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”

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Tall, Dark and Handsome: Highland Park 18

Music: The Tragically Hip, “The Darkest One”

This is an example of why you should have whisky friends (of course, aside from the fact that whisky is best enjoyed with friends): trading samples. As a boy, I traded hockey cards. Now that I’m older, I trade whisky. Perhaps the best way to expand one’s whisky knowledge without spending a bunch of money.

A sample of the Highland Park 18yo came to me via a trade for a sample of the 2012 Lagavulin 12yo cask strength, and a sample of the Highland Park 10yo (40%).

Nose: Rich. Bready. Floral, Fruit salad, apples, malt and sherry in the back ground. Molasses and peat smoke.
Opens up with 3 drops of water.

Palate: Plent viscous. Sponge toffee. Oatmeal and brown sugar. Smoke and molasses. Cherries, chocolate, peat and spearmint.

Finish: Medium-long, warming. Pepper, cherry stones, sponge toffee and smoke.

Grade: A-

The reviews are right in that this dram is the most balanced one flavour-wise. It has a little bit of everything, and in that way its remarkable. It’s also balanced between nose and palate. At 46%, this dram would likely be an A. For all the nitpicking, I’ll join in the chorus to say that the Highland Park 18yo is one damn fine dram.

“Where the wild are strong, and the strong are the darkest ones… and you’re the darkest one.”

Less Than the Sum of Its Parts: A night with Chivas Regal

Music: Alanis Morissette, “Hands Clean”

I was recently a plus one at a much-hyped “Chivas 1801” event, and by the kindness of organizers, found myself with free drams of the middle and top end of the Chivas Regal core range.

Chivas Regal 18yo

Nose: Sweetness and malted barley. Cask wood. A little nippy at the nose, despite the dangerously low ABV. Chocolate and nutmeg.

Palate: Light and watery. Similar nippyness, grainy, sweet and candied. Rather indiscernable sweetness, maybe a little chocolate. This souring end note, that really ruins the experience.

Finish: Medium.

Grade: B-

For $100 at the LCBO, this is one I’d pass up on. It doesn’t give you much to go on, and this sour note is a real turn-off. Almost a good waste of 18yo Longmorn and Strathisla. Probably a serious waste of what ever the “Islay 18yo” is.

Chivas Regal 25yo

Nose: If a nose could ever come on “thick and rich”, this does it. For 25 years in the cask, I’d expect it. It’s a “dark” nose, with nuts and chocolate, malted barley and some orange notes.

Palate:  Mouth-coating and rich at 40%–again, something I’d expect at 25 years. Instead of an “orange cream chocolate”, it’s chocolate with a splash of Cointreau. Not much grain to this one, but not much to write home about, either. Oaky, but again that sour note.

Finish: Long, slightly tart, and sugary.

Grade: B-

Better than the 18yo, but that’s a given. Strangely, not much better. I’m not a blend hater, but this doesn’t give me much to cheer about, and it’s kind of saddening, really, to think that a distillery takes 25yo Longmorn, waters it down to 40%, blends the magic away, and then sells it at $328 per bottle. If someone put this glass in my hand, and didn’t tell me what was in it, I’d peg it at 15-17 years, and say that it was a reasonable dram that I may pay $80 a bottle for. Of course, I have the luxury of reviewing such a whisky for free by the kindness of the marketing team of Chivas, and for that I am grateful. But, by tasting such a dram, free of the bias of wanting to enjoy something you spent over $300 on, the review lends itself to being uniquely honest, in my opinion. Of course, many other reviewers would give a kinder opinion, and the beautiful thing about Scotch is that it leads to this heterogeneity of opinions. Maybe the bottle was corked. Maybe the conditions were wrong. Maybe they watered it down when I wasn’t looking. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon that loves his single malts, and nothing can be done about it. You never know.

In any case, to check my disbelief, I went home and spent some time the following night with a dram of Highland Park’s new 10yo (also @ 40% ABV). I was astonished what brilliance a 10yo can bring at 40% (a review will follow shortly), and it makes me wonder what they’re doing wrong at Chivas. Of course, their market capitalization would suggest, “nothing at all”.

“If it weren’t for your maturity, none of this would have happened.”

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.

Auchentoshan 18: New data alert

I just read that Adam @ LAWS had recently retasted the Auchentoshan 18 (June 2012) and revised his rating from an A- (2008/09) to a B- —a very significant downgrade from a connisseur whose original rating led me to purchase a bottle in September of 2012. This begs the questions: do I own one of the good bottles? Did he taste from a bad batch?

As this whisky runs about $110 wherever you go, I’d lend the following caution to anyone considering adding the Auchie 18 to their collection: taste it at a bar first. We may be seeing a dip in quality of the 18yr offering. This new data point sure has me considering whether the 18yr still deserves a permanent spot in my cabinet.

Auchentoshan 18

I was lucky enough to score one of the last bottles of this gem at a clearance price when they discontinued it in Ontario. In the case of the Auchentoshan 18, the drop in price was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I would probably have never forked over the extra $20 they originally wanted for it, and it was so very worth what I did pay. However, it was a curse in the sense that this bottle must last me until I can find another affordable source for this precious whisky.

Nose: Barley, spices, tobacco, citrus. Upon first tasting, I was instantly struck by a vivid visual of the wheat fields of Saskatchewan. It has been years since I’ve seen them, so this whisky is a definite memory-jogger. After sitting for 10 minutes, with a few drops of water, the palate morphs into vanilla, toffee, and other sweetie shop scents.

Palate: Confirms the nose. Thick, syrupy, grassy, with hints of tobacco and fresh citrus. After 10 minutes and water, the candy shop opens up. The sweetness and barley marry into what I can only describe as a chocolate-covered granola bar.

Finish: Long, smooth, dry Tobacco and cereals. Vanilla and hints of bitter dark chocolate on the tail end of the finish.

Grade: B+

As I had mentioned in the review of the PC An Turas Mor, my A- grade often requires some sort of metamorphosis, or some increasing depth with the addition of sitting time, and/or water. It should provide me 2 experiences in a glass. The Auchentoshan 18 does that, and fabulously, even though I was skeptical at first with it being such a low ABV. It is, too, a chill-filtered whisky, and I’m not certain, but I’d guess that it also has caramel added to give it that beautiful, almost orange colour. Unlike other malt-maniacs, I won’t dock this whisky grades for its chill-filtration or caramel, because it is so spectacular in its own right. I can only wistfully imagine what a cask-strength-non-chillfiltered-no-e150 Auchentoshan 18 might taste like.

All in all, this is one bottle I will be playing close to the chest around company. Consider it a badge of honour if I share.

Retaste: Just over 8 months later, (and 8 months wiser) a retaste of this whisky has led me to downgrade it to a B+. While the notes are much of the same, it’s just not as smooth, and doesn’t hold up to some of the better whiskies I’ve had over the last few quarters. That said, it’s still, perhaps, the most unique whisky I’ve tried to date, with the most savoury profile I’ve come across. The Mortlach 20yo CS may take that to task, though, from what I’ve been told.