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.

Three Bland Casks: Balvenie 16 Triple Cask (Travel Exclusive)

Music: Fastball, “The Way”

I acquired two ounces of this travel exclusive edition of Balvenie from a colleague in a trade, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to get to trade whisky, because it lets you try things you might not otherwise be able to acquire, either by availability or cost. In this way, while the review is harsh, I offer nothing but thanks to the colleague who swapped me for the Glendronach 15. With hope, he found something he enjoyed (he should, the Glendronach 15 is brilliant… review soon, I promise!), and I was able to show the whisky community that yes, there are some expensive drams I don’t like. Winners, all.

Nose: Sweet, malty, brown sugar and indiscernable berries. Peppery. Some alcoholic tinge (How???). The nose is the best part, and that doesn’t really say much.

Palate: Thin. The 40% really hits here… it’s just so watery. Warming. It tastes more like alcohol than my a’Bunadh, and that always perplexes me. Malty, vanilla (bourbon cask, I guess) and somewhat tart (Oloroso?). Floral. There isn’t really much here, and I don’t really care to strain my senses to find notes in this one. First-fill casks, my ass. $110 duty-free, so I’ve heard. Yikes.

Finish: Short.White granulated sugar. Black pepper.

Grade: C+

Could be good at 43%, but then again, Auchentoshan 12 is also 40%, and is considerably better. Not much to say, unfortunately–except perhaps, “save your money.”

“An exit to eternal summer’s slacking, but where were they going without ever knowing the way?

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.

A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: 
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

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.

1992 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory Unchillfiltered Collection)

Upon the depletion of my magical bottle of ’93 Ben Nevis (Signatory), I began to seek out another Highland to fill the space in my cabinet. Having had good luck with the Signatory Unchillfiltered Collection, I decided to venture towards the last well-aged bottle at the LCBO: an 18yr Clynelish from 1992. Bottled from 2 hogsheads by Signatory in 1992, this bottling was limited to 771 bottles.

I have to begin, before the standard notes, by noting the colour. Master of Malt does not lie in their photo. It is a pale yellow, to the point of being the shade of your typical Chardonnay. Made me worry a little, seeing as it has apparently been in barrels for almost a full score. Perhaps it’s the hogsheads. I don’t know much about hogsheads, truth be told.

Update: Instead of hiding my earlier ignorance, I thought I’d leave it, and admit mistakes. Hogsheads are different from Sherry Butts, not in the sherry sense, but in the butt sense, as they are relative volume measures. Butts are larger than hogsheads (2:1 ratio). Strangely, this implies more wood contact than the sherry butts used in other Signatory UCC bottlings of similar ages. The only inference I can make from the colour of the Clynelish is perhaps it’s not a sherry hogshead? 

Also, I’d like to mention that Signatory, for me, underscores what I dislike about most popular distillery flagship bottlings (Cragganmore 12, Talisker 10, Glenmorangie Original, Springbank 10, and even Lagavulin 16, to name a few) by doing the opposite. The alcohol-y tinge that I get from the big boys, despite their being less than 46% percent, is completely absent from the higher strength Signatorys. The big boys’ flagships all have this roughness to them that I have yet to find in the non-chillfiltered, small batch, or cask-strength offerings as of late. The Clynelish gets points for passing this test.

Nose: Coastal sea salt, black pepper. Very much like Talisker with it’s freshness, plus those typical table shakers, and hints of leather. A sweet smokiness. Citrus in the background (lemon and lime, as far as I can tell). Like a margarita, actually. A hint of that agave.  After some time, there is a sweetness that comes in that turns the margarita into lemon merangue/key lime pie. What I’ve come to associate with these yellowy highlands as a bready, barley scent.

Palate: A little bit thin, but not watery. Lightly-peated, Malty, buttery, salt and pepper. A little minty, with noticeable lemon and lime. Slightly smoky. A tad of that agave. Deceptively chewy, given the colour (I associate deeper colours with thickness, though I probably shouldn’t). Ooh, and it’s a tad spicy on the end (something like cayenne pepper). Of course, the key distinction is that this spicy is flavour, and not heat.

Finish: Medium-long. Smoky, slightly sweet, with buttered-and-sugared toast. Tobacco and honeydew melon in the mouth when all is said and done. Overall mouth-drying effect.

Grade: B

Signatory has bottled another good one. What’s more, it’s a whisky with a purpose, should it choose to accept it: this Clynelish could show the folks at Talisker a thing or two. To me, I love the coastal salt, leather and lemon pepper package that Talisker delivers, but they do it so roughly and without the full craft presentation (non-chillfiltering, no caramel added) that it just comes out half-assed. This bottle shows a little more of what a good Talisker profile could be. Similar to the Laddie Ten, but not as sweet, the nose is fresh, but mature enough so as not to be harsh. Though, to be fair, that maturity is bound to come from the extra 8 years in the barrel.

The nose is quite lovely. Not too strong, but in a good way, as it lets you hunt for notes without being overwhelmed by any one scent. The palate is good, but not the earth-shattering brilliance of the Ben Nevis. It reminds me of a lightly-peated high-quality tequila at times, but a classic well-aged highland at others. It may not be as mouth-coatingly oily of the Ben Nevis, but it’s not watery. It does have that lovely smooth maturity I’ve come to expect from old Signatorys. Like the other Signatorys, too, it has definitely improved with time. A month later, and it’s settled down to deliver a more balanced dram.