Berry, Berry Nice: Macallan Cask Strength

Music: Bloodhound Gang, “Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss”

Update: I hate you, Macallan! Why, oh why, did you discontinue this great dram?

One of the last bottles at the LCBO before being discontinued, I picked this one up after having great luck with the other widely-available NAS sherry bombs offered by the other big boys. It breaks my heart to think that this may be the last Macallan I might ever buy, as they have gone the way of weak 40%-43% NAS offerings with their 1824 series, and anything worth trying seems to be prohibitively expensive. A true shame, as I do like anything sherried that Macallan does.

Nose: Molasses, salted caramel and figs. Vanilla. Any sherry in the nose is very subtle. There is also this cinnamon sugar oatmeal scent, like one of those instant quaker packets.

Palate: Sweet sherry and cherry one-two punch, with smoke and leather on the uppercut. Chocolately, and all sorts of berry flavours (blackberries and red grapes). You’d think the alcohol would hit you like a ton of bricks at 60.1% ABV, but this one is pure elegance. With only half a teaspoon of water, this one is intensely warming, but not biting. Aberlour’s a’Bunadh fails that test.

Finish: Sherry, chocolate and cherry. Not as immediately drying, which is nice for something so sugary sweet.

Having to review stellar whiskies that are the last of their kind is so depressing. Delicious, to be sure, but depressing.

“Just jot me down on your to-do list under, ‘put out like a fire’.”

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Original Gangsta: GlenDronach 12 ‘The Original’

Music: The Gentlemen’s Club, “The Servant”

In anticipation of an occasion that would permit me to open my GlenDronach 15 ‘Revival’, I’ve given the 12yo Original a try because a) it’s had good reviews (save for at ATW), b) it’s cheap in Ontario, and c) I needed a 43%-er in my collection to sit between all the cask-strengths I own. Sometimes you don’t want to knock your socks off. To top it all off, I’ve saved the last 2/3 of the bottle for a scotch and cigar night with a colleague. It will most definitely be perfect for that.

Nose: Sherried like all hell, but the sherry balances some rather strong cereals. I really like this part, though ATW doesn’t. I love a good cereals whisky, and this gives the GlenDronach a second dominant note. Noticeable cola and a bit of barbecue sauce. Some chocolate cherries a la the Glenfarclas ‘105’. Despite being at 43%, this is really rich, even more so than its 46% ABV brethren, the Glenmorangie 12yo ‘Lasanta’. Raisins and Evergreen. Occasionally some faint eggy notes, but nothing to get all huffy about.

Palate: Medium viscosity. Sweet sherry up front. Fruity, if not truly discernable. Cola, baby (so happy that came through). A sweet-yet-sour citrus… maybe grapefruit? It then goes very much into a peppery rye flavour. Ends with dark chocolate.

Finish: Drying, chocolate, maraschino cherry.

Grade: B-

A great bang-for-the-buck whisky that’s interesting and powerful at 43%. Perhaps the best whisky in the under $60 range. It has me excited about the Revival, that’s for sure.

“Put your trust in me—I’ll do the same.”

The Little Black Bottle: Bunnahabhain 12

Bunna and I had a strange introduction. I was initially quite excited to try this whisky, hearing that it was a mild and mysterious Islay that was strangely so lightly peated. The first few drams tasted oddly of acetone, and strongly so. I was worried that I managed an off bottle. As luck would have it, though, letting the bottle rest for a month really changed the character of the whisky. Now it’s smooth, silky and sweet. Everything I’d expected it to be, it is.

Nose: Like a chocolatey bog. A strange concept, yes, but a pleasant one. Sherry and salted caramel. Hay. Very light on the peat. Somewhat briny and smoky.

Palate: Oily. Sweet, chocolate, sherry. Kind of grassy, almost like chewing alfalfa (if you’ve ever had it).

Finish: Medium-long and sweet, smoke, chocolate, some stewed black cherry.

Grade: B+

Damn it, this is one fine whisky. Not your typical Islay, but in that way it’s truly remarkable. It surprises you, and the surprise is a good one. It’s not an earth-shattering whisky, but at 12 years, it does the trick. It also makes me wistfully wonder what the 18yo is like. Probably a notch or two higher!

The Cherry Bomb: Glenfarclas 10yo `105`

After my let-down with Glenfarclas 15 at the bar, I decided to give them another go when the ‘105’ recently returned to the LCBO. I mean, I haven’t really been let down by a cask-strength to date, so why not try and extend the streak? I mean, I really did love the nose of the Glenfarclas 15. The mark was almost entirely based on that nose, truth be told.

Nose: Christmas cake and spice with sherry. Honey, toffee. Many of your sherry bomb characteristics (think Aberlour a’Bunadh) but this one is a bit more straight-forward and balanced. A bit of red cough syrup, but in the strangest pleasant way. And that’s saying something, as cherry cough syrup sends me running for the hills.

Palate: Rich, and sweet in a big way. Huge on the intro with the dark maraschino cherry chocolates. This flavour is the lead singer of this band. But this one’s no prima donna. Instead, this one shares the stage with every other flavour in an excellent balance. Coffee, raisins, and a bit of a mustiness. Honey on toast. Hints of smoke, but not your blackened, dark and stormy ‘burning fires of hell’ smoke like you’d get with a really strong Islay. Instead, it’s a quiet fire in a wood-stove where you’ve likely been baking. Add a dollop of water more than your usual teaspoon, and it’s a bowl of mixed nuts. Beautiful.

Finish: A flash of the cherry chocolates, quickly going tart into some of that cough-syrupyness. Hints of delicious Turkish delight and woody undertones. When the sweetness is all gone, it’s a drying pipe-tobacco finish—so mature and beautiful. It’s a very long, warming, perfect-for-winter finish.

Grade: A-

Didn’t think it’d happen, but I can officially say I’m in the Glenfarclas ‘105’ camp in the 105 vs. a’Bunadh sherry-bomb debate. While they’re similar enough in quality, there is something about the ‘105’ profile, and how it all comes together, that really wins me. Perhaps it’s the ‘cookie-like’ profile. It’s nice and baked, but a mix of savoury and sweet. Not your overly-sweet store-bought fluffy cake, but rather a soft cookie or a more dense coffee cake (on that note, it pairs really well with chewy white chocolate and craisin cookies!). In any case, I can see why maltmanics rave about Glenfarclas. Rest assured, I’m going to track down a bottle of the Glenfarclas 15 and give it it’s fair shake. The nose was spectacular, so I’m assuming I either over-watered it, or something else threw me off.

Christmas Lite: Glenmorangie 12yo ‘Lasanta’

This review is a bit of a redemption for my earlier faith in Glenmorangie (note: I use the phrase “a bit”). I had really high hopes for their ‘Original’, but upon trying it, it failed to live up to my expectations on so many levels that I was very disheartened with the distillery. I try not to do this after only trying a couple drams of one expression at a bar, but it really wasn’t all that spectacular, and I felt let down. Especially the way I’ve heard other blogs tout ‘The Original’ as the place where everyone should start their Single Malt journey.

Why, then, did I pick up the Lasanta? Well, the LCBO was having (and might still be having) a great sale where they slashed the price roughly 25%, so I thought to give it a try. For a wintry, sherried dram on the cheap, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. Permits me to save my a’Bunadh for special occasions with friends.

Nose: Honey heather (much like mead), sweet caramel and sherry, but not the sherry bomb it looks like it would be. Your typical package of ‘Christmas’ spices: cinnamon, nutmeg. Rum-raisin and christmas pudding. This nose is rather unspiritous, lacking the prickly nature you’d expect from a 12yo. However, there are some of those sulphury notes that sherry casks are guilty of from time to time. There is also a bit of souring on the end of the nose. Sometimes these off notes are there, sometimes not.

Palate: Bright, noticeably but yet delightfully warming. Creamy, but not too thick. Sherry, toffee, sultanas, christmas spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) and slightly malty. Just delightful. I can’t really pick everything out, but I don’t want to because it marries so well. Just delicious… and that’s what counts. With a drop or two of water, the spiritous heat calms right down, and all that remains is that initial delightful warmth. The sour note sometimes transfers to the palate, but not always.

Finish: Much of what the nose and palate advertise, with that wonderful chest-warming feeling that you want in a winter dram. Creamy vanilla and caramel. Ending with notes of honey and tobacco.

Grade: B-

Now, this whisky won’t force you to buy a case, and you won’t want to drink it for a month straight, etc. It’s not the a’Bunadh, and it doesn’t have the overwhelming complexity of the a’Bunadh, but that’s alright. It’s great at what it does, and that’s providing a reasonably contemplative whisky that is reasonably delicious, albeit with some off-notes here and there. If the sulphur and sour notes were gone, I’d give this a B.

Would a few more years in the barrel (say, to 15) make this any smoother? Probably, but then it might lose some of this pleasant warmth that you want in a winter whisky. May not be as nice in the heat of the summer, but for this time of year, it’s a keeper.

Because each batch truly is different: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)

I had intended to have my reviews all wrapped up for the next few months because the LCBO claimed they still had a couple packs of the “Classic Malts Gentle Collection” (Oban 14, Glenkinchie 12, Dalwhinnie 15)  but alas, their website lies. Instead, having run out of my a’Bunadh 36, I’ve decided to review my newly acquired Batch 39.

Perhaps the big question is, “For batches so close together, are they any different?” This review attempts to add some (subjective) evidence towards answering this question.

Color: Worth noting that this one is much darker than batch 36.

Some Quick Undiluted notes: The absence of heat on the nose is immediately striking. It is only 0.3% ABV lower than batch 36, but it’s gentler on the nose. It is also notably sweeter. The palate is thick and almost sticky, like a mouth full caramel. It coats your mouth and stays there for an extended period of time, long after the alcohol has evaporated. Sherry all over the place, yes, and in that sense it’s mostly one-dimensional in that sense (with hints of other notes that will be augmented by water) but damn if it isn’t fantastic. Other cask-strengths will burn like hellfire without water, but this one just hits you. Much like the ’97 Glenfarclas Family Cask. In that way, they are quite similar.

On to the water… (not much though… I like this one too much the way it is)

Nose:  Cookies. Caramel, loads of sherry (of course), cinnamon, nutmeg, and maraschino cherries. Raisins. Apricots, grapes, and white pepper. Hints of smoke, but not the dark smoke that you get from batch 36. It’s also brighter Christmas-y flavour than batch 36.

Palate: Slightly less chewy, but still thick. Sherry, dark chocolate, maraschino cherries and caramel. Brandy. Ever so slightly smoky. A basket of fresh fruit, much as advertised by the nose.

Finish: Long, comfortably warming, and progressively drying. Musty sherry, hints 0f fresh tobacco and a light smokiness.

Grade: B+

Well, to my palate, the batches are clearly different. Still, this is another excellent a’Bunadh. It’s noticeably sweeter, with a larger basket of fruit than batch 36, but it still has all the great dark chocolate, cinnamon and sherry-bomb oomph you’d expect from an a’Bunadh. It was initially hard to pick a favourite, but the sweeter, gentler nose that’s just so spectacular, leads batch 39 ahead by a nose. (Haha…haha… oh that was terrible). It reminds me a lot of the Glenfarclas 15yo, but with a palate to back up what the nose promises. A bit more mature than the ‘farclas 105, too.

As the cold grows nearer, the a’Bunadh would be an excellent (unpeated) addition to anyone’s winter cabinet. With this, and my Uigeadail, the winter ahead looks plenty warm in these parts.

Aberlour 10

Aberlour 10 is an Aberlour a’Bunadh light. A very similar sherried, Christmas-cake whisky, but not as bold, not as cool, and just not as complex. But is it only half as good as the price discrepency would suggest? No. It’s a bit better than that.

Nose: Smooth, buttery sherry is the name of the game here. Christmas cake. Fruity, baked notes. Vanilla. A platter of desserts in a glass.

Palate: Some level of coolness, like the a’Bunadh. Syrupy sweet and fruity, but not as chewy as the a’Bunadh.

Finish: Dry, medium long, sweet sherry, with vanilla and tobacco notes.

Grade: B-

Of course, I didn’t initially intend this review to be a direct comparison to the a’Bunadh, but these whiskies are close enough that it just makes sense.  If you want a complex, rich, cask-strength sherry-bomb, the a’Bunadh is your dram. If you’re on a budget, and/or you’re looking for an  everyday sherried dram that doesn’t pack the same contemplative punch, then the 10 year will do you just fine. (To be entirely fair to the a’Bunadh, the water you would add makes the bottle go a heck of a lot further…)