Auchentoshan 18

I was lucky enough to score one of the last bottles of this gem at a clearance price when they discontinued it in Ontario. In the case of the Auchentoshan 18, the drop in price was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I would probably have never forked over the extra $20 they originally wanted for it, and it was so very worth what I did pay. However, it was a curse in the sense that this bottle must last me until I can find another affordable source for this precious whisky.

Nose: Barley, spices, tobacco, citrus. Upon first tasting, I was instantly struck by a vivid visual of the wheat fields of Saskatchewan. It has been years since I’ve seen them, so this whisky is a definite memory-jogger. After sitting for 10 minutes, with a few drops of water, the palate morphs into vanilla, toffee, and other sweetie shop scents.

Palate: Confirms the nose. Thick, syrupy, grassy, with hints of tobacco and fresh citrus. After 10 minutes and water, the candy shop opens up. The sweetness and barley marry into what I can only describe as a chocolate-covered granola bar.

Finish: Long, smooth, dry Tobacco and cereals. Vanilla and hints of bitter dark chocolate on the tail end of the finish.

Grade: B+

As I had mentioned in the review of the PC An Turas Mor, my A- grade often requires some sort of metamorphosis, or some increasing depth with the addition of sitting time, and/or water. It should provide me 2 experiences in a glass. The Auchentoshan 18 does that, and fabulously, even though I was skeptical at first with it being such a low ABV. It is, too, a chill-filtered whisky, and I’m not certain, but I’d guess that it also has caramel added to give it that beautiful, almost orange colour. Unlike other malt-maniacs, I won’t dock this whisky grades for its chill-filtration or caramel, because it is so spectacular in its own right. I can only wistfully imagine what a cask-strength-non-chillfiltered-no-e150 Auchentoshan 18 might taste like.

All in all, this is one bottle I will be playing close to the chest around company. Consider it a badge of honour if I share.

Retaste: Just over 8 months later, (and 8 months wiser) a retaste of this whisky has led me to downgrade it to a B+. While the notes are much of the same, it’s just not as smooth, and doesn’t hold up to some of the better whiskies I’ve had over the last few quarters. That said, it’s still, perhaps, the most unique whisky I’ve tried to date, with the most savoury profile I’ve come across. The Mortlach 20yo CS may take that to task, though, from what I’ve been told.

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Upcoming Reviews

Note to readers: as this blog is in its infancy, there is a rather large discrepancy between the ‘Rankings’ page, and the actual tasting notes. It’s taking me quite some time to write proper reviews from the collection of tasting notes I’ve put together in recent years. As free time is scarce (for just about any of us,) it will likely take me until June to have everything balanced out. At this point, I have decided to stick to a Mon-Wed-Fri post schedule for new tasting notes until everything is caught up.

This promises to be a good summer for tasting new Scotch, as I currently have plans to check out “Big Peat”, Cragganmore 12, and a shot at a second tasting of Oban 14.  Also, trips to Calgary and Chicago will allow me to procure some bottles not available here in Toronto. This is where I hope to pick up a bottle of the Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’. The anticipation is a killer.

Slainte!

1993 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection)

At times I look back on this purchase and think,

“$88 for only 70cl of such an obscure non-cask strength whisky? Really?”

But then I pour myself a dram and the thought subsides. “Really.”

I hadn’t heard anything about this bottling, nor had I heard anything about Ben Nevis for that matter, except that according to Ralfy, it mostly ends up in blends–what a tragedy. This one surprises you. It needs that touch of water (just a few drops) to open up. This one reminds me of all my favourite unpeated drams, and what’s more, it reminds me of them in turn, not muddled together.

Nose (w/o water): Smells of apples. Caramel apples in fact, if not a bit prickly–like a candied apple.

Nose (with water): Nutty, barley (almost auchentoshan like). It has that kind of faint popcorn/beer nuts. Not movie-butter popcorn, but more like a carnival snack stand. It makes me think of the carnival at night. Creamy caramel, and all around freshness. The nose is part Auchentoshan 18, and part Highland Park 12 (without the occasional eggy sulphur). It’s as if you’re standing at the gate to a carnival and can smell the caramel apples… then you put the water in and walk through the gate to the confectioner’s stand.

Palate: Oily, chewy, sweet–yum! Without water, caramel apples, with a touch of leather at the end. With water, and it’s a creamy, bursting saltwater taffy and sweets. Nuttiness, slight hints of smoke, and a little dairy (in a good way). Wow. This thing is just carnival confectionary in a glass.

Finish: Medium. Honeyed barley, some nuttiness. Hints of ‘vanilla milkshake’ is all I can say.

Grade: A-

For those in Ontario (though this will only aid to deplete a supply that is already limited,) this whisky is worth a go if you’re a fan of a good creamy highland with notes of (the LCBO discontinued) Auchentoshan 18, and the Highland Park 12. I had initially given this a B+, because I had thought that the finish was a little on the short side compared to an Ardbeg or a Port Charlotte. I decided to take it head to head with the PC An Turas Mor tonight, and no, this holds it’s ground. There is so much going on here that it deserves the A-.

This whisky is a real ‘experience’ whisky. There are so few whiskies that have the complexity to take me to a place I’ve been, rather than merely reminding me of this fruit, or that grain, or an assortment of flowers, etc. This was one of those.

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 Limited Release

Wading into the waters of Auchentoshan is exciting. For me, the two expressions I have tried have this very fresh, grassy, barley, flavour—maybe vegetal is the word? I’m not sure. Ever since tasting the Auchentoshan 18, my brain says “Oh! This tastes like an Auchentoshan.” every time that vegetal note pops up. I always say it with delight, too, because I love that note.

Reviewing Auchentoshan is a daunting task, though, because no matter what I say, I know I’m no expert like Mark Dermul (the Toshan Man). That man has tried them all. However, I’ll give my two cents about the Auchentoshan Valinch here, if only to entice people on the fence to give it a try—I mean, a cask-strength Limited Auchie for $65 CAD? A steal, if you ask me. I warn you, though, this one’s going to be a rambler.

Nose: A mostly pleasant nose. It explodes with that freshness that a much older Auchie would give you, but none of the alcohol burn you’d expect from a cask-strength whisky at 57.5% ABV. Fresh-cut barley, rather than grass, but that fits the rest of the nose.  I understand the “peaches” comment by one connsr.com reviewer. There is a lot of that here. Maybe peach cobbler. There is definitely some baked goods here. (Crème brulee?)  Vanilla and citrus notes as well. The downside is that there is this farmy note that lays in the background of this nose. Unfortunate.

Palate: This is where it confused me at first, and I think if you try it without water, you may be disappointed. Without water, it gives you that alcohol burn, and while wonderfully anesthetic, it makes the whole palate dry, and difficult to discern. The first glass was a bit of a disappointment, especially because I had been waiting 6 months for it to hit our shores after word that it was on its way.

The glass needs a good 10-15 minutes to open up, so pour it and let it sit.  Then add as much water as you care to. Different amounts of water bring out different tastes. I can see the differences in the reviews on connsr.com too, because depending on how much water you add, the palate can go from a rather unsweetened baked good like Yorkshire pudding, to something more desserty, like crème brulee. Add a small amount for cinnamon hearts, a medium amount for crème brulee, and some more for Yorkshire batter. Ralfy @ralfy.com adds a whole lot of water (whisky review #279). There seems to be some hints of a really dry chocolate–like 85% cocoa chocolate (or something in that high range). There are other notes I’m just getting acquainted with.

Finish: Long, wonderfully classic Auchentoshan. A revisit of the palate, again and again and…

Grade: B

All in all, this dram gives me that glimpse into what a cask-strength Auchentoshan 18 might be like. Oh what a perfect glass that would be! I’ll give my thoughts on the Auchentoshan 18 in a later post. It’s a good dram for being so young, but that background farmy note kind of dampens my enthusiasm a little bit.

To end this, the Auchentoshan Valinch is an excellent value for the money. Moreover, it’s a very refreshing dram, so it’s come to Toronto just in time.

Tasting update: The Auchentoshan Valinch is now more of a B. It is still reasonably complex, and a wonderfully desserty lowlander that can take a lot of water and still hold up, if not becoming all the better for it. The farmy note on the nose is it’s only dart.

Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor

The Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (ATM) is one whisky where the rule, “follow the tasting notes first, and the marks second” is important. If you follow the marks of the ATM given around the net, you may pass up on this gem—this extremely affordable gem. Too many of those who are lucky enough, wealthy enough, or are willing to sacrifice enough to get their hands on any of the PC5-PC8, have scoffed at the ATM for its multi-vintage, standard strength bottling. Too many folks have compared the ATM to its cask-strength siblings, and I think that is an unfair thing to do.

For my palate, the ATM is everything I love (except the cask-strength): oily, peaty, smoky, slightly sweet (with chocolate, not fruit) and spicy—not hot, Indian curry spicy. Before I get too gushy, I’ll get to the tasting notes.

Nose: Apparent at a distance. Coastal sea salt. Peat and lapsang souchong smoke. Indian masala spices: cardamom, coriander seed, cumin. Chocolate. Honey sweetness. If I nose while swirling the glass, I get Hickory BBQ Sauce! I would pay to have this whole bouquet in an incense stick.

Palate: Confirms the nose (Good thing too, as I wanted it to, so badly.) Reasonably oily.  A sea-salty peat. Indian spices: cardamom, coriander, light on the cumin. Then BBQ smoke (hickory wood chips), ending in a nice, dry, high-cocoa dark chocolate.

Finish: Long, peat and smoke clinging to dark, dark chocolate.

Grade: B

***WARNING: On my first dram, I found that any more than a few drops of water turns the finish from long, to medium-short. Careful here.***

Bruichladdich has done something pretty special here. They have managed to marry my favourite things: mouth-coating oiliness, peat, smoke, a spicy masala, and insanely dark chocolate. I do chastise the ATM for two things: I would love it at cask-strength. That may improve its ability to handle water. While water isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, it is missing that extra layer that my top whiskies have.  A great whisky (to me) evolves when you add water, either by showing the depth of the whisky to show more subtle notes in the nose and the palate, or, it transforms the experience entirely, so that you’re almost getting two whiskies in one. This is where the ATM falls short. The Nose is enhanced with some water, but the palate and finish die. Even the Auchie 18 at 43% ABV can handle a little water, and it’s often all the better for it (details in a future review).

Update: For those of you that have checked my rankings since this post was originally made, you may have noticed that the Port Charlotte took a tumble in the rankings. Perhaps I was a bit too over-zealous with my original tastings of this whisky. By the end of the bottle, the An Turas Mor is still all the things I’ve said it to be (at least to me), but it doesn’t do it so spectacularly as I had first thought. Since discovering the Bowmore Tempest III for $5 less (and 50cl more, and at cask strength…) I have found other peated Islays that are a better bang for your buck. That said, I will definitely give Bruichladdich’s new flagship peated malt, the Port Charlotte 10yo, it’s fair shake when it hits the LCBO. Perhaps the inconsistencies of the An Turas Mor will be sorted out by then.

Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

Looking at the reviews posted so far, you’d think I’m the type who is easy to please—I mean, most whiskies are B+ or higher! Well, there is a selection problem there, of course. Because I’m a grad student (in Ontario, no less,) the whisky budget is small, and the prices are high. Thus, I usually research every potential purchase heavily, and as such, there is a high probability that I will enjoy what I buy. Perhaps that’s what makes my bar tastings the most honest, as I usually just jump into what they’ve got, and don’t have time to look up what the bloggers are saying.

Well, after such a preface, this is a review of a whisky I did not research. It is also, coincidentally, a review of whisky I did not particularly like. However, research may not have helped, as a post-purchase perusal of the notes by the folks at LAWS found that they rated this one a B-, far kinder than I. (Despite their being so harsh on so many whiskies I love so dearly.) I purchased this whisky on a whim, as I was at the LCBO and decided I’d like to have a bottle at the office to be classy like Jack McCoy. It must look very classy, sitting there on my shelf, so amber… and so full.

Nose: Peat x 3. This is pretty much what you’d expect, yes? Medicinal notes. Earthy, smoky, but it isn’t as ‘organic’. It’s as if they had a shaker of peat that they sprinkled into it. Not an astonishing nose, but nothing to suggest anything terribly unpleasant.

Peat: Medium oily. Peat, smoky–but burnt sticks… not really a favourite smoke. Concurring with Adam@LAWS. Some cinnamon.  Mildly sweet. It’s somewhat ashy, but in an unpleasant way. Come to think of it, it reminds me of the McClelland 5yr.

Finish: Peat, slightly sweet, some more unpleasant ashes. Medium-long (though, this is one I wish wasn’t…)

Grade:  D+

Perhaps I’m harsh on this one, but being as this dram received my ‘love of peat’ bonus, and still underperformed comparable price-point drams like The Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12, I think a grade in the D+ range is warranted. Moreover, it falls dangerously close to the D classification because there are a few occasions where I pour a sliver, and after a few sips wish I could pour it back in the bottle. As always, YMMV. In fact, Chris and Adam of LAWS have found this dram to be a B- with their rather critical (or perhaps, more normally distributed) palates. That said, their batch was bottled in 2008, whereas mine was bottled in 2010. A lot can happen in two years.

Springbank 12 Claret Wood Finish

The Springbank 12 CW was one of the first $99 bottles I’d ever purchased—$99 at 70cl, too. I was thinking about exploring Campbeltown, and this was the one I’d found for under $100 that had the best reviews. A cask-strength expression, bottled at 53.2% ABV (the label reads 54.4%, but there is a curious sticker on the cap that reads 53.2%), the Springbank 12 CW is a rich campbeltowner, with the thick, syrupy mouth-feel that I’ve really come to love in my wine-finished/sherried whiskies. It’s deep, robust, and all around delicious—albeit with a caveat that I’ll mention after the tasting notes.

Nose: This one has a musty overtone that I’ve never come across before. Not in a terrible, mouldy basement sort of way, but in a really cozy, “attic where your grandparents keep old photo albums and a gramophone” sort of way. It has strong scents of apple, sherry, some cherries and orange peel. Hints of vanilla, coffee and ash.

Palate: Despite being high ABV, this whisky is cool, rather than hot. Syrupy but not too thick. Mouth-coating, with creamy toffee, vanilla, and a hint of mint.

Finish: Long finish, dry, cool, peppery toffee and cherry notes, hints of mint.

Grade: B+

Now that I’ve graded this one, the caveat: the Springbank 12 CW was a temperamental whisky. Although I think I’ve finally tamed it, this ‘work’ was initially reflected in the grade. This whisky was a solid B on first sip, that moved up to a B+ after three drams. It dropped to a B- and B for the fourth and fifth drams, mostly on the palate breaking up with various additions of water. Once I understood it, though, I found the spot where it was consistently an B+.

This all depends on how much water you add. Despite being cask-strength, this whisky needs very little water. It needs water, but only about half a teaspoon, maybe one teaspoon at most. Too much, and the beautiful, mouth-coating, Christmas-pudding-by-a-campfire-experience just disappears. No water, and it’s prickly as all hell. It also needs to sit and open up for 15-20 minutes.

While I initially had this whisky at a B, with it’s high-maintenance and price costing it points, I have now re-thought my earlier review. I came to this revelation recently when a friend of mine joined me for what were to be the last two drams of this whisky. By this point, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. We’d spent the better part of 4 months together, Springbank CW and I, and in the end, we were friends. It’s only fair that I grade it what I think it really is, and not the whole journey. After all, anyone who reads this review and buys it knowing to add only a teaspoon of water will have nothing but the best this whisky has to offer all the way through.