Peating the Unpeated: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Music: Magneta Lane, “Broken Plates”

As a quite note on the hiatus, I have a couple of reviews to write up, but this year has been short on both money for whisky, and decent whisky to purchase. While the former has since passed, there state of new, decent whisky offerings is slim. I do have an Octomore 6.1 in my possession now, but I have yet to open it. Reviews on Bowmore Tempest 2 and 4 are coming (in a doubleheader review), but I’ve been underwhelmed by the 4, and as such, have not been motivated to write the review. Some critics relish the opportunity to slag a mediocre product; I simply become disinterested.

I’d always wondered what a peated Bunna would be like, if it would be peppery and coastal, citrus and rock, or smoky bacon and brine. I almost expected their peated offering to be sherried, much in the way of an Ardbeg: a dark bog, with hints of fruity sweetness. Instead, the Ceòbanach (at 10 years) comes out much like a Caol Ila, with the soot and citrus at the fore-front. A beauty dram, if different from their 12yo.

Nose: Sooty, fireplace-mantle-type ash and smoke. Vanilla and citrus. So unlike the Bunnahabhain 12yo, but not in a bad way.

Palate: The palate is very fresh, and bright. Not spirity, just bright with flavours of vanilla, citrus, and a silty ash. Smoke and peat are here, but more accents than anything. A beautiful dry, tart note that I’ve come to expect from Bunnahabhain. Nothing too complex, but what it does, it does very well.

Finish: The earthiness of the peat rests on your tongue, and the citrus turns into slightly salty notes to complement the smoke in your breath.

Grade: B+

A leg up on the standard Caol Ila 12, as it hits with some of that patented Bunna sourness. I’m a fan, and it makes for an excellent summer smoke dram, thanks to the brightness of the flavours.

“Everybody falls down darlin’, but I’ll stay the same for you.”

Brews Brothers 2000 – Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Disclaimer: This is a review at the request of Cooper’s Cask Coffee (CCC), for which I was provided a free sample. While grateful for the sample, I made it clear to Cooper’s before agreeing to the review that my review would be entirely impartial, and they agreed, with thanks.

Despite never soliciting whiskies for review, recently a reader of the blog (or passer-by, I can never be sure) asked if I would review their new product: coffee beans aged in whiskey casks. A neat idea, though I wasn’t entirely sure how beans sitting in an ex-whiskey barrel would impart anything more than scent. But a week later, here we are, and as a spoiler: there’s much more than whisky perfume going on here. For the record, I don’t know which sample this is, and which barrels these beans were aged in—just how I like it. Guessing the whiskey (even if I’m wrong) is part of the fun!

The sample comes with preparation notes, encouraging me to use a French press, something that I do not have. The rationale is that a paper filter may compromise the flavour. In agreement, I opted to brew a pot using my metal basket filter.

Opening the bag: Wow. They’ve got the whiskey nose hands-down. It’s a mix of the richness of Tennessee whiskey, and the brightness of Rye. Butterscotch all day on this one.

Munching on a bean: The roast is said to be medium, but I’m getting more light-medium. That said, my palate is biased towards dark roasts, so I may be under-estimating. Plenty of almonds and other nuts on the palate here, accompanied by that butterscotch taste. Delightful.

Post-Brew: The whiskey aroma fills the room, and the beans deliver on that promise, though the scent is distinctly Rye now. Not low-end Canadian Club, mind you, more like the 20yo Ninety DoR.

Coffee, Black: The nose is a little more subdued in the cup, but again, delivering a really clear Rye nose. Upon first sip, it’s a little… weaker than expected. Not much going on with the palate than the taste of a mild coffee… ok, there are some faint tobacco and oak notes here but… oh… wait… there we are. After a couple seconds, boom, the flavours of the whiskey are huge. Vanilla, toffee, nuttiness, and rye cereals. They’ve hit the nail on the head, delivering all the beauty of good Rye, without the jagged edges.

Coffee, milk (2%): Much of the same, though the transition between mild coffee and the whisky finish is much starker. In that way, a bit more unbalanced.

I also asked my partner for her thoughts. She is also a whiskey fan (more American whiskey than Scotch), and prefers more mild coffee than I. She is also a connoisseur of coffees, and, like myself, wants a flavoured coffee to blend well, and be balanced, so as not to merely taste like someone dumped Starbucks flavour syrup in a cup of coffee. She agrees that the whisky flavour is excellent, and that its presence is very natural, but similar to my assessment, the coffee vs. whisky battle is a bit unbalanced.
“I want more coffee” she says. That’s many points for quality, fewer points for balance.

I was told by CCC that their experiments find medium roast to optimize the whiskey-coffee balance. From an academic standpoint, if the quality of whisky flavour in the beans is strictly decreasing in the roast of the coffee, but the richness of the coffee is strictly increasing in the roast of the beans, that means the solution is unique … but different people have different palates, so the solution only matches one set of palates… but no company can reasonably roast beans for all palates… hmmm….

*puts on tweed jacket, grabs pipe*

What if we create our own blend, mixing CCC with darker-roasted beans? The whiskey flavour in this sample is so clear that surely it wouldn’t be compromised if we say, did half espresso, half CCC in an espresso shot? Let’s do this! (I own a lower-end Gran Gaggia barista machine).

50% CCC + 50% run-of-the-mill espresso in a shot: Oh my. This is the sweet spot (for me). CCC has this undeniably beautiful whisky finish, and when mixed with the richness of espresso, you get the nice dark, rich coffee flavour upfront, and the transition of tobacco and oak is much more present. There is even a bit of chocolate and some (indiscernible) fruit here. Moreover, the oily nature of the espresso brings out more richness in the whiskey mid-palate, so as to impart more of a richer, Tennessee whiskey flavour, before the coffee fades, and you’re left with that very pleasant butterscotch and almond-y Rye flavour. This is balance, baby. I swear there was even a point there where the mid-palate was like drinking an old-fashioned.

Replication with a pot, 50% CCC and 50% medium-dark Arabica beans: The above results are robust to brewing in a pot with non-espresso beans.

They’ve really done something special here. Because their coffee “plays well with others”, this property mitigates the roasting optimization problem above. Because there are an infinite set of possibilities between 100% CCC and 100% espresso/insert-favourite-roast-here, you should be able to find exactly the roasting/whisky combination you’re looking for, if you find the coffee to be unbalanced initially.

Now this might look like an unfavourable review because I’m not screaming that I’ve struck gold, but for an academic, the “play well with others” result is something to cheer about. This coffee lets you find your own balance between the whisky and coffee profiles, and I really enjoyed finding mine.

While I cannot grade this on the usual sliding scale (there are no meaningful comparisons, after all), for the sake of a short-and-sweet recommendation: Must Try!

Because it requires a bit of tinkering, I can’t say this recommendation is, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Give me all the whisky-aged beans you have”, but much it’s so much more than a “if you like whisky, you might like it”. Of course, too, if the tasting notes speak to you, that’s what matters most. I can tell you, too, that I’m excited about the Bourbon Barrel version, and may put my money where my mouth is, if the cross-border customs fees don’t prevent it!

Endnote: This has been fun, and above all, delicious; thanks John and Jason!

You can check out their coffee, and what they’re up to at www.cooperscaskcoffee.com

In the Lap of the Gods: Bunnahabhain 18

Music: The Junction, “The Break Makes a Turning Point”

This 18yo really underscores something I’ve come to terms with on my whisky journey: Bunnahabhain is my dram. When I don’t have a particular craving for a peat or sherry bomb, but instead long for a good, complete Scotch, I’ve learned that I’m craving a Bunnahabhain. Their 12yo and 18yo are so well-rounded in all the flavours that make a good Scotch, that I’m always satisfied when I decide to have a sliver of Scotch, and reach for my Bunnahabhain. The 12yo is the perfect daily dram, and when I’m looking for something special, their 18yo is often what I have in mind.

Nose: Its got so much of what the Glengoyne 18 has, and then some. The brown sugar is more of a molasses with this one, something like sticky toffee pudding. Then, the sherry influence makes itself present. There is a hint of smoke, and a really great coastal salt note.

Palate: The smoothness of this dram is unparallelled. Sweetness, oak and smoke. This one comes up like a Highland and comes down like an Islay: instead of a huge sherry influence, it’s more of that port sweetness than anything. Unexpected, but very pleasant. The wood influence from the cask is strong, but again, very pleasant. Sometimes words fail you when you look for the details to describe something that hits all the right notes.

Finish: The wood influence is still there, and the backdrop is slightly sour.

Grade: A

I fell in love with Bunnahabhain’s 12 about a quarter through the first bottle. Before it had a chance to air over the better part of a month, it was a little rocky, but once it opened up, it was spectacular. Bunnahabhain’s 18 is much the same as it’s younger brother; but if I have to open it and walk away for a couple of weeks to come back to this, you better bet I’d enjoy the stroll.

“Break down, and open your heart to me–now that’s a start.”

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”

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.”

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.”

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…”

The Comeback Kid: Jura Elixir 12

Music: DJ Cutman, “Legend of Korra – End Credits”

After the Superstition, I never expected much from Jura. A handful of people have told me, since, that the Superstition is something great, but it was bland, bland, sweet then bland when I tried it. Cue the Elixir. A dram that had been hailed as a great daily dram, sweet but not cloying, viscous and 46%. All the right boxes for a nice sipper. That, and because it came in just under $60 in Ontario, I had to give it a go. After all, I’d only ever had one Jura, and you can’t really pass judgement on a distillery with one data point from one bottle. So, in came the Elixir.

Nose: Cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast, with a touch of hickory smoke. Biscuity goodness with some peaches and plums. Sherry here and there. A hair of acetone, but only if you look.

Palate: Weighty, almost immediately, with a tad bit of nip. Plums and grapes all over, almost Welch’s. A slight sour smoky, sweet and lovely.

Finish: Fruits all over the medium-length finish. Was hoping to get some of the biscuity nose in the finish, but no dice.

Grade: B+

Hard to discern way too much out of this whisky, but there is a lot going on here: it’s just in a basket of goodies so well married together that you just have to enjoy the mélange. At the price of $60 per bottle, this is a keeper on a shelf. A great party whisky, and perhaps even the base for a really good old fashioned or manhattan (cue the cringe from bourbon die-hards).

The Last of its Kind: Bruichladdich 12 (2nd Edition)

Music: Teddie Films, “Dream and Shout” (“Scream and Shout” Les Miserables parody)

As I get ready to “get hitched”, I find myself looking back on the past, and wondering how much things will change after the papers are signed. It has led me to look back at some sample bottles I’ve stored from bottles long depleted to finally put pen to paper on them and write up reviews.

Nose: Gentle coastal salt and vanilla. The bourbon cask is very noticeable here. Vegetal notes. Apricot and pear. Similar to an Arran Malt. Still a bit young so as to be a bit prickly, but it’s still really good.

Palate: Sweet, barely sugar. Lemon and pear. Slight bit of varnish. Somewhat peated at the end.

Finish: Medium length, warming and tart. Lemon cough sweets.

Grade: B

This one is bittersweet, both in profile and in sentiment. There is something glorious about enjoying a piece of a distillery’s past (which, I guess, any dram is), but somewhat saddening to know that this is the last dram you’ll ever have of this chapter in the distillery’s history.  Mixed feelings, but a damn good dram. If you see a bottle sitting on a shelf this summer for a reasonable price, do pick it up, as it’s a perfect summer dram: light, fruity and sweet.

“Here we go, goin’ take this town, because everywhere we go is revolution.