Friday, August 15, 2014

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie Sonalta PX

Sonalta PX was the first release in the 'Private Editions' line of whiskies from Glenmorangie. As the name suggests, it was made from 10 year old ex-bourbon cask whisky finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for two years, as with the rest of their standard cask finishes. As with most of the whiskies in this line, it was bottled at 46% without chill filtration or coloring.

This is another one that I got to try at the Highland Stillhouse.

Glenmorangie Sonalta PX

Nose: mushrooms, PX sherry undertones (brighter with time), dank, savory. After adding a few drops of water, there is more sherry presence and some cooked raisins.

Taste: mixed malt and subtle sherry sweetness, fades into very mild oak and some dankness. After dilution, the sherry/malt combo is more vibrant and shifts towards bittersweet, there is more oak at the back, the fruit notes are brighter, some grain whisky, raisin, and cocoa powder notes emerge.

Finish: mild sherry and malt

While my notes sound kind of simple, I enjoyed this more than any of the others I reviewed this week. Despite PX sherry generally being one of the more robustly flavored varieties, it's surprisingly subtle in this context. The fact that I mostly get dank savory character rather than overwhelming sweetness is really fun.

I really wish I could spend more time with this one, as I feel like there's a lot of character that I wasn't able to get at from one short drink, but unfortunately this one was snapped up long ago. It's a shame that most of Glenmorangie's subsequent cask finishes have dominated the spirit rather than working with it - this more delicate approach is a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie Artein

Artein was the third limited release in Glenmorangie's 'Private Edition' line, announced at the beginning of 2012.

The whisky is composed of two thirds 15 year old and one third 21 year old ex-bourbon casks that were then finished in Sassicaia "Super Tuscan" Bordeaux-style red wine casks. After marrying it together, the whisky was proofed down to 46% and bottled without chill filtration or coloring.

I had a pour of this whisky at the Highland Stillhouse.

Glenmorangie Artein

Nose: lots of wine/berry esters, underlying malt, a pleasant whiff of sulphur, raspberry jam, oak is buried in the other notes, creamy vanilla, milk chocolate undertones - but elements are not well integrated overall. After adding a few drops of water, the malt and wine integrate more - but the result is kind of thin, creamier, more milk chocolate, more sherry-like wine, more toasted oak.

Taste: rather malty throughout, sour wine note ride on top, mixed with sharp but not particularly intense oak (tastes like the ex-bourbon casks were kind of tired), vanilla extract. After dilution, it becomes more integrated but still lacks a well-defined structure.

Finish: wine, malt, oak, a little heat, lemon pith

This is a really interesting contrast with Glenmorangie Companta - Artein feels like the first unsuccessful try. The red wine is present, but hasn't properly integrated with the malt whisky. Additionally, while the whisky here is older, it tastes like it came from more tired casks - there aren't enough oak tannins to give it structure. Overall I'd give this one a miss - if you like red wine finishes, Companta is the superior product.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie Companta

This whisky is the latest (2014) release in Glenmorangie's series of limited edition whiskies that has included Astar, Finealta, Sonalta PX, Artein, and Ealanta. I'll be covering three of them this week in reverse chronological order of release date.

Companta is composed of two different sets of whisky finished in two different types of Côtes du Rhône Burgundy wine casks. See Josh's review at The Coopered Tot for all the details. The whisky is finally married together, proofed down to 46%, and bottled without chill filtration or coloring.

Thanks to MAO for this sample.

Glenmorangie Companta

Nose: red wine and toasted oak dominate, vanilla, raisin fudge, dried cherries, warm malt buried underneath, sandalwood incense, bubblegum/nougat, barrel char/wood smoke. After adding a few drops of water, the red wine and oak integrate and dominate to an even greater extent, the raisin notes become stronger and more dank, and some tropical fruit pops out.

Taste: sweet malt and wood sugars up front, sweeter wine, rose, and whipped cream/nougat notes in the middle, transitioning into thick oak tannins, tart raspberries, and red wine. After dilution, the flavors are flatter and less bright, while the malt, red wine, and oak fully integrate and provide a consistent set of flavors across the palate, but with more malt creaminess.

Finish: malt reasserts itself, overlaid with red wine and less aggressive oak, plus some sea salt

I can see where Bill Lumsden was trying to go with this and it is a well-constructed whisky. I found that the nose was significantly better than the palate, which felt simple by comparison. It also could have been tipped a little bit more towards letting the malt shine, but clearly that's not how he likes to put these things together. Ultimately, if you've enjoyed other Glenmorangie wine finishes, odds are that you'll enjoy this one. It's well-matured and the flavors are pleasant - they're just not my cup of tea. Either way, I'd say this is at least worth trying a pour if you can find it at a local bar, as an exercise in understanding red wine cask-finished whiskies.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Cocktails: the Devereaux

After seeing this recipe, I knew I had to make it (albeit with a couple of tweaks).

The Devereaux
1 oz bourbon
0.5 oz St. Germain
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup

Build over ice, then top with ~3 oz of sparkling wine. Garnish with a mint leaf.

The nose is dominated by the bourbon's oak, with some St. Germain peeking around it. The sip begins with lemony sweetness, which fades through waves of sparkling wine, woody bourbon, and elderflower/lychee. The finish is bittersweet, with the tang of dry wine and lemon. As the ice melts, the bourbon becomes more prominent.

This is an interesting drink, because the flavors layer instead of integrating with each other. Everything remains distinct, while still meshing well.

While the original recipe called for Bulleit bourbon, I felt like this needed some more punch and used Old Grand Dad 114 instead. I also wanted to make sure that the base flavors of the drink didn't get too watered down and skipped shaking with ice before adding the sparkling wine. On a warm day, the ice in the glass will chill and dilute the drink pretty quickly, so it doesn't need more.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Whisky Review: Signatory Glenlivet 1995/15 Year

This one comes from Signatory's Un-Chill Filtered collection, which, as the name suggests, isn't chill filtered and is thus bottled at a respectable 46%. It comes from a single sherry butt, which I'm guessing was a refill rather than a first-fill cask.

Thanks to MAO for the sample.

Signatory Glenlivet 1995/15 Year Cask #144357

Nose: mild sherry (grows with time) layered over a solid malt core, raisins, 'Livet apple notes, floral/vegetal edge, bubblegum, caramel, cinnamon brown sugar, sweet chocolate, mild oak. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry takes over and becomes more dank, some honey rides on top of the oak, and oily notes emerge,

Taste: overlay of sherry on top of sweet malt that fades into bittersweet oak with a vegetal edge, apple skins, hints of lemon/lime, some vanilla and baking chocolate from the middle to back. After dilution, the palate becomes sweeter and more integrated, with the oak bolstering the other flavors, which actually makes it more pleasant as the flavors clash less,

Finish: creamy malt, then deeper and darker oak tannins with sherry/raisin residue

The best I can say for this one is that it's not bad. There are no obvious flaws, but it's not particularly exciting either. There is improvement after adding some water, but it's not quite enough to rescue it from the doldrums. With that said, it's definitely better than the other OB Glenlivets I've had, so there's that. So it's pleasant, but not something I would go out of my way to find. If you see a bottle for under, say, $60, it's worth grabbing as an easy-drinking malt.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Exclusive Malts Ardmore 2000/14 Year Cask #233

Next up in the series of single cask releases from the Exclusive Malts batch #5, an Ardmore that's almost as pale as the Ledaig, despite having spent nearly twice as long in oak.

Ardmore is a Speyside distillery known for primarily making peated whisky. They use moderately peated malt at ~12 PPM, which is similar to Springbank. Until 2001/2002 they were also the last distillery in Scotland to heat their stills with coal. So this whisky was some of the last distilled before they switched to steam coils.

The spirit was aged in what I'm assuming is a 2nd or 3rd-fill ex-bourbon cask for 14 years before being bottled at 54.3% without coloring (no surprise there) or chill filtration.

The Exclusive Malts Ardmore 2000/14 Year Cask #233

Nose: classic Speyside notes - honey, malt, fresh apples, rich but not overwhelming oak, undercurrent of faded peat, slightly coastal, meaty/fresh leather. After adding a few drops of water, the nose becomes much more youthful, with fresh grain, floral, and coastal/peat notes dominating, the apple notes become more like apple skins, and the oak mostly disappearing to become more cardboard-y.

Taste: rich malt sweetness that carried all the way through, augmented by fresh/baked apple notes, earthy peat, and mild oak tannins in the middle, fading out with floral/herbal notes at the back. After dilution, the flavors become more youthful - with sweet young grain dominating at the beginning, with a fade out of muddled peat, dark chocolate, new make, and floral notes.

Finish: alcohol heat, mild oak and malt, peat residue, floral

This is a very pleasant single malt and, while almost as pale as the 2005 Ledaig I tried, much more mature. If I was making an analogy, this seems like a mashup of younger bourbon cask Balblair with Springbank, though this doesn't have as much of the oiliness that characterizes Campbeltown malts.

While quite pleasant at full strength, even a little bit of water made it seem much younger and less mature. It might help if I had enough time to really let the water integrate, but if, like me, you only have a pour, I would leave it undiluted in the glass.

The only major flaw here is the price. With every retailer I can find online stocking it at well over $100, the quality to price ratio just isn't there for me. Under $70 and I could feel like it would be worth grabbing a bottle, but as is I would leave it alone. There are some Ardmores available from Signatory's Non-Chill Filtered line which, while not at cask strength, stand a better chance of being a good value.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Whisky Review: Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005/8 Year Cask #9

The Exclusive Malts are a line of single cask bottlings from The Creative Whisky Company. They have been starting to release some of their single malts on the American market over the last couple of years and this is part of their fifth batch.

This Ledaig was bottled at cask strength of 56.7% without coloring (quelle surprise!) or chill filtration.

Thanks to Helen at ImpEx Beverages for this sample.

Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005/8 Year Cask #9

Nose: green malt/new make/pine/juniper, fudge-y vegetal peat, a touch of wood smoke, used coffee grounds, a slug of oak tannins, salty Playdough, seashells, more rounded grain notes with time. After adding a few drops of water, the grain becomes more prominent, the new make notes settle down a bit, but the peat fades significantly, some berry notes pop out,

Taste: sweet barley up front, quickly segueing into fresh peat, vegetation, solvent/new make, and fresh oak, nearly obscuring some fruity/floral esters near the back. After dilution, the sweetness expands and integrates with the new make notes - forming a more tolerable whole, the peat is more clearly defined and funky/vegetal, and the small amount of oak hides under everything else.

Finish: new make grain, funky vegetal peat, a hint of oak, residual alcohol

For having spent eight years in oak casks, this is pretty much as close to Ledaig's new make spirit as you're likely to be able to buy. While the oak makes itself fairly well known on the nose, it has done absolutely nothing to diminish the barley spirit character. The solvent flavors on the palate haven't even off-gassed, which makes it rough going. I cringed almost every time I took a sip. Other than as an academic exercise, I don't understand why Exclusive Malts decided to bottle this, rather than transferring it to a more active cask. It's not just the age, because the 6 YO Blackadder Ledaig I tried had none of the roughness I found in this. I just can't recommend it as something most people are going to want to drink on a regular basis. It would be interesting as part of a broader Ledaig tasting - comparing this to the barely older OB 10 Year is instructive in how first-fill ex-bourbon casks can shape the spirit. The Nth fill cask this came from just wasn't active enough to turn it into something drinkable.

A number of these 'barely aged' peated single malts have been hitting the market over the last couple of years, including K&L's Talisker Speakeasy 5 Year and Island Distillery 7 Year (also an Exclusive Malts Ledaig). Much like the trend of craft distilleries releasing 'white whiskeys', I wonder how much traction these can gain. As I suggested, they can be interesting as academic exercises, but the appeal as whiskies to drink for pleasure seems limited.