Apr 142014
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 41)017

59% abv

Score:  86/100

 

Let’s check out another batch of Aberlour a’bunadh. 

This whisky is always a pleasure  to revisit.  That’s sorta why we come back to it every few months or so.  Well…that and because many folks out there tend to petition the blogs and such for updates on current batches in order to determine whether they’re up to snuff against previous releases, or if they should wait a few months for the next batch.  On that front, we may as well all share the good word, right?

While I don’t pick up every every release of this cask strength behemoth, I do nab one out of every three or four perhaps.  Let’s face it…these are very much just variations on a narrow theme.  Some a tick or two better…some a tick or two worse.  I’ve yet to run across one that I outright didn’t like, but I will concede that there has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride between shimmeringly beautiful and merely mediocre. 

You’d think that would be a complaint, right?  Batch variation is a source of considerable frustration for some.  The thing is…that sort of batch variation is part of what makes a’bunadh so much fun for me.  It kinda reminds me of being a young’un and buying trading cards.  I was always happy with whatever I got when I tore into the foil (or waxed wrapper), but if there happened to be a superstar card or a ‘last piece of the puzzle’ number in there I’d be tickled pink.  A’bunadh can have that same thrill when the cork is popped.  It’s always a bit of a crapshoot.

Once more – though we’ve done this several times by now – a’bunadh is Gaelic for ‘origin’.  As in, this whisky is taken back to it’s old school purest form of origination.  Barrel strength, non-chill filtered, non-colored.   It’s bold.  It’s big.  And it is an instant love for many.  It’s not hard to see why as soon as you nose your first dram.

A final note:  Unlike some out there reviewing spirits for masses, I utterly refuse to believe that packaging or appearance has any place in scoring.  To keep it as honest as possible, all that should ever really count are the flavours and aromas in the glass vessel.  Even so, I have to concede an appreciation for good presentation, and this malt has to be the most aesthetically appealing malt on the market in my humble opinion.  I adore the squat bottle with the red wax seal. 

Let’s check out Batch 41…

Nose:  A big fruity, sherry monster, of course.  Cinnamon.  Mincemeat and maraschino.  A touch of mint.  Figgy.  Tobacco in a leather pouch.  Pepper.  Kinda meaty and nutty.  Dry bitter cacao.  Deep dark cherry and jammy fruit notes.  Kinda wine-ier than expected.  Just the faintest afterthought of sulphur (took me a while to be certain that’s what the more astringent characteristic was).  Decent.  Not great.

Palate:  Melted chocolate immediately coats the palate.  Damp woody notes.  Purple fruits, fruit skins and grape jammy flavours.  More chocolate (as if poured over fruits).  Raisin and some figgy dryness.  Finding this one more on the savoury side than the sweet side.  Palate is not up to the challenge of the nose.

Thoughts:  I hate to say it, but…a rather middling batch of one of my favorite young malts.  It doesn’t carry the depths of sweet fruits that have characterized the best of the a’bunadh batches.  In all fairness, though…even average a’bunadh is still a treat.  I’m not sure there is a more ‘go-to’ affordable malt in my house at any given time.  Any night I’m not particularly leaning to one malt or another, I always seem to reach for this one.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:14 am
Apr 112014
 

Talisker 30 y.o. (2010)041

57.3% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Let’s look at another sexy old Talisker.  Right up front, this is a beautiful, beefy 30 year old dram from a great distillery, and is one of the best Talisker I’ve ever met.  If you’d prefer not to read a paragraph or two of my felating this whisky, move along and wait for me to eviscerate a cheap blend in the near future.  Otherwise…let’s talk Talisker.

All malts, as they mature, will carry on a bit of a dialogue with the cask in which they sleep.  They’ll interact with the oak, mellowing and shedding their feistier notes, while inheriting a depth of complexity and definition.  I’d argue it’s not so much what they lose, though, as what they gain from the process that is at the forefront.  Let’s face it…much of the volatility of the spirit has already been stripped away by the interaction with the copper in the stills and the careful cut of the spirit run.  After this, it should just be a mellowing process over the years.

But the maturation of peated spirits is a bit of a different story.  It’s not just simply what is gained from the time in oak, but also what is lost.  The distillate that hits the barrel, generally at about 63.5%, is already inbued with that smoky, earthy and sometimes medicinal (depending on locale) flavour we know and love.  As you likely know, in order to be legally labelled as a Scotch whisky, the spirit must mature for a minimum of three years.  With a peated whisky, that three year old would be fiery and smoky as hell.  But leave that juice to percolate for a couple decades and that big smokiness begins to fade off, take a backseat, and let the estery side of the whisky come forward again.  This loss of character, in a way, is paramount to the subtle beauty of mature peated whisky.

Think of it like a set of scales or a see-saw, where in the early days the peat far outweighs the sweet.  Over time the peat loses some weight and the sweet gains a bit, resulting in a bit of a balancing act.  Neat stuff.

All of this is simply a lead-in to what makes this 30 year old Talisker so special.  Not only are we seeing a balancing off of peat against fruits, but also of peppery notes against fruits.  Talisker is reknowned for both its peat and pepper.  Both are bold influences that lose their pomp over time.  And this, my friends…is a great thing.  We love ‘em young and full of attitude, but we love ‘em even MORE as they gain some maturity.

This Talisker is an incredible old whisky.  One at arguably the apex of its charm.  Simply wonderful. 

Nose:  Soft white fruits.  A heaping helping of peaches.  Fruit cocktail.  Just a hint of strawberry.  Beyond the fruits there are notes of smoke, peat and pepper, of course.  Latex and wax and old book aromas show the age of this one.  More soft fruits.  Clean white fluor-y notes.  Beautiful light spices.  Rather soft and friendly.  Love it.

Palate:  Wow…what a delivery.  All the promises made by the nose are kept by the palate.  Dark cacao and white chocolate bring an initial softness.  Then we move into pepper, ginger and chili.  Citrus and mild licorice notes.  Salty toffee.  Oak and fresh hay.

Thoughts:  Incredible harmony.  One of the top three Talisker I’ve ever met.  It’s amazing that it maintained such a respectable abv after 30 long years. 

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Apr 112014
 

Springbank 25 y.o.barry's place pics 025

46% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Any chance to try a rare old Springbank is cause for great excitement in these camps.  Unfortunately, these opportunities don’t come along often, and are getting more and more scarce by the day.  All related to the laws of supply and demand, my friends.  Short supply…high demand…emerging markets…soaring costs.  Sigh.  Such is, unfortunately.  A few years back, finding those extra special whiskies was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Now it’s more akin to hunting the white whale.  You can still find ‘em, but it’s much less of a sure bet now. 

Here we have a lovely old Springbank 25 from several years back.  Not one you’re likely to come across often (if at all), but let’s have some fun parsing it to pieces anyway.  What say? 

I recall this one initially underwhelmed me when I first tasted it a couple years back, but on subsequent revisits I can’t imagine what the hell I might have been thinking.  There is one particularly unique note in here that lights me up like a kid at Christmas.  But we’ll come to that shortly. 

Springbank is beloved by the whisky world for a multitude of reasons, but to break it down to what I think are the brass tacks…this is a whisky of great character, singular profile, traditional values and old school charm.  In short…everything Scotch whisky should be is exemplified by this distillery.  It’s no wonder the malt is so highly prized, especially in its more mature offerings.  While you may have to dig deep into the coffers to afford some of these old gems, trust me…they ARE worth it.  This 25 is no exception.   

So…while this may not be my favorite Springbank (I think we’ll save that honour for either the beautiful older 21 or an amazing Signatory 1969), it is still a special dram, and certainly notches above most of the single malts that are hitting the shelves nowadays. 

Here’s hoping there is plenty of stock gaining years in the warehouses in Campbeltown, because Springbank with a few years behind it is a truly an experience. 

Nose:  Smoky.  Kerosene lamp or creosote or something.  I’ve only ever found this note in a couple whiskies, and it is one of those absolute game-changer smells for me.  Love it.  Fresh paint on high quality wood.  Deep oak notes.  Beautiful.  Caramel-drizzled fruits begin to emerge now.  Sprinkling of spices.  Wax.  Bird’s Custard.  Pears, orange and a bit more.  Man, what a unique nose.

Palate:  That same familiar smoky, oaky kerosene note comes through here as well.  (Only ever found this in very old whisky.  Is there something ancient buried in here somewhere?)  Dry old spices.  Something kinda weedy.  Not nearly as pleasant as the nose hints at.  Tart orange pith and rind.  Dries into autumn grasses and green tea.  Slightly tannic.

Thoughts:  Great dram of unlimited personality.  These glorious one-offs are what makes the quest we’re all on for that elusive ‘grail-malt’ worthwhile.  Extra point for the nose.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Apr 102014
 

The Dram Initiative #009 – Glenmorangie With Jordan Cameron

Event Date:  February 26th, 2014

 

Sometimes it’s best when things don’t turn out quite the way you’d initially hoped for.  The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.  Our February event was initially sscheduled to be an Ardbeg tasting, wherein our Ileach mate, Ruaraidh MacIntyre, was to have come out and shared some laughs, drams and down-home island insight with the collective.  Due to a bit a scheduling conflict, however, we had to defer Ruaraidh’s visit a bit.  Ok…so…what now?  We have a club to run and a tasting to do after all, right? 

Enter Glenmorangie.

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Fortunately for all of us keeners in the Dram Initiative, Charton Hobbs – the company ultimately responsible for Ardbeg in our neck of the woods - is much more than a one trick pony.  There are several other whiskies in their portfolio and other great personalities more than capable of standing up in front of a roomful of whisky folk and helping to spread the gospel.  Several months back now, a lovely lady by the name of Jordan Cameron stepped in to the role of Regional Marketing Manager for Charton Hobbs (on behalf of the Moët Hennessy Portfolio).  Jordan and I shared a few emails and it was she who was instrumental in arranging to have Ruaraidh join us for Ardbeg.

When Ruaraidh’s schedule collided with reality, however, Jordan offered to come out in support of Glenmorangie instead.  We immediately switched gears and began the mad scramble to secure as many expressions of Glenmorangie as we could track down.   

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Fortunately, Glenmorangie maintains a rather extensive core range, well supplemented with special edition limited runs.  Pulling together a fun and informative flight was dead easy, and made for an incredibly encompassing tasting.  It’s arguable that only Bruichladdich (and maybe Arran) maintains a broader and more amorphous range of malt whiskies than Glenmorangie. 

The line-up for this evening, as we rolled it out:

Glenmorangie 10 y.o. Original
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
Glenmorangie Lasanta
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
Glenmorangie 18 y.o. Extremely Rare
Glenmorangie Ealanta
Glenmorangie Finealta
Glenmorangie 25 y.o. Quarter Century
Glenmorangie Signet

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Signet and Quarter Century were the clear-cut winners for the night, but there were some who took a shine to the peated finesse of the Finealta and the smooth sweetness of the Nectar D’Or as well.  The biggest surprise I found, personally, was how well the 10 y.o. Original held up in such a varied line-up.  It’s not oftent the case that an entry level malt still seems somewhat elegant after you work your way up the range into the higher end stuff.  Says a lot for the Glenmorangie house style, I’d say.  A couple other divisions were drawn as we debated the merits of Jim Murray’s 2013 whisky of the year ‘Ealanta’, and whether or not this particular batch of Lasanta was a sulphur-laden mistake. 

Neat drinks either way, and it certainly allowed the members an opportunity to see a very clean and malleable spirit presented in many different lights. 

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Jordan did a great job pacing the evening’s consumption, sort of breaking it up to allow a few minutes of dialogue here and there, which may have been the greatest take-away from this whole event.  It’s coolt o see members interacting and starting to form little bonds.  That’s sort of the overall goal of a whisky club, isn’t it?  I think we’ll use a similar format going forward.  We’ll have Jordan to thank for helping shape the Dram Initiative when all is said and done.  ;)

As at each of our previous events, we saw an influx of new members.  The club continues to grow, and we’re reaching critical mass, where we’ll have to hit a ‘wait-list’ scenario for any prospective new members, I think.  I suppose there are worse problems to have.  And on that note…I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and interest so far.  Glad you’re having fun, ’cause we are too.  In the words of some of our punk rawk heroes: ‘without you…we’d just be us.’

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Many thanks to Charton Hobbs and Moët Hennessy for their generous support in terms of time, effort and resources.  More importantly still…sincere thanks to Jordan for stepping in and spending a great evening with us over some great whisky.  Appreciate it, Jordan.

Looking forward to doing it again soon.

Slainte!

 

- Words:  Curt

- Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:58 am
Apr 092014
 

Talisker 20 y.o. (2002)049

62% abv

Score:  94/100

 

I’m hard pressed to say whether this or 2012′s spectacular 35 year old is the absolute ‘best of the best’ Talisker I’ve tasted so far.  Either way, this big and bold 20 year old is simply incredible. 

Talisker, as you are likely well aware, is a Diageo distillery of much fame, and deservedly so.  It’s one of a handful of distilleries that boasts an almost immediately recognizable profile.  Its peaty salt and peppery edge allows it to stand out from the crowds, and to serve almost as a gateway malt to the big peated whiskies from fellow Hebridean island Islay. 

This rare and special 20 year old from the Isle of Skye’s one and only distillery is also a stand-out amongst its own Talisker brethren, due to having been matured in sherry casks.  The Talisker you’d expect is definitely captured here as well, but it’s been tweaked a bit to frightening success.  There is such a deep complexity of fruit notes knotted up with the smoke and pepper you’d expect in Talisker that the integrated whole is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.  For some reason I hearken back to the Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only bottling as the closest approximation of juicy sweetness and deep, dark smokiness.  Different malts, to be sure, but similar in their incredibly succesful marriage of disparate flavours. 

Saying this whisky is unique and compex is not enough, however.  This one is almost ethereally beautiful. 

Before anyone out there gets too excited and starts scouring the local shops, I should note that this is a long-gone dram.  Born in 1981.  Tragically left us in 2002.  Now…much mourned.  This is the kind of dram that comes along only a couple of times in a lifetime (if you’re lucky and have the resources).   

As I said in the first lines above, I can’t decide whether this or the 35 year old is better, so let’s not split hair on scores either.  Call it a draw. 

Nose:  Crème caramel.  Pepper and mocha.  Smoke.  Sweet and syrupy.  Salted caramel.  A neat barbecue note, from the sweetness of the sherry mingling with the peppery peat.  Touch of rubber.  Dark rich fruits (cherry, blackberry, etc) in dark chocolate.  Peaty and smoky.  Some lemon and salt too.

Palate:  Oily and viscous.  Barbecue notes again.  Red ju-jubes.  Charred honey ham skin.  Peat, pepper, smoke and salt.  A lot of vibrant red fruits.  The delivery is like velvet.  There is no way I’d ever peg this as boasting an abv of 62%.  Gorgeous drink with a looooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Amazing.  Stunning really.  Right in my wheelhouse.  If only this were still readily available.  I’d be doing my utmost to stock up (likely at the expense of my kids’ future university tuitions).  This is a ‘wow’ whisky.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:41 pm
Apr 082014
 

Jameson Irish Whiskey010

40% abv

Score:  76/100

 

Jameson.  The world’s bestselling Irish whiskey.  By far.  But much as I suspect that many of the folks pushing Glenfiddich to the top of the charts are more the ‘scotch and soda’ crowd than the connoisseurs and collectors, I have a feeling that many of the good people downing Jameson are probably not sitting around sipping this stuff from nosing glasses.  It’s just not a dram of that caliber.  This is more a shotglass kinda drink, I think.  Or maybe best used in Irish Coffee and the like. 

Jameson is a blended Irish whiskey, built from a bit of pot still distillate and – based on the profile – what I assume is a lot of grain spirit.  Apparently there are sherry casks used in maturing some of the spirit that goes into this blend, but I’m hard-pressed to pick up on much of that influence in the final product.  It seems to be more of a concentrated bourbon profile driving this one on than sherry making much of an impression.  Sadly too, I gotta say that the pot still component of this whiskey is simply crushed beneath the heft of the grains and the relatively youthful bite. 

With a bit of time in good barrels this all could all come together nicely, but I honestly don’t believe this whiskey is given even close to enough time in wood to allow its more rambunctious nature to settle down into a well-behaved middle age. 

So…let’s see if we have this straight…1) the component of the whiskey with the most personality is grossly under-represented, to the point of being almost invisible and 2) the overall product tastes young and unripe.  Mmmmmmm.  Recipe for success!

I must admit that I’m a Bushmills guy, first and foremost.  That’s the juice I cut my teeth on.  And even better than the Bush (easy now) is Redbreast.  But hey…there’s enough love in my heart to go ’round.  Or so I thought.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a bad whiskey.  It simply needs to be noted that you get what you pay for.  When you’re picking up a $25 bottle of whiskey, you’re getting a $25 bottle of whiskey.  If you’re looking for a somewhat smoother ride, you gotta go for something a little longer in the teeth and less reliant on neutral spirit to constitute so much of its make-up. 

My advice?  Pour it in a shot glass, toss it back, slam it down, order another.  Rinse, repeat.

Nose:  Not dissimilar to some of the better Canadian whiskies, character-wise.  But with more fruit.  Big oak notes.  Bourbon spices.  Lemon rind.  Custard.  Toasted marshmallow.  Not a lot more.  Smells young, but not feinty.  Still carries an alcohol-nip that would fade with a little more time.

Palate:  Ouch.  Vodka.  The neutral spirit that props this one up must constitute 80% of the mashbill.  This is spirity to be sure.  Green apple.  Oak.  Cinnamon.  A little Cream Of Wheat porridge with brown sugar.  Citrus.  Vanilla extract.  A lot of wood on the finish.

Thoughts:  To be fair…this is a very clean drink, and would mature well.  Older Jameson can be stunning.  Not my thing, but decent, for what it’s worth.  At the end of the day though, I’ll stick with the 1608 distillery.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:06 am
Apr 032014
 

Glenglassaugh 1967 Manager’s Legacy Walter GrantIMG_6413

40.4% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

Time to give some long overdue attention to one of Speyside’s more interesting distilleries as it works its way slowly back into the mainstream.

Glenglassaugh, as you may or may not know, has only been back in production for about 5 or 6 years as of 2014.  The distillery had been mothballed in the mid-80s and sat in dreamy silence for years before being bought out by the Swedish Scaent Group and reopened in 2008.  This was destined to be a short-lived tenure, however, as the distillery was subsequently scooped up by BenRiach in 2013.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We’re not speaking of BenRiach-era Glenglassaugh right now, so let’s get back to the Swedes for a bit…

Apparently at the time of the initial Scaent purchase in ’08 there were fewer than 400 casks sitting in repose in the Glenglassaugh warehouses.  As you can imagine, 400 casks doesn’t stretch very far.  Almost like starting from scratch, to be honest.

So…there are two ways for a distillery to get the dollars (pounds) flowing again when they’re burdened with this state of affairs.  One…they can release young, unripe spirit in order to drive the collectors apeshit hoarding the revived distillery’s first releases.  Or two…they can pillage a cask or three from that 400 barrel inventory and release these wizened old drams for astronomical prices under the marketing guise of age and scarcity.

And what did the Scaent group do with Glenglassaugh?  Why, both, of course.  First there was the three year old revival, which was followed hard on the heels by Evolution, and now we’re on the eve of the distillery’s latest offering, Torfa.  We’ll come to these latter two young’uns a little later on, but for now let’s sip something old and rare from the pre-shutdown days.  Namely the Manager’s Legacy Walter Grant bottling.

So…who is Walter Grant, and why is his name on a bottle of whisky?  Grant was the distillery manager for Glenglassaugh up until the time of its 1986 mothballing.  As a tribute to Grant’s time at the helm, Glenglassaugh picked one hell of a cask to bear his name.  This little gem, released in 2010, is a 43 year old whisky matured in a refill sherry hogshead, and to be honest…this is one heck of a legacy to leave behind.  If only it had been a little bigger in terms of abv, but…that 40.4% abv tells me they just barely saved this one.  As you know, anything less than 40% can no longer be considered ‘whisky’.  Nick of time, baby.  Nick of time.

Nose:  Oh, man…island paradise.  This is a tropical fruit heaven.  Pineapple.  Peach.  Cherry.  Pepper.  Some latex and oak, typical of older cask influence.  Eucalyptus.  Bubblegum.  Faint spice pantry…maybe faded cinnamon.  Light smoke note.  Wax.  Astounding, really.  Please excuse my crassness, but…this is actually a fucking phenomenal nose.

Palate:  A little ‘thin’ on the delivery.  Fruits are still alive and sassy, but then die and bitter out a touch.  Pleasantly drying.  Firm oak notes, with some very toasted wood influence.  Cacao.  Dry cinnamon stick.  Burnt marshmallow.  Vaguely floral.  It’s a shame the abv is so low.  No fault, unless we want to blame the angels, but it’s heartbreaking to see a whisky that should rightfully score in the mid 90s, coming in so much lower due to very little horsepower.

Thoughts:  Let’s get beyond the lightweight nature.  This is still a really great dram.  The olfactory experience alone makes it worthwhile.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Pat

 Posted by at 10:19 pm
Apr 022014
 

Balvenie Single Barrel 12 y.o. Bourbon Cask041 (Cask #12806)

47.8% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Here’s an odd little Balvenie.  Much more ‘naked’ than what we typically see from this Speyside juggernaut of a distillery.  This is kinda like peaking behind the curtain and seeing what’s really at the heart of it all…a Wizard Of Oz sorta deal, if you will.

Balvenie generally typifies almost all that bores me in the big distilleries.  Whiskies of low strength, forced color and generic profiles.  Credit where credit is due, however, Balvenie have been upping the ante in recent years with a couple of rather tasty 17 year olds of various cask finishes or maturations; not to mention the near-universally lauded Tun 1401 series.  Sadly I’ve yet to try the latter, but if the fates are kind we’ll get there eventually.

Balvenie is most often characterized by a rather hefty sherry influence (or occasionally some rum finishing…or Port…or Madeira…).  This 12 y.o. Single Barrel, affording an opportunity to see what the whisky was like under the influence of nothing more than a first fill bourbon barrel, was irresistable to the curious whisky nerd in me.  Fortunately, there was more than sated curiosity that came of drinking this one.  It’s actually a very decent dram.  I think I prefer this to any of the other young Balvenie I’ve tried to date.

I should note:  The Single Barrel range is a series of releases, wherein each cask yields around 300 bottles.  And while it may be single cask, it is not cask strength.  All of the releases in this series are hitting the shelves at 47.8%.  Hmmmm.  Wonder what the rationale is for that particular bottling strength.  No complaints here.  We like it just fine that way.

Nose:  Floral notes.  A lot of vanilla, as I’d sort of expected.  Some licorice.  Play dough.  A little bit of pink bubblegum (bazooka joe?).  Almond-heavy Indian sweets.  A light dusting of cinnamon.  A bit of lemon and some barley sugar notes carry through.  Sweet, clean and creamy.

Palate:  Sweet and pure.  Vanilla iced sugar cookies.  Orange.  Very dessert-like.  An easy drinker, to be sure, and VERY out of character for Balvenie.  Closer to an Auchentoshan in a lot if ways.  Very clean wood.  Some apple too.

Thoughts:  This was a fun one.  It’s great to see a distillery not only release an expression that veers off from its recognized profile, but release a really good expression that strays from the beaten path.  It shows the multi-dimensionality (is that a word?) they’re capable of.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:42 pm
Apr 012014
 

Springbank 21 (2005)barry's place pics 021

46% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

Among our wee conspicuous circles here in Calgary this particular Springbank is held in very high esteem.

Long before the current (and seemingly never-ending) whisky boom, Campbeltown’s iconic Springbank distillery was producing brilliant single malt whisky that was seeing the inside of a bottle at all ages from 10 years through 50 years.  The malts that constituted some of their more middle-aged drams were unquestionably composed of whiskies from multiple vintages and eras.  However, instead of pacing themselves - putting out rarified old malts year upon year - Springbank pulled the ‘virgin special’, blew their load too early, and had to spend some time recovering and building up stores for a while.  In other words…they ran the warehouses dry of older whiskies to bottle.

This particular 2005 version of Springbank 21 was the last of its kind until 2012, when the 21 year old made its (semi)triumphant return.  Having tried both the 2012 and 2013 editions, I can unequivocally say that they’re not even close to recapturing the magic.  Those are good whiskies in their own right, but this one…this ’05…is utterly mindboggling in its stunning array of sweet meets mild peat.  Fingers crossed they can one day recreate this gem.

In late 2o12 I found a bottle of this release in the Cadenhead shop in Campbeltown, just steps from the distillery, but by that point – seven years after bottling – the retail price was hovering around the £400 mark.  Admittedly, that’s a little beyond what I’m willing to pay for a whisky of this age.  I must concede, however, I did debate it, and I’m still not sure I made the right decision in leaving it behind.  I don’t own a bottle of the 21, but I must find a way to get one.  In fact…I have offered a good friend of mine a certain part of my anatomy in exchange for one of his bottles.  Steep price, yes…but the whisky in the jar-o…priceless.

Nose:  First things first…there’s the most beautiful thread of smoke woven through this whisky, like the central spoke around which all else is adorned.  Pineapple.  Some other tropical notes bring a neat tang; mango and orange are loudest.  Scones with cinnamon.  Some tartness from an assumed sherry influence; almost Wine Gum-like.  Raisin, grape and chocolate.  Paint and paraffin.  Maybe a touch of leather.  I keep coming back to that smoked tropical character though.  Magic.

Palate:  That smoky mature note is right up front, instantly cementing this as a classic in my books.  The tropical fruit notes meet some tart dried fruit, all in perfect balance.  Toasted oak.  An exciting rollercoaster of development.  There is a great Brazilian steakhouse locally that serves grilled caramelized pineapple.  This makes me think of that.  Again on the tangy orange fruits.

Thoughts:  Unquestionably bearing the hallmarks of a single malt built on a wide spectrum of mature casks.  Without knowing anything as fact, I would bet heavily there are some whiskies much older than 21 in here.  This is one of my all-time favorite drams.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:59 pm
Mar 282014
 

Glenmorangie Finealta239

46% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Glenmorangie are fairly reknowned for experimentation and creativity.  Interestingly enough though, through all of their artful concoctions, they don’t often fiddle around with peat.  This ‘Private Edition’ release, Finealta, is as exception to that unwritten rule.

Call it a mental block, if you will, but my mind immediately leaps to Ardmore or BenRiach when I think of mainland peated whiskies.  Certainly not to Glenmorangie.  However, whether through lightning in a bottle or adeptness at practice, Glenmorangie have managed to craft a rather remarkable dram.  Great mix of sweet and savoury here.  I imagine this is what it would be like to nose Glenmorangie 18 next to someone drinking lapsang souchong tea beneath the breeze-driven puffs from a smokestack.  Or somehting to that effect.

Either way, the mix of cask play and a very atypical profile for this Highland distillery make for a fun ride, and one of the most immediately endearing and interesting Glenmo’s in quite some while.  Like far too many great drams of late though…sadly, this is also a limited edition expression.  If you can find one, grab it if for no other reasons than seeing the morphology this light and estery spirit is capable of.  Chameleonic, really.

Nose:  Earthy with some salty play-dough.  More peat than expected, but not huge by any means.  Leather and horse blankets.  Slightly ashy.  Orange and pear.  Rather more farmy than expected.  Cinnamon and mint.  The peat influence is massive by no means, but pleasantly over-arching.

Palate:  Ashy and smoky again.  All of those farmy notes coming through here too.  Flinty and mineral-rich.  Peppery.  Wet rock.  Some wine notes.  Lemon rind with orange influence.  Like a drying tea in terms of effect, if not flavour.  Decent, if not quite synchronized, connection between nose and palate.

Thoughts:  Neat, if unexpected nose.  A quirky offering that outshone most other Glenmorangie releases in a recent expansive tasting we held locally.  Definitely a top three pick from the men of Tain.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:42 am