A “Marry” Man: Glengoyne 18

Music: Bright Eyes, “First Day of My Life”

By the looks of the last review’s date stamp, it’s been a while since I’ve written up a review. This is not for lack of new whiskies to try, but for lack of time to put all my thoughts together. I am, by now, a married man. I spent a lovely honeymoon partially in the Scotch holy land, though stationed firmly in Edinburgh. I had purchased myself a few great whiskies (reviews to follow on an 18yo Longmorn, and in time, a 25yo Mortlach from Cadenhead’s), and in particular, capped most evenings with a dram from my quarter bottle of Glengoyne 18. I mean, if you’re on your honeymoon, might as well night cap with class.

Nose: Mixed nuts, rum raisin, malt and dark brown sugar. The molasses is strong with this one. The sweetness gives way to olives and bread with time. Nothing is too stark, but instead married well, incredibly comfortable with itself: its place in the glass, and the world.

Palate: Always a pleasant surprise when a 43% ABV whisky coats even your teeth. The brown sugar comes in, with floral notes and general sweetness. Malty as all hell, with plenty of wood influence from the cask. A tad hot at times for an 18 year old. It isn’t the most complex malt I’ve had, but it makes the perfect “comfortable” dram. I can see why the lads on “The Hour” enjoyed it so much. Feels very Glen Plaid, to me.

Finish: A medium finish with flavours of Swedish berries and hints of licorice.

Grade: B+

I really liked this one. I was skeptical of its quality, given all the poor reviews I’ve heard on the younger versions, but it really came through. It was exactly what I was looking for, too. Something I wanted to sip while I curled up with my wife to watch something on BBC, after a lovely day of walking, talking, and eating delicious local fare.

“This is the first day of my life, I swear I was born the day I met you.”

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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?

Scotch Night with the Lads

Spent a recent mid-week evening reuniting with a couple of old friends from my undergrad over a collection of slivers from different bottles. A great night to share some old favourites, and to try some new ones. Because we’d intended this to be a rather peaty occasion, a couple of the latter drams didn’t get the most unbiased palate I had to offer. I did, however, get to save a little of the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition for another night, so that review is more honest than the Select Oak.

No. 1: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Nose: Toffee. Butterscotch. Slightly winey.
Palate: Smooth, sweet and nose-confirming.
Finish: Medium-long.

Grade: B+

All the best parts of the Lasanta without any of the off-notes. This is Glenmorangie getting finishing right.

No. 2: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Nose: Typical Laphroaig tobacco, but where the Cairdeas is like an unlit cigar, the TW is more unlit cigarette. Tar and iodine. Sweet red wine, and almost Speyside-esque. 
Palate: Peat and tobacco smoke, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Finish:
Long and smoky.

Grade: B+

So, we had a whole flight of Laphroaig (10yo, TW, QC and Cairdeas) and this one came in 3rd. The QC is still so much for so little, and the Cairdeas blows me a way. That said, the TW is a nice, sweeter Laphroaig than the QC, and would make a great choice for a winter dram on the nights when you can’t decide between a sweet Speyside and a beasty Islay.

No. 3: Springbank 12 Cask Strength

Nose: Cookies, vanilla, leather and dried apircots. Toffee pudding.
Palate: Cherry, apricot and wheat, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. This one is superbly complex for something so young, and it really knocks the socks off the 10yo. Springbank, we are friends again.
Finish:
Long, warming and smoky.

Grade: A-

Of the ones I hadn’t tried, this Springbank was the best. Everything the 10yo wants to be, but isn’t. Makes me think that the 18yo must be truly amazing.

No. 4: The Macallan Select Oak

Nose: Vanilla, Toffee and raisins.
Palate: Floral, vanilla, and toffee
Finish:
Medium.

Grade: B-

My least favourite of the night. Not bad, but a rather plain Macallan. Smooth, easy drinking, and a great daily dram, but for something that would probably be in the $90 range in Canada, you’d expect more. Drams like this make me want to guard my discontinued Macallan Cask Strength carefully.

No. 5: The Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition

Nose: Honeycomb, butter and toffee. Hints of mushrooms and a bit of sulphur.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry and chocolate. Some of the mushroom scent. Medium viscosity (not watery, but less viscous than the the 12yo).
Finish: Medium, slightly smoky.

Grade: B

Good, easy drinking whisky. Not my favourite of the night, but not my least favourite! Similar sentiments to #4, but this one is more of that classic rich cherry-like Macallan than the select oak. Another case of a good nose, but a weak palate. Not as elegant as the 12yo, though.

Peat in the Highlands: Ardmore Traditional Cask

Finally getting around to reviewing the Ardmore Traditional Cask. Like Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask, this one, too, is aged for a short period in traditional quarter casks. Like Laphroiag, it is a good’un, but not that good. For the price, it pretty much can’t be beat, though. It has taken me so long to write up a review because this bottle became my office bottle, and as I’m not in my office until the late dramming hours all too often, I rarely afford myself the chance to open the bottle. Each time I do, however, I am reminded about what a great bang-for-your-buck this really is. Given the data of 2 QC whiskies being so good, I’m guaranteed to try the next cost-effective QC whisky that makes it to our shores.

Nose: Sweet barley. Honeyed pears, and oak. Peat (of the Ardbeg variety). A bit salty too. Cinnamon hearts. Reminds me of that Simpson’s moment where Homer says “Look boy! I’m in Australia! Now I’m America. Australia! America!”. I find myself saying “I’m drinking a Glenfiddich! Now I’m drinking Auchentoshan! Glenfiddich! Auchentoshan! …Bruichladdich?”

Palate: Reasonably smooth for such youth. Oily. Sweet cinnamon red hots, baby. Fruit, sweetness, some cinnamon and pepper. It, again, reminds me of Auchentoshan, but not so bright and vibrant. The peat and rich Speyside characteristics take it down a few shades, and that’s alright!  It’s interesting to have a dessert whisky be peated so well. I was worried that a $44 peated whisky would turn out like Dun Bheagan’s 8yo Islay: fruit with peat sprinkles. No, this one is well married together. The peat is a compliment, not the goal itself.

Finish: Tart fruit and smoky peat. This is the end you’d expect, and love.

Grade: B-

I had this at a B upon opening, but it’s a tad rougher than my B should be. It’s by no means bad, however. A few years in the cask (get it up to 10yo and we’ll talk) would make the peat a little more “sexy” as I’ve heard others describe aged peat. Of course you’ll ask, “if the notes are so kind, why is the mark so poor”? Well, the notes are as kind as those of Highland Park 12, Oban 14, and others in it’s range. Nothing sticks out as being bad, but nothing makes me want to buy a case and sit on it with a sling-shot in fear that it’ll never come back. It’s just a good whisky, and in the end, for $44 in Ontario, that’s damn fine. We can’t all be drinking Uigeadail every week. If you’re a peat fan, this is a must-try. In fact, it’s a must-own.

A Musty Malt, Shrouded in Mystery: Oban 14

Oban 14 is a top-shelf standard at any run-of-the mill pub. It shares the stage with Lagavulin 16, often together at the top, often alone. At such establishments, too, it is often $10/oz, a price at which many seem to believe much too high for its quality. To some, it is a delicious classic, to others, it is merely ordinary. My view tends to be somewhere in between.

Nose: Sweet and salty chocolate and vanilla notes, Florida Orange Lifesavers. Toffee, nutmeg and tobacco. Musty and mossy. Black licorice. A very perplexing dram. A Highland, yes, but a dark one. Different from it’s bright West Highland brother (Ben Nevis). A few funky notes on the end, something a tad like sulphur.

Palate: Pleasantly oily. Velvety. Sweet, salty, and very malty. Citrus (orange and lemon). Chocolate and vanilla. Caps off in a big billow of cigar smoke. Not as smooth as it could be, something a little rough at the beginning. It gives the impression of being jagged.

Finish: Long, sweet, nutmeg, a tad musty and earthy. Also, something unique: an oily palate that finishes with almost a jelly-like coating on your tongue—much like melted black jujubes.

Grade: B

Before trying this Oban, my thoughts wrestled with the usual “Here’s another big-name dram with low ABV… It is probably going to disappoint.” Of course, I could probably say that it is disappointing for the price, but abstracting from the price, it goes a bit beyond ordinary. I have heard that Oban 18 is much better, and I can see how a few more years in the barrel could bring the smoothness of maturity, and some additional balance to this dram. As it stands, though, the Oban 14 is good, but underwhelming for the price. That is, a solid B as a raw score that drops further if we consider a price/quality measure.

Note: It is quite a deal at the moment at the LCBO. You can get a small bottle (200mL) for $24. Not only is this a great price to try it at, but it’s actually cheaper to buy 800mL worth of small bottles than to spend $110 on a 750mL regular bottle.

Coming up later in November and in December, we have reviews of Ardmore Traditional Cask and Glenmorangie “Lasanta”. I also hope to review part of Auchentoshan’s Duty free line, ‘Springwood’, ‘Heartwood’ and ‘Cooper’s Reserve’ if the rumour of their arrival to the LCBO turns out to be true.

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.