Buds & Barrels is an independent retailer and bottler from Belgium, founded by Tom Haseldonckx. He’s been releasing a steady strem of whiskies over the past few years, including is so-called The Sticky Label, named after the stick figures featuring on each bottle.
Today I’ll be tasting two from his Untamed Animal series, and two more from the Vintage War series. Two peated, and two unpeated. All good, and with one very pleasant surprise from an unlikely source.
Glentauchers 2009 13 Years (53.7%, Buds & Barrels, 2022)
Nose: Grain forward with touches of pickled lemons, yeast, meringues and warm apple sauce. Also some lighter notes of red berries, minerals and nougat. Finally a touch of underripe banana peel. Very pleasant. Taste: Decent mouthfeel. Quite velvety. A tinge of white pepper, but the apples make an encore too. There’s honey also with just a hint of pickled orange peel and date paste, as well as walnut skins, burnt toast, cloves and lawn clippings. Finish: Medium length, a pinch of pepper, drying oak, lemon pith and rum raisins.
A refill sherry butt that does its job just right. The gentle cask influence works well with the vibrant Glentauchers spirit, but it’s also not entirely on the same level as the mid-90s Glentauchers that I’ve grown quite fond of.
Secret Speyside 2009 12 Years (57.5%, Buds & Barrels, 2022)
Nose: Whiffs of apples, cotton candy grapes and pear skin, but also soft whispers of Galia melon. But it’s not all fruit all the time. I wouldn’t even describe it as an über fruity whisky per se. It also has a greener, vegetal side and touches of cinnamon buns, oats and dried orris root. Taste: A satisfying sweet arrival with gentle orchard fruits, but quickly followed by a big spicy hit of white pepper and cloves. More powerful than I expected. A touch of melted butter, Werther’s Original and toffee. Some fresh leaves as well. Finish: Medium length. Soft spices, sweet fruits.
Just a tad too harsh at original strength, the heavy oak spices detract somewhat from this whisky’s better qualities, mainly the sweet fruits both on the nose and palate. I thought the Glentauchers was a bit more interesting.
Croftengea 2007 14 Years (53.8%, Buds & Barrels, 2021)
Nose: The peat is pushed to the background to a surprising degree. Hints of fresh bananas, smoked barley husks, vanilla custard and nectarines. Also porridge with a dollop of honey. Much cleaner and way more accessible than other Croftengea I’ve tried. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel with bright (tropical) fruits on the arrival. I did not expect that. Mango, pineapple and stewed pears, but also bonfire smoke, soft floral notes and moderate spices. Really good. Finish: A touch of ash, sandalwood and apricots. Long.
I did not expect the Croftengea to be this good, but it is absolutely excellent. The peat is very sophisticated and the fruits actually take centre stage on the palate.
Caol Ila 2010 11 Years (59.9%, Buds & Barrels, 2022)
Nose: Opens up on chargrilled lemon with hints Greek yoghurt and wet pebbles, but also green olives, brine, tar and seaweed. A touch of diesel too. Expertly balanced. Taste: Strong peat with a subtle medicinal influence, maritime touch and black cracked pepper corns. Somewhat salty, soft minerals and licorice. Also ashes, tar and herbal smoke. Finish: Long with a pinch of salt, smoke and lingering citrus notes.
Just a classic Caol Ila, ever dependable. Maritime, peaty, tarry. Islay personified.
Independent bottlers nowadays aren’t exactly spoilt for choice, so it’s all the more encouraging to see Buds & Barrels find quality casks amongst the plethora of young(-ish) whiskies offered by brokers. And from humble bourbon casks or a refill sherry butt.
The Croftengea is certainly the most unique amongst the bunch, and the overall quality of the releases I tried has a rather high floor.