Sheer Elegance in its Simplicity: Glenfarclas 12

Music: Karen Overton, “Your Loving Arms”

Brief and clean with this review, much like the dram itself.

Sweet, but not cloying. I’ve seen the note “creamy” quite a bit with this one, and this Glenfarclas has it so clearly. It’s a rather rich, honeyed dram, with cinnamon and clove. Not much sherry, to my nose. Light smokiness to it, too. A very “Scotchy Scotch”.

Palate: Creamy, sweet and oddly viscous for 43%. Warm, dried fruit and nuts. This is what Glenfarclas is all about, and I’m more than sold by what they do. There is that malty flavour that a good whisky should have, but it has all these nice little accents that make it so appealing—and they’re just that, accents. There may be some sherry here, but it doesn’t take center stage the way I’d imagined it would.

Finish: Not the longest of finishes, but in that way, it’s a very good party dram. It’s complex on the intake, but doesn’t monopolize your time. Apples, pear, and honey. The sherry starts to finally show itself here. A nice touch.

Grade: B+

My favourite low-cost dram, that was, until the LCBO shot the price from $64 to $75. What a tragic day that was.

“And when I dream of the fear that you’re leaving, I reach out…”

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.

With Apologies to Glenfarclas: Glenfarclas 15yo, Revisted

Glenfarclas 15yo is a reason (if not the reason,) to take data seriously. Having read so many glowing reviews of the Glenfarclas 15, I tried it in a bar in hopes of being won-over, as so many others had been before me. Instead, it came across as a spectacular nose, but a let-down everywhere else. A B-, really.

A bar tasting isn’t always enough, though. Given the chance to buy a bottle on the (somewhat) cheap in Montreal, I took it, and haven’t regretted it.

Nose: The old review carries. Cookies. Butterscotch, cinnamon, orange peel and cherry. A real basket of great, sweet flavours. Smooth. Smells older than 15.

Palate: Sherry, chocolate and butterscotch. Rich, like a fresh cookie. Nowhere near as spiritous as the first time I tried it.

Finish: Sweetness, sherry, chocolate and some light smoke  and tobacco on the finish. A real rich dram.

Grade: B+

A really strong showing from this dram when you own a whole bottle. The maturity makes up for the 46% ABV (nothing to sneeze at, but weaker compared to the ‘105’) and makes it just as flavourful as the 10 year ‘105’, but without all the prickly boom of 60% ABV.

The Cherry Bomb: Glenfarclas 10yo `105`

After my let-down with Glenfarclas 15 at the bar, I decided to give them another go when the ‘105’ recently returned to the LCBO. I mean, I haven’t really been let down by a cask-strength to date, so why not try and extend the streak? I mean, I really did love the nose of the Glenfarclas 15. The mark was almost entirely based on that nose, truth be told.

Nose: Christmas cake and spice with sherry. Honey, toffee. Many of your sherry bomb characteristics (think Aberlour a’Bunadh) but this one is a bit more straight-forward and balanced. A bit of red cough syrup, but in the strangest pleasant way. And that’s saying something, as cherry cough syrup sends me running for the hills.

Palate: Rich, and sweet in a big way. Huge on the intro with the dark maraschino cherry chocolates. This flavour is the lead singer of this band. But this one’s no prima donna. Instead, this one shares the stage with every other flavour in an excellent balance. Coffee, raisins, and a bit of a mustiness. Honey on toast. Hints of smoke, but not your blackened, dark and stormy ‘burning fires of hell’ smoke like you’d get with a really strong Islay. Instead, it’s a quiet fire in a wood-stove where you’ve likely been baking. Add a dollop of water more than your usual teaspoon, and it’s a bowl of mixed nuts. Beautiful.

Finish: A flash of the cherry chocolates, quickly going tart into some of that cough-syrupyness. Hints of delicious Turkish delight and woody undertones. When the sweetness is all gone, it’s a drying pipe-tobacco finish—so mature and beautiful. It’s a very long, warming, perfect-for-winter finish.

Grade: A-

Didn’t think it’d happen, but I can officially say I’m in the Glenfarclas ‘105’ camp in the 105 vs. a’Bunadh sherry-bomb debate. While they’re similar enough in quality, there is something about the ‘105’ profile, and how it all comes together, that really wins me. Perhaps it’s the ‘cookie-like’ profile. It’s nice and baked, but a mix of savoury and sweet. Not your overly-sweet store-bought fluffy cake, but rather a soft cookie or a more dense coffee cake (on that note, it pairs really well with chewy white chocolate and craisin cookies!). In any case, I can see why maltmanics rave about Glenfarclas. Rest assured, I’m going to track down a bottle of the Glenfarclas 15 and give it it’s fair shake. The nose was spectacular, so I’m assuming I either over-watered it, or something else threw me off.

Review Stub: Glenfarclas 15yo (and “Remembering the Family Cask”)

A friend’s recent birthday get together just happened to be at a bar with a decent Scotch collection, stocking many whiskies that I would be unlikely to buy a bottle of because of the price and/or review consensus.

Nose: Cookies. Butterscotch, cinnamon, orange peel and cherry. A real basket of great, sweet flavours. Smooth. Smells older than 15.

Palate: Rather hot and rough, with or without water, for a 15 year old. Creamy sherry, raisins and other soft fruits. Almonds.

Finish: Medium length with a noticeable dark chocolate note.

Grade: B-

Retasted and re-evaluated UP. See the updated notes HERE.

I really wanted to like this one. Going into it, I had heard great things, and I wanted so badly for it to knock me off my socks and make me buckle down and buy a bottle. The nose began with so much promise, but the palate was a rather rough let-down. Not terrible, not even bad really, but just your average speysider with some maturity. To that end, I’ve currently got so many other Speysides that, for a similar price, do the same thing so much better.

Coarse Notes on the ’97 Glenfarclas ‘Family Cask’ for Kensington Wine Market (Calgary, AB):

Something about this review really makes me think about the merits of cask-strength and small batch for some distilleries (the going consensus on the Scotch blogs I follow seems to be that Highland Park is fine, if not better, at the standard 43-46% ABV, for example). Upon tasting the 15yo Glenfarclas, I compared it to the (14 yo) ’97 Glenfarclas Famiy Cask I tried at Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, which came in at 56.3% ABV. It definitely makes the 15yo look flat-out boring in comparison. Neat, the nose is powerful, but not too spiritous—mostly a bowl of mixed nuts, brown sugar and sherry, all in beautiful balance. On the palate, the ’97 FC hits you like a ton of bricks, but they are delicious bricks. Mouth-coating, creamy, with sherry, raisins, brown sugar, nuts, and a whole fruit-bowl, just… just everything you could want in a Speyside, and all in turn. I had about 10 minutes to try it, so the notes were never clear enough in my head to write even a review stub, but man was it good. In hindsight, I should have bought the bottle, as it was only about $20 more expensive there than the 15yo is here. Sadly, it was limited edition, too, and it’s gone. My rational originally was “Oh, I have too many Speysiders at the moment”, and I’ve regretted rationalizing my way out of that bottle. To those that have found their way to this post searching for thoughts on the Family Cask series, the 14yo ’97 Family Cask is a solid A.