Can a glass of whisk(e)y be sexy? I’m not talking about some weird fetish here. Rather, are there certain drinks that work better than others on a romantic evening with your loved one? I’ve found that there are some whiskies that I reach for on date nights with my wife, and others that I purposely avoid. For example, a glass of Ardbeg, based on my wife’s tolerance for certain odors, would require me to sit in the next room. Not sexy. I’ve had some more expensive go-to drinks in the past for these situations…typically 18-21 year old Scotch whiskies with at least some sherry cask influence. These are whiskies where the spirit has been somewhat mellowed over time, and the oak from the cask has been kept in check.
But what about more accessible (affordable) whiskies? The Macallan or Glendronach 12 year offerings do the trick for me, but lately, I’ve found myself reaching more often than not for my bottle of The Dalmore 12 year. Hopefully this is based primarily on the taste. Of course, there’s also the power of suggestion. I read this article in Wired about Richard Paterson (The Nose), where they said of one of his tasting sessions:
Paterson talked constantly during the tasting session, describing each sip with words like “sensual” and “sexy.”
Then there’s the super duper ultra premium Dalmore expressions that sell for huge sums of money and are packaged in sleek decanters. Perhaps that plays on my mind when I’m looking through my cabinet for a mood drink. Regardless, my goal in this post is to compare the three expressions at the lower end of the Dalmore range in search of my go-to affordable and “sexy” whisky. I’m talking about the 12 year, Gran Reserva (previously Cigar Malt) and the 15 year. Many thanks to Laura from The Baddish Group in New York for sending me some Dalmore samples.
So, what is it about The Dalmore that puts me in the mood for love? It’s a combination of soft sherry fruit flavors (sometimes leaning towards orange), chocolate, caramel and subtle spices. Not overpowering, but not boring either. Let’s see how things shake out with these three expressions (prices are my local prices at a big box store in AZ):
12 Year (40%) $40 – Matured in 50% American white oak and 50% Oloroso sherry casks. This still comes across much like my previous tasting notes last year. A chocolate orange hits, then gives way to wood spices and pineapple upside-down cake. Fruity and sweet on the palate. Maybe a little fizzy, with some drying and some late spices. Relatively light on the finish, with a hint of smoke in the nostrils and a trace of tea. Soft and sexy, but still reasonably interesting. I think I like it a little more now than I did when I first got the bottle. Rating: B (85 points)
Gran Reserva (40%) $57 – Oh, baby, I can hear Marvin Gaye’s voice setting the mood as I take this one in. [Wait, I clicked on the YouTube link above. The point still stands, though.] It’s matured in all first-fill casks, 60% sherry and 40% bourbon, for 10-15 years, then married for 6 additional months in sherry casks. Where the 12 year was Terry’s chocolate orange, this one starts on dried fruits and turns to Godiva dark chocolate with orange liqueur. Brown sugar and cinnamon come through in whispers. The palate is a physical manifestation of the orange and cocoa nose, but also gets a little Coca-Cola fizzy like the 12 year. Not so much as to be distracting, though. The finish introduces some smoke and light mocha, and a 50% cacao chocolate flavor lingers on the tongue. This is one smooth operator. Rating: B (87 points)
15 Year (40%) $75 – 100% sherry casks, a combination of Matusalem, Apostoles and Amoroso. Very noticeable sherry influence, but still light (not a sherry “bomb”). Going to the next level from Gran Reserva, this moves from dried fruits to ripe red fruits, then gives way to a bit of that orange I now expect from the distillery. There are dessert cooking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), but they take a back seat to the sherry. The palate and finish are very polite, with some chocolate added to the mix, but it’s still light fruits that carry through to the short but enjoyable end. Rating: B (pending more tasting sessions)
Can you guess from my notes which of the three comes closest to serving as an aphrodisiac for me? :-) I find all three of these expressions to be of similar quality. Last year, when I reviewed the 12 year, I said that it was good, but I wanted more oomph. Granted, I’d gladly accept an update from Dalmore with all of these bottled at 46%, but I’ve also come to better appreciate more subtle and laid back whiskies. Today, I would rate all of these as solid B whiskies in the 85+ point range (based on my personal rating scale).
The 12 year is probably the most “interesting” of the three, actually, but also a little less refined than the other two. It’s clearly the best value of the bunch, though. The 15 year is a very nice, polite, medium-sherried whisky. However, if I want good medium sherry flavors and a nice personality, I’ll probably shell out 40% less money and purchase another bottle of Glendronach 12 year. The Gran Reserva is my new favorite “less expensive” Dalmore by a narrow margin. It’s so elegant and refined; so sweet and smooth; it’s the perfect mood drink for me on a romantic evening. I now own a full bottle of this (well, it was full last week). What’s your favorite whisk(e)y aphrodisiac?
Update: I mentioned above that the Gran Reserva used to be called “Cigar Malt.” What I forgot to point out is that the Cigar Malt was bottled at 43%. If I manage to find a dusty bottle of that somewhere, I’m definitely going to buy it and see if that extra 3% made a difference.
Ok, I don’t expect other single malt whisky fanatics to be quite as into Gran Reserva as I am. I totally get that it’s not as “interesting” as a lot of other malts, and if you compare it side-by-side to more agressive whiskies, it might seem downright boring. But the above is my own true reaction to these expressions at this point in time. Here are some other opinions, mostly positive, but more often than not, wanting for more.
- Whiskyfun.comby Serge – All three rated in the same post. You know, Serge really doesn’t rate these that much lower than me. The Gran Reserva is his least favorite of the three, though. Although I’m surprised to see him describe it as “pushy.”
- whisky-pages – You can find all three on their Dalmore page. Holy crap…they also have Terry’s chocolate orange in the notes! Although, they associate it with the Gran Reserva, as opposed to the 12 year. Splitting hairs, though. They also seem to like all three about the same.
- WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben reviews the Gran Reserva. You know, 81 points is a pretty respectable score for Ruben. He certainly has a point that it would be nice to try it at 43 or 46% ABV.
- Malt Advocate – John Hansell reviewed the full Dalmore lineup. Like Serge, he rates the 15 year a few points higher than the other two.
Ok, maybe the scores in these reviews by more learned palates than mine aren’t that far off from my own. Jim Murray, on the other hand, says of the Gran Reserva’s finish – “well, is there one?” before handing it a score of 78.5 in his Whisky Bible.