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Archive for May, 2012

Introduction

“Unbelievable! Am I reading this right?!” That was my reaction after opening an unsolicited package from Master of Malt containing the following surprise:

Somebody over at MoM must have failed to notice my scattered blog posting frequency lately, but it’s here now, and it’s MINE! Thanks guys! This is what the full bottle presentation looks like:

The Glenfarclas team really went all out on the samples they sent. I can’t believe I got a little magnetically closing box, and the same book (minus signing and numbering) that comes with the full bottle! And now, to taste it, trying not to be swayed by the presentation and history…

Tasting Notes

Glenfarclas 1953 58 Year; 47.2%; ~$9,400.00!!!

[Single Sherry Cask (American Oak)]

In one session, I tried this sample all by itself. In another, I did a head-to-head comparison with some other reasonably mature Glenfarclas releases. Glenfarclas fascinates me with the way its 25 and 30 year old standard bottlings seem so young and fresh for their age, still maintaining some of that Speyside apple fruitiness, even after many years in sherry casks. Is there a breaking point for this spirit? 58 years in a cask seems like a pretty good test!

On initial pour, the nose seemed muted by a strong woody sawdust smell. Letting it sit for 10 minutes…

Ok, much bigger nose now! Peaches, a dalmore-like chocolate orange, raisins, and the oak has turned to butterscotch. I also get a slightly musty note that reminds me of  Glenmorangie Lasanta. Overall very rich and satisfying, with the usual Glenfarclas fresh fruitiness giving way to more mature, soft fruits and oak-influenced flavors.

Toffee sweetness in the mouth. Thick. Rich feeling. Juicy. Just a wonderful feeling on the tongue, with some white pepper coming on late. Slightly nutty late on the palate, too. Excellent delivery, and hard to believe it’s 58 years old!

Heading into the finish, it slowly grips the sides of the tongue, finally showing some stronger wood influence. A dryness slowly works from the sides over the top of the tongue on the long finish. I love this kind of drying action! Peaches and butterscotch are back in the nostrils, and then that musty note again. I hesitate to call it an “off” note. Although, this note does become more noticeable when doing head-to-head comparisons with other Glenfarclas bottlings. [Less of a problem in normal drinking conditions]

This 1953 bottling is definitely a different animal from the standard 21, 25 and 30 year Glenfarclas bottlings, which all have a much fruitier flavor. So there IS a point at which the oak can tame the Glenfarclas spirit a bit. I do get the feeling that bottling this cask 10 years earlier might have provided slightly more balance between fruit and oak-influenced flavors, and perhaps left the finish a little cleaner. That’s just speculation, obviously, and probably one I’m not experienced enough to make. :-)

Conclusion

The 58 Year 1953 Glenfarclas is a lovely whisky, and one of the better Speyside whiskies I’ve tried to date. This tasting opportunity has been a tremendous education to see what can become of Glenfarclas spirit after such a long time in an American Oak cask. It’s good for 90-ish points on my personal scale, with a slightly musty note in the nose/finish bringing the otherwise complex nose and heavenly arrival back down to earth. I count myself extremely lucky for having been able to try this piece of history.

Postscript – The “S” word

I hesitated to use the S word (Sulphur) in the review. I don’t know if that Lasanta-like note was due to sulphur, but that’s what I had always attributed that smell/taste to in the Glenmorangie expression. Also, the fact that it was stronger when doing head-to-head comparisons with other whiskies made me think of my Lagavulin 21 experience. Anyway, just something to ponder out loud in the interest of full disclosure. I did encounter a couple of similar observations in Twitter conversations about this expression. Though, most of the reviews I’ve seen seem to place this expression almost beyond reproach.

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Introduction

I don’t usually post press releases, and this “news” has been out there for a couple of weeks, but I’m about to review this whisky, so I thought I’d put this info up for easy reference…

Press Release

 

9 May 2012

Glenfarclas launches limited edition single malt – the oldest whisky in its history

The Glenfarclas distillery has launched a 58-year-old whisky – the oldest spirit ever to leave its walls. Only 400 numbered single cask bottles will be put on the market.

The single cask whisky launched by Glenfarclas is the oldest spirit released so far by the distillery. The privilege of exclusive access to the distillery’s rarest and oldest stock, the remaining 4 casks distilled in 1953, were given by George Grant, of Glenfarclas to a panel comprised of Serge Valentin, a whisky connoisseur and a key member of the internationally renowned Malt Maniacs, Ben Ellefsen, Sales Director for Master of Malt (Whisky Magazine’s ‘Global Online Retailer of the Year’ 2012), Michał Kowalski of Wealth Solutions and George Grant himself. The panel was unanimous in their selection, and cask #1674 was selected to be bottled.

The carefully chosen cask began its life in Spain, where it was used to mature and then transport fine sherry to Scotland. It was bought by Glenfarclas and filled with whisky on 20 November 1953. After 58 years of slow maturation in Glenfarclas’ traditional Highland Dunnage warehouses, the 1953 cask yielded only 400 full 70 cl bottles. The whisky was bottled at cask strength of 47.2% abv and, of course, is naturally coloured and non-chill filtered.

Layer upon layer of flavour. A splendid old whisky; still lively, and not displaying any woodiness. Much influenced by the American oak cask, but wholly beneficially. Best enjoyed unreduced. Cheerful and friendly at natural strength, said Charles MacLean, a writer and whisky connoisseur, summarising his appraisal of the spirit. This exceptional whisky deserves a special setting. Each bottle is accompanied by a special book written by Ian Buxton, a well-known Scotch whisky enthusiast and writer, the author of the official history of the Glenfarclas distillery entitled Glenfarclas – An Independent Distillery. The whole set is enclosed in a plain oak box.

This limited edition Glenfarclas whisky has been selected specially for customers of Wealth Solutions, a company providing products for the most demanding Polish collectors and investors. We are very excited to offer one of the oldest casks of whisky which we have in Glenfarclas to Polish whisky lovers. It’s fantastic to see so many Polish people interested in such an old and rare whisky, said George Grant, Brand Ambassador at Glenfarclas. It is a real honour for us to offer our customers the ability of purchasing that exceptional whisky. So far, our offer has met with their huge interest, said Michał Kowalski, Vice President of Wealth Solutions.

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Introduction

This post begins with me in the Whyte & Mackay sample room, with Richard Paterson having just joined myself and Craig McGill. From my previous post on visiting the Whyte & Mackay office:

After stuffing as many sample bottles as possible into my pants pockets [no, of course not], Richard Paterson came through the door in his dark suit and bright pink tie, and the room came to life. If you’ve seen him in videos, he had that same high energy level that either sucks you in, or puts you on the defensive…like you’ve walked onto the set of a Billy Mays OxiClean info-mercial. I’m a fan of The Nose, so I let myself get sucked in, as it’s all in the spirit of fun and whisky appreciation.

The Nose entered the room and asked what our intentions were for this visit. Craig spoke up, mentioned that I’m a whisky fan and blogger, and suggested that a tour of the sample room, and perhaps a small dram would be nice. That sounded great to me! I felt a little guilty about even being there. It’s not like I’m “proper press” or an industry insider, so any time that an obviously very busy Whisky Legend was willing to spend with me was going to be much appreciated.

Watch your step in the W&M Sample Room!

Hello, How Are You, Quite Well…

Tasting whisky the “The Nose” way is no secret, and certainly wasn’t new to me. Search for Richard Paterson on YouTube and you’ll find a number of videos showing his unique approach to getting people past the high alcohol content of spirits in order to appreciate the true flavors underneath:

Well, on this day, I got to enjoy the experience first hand, and I was happy to walk through the process I’d seen and mimicked many times before. I even learned something new in the process…

Mr. Paterson’s flare from the videos is not reserved strictly for large audiences and TV cameras. That’s just the way he is! I got the full experience, starting with his pouring a small dram into a glass, swirling it around and then throwing it on the floor. In this case, it happened to be with a $180/bottle Dalmore!

Then he walked me through the nosing process, lifting the glass up to the nose and pulling it away 4 times in order to “get to know” the whisky. You lift it up and say “Hello”, then pull the glass away and bring it back up…”How are you?”…”Quite well”…”Thank you very much.”

What I actually got to taste

What I originally thought would be a taste of a single standard bottling turned into an amazing flight of whiskies! The “warm-up” dram provided by Mr. Paterson was actually the Dalmore King Alexander III! A very nice whisky, though not something that jumped out at me as being head-and-shoulders above a more standard (and less expensive) Dalmore like the 15 year.

Next up was a special treat in its own right. A 30 year old bespoke sherry (Matusalem?), used to treat the casks of some of the “special” Dalmore releases. Wow! I had just recently stated on Twitter that I was not a fan of Sherry, even though I love whiskies aged in sherry casks, but this sweet dram was nothing like the more inexpensive and younger sherries at the local wine store. Not cloying at all, it contained many of the ripe red fruit and cherry flavors that I love in sherry cask whiskies.

With that intro to good sherry, The Nose returned to the sample counter and shielded me from the bottle he was using to pour the next dram. More on that below. The final dram was none other than one of my favorites…the Dalmore Mackenzie special release. But back to the “secret” dram that followed the 30 year sherry…

The 1868 Dalmore is in there somewhere.

Tasting an 1868 Dalmore

The Nose was very coy about what I was about to taste. But he wanted to walk me though the process of nosing and then tasting it. This was a smaller dram than the previous two. It was clearly something special. Was I actually getting to try a 40+ year old Dalmore (one of my Bucket List items)?!

There were big, big espresso coffee notes on the nose, with chocolate. Some over-ripe red fruits as well. But it was the coffee notes that stood out to me. I’d never experienced that flavor in such a strong way on the nose of a whisky. It was absolutely amazing. I could have just sat there and nosed that glass forever. At this point, The Nose revealed that what I had in my glass was Dalmore from 1868! I wonder if my face went flush. I couldn’t believe he was letting me taste this!

On to the actual tasting, this is where Mr. Paterson tortured me a bit. He had me take a very small sip and hold it on top of my tongue while he proceeded to count and talk to me FOREVER! “Hold it, hold it, don’t swallow…” All the while, I’m failing to keep the liquid completely on the top of my tongue. It’s slowly leaking down the sides/back of my tongue into my throat. I sneak small swallows hoping he doesn’t notice. “Ok, now put it under your tongue and hold it there…” I complied the best I could, though most of the small dram had already snuck down my throat. “Now back up on top again…and swallow.” I asked if he expected me to do this with every sip I took. The answer was no – once you’ve acclimated your tongue, feel free to proceed in a more casual manner. :-)

I had already tasted some “older” sherry-cask whiskies (The Last Drop and Classic Cask 35 Year), so I had a good idea what to expect when this old Dalmore hit my mouth. It was going to be very woody, bourbon-like, and so dry my tongue would feel like it was shriveling up. Wrong! This was a very fresh, active, acidic, juice-like experience, full of seville oranges. Speaking of which, go take a sip of orange juice, hold it on your tongue, and let it roll over the sides and down the back of our tongue. The tingling sensation from the 1868 Dalmore was like that. It was almost an over-the-top acidic experience, actually. Certainly not boring! I also recognized some flavors from the Sherry we had just tried.

After that initial nosing and tasting of the small sip of Dalmore 1868, The Nose gave me a bite of Dark Chocolate to tie all of the flavors together and complete the experience. Actually, he said the ideal experience would include a coffee and/or cigar if I recall correctly. Kind of like a well chosen multi-course meal.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the magic of these old Dalmores is that Mr. Paterson flirts with the boundaries of what is allowed in proper seasoning of the casks with sherry. Certainly, he has gone to great lengths to choose the RIGHT sherry to season his finishing casks on these best of the best Dalmores. Whatever the secret is, I would never have imagined the flavor on the palate was coming from the same liquid that produced that coffee nose. But once I had swallowed and taken a deep breath, there was that coffee and chocolate again. A magical transformation!

Conclusion

Wow! Guided through an amazing whisky tasting by an amazing whisky legend. What an experience! The 1868 Dalmore truly was incredible. It smelled like no whisky I had nosed before. It tasted like no whisky that had previously touched my lips. Quite an education for the senses. Mr. Paterson said this was one of the “components” of the very expensive Dalmores that have been released in recent times. This makes sense. The individual elements of taste and smell were incredibly unique, but not necessarily the most balanced overall whisky experience I’ve had. I’m sure this is where The Nose works his blending magic on the official releases…finding the right balance of 1868 and other vintages to produce a dazzling final result.

Thank you Craig McGill for adding this unforgettable experience to my trip! And thank you Richard Paterson for not only fitting me into your busy schedule, but for sharing such a rare piece of history with an ordinary guy like myself.

Up Next

This wasn’t actually the FULL Richard Paterson experience (or Craig McGill experience), but I’ve written enough in this blog post. I’ll post another with some final details from my Whyte & Mackay visit, and my theory on which casks that 1868 sample came from. Also, some thoughts on super-premium whiskies vs. more standard bottlings from the perspective of a middle class enthusiast.

Cheers, Jeff

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