Dec 252014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 25 – December 25th143

1980 “The Samaroli” 33 y.o. (Samaroli)

Cask #34 Blended Malt Bourbon Cask

43% abv

Score:  92/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

And this, my friends, is where we part ways.  If you’ve been dramming your way alongside with your own advent calendar you’ll likely have some idea of what I mean when I say that I’m actually a little sad not to have a new bottle to open tomorrow.  That’s ok.  It’s been a fun ride.  I think we’ll finish off this series with a bit of a recap and an overall score for the calendar.  Watch for that in the next couple days.  In the meantime…let’s check out our final dram from behind door number 25.  A little something special for Christmas day.

This is a 33 year old blended malt called “The Samaroli”.  Blended malt meaning, of course, that this is a blend composed of only single malts, no grains in the mix to water down the character.  As I’m writing this (Christmas eve, 2014) I have no idea what casks have gone into this particular expression.  You may recall that Samaroli has another nifty blended malt called Evolution that we looked at a while back.  That whisky was built from some pretty spectacular casks from days gone by.  Seeing as Samaroli have declared 33 years to be the youngest cask in this vatting, I can only imagine that this one also contains some stunners from eons ago.

Either way…this is a beautiful whisky.  Rich and seductive.  A perfect conclusion to a wonderful journey.  Well done, Secret Spirits.

Nose:  Oh wow…fantastic nose.  Good nougat with fruit.  Dunnage.  Orange.  Some cherry and toffee.  Chewing gum, fruit candies and the sweetest melange of spices.  Lots of fruits, but more fruit salad than overtly tropical.  A lovely soft almond note.  Did I mention fruits?

Palate:  Sweet, syrupy fruits and a touch of licorice.  Orange and citrus pith.  Slight waxy with a nutty background.  Oak and grain are clear and clean as individual notes.  Surprisingly mouthcoating for a rather anemic 43% abv.  Dries out into a paper-like note.

Thoughts:  Reminds of a lovely old Bruichladdich I’ve tried.  Slightly better nose than palate (especially at the back end), but overall a very special whisky.  The nose here is probably the best in the calendar.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:25 pm
Dec 242014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 24 – December 24th103

1999 Bowmore 14 y.o. (A.D. Rattray)

Cask #2261 Sherry

58.3% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

We’ve had some approximation of Islay whisky in a couple of the calendar’s cubbies, but until now we’ve not yet tackled a true ‘named’ Islay distillery.  Seeing as how A.D. Rattray is one of the independent bottlers behind the Secret Spirits advent calendar, Bowmore is actually a very logical jumping off point. Logical, that is, if you’re aware that the current owner of A.D. Rattray is Tim Morrison, formerly top dawg of Morrison Bowmore.  Tim’s stash of casks (likely largely built of gracefully maturing Bowmore, I’d guess) is supposedly a thing of legend.

Bowmore itself is arguably Islay’s most iconic distillery.  It sits along the shores of Loch Indaal, where the Atlantic waves batter the whitewashed walls of the warehouses (apologies for the unintentional alliteration).  This distillery is responsible for some of my favorite and most coveted whiskies of all time.  The more I investigate the depth and breadth of Bowmore, the further I fall in love with it.  Much magic happened here in ages past, and I sort of think we’re heading back in that direction, if recent releases are any indication.  Hopefully they’re hoarding away some glorious old stocks for future years.

For those that may be new(ish) to Bowmore, don’t expect the profile of this A.D. Rattray expression to carry through in most of their distillery bottlings.  This is a bit of a one-off.  Sure, the fingerprints may give hints that lead us to Bowmore if we’re up to spending some time sussing out the nuances in here, but the whisky at a glance could be mistaken for almost any one of the other producers on the island.

That doesn’t even matter though.  All that does matter is that we have another bruising beauty of a malt to curl up with on Christmas eve.  This is unquestionably a ‘fireplace dram’.

Nose:  Dusty.  Ash, peat and smoke.  Caramel.  Flinty or slate-like.  Medicinal, iodine smells.  Sweetened and softened by sherry, but not overpowered at all.  Peat is still driving.  Lemon juice on shellfish.  Saltwater.  Wet hay.  Quite sweet, oily and syrupy.

Palate:  Salt and peppery.  A lot of smoke.  Like whole oysters thrown on an open fire.  Some tar and caramel apples.  Oceanic seaside notes.  Smoldering hay.  Granny Smith apples.  Vague reminders of Port Charlotte (without the butyric note) and Laphroaig (without the overly earthy medicinal note).

Thoughts:  Tough one to reconcile as a Bowmore, but a hell of a whisky.  This had to have been second or third fill casking.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:19 pm
Dec 232014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 23 – December 23rd005

1988 “Ginger Spice” Glenrothes 24 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Cask #4249 Sherry Butt

46% abv

Score:  90/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Glenrothes has to be one of my least favorite Speyside distilleries.  Ironically, if you peruse the site here you’ll find some rather high scores for various ‘Rothes releases.  Here’s the issue though:  Those high flying ~90 pointers are all from the 1970s.  Their contemporary releases are anything but magic.  Almost like the Ron Weasley of magic actually.  I find their NAS (Select and Alba) to be middling at best, and almost magnetically repelling when I’m out bottle shopping.  Additionally, any of the vintage releases where you do occasionally find some quality (I said “some”) start to creep up into the >two digit pricing spheres.

You can only imagine my delight, then, upon cracking open door number 23’s 1988 ‘Rothes only to find out my lowered expectations were all for nigh.  Not messing with ya.  This is one of the most enjoyable Glenrothes releases I’ve ever found.  It’s complex, harmonious and most importantly…actually quite seductive.  I’m guessing this was a second fill butt, by its subtlety and nuance.  There is no over-the-top sherry whomp; just a sweet and balanced malt perfectly suited to evening dramming with a good book or chunk o’ dark chocolate.

Nose:  Orange marmalade.  Slightly jammy.  Cinnamon-spiced molasses cookies.  Bread dough.  The longer it settles down in the glass, the more aromatically balanced it gets.  Very nice nose.  Slight floral background.  Easier on the sherry influence than I’d expected.

Palate:  Very soft and pleasant delivery.  Extremely gentle sherry.  Some orange notes show through.  Crispy, browned sugar cookies.  Stays sweet and syrupy throughout, but has a perfect spice blend too.  Great long finish.  Never dries out.  Leaves beautiful sweet apple-ish notes.

Thoughts:  I’d almost not guess this was a sherry butt.  Certainly not first fill.  One of the most enjoyable Glenrothes releases I’ve ever tried.  Also…one of the most fun in the whole calendar.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:28 pm
Dec 222014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 22 – December 22nd058

“Samaroli Sherry” 22 y.o. (Samaroli)

Cask #4 Sherry

40% abv

Score:  79/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

This is Glen Scotia.  I know that from seeing Jonathan’s post at Single Malting.  Otherwise, there’s not a hope in hell I’d guess this distillery even if you gave me 80 kicks at the can.  This is like literally no Glen Scotia I’ve ever encountered.  A true WTF? malt if ever there was one.

Glen Scotia is one of only three operational distilleries in the lovely little borough of Campbeltown.  The distillery neighbours nearby Springbank, but generally produces a much more contemporarily styled malt than Campbeltown’s darlings.  I should note here though, that recent Glen Scotia OBs are quirky at best and actually quite foul at their worst.  Additionally, the new packaging is even more unnerving than some of the bottle contents.

This malt, however, is actually closer to a Springbank than anything I’ve ever seen from Glen Scotia.  It’s a heavier dram (despite the anemic bottling strength) than expected, but in mostly the wrong ways.  Not bad, per se, but also not in tune with my palatal preferences.

I’m not sure from whom Glen Scotia may be sourcing their sherry butts, but I can’t say I’m impressed (at least with this one).  Single casks should be special.  This cask should not likely have been bottled as a single.  I kinda think Samaroli should have found a way to marry this one away somehow.  They’ve shown exceptional taste in so many of their releases for this calendar.  This selection is questionable.

Nose:  Meaty sherry.  Mince tarts.  Old leather, well-oiled and warmed.  Pith.  Polish and wax.  Very, very dried fruits.  Not very lively fruits.  Heavy oily notes.  All spice and faded old cigar boxes.  Figs.  Caramel.

Palate:  Thin and watery.  Leather again.  Figs and currents and raisins and such.  Is that it for fruit?  Quite dry and flinty.  Wet woods.  Almost a fishy note.  Wonder if this came out earlier, would it have been better?

Thoughts:  Not my favorite style of sherried malt.  Manzanilla perhaps?  Lacks the sweetness I’d hoped for.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:51 pm
Dec 222014
 

mSecret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 21 – December 21st116

1989 “Evergreen Forrest” Cragganmore 23 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Cask #2853 Bourbon Hogshead

46% abv

Score:  88/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Hearkening back to Day 3 of our little advent journey together, you may recall we tackled a malt dubbed “Samaroli Spey”.  It just so happened that that one was actually a single cask from the Cragganmore distillery.  It was a 21 year old malt matured in ‘American Oak’ (as per the label).  I’ll assume that ‘American Oak’ reference was to an ex-bourbon cask.  This one says ‘Bourbon Hogshead’.  A hoggy – if you’re not in the know – is just a rebuilt bourbon barrel with a few extra staves added in to increase capacity.  In effect what that means is that we have similar barrel treatments.  Further…we have malts that are only 1% apart in terms of abv and 2 years apart in terms of bottling age.  And are they similar?  Well…not really.  Both do carry a lovely fresh grapefruit note I’m rather taken with though.

I liked that first dram a lot.  I like this one a little bit less, but it’s still in the high 80s when it comes to throwing a mark at it.

As to the “Evergreen Forrest” (sic?) appellation levied at this one?  Hmmm…not sure.  There’s a little bit of clean wood and a wee touch of Pine Sol cleaning product, but far from what I’d consider overly evergreen.  Maybe that’s just me.

Nose:  Grapefruit, orange and a bucket of citrus.  Hay and wild grass/prairie flower smells.  Orange and yellow lollies and orange Dino-sour candies.  Fresh scones.  Grapes.  Very clean woods, lemon furniture polish and Pine Sol.

Palate:  Charred woods.  Apple.  Sauvignon blanc.  Bruleed orange.  This had to have been matured in very active wood.  Slightly tannic and drying.  Like the effect of fruit skins.  Long linger.

Thoughts:  Not a ton of character but a decent showing for Cragganmore nevertheless.  There is a slight wine-iness about this one.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:59 pm
Dec 212014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 20 – December 20th067

1996 Glentauchers 17 y.o. (Samaroli)

Cask #4232/4233 American Oak

45% abv

Score:  91/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Alright.  Looks like each of the Advent’s contributing indies gets a shot at knocking out a Glentauchers for us.   We started with Wemyss on Day 13…hit A.D. Rattray a few days later on Day 17…and now here we are on Day 20 letting Samaroli have their day in the sun (snow?).  As a whisky geek, I love this opportunity to try a rather rare distillery in three different incarnations.  As a casual whisky drinker, I’d probably hope for a little more variety.

But the simple reality is that this is another exceptional version.  All three of these malts have been ~90 pointers (in my ‘umble opinion), and great examples of good clean casking at great stages of maturity.  So, let’s spin this another way.  Irrespective of how many ‘Tauchers we’ve tried here, if they’re all this good, I’d happily have a calendar chock full of ’em.  Good whisky is good whisky.

This 17 year old is a marriage of two consecutive single casks.  45% is respectable, but I shudder to think what could have been at cask strength.

Nose:  Dusty and old book-ish.  Maybe a touch of cherry in soft dough.  Some mandarin orange as it finally begins to open up.  A mix of marmalade and berry jams.  Soft cinnamon and sugar cookies.  Like opening an old wardrobe or chest.

Palate:  Tastes a decade older than its years.  Love this palate.  Wax and cask char.  Burnt orange peel.  And just plain ol’ mandarin orange again.  Very soft spices.  Also tastes bigger than 45%.  A beautiful tang carried by the oiliness.

Thoughts:  Takes a long time to open up.  Sooooo absolutely worth the effort though. One of the best of the calendar so far.  brilliant balance betwwen nose and palate.  Spectacular whisky, all told.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:41 pm
Dec 202014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 19 – December 19th034

“Spice King” 12 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Blended Malt

40% abv

Score:  85/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

So, I know they’ve marketed this whisky as the king of spice (“as I conceive it”), but in this humble guy’s eyes it seems a little more of just an old school charmer than a spice beast.  Yes, there are some of those woody, faded Christmas spice notes (think old, dry cinnamon sticks, faded and expired nutmeg, etc), but these are far from the primary drivers in the overall profile.  To be honest with you, I think that’s a good thing.  The profile that does shine through, though, is quite a good one.

“Spice King” is an age-stated blended malt from Wemyss.  That means all of the component single malts are at least a dozen years old.  good start, I’d say.  Not that age equates with whether or not the whisky is actually good or not, but it does at least give some assurance that we’re not getting any really biting, young, feinty or spirity notes.  To be frank…I’m just happy to see a blend of any sort with numbers on the bottle.

Another good whisky, this.  Wemyss has some of the better young blends / blended malts I’ve encountered.

Nose:  Peaty and malty.  Some smoke.  Leather and horse blanket.  Salty dough and lots of cereal notes.  Dull lemon and orange.  A little dry and flinty.  Even mossy.  Some slightly feinty notes.   Almost like a young, watered down Springbank.

Palate:  Peaty and old school.  Barnyard.  Malty and reminiscent of very not-sweet pie crust.  Oster on the shell, including briny juices.  Wet woods.  Finishes with apple skins.

Thoughts:  I like this.  But I like whiskies of this more ‘traditional’ style.  A bit of everything here, but maybe a little shy on the fruits.  Like Islay meets Campbeltown lite.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:44 am
Dec 182014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 18 – December 18th022

1994 Braes o’ Glenlivet 19 y.o. (Samaroli)

Cask #165658 American Oak

45% abv

Score:  84/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

A relative rookie on the grand ol’ whisky scene, Braeval was founded only a few years before I was born.  1974, in fact.  Wait…Braeval?  Yep.  This distillery was christened Braes of Glenlivet, before going through a name change to something a little less confusing in 1995.  Well…confusing to the simpleminded, anyway.  Remind anyone of the Knockdhu/anCnoc idiocy?  Sorry…I shouldn’t digress to whisky snobbery, should I?

This is the first Braeval I’ve reviewed for ATW.  Quite frankly, it’s a distillery with very thin representation on the ground.  Most of the distillery’s output ends up being smashed into obscurity in blends such as Chivas.  As of now, I haven’t tried enough Braeval releases to say whether or not that is the most apropos destiny for the spirit.  I’ll check through the sample library in the coming days and see if I have any more to write up.

Irrespective, though…this was a tough one to reconcile for me.  The nose is an absolute stunner!  I adore the vivid and tangy orange fruits.  Really a great, fruit-rich nose.  The palate though…unless you like wine-y whiskies…may be a letdown.  It was for me anyway.  Certainly not enough to ruin a decent whisky, but definitely a hobbling.

Nose:  Orange, lemon and pineapple.  Touch of eucalyptus.  Apple pie.  Lively floral notes.  Hard fruit candies.  And still more tangy orange.  A little bit of licorice.  Maybe tangerine.  Could have ended up to be a tropical beauty if left for another 15 years or so.

Palate:  Very wine-y delivery that is a letdown from the nose.  A little fresh orange and pineapple, then…whoa!  Right off the rails with almost bittering oaky wine notes.  Chardonnay perhaps.  Orange pith.  Burnt pie crust.  Quite drying.  Fades on very gentle doughy notes.

Thoughts:  Somewhat dissapointing due to an overly tannic, wine-y palate.  The nose is almost spectacular though.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Dec 172014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 17 – December 17th053

1996 Glentauchers 18 y.o. (A.D. Rattray)

Cask #1177 Sherry cask

56.1% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Told ya we weren’t done with Glentauchers, didn’t I?

We had a malt from this distillery on day 13 of our advent journey.  That one was a knockout, so let’s dig in and see what we can suss out about why this one was chosen to represent Day 17.

Much more than just a variation on a theme here, this one is an entirely different beast.  Here we have a different independent bottler; sherry maturation instead of bourbon; cask strength as opposed to 46%; and a couple years younger than the first we tried.  That previous Wemyss Malts Glentauchers blew me away with a certain something (a quirky flavour nuance) I personally hunt for in whisky and rarely find.  This one, while it doesn’t have quite the same personal lure for me, is still another great dram.  Only a point or two behind the other, in my estimation.

What Secret Spirits have ultimately achieved here (by design, I’d argue) is a solid point of comparison between two whiskies produced in the same manner at the same distillery, but handled entirely differently from one another.  There’s a good moral in there somewhere about assumptions and not making blanket judgements (if you’re of the preachy sort).

I should also note that A.D. Rattray was the ideal bottler for this cask.  They tend to leave ’em big and bold, and allow the true character of the whisky to shine through.  What we end up with is a massive malt; oily and lingering, even though the spirit itself is quite soft and lovely.  Think of it this way:  Even Simon and Garfunkel can blow your speakers if you crank it up to ’11’.

Great after dinner dram.

Nose:  Soft and charming.  Great nose.  Orange and cinnamon.  Milk chocolate.  Millionaire’s shortbread.  Slight wine-y note, but very understated and entirely wonderful.  Fruit fudge.  Soft vanilla cream.

Palate:  Chocolate.  A little ginger and all spice.  Orange.  Lovely long evolution.  Maybe even a touch of melon.  Orange Dino-sour candies.  Unbelievably mouthwatering.  Like a lovely sweet baked bread.

Thoughts:  The nose just gets better and better the longer it opens.  Great fruity notes on both nose and palate.  Love this whisky.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:15 am
Dec 162014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 16 – December 16th086

1998 “Pastille Bouquet” Mortlach 15 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Cask #5402 Bourbon Hogshead

46% abv

Score:  87/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Ok.  Let’s keep this one short and sweet.  We all know Mortlach.  No need for a lengthy introduction or distillery background.  Just a few personal thoughts.  Let’s go…

Mortlach has long been a favorite distillery of mine.  Just a bit of a personal affinity.  It’s a Speysider, but in my eyes, it’s one which bucks the overly formulaic apple/pear/berry/vanilla/oak trend most Speyside malts (excepting the big sherry bombs) are usually known for.  It certainly does bear some or all of those hallmarks, but often injects a little bit of a meaty backbone and an occasional whiff of smoke to mix things up a bit.  Mortlach is a malt with character.  A malt that I find almost always deserves a good long bit of my attention.

For these reasons, I was tickled pink to open door number 16 and find a 15 year old Wemyss Malts Mortlach.  And while this one didn’t light me up like some of the others, it is still a rather sexy dram.  I’m probably only disappointed because I have such elevated expectations for this distillery.  More accurately, I have expectations regarding what sort of profile I’ll be getting when I pop the cork.  This malt is simply not the Mortlach I know.  Good?  Absolutely.  Familiar?  Well…not so much.  Perhaps that has to do with a lack of sherry influence in the casking here.  Most likely, I’d say.

Oh well.  Still a cool one to try.  While I can’t say I’m behind the new over-marketed and unjustifiably premiumized Diageo abominations, I’m still a sucker for the older indie Mortlachs when available.  This was just such a case.

Nose:  Lovely candy notes.  Dusty potpouri or dried flowers of some sort.  Nicely spiced.  Grain dust (like being near a mill).  Big Turk candy bars.  Fuzzy Peach candies (just a hint).  If those savoury Mortlach notes are here at all, they’re very faint.

Palate:  Maybe just the softest mince, or at least a similar spicy tart note.  Apples.  There’s a little more fresh fruit, but having trouble putting a pulse to it.   Just a vague smokiness.  Oak.  Pear and apple cider.

Thoughts:  Always love trying Mortlach, but increasingly finding variants lacking the meaty notes I associate with the distillery.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:19 pm