Feb 292012
 

Holy smokes, this has been a very long time coming!!

This month has been busy beyond all belief. It’s hard to face up to the fact that this is the first entry for this month, but let’s not wallow in it & instead just jump into things.

February – Sherry Matured Selection #2

Following up on my initial selection of Aberlour 10, I had a few criteria I wanted to meet with selection #2.

First off, I wanted to go for something with a little more age to it and see whether or not the extra maturation (and the price tag that comes attached!) really makes a difference to me. I know that if I’m comparing between different distilleries it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges exercise, but I am not too wound up about that…after all, this little journey is all about exploring my personal tastes. I can’t and won’t promise a scientific approach; all I can do is try what I want and give everything an honest effort.

Additionally, I wanted to select a whisky that I haven’t really spent any meaningful amount of time with. There are many young-ish sherry matured whiskies on the market but I haven’t really checked any of them out. It’s way too easy for me to pick up the Aberlour 10 because it’s a good dram at a VERY good price. How can I justify spending more on something I may not necessarily enjoy as much as the Aberlour 10? In this case, I’ll spend more on something different because I must. The rules that I set out are performing exactly as I had hoped – it’s only the second selection and I’m already being forced to step outside of my comfort zone.

Finally, I had to find something that fit into the $45-60 range so that I had enough for another upgrade in sherry matured selection #3.

In order to meet these criteria, I have chosen Macallan 12.

I’ve dabbled with Macallan in the past – a tasting at Willow Park, a ill-advised encounter with Cask Strength at Liquorature – but have never spent enough time on one of the expressions to form a solid opinion. There are plenty of characteristics to admire in Macallan. The brand is world renowned and is nearly synonymous with “great scotch whisky”. If you dig in a little further there is a load of material which details the fussy attention to detail Macallan puts into their whisky. Marketing spin or not, it’s an intriguing brand statement and in my opinion that helps to build the mystique of a unparalleled dram.

Premium branding + expensive production practices…you guessed it: relatively speaking, Macallan ain’t cheap! Nonetheless, it’s been purchased, time to get on enjoying.

 

A few words on the budget…

While shopping for selection #2 I realized that the budget friendly Aberlour 10 is an exception and not the rule. Sherry matured whisky is expensive as compared to others. My understanding is that this has something to do with the cost of acquiring good sherry casks, but I can’t help but suspect that some of the cost is market driven…the stuff is really that damn good!

It didn’t take long to do the math – with a $150 budget for 3 bottles I was probably looking at a range of three 10 yr sherry matured whiskies. This isn’t exactly the interesting variety that I had in mind. In order to make February and March a little more exciting I had to make an executive decision, and what I have decided is that I am OK to go over the $150 budget for sherry matured whisky, provided that my yearly total comes out at roughly $600 then I am OK.

Full disclosure, here is where I am at so far:

1 – Aberlour 10 – $32.99

2 – Macallan 12 – $54.99

Total – $87.98. Both bottles were purchased at Real Canadian Liquorstore locations in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They don’t have a huge selection but it’s hard to beat their pricing. I’m not going to get into bulk chain vs. boutique retailer today, but I do believe that there is room for both types of retailers. More on this another time.

So…chances are I will go over budget for sherry matured, but I’m confident that I can make it up in another month. Blends are the obvious place to save money, and if the worst shall occur, I may end up on McClelland’s Islay as my final selection for the year. Don’t worry Curt, I will save you enough to do a review. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.

My initial thoughts on Macallan 12? Very nice – it’s a clean, smooth, straightforward dram with a big sherry punch. It doesn’t strike me as being as complex as the Aberlour 10, but it certainly matches up intensity wise. The the tidy profile of this whisky gives it unique character. I look forward to doing a head to head comparison between the Aberlour & this to see how they compare to one another. Lots of ground to explore. Until then, cheers!

 Posted by at 6:26 am
Feb 192012
 

GLENFARCLAS AND A TASTING WITH GEORGE GRANT

 

Potato / Potahto,  Kidding / Kidnapping,  Tomato / Tomahto…let’s not split hairs.  I believe these words basically mean the same thing.  Which is why on the night of January 26, 2012 we, the gang of four, planned and executed a warm welcoming abduction of Mr. George Grant in order to further our preoccupation of Single Malt Scotch whisky.  Normally we would never consider such a high profile person, but based on a careless double dare by one of the gang of four the decision to move forward was an easy one.  Mr. Grant came to Calgary, Alberta on January 25, 2012 to host the 7th annual Robbie Burns supper for the Kensington Wine Market.  His mistake, or should I say our opportunity, came the following night.  Believing that, since he was not in Edmonton, Alberta, he was safe…obviously he thought wrong.  We seized the opportunity, along with Mr. Grant, and headed out of town for a tasting.

Now not to worry…we are not obsessive fanatical Star Trek fans that go around quoting characters from different episodes or lounge around and debate the merits of each of the series.  We are in fact keen professional fans of the single malt, that can quote different whisky writers while we lounge around and debate the merits of each distillery.  Needless to say, being under the control of professional whisky fans, Mr. Grant was indeed very safe…so long as he cooperated with us.

For the benefit of the great unwashed, the Glenfarclas distillery was founded in 1836 and is located in Banffshire, which sits in the heart of Speyside.  The Gaelic translation of Glenfarclas means “Valley of the green grass”.  The Glenfarclas distillery has been owned by the Grant family since 1865 (excluding 1896-1899, Pattison & Co owned 50 %).

Like any really good tasting, we require good whisky, so we arranged an exchange of sorts to achieve these goals.  The cost of liberation this night would be very high indeed.  The following was a list of whiskies that we liberated and tasted.

 

 

GLENFARCLAS RANGE TASTING :

#1                       21 Year Old  43% ABV

#2                       25 Year Old  43% ABV

#3                       30 Year Old 43% ABV

#4                       40 Year Old 46% ABV     (Voted #4 whisky tasted)

#5                       40 Year Old 43% ABV  Millennium Edition (aka Treasure Island)     (Voted #2 whisky tasted)

#6                       175 Anniversary Edition 43% ABV

#7                       175 Anniversary Chairman’s Reserve 46% ABV     (Voted #1 whisky tasted)

#8                       1974 / 2005 31 Year Old 57.4% ABV (sourced from the US)     (Voted #3 whisky tasted)

#9                       1967 / 2006 39 Year Old 58.7% ABV Family Cask # 5118 First Series

 

 

#1           21 Year Old  43 % ABV

NOSE:  Minty, stewed fruits.  Delicate vanilla-infused with gentle smoke.

TASTE:  Mellow sherried fruits and spice.  Toffee, chocolate and almonds.

FINISH:  No sharp edges, very drinkable.  Medium to long smooth finish.

ASSESSMENT:  George stated that this was his favorite of the age range and that the vatting on this malt is 60 %  1st & 2nd fill Sherry casks along with 40% old refill Bourbon casks.

 

#2           25 Year Old  43 % ABV

NOSE:  More intense sherry tannins and spice than the 21.  Oranges and light tropical fruit.  A little more smoke than the 21 but still subtle.

TASTE:  Sweet and winey.  Ripe dark cherries and chocolate.

FINISH:  Spicy.  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  George informed us that no peat was used to dry the barley and the light smoky notes are imparted from just the natural toasting or drying of the barley.

 

#3           30 Year Old 43 % ABV

NOSE:  More complex than the 21 & 25 with deeper sherry spice notes, melons and apples.

TASTE:  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Sherry spice.  Burnt brown sugar.

FINISH:  Slight harshness.  Medium finish.

ASSESSMENT:  This was my favorite of the stated age range.  Seemed so much more complex than the rest.

 

#4           40 Year Old 46 % ABV

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries. Roasted coffee and cigar tobacco.

TASTE:  Raspberry jam.  Over-ripe raisins and prunes.  Toffee.  Chewy liqueur.

FINISH:  Lots of layers of favor to enjoy.  Robust and long finish.

ASSESSMENT:  George told us that the 1st batch of the 40 year old consisted of 23 casks, of which 22 were 1st fill sherry and 1 refill sherry.  The age of the casks were 21 casks 40 years old and two casks from 1968.

 

 

#5           40 Year Old 43 % ABV  Millennium Edition (locally known as Treasure Island)

NOSE:  Wow, what a nose.  Tropical fruit, coconut, vanilla.  So good.

TASTE:  Milk chocolate.  Mild spices.  Sweet & creamy.  Lots-o-fruit.  Sublime hint of smoke.

FINISH:  This is a brilliant whisky and is in my top ten of (top ten just means ‘very high’ on the list, as I have said top ten over 43 times now)  whiskies enjoyed.  What a finish…long, flawless and lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  George admitted the perverse enjoyment he received from watching people trying to open this most difficult and unique case.  We were also informed this was a cask that had been sold by Glenfarclas to Signatory and was purchased back.  The number of bottles released was 600, but George informed us that it was only 590 (sounds a little like a cover up from somebody that likes this whisky a lot).

 

 

#6           175 Anniversary Edition 43 % ABV 2011 Limited Edition

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Dark roasted coffee.  Little floral.

TASTE:  Pepper and winey notes.  Raisins and dark chocolate.

FINISH:  Medium finish.  Bit bitter.  Might have been better at a higher ABV.  Grant said “yes, but that would have meant less bottles and a higher price.”

ASSESSMENT:  George said this vatting was made up from 3 casks per decade from 6 different decades (1950 – 2000), for a total of 18 casks.  Only one cask was bourbon, which was a 2nd fill from 1952, and all the other casks were sherry.

 

#7           175 Anniversary Chairman’s Reserve 46 % ABV  2011 limited Edition of 1296 Bottles

NOSE:  Oh my, this is good.  Sweet sherry.  Dead ripe blackberries, oranges and almonds.

TASTE:  Ever so elegant for a vatting of old sixties sherry casks.  Rum cake.  Milk chocolate.  Prunes.  Creamy caramel.

FINISH:  Long and sensuous.

ASSESSMENT:  Oh my my, oh hell yes…this is really good.  Different good from the Millennium…more intense sherry.  This is another for the top ten (44) whiskies I’ve tasted.  This is a vatting of four casks from the sixties.  George couldn’t remember if the oldest was 1963 or 1964 (Being a distillery owner doesn’t automatically mean you can hold your liquor like the Irish), as this was his 7th drink and his memory was now being tested.

 

#8           1974 / 2005 31 Year Old 57.4 % ABV (sourced from the US)

NOSE:  Oranges.  The most peated unpeated Glenfarclas I’ve nosed.  Leather and tobacco.

TASTE:  Thick chewy sherry.  Raisins and prunes.  Dark chocolate.

FINISH:  Long and intense.

ASSESSMENT:  This was a vatting of three casks:  one 1st fill and one 2nd fill sherry along with an older fill bourbon.

 

#9           1967 / 2006 39 Year Old 58.7 % ABV Family Cask # 5118 First Series

NOSE:  Raspberry jam meets marmalade.  Coffee and cinnamon.

TASTE:  Oranges.  Rich chewy port.  Dark chocolate.  Little whiff of smoke.

FINISH:  Rich.  A bit tart and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Why 1967?  Because it’s the 100 year anniversary of the greatest country in the world, Canada (also the birth year of Pamela Anderson, Canada’s largest export to the world).

 

 

Much thanks to Mr. Grant for allowing us to take him away from his busy schedule (funny nobody seemed to miss him) to share a few private stories along with some great whiskies with us.  Really sorry about how sticky the duct tape was, but I’m sure the hair will grow back.

 

– Maltmonster 

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Feb 042012
 

BenRiach Range Tasting

 

 

What is a BFB?

Well…it’s an overnight whisky event for couples only.  Usually half the couples drink whisky and the other half drink some other less satisfying alcoholic beverage.  We tolerate the non-whisky drinkers only because we can hijack the evening for our purposes and have a completely guilt free whisky tasting with GOOD friends (a friend is someone who will help you move…a GOOD friend is someone who will help you move a dead body).  The only problem is, sometimes the conversation gets side tracked away from whisky, but a slight pause in the discussion and a really loud voice can usually rail a derailed conversation back to whisky, after all,  if it’s not about whisky & cigars, is it really worth talking about?  BFB stands for ‘Bed for Breakfast’, which means whoever hosts the event supplies the beds and whoever doesn’t supply the beds, has to prepare breakfast.  We have hosted many of these events in the past and are always surprised at what great cooks whisky drinkers are, especially when whisky is one of the ingredients!

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located in the beautiful Spey Valley and was created in 1898.  Unfortunately, it only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to a whisky crash and was mothballed (sounds a little like Diageo corporate planning).  However, the malting floors continued to be operated and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley from which they produced a product called Longben or long-been which has long been making Longmorn better.  In 1965, after a sale, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  In 1972 peat was added to the drying of the barley to satisfy the smoky blends at the time and screw over the peat workers union on Islay.   1999 was the end of the floor malting operations at BenRiach which have helped to shape the shoulders of many a hunchback for last 101 years.  In 2002, the distillery was again mothballed until 2004, when it was resold to the current ownership and production started again.

In 2010, Alistair Walker came to Calgary and after a grand tasting (and before passing out) he made a bold offer to us all to come to BenRiach for a visit and try a sample from one of the two remaining 1966 casks.  In 2011, a small group of VIP’s from Calgary showed up to be drammed with 1966 only to be denied by a kind, but stern, gatekeeper and Distillery Manager, Mad Max Stewart Buchannan.  The day was saved when a compromise was made and it was agreed that we could try everything else.  We started by trying over 30 samples (I kid you not) in an effort to choose another cask for the KWM.  We were then treated to the ‘soon to be released’ Batch 8, 2011 Limited Releases …..  I don’t remember much after that.

 

This Benriach Range tasting was designed to highlight the different influences from Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Madeira and to also try some lightly peated to heavily peated non-Islay whiskies, but more importantly, it was about good friends and great whisky!

 

 

BENRIACH RANGE TASTING :

#1          1971 – April , 2011       Cask #1947  Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle #47 of 229

#2          1972 – July , 2011       Cask #802  Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle #147 of 169

#3          1978 – June , 2006       Cask #1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle #83 of 201

#4          1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask #4810  Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle #153 of 250 for KWM

#5          1977 – July , 2010       Cask #1033  Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle #185 of 331

#6          1975 – August , 2007       Cask #4451  Port Pipe  53.7 Bottle #479 of 707

#7          1984 – July , 2010       Cask #4052  Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle #116 of 265

#8          15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV

 

 

#1      1971 – April , 2011       Cask # 1947 Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle # 47 of 229

NOSE:  Tons-O-Fruit.  Watermelon, oranges, pineapple, it just keeps going.  Eucalyptus.  Refreshing.

TASTE:  More fruit, but more tropical.  Milk chocolate.  Fresh bourbon vanilla.  Bit of tannins.

FINISH:  Medium.  Very dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Benriach 1971 you are my fire , the one desire  believe when I say I want it that way and by the gallon ( 4 liter ) size .

Group rated #1 whisky for the night with the most number one votes .

 

 

#2      1972 – July , 2011       Cask # 802    Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle # 147 of 169

NOSE:  Oranges, pears and melons.  Marshmallow sweet.  Almonds.  Stunning.

TASTE:  Very floral.  Creamy vanilla bean.  Caramel milk chocolate and  fruits again.

FINISH:  Medium and a little more.  Bit drying

ASSESSMENT:  This whisky has it, yeah baby, it’s got it, BenRiach I’m your fan, I’m your devotee, at your desire.

Group rated #2 whisky tasted .

 

 

 

 

#3      1978 – June , 2006       Cask # 1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle # 83 of 201

NOSE:  The sugar train stops here, uber sweet.  Pears and apricots.

TASTE:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Trace of peat smoke.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Nice and warming.  Almost bitter.

ASSESSMENT:  It’s such a good vibration, it’s such a sweet sensation.

Group rated #4 whisky tasted

 

 

#4      1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask # 4810   Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle # 153 of 250  Bottled for KWM

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur.  Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice.  Black licorice that coats the tongue and deep stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Just tasting this step by step, ooh baby,  gonna get to you whisky, step by step.  Many layers and much depth to this one.

Group rated #3 whisky tasted (I rated this #4 , only because the potentate at KWM didn’t go with my choice of sample when choosing the cask and I happen to be very petty).

 

 

#5      1977 – July , 2010       Cask # 1033   Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle # 185 of 331

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill.  Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium.  Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  You’re all I ever wanted, you’re all I ever needed, yeah!  Excellent sherry cask.  Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.

 

 

#6      1975 – August , 2007       Cask # 4451   Port Pipe  53.7  % ABV Bottle # 479 of 707

NOSE:  Big citrus.  Grapefruit, cherries and little smoke.

TASTE:  At odds with the nose, very unbalanced.  Pepper, thick overpowering clove sweet.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast (not fast enough).

ASSESSMENT:  Ok, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want, I want balance in a whisky.

 

 

#7       1984 – July , 2010       Cask # 4052   Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle # 116 of 265

NOSE:  Stewed fruits.  Assertive peat but pleasant.  Some mint.  Little musty.

TASTE:  Peat & Pepper.  Floral, honey and coffee.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Don’t go chasing finishes.  Please stick to the basics and the barrels that you’re used to.

 

 

#8       15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV

NOSE:  Bam…..cherry jam.  Intense non-medicinal peat.  Spicy aroma found only in a Bolivar cigar.  Little farmy.

TASTE:  Prevailing peat.  Cloves, raisin and figs.  Vanilla in the back.

FINISH:  Long and chewy.  Not your mother’s BenRiach.  Balanced.  Depends if like a Port Peat drink, then yes, if not don’t walk away, run away!

ASSESSMENT:  With the world in love with peat, I know that it’s time for a change, but when that change comes will you still feel the same about Benriach.

 

– Maltmonster

 

 

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Feb 032012
 

Try It And You May, I Say…

 

I’m sitting down, relaxing, and enjoying what will most likely be the last of my solo Aberlour 10’s. I will soon be making my way to a liquor store to pick up another sherry matured whisky, at which point I’m going to have a few more options. In the meantime, I’ll catch you up on the last week or so.

To begin, it has only now occurred to me that I have not provided a proper set of notes for the Aberlour 10. So, here goes:

•In many ways, the nose on the Aberlour 10 reminds me of wine – there are a lot of heavy, earthy fruit tones

•These same notes are also prevalent on the palette. Along with the fruit comes some sweetness I would best describe as brown sugar

•The finish on this whisky does not linger terribly long in terms of flavour, but it is pleasantly warming

•This whisky is “compact” and dense. It’s a tasty, straightforward drink that is perfectly suited as an everyday dram but it doesn’t have an overwhelming oomph.

Our Liquorature gatherings typically fall on the last Friday of every month. About one week prior the e-mail starts to fly and by the time that we’re 3-4 days out, we’re behaving like children counting down the number of sleeps to Christmas Eve. It’s always a damn good time, and just the medicine most of us need by the end of the month.

As I was getting ready for bed on Thursday night, I decided that I was going to do something on Friday to treat myself. Per the pilgrimage rules I still had one of my 2x weekly drams left, but since there’s no shortage of great whisky on Liquorature nights, I didn’t see any sense in drinking what would be a forgettable dram of Aberlour 10. However, we did have some nice tenderloin steaks in the freezer. What the hell, why not? So into a little ziplock container goes one of the steaks and 1.5 oz of Aberlour 10.

By Friday afternoon, I was giddy with anticipation…as if Liquorature itself wasn’t enough to look forward to, now I have this badass steak just begging to be cooked up. Once arriving home from work I dashed directly to the fridge, stopping just long enough to give a cursory hello to my wife, kids, and a friend who was over for dinner.

I lifted the lid and goddamn…had I not known any better, I could have sworn that my steak had spent 18 hrs+ marinading in paint thinner. Without a doubt this is the worst “whisky” I have ever had the misfortune of sniffing. Take a look at Curt’s tasting notes for the McClellands, and imagine you’ve been a dram of that served out of a used jerry can. Absolute foul shit.

While I should have known better I clung pathetically to hope that all the good stuff had ended up in the steak. It’s only natural that tenderloin – being a particularly choice cut of steak – would be a culinary equivalent of an alchemist’s crucible and that my brilliant plan to combine the tenderloin & Aberlour 10 would result in magical transformation.

Again, I was dead wrong. Thankfully the green peppercorn sauce would be enough to mask the nasty flavours locked within my abomination of a steak.

Our Liquorature gathering kicked off about an hour later and I had soon forgotten about the vile “food”. As always we had a great time, and towards the end of the evening the topic of this pilgrimage was raised. Most were just interested to hear what I was doing, but Lance upped the ante (as is his style) and hit me with a challenging question: “what’s the point?”. I was able to rattle off a few generalizations – want to try new things, hone my appreciation by setting some limits – but I was not particularly satisfied with my answer.

One cannot wander the wilderness in perpetuity, so I have pondered Lance’s question and think that I have an answer worth sharing. In my present mode I’m certainly enjoying myself but it’s been easy – do some fun stuff, goof around, have some laughs. Unless I challenge myself all I will accomplish is to broaden the very rut I was trying to escape. It would be a shame if I don’t anything to show for my efforts at the end of the year. For this reason I’m going to be setting some goals for myself throughout the year.

My first goal: WRITE SOME CREDIBLE TASTING NOTES.

Revisit the top of this post – honestly, these are some pretty pathetic notes. No vocabulary, no cohesive thought…just some stuff. “The finish on this whisky does not linger terribly long in terms of flavour, but it is pleasantly warming” is the whisky review equivalent of “Richard seized her with his powerful, masculine hands and tore off her bodice”. While I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to write with the same sort of clarity and passion as Curt & Lance do in their reviews, I can do a good measure better than the hubris I “wroted” in this post. So, challenge accepted! Let’s see how these notes develop.

And fear not…while this particular foray into the (Dark) Culinary Arts backfired, there has been successes. I’ll post something more palatable in the next few weeks.

Until then, cheers!

 

– The Whisky Pilgrim

 

 Posted by at 6:32 am