Nowadays, independent bottlers pop up by the dozen each month. Among the many new ones, there is Meadowside Blending/The Maltman, about which I have blogged in short before. The very friendly Andy Hart is behind the project, which partly draws stock from the old Hart Brothers brand his father had founded. He was so kind to send me some samples for an unbiased review.
I have been a sucker for the old Hart Bros. whiskies because I can’t really remember a bad one, they were all in the categories good to great, decent at least. These guys proved that they can pick good casks with balance, a trademark quality of the Harts. Let’s just mention the 1960ies Bunnahabhain, Bowmore or Highland Park, or that crazy 1957 Bowmore. Now let’s see if the new offspring of the Hart bottling family can keep up with its predecessors and if it is alike in style.
Bunnahabhain 9 y.o. The Maltman 2001 – 2011 Sherry Butt 46%
Nose: Nice maltiness, soft smoke, maritime freshness, very mature for its age. I am getting pears, dried fruit, vanilla and Creme Brulee, toffee, marshmallows, candy floss, walnuts and flowers.
Palate: A malty and dry bite at first. Then it gets much sweeter with raisins in the lead (maybe a tad much, the whole shebang takes the direction blue cheese and noble rot grapes). The pears and dried fruits (peach slices) show up again, also licorice and coal.
Finish: More on the short side with creaminess, fruit, flowers and honey.
Comment: This makes a good aperitif – for me, the raisiny Sherry-touch is a bit too dominant, but the rest is fine.
Macallan 20 y.o. The Maltman 46%
Nose: Very balanced with a dry sweet maltiness. Orange zest, hints of sherry, ginger, maraschino cherries and cigar smoke complete the picture.
Palate: Now even more typical Macallan, which is good news. A balance and sweetness with a wonderful whiffs of sherry, chocolate, smoke and cherry, but nothing stands out.
Finish: Harmony as described above. It finishes with a pleasant leafiness.
Comment: A very decent Macallan with textbook balance and drinkability.
Macduff 23 y.o. The Maltman 43%
Nose: Wow, this one noses like an old Laddie with amazing freshness and fruit (dextrose-like): passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, blood oranges. This is a quite perfect Bourbon Wood whisky with a mineral edge of a Mosel-Riesling and discrete vanilla.
Palate/Finish: It goes on like this, a soft and gentle giant full on fruit and wonderful oak aromas, always in balance, very multi-faceted and pleasing.
Comment: This is amazing nectar and a must-have-dram. It was just filled in the bottle at its peak.
Ben Nevis 45 y.o. The Maltman, Sherry Cask, 40,6% (no image yet)
Nose: Yes! Curry and assorted Asian spices meet forest lawn (pines), old butter, ferns and ginger bread. Very unusual in a wonderful way – as always with Ben Nevis, so this is rather typical. Later, hints of coconut, some fruits, white chocolate, latte macchiato, green tea and quite some herbs emerge. It is amazing how little wood influence we got after so many years. The distillate is speaking, only the far background displays a polished mahogany woodiness, which makes the dram noble somehow.
Palate: Elegant and well-balanced, unobtrusive, almost Cognac-like. Very complex without being too intellectual. The notes from above come echoing in soft but mighty waves. Some berries join this mix in front of the discrete dark old wood.
Finish: Medium length, high class. It reminds me of an evening in an old hunting hut. Nothing tastes like an old Ben Nevis, a true Single Malt of exceptional quality. Soon to hit the stores.
Comment: Many older Ben Nevis bottlings became too oaky. With this specimen you taste distillery character to the max even after 45 years. What it might lack in power it delivers in complexity.
Clynelish 13 y.o. The Maltman 46%
Nose: Typical again: smoke, green malt, beeswax and pollen, green apples, vanilla, peaches, moss, peat and brine. It also reminds me of the smell of a stromfront moving in from the North Sea.
Palate: I like this Clynelish for its balance and typicality (as described in nose). Very drinkable and accessible.
Finish: Quite long and pleasant, making you want to pour another glass.
Comment: Clynelish is a very reliable distillery in terms of quality, and this is slightly above their average. Why didn’t they bottle this at cask stength?
Caol Ila 10 y.o. The Maltman 46%
Nose: Lemon chicken! Then we find peat, juniper, olives, camphor, sulphur, dust of tires, Pu Erh tea, chalk, coal, hints of iodine and white pepper.
Palate: Much milder than expected, a Bowmore-esque Caol Ila, somewhat tamed but beautifully balanced again. More on the herbal side altogether.
Finish: The Islay roughness only slightly reoccurs with late iodine, sulphur and peat.
Comment: This would have profitted from a higher abv. A great starter to get into peaty whiskies but not for passionate peat heads.
Allow me a little summary. These drams fit the tradition of Hart Bros. bottlings very well. Balance and distillery character seem to be key elements in most of their bottlings. Less power, more on finesse. If you are into that, give them a try.