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”

Cozy in Copenhagen: Ian Macleod’s `As We Get It’

Music: Genesis, “It”

While on a business trip here in Copenhagen, I figured that three weeks in the same place necessitated a bottle of Scotch to enjoy as the nights grew colder. Completely fitting, too, that the most interesting bottle I came across ended up being a young Islay. Smoke and ash do well to warm a soul when the nights are a tad chilly. I liked the gimmick of this one from the start: a young Islay that could be anything, but at least you know that the seasoned whisky shop owner liked it. Even better that the lads and lasses in the shop were in conflict as to which distillery it was from. A true guessing game where your prior was unbiased by previous distillery experiences—a game I eagerly wanted to play.

Nose: Peat, light BBQ smokiness and citrus. A bit of sweet pickles, and a bit of cinnamon hearts, oddly. Plenty of coal, but the brightness of it, with the medicinal background make me say that this is easily Lagavulin. It could possibly be Caol Ila, but I’d give the edge to Lag. Somewhere in between the Caol Ila NCS, and the Lagavulin 12yo CS. Nose is a bit restrained.

Palate: Quite hot with an acetone background without water. Can handle quite a bit of water, and I recommend adding at least a teaspoon. Sweet sugary citrus, peat, smoke and salt. A real mix between the Caol Ila and unsherried Lag.

Finish: Medium, sooty and slightly sweet. Vanilla, peat and smoke.

Grade: B+

Youngens can be too spirity, and need water sometimes. Doesn’t make them worse in my books, if they do well with it; in fact, the bottle lasts longer that way. In short, a poor man’s Lag 12 or Caol Ila NCS. Nothing particularly remarkable about it to vault it into the A- region, but still a damn good peated whisky. For the price, an absolute steal.

“It is only knock and know-all, but I like it.”

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…”

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.

Worth the Wait: 1991 Mortlach 20yo Cask-Strength (Signatory)

Music: The Tragically Hip, “Long Time Running”

I have definitely been waiting way too long for this one. I purchased this bottle, and had it imported by a friend in early December of 2011 when he came to stay with us for part of the winter break. Over a year later, a meeting with my two dearest friends finally permits it to be opened. I’ve met with them a few times each, separately, in the last year, but geography and time has kept the entire group apart all year. At the first opening, the bottle was a bit oaky and a tad sulphury, but once the bottle had settled down, it was a true winner. I also had the pleasure of introducing someone to a whisky that was distilled before they were born. A young lass of about 23, she was born about 9 months after this whisky was casked.

As it goes, I am sitting here on a wonderful February evening, enjoying a sliver of this wonderful stuff. With the bottle half gone, it’s almost saddening to know that the worldwide stocks of this wonderful cask (577 bottles) will be ever closer to depletion. It has already disappeared from most, if not all shop shelves that I am aware of.

Calibrator Malt: Robert Burns Single Malt (Arran)

Nose: Age, if you can say you can smell age. It’s rich, and has a complexity of years spent contemplating its existence in a barrel. Toffee and brown sugar, and malt all over. Bread and olive oil, like the the 19yo un-chillfiltered of yesteryear. A wee bit of sweet corn relish and brine. Slight peat and sherry, and a little bit of hickory. Comparatively, when you think that a decent entry-level malt like the Robbie has a nice strong malty nose, you are immediately set back by the unbelievable complexity and weight of the Mortlach. Going back, the Arran seems mild and thin. It’s not that the Arran is bad, it’s that the Mortlach is just that good.

Palate: (undiluted) Sweet and tangy. Oak, raisins, rubber bands (in a strange, but good way). Water it down, about five drops, and the tangy melts to sweet. This is a real malt. What I mean is that the notes at the forefront are a rich, soft, malted barley and oak. In that way, it is remarkable. A malt that tastes exactly what you’d expect a malt would taste like, unaltered by finishes and gimmicks. The re-fill sherry butt means the sherry isn’t as present, and that’s a good thing. Raisins, espresso, bright chocolate, and fresh cut grass. Truffle salt. The alcohol wears away, and though you’d expect the velvetly mouthfeel would disappear, it really doesn’t. Sure, it softens, but it really gets into every crevace of your mouth.

Finish: Malt, bittersweet chocolate and black pepper. A bit of menthol, and then a really brilliant watermelon note on the end that lasts forever. It’s a really deep, complete warming, and that’s saying something: it’s -20C tonight.

Grade: A+

This. Is. Amazing. You really feel this whisky in your chest. It’s hefty, and entirely complete. Not a dram for “newbies”, though. Many interesting notes in this one that don’t immediately lend themselves to the popular notion of sherried whisky. The best whisky I’ve had to date, and it made me re-evaluate my ranking system. Because I’m so coarse in my grading, the A+ isn’t equivalenty to say, a 100/100 on ATW or at ralfy.com. It is simply the grade that says, “that’s it, folks. I can’t think of anything better they could have done with this whisky.” I love the Ardbeg line-up, but having had this Mortlach, it makes me wonder if they could bring some more maturity and balance to the Corryvreckan and the Uigeadail. They’re still stellar, but this whisky, in all its brilliance, makes me see the cracks in the mortar with my favourite ‘A’ whiskies.

And that, my friends, is what makes an A+ here at “Whisky, Empirically”.

“It’s been a long, long, long time running… it’s well worth the wait.”

An Ardbeg Double-Shot: Corryvreckan (2013) vs. Uigeadail (2011)

Music: Queen, “Ogre Battle”

This might just be it. I might just have to except that Ardbeg is my dram. Depressing as it may be in Toronto (it is prohibitively expensive here). So much so that my stock of Ardbeg has come entirely from other provinces/countries, by the good graces of friends bringing me bottles. This Uigeadail is a follow up to the 2010 I enjoyed a year or so ago, and the Corryvreckan is a 2013. The rumours that the Corryvreckan has fallen in quality makes me a bit giddy with delight, if something this good could have been much better under the stress of less demand. It means we may see that day again, in the far off, distant future.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (2011)

Nose: More caramel and less sherry than it’s 2010 brethren. Very sweet, actually. The chocolatey bog is still here, though! Peaty goodness. Give it some time and we get a dusty sticky toffee pudding. Smoked mussels underneath it all.

Palate: Creamy, sherried and peated dark chocolate. It really has that elegance that so many other Islays fail to marry with the brute force of smoky peat.  Seaweed and a touch of salt.

Finish: Long, drying, cocoa, brine and charred wood.

Grade: A

Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2013)

Nose: This one is sweet, too, but immediately brighter. Like salted toffee. Of course, “toffee and caramel” are pretty much the same, but the key point is the brightness of hardened, crunchy, SKOR-like toffee, vs. your typically dark and chewy square caramels. The big note after the immediate sweetness is freshly-shucked oysters; that salty, briny, but bright shellfish smell. Peat and smoke hide in the background.

Palate: Peat, tar, iodine, smoke and ash. A real peat monster if there was one. The attack is somewhat sharp, but it’s more an onslaught of Islay than ethanol. As the Islay tidal wave subsides, there is this creamy, sweet and bright toffee from the nose, as well as some marmalade. How in the world does peat just wash away to leave something so delicate behind? Unbelievable.

Finish: Less drying than the Uigeadail, but just as sweet. Sponge toffee (think the filling of a Crunchie bar). Leather, peat and smoke.

Grade: A

What some would call “unbalanced”, I call magic. Ardbeg does this sort of sleight-of-hand so well with their NAS whiskies: it gives you one thing in the nose, but then completely turns the tables on the palate. Sure, there are common themes throughout, but what is bright and forefront in one, is understated in the other. Together, these two provide a complete experience: the power of Islay, with the elegance of more mainland whisky. The Uigeadail manages to marry their brand of peat and brine with what I can only describe as a Glenfarclas 15, whereas the Corryvreckan marries itself to an american oak Highland Park (something like the 10 at cask strength). Ardbeg shows again and again that “Age does not a great whisky make”. Arguably, without the age statement, a whisky has to work just that much harder to sell you, and I feel like the fine folks at Ardbeg take that to heart.

And with this, the Corryvreckan takes my #1 spot. A momentus occasion. Cue the horns!

“He gives a great big cry, and he can swallow up the ocean.”

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
Bronze:
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
Silver
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Bronze:
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
Silver
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
Silver
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
Silver
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
Silver
: Macallan Cask Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.