Monday, May 22, 2017

Whisky Review: Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 Year (2002)

Glenfiddich is, well, Glenfiddich. The best selling single malt in Scotland pumps out volume like almost no one else, though Glenlivet is certainly trying to give them a run for their money.

This version of their 12 Year was bottled in 2002, back when practically no one cared about single malt and the current boom was practically unimaginable. Then as now it was bottled at 40%, almost certainly with coloring and chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 Year

Nose: ranges from almost non-existent to moderate weight - light honied malt, slightly dank sherry, a little fruit (apples, pears, oranges), a touch of something floral/soapy - that are all difficult to pull out. After adding a few drops of water it opens up with more floral notes and more sherry.

Taste: moderate malt sweetness with a bit of sherried roundness, a little sour in the middle, floral overtones throughout, more grain than oak bitterness at the back, and a feeling of tired casks throughout. After dilution the sweetness becomes more cane sugar, the malt becomes drier, some fruit (apples, pears) comes out, and the floral notes are amplified.

Finish: sherry residue, light malt, a touch of oak-y bitterness

For all the depth of stock Glenfiddich was presumably sitting on in 2002, there doesn't appear to be any older, more complex whisky in here. Honestly, it's pretty remarkable how similar this is to their current bottles, which, if you want to look at it that way, speaks highly of their master blender's abilities. So while this was interesting as a curiosity, it is mostly forgettable.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Whisky Review: Archives Glen Scotia 20 Year 1992/2012

While Glen Scotia has been getting more attention since its latest relaunch of its lineup, it still exists firmly in the shadow of its more famous Campbeltown brethren. In no small measure this is because, while it often produces good whisky, its output is rather inconsistent.

This was distilled in February 1992, filled into a hogshead, then bottled in May 2012 at 50.4% without coloring or chill filtration. The outturn for this release was only 80 bottles, which suggests that it was a cask split with one or more other bottlers.

Archives Fourth Release Glen Scotia 20 Year 1992/2012 Cask 08/71

Nose: very oily - mix of olive, fish, and motor oil, roasted malt, earthy, mild peat smoke, light caramel/nutty oak, toffee, savory, green (apples, pears) and overripe fruit (banana, berries, apple). After adding a few drops of water the dirt becomes worn leather, the malt becomes cleaner, the smoke becomes incense.

Taste: fairly sweet up front, quickly joined by oak that becomes increasingly strong and tannic towards the back, vague fruitiness in the background, light grime and peat come in near the back, with more bittersweet character. After dilution it becomes sweeter up front, maltier throughout, and the oak and peat/dirt fade significantly.

Finish: tannic oak, fresh peat, seashore tang, soy sauce, malt,

All the Springbank fans who didn't buy this really missed out. While distinctly Glen Scotia, it has that dirty Campbeltown character with a touch of peat smoke that folks love so much about Springbank. With a rather austere profile I can't imagine this being a crowd pleaser, but if you like your malts to be something other than monochromatically sweet this should be fun. Sadly, for as long as it stuck around at the WhiskyBase Shop, it's all gone now.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: gently woody, fresh vegetation/hay, creamy berries, vanilla, leather, floral, a little citrus peel

Taste: generally the same, but softer - dirty sweet malt with grapefruit peel overtones throughout, overlaid with slightly tired oak, drier malt, and a little peat around the middle, more funky/grimy/tannic near the back

Finish: Campbeltown malt, a little dirty, soft oak, bitter tannins

Dilution seems to bring out the softer side of the malt, especially on the nose. Many of the dirtier elements are tamed, bringing out more gentle cask influence. The flavors get a little simple and flat, but not unengaging. While it's a wilder ride at full strength, I don't think it would have been terrible to bottle this at 46%.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Strathmill 24 Year/1992

Strathmill is another one of Diageo's many semi-anonymous Speyside distilleries that produces whisky almost exclusively for their blends. While its history goes back to the late-19th century whisky boom, there's little to mention beyond its slightly complicated ownership and management over time, which I'll leave to Malt Madness to explain.

This particular cask was distilled in 1992, filled into what I'm guessing was a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, then bottled in 2016 at 47.9% without coloring or chill filtration for the Hepburn's Choice label exclusively for K&L Wines in California.

Hepburn's Choice Strathmill 24 Year/1992

Nose: clean malt, a touch of vanilla, light oak, light molasses/graham crackers, grass, slightly metallic, fresh herbs/wildflowers. After adding a few drops of water it remains largely the same, but loses some oomph.

Taste: malt sweetness up front, fading into bittersweet oak, muddled fruit (green apples/pears/raisins?), drier malt, and some alcohol heat near the back. After dilution it remains largely the same, but the oak becomes a bit bigger and more tannic, giving it a more bittersweet profile overall.

Finish: gentle oak, raisins, malt residue, stewed fruit, dried flowers

The charms of this whisky are subtle and never reach wild heights, but it's a solid example of a refill cask that hasn't stomped on the spirit. For the price and age, this was a perfectly decent buy, but would probably be a little disappointing for someone expecting more. I think you could find very similar casks from any number of Speyside distilleries using unpeated malt, so I wouldn't worry about not getting your hands on this one if you missed it. I was mostly excited about getting my hands on this for my project to build a better version of Johnnie Walker Blue Label from 20+ year old Diageo-owned distilleries, so in all honesty I was hoping for something that wasn't too bold. Though as the addition of water showed bringing the proof down much at all tends to bring out the oak, this makes it a bit difficult to work with.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Whisky Review: The First Editions Clynelish 14 Year 1997/2012

Lately it seems like most of the independently bottled Clynelish coming to market has been from sherry rather than bourbon casks. I'm not sure why that is (and I find it somewhat frustrating), but for fans of the style this is a pretty good time. With a little bit of legwork you can pick up something dark, rich, and 18-20 years old for around $100. This, however, is both younger and lighter than what's been coming to market more recently.

This whisky was distilled in 1997, then bottled in 2012 at 52.8% without coloring or chill filtration.

The First Editions Clynelish 14 Year 1997/2012 Cask ES 009/03

Nose: very malty, hints of sherry around the edges, vanilla, very mild oak, graham crackers, beeswax, a little vegetal. After adding a few drops of water it becomes more malty and less sherried.

Taste: moderate malt and sherry sweetness throughout, honey, vanilla, and something vegetal starting around the middle, the sherry trends towards red wine with oak and black pepper spice at the back. After dilution the malt and sherry integrate and become buttery/creamy, while the spiciness at the back is toned down.

Finish: spicy oak, lingering sherry, malt, drying

My guess is that this was a second-fill sherry cask, probably made from American oak. It isn't a bad whisky, just a little disappointing. Despite the sherry cask not being too active, there isn't as much of the trademark Clynelish character I was hoping for. The nose eventually opened up into something decent, but the palate was kind of flat in comparison. A lot of this perked up right at the end, but getting through the bottle was a bit of a struggle because it almost never gripped me.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: clean malt, light sherry, a whiff of alcohol, biscuit-y, creamy vanilla, slightly tired oak, a little vegetal, a hint of baking spices

Taste: fairly sharp - dry, slightly bitter malt and thick sherry throughout, briefly sweet up front, becoming tannic around the middle, fading through more rounded sherry plus a little waxiness, pepper, and orange peel at the back

Finish: sherry residue, oak tannins, bittersweet malt, pepper

For whatever reason this dilution really doesn't work for me. It takes some of the heat out, but the smells and flavors are even more muddled and without many redeeming qualities besides a certain thickness to the sherry on the palate. Good thing this wasn't bottled in the Old Malt Cask series.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: fairly light - balanced malt and sherry, juicy berries, floral notes in the background, waxy, digestive biscuits, a little green, vanilla

Taste: creamy balanced malt and sherry sweetness throughout, gets a little sour with a decent dose of vanilla and a little wax starting in the middle, gentle green peppery oak with a little tropical fruit coming in near the back

Finish: gentle peppery oak, malty, sherry residue

Unlike some other malts, this remained rather consistent throughout the different stages of dilution. My notes from the full strength whisky read very similarly to those at 45%, though dilution did transform it into a much easier drinking malt. In a lot of ways I think it would have been better or being bottled at 46%, since this creates a much more balanced experience than I found at either full strength or at 50%.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whisky Review: Gordon & Macphail Ledaig 16 Year 1994/2011

I like Ledaig a lot. While the younger refill casks haven't always tickled my fancy, the OB 10 Year from first-fill casks and the younger sherry casks have really done it for me. So I was fairly excited when The Party Source offered an older Ledaig at what appeared to be a rather reasonable price.

This whisky was distilled in September 1994, filled into refill American oak hogsheads, then bottled at 43% probably with chill filtering in April 2011.

G&M Connoisseurs Choice Ledaig 16 Year 1994/2011

Nose: dank oak, a touch of malty chocolate, berries, gently floral, a touch of vanilla, a little bit of sulfurous Tobermory funk. After adding a few drops of water it becomes more rounded, the fruit notes are amplified, the funk retreats a bit and integrates with the oak,

Taste: bittersweet through out - balanced malt and oak with vague floral/fruitiness and vegetal funk peaking around the edges, becomes more overtly bitter at the back. After dilution the bitterness is tamed and it becomes rounder in a similar fashion to the nose, but falls a little flat after a while.

Finish: bittersweet malt and oak, cacao nibs, slightly peppery, a hint of vegetal peat and funk, orange peel, berries in the background

This was, to put it mildly, not what I thought I was buying. Despite the convention that the distillery and most independent bottlers use, I'm pretty sure this was Tobermory's unpeated spirit, rather than the heavily peated spirit that is normally designated as Ledaig. And ultimately there's just not a whole lot going on in this whisky, maybe even less than what can be found in the OB Tobermory 10 Year. It's possible that the spirit would have been more lively at higher strength, but by the same token it might have just been too hot. And while letting it stay in the casks might have created further development, the balance of spirit and oak makes me think this could have gone over the edge fairly quickly. Sadly, they can't all be winners. The best use I can see this whisky being put to is either as a gentle way to ease someone into Tobermory's spirit or, more favorably, as a base for further blending. I found that a little bit of something sherried or peated gave it more pop and created a reasonably engaging whisky. But for a $60 malt that feels like damning with faint praise.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Whisky Review: Classic of Islay Cask #530

Classic of Islay is a mystery malt. Bottled by Jack Weibers Whisky World in Germany, it has long been rumored that the source of the casks is the Lagavulin distillery. That would make them one of if not the only independently bottled Lagavulin on the market today. How this would be is a significant question as Lagavulin already sells very few casks to blenders, as the demand for the OB single malts already consumes the vast majority of their supply. Whatever the source, they have consistently delivered full strength heavily peated sherry cask whisky for prices that are a little hard to believe by the current standards of the industry. Let's see if it's too good to be true.

This whisky was bottled in 2014 at 56%, without coloring or chill filtration.

Classic of Islay Cask #530

Nose: seaweed, herbal/vegetal peat, dry smoke, moderate American oak, background sherry, cured meat/ham

Taste: a bittersweet balance of sherry and oak throughout, only slightly tannic, dry peat and more rounded emerge at the back, and the oak becomes more toasty

Finish: cold smoke, herbal peat, oak, sherry residue

While this malt has faded somewhat since I first opened the bottle, it's still a very solid experience. The flavors could do with some more complexity, but the aromas and finish elevate it above the price point. Even if this is Caol Ila rather than Lagavulin, it's still quite a deal in comparison to the sub-10 year old Caol Ila single casks that have been hitting the market at over $100 lately.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: a solid amount of American oak, dry peat smoke, ham, subtle sherry, plums, herbal, cold tea,

Taste: sherried sweetness up front and through the middle, not particularly tannic American oak takes over around the middle, very little peat until the very back, joined by a touch of herbal ham and some more rounded sherry

Finish: somewhat thin and indistinct, cold smoke, mild oak, herbal peat

This isn't precisely bad, but the flavors really seems lacking in peat. While not overly complex, the aromas have some nice touches that tend towards the dry side, which is a nice change of pace for a sherry cask malt.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: strong chlorine and vegetal peat, cold smoke, sour sherry, cheap beef jerky, green onions, soy sauce

Taste: rather thin, moderately sweet up front, then a muddle of oak and sherry around the middle, becoming more tannic with intruding peat smoke at the back

Finish: soft American oak, barrel char, cacao nibs, cold smoke, bittersweet

At this strength the nose is nearly unpleasant, with strong chemical notes and little sherry to balance the youthfulness. The flavors are thin and somewhat indistinct until the finish, but generally inoffensive. Overall it feels like there are very good reasons for this cask to have been bottled at full strength - while I can't quite say that it entirely falls apart, much of the appeal is lost by diluting it this far.

After trying a 9 year old first-fill sherry cask during the warehouse tasting at Lagavulin, I'm willing to say that this is at least in the same ballpark. There's a lot of overlap in my tasting notes, so even if that's not actually where it's from you're probably getting something that does a decent impression. With that said, it sounds like not every cask is a winner, but at least you won't be out a ton of money if you get one that isn't quite up to snuff.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Whisky Review: Glendronach Single Cask 19 Year 1995/2015 for WhiskyBase

Over the last few years Glendronach has been bottling a huge array of single casks, usually either oloroso or PX sherry. Many have helped to reinforce their status as one of the premier sherry-driven malts in Scotland. Quite a number have been private bottlings for various stores and organizations, which include this one for WhiskyBase.

This was distilled on September 20th 1995, possibly filled directly into a PX sherry puncheon, then bottled in August 2015 at 54.2% without coloring or chill filtration in an outturn of 694.

I got a couple of samples as freebies in WhiskyBase orders (this may say something about how well the bottles have been selling).

Glendronach Single Cask 19 Year 1995/2015 PX Sherry Puncheon #3804 for WhiskyBase

Nose: rich but somewhat subdued sherry, brown butter, vanilla, salted roast peanuts, fresh waffle cones, dark chocolate, fresh sawdust, herbal, rhubarb, orange, apricot, strawberry. After adding a few drops of water the cookie/waffle cone notes are amplified and integrate with the sherry, while the chocolate gets darker.

Taste: big but moderately sweet sherry throughout, hints of malt underneath, kind of hot in the middle, shifts towards savory and bittersweet oak near the back. After dilution it becomes kind of flat but the alcohol heat is almost completely banished.

Finish: savory, yeast, sherry residue/raisins, malt in the background, cacao nibs

I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with this whisky - it's a solid representation of the style - but it just doesn't excite me right now. It especially doesn't excite me to the tune of $150. The nose is easily the best part and offers some nice savory notes, but the palate is just too flat to justify the price. Reading reviews on WhiskyBase it sounds like a lot of other people agree. The fact that this is still available when all of the oloroso single casks appear to have sold out says a lot. It's possible that there are better Glendronach single casks out there, but given their exponentially rising prices I doubt I'll ever try any of them.