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?

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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.

New Glen on the Block: The Glenlivet 16yr “Nadurra”

There is a new Glenlivet on the block—well, new to me, anyway. While it has been around for some time, I’ve just heard that Glenlivet has a cask-strength, small batch 16 year called the “Nadurra”. I’ve often wondered what the 12 would be like with a little more maturity, and a little more oomph. To the former, I figured it would be somewhere between my Signatorys (Ben Nevis 17, and Mortlach 19) as this is what the nose vaguely reminds me of. Perhaps the age would give it a more robust mouth-feel. On the latter, I figured we’d get bolder flavours, and that the palate would come in like a lion. Now that the dream has been realized, here’s what the good ‘livet brought me:

***Notes based on batch 0911P (Sep, 2011) @ 53% ABV*** (scroll to the bottom to see notes about the 0813Y batch)

Nose:  Green apple Jolly Ranchers. Floral, sweet and prickly without water. Classic first-fill american oak, but with a bouquet of flowers. Pleasant, but this baby needs a little hit of agua. With water, we get rich, thick (if a nose can be thick) floral notes with sweet caramel and honey graham crackers. Reminds me a bit of Golden Grahams cereal. Bananas. Apples. Coastal salt and pepper. Some fine, fresh, unlit tobacco as it sits.

Palate: Hot without water or proper sitting time. Oily and booming in with typical speysidey sweetness. Caramel and citrusy notes, but the real magic happens with a little water (or plenty of sitting time).  With water, very cool anesthetic mouth feel. Still very oily, and booming with those lovely graham crackers, caramel, and apple coffee cake. Very malty. Where the ’91 Mortlach is the appetizer, this is the dessert. Same speyside roots, completely different journeys.

Finish: Medium-long, initially sweet apples with some oak, that migrates to a toasted oakyness over salted buttered bread. Increasingly warming. Ends with that beautiful fresh tobacco again. This may be the dram to have a nice cigarello with. Nothing too heavy, just something to complement. Now here’s something I’d like a flavoured cigar to be dipped in.

Grade: B+

An excellent effort from the Glenlivet distillery, and a trajectory they should be following with all their bottlings. The Nadurra is a lovely, mouth-coatingly mature whisky, that does what I’ve always wanted the Glenlivet 12 to do (and then some). That said, in comparing it to other distilleries that have cask-strengthed (and sometimes batched) something close to a standard offering, the Auchentoshan Valinch and the Bowmore Tempest III are definitely not so hot, despite being at a similar (and for this batch, a slightly higher) ABV. This may just be my mood tonight, but it could have been a bit smoother, especially because it’s got atleast 6 years on both the aforementioned drams.

Update: Ok, the perfect combination is no more than a teaspoon of water, and to let the thing sit a good 10 minutes. That’ll bring it down to the smoothness to what a good 16yo should be. After having the bottle open for a month, the dram improves significantly. It’s like Ralfy said: accidentally leaving the bottle with the cap off overnight improved it noticeably.

Sitting is preferable for this dram, as the viscosity of it is a serious selling point, and is only hurt by water. The nose is bigger and better, and strangely, too much water makes it hotter (and thinner). The finish is also weakened considerably by too much water.

Notes on Further Editions: Instead of re-reviewing the Nadurra’s 0813Y batch, I’ll simply note here that the marks and tasting notes are the same. Compared to the Aberlour a’Bunadh, Glenlivet’s Nadurra has strong consistency here.

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16 is another one of those benchmark whiskies that introduces many people to single malt Scotch, as it is available at most bars who stock more than just your usual Johnny Walker Red/Black.  Given its availability, and the fact that it’s bloody delicious, you’ve got yourself a cabinet staple. Well, that’s of course, save for one thing: it’s $100+ a bottle in Canada. Perhaps the cruelest trick someone can play on you is to introduce you to Islay via a glass of Lagavulin 16. To be introduced to Alaskan King before you’ve even had imitation crab is a hell of a summit to come down from, if your budget so forces you.

Nose: Peat, iodine, medicinal notes. Some leather. I always get a big whiff of something that’s a cross between lapsang souchong and hickory wood chips smoking from a BBQ.

Palate: Medium-viscosity. Smoky, peaty, iodine and medicinal. Smooth as all hell, save for that ever-so-slight bar-alcohol tinge. Perhaps this is what is happening to new Lagavulin 16, as it wasn’t like this when I first tried it almost 10 years ago.

Finish: Smoky, delicious, and long.

Grade: B+

This whisky is wonderous, but I fear that world demand has caused some declines in quality at Lagavulin (preventing it from getting the A-). It’s a great whisky, still, and everyone should own a bottle at least once for the experience. In the US, it’s generally cheap enough to be a staple whisky. In Ontario, not so much.