Thursday, December 7, 2017

Whisky Review: Glengoyne 18 Year

Glengoyne 18 Year sits right in the middle of their range, between the 10, 12, and 15 and the 21, 25, and special releases above. In keeping with the trend through that range, it is significantly more sherried than the expressions below it. While I can't find definite information, I've seen suggestions that it is aged entirely in refill- and first-fill sherry casks, with a significant proportion of the latter. Like the 10 Year, I purchased this miniature while I was in Scotland in 2013.

It is bottled at 43%, without coloring but with chill filtration.

Glengoyne 18 Year

Nose: strongly sherried, a little dank, stewed fruit, savory, moderate American/European oak, vanilla/cacao, herbal/grassy, malt in the background. After adding a few drops of water it is more or less the same, but somewhat diminished except for amplified vanilla and some floral notes come out.

Taste: alcohol reads as stronger than 43% - strong sherry up front, joined by oak tannins around the middle, reduced sherry near the back with more noticeable malt. After dilution it is sweeter up front, with less sherry and more savory oak near the back.

Finish: oak spices, savory notes, polished oak, orange peel

Much like the shift from Tomatin 12 Year to Tomatin 18 Year, this feels like an entirely different whisky than the 10 Year. It has more in common with the defunct Glengoyne 17 Year, which was also very sherry-driven. I'm not sure if it's about the casks or the spirit, but the finish on this whisky reads a lot like Ben Nevis to me, with the peculiar twist of savory oak at the end. That would put it a bit ahead of Tomatin 18 Year, which is the most comparable whisky I can think of, assuming they're roughly the same price. In the States, where Tomatin tends to be significantly cheaper than Glengoyne, I'd give the nod to the latter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Whisky Review: Glengoyne 10 Year

Glengoyne is something of an oddity, being located directly on the line that separates the Lowlands from the Highlands, all of a few miles north of the definitively Lowland Auchentoshan. The distillery is owned by the independent bottler Ian Macleod, who also own Tamdhu. I meant to visit it during my trip to Scotland since it wasn't particularly far from where I was staying in Glasgow, but weather and burnout on distillery tours kept me away.

It's a little difficult to figure out exactly what's going on in this whisky. It's bottled at the minimum of 40%, presumably with chill filtration but without coloring. While the distillery's website references sherry cask maturation, the profile suggests that most of them must be refill casks or there is a small minority of first-fill sherry casks in combination with a larger number of refill bourbon casks.

Glengoyne 10 Year

Nose: dominated by clean, fresh malt - hints of melon, green apple/pear, citrus, roasted grain, maple syrup, vanilla, sherry. After adding a few drops of water it gets muskier and some honey and berry notes emerge.

Taste: sweet malt up front, continuing through with some sherried roundness, hints of citrus, and bitter grain notes underneath building towards the back - very minimal oak. After dilution the sherry comes in stronger, but the bitterness at the back is also more pronounced.

Finish: fresh malt, a little vanilla, bitter grain

Even for an entry-level single malt, this is somewhat disappointing. While there are no overt flaws, it's just kind of boring. There are some decent things about the nose, but even those take a fair amount of time and effort to tease out. The palate and finish are just flat, with no real development. It is somewhat improved by the addition of water, which may be intentional, but seems odd for a single malt that is meant to introduce people to the brand.

With all that said, I think it's a fine entry point for blend drinkers dipping their toe into the single malt world - there's nothing particularly challenging and it has something of a blend-y profile, but without the grainy character of blends. It also has an attractive price point for people moving up from blends, but a little bit more money will get you the more well regarded 12 or 15 Year expressions from the same distillery. This is enough to make me want to try more from the brand, but I'll give the 10 Year a miss in future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Whisky Review: Chivas Regal 18 Year

Chivas 18 Year is the next rung up the ladder from their Extra expression, positioned to compete with the likes of Johnnie Walker Gold. It is claimed that the core component of the blend, much like the 12 Year, is Strathisla, there's really no way to know exactly what is going into it beyond the age.

This whisky was bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

Chivas Regal 18 Year

Nose: malt/grain, floral, gentle peat smoke and oak, light sherry influence with savory notes and wood spices. After adding a few drops of water it becomes flatter, with less peat smoke.

Taste: a little flat - grain/malt, gentle oak, light sherry, vanilla, citrus/berry overtones, and a touch of peat with oak tannins at the back. After dilution it becomes even flatter - mostly grain with a little vanilla and a touch of sherry at the back.

Finish: oak tannins, a touch of sherry

While a perfectly competent blend, there is little here that makes me want more. The touch of peat sets it above the 12 Year, but the lack of complexity in the flavors keeps it from being a good value. For something with similar structure but more robust flavors, Johnnie Walker Green Label is probably the better choice. With that said, I think this comes close to Johnnie Walker Blue Label at a fraction of the price, though the latter is more flavorful.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Whisky Review: Chivas Regal Extra

One of the consistent themes in the scotch whisky world these days is that if you need to pep up a release, throw more sherry at the problem. This is the conceit of Chivas Regal Extra - it exists at roughly the same price point as the standard 12 Year, but puts more sherry casks into the mix at the expense of an age statement.

This whisky is bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

Chivas Regal Extra

Nose: initially almost nonexistent - vague malt/grain and caramel, opening up into richer sherry with a nutty/savory edge and orange peel. After adding a few drops of water the sherry recedes slightly to reveal the malt and grain as well as some vanilla.

Taste: thin and watery up front, opens into caramel, malt/grain, and a strong overlay of sherry with a touch of something floral in the middle, with a bittersweet fadeout through greener notes and moderate oak tannins. After dilution it becomes flatter/grainier and the sherry recedes significantly.

Finish: bittersweet caramel and grain, sherry residue

When I first cracked the mini I thought it might be defective because the nose was so weak and the flavors were so watery. It was somewhat better on the second pass, suggesting that it needed some air to open up. But even at that point I found little to recommend it over the standard 12 Year - while the sherry gave it a little more interest, it was nothing spectacular or complex. For the same price I could get a well-aged, sherry matured single malt from Glenfarclas that will have far more richness and depth. Bottled at a more respectable 43% I think it could offer something more compelling, but as is I can't see the point.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Whisky Review: Dewar's 12 Year

Dewar's is the flagship blend for Bacardi's clutch of scotch whisky distilleries, which include Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, and Macduff. While there have been efforts over the last few years to raise the profile of its malts, the core of their business is still in their blends.

This whisky is bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

Dewar's 12 Year the Ancestor

Nose: a lot of grain whisky, wheat bread, creamy malt, distant sherry notes, dirty lemons, a little bit of funk, pine, and herbal character, a touch of floral vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it becomes even more dominated by the grain component, but more vanilla comes out.

Taste: rounded grain and malt sweetness with a sherry overlay up front, something floral around the middle, becomes grainier with continued flashes of sherry and sulfurous funk towards the back, very little oak. After dilution the grain becomes dominant but more sherry comes out.

Finish: lingering grain and earthy notes with creamy floral overtones

Wow, that's a lot of grain whisky. While there are bits and pieces of something interesting in this whisky, much of which I'm inclined to ascribe to Craigellachie, the grain whisky muscles almost everything else aside. It's not bad, but there's very little to make me recommend this, even as a cheap blend. It's pretty much a toss-up if you're choosing between this and Chivas Regal 12 Year, but I might give a slight nod to the latter. Something like Cutty Sark Prohibition is about the same price and offers significantly more robust flavors, if you need a cheaper blended whisky.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whisky Review: Chivas Regal 12 Year

Chivas Regal is one of the most well-known blends in the world, owned by Pernod Ricard. This is the second biggest conglomerate in scotch whisky, with fifteen distilleries, including some of the biggest such as Glenlivet and the new Dalmunach. It is claimed that Strathisla is the 'home' of Chivas Regal and presumably this forms the biggest malt component in the blend, though it is likely that grain whisky from Strathclyde forms a much larger share.

This blend is bottled at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

Chivas Regal 12 Year

Nose: very light - basic grain notes with a bit of malt, caramel, vanilla, a little solvent, herbal notes underneath, a faint hint of peat. After adding a few drops of water it goes even flatter.

Taste: simple malt/grain sweetness throughout, a little sherry roundness in the middle, and a surprisingly lack of oak tannins at the back. After dilution the grain whisky sticks out more and gives a bit of a bitter finish, but some fruit notes emerge (apples, pears), the sherry becomes bigger in the middle, and the oak becomes more noticeable.

Finish: grain, light oak, a bit of sherry residue

Well, it's a blend. As these things go, it manages to hit what I think was its mark: more or less inoffensive. Unlike Johnnie Walker Black Label, its most obvious competitor, there is little in the way of peat. This seems unsurprising since Pernod Ricard does not own any distilleries that regularly produce peated malt. Given the high demand over the last decade, that would not have left them in a position to trade for it in a regular fashion. So we're left with a much lighter whisky, without the dirtier backbone of JWB. With that said, it's not a bad blend by any stretch. It's just that you can get more interesting blends, like Isle of Skye 8 Year or Cutty Sark Prohibition, or basic single malts from Glenmorangie or Tomatin for only a few dollars more, so I don't think this is one I would buy again.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Whisky Review: G&C Pearls of Scotland Auchentoshan 16 Year 1998/2015

While most of Auchentoshan's lineup is not particularly well-regarded, the Three Wood gets far more love in the whisky community. This is likely because almost any malt with a big whollop of sherry will have significant appeal these days. While I wasn't quite so fond of it, I figured I would give this one a try anyway.

This whisky was distilled in September 1998, filled into sherry butt, then bottled in May 2015 at 55.3% without coloring or chill filtration in an outturn of 590 bottles.

G&C Pearls of Scotland Auchentoshan 16 Year 1998/2015 Cask #2197

Nose: fresh, not a ton of sherry, clean malt, a little sour, grilled pineapple, savory, cured meat, creamy herbs, gentle oak. After adding a few drops of water the freshness turns into new make character briefly, then the savory character and oak become stronger.

Taste: rich but not overwhelming sherry, subdued sweetness, savory undertones, mild oak, barrel char, chocolate, and raisins start around the middle and grow slightly towards the back, herbal/grassy notes in the background throughout. After dilution some nice savory character is layered on top up front, with the oak becoming chocolate-y near the back.

Finish: dry sherry, raisins, oak tannins, leather

Unlike the bourbon matured Auchentoshans I've reviewed, this one is mostly about the sherry cask rather than the distillery. While there's nothing particularly wrong with this whisky, there's nothing very gripping either. The savory character is probably the best part, but isn't enough to make this a winner. I appreciate that it's drier than a lot of sherry casks without being overly tannic, but I think this one could have been left for another 5-10 years to develop more fully. It's OK, but that's not enough to make me shell out $100. $70, maybe, but I don't think it's going to go on sale like that.