Monday, October 16, 2017

Whisky Review: Alchemist Springbank 10 Year Port Cask 1995/2006

IB Springbanks, while once a fairly common sight, are becoming thin on the ground as stocks from the 1990s dwindle and many hold back casks for further aging to sell at ever increasing prices. So here is one from yesteryear, a younger port cask from the bottler Alchemist.

The whisky was distilled in December 1995, filled into a mix of first-fill ex-bourbon and first-fill ex-port casks, then vatted and bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration in April 2006.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for splitting this bottle.

Alchemist Springbank 10 Year 1995/2006 Port Cask

Nose: rich but not overwhelming port cask berry/grape, dry malt, savory, sawdust, oak in the background, wood smoke. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer and the port influence recedes, while the oak and peat smoke gaining ground.

Taste: bittersweet port throughout, oak tannins and dirty peat come in around the middle, becoming more bitter towards the back, clean malt underneath everything. After dilution the structure remains largely unchanged while it becomes softer, except for amplified oak tannins and a sour note near the back.

Finish: berries, savory oak, mild peat

Port cask whiskies have been extremely hit or miss for me. I've enjoyed a few of them, but most end up being too sweet. While this one didn't excite me too much, it also wasn't bad. The cask influence was present but didn't completely stomp on the spirit, though I could have done with a bit more peat as counterpoint. Where this succeeds I think it does so because it fits one of my preferred methods for adding fortified wine casks to whiskies - the ex-bourbon casks help to restrain its overall influence and give it a more rounded profile.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Whisky Review: Cutty Sark Prohibition

This whisky was created largely to capitalize on the popularity of the Prohibition era in the current cocktail world. It has all the hallmarks of the current moment: a round and bartender-friendly 50% ABV, a respectable price point, and a grossly exaggerated story.

So what's actually in here? While no specs have been released, as a blended whisky it's a mix of malt (with what seems like a higher proportion than many) and grain whisky that were in all likelihood mostly ex-bourbon, with possible a few sherry casks in the mix. Given that this is produced by Edrington, the most probable malts come from Glenrothes, Glenturret, Macallan, and Highland Park (probably the source of the peat in the mix). There are good odds that it has been colored with caramel and it may still be chill filtered despite the higher strength.

Cutty Sark Prohibition

Nose: balanced malt and grain, toffee, mild dry peat, floral vanilla, jammy berries, a little chocolate. After adding a few drops of water more peat comes out but it's also softer and ashier,

Taste: slightly bitter oak tannins throughout, citrus peel and citric sourness with dirty/earthy peat beginning around the middle, bitter grain with mild oak near the back. After dilution it becomes much sweeter and the oak tannins are subdued up front, the peat largely disappears into the oak near the back, and the citrus notes are mostly lost.

Finish: slightly sweet grain, vanilla, bitter oak, berry and peat residue

While this is far from being the best whisky I've ever tasted, it is undeniably a good value. There are not a lot of blended whiskies under $30 in the States right now that I would consider to really be drinkable, but this one is really quite good. The malt content makes itself known and the grain is not overly obtrusive. It has more peat than, say, Chivas Regal, so I think it would hold its own for a Johnnie Walker Black fan. Isle of Skye 8 Year remains my standard in that category, but this is a solid pick if you can't find that in your area. All in all a good effort by Edrington that I'm glad to see on the shelves. Hopefully more companies follow suit in releasing blends at reasonable price points that have more heft than the standard 40% ABV releases.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Whisky Review: G&M Mortlach 15 Year

Mortlach is one of Diageo's workhorse distilleries that produces primarily for blends. However, unlike many of their Speyside distilleries, its output has far more character and tends to be used in small amounts to provide richness to thinner malts and grain whisky. This is due both to its exceptionally complex distillation process and the fact that it is one of the few remaining distilleries to use worm tub rather than shell in tube condensers, which reduces the amount of contact the spirit has with copper. These help to give Mortlach its distinctive 'meaty' character that is likely to do an increased concentration of sulphur compounds in the spirit.

While I was in Lyon I stopped by The Whisky Lodge, which is an absolute delight of a shop (I had a great conversation about the oddities of American liquor sales with one of the employees). I was looking for a smaller bottle to drink while I was in France and one of the few they had in stock was a half bottle of G&M Mortlach 15 Year. Since I had been looking to try it for some time, this seemed like a perfect opportunity. While most of the bottle was drunk in about a week, I did manage to sneak a 2 oz sample home with me for further review.

As with the licensed Linkwood 15 Year, this whisky was aged exclusively in refill sherry casks, then bottled at 43%, probably with chill filtration and possibly with coloring.

G&M Mortlach 15 Year

Nose: a pleasant but not overwhelming sherry influence, berries, fresh grapes, melon, savory/meaty, dry and a little sharp sulphur, light oak, malt, fresh hay, blond tobacco, and mint in the background. After adding a few drops of water the notes become more integrated and some extra complexity comes out in the form of vanilla, more tropical and green (apple/pear) fruits, plus a hint of smoke and allspice.

Taste: bittersweet throughout, sherry and malt richness beginning at the front, some minty/floral top notes and tobacco in the middle, which is made less sweet by rising oak tannins, black pepper, and sulphur near the back. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter, the sulphur integrates into the sherry, some vanilla joins the oak, and the oak tannins only come out right at the back.

Finish: sulphur, sherry residue, malt, light oak tannins, grassy, yeast-y savory notes

While this is not the first Mortlach I've ever tried (I got to sample the G&M 21 Year several years ago), this is the first 'classic' Mortlach I've tried. It hits all of the notes I expected, from the savory character of the sherry to the rather present sulfurous notes. So my willingness to recommend this whisky rests almost entirely on your tolerance for sulphur - if it's something you are OK with or enjoy, this will probably tickle your fancy. If you can't stand even a little bit of struck match, then I would give this a wide berth.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Whisky Review: G&M Linkwood 15 Year

Out of the blend-oriented Speyside distilleries, Linkwood has to be one of my favorites, though I will admit that it doesn't have a firm empirical basis as it comes to me partially by extrapolation. Whisky drinkers are most likely to encounter it as a component of the nerd favorite Johnnie Walker Green Label blended malt, a comparatively bright star among the dullness of the rest of the JW lineup. I've also quite enjoyed the single cask from Signatory that I tried, which had a lot of the character I enjoyed from JW Green without the associated Diageo muddiness. So I was interested to see how the spirit would fare when subjected to more active sherry casks rather than more neutral refill bourbon casks.

This whisky is aged for a minimum of fifteen years in refill sherry casks then bottled at 43% with chill filtration and possibly with added color.

This was sampled at the Wallace Bar in Lyon.

G&M Linkwood 15 Year

Nose: richly sherried, more sweet than savory, raisins, a slightly burnt edge, creamy, lightly perfumed/floral. After adding a few drops of water it is largely unchanged except for a bit of funk that comes out.

Taste: sherry-driven and moderately sweet with a floral background throughout, fades into creamy malt near the back. After dilution the sherry becomes brighter up front, but the fade into the finish is more bittersweet.

Finish: bittersweet, sherried, lightly tannic, creamy malt

First, some caveats. I tried this whisky at a fairly noisy, crowded bar and the pour was from the bottom of the bottle, so I'm not particularly confident that it was showing its best side. With that said, I found it fairly boring. Its extremely generic with little to make any Linkwood character clear. The sherry casks are the star of the show and while they are technically flawless, there are no flourishes either. So while it's a perfectly competent sherried malt that would make for an easy-drinking whisky when you don't want anything challenging, it's also not something that I will go out of my way to buy.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Whisky Review: Amrut Kadhambam Batch 3

Amrut was the first distillery in India to produce single malt whisky. When distillery began making malt whisky in the 1980s it was used exclusively for producing blended whiskies. It was not until 2004 that they launched a single malt whisky, targeting a profile similar to that of Scottish malt whisky. Since then they have released a panoply of different whiskies using both local unpeated malt and imported peated malt as well as an extraordinary variety of cask types.

Much like Bruichladdich in the early to mid-2000s or, more recently, Kavalan, it's somewhat unclear whether the popularity of Amrut is primarily driven by quality or novelty, both from the rarity of Indian single malt and the creativity of their production methods.

This whisky was distilled from 90% local unpeated malt and 10% imported peated malt, then aged in ex-sherry butts, followed by ex-brandy casks, then finally ex-rum casks and bottled at 50% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to MAO for the sample.

Amrut Kadhambam Batch 3

Nose: maple syrup/molasses/rum, oatmeal, malt, grape brandy, baked apples, orange peel, sherry, spicy oak in the background, a thread of wood smoke, a little herbal. After adding a few drops of water the rum and brandy come to the fore, some berry notes come out.

Taste: sweet oak up front, becoming more tannic towards the back, picking up some of the various cask notes on top from the middle - but everything is kind of indistinct/muddled - and herbal notes peek out at the back. After dilution the elements integrate and flatten - the oak is less sharp and bitter, letting the cask influences shine a bit more, and a touch of peat comes out at the end.

Finish: maple syrup, moderately tannic oak, oatmeal, a touch of brandy and sherry, a little sour

I feel like Amrut's most significant accomplishment is to have produced a relatively young malt without any of the green notes that I expect from younger whiskies. At the same time, there's a lack of integration that seems spot-on for younger malts - the casks have each left their mark, but haven't had enough time to develop into something more. All of that comes with the caveat that I'm tasting from a sample that may have degraded, but given the price these releases command, I don't think they're something I would spend my own money on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Cocktails: La Voiture

Sometimes classic drinks almost hit the mark, but miss by an inch. That's how the Automobile Cocktail was for me. The combination of scotch, gin, vermouth, and bitters looked like an unlikely combo on paper, but I was willing to give it a go. While it almost worked, the various elements never quite seemed to come together. But thinking about what worked and what didn't made me wonder if I could tweak it into something more agreeable. Giving it a little French twist did the trick.

La Voiture

1 oz cognac
1 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Bigallet China-China Amer

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is fairly subdued, but some grape from the cognac and brighter orange notes from the Bigallet peek out, with hints of bitterness from the gin and amer. The sip opens with moderate grape sweetness, sliding through bittersweet in the middle and bitter at the back as the gin and amer team up. The finish is long and lingering with juniper and spices.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Whisky Review: Bruichladdich Laddie Ten Second Edition

The first edition of Laddie Ten was met with a significant amount of fanfare, representing the distillery coming into its own. Its loss was equally significant, demonstrating that not all was right in their warehouses.

When Bruichladdich announced a second edition of Laddie Ten, it was met with significant excitement, albeit tempered by the knowledge that it was explicitly labeled as a limited edition, as opposed to an ongoing release.

This whisky was constructed from ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-red wine casks, then bottled at 50% without coloring or chill filtration.

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten Second Edition

Nose: fairly lean overall, a healthy dose of European oak, caramel, dusty red wine and sherry, plum, malt, herbal, baking spices. After adding a few drops of water the wine and fruit notes become jammier and more sherried, the malt and oak are more balanced, and the herbal notes become more peaty/new make-y.

Taste: red wine and berries with a malty, caramel thickness throughout, increasingly tannic at the back with underlying notes of peat and chocolate. After dilution it becomes more balanced, with the wine and malt notes complementing each other and the oak integrating into both.

Finish: red wine residue, chocolate, European oak tannins, dry malt

The red wine component of this vatting really shows through. While less disjointed than some other Laddies with a similar treatment, it does seem a shame to cover up the spirit with a coating of wine. With that said, Bruichladdich seems to have ironed out whatever problems it had with its spirit back when the first Laddie Ten was released. On the other hand, this one seems to benefit from water in the same way as the Laddie Eight, so it's unclear to me why these were bottled at 50% instead of 46%. Hopefully we'll see less tinkered with Laddies in the future, because this has promise even if it's not my jam in its current form.