Scotch Party VII

This year, I was invited by an old friend to take part in a Scotch party (of which this was the 7th edition). Great drams, and great people. Nothing better than sharing whisky thoughts with those who really, truly, love whisky.

Glenrothes 1995 – B

“The Scotchiest Scotch that Ever Scotched”

This is your sweet, biscuity, desserty dram. It is complex enough to be interesting, but isn’t show-stoppingly enthralling. A solid B that may be something great at 46% or higher. Still reasonably viscous at 43%.

Glenrothes Robur Reserve – B

“A nice, light snack”

In the lineup this evening, this one comes across as the 1995’s little brother. Much of the same, but a little bit more sugary without much more flavour.

Glenlivet XXV – B+

“Aged cherry cough sweets”

Plenty rich, strong cherry and other berries, thick and present, and then it’s gone. Really no finish to speak of, but the rest is really quite pleasant. A plenty good whisky, but at 25 years old, you’d expect much more.

Talisker 57 North – A-

“Warm leather arm-chair”

I began the night with this one, and it was most of what I’d expected. Everything the Talisker 10 should be (and maybe used to be,) but isn’t. Strong peppery leather, coastal salt, and your typical Talisker flavours. Warming like nothing else I’ve ever tried. It’s an excellent whisky for what it does, but it is missing that either solid second gear, or a neat 3rd to get it into the A range.

Tomatin 12 – B-

“A good aperatif”

Sweet, somewhat thin, just all around inoffensive, if not overly interesting.

Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask – B+

“Banana marshmallows”

This one has those banana marshmallows all over it. Sure there is malt, and typical baked speyside goodness, but the note that hits you over the head first and foremost is the banana. It’s quite a delicious Balvenie, that makes me forget about their disaster of a triple cask.

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve – D+

“Cinnamon Farts”

Just something awful. It’s like the Valinch gone wrong. Nothing but farm.

Bruichladdich Black Art 3.1 (48.7%) – A

“Pungent, sweet, leathery goodness”

The black art is tart, leathery, subtle, but complex. Berries, sherry, sour with light peat all around, and this nice leathery finish. Truly the star of the night.

Longrow CV – B

“Lightly peated, candied citrus.”

I was surprised by this in two ways: it wasn’t all that peated, more of a speysider than a wannabe Islay. It was also sort of disappointing, as I was expecting a show-stopper in this one, on the back of all the hype.

Bowmore 15 Darkest – B+

“Dark, rich, sherry almost-monster”

A bit of a dark horse for me. I was expecting something weak and mildly inoffensive. It’s sherry, raisins and chocolate. A bit medicinal on the palate, which makes it kind of a one-two punch of dark sherry sweet, and Islay smoky. They’ve done a nice job with this one, and might be worth about $80. The almost $100 that it comes in at here in Toronto is way too much to ask, however.

BenRiach Bernie Moss – C+

“Lightly peated, slightly sweetened new-make

A poor man’s Longrow CV. The peat isn’t very strong, and neither is much of the flavour.

All in all, a successful night with the lads. Looking forward to next year, when we raid the LCBO stocks again.

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
: Macallan Cask Strength
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.

ArdBen: The BenRiach 10 Curiositas

I haven’t been kind to BenRiach as of late. Kind I have not been, but fair.. that I have. As it stands, the core range at 16 years and under are uninspiring, and I would never buy a bottle for the cabinet. The 20 year old is another story, and at $80, very affordable for a 20yr. That said, I’d rather spend such money on a 20yo Bladnoch at cask strength, given the choice.

Cue the Curiositas. An inexpensive peated Speyside that has picked up some attention and high praise in the whisky community. At $64, I decided to try it. I have not been disappointed. It comes off rather like a sweet heavily-peated Islay than a peated sweet Speyside. Where I draw the line here is in how the peat comes across. In peated non-Islays, they always come across as rather synthetic peat to my tastes. That is, the peat has been noticeably ‘added’ in some way. Islays, on the other hand, feel so organically joined, the spirit and the peat. They’ve done some good work here at BenRiach, and at such a young age. Puts my faith back in the distillery.

Nose: Peat and smoke upfront. A true Islay nose. Banana bread. That’s right, you heard me: banana bread. This might be why I love it so much. Cinnamon. A couple drops of water opens it all up nicely.

Palate: The peat is there, but it takes a backseat to the BBQ smoke.

Finish: Long and pleasant.

Grade: B

I can’t fault this whisky in many ways: it’s delicious, and a great wood-fired dessert dram that works both in the winter, and as the sunsets on a cooler summer evening. If all your new releases have this quality/price ratio, BenRiach, you can be sure that I’ll be picking up what you’re putting down.

Review Stub: BenRiach 20

This is review #4 from my BenRiach distillery collection taster pack (HoS, 12, 16, 20). This is where age makes a difference.

Nose: The nose is fat and buttery. Buttered bread with some vanilla and other sweets. Peaches and a bit lighter on the apple. Malty, and oddly, a little celery in the background. A tad bit of furniture polish, but in an “Oh, that’s cool!” way. A surprisingly powerful nose for 43%, and damn if it isn’t very pleasant.

Palate: Medium oily, savoury and buttery. More of that olive oil on french or italian bread. The second wave is malty with graham crackers, then it comes in slightly fruity with peaches, apple, brown sugar and cinnamon. Much less jagged than the 16 by a long shot.

Finish: Long, mostly sugar and vanilla sweetness. Terribly pleasant.

Grade: B+

This dram makes the tasting pack worth it. The HoS was a pleasant surprise for something so inexpensive, while the middle of the range (12, 16) were rather muted or lifeless. The 20 is something BenRiach can be proud of, though they get more whisky out there faster if they could do more at the younger years. I’d love to try this at 46%, too.

While the HoS, 12, and 16 are very similar, and not all that inspiring, the 20yo takes BenRiach to a whole new level. Perhaps they need some work with their maturation process, because they could really do better work at the younger ages, and go for pure quality instead of this high quality-to-price ratio. An $80 bottle of 20yo whisky is a steal, yes, but I’d pay $80 for a really good 16yo bottle, too.

Review Stub: BenRiach 16

This is review #3 from my BenRiach distillery collection taster pack (HoS, 12, 16, 20). This far in, I’d say there was a noticeable difference between the HoS and the 12yo. The 12yo and 16yo, however, are very similar.

Nose: Apple, but not so artificial. Similar muted nose to the 12yo. Slightly buttery, with a bit of anise. Noticeable malt and a bit of brown sugar.

Palate: Medium oily, malt and oak. A little jagged, burnt brown sugar.

Finish: Medium, mostly honey, malt and oak.

Grade: B-

About as impressive as the 12yo. Nothing much as changed in 4 years, except for maybe the finish length. A little too rough for what I’d expect a 16yo to be.

Review Stub: BenRiach 12

This is review #2 from my BenRiach distillery collection taster pack (HoS, 12, 16, 20). I’m fortunate to have a sample of the 12yo and 16yo that are at 43%, instead of the 40% I’ve seen other reviews based on. Maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Nose: Similar Jolly Rancher nose to the HoS, but green apple this time. The nose isn’t as open, but what comes at you, comes across as thick, almost buttery. In that way, it’s much like a Mortlach. It’s quite sweet, though, and in that way, it isn’t so much like a Mortlach. Barley and bread baking. A number of fruits I can’t figure out.

Palate: Medium oily, savoury and bitter with an indiscernable spice mix. Heavy on the olive oil on some type of french or italian bread. Very malty. Slightly fruity.

Finish: Short to Medium, mostly floral and fruity, and also nice and warming, a plus for a 43% ABV whisky. That said, BenRiach needs to work on this part.

Grade: B-

Compared to the Heart of Speyside, I found this one a little thicker, more mature (as it should be) but the HoS had a liveliness to it that this malt doesn’t have. It’s also a tad sharp on the palate. I hope this is not the case with the 16yo.

Review Stub: BenRiach Heart of Speyside

This is part of my 5cl BenRiach distillery collection (HoS, 12, 16, 20) that I will be reviewing throughout May and June.

BenRiach seems to be fond of their slogan, “The heart of Speyside”.  I don’t know Speyside enough to confirm such a claim, but I can surely say, it’s a pretty good, easy drinking 40% whisky.

Nose: Pear jolly rancher, honey, oak and hay. Savoury spice package with cloves. Makes it kind of meaty. Like clove-spiced mince.

Palate:  Medium oily. Sweet canned pears in syrup. Sweet white wine, like a Riesling or gewurztraminer. Honey and cloves. Coffee chocolates.

Finish: Short. Mostly pear jolly rancher, white wine and malt.

Grade: C+

If this is indicative of what the rest of the BenRiach collection is going to be like, then the 12 should embarass the similar offerings by Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. I have read unfavourable reviews for the 12yo, but they were all at 40%, whereas this new batch is at 43%. With hope, that’s the winning formula.