction was. Don’t think I ever tasted one from sherry casks though. Well, yes, this screams seashore instantly, and old boat freshly put in a new coat of tar. Creamy sweetness. Seaside sherry. The aroma is truly spectacular and balanced. The attack on the tongue is brazen, fierce, really sharp, but such is the character of Staoisha, isn't it? Less accessible than the Caol Ila, more stubborn to reveal its treats. The briny peat combined with the sherry casks make this an extremely dark, bitter whisky, which you really need to love, otherwise it might taste a bit ... depressive? For a lack of a better word. It is clean stuff, no off notes, but really challenging. Water brings out some rubber, but I already firmly believe the 100 proof series is not to be diluted at all. Drink it neat for the best experience.

Conclusion: Peated Bunnahabhain is really is party to drink. I like my Staoisha cleaner (from bourbon casks) but this one is a tour de force nonetheless. Evens out to the Caol Ila in the end. I prefer the former, but this one will also have loads of fans.

Score: 88 points

To be concluded … next Tuesday!

Disclaimer: all samples from a generous bottle share by whisky friend A.S.

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