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”

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?

A Youngen, But a Good’en: Highland Park 10

Music: Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath”

I’m so often loath to lend a liver to these releases; the younger, weaker, attempts to make one’s stock stretch amidst growing demand. I had always figured I’d patronize these bottlings when all that is good in the Scotch world had either run dry, or was so far out of my price range that I have no other reasonable choice. However, I had heard good things about the HP 10yo from fellow whisky lovers, and at $60, it seemed worth a try. Now, to be fair, the HP12 used to be $60. Sadly, it is now $70 (a price it reached within a year), and it seems that for HP, the prices are already starting to take off. In hopes of picking up a reliable “daily dram”, I decided to give the HP a go.

Nose: Wow. This is 40%? Really? Given the recent night with some high-end Chivas, the big boys should take notice. HP’s new stuff is big. Honey heather and sponge toffee (think Crunchie Bar) like crazy. American Oak on the forefront, fudge and salted caramels. Give it some time and you get oranges and green apples. Also a hint of smoked bacon with some corn syrup.

Palate: About as viscous as the HP12, but enough for a 40%-er at 10 years. Honey biscuits, sponge toffee. Sea salt. Peat smoke and tart green apples.

Finish: Medium finish, light smokiness, bready, sweet and a tad tart.

Grade: B

At the (North American) Highland Park Standard of 43%, this would probably kick. I hear the cask strength is amazing (the whisky live bottling was 59.3%). This is one of those guaranteed daily drams. Fits the profile and the pocketbook. Of course, I really love HP, and to boot, I love a good clean American Oak whisky. If I want my thick sherried whiskies and my dark peat monsters, I know where to look. A good clean American Oak whisky isn’t so easy to find in these parts, at these prices. In that role, the HP 10 will have a spot in my cabinet for a while…

“Old Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won’t stop going–no way to slow down.”

Review Stub: BenRiach Heart of Speyside

This is part of my 5cl BenRiach distillery collection (HoS, 12, 16, 20) that I will be reviewing throughout May and June.

BenRiach seems to be fond of their slogan, “The heart of Speyside”.  I don’t know Speyside enough to confirm such a claim, but I can surely say, it’s a pretty good, easy drinking 40% whisky.

Nose: Pear jolly rancher, honey, oak and hay. Savoury spice package with cloves. Makes it kind of meaty. Like clove-spiced mince.

Palate:  Medium oily. Sweet canned pears in syrup. Sweet white wine, like a Riesling or gewurztraminer. Honey and cloves. Coffee chocolates.

Finish: Short. Mostly pear jolly rancher, white wine and malt.

Grade: C+

If this is indicative of what the rest of the BenRiach collection is going to be like, then the 12 should embarass the similar offerings by Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. I have read unfavourable reviews for the 12yo, but they were all at 40%, whereas this new batch is at 43%. With hope, that’s the winning formula.

It Ain’t Heavy–It’s a Lowland: Auchentoshan 12

The Auchentoshan 12 is one level above their Classic, but it’s still a rather entry-level malt. Add that to the 40% ABV, the caramel e150, and probably chill-filtration, and you’ve got yourself a “branded whisky” as Ralfy would say. Pile it with the 12s of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Bowmore and the rest, I thought. This is, admittedly, why it has taken me so long to try it. Though I may love Auchentoshan’s Valinch and 18yo, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a bottle of this… until now.

Nose: Light, creamy toffee, chocolate, and cereal notes I’d associate with a mature Auchentoshan. It doesn’t have many of the fruity, citrusy notes that the Valinch has. It’s practically all dessert (mostly confectioneries), and I love it. Slightly grassy in the background (again, one of the reasons I love a good ‘toshan). Slight bit of smoke behind it all.

Palate: Oily as all hell, and I don’t know how they managed to do this. Oilier than Highland park 12, taking the prize for the chewiest low ABV whisky. Honey-heather, cinnamon and toffee. All the confectioneries you’d find in the nose come through the palate, clearly. Love the mouth-feel of this one.

Finish: Medium (maybe a bit on the short side of medium). Some ‘apple juice’ notes on the finish, and icing sugar. The finish is rather short, but this is probably indicative of the strength (40%) of the whisky. At Cask-strength (or even just 46%!) this could easily become one of my favourite whiskies.

Grade: B-

I do sorely want to give this a B. It has everything I really love in a dessert whisky, but it’s missing that extra kick that bottling it at 46% might give. It’s the best of the daily drams, though, that’s for sure. Ditch the e150, the chill-filtration, and kick it up a notch, and I might even put this at a B+. Till then, a daily dram it will stay. For the price though, heck, that’s alright with me.

The Sweet Peat Treat: Bowmore 12

Bowmore 12 and I were not on speaking terms about 5 years ago. A friend brought a bottle to a Scotch and cigar party, and I, with my Laphroaig QC in hand, was not going to be won over by this new peaty intruder. Upon tasting, I recoiled and made a sour face. We didn’t see each other again, Bowmore 12 and I, until just this Christmas, when my darling brother bought me a bottle. I was to meet the beast again, but this time with a more open mind.

Nose: Peat, smoke and citrus. The smoke is very hickory-like.

Palate: Soft, slightly underwhelming. Peat and smoke, with pleasantly sweet-and-sour lemon notes. Like a smoky MinuteMaid lemonade, sort of. A little Caol-Ila-ish at times.

Finish: Rather short, lingering sour peat. Sour, of course, meant still in that good way. Like a lemon.

Grade: C+

There isn’t much to say about this whisky. It’s smooth, smoky and sweet. A little too mild at times to make it perfectly balanced over its few notes, but it’s not nearly as bad as I first thought. It’s a daily drammer when you want that Islay profile with a bit of sweetness, but don’t want to think too much about it. If the tempest is any indication, this would probably be much better in a 12yo cask-strength, truth be told. All in all, I’m happy that I was forced to come back to this again. We’re now casual friends, Bowmore 12 and I.

Review Stub: Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve

Just some quick notes on a whisky I had a chance to try last night.

Being afforded the chance to try JWGR last night, I thought that I would finally see why JW produces whiskies that so many people seem to enjoy for their smoothness despite the lack of complexity. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to be further puzzled as to the unyielding popularity of this rather dull brand.

Nose: Sweet fudge notes, but very subdued, and almost non-existant. There are probably other notes here, but I’m really straining to find them. Grain alcohol, yes, but that’s not worth hunting for…

Palate: Surprisingly rough and jagged. Grainy fudge, sweetness, a little like a toffee candy, but with that unfortunate alcoholic tinge that I haven’t been able to shake with blends and other run-of-the-mill malts at low ABV. Somewhat waxy as many reviews have promised, but not really all that superb in that respect. If there is anything Clynelish in this dram, it’s been buried under whatever other additives are in the glass.

Finish: Medium long. Sweetness, vaguely fruity and lightly smoky, but I’m really straining to notice those notes.

Grade: C

For less money, you can pull the same complexity out of the Macallan Fine Oak 10yo, but I wouldn’t suggest it. For the roughly same palate, but with that extra coastal sea salt freshness, the Laddie Ten has the JWGR beat on all fronts. Not only that, but you would still save ~$25 to boot (keep in mind that it’s 50cl less, but at 46%).

This reaffirms that, until a really good blend accidently happens my way, I’m sticking to exploring single malts.