Duty-Free, in Design and Delivery: Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

Music: Marillion, “He Knows You Know”

I received a cute little duty-free bottle of this from a good friend who often uses her duty-free exemption to my benefit when she visits. This is one from the Glenfiddich Cask Collection, similar in many ways to the 15yo Solera Vat.

Nose: In broad strokes, it hits like a watered down Glengoyne 18. Mincemeat pie, raisins, and those typical christmas spices. The classic younger Glenfiddich pear note in the background. There is that unfortunate spirity note in the background that I often seem to get with whisky watered down to 40%. The nose is much more complex than I’d expected, but the whole thing just wafts in a little thin… It’s not a faint nose, but more perfumy and less deep than something a bit older, with more strength.

Palate: Barley notes, a bit hot for 40% and still a tad watery. Sweetness, but largely indiscernable. Sour citrus (maybe orange?) and a caramel sweet ended that just kind of bitters…Doesn’t define itself in the palate as much as in the nose, and in this way, this is the beginning of the end for this whisky.

Finish: Short, dry. Bitter, dark chocolate-covered cherries, and sourness.

Grade: C+

A whisky that teases something bigger than it really is, in the end. As always, it makes me nervous to offer a rather negative review of a gift someone has bought for me (albeit, to her credit, without trying it first) when I’m so grateful for wonderful gifts like this. After all, uninspired whisky like this isn’t really bad whisky, and I am happy to have the variation in my experience, so that I may better appreciate the true gems that cross my path.

Also of note, this is the 100th post to this blog! Had I realized prior to posting this, I would have reviewed something deserving of some fanfare!

“You learned your lesson far too late, from the links in a chemist chain”

The Difference Between Age and Maturity: Chivas Brothers 1993 Longmorn 18yo

Music: Shoji Meguro, “Heaven”

I love independent bottlings and one-offs. There is this excitement that comes with trying something that so few others have tried. While over the pond in London, I came across this Chivas Brothers cask strength series, and as I haven’t had Longmorn since my earliest of Scotch years, I was excited to try it again. Admittedly, this isn’t a true independent bottling, as it is bottled by Chivas, but not as part of the standard Longmorn line. Perhaps more a special edition, then.

Nose: Perfume and polish. A little strange to start. Green apple and malt, much like the Nadurra, in fact.

Palate: Rough around the edges for an 18yo, and best served without much water. It has that bright fruit-first kind of deal, drying out into sweetened malt. Not as complex as I’d hoped. In many ways, it’s like a more straightforward, not-as-successful Nadurra.

Finish: Green apples all day.

Grade: B

Of course, I wanted this one to be a good one, but at the end of the day, it’s a less impressive Glenlivet Nadurra. Shame, really.

“Those long days passing by from that door, like late summer, they slowly fade away”

That Proper Send-off: The Glenlivet 16 ‘Nadurra’ (0813Y)

Music: The Sundays, “Wild Horses”

In all its infinite wisdom, the LCBO has decided to (temporarily or otherwise) discontinue carrying the Nadurra. Sure they’ll stock the shelves till they collapse with Glenlivet 12, 15 and 18. They’ll burden the shelves with Glenrothes’s lesser drams, and the uninspired Cardhu. But they just won’t keep the Nadurra. So, for one last hurrah, I bought one of their last bottles to see how it’s changed in the last two years.

Nose: This one is over 57%, a might higher than the 53% of the 0911P. In this way, it can take a couple drops of water, and some time to settle down. The nose is a rich and sweet batch of cotton candy and caramel apple. That carnival concession stand that the Ben Nevis ’93 UCC had in spades, but it is missing a complete second gear. It does have a half-step of sweet white wine in the background (think Riesling or Gewürztraminer, though admittedly, I don’t know my white wines enough to tell you which). A nice touch.

Palate: Oily, sweet that goes to tart, and then savoury. An initial burst of crisp green apple, everything I consider typical Glenlivet to be, a burst of that visualization of what “floral” might taste like, and then chardonnay and french bread. A note of smokiness carries the entire thing through. I am going to miss this whisky so much. I might have to make my way to better stocked shelves in another part of this great land.

Finish: Long finish. Honey-dipped apple. Floral.

Grade: B+

A great dram that is equally as good, if not a tad better for the extra strength over my 2011 batch. Everyone Scotch fan in Ontario I’ve talked to that has tried the Nadurra is livid about this decision by the LCBO, but of course, there might be some selection bias there. Some people would rather have 2 bottles of 12yo, I guess.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away…”

Sheer Elegance in its Simplicity: Glenfarclas 12

Music: Karen Overton, “Your Loving Arms”

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

Nose:
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…”

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.

(Mis)fortune Favours the Brave: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 46)

Music: Gentle Giant, “A Reunion”

Not sure if I’m alone here, but there is something exciting about taking chances with whisky. I had recently decided to revisit the a’Bunadh to see what had changed since batch 39, and, having read the praises lavished on batch 45, I thought it would be worth a go. I found nothing but batch 46, with Ontario having recently run out of batch 45. Fine, I thought. a’Bunadh is a’Bunadh, roughly speaking. If 45 is great, 46 can’t be far off! Much to my chagrin, when I read the (lack of) reviews on 46, it seemed as if the 4 reviews were mixed: 2 really positive reviews, two negative ones. Herein lies the excitement: I can, to the best of my abilities, be an informative reviewer on this dram, earning 20% of the opinion space on this dram. I may be one of the first to find a gem, or I could have wasted good money on something not so good. Excitement doesn’t come without some element of risk, and in that way, fear. What can be said comparatively of batch 46? As luck would have it, I have saved a sample bottle of batch 39 (early 2012), so cross-batch comparisons can be done. First off, the colour is a much deeper red. On a note of water, this one holds up pretty well and is not too fragile. In fact, it doesn’t need much water to be enjoyable (maybe half a teaspoon?), but you can win yourself two separate experiences with the amount of water. A little, and it’s dark, rich, powerful and more on the sherry side of things. If you add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water, (not quite doubling the volume of water, as Ralfy does in his review of batch 42) then you get the soft, light, bourbon vanilla side of this dram. While the former is more complex, both are reasonably enjoyable in their own right.

One last note: while it’s only about half a percent, this batch is starting to reach for the stars in ABV. 60.4%, wow!

Nose: Can you nose this one straight out of the bottle? Yes, provided that the bottle has been open for a week, and you’ve had a couple drams so as to let the bottle oxidize a bit. Can’t say that for many sherry monsters. Vanilla and freshly baked rum-soaked Christmas pudding (that is, not fruitcake). Marmalade on toast. Evergreen. Maraschino Cherries. Some full-bodied, spicy red wine on the tail. Softer than the 39. In some ways, I want to say very “Springbank-y”. Wood-fired oak on this one is a constant backdrop, and instead of being (at least to me) an over-oaked mess, it just makes me envision drinking this in a distillery warehouse, surrounded by casks. That is, of course, the ideal place to enjoy this, no? Of course, some light sulphur overall, but in a good, smoky way. Think matchstick fire rather than bad eggs.

Palate: Much less “winey” than batch 39, but the palate is a bit sour. A touch of sulphur. Rum-raisin (Jean-Luc Picard’s favourite ice cream flavour) and sherry. Adding some water, chocolate, brown sugar, molasses, and a touch of sherry. This is the un-sherry-iest sherry bomb I’ve had to date. Creamy vanilla and coffee, like a vanilla latte, almost.  Some of those maraschino cherries I found in the Glenfarclas ‘105’. Sour again on the end. A shame, really.

Finish: As long as the day. This is where the sherry comes out. Sweet, and mouth-watering. Not a drying whisky in the least. This is, in part, what makes it a great winter dram. When the air in your house is dried out by the cold and your heater, the last thing you need is a drying whisky. Honey and marmalade on fresh bread.

Grade: B

Not as bad as I’d feared, but not as good as the earlier batches. In all aspects, the batch 39 is brighter, more tangy, and much more sherried than the 46, despite coming across much less redder in colour. That said, it’s not as bad to my palate as the reviews it has been getting: Misty at connosr had bad luck with batch 46, but they call it “Full Gold”, whereas this looks distinctly burgundy to me, so maybe their sherry butt was different? (Hehe, butt! [SFW]). Willie JJ at whiskybase calls it “sulphured”, but I don’t get the tire-fire and rubber notes. Perhaps this is a tempermental whisky, like the Springbank 12 Claret Wood, in that you need to find it’s best lighting. For me, this one handles water better than most cask-strengths, and is all the better for it. A full teaspoon will wash the bad sulphur notes away and soften everything nicely. It’s not bad, but nothing I’d rush out for when you could wait for the next batch to come along.

“Fate design playing natures mime, and today by chance we meet again after all this time; meeting in this way, no one could have known.”

Glendronach 15 ‘Revival’

Music: In-Flight Safety, “Silent Treatment”

Sometimes so few words says it best, so I will be brief, here. Of the middle-aged range sherry monsters (and perhaps the cask-strengths, too), Glendronach’s revival wins.

Nose: Sherry and oak. No alcohol, just flavour. It’s very soft, but also extremely complex. Espresso, berries and chocolate cherries. Mint and vanilla. A touch of classy match-stick sulphur.

Palate: Viscous and rich. Fudge, sweetness, and cookies. Sherry tang.

Finish: Long, chocolatey sweetness, espresso and berries.

Grade: A-

It’s a refreshing to come across a standard range bottling that is so magnificent, for so cheap (relatively speaking). Craftsmanship, plain and simple.

Note: I’ve also tried the old bottling, pre-Revival, and it is so awful that I can’t believe they come from the same distillery.

“Cause all these years have made you a soldier, you’re carrying the weight of two worlds on your shoulders.”