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”

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…”

(Mis)fortune Favours the Brave: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 46)

Music: Gentle Giant, “A Reunion”

Not sure if I’m alone here, but there is something exciting about taking chances with whisky. I had recently decided to revisit the a’Bunadh to see what had changed since batch 39, and, having read the praises lavished on batch 45, I thought it would be worth a go. I found nothing but batch 46, with Ontario having recently run out of batch 45. Fine, I thought. a’Bunadh is a’Bunadh, roughly speaking. If 45 is great, 46 can’t be far off! Much to my chagrin, when I read the (lack of) reviews on 46, it seemed as if the 4 reviews were mixed: 2 really positive reviews, two negative ones. Herein lies the excitement: I can, to the best of my abilities, be an informative reviewer on this dram, earning 20% of the opinion space on this dram. I may be one of the first to find a gem, or I could have wasted good money on something not so good. Excitement doesn’t come without some element of risk, and in that way, fear. What can be said comparatively of batch 46? As luck would have it, I have saved a sample bottle of batch 39 (early 2012), so cross-batch comparisons can be done. First off, the colour is a much deeper red. On a note of water, this one holds up pretty well and is not too fragile. In fact, it doesn’t need much water to be enjoyable (maybe half a teaspoon?), but you can win yourself two separate experiences with the amount of water. A little, and it’s dark, rich, powerful and more on the sherry side of things. If you add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water, (not quite doubling the volume of water, as Ralfy does in his review of batch 42) then you get the soft, light, bourbon vanilla side of this dram. While the former is more complex, both are reasonably enjoyable in their own right.

One last note: while it’s only about half a percent, this batch is starting to reach for the stars in ABV. 60.4%, wow!

Nose: Can you nose this one straight out of the bottle? Yes, provided that the bottle has been open for a week, and you’ve had a couple drams so as to let the bottle oxidize a bit. Can’t say that for many sherry monsters. Vanilla and freshly baked rum-soaked Christmas pudding (that is, not fruitcake). Marmalade on toast. Evergreen. Maraschino Cherries. Some full-bodied, spicy red wine on the tail. Softer than the 39. In some ways, I want to say very “Springbank-y”. Wood-fired oak on this one is a constant backdrop, and instead of being (at least to me) an over-oaked mess, it just makes me envision drinking this in a distillery warehouse, surrounded by casks. That is, of course, the ideal place to enjoy this, no? Of course, some light sulphur overall, but in a good, smoky way. Think matchstick fire rather than bad eggs.

Palate: Much less “winey” than batch 39, but the palate is a bit sour. A touch of sulphur. Rum-raisin (Jean-Luc Picard’s favourite ice cream flavour) and sherry. Adding some water, chocolate, brown sugar, molasses, and a touch of sherry. This is the un-sherry-iest sherry bomb I’ve had to date. Creamy vanilla and coffee, like a vanilla latte, almost.  Some of those maraschino cherries I found in the Glenfarclas ‘105’. Sour again on the end. A shame, really.

Finish: As long as the day. This is where the sherry comes out. Sweet, and mouth-watering. Not a drying whisky in the least. This is, in part, what makes it a great winter dram. When the air in your house is dried out by the cold and your heater, the last thing you need is a drying whisky. Honey and marmalade on fresh bread.

Grade: B

Not as bad as I’d feared, but not as good as the earlier batches. In all aspects, the batch 39 is brighter, more tangy, and much more sherried than the 46, despite coming across much less redder in colour. That said, it’s not as bad to my palate as the reviews it has been getting: Misty at connosr had bad luck with batch 46, but they call it “Full Gold”, whereas this looks distinctly burgundy to me, so maybe their sherry butt was different? (Hehe, butt! [SFW]). Willie JJ at whiskybase calls it “sulphured”, but I don’t get the tire-fire and rubber notes. Perhaps this is a tempermental whisky, like the Springbank 12 Claret Wood, in that you need to find it’s best lighting. For me, this one handles water better than most cask-strengths, and is all the better for it. A full teaspoon will wash the bad sulphur notes away and soften everything nicely. It’s not bad, but nothing I’d rush out for when you could wait for the next batch to come along.

“Fate design playing natures mime, and today by chance we meet again after all this time; meeting in this way, no one could have known.”

Glendronach 15 ‘Revival’

Music: In-Flight Safety, “Silent Treatment”

Sometimes so few words says it best, so I will be brief, here. Of the middle-aged range sherry monsters (and perhaps the cask-strengths, too), Glendronach’s revival wins.

Nose: Sherry and oak. No alcohol, just flavour. It’s very soft, but also extremely complex. Espresso, berries and chocolate cherries. Mint and vanilla. A touch of classy match-stick sulphur.

Palate: Viscous and rich. Fudge, sweetness, and cookies. Sherry tang.

Finish: Long, chocolatey sweetness, espresso and berries.

Grade: A-

It’s a refreshing to come across a standard range bottling that is so magnificent, for so cheap (relatively speaking). Craftsmanship, plain and simple.

Note: I’ve also tried the old bottling, pre-Revival, and it is so awful that I can’t believe they come from the same distillery.

“Cause all these years have made you a soldier, you’re carrying the weight of two worlds on your shoulders.”

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.”

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.