Scotch Night with the Lads

Spent a recent mid-week evening reuniting with a couple of old friends from my undergrad over a collection of slivers from different bottles. A great night to share some old favourites, and to try some new ones. Because we’d intended this to be a rather peaty occasion, a couple of the latter drams didn’t get the most unbiased palate I had to offer. I did, however, get to save a little of the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition for another night, so that review is more honest than the Select Oak.

No. 1: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Nose: Toffee. Butterscotch. Slightly winey.
Palate: Smooth, sweet and nose-confirming.
Finish: Medium-long.

Grade: B+

All the best parts of the Lasanta without any of the off-notes. This is Glenmorangie getting finishing right.

No. 2: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Nose: Typical Laphroaig tobacco, but where the Cairdeas is like an unlit cigar, the TW is more unlit cigarette. Tar and iodine. Sweet red wine, and almost Speyside-esque. 
Palate: Peat and tobacco smoke, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Finish:
Long and smoky.

Grade: B+

So, we had a whole flight of Laphroaig (10yo, TW, QC and Cairdeas) and this one came in 3rd. The QC is still so much for so little, and the Cairdeas blows me a way. That said, the TW is a nice, sweeter Laphroaig than the QC, and would make a great choice for a winter dram on the nights when you can’t decide between a sweet Speyside and a beasty Islay.

No. 3: Springbank 12 Cask Strength

Nose: Cookies, vanilla, leather and dried apircots. Toffee pudding.
Palate: Cherry, apricot and wheat, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. This one is superbly complex for something so young, and it really knocks the socks off the 10yo. Springbank, we are friends again.
Finish:
Long, warming and smoky.

Grade: A-

Of the ones I hadn’t tried, this Springbank was the best. Everything the 10yo wants to be, but isn’t. Makes me think that the 18yo must be truly amazing.

No. 4: The Macallan Select Oak

Nose: Vanilla, Toffee and raisins.
Palate: Floral, vanilla, and toffee
Finish:
Medium.

Grade: B-

My least favourite of the night. Not bad, but a rather plain Macallan. Smooth, easy drinking, and a great daily dram, but for something that would probably be in the $90 range in Canada, you’d expect more. Drams like this make me want to guard my discontinued Macallan Cask Strength carefully.

No. 5: The Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition

Nose: Honeycomb, butter and toffee. Hints of mushrooms and a bit of sulphur.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry and chocolate. Some of the mushroom scent. Medium viscosity (not watery, but less viscous than the the 12yo).
Finish: Medium, slightly smoky.

Grade: B

Good, easy drinking whisky. Not my favourite of the night, but not my least favourite! Similar sentiments to #4, but this one is more of that classic rich cherry-like Macallan than the select oak. Another case of a good nose, but a weak palate. Not as elegant as the 12yo, though.

Christmas Lite: Glenmorangie 12yo ‘Lasanta’

This review is a bit of a redemption for my earlier faith in Glenmorangie (note: I use the phrase “a bit”). I had really high hopes for their ‘Original’, but upon trying it, it failed to live up to my expectations on so many levels that I was very disheartened with the distillery. I try not to do this after only trying a couple drams of one expression at a bar, but it really wasn’t all that spectacular, and I felt let down. Especially the way I’ve heard other blogs tout ‘The Original’ as the place where everyone should start their Single Malt journey.

Why, then, did I pick up the Lasanta? Well, the LCBO was having (and might still be having) a great sale where they slashed the price roughly 25%, so I thought to give it a try. For a wintry, sherried dram on the cheap, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. Permits me to save my a’Bunadh for special occasions with friends.

Nose: Honey heather (much like mead), sweet caramel and sherry, but not the sherry bomb it looks like it would be. Your typical package of ‘Christmas’ spices: cinnamon, nutmeg. Rum-raisin and christmas pudding. This nose is rather unspiritous, lacking the prickly nature you’d expect from a 12yo. However, there are some of those sulphury notes that sherry casks are guilty of from time to time. There is also a bit of souring on the end of the nose. Sometimes these off notes are there, sometimes not.

Palate: Bright, noticeably but yet delightfully warming. Creamy, but not too thick. Sherry, toffee, sultanas, christmas spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) and slightly malty. Just delightful. I can’t really pick everything out, but I don’t want to because it marries so well. Just delicious… and that’s what counts. With a drop or two of water, the spiritous heat calms right down, and all that remains is that initial delightful warmth. The sour note sometimes transfers to the palate, but not always.

Finish: Much of what the nose and palate advertise, with that wonderful chest-warming feeling that you want in a winter dram. Creamy vanilla and caramel. Ending with notes of honey and tobacco.

Grade: B-

Now, this whisky won’t force you to buy a case, and you won’t want to drink it for a month straight, etc. It’s not the a’Bunadh, and it doesn’t have the overwhelming complexity of the a’Bunadh, but that’s alright. It’s great at what it does, and that’s providing a reasonably contemplative whisky that is reasonably delicious, albeit with some off-notes here and there. If the sulphur and sour notes were gone, I’d give this a B.

Would a few more years in the barrel (say, to 15) make this any smoother? Probably, but then it might lose some of this pleasant warmth that you want in a winter whisky. May not be as nice in the heat of the summer, but for this time of year, it’s a keeper.

Review Stub: Glenmorangie “The Original”

This review is a short stub from a bar tasting last week.

I was out as part of a work-related social event where I had the pleasure of adding another whisky experience to my belt. They had the Glenmorangie Original on the shelf, and after being so smitten with the Ben Nevis 17, I thought I’d try another Highland.

Nose: Candy sweetness with hints of oranges and smoke.

Palate: That typical “bar alcohol” taste up front. Sweet, woody, fair amount of spices and honey.

Finish: Sweet, medium, with tail ends of smoke.

Grade: C+

Not a terribly complex whisky, but a good one to try a glass of at a bar. I could have done much worse, of course! It’s good to try benchmarks like this so that you really appreciate the complexities of better whisky. The Ben Nevis is all the more wonderful now that I have tried this one.

The question this, (and recent Lagavulin 16… but that’s another review) and other 40-43% ABV raise in me is, “What is it about low ABV Scotch that gives it that alcohol-y tinge?”. Bruisers like the Ardbeg Uigeadail or the Aberlour a’Bunadh are as smooth as velvet compared to whiskies like The Original, so what makes them that way? Is it that they lack complexities that disguise or morph it?

I’ll say quite bluntly that it was the alcohol tinge that landed this Glenmorangie a grade lower than the smoother Glenfiddich 12.