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Introduction

GlenlivetAlphaBig thanks to the folks at Deep Focus, a social media agency working with The Glenlivet, for sending me a free sample of the new Glenlivet Alpha expression that has only 3350 bottles shipping worldwide (not sure how many are coming to the U.S.). Especially since I’ve been flying under the whisky radar this past year (I’ll post more on that later). I haven’t checked out all of the marketing details, but apparently there is going to be a big “reveal” for Alpha in a few days, so I thought I’d go ahead and post some thoughts on the whisky while it is still something of a mystery (the box only states that it is a Single Malt bottled at 50% abv). The U.S. retail price is $120.

Tasting Notes

On the nose, my first impression is of cinnamon apples. Then vanilla custard, and finally some fresh wood shavings. Then back to the fruit, of the apples and pears variety. Looking online now at other reviews, I see people talking about lots of tropical fruits. Personally, that’s not the way I respond to this. It doesn’t strike me as tropical in the same way as something like Glenmorangie 18 year. But of course, this is all subjective.

On the palette, it starts out mouth-watering and juicy, sweet, then very slightly prickly on the tongue. There is a point where it becomes slightly nutty, and just as I start to expect a slight walnut bitterness, it pulls back. Very nice. It’s smooth as silk…almost buttery going down. It then becomes drying on the finish, before my mouth waters up again. A very enjoyable, if not particularly long, experience.

Update: On finishing my sample last night, I felt like there was some citrus included in the ample fruitiness. Primarily on the palate and finish. I Still don’t get pineapples or coconut. That doesn’t mean I think everybody else is crazy. Just some insight into my own taste interpretation.

Impression

The Glenlivet Alpha is an extremely drinkable expression that would be great for sharing with all levels of whisky drinkers. It strikes me as a Special Edition release of their Nadurra expression. The overall flavor profile (especially on the nose) is quite similar. However, the Alpha has an extra silky smoothness to it relative to Nadurra, in the same way the 17 year finished Balvenie expressions relate to the 15 year single barrel. Though, I don’t detect anything resembling the typical “finishing” casks of sherry or wine in Alpha.

So what is it?

If this is a game, and we’re supposed to guess what the heck is in this black Alpha bottle, I’d have to guess a combination of first-fill and second-fill American White Oak bourbon barrels were used to mature the spirit. There is no sign of coloring or chill filtration (like Nadurra). Age? That’s a hard one. Is the extra buttery smoothness in the mouth over the Nadurra due to age, or is it related to the type of casks used? Not sure. I could believe a number of scenarios: 1) It’s a year or two older than the 16 year Nadurra. 2) They use a combination of refill casks and smaller quarter casks to give the impression of extra maturity, while keeping the oak in check, or 3) this is just the result of very carefully selected casks by the master distiller.

Value

Did I really enjoy this whisky? Yes. Am I going to seek out a bottle? No. Do I think you’re an idiot if you do? No.

I really like this whisky, but for me, the 16 year Nadurra (at $50/bottle locally) is close enough in profile to keep me satisfied. On the other hand, I have no immediate issues with the price of Alpha. They are saying that it was “carefully crafted” by the master distiller, and it is a limited release of 3,350 bottles. It’s not going to be for everybody, but then, the limited run kind of takes care of that. :-)

I’ve seen much higher prices asked for “carefully selected” expressions…how about the Diageo Manager’s Choice a few years ago? Talk about crazy pricing. These things work themselves out, though. A bunch of those Manager’s Choice bottles can still be had at 40% discounts online. So far, The Glenlivet Alpha is selling out quickly. The UK allocation disappeared immediately. If, upon commencing with their “reveal” on Facebook later this week, people are outraged by what they hear, then I’d expect that feedback to influence future releases.

If they keep their main line whiskies priced reasonably, and of high quality, what’s the harm in experimenting with various boutique releases aimed at smaller segments of the market? I look forward to learning more about the story behind The Glenlivet Alpha.

B+ on my scale

Cheers,
Jeff

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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

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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Introduction

I was going to post Part 2 of my Whyte & Mackay office visit today, but I just tried one of the samples I came home with from my trip, and it blew my mind, compelling me to share my thoughts while they’re fresh. I don’t mean that it blew my mind because it’s the greatest whisky I’ve ever tried (though it’s very good). Rather, it simply turned my pre-existing notion of the Jura flavor profile upside down.

Tasting Notes

Isle of Jura 1976 “Feith A’ Chaorainn”; 35 Yr; 46%

Jura 1976

I stuck the sample bottle up to my nose to see what flavors hit me first. I was immediately surprised by a light peat presence that reminded me of an old Talisker or Caol Ila. Hmm…nothing at all like any Jura I’ve ever tried. I’ve learned, though, that the way scents are pushed through tiny sample bottle openings can be very misleading. Let’s pour some into a glass…

Whoa! Upon first pouring the sample into a glass and taking a few whiffs to introduce myself, I was smacked upside the nose and through the sinus with overpowering oak. Let’s allow the sawdust to settle and revisit in 5-10 minutes…

Ok, here we go. There is definitely a strong oak presence leading the way on the nose. American/bourbon oak…not a hint of sherry cask scents to be found. The direct oak gives way to other oak-related flavors – first vanilla, then right past the vanilla to full-on butterscotch. I’m also getting some grass or barley, and a hint of citrus. Funny, I just barely notice the ashy smoke that hit me out of the sample bottle.

On the palate, the oak parade continues. It’s very dry, but not to the point of feeling like your tongue is completely shriveling up. The grass and barley come more to the fore, overcoming some of that strong butterscotch sweetness on the nose. As it hits the back of the palate, I get a mild tropical fruit sensation.

More oak grips the tongue on the fairly long finish. As the tropical fruit leaves the nostrils, it’s replaced by subtle ashy smoke and malt, and a hint of citrus again. As with my initial whiff from the sample bottle, I’m once again reminded of old Caol Ila. If you’re familiar with the standard Caol Ila bottlings, I’m talking more of a CI 18 profile than CI 12.

This is a strong B+ for me, perhaps A- if I had more time to spend with it.

Conclusion

Wow! Not what I expected. Most of the flavors, except the oak, are fairly subtle, but it’s fun to tease out the complexity. This is a very elegant expression. It strikes me as landing somewhere in between my bottle of Cragganmore 40 year (G&M Secret Stills 2.2) and what I would imagine a 35 year old Caol Ila tasting like. If I had $600 burning a hole in my pocket, would I buy a bottle? Well, no…I’d buy a bottle of Highland Park 30 and Talisker 30. But if I had several thousand spare dollars, I’d love to get a bottle of this, take it to a local whisky club tasting, and watch them all guess the distillery incorrectly. :-)

Cheers, Jeff

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Introduction

Disclaimer: I’m doing another review of a free sample. I don’t feel any obligation to write good things about it, but full disclosure and all…This one is  from ImpEx Beverages, who imports Chieftain’s, Kilchoman, Smokehead, Isle of Skye, and Arran. Many thanks to them for the sample!

Ah, Mortlach…so hard to come by here in the United States, as there is only one official distillery bottling (16 Year Flora & Fauna), and it’s not imported here. Most of the whisky distilled at Mortlach goes into blends, most famously Johnnie Walker Black. Apparently the bold flavor provided by their unique “partial triple distillation” is highly prized by the blenders. This single-cask expression was matured in a sherry butt, and it was bottled at a hefty 55.2% ABV. I’m comparing it directly with two previously reviewed Tomatins, as this Mortlach immediately reminded me of those.

Chieftain's Mortlach 15 in fancy "coffin" box

Tasting Notes

[Mortlach 15 Batch #7281, Chieftains, 1995/2011, 55.2%, $100, 625 bottles]

I took a whiff right out of the sample bottle and it seemed hugely fruity with dried fruits and red berries. Right up my alley!

In the glass, the nose changed quite a bit. Now, a sweet barley/malt leads the way, followed by dried fruits, but not so much the fresh red berries. Another whiff and I get some baked apples as well, along with something slightly vegetal (is that a word?). Some minor baking spices probably coming from the cask, but no wood shavings or strong vanilla on this one. Finally, imagine there’s a honey-cured ham cooking in the kitchen and you’re in another room. The aroma is just starting to reach you, but hasn’t taken over the room yet. It’s like a whole meal in a glass!

At 55.2%, there is a strong delivery on the palate, but it’s not overly hot. Big, big, malt and apple juice, similar to the MoM 19 Year Tomatin. As it works its way down, a hint of smoke lifts some dried fruit back up into the nostrils, and vague wood spices hang onto the tongue, still overshadowed by the malt. Drying, but not overly so, with a medium-long finish.

Mortlach 15 Label

Conclusion

More please! This is a highly enjoyable Speyside whisky and a great U.S. representative for the Mortlach distillery. While the big malt presence reminded me of the 18 and 19 year Tomatins that I like so much, there is even more malt here, and definitely less wood influence. I suppose the four fewer years in casks would contribute to that (and this might be a refill butt), but I also get the feeling that the distillate is stronger coming off the Mortlach stills than what Tomatin starts with. There’s definitely something unique about the Mortlach flavor. I’m intrigued and want to try more expressions from this distillery.  It would be really interesting to taste a 20 year old Mortlach, where I would expect the additional time in casks to result in a balance that would knock my socks off!

Jim Murray seems to think Mortlach creates a second-rate spirit, sometimes saved by good cask use. I haven’t seen much love for Mortlach over at Whiskyfun.com, either. The slight vegetal presence, and hint of baked ham is different from other Speysides I’ve tried, and I found the overall experience quite endearing. Is this bottle worth $100? I’d like to see it about $25 cheaper, but the reality is that Mortlach is very rare as a single malt, and it’s going to cost $75-$80 to get a 43% bottling by Gordon & Macphail. In that context, this single cask Chieftain’s bottling seems pretty reasonable. I rate it very highly – about the same, maybe just slightly below the Tomatin 18 and MoM Tomatin Cask Strength 19 year. A B+ for sure (88 points). Maybe higher if I spent more time with it.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

I’m really lucky to have gotten a bottle of the new Redbreast 12 Cask Strength from Irish Distilers Limited a while back. Thanks, James! It should be coming to the U.S. in early 2012. Now that I’m over half way through the bottle, I should probably write up some notes. :-)

This Redbreast is a “Pure Pot Still” Irish whiskey, matured in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks (probably more bourbon than sherry). Fortunately, rather than explain this term myself, I can just point you to the new post on The Whisky Exchange Blog that tells you all you ever wanted to know (and possibly more) about pure pot still whiskey: Midleton Distillery Trip: Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys Pt.1. Enjoy!

Tasting Notes

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength; Batch B1/11; 57.7%

The “official” tasting notes for this whiskey talk of a fruit explosion on the nose, and I’ve read others describe it similarly. I must say, I have a different impression. To me, it’s more of a wood explosion. Yes, the nose offers up dried fruits, apple, and a hint of banana. However, to me at least, it’s wood-based scents that really hit you over the head. Cedar wood chips and heavy vanilla, primarily. The higher alcohol content seems to thrust the woody notes right down your nostrils. Add a little water and the vanilla turns more to butterscotch, reminding me of Ponderosa Pine sap.

The nose is very nice, but the palate is where Redbreast 12 CS really shines. It starts out sweet and juicy, then those wood spices hit, gripping your tongue, aided by a drying sensation. What an amazing feeling in the mouth! The 57.5% isn’t overwhelming, either. It’s strong, but it feels right. Even more amazing, you can water it down a little and the spice and tingling stay there, further enforcing that it’s not just the alcohol content doing all of the work.

The finish brings back some of the dried fruit, which is nice, while introducing a combination of malt and grain. The grain lingers on the tongue as an after-taste.

Conclusion

This is NOT just the standard Redbreast 12 year (which I often recommend to newbies as an “accessible” whisk(e)y”) cranked up to 11. At first, I was a little disappointed by the 12 CS, as I braced myself for the aforementioned fruit explosion. I tried it side-by-side with a number of Speyside whiskies, and the Redbreast paled by fruity comparison to all of them.

Once I got over that pre-set expectation, though, I came back again and again for the unique, gripping experience experience on the palate. Also, if you’re in the mood for vanilla and wood on the nose, few will top this one. A very good nose, GREAT palate, and good finish, the whole is well above average for me, and definitely worth a spot in the cupboard. B+ (88 Points).

Cheers, Jeff

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Introduction

Mackinlay's Shackleton replica bottle

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky is a replica of the whisky found under Earnest Shackleton’s hut in Antarctica, from an expedition in 1907. After some of the original whisky was very carefully thawed out, Master Blender Richard Paterson had the opportunity to try it, after which he created this replica whisky expression. It’s a limited edition of 50,000 bottles, and comes in really cool packaging. Bottled at 47.3% ABV, with no coloring or chill-filtering, it is now available in the U.S. for a pretty steep suggested retail of $200. Shopper’s Vineyard has it for $145, though.

I’ve been dying to get my hands on some of this whisky, but was not having much luck. First, I got an email out of the blue in April from the PR department at Whyte & Mackay saying that a sample was on its way, followed by an “oops” email that they couldn’t ship to the United States. Then I came across an opportunity to split in on a bottle and get 50ml for about $20 (including shipping from Netherlands). Well, I paid the money, but never saw a sample. I guess somebody working for the postal system got thirsty.

The sample I’m reviewing here came from the baddish group, who I believe handles PR for Whyte & Mackay products here in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Patty!

Tasting Notes

This is a blended malt (single malts only…not a traditional “blend”), with no age statement, but is said to contain malts ranging from 8 years to 30 years. The 30 year portion likely comes from Glen Mhor, which was one of the backbone distilleries for Mackinlay’s back in the day, but was shut down in 1983.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton replica whisky; 2011; 47.3% ABV; $150 – $200

Nose: Creme brulee sweetness (vanilla, caramel, and caramelized sugar), light peat smoke (like Highland Park, not Islay), something grassy and a little “wild”, polished wood and dusty books, and little bit of Dalmore chocolate orange.
Palate: The sweetness carries through, both caramel and chocolate. There is some nuttiness, and a hint of peat. It has an interesting way of being both easy going and untamed at the same time. Not sure how to describe the untamed part, except that it reminds me of Springbank 10 year.
Finish: Sweetness on the tongue, with earthy peat followed by tea and tobacco leaves lingering in the back of the nostrils. A great combination, except it dies off pretty quickly, just leaving some caramel flavor on the tongue.

Comments: The Shackleton replica vatting tastes to me like a high quality blend, composed of Dalmore 12, Highland Park St. Magnus, and a little Springbank 10, all laid down on a bed of good column still grain whisky to smooth things out and make it easy to drink. The Dalmore traits especially stand out, from the manner in which the sweet profile presents itself to the library and tea leaf notes. The smoke and grass combination is where HP St. Magnus comes in. Enjoyable from start to [a little disappointingly short] finish, this ranks as a high B whisky in my personal scoring system. 87 points.

Conclusion

I’m really glad I got a chance to try Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. It’s a special whisky, for sure. While I mentioned a number of familiar components, the way they’re combined results in a unique and enjoyable profile. I hope Whyte & Mackay ends up making a standard release Mackinlay vatting or blend with as much of this flavor profile as they can squeeze in. I won’t be paying $150 for a bottle of this limited release expression (it’s going on my Christmas wish list, though), but I strongly recommend seeking it out in some manner. Whether that be via full bottle purchase, or through a local whisky club or bottle share.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

I’ve taken to using my Birthday as an excuse to purchase myself a very nice bottle of whisk(e)y, possibly at a cost in excess of what I really should be spending. I suppose ability to afford said whisky bottle should play into the equation, but such is the plight of a Stage 4-ish whisky fanatic. This year, I purchased my May birthday dram in December 2010…and waited. It’s a Glenglassaugh 31 Year, distilled in 1978 and bottled for The Whisky Exchange for their 10th Anniversary of doing online sales. It’s bottled at 44.6%, and carries an interesting old-style label.

Glenglassaugh 31 TWE 10th Anniversary

I had decided that I really wanted to try one of the special TWE Anniversary bottlings, but which one? There was a Linkwood that got 91 points on whiskyfun that looked really interesting. They also had an Amrut bottling, which was even priced well under $100. Then I read the whiskyfun review of this Glenglassaugh. Specifically, this quote caught my eye:

Nose: starts aromatic and generous, with big notes of ‘old style club Speysider’ if you see what I mean.

No, I don’t see what you mean! I’m a mere 3 years into my whisky discovery process, with no ‘old style club’ experience. That settled it…with my increasing interest in sherried whiskies, a 90 point rating from Serge, and a solid history of quality releases from The Whisky Exchange, this sounded like a great whisky AND an opportunity to get a feel for a ‘traditional’ single malt flavor.

Tasting Notes

Glenglassaugh 1978 / 31 Year / TWE 10th Anniversary (44.6%, £108.33 ex. VAT)

Nose: Definite sherry notes here, of the red fruits variety – mostly dried fruits, but some fresh red berries still poking through despite the age. This is combined with alcohol and wood influences that form what Tim F at The Whisky Exchange would call “old church pews” (OCP). It’s overall a great combination, but my feeling is that the OCP serves as a bit of a veil over the fruitiness. A few drops of water really opens it up.
Palate: Still fruity, but also quite spicy and oaky, like an old bourbon. The initial attack is pretty bold, seemingly bigger than expected based on the 44.6% ABV. Quite lively for its age. Starts drying the tongue immediately as it heads for the throat. With water, it’s fruitier and sweeter, reminding me of Dalmore 21 Year.
Finish: Oh, so very dry on the tongue. Fortunately, the dried fruit and berries linger in the back of the nostrils, providing something of a balancing act and distracting from what many might consider too much dryness. As a fan of old, woody bourbons, I’m not turned off by the feeling on the tongue.

Comments: Ok, that nose is really good. With literally a couple of drops of water (not too much, though), it’s great! I could sit with a dram of this and take it in for an entire evening. I’d put the nosing enjoyment level up close to my favorite Laphroaig 30…very special. The palate and finish suit me well, but it is a bit on the dry side. 92 points for the nose and 88 points in the mouth. So at the risk of looking like a Serge copycat, I’m going with 90 points overall on my personal scale. A- (90 Points).

Conclusion

So there we have it, a glimpse into the past at an “old style” Speysider. This certainly was a different Speyside experience than I’m used to. However, the individual components can be found in other modern whiskies. That “old church pew” on the nose reminds me of the “library with leather-bound books” flavor/scent that I’ve experienced with some Dalmores. Some of the sensations on the palate and finish can be found in 15-20+ year wheated bourbons. If this is really the kind of profile you used to find in younger Macallans “back in the day” then those really were the good old days of sherried whiskies.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

In February, I had a couple of unexpected samples show up at my door. One was a Caol Ila 30 Year and the other a Highland Park 13 Year; both bottled by Master of Malt at cask strength. These unsolicited samples were not part of the samples program that I previously blogged about. A bunch of bloggers received these two samples out of the blue, and I’ve included links to the resulting reviews that I know about at the bottom of this post.

My favorite way to review samples is to be able to compare them to other expressions that I’m more familiar with. In this case, I happen to have gotten a Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year from my wife for Christmas. Battlehill is supposed to be the “entry level” line from Duncan Taylor, specializing in 6-10 year expressions. They seem to have branched out a bit, and this Caol Ila 25 year is a single cask release sold exclusively by Total Wine & More.

Two old Caol Ilas

Tasting Notes

Battlehill Caol Ila 25 Year (Bottled for Total Wine & More; 43%; $110)

Nose: A cleaner, sweeter version of Caol Ila 12, with citrus and subtle smoke. Lots of vanilla, some fresh oak, and Werther’s caramels. This is all very well balanced, with perhaps less wood than you would expect of a 25 year. I would have guessed that this was more in the 18-21 year range.
Palate: Medium to high viscosity, but also juicy and sweet on the tongue. There is some nice pepper, but not in the same league as a “Talisker kick.”
Finish: Classic Caol Ila finish with lemons and ashy coal smoke. Again, it’s cleaner than the 12 year, with none of the youthful peat that I sensed in that one. The smoke is more subtle than the 12 year, but still very much the focus here.

Comments: Overall, it’s excellent. Everything that first captured my interest in my Caol Ila, and more. It’s refined and very, very drinkable. I think 3-5% more ABV would have brought it into Ace territory, but that’s not the Battlehill style. Rating: B+ (89 Points)

Master of Malt Caol Ila 30 Year Single Cask (1980/2010; 57.4%; MoM Exclusive £99.95)

Master of Malt Caol Ila 30

Nose: Lifesaver butter rum candy and pineapple, then mango. Actually, more like a whole bouquet of soft fruits. Vanilla. Faint whiffs of smoke. Very rich and elegant. I could nose this for hours at a time…we’re talking some serious 30 year old magic here.
Mouth: Holds back at first and then the 57.4% ABV explodes on the late middle to back of the tongue. More woody than the nose indicated. Enjoyable, but a few drops of water provides a more consistent experience over the whole tongue, with more fruity flavors.
Finish: Finally, we get a more sooty smoke that reveals some distillery character rising up in the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, continued heat along with sweets and fruits. However, as the smoke and sweetness dies off, I’m left with a stale malt flavor that takes over and lingers. Hmm…not what I expected. It reminds me of the late finish on my 200ml bottle of Glenkinchie 12. Adding water to bring it down closer to 45-50% ABV seems to cut down on the stale malt component. I just discovered this at the end of my sample…wish I could try again to confirm.

Comments: I thought this whisky provided a world-class experience on the nose, along with moments of greatness on the tongue and into the early finish. However, I was a bit put off by what my olfactory senses perceived as some staleness at the end, especially at full strength. On the nose, this was an Ace. I wish I had a little larger sample to play some more with adding water. As it stands, the finish brings it down a little for me. I’d put it just below the 25 year overall. Rating: B+

Conclusion

Many thanks to my wonderful wife for buying me the Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year. What a great treat this has been. A big thanks to MoM as well, for the 30 year sample. How cool was it to be able to compare these two expressions?  [answer: very cool.] At just over $1oo for the 25 year, and $160-ish for the 30 year, I’d say both of them are a relative bargain, considering the distillery 25 year bottling costs $200.

I don’t know how many bottles of the Battlehill were made. According to to Greg Tuttle at Total Wine, these “bottled for Total Wine” Battlehill releases are all single-cask. At a 43% ABV dilution, we’re just talking a few hundred bottles. I can easily recommend purchasing one if you find it.

The Master of Malt bottling is a little less cut and dry. The price is certainly amazing for a 30 year (though our exchange rate kind of sucks right now). When I first took in the nose, I thought I was going to HAVE to get my hands on a bottle. The finish changed my mind, but adding water was looking promising as a potential panacea.  I recommend checking out the other opinions below. Nobody else seems to be complaining about any stale malt sensation. Maybe it’s just me. You can also get a sample from Master of Malt to see for yourself.

Other Opinions

The folks at Master of Malt were quite generous with these samples. Some of the fruits of their labor:

  • Whisky Israel – Gal really enjoyed it. 90/100 points.
  • Dramming.com – Not quite as much of a rave, noting some “interesting” herbal notes.
  • Jewish SMWS – I think it’s safe to say Josh is a fan.
  • A Wardrobe of Whisky – A whopping 93/100 points!
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Tasting both the Caol Ila and HP sample in a fascinating location.
  • Whisky Boys – Another review of both the Caol Ila and HP, with three opinions in one review.
  • It’s Pub Night – A recommendation to add a wee drop of water, and probably not a bad idea.
  • Malt Fascination – Sjoerd gave the Caol Ila 30 pretty high praise. Notable since he doesn’t care for the distillery 25 year bottling.

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Introduction

Goldilocks, a Scottish man with curly blond hair and wearing a kilt, walked into a pub and found three tumblers of whisky sitting at an empty table. Being a curious chap, he sat down and began sampling the single malts. The first one, a Bowmore 12 year, was nice, but a little gentle for his tastes. He jumped to the third tumbler, filled with Laphroaig 10. The iodine/tar notes in this one were too much! He already had enough hair on his chest, thank you very much. Finally, he took a sip from the middle tumbler, a Caol Ila 12 year. Ahh, just right…

Caol Ila 12

Tasting Notes

Caol Ila 12 Year (2010; 43%; $55)

Nose: On initial pour, an ashy coal dust smoke rises into the air. Letting it rest a minute, and taking a couple of whiffs out of the glass, the smoke dissipates and leaves a fair amount of lemon, with a hint of furniture polish. The smoke is less noticeable, but still there, along with some peat and a little barley. Sometimes I get a salty, vegetable soup type of smell at the end. More so on initial pouring, dropping off after letting the whisky sit in the glass for a while.
Palate: Juicy, peaty and fairly viscous, yet somehow still “fresh” and lively. Turns a bit hot and peppery in a good way, similar to the Talisker pepper kick.
Finish: Heading into the initial finish, there’s a bit of a raw barley present that reminds me of younger peated whiskies. That dies off and leaves a combination of lemon and that ashy coal smoke. No tar like you find in Ardbeg or Laphroaig, and only a tiny bit of iodine making an appearance. The smoke lingers for a medium duration in the back of the nostrils.
 
Note: That faint reminder of younger peated whiskies makes me wonder about the recent discussion here about cask maturation. I wonder if Caol Ila, a distillery with HUGE output, is one of the distilleries that re-uses barrels as many as 4-6 times. Could that slow the maturation some, leaving a younger barley flavor that I haven’t noticed in other 12 year expressions?

Comments

There’s something different about Caol Ila peat. One evening I poured glasses of Caol Ila 12, Laphroaig 10 and Ardbeg 10 for comparison. My wife had cooked a ham and bean soup that day and the Laphroaig and Ardbeg both seemed to take on the strong salty ham aromas that had filled our house. Meanwhile, the Caol Ila maintained its unique ashy coal dust flavor, and had more of a fresh sea breeze quality. That really stood out to me, and the uniqueness of this peat smoke (although I get a similar smoke profile from Lagavulin 12) earns an extra point on my personal scale. Otherwise, I put the quality of this very close to Laphroaig 10. A solid B (85 Points).

Conclusion

I’ve now completed my run of “core Islay malt” reviews. Yes, there’s Bunnahabhain, but I’m focusing on the peated offerings for this series. Bruichladdich also has peated whiskies, but those are relatively new, and they don’t have any “standard” 10-12 year offerings that have been around for a while with a price below $60. Finally, we have the newcomer, Kilchoman. Very much worth checking out, but still a toddler, with no real “core” expression to be had for a few more years.

Caol Ila 12 is well worth a try if you’re looking for a “smoky” whisky. You should especially check this out if you have tried and liked Talisker, but thought Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Lagavulin were just a little “too much” for you. I personally put this expression a little above Laphroaig 10, but not quite on par with Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig QC. They’re all of very high quality and worth comparing to see where your own preferences lie.

Cheers,
Jeff

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