Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Whisky Review: Provenance Auchentoshan 12 Year/1999

Not a lot to say about this one. Despite the label, there is very little information about its provenance. It was distilled at Auchentoshan sometime in 1999, aged for at least 12 years in an oak cask, then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration for Douglas Laing's McGibbon's Provenance line.

Provenance Auchentoshan 12 Year/1999

Nose: thick bourbon cask influence, spicy oak, a little sour and funky (Jamaican rum-style), overripe fruit. After adding a few drops of water the funk is amplified and it is much drier overall.

Taste: rich, creamy malt and American oak sweetness throughout, fading towards bittersweet at the back, generically fruity with dunder funk around the middle, soft oak tannins around the back. After dilution the funk grows much stronger and suppresses much of the sweetness, while the oak tannins also become stronger and more bitter at the back.

Finish: malt, oak, vague fruit, lingering funk

In most respects this seems like a fairly basic bourbon cask malt. The funkier notes that remind me of Jamaican rums. It's not impossible that this is a rum cask matured or finished malt, but that seems a little unlikely given that Provenance is the more bare-bones line of single malt from Douglas Laing.

But whatever the source, that character keeps it from being generic or boring. With that said, water amplifies the funk a bit too much even for me and throws the malt out of balance. Unless you're really into those notes - and even then you might as well drink Jamaican rum instead - I'd hold off on the water. This was already reduced as far as it could reasonably go.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Whisky Review: Auchentoshan Hand Bottled 14 Year 1999/2013

Beyond it being a nice distillery with a well-done tour, one of the reasons to visit Auchentoshan is that they usually offer a number of single cask bottlings only available at the distillery shop. Conveniently these are available in either 200 mL or 700 mL bottles, which I appreciated since it was the first stop on my bike tour of Scotland and I knew I would be carrying whatever I bought for several weeks. When I was there they had a younger and an older single cask on offer. I went with the younger one, both because of the price and because I read reviews suggesting that it was the better pick.

This whisky was distilled on August 24th, 1999, filled into an ex-bourbon barrel (probably first-fill), then bottled on August 26th, 2013 at 52.8% without coloring or chill filtration.

Auchentoshan Hand Bottled 14 Year 1999/2013 Cask #2052

Nose: rich and spicy bourbon cask influence - honey, moderate oak, clove/cinnamon/nutmeg, vanilla frosting, creamy malt, savory, huge fruit/berry/peach/pineapple notes in an almost sherried mode. After adding a few drops of water the oak becomes drier, but the honey and berries are amplified, the vanilla turns into whipped cream, and everything is more integrated in general.

Taste: thick and sweet, undergirding oak, caramel, indeterminate fruitiness starting around the middle, citrus (lemon and grapefruit) and savory notes at the back. After dilution the sweetness integrates with the oak, the fruitiness spreads out, and the savoriness at the back gets bigger, and it all seems more bourbon-y.

Finish: big bittersweet oak, berries, citrus, and tropical fruit in the background, a little savory

Out of the distillery-only bottles I brought back from Scotland, this is the one I most wish I had more of. It hits almost all of the notes that I like about well-done bourbon without the overly aggressive caramel and oak, letting the fruit notes shine.

While they're not at full strength, van Wees has released a number of similar 1999 vintage Auchentoshan bourbon barrels that I'm going to have to try to see if they can capture some of what I liked about this cask.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Whisky Review: The Tasting Room Hazelburn 31/08/2013

One of the things I was most excited about in the Cadenhead's shop in Campbeltown was getting to try more full strength Hazelburn. With a few exceptions it's very rare in the US. But the living casks at the Cadenhead's shop will scratch that itch.


Surprisingly, since Hazelburn has only been distilled at Springbank since 1997, the proof of the Hazelburn living cask was quite low at 48.2% when I visited on August 31, 2013. Looking at the bottles reported at WhiskyBase, it appears this has held up, suggesting that most of the casks added to the mix have had abnormally low ABV for their (presumably low) age. So while these may not be the more representative casks, they should be something interesting.

Cadenhead's Hazelburn Living Cask

Nose: warm caramel, rich brine, solid oak, oily (motor/olive), dry malt, floral, hints of moss, green tea, and sherry. After adding a few drops of water the caramel and brine are amplified, the fruit becomes muskier, and the oil becomes more firmly olive.

Taste: moderate malt and wood sweetness up front, becomes bittersweet with oak and tea tannins around the middle, joined by a light bump of vague fruit and floral esters, finishes with mild brine near the back. After dilution it becomes much softer and more integrated, with the tannic and bitter components dissolving into the sweeter wood.

Finish: dry malt, rich oak, bitter tannins, background brine, floral

This one took some time and air to open up. When I first popped the cork it was tight and resembled the red stripe Hazelburn 8 Year Cask Strength, which was pretty unappealing. With time it became much more rich and had more in common with the Hazelburn 8 Year Bourbon Single Cask I liked so much.

Like the 1842 Campbeltown blended malt, this isn't a world-beater, but I really enjoyed it. This cements my feeling that I vastly prefer bourbon cask matured Hazelburn to anything from sherry casks, which seem to override the salted caramel character that I enjoy. I really need to try the new Hazelburn 10 Year, which should be in the same ballpark.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Whisky Review: Springbank Private Bottling for Distillery Visitors 2013

My visit to Springbank and Glengyle ended at the Cadenhead's shop in Campbeltown, where everyone on the tour was given a miniature bottle of Springbank whisky to take with them. Presumably because it's treated as a gift rather than a sale, these bottles have none of the standard information we expect on the label, such as ABV. But that makes it an interesting mystery.

Springbank Private Bottling for Distillery Visitors 2013

Nose: gobs of leathery Campbeltown character, mossy peat, juniper/rosemary, cured meat, dry malt, fresh bread dough, citrus pith, hay. After adding a few drops of water it remains much the same, but the peat becomes fresher and the cured meat becomes more pronounced.

Taste: sweet malt up front with some oak tannins underneath, vague fruit/berry/sherry notes in the background, leathery/mossy peat begins around the middle and expands towards the back, dry hay something oily going into the finish. After dilution the initial sweetness fades more quickly and the oak/leather/peat combo becomes more bitter but also give it more of an oaky heft.

Finish: bittersweet peat, leather, and oak, malt, herbal/hay

This is simple, but hits all the classic Springbank notes. While I'm guessing this is mostly young-ish bourbon cask Springbank, the roundness and berries suggest there might be some sherry casks in the mix as well. Either way, it's pretty similar to standard Springbank 10 Year, so I wouldn't get overly worked up about finding this. It's a nice treat if you visit the distillery and a good introduction to the style for anyone visiting Campbeltown, but nothing mindblowing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Whisky Review: Cadenhead's 1842 Campbeltown Blended Malt

One of the best things about visiting a Cadenhead's shop is their living casks. These are single malts, blended malts, and rums that are maintained in a solera style. This means that whenever a cask starts to get low more spirit from new casks is added to maintain their volume. This means that the living casks are constantly evolving, so what you get one day may be different than what's in the cask weeks or months later.

This was taken from the Campbeltown blended malt cask, which likely contains a mix of Springbank, Hazelburn, Longrow, Kilkerran/Glengyle, and Glen Scotia, during my visit to Campbeltown on August 31st, 2013. It is at 54.4% without coloring or chill filtration.

Cadenhead's 1842 Campbeltown Blended Malt

Nose: rich malt overlaid with a melange of damp peat smoke, leather, oak, nutmeg, and coastal notes, grapefruit peel, green cardamom, turmeric, peanut butter. After adding a few drops of water the leather notes become stronger and more fresh, the peat becomes softer and drier, the malt turns into fresh dough.

Taste: slightly dirty malt and oak sweetness up front, shifting towards bittersweet as the oak becomes tannic, gentle peat and coal smoke come in around the middle, orange peel overtones and apple cider undertones, becoming more mossy and tannic at the back. After dilution the sweetness carries through further, the peat and oak are toned down, some floral notes are revealed around the middle.

Finish: dirty, earthy peat and malt, cardamom, lingering heat

While not a world-beater, this is a nice encapsulation of what Campbeltown has to offer. The ABV plus lack of too much oak or vanilla make me think that the casks going into this are fairly young and not too active. I also didn't get much in the way of sherry, so I'm guessing they're mostly ex-bourbon hogsheads.

These notes jibe fairly well with my memories of the CV series from Springbank, but with some additional notes that make me think there's a decent amount of Kilkerran in the mix as well. The nose is clearly the best part, showing a lot more subtly than the palate.

For a review from the Edinburgh shop's living cask, check out Whisky Rover.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Whisky Review: Signatory Vintage Linkwood 16 Year 1995/2011

Linkwood has an exceptionally long and moderately complicated history that I will largely leave to Malt Madness if you're curious. The important bits of information are that the distillery is owned by Diageo, which means that its output is almost exclusively destined for blends, with the exception of the official Flora & Fauna bottling and the semi-offical Gordon & Macphail releases. But some of the casks find their way into the hands of independent bottlers.

This whisky was distilled on January 30, 1995, filled into a hogshead, then bottled on August 8, 2011 at 43% without coloring.

Signatory Linkwood 16 Year 1995/2001 Cask #648

Nose: strong floral (roses, lavender) and fruit (apple, orange, grape, banana) notes backed up by solid malt, a little grassy, a touch of fresh Ivory soap, mild oak, bubblegum, and vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer plus more grain-focused and floral.

Taste: sweet, thick malt through out, big bittersweet floral and fruit esters (banana, berries, apple/pear) come in quickly, fade out through drier floral and grassy notes with a touch of savory oak and citrus peel/pith near the back. After dilution it becomes grainier and less sweet, but creamier and more floral/grassy.

Finish: bittersweet, oak, thick malt, floral/grassy, barest hint of soap

This is instantly recognizable to anyone who has tried Johnnie Walker Green Label, which has Linkwood as one of its main components. This is a big, characterful malt that will shine in blends, augmenting other less flavorful malt and grain whiskies.

While Signatory's Vintage line doesn't get nearly as much praise or attention as their Unchillfiltered or Cask Strength lines, they do offer solid malts at often very respectable prices. While it's possible that this whisky would have been better at a higher strength, it was exceptionally drinkable and had more than enough heft diluted to 43%. There seem to be a number of these casks floating around and I intend to get my hands on at least one or two more. If this one sounds good to you it's still available from the Ultimate Wine Shop.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Whisky Review: Highland Park 15 Year

While Highland Park 12 Year is in almost every malt maniac's cabinet and the 18 Year gets regular plaudits, the 15 Year has been a little forlorn within the lineup. Given pressure on their stocks, it looks like the distillery (or more likely the corporate folks at Edrington) has pulled the expression, probably to reserve more casks for the 18 Year and replaced it with Dark Origins at the same price point.

This is bottled at 43% probably with chill filtration and possibly without coloring (I've heard conflicting accounts of whether they use it or not now).

Highland Park 15 Year

Nose: maple syrup, integrated sherry, American oak (caramel, vanilla), baking spices, twiggy malt, heather, herbal, light peat, peach, strawberry, raspberry. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry and oak integrate, the baking spices resolve into woody cinnamon, and the peat fades away.

Taste: opens with sweet sherry, raisins, American oak with herbal/floral/heather-y peat overtones, mesquite honey, and darker sherry through the middle, fresh dry malt near the back as the sherry slips away to reveal a bit more peat and oak. After dilution the sweetness becomes stronger and brighter, with the oak and peat fading into the background.

Finish: sherry sweetness, gentle peat, malt, vanilla, a touch of oak and wine acidity

The defining feature of this Highland Park is the American oak. While, like its 12 and 18 year old counterparts, it is matured entirely in ex-sherry casks, the 15 Year is constructed with more American oak than European oak casks. This gives it character that you would expect from an ex-bourbon cask malt, but with plenty of sherry on top. The extra age has also softened the peat in comparison to its younger sibling, which gives it a much more approachable character. Instead of the whipsaw from sweetness to peat, the transition is more gentle. That's not to say that it's flat or insipid, though I do think that it, like the 12 Year, would have benefited from a bump to 46% and craft presentation. This goes double in Europe where it was bottled at 40% rather than 43% as it is in the States. Basically, if you enjoy sherry-driven malts and can find Highland Park 15 Year for under $80, which, after a cursory search appears to be possible in many places, it's a no-brainer. While the 18 Year gets most of the plaudits, in an era of rising prices the 15 Year can be a solid value.