May 292012
 

anCnoc 12 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  84/100

 

This entry level malt in the anCnoc range is a feisty l’il fella indeed.  Surprising in its depth, and unbelievably unique for a malt whose flavor profile is really not more than a step or two off the beaten path, there’s something more here than initially meets the eye.  Further impressive is the fact that this whisky is chock full of personality at a mere 12 years of age.  I’ve read others refer to it as ‘complex’, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the term ‘complex’ as it applies here, I do see an incredible depth.  This is a malt that soars in all aspects, and only falls right at the end.

Before we get to the Icarus act right at the back end, let’s sing the virtues of this Highlander…

This is a malt all about the olfacory experience.  Surprisingly peppery on the nose.  Fruity and kinda floral.  Notes of citrus and blueberry are zingy and vibrant.  Tobacco and milk chocolate bring a darker, earthier edge.  I gotta confess…I adore the nose on this whisky.  Truly love it.

The cereals on the palate are immense.  Oak and lemon play a part.  All flavors are initially pleasant and integrated…right up until the fade, that is.  Here we get a denouement of oddest overt graininess, grassiness and notes of an almost fishy character.  Not maritime/coastal fishy notes, but rather a surprising, and not particularly pleasant, fishiness.

I was really digging the Talisker meets Glenmorangie (sans the heavy orange notes) profile until it all kinda barley-ed out into fishmarket-ness.  Good malt up to the finish.

Still possibly preferable to the anCnoc 16.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:01 am
May 282012
 

Talisker 10 y.o.

45.8% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

“The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet.”

     …so sayeth Robert Louis Stevenson.  King?  Perhaps not, but a princely dram to be sure.

I’m sure it is becoming abundantly clear, I like peat.  It is highly possible that someone could run over my dog, date my sister and flirt with my wife…as long as their apology included a bottle of something smoky.  (Don’t get any ideas, boys).  Just as with my coffee (strong and black), my wine (fat and oaky) and my beer (skunky and Euro, please), I like my whisky to have distinction and character.  That is what my extra dollars go towards.

In order to truly appreciate those big smoky, phenolic bastards though, one must have certain benchmarks against which to measure.  I can appreciate most any well-made whisky, but I have a few favorites against which I measure others.  Talisker 10 is just such a one.  It is complex enough to please a discerning palate, yet not intimidating enough to bruise the sensitivities of a whisky noob.  Smoke?  A little, yeah.

Talisker 10 is a mildly/moderately peated whisky from the Isle of Skye.  Heavier PPM (parts per million) than the average malt, but not in league with the bullies from Islay.  The true beauty?  It’s not so phenolic that one couldn’t be enticed to a daily dram.  Often the big boys (Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg) are occasional sippers and a little too beefy to be an everyday bottle (not to mention the beating they give your wallet).  Talisker has crafted a beautiful profile that has that peaty goodness I crave, but also a tastefully tamed balance against the lighter notes.

This is no obscene beast of a peated whisky.   Trust me when I say that it is much milder and approachable than the following notes would suggest.

Nose:  Peat and pepper.  Light sandalwood notes, and maybe a l’il vanilla.  Faint bit of plum.  Sharp lemon.  Briny and expectedly coastal.  Hay.  Still rather sweet, though less so than previous vintages (and this one is a couple years old too!).

Palate:  Gale force arrival.  Like shutter doors slamming in an oceanic storm.  Peat and a big peppery bite.  Cereals.  A mouthful of seawater and rocks.  Keylime pie.  Ginger.  More citric bite.  Second wave of pepper and spice at the back before it ebbs into cereal notes.  Fairly drying.

Thoughts:  A lesser malt than earlier incarnations, it’s true, but still a standby ’round here.  Has taken a media-drubbing in recent years, and it has dropped off in terms of quality, but it’s still one of the best 10s on the market.

*Updated 3 August 2014

 

 Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:48 pm
May 272012
 

Ardbeg Ten

46% abv

Score: 88.5/100

 

It doesn’t get more ‘Islay’ than this. Ardbeg Ten is one of the truest expressions of an Islay single malt I have ever encountered. It epitomizes the region and style. Quite possibly the greatest ten year old whisky I’ve tried and most likely the best entry level expression to come from any of the ‘big eight’ on Islay.

It is the fountainhead of Ardbeg’s resurrection, and as such, it stands as a monument to the rebirth of the distillery. Its clean lines, sharp angles, austere clarity and defined character have shown that the distillery has not only pulled off the Lazarus act, but done so with style.

Interesting to note…old stocks saw the light of day when the distillery reopened in 1997 under Glenmorangie, but quickly disappeared in expressions such as the brilliant ‘17’ and ‘Airigh Nam Beist’. At this time the oldest expression in the Ardbeg core range is this, the Ten. And even still…demand outstrips supply. No wonder there is little old stock hitting the market outside of the indies.

Straight outta that sexy emerald bottle, this is a light straw-like color, quite similar to pale diffuse sunshine, and it prickles at the nostrils a little, ‘cause hey…let’s face it…this is a young whisky.

The nose is all about campfires and smoldering peat. Salty coastal notes and briny iodine are everywhere. Next…buckets of freshly squeezed citrus fruit and a mild nutty vanilla leeched from the bourbon oak. The charred wood notes are to die for and marry well with wispy stirrings of anise (which appear a little more boldly on the palate).

Heat, peat and smoke on delivery and arrival. These come right up front, ride along through the development and stay until the party is over. Surprisingly the Ten is somewhat creamy and vanilla-noted. There is fruit there as well…mostly young ripe green fruit and lemon rind. The finish has just a touch of melon behind the oaky vanillins, smoke and drying green apple skin tartness.

This is coat-your-mouth, room-scenting, firewater. Well worth taking the time to savor.

Ardbeg firing on all cylinders is a nearly unstoppable machine, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the pure spirit when the distillery’s entry level expression, at a mere ten years of age, is this bloody good.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:33 pm
May 242012
 

Port Ellen 8th Release083

55.3% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

So.  One question.  Why the f*ck did this distillery close?

I concede that all of the Port Ellen expressions that I have tasted to date have been in their mid 20s to early 30s, so age is certainly a factor.  We all know (or should all know) that aged peat is sexy.  There is simply no getting around it.  When the smoke, brine and tar begin to resound with lessoning echoes, the fruits that previously were hidden behind the peat curtain begin to sashay towards center stage for their moment in the spotlight.  This moment, between the ebb of the peat and the crescendo of the oak, is a small window of time.  At this point the malt needs to retire to the comforts of glass to arrest the maturation process.

And here, at this point of maturity, is where we now find the diminishing stores of Port Ellen.  Every sip is one less that exists in the world.  When Port Ellen closed its doors in ’83, we were left with a cache of casks that one day certainly must run dry.  Speculation runs rampant on how much PE is left in the world (nowhere moreso than here on ATW), but to put it simply…this whisky is going the way of the dodo.

Mr. PE (aka Maltmonster) has said that this 8th release, while still exceptional, is not necessarily the personification of the distillery’s profile.  I’ve tasted a dozen or so Port Ellen’s now, of varying casks, ages and finishes, and while I cannot speak with the assurance he does, I can say that no one would know better.

Having said that…

Let’s go full circle to my first question.  Why would Port Ellen be closed?  This whisky is brilliant stuff.  I have heard that even in its younger incarnations it deserved more than the relegation to blending fodder it was known to be.  This was another Islay distillery that produced a high quality whisky and certainly had the financial backing it needed to get through the whisky slump of the 80s.  Its closure will forever haunt us.

Port Ellen 8.  The nose is subtle and sophisticated.  Fading smoke and peat…mild lemon…light honeydew melon and freshly cut potato.  Hints of wax and latex and tar.  Licorice and mint.  A dusting of cocoa powder.  All of this seems slightly restrained, even at cask strength.

The palate is woody and smoky.  Age is everywhere here, but not of something past its prime.  More akin to starting the descent after summiting.  It is oily and lingering (beautifully so), and bitters out slightly in oaky shards.

Typical of the distillery style?  Maybe not quite, but brilliant, brilliant Islay whisky nevertheless.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
May 242012
 

Bunnahabhain 8 y.o. MacPhail’s Collection

43% abv

Score:  78/100

 

What the hell have we here?  One of the oddest Bunnahabhains I’ve ever encountered, to be sure.  If you told me this was a Lowlander I’d believe you.  If you handed this to me blind and suggested it was an Islay malt, I’d likely look for the men with the butterfly nets.  This in and of itself kinda speaks volumes as to the footprint Bunnahabhain leaves.  The distillery’s reputation is almost a non-reputation.  Shame, really.  Bunna releases some damn fine whiskies.  Especially in recent years under the ownership of Burn Stewart.

Here, of course, we’re not speaking of a Burn Stewart release, but instead of an independent bottling by Gordon & MacPhail.  A freakishly young one at that.  Eight years old and absolutely no pretense of playing ‘grown up’.  I sort of dig it though.  It’s neat to try such a young naked Bunnahabhain.

This one is lively and light.  The oak is still screaming like mad at this age.  Vanilla is skipping along hand in hand, as to be expected from such a young dram still obviously under the influence of a very vocal cask.  Spiced bread dough straight from an old country kitchen.  Rather typical Bunnahabhain pear.  Floral notes, ginger, pepper and cinnamon.  Finally…salt water taffee.

Thin and decidedly lacking any real personality on the palate.  Not bad, but…just not much to speak of.  Oak and tart green fruit.  Again…I would never peg this as a Bunnahabhain.

To be honest…a little too little of anything special going on to really sink your teeth into and love.  But I do rather like it anyway.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
May 242012
 

Bunnahabhain 30 y.o. Old Malt Cask

50% abv

Score:  91/100

 

1978-2009 in wood.  One of 566 bottles.

This is the oldest Bunnahabhain I’ve tried to date.  Interestingly enough, the profile is almost exactly what I would expect from an old Bunna.  It’s almost uncanny, especially considering this is an independent release.

Admittedly I have a bit of a soft spot for Bunnahabhain.  On an island renowned for its peat and smoke monsters, Bunnahabhain is the soft-spoken gentle giant.  Quiet of tread, yet decidedly assured.  This immediately endears me to a malt that stands on its own merit, and not on the back of a profile that just so happens to tickle my tastebuds (that of beefy peat and billowy smoke).

This old Islay gent gives us a nose of stewed fruits and a wee bit of smoke.  Some creamy caramel and sweet old sherry notes.  Mincemeat tarts and dry rye bread.  Rich liqueur-soaked pears.  ‘Age’, as much as that is actually a flavor note in and of itself.  This borders on being a beautiful nose, really something special, but in the end only toes the line.

On the palate…a little skunky.  Bitterness blocks the fruits that are bouncing around and trying desperately to peek over it’s shoulder.  Not nearly as sweet as the nose hints at.  Sharp dates and currants.  Still good, but sadly…a letdown.

I think locally this retailed for about $200CA.  Absolutely worthwhile.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:31 pm
May 242012
 

Macallan 12 y.o. Sherry Oak

40% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

Admittedly I am a little hard on Macallan.  One of the most revered distilleries in Scotland, with one of the most storied reputations, and…one of the highest price points.  These factors make it impossible not to expect a damn good whisky from Speyside’s iconic Macallan.  Oh yeah…and it struts about under the title of “THE Macallan”.

I must say first and foremost that this is a great nosing whisky.  If you need something to practice scent dissection with, this is your dram.  Chock full of bold and assertive notes, none of which is buried so deep that peeling them out becomes a chore.

A wallop of heavy-handed sherry right out front.  Mild milk chocolate with orange, nutmeg and almond (or marzipan).  Slightly floral and fudgy.  Dark caramel with a wee sour green apple tang.  Some vanilla, a little smokiness, some woods and a bit of distant maltiness.  With this many individual strands it creates quite an interesting pastiche in the end, but somehow it works.

This arrival is large, oaky and tannic.  Big sherry and dark red fruits.  Across-the-room smoke and a fairly unremarkable ebb and fade.  Somewhat middle-of-the-road in terms of viscosity, but that suits this whisky, as it isn’t necessary here to douse the taste buds to pick out the strong flavors.  Not uncharming though, in its own way.

Not a bad drink, this one simply lacks the charisma I’d expect a Macallan to possess.  An early evening sipper with a Steinbeck novel in hand.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

-Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
May 242012
 

Bruichladdich Rocks

46% abv

Score:  83/100

 

I’m not sure how a whisky is ‘designed’ to be taken with ice, but that is the spin Bruichladdich has put on ‘Rocks’.  What was different in the engineering of this malt that makes it work against the scientific principles that suggest that a whisky will ‘close up’ by adding ice?  Hm…curiouser and curiouser.

Anyway…moving on.  Regular readers will know by now that my humble thoughts and tasting notes are quite purist.  There is no ‘with water’ or ‘without water’ delineation.  There is no mixing to concoct a cocktail.  There is certainly nowhere on ATW where I suggest you should use ice in whisky.

Irrespective of what Jim McEwan’s (bless ‘im, I love the man) intent was for Rocks, we’ll be going at ‘er in the purest sense possible; room temperature whisky, nosing glass, with a slight agitation of the spirit and proper nosing techniques.  I kind of look at it the same way I look at a well-written song.  You know a song is rock solid when you can jam away at it in all different styles and interpretations and it still sounds good.  If Rocks is a well-made dram, it won’t need ice to make it better.

(Note to self:  “Careful, now, careful…don’t twist an ankle climbing down off your soapbox”)

Fortunately, Bruichladdich has a really good base spirit to work with.  What comes off the stills at Loch Indaal’s rebellious distillery, infamous for its teal/turquoise, is a charming buttery, fruit-rich spirit that is extremely versatile.

Nose…

Young and scrappy, but not bad at all.  Some oxidation works wonders here.  A little chocolate, a little wine.  Some gooseberry and wildflower.  Kinda jammy, and fairly sweet and floral.  Yeasty and peppery.

Palate…

Grapes, pepper and oak.  Mildly tannic and drying.  Pleasant and easy to drink, with a bittersweet barley finish.

I quite came round to this one after a little initial warming-to period.  None too shabby for a young drink.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:11 pm
May 192012
 

Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 70

46.1% abv

Score:  94.5/100

 

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen.  Not here.  Not to me.

Last week a serendipitous meeting with Andy Dunn, representing Gordon & MacPhail, led to a series of conversations regarding the possibility of a feature article on the already legendary Mortlach 70 year old.  I was hoping to take some photos, put together some details and let the Great Northwest know that Calgary was now in possession of the world’s oldest bottled whisky.  In all honesty, I was also hoping to be able to nose this revered old chap and write up a partial review (partial, as I had no expectations of actually tasting it), as I mentioned to Andy.  Brazen to even ask, I suppose.  Andy not only graciously agreed to the shoot and nosing, he said something that sounded conspicuously like “I’ll let you taste it”.  My stunned ears could not quite comprehend this, and my belief was held in suspense ’til the following day.

Fast forward several hours and I found myself in a back room of one of my favorite whisky shops in the company of this wizened old dram, snapping photos and being…well…stunned, to be frank.

All Things Whisky is both proud and humbled to be able to offer up tasting notes on the world’s oldest whisky.

In a further nod to the fates…this 70 year old whisky is ATW’s 70th review.

On October 15th, 1938 a first fill sherry hogshead, cask number 2656, was filled at the Mortlach distillery in Dufftown.  I don’t think anyone could have possibly imagined the contents of this cask would lay undisturbed as 70 years of tumultuous world history unfolded, only to become history itself.  In spectacular tribute and to celebrate this whisky’s 70th birthday, it was decanted into 54 70cl bottles and 162 20 cl bottles.  As you can imagine, these are available at somewhat of a premium on the market.  This history-making botting was done under the Gordon & MacPhail Generations line.  The idea behind ‘Generations’ is to release whisky laid down by one generation and bottled by its successor.  In the case of the Mortlach 70, this whisky actually spans three generations.

Detailed history of this G&M Mortlach has been available far and wide for some time now (including a great video here, and an ATW feature inthe works) so we’ll cut it a little short and share a few notes on ATW’s personal impressions, ’cause let’s face it…sadly there are not likely to be too many people writing up tasting notes on this one.

The nose:

Simply unbelievable.  Never in a million years (or maybe just 70) would I ever guess this whisky to be the age it boasts.  While mature in every manner expected, it sparkles with vibrancy and life.  Think of films you’ve seen where make-up is used to age a character, but the youthful eyes are always a dead give-away in spite of the costumer’s best efforts.  Mellow…but dynamic.

The oak, which one would expect to not only dominate at this age but absolutely decimate the other notes, is certainly a defining character, but in an elegant and refined way.  The biggest surprise was how gorgeously smoky this whisky is.  Not the peat smoke we’ve come to recognize; instead more like tendrils of rich camp fire smoke.  The fruits are ancient and fruitcake-like in their bold intensity.  Mostly prune or fig.  The other standard fruitcake notes are omnipresent as well; caramelized sugars bring a rum-like edge and are topped with an almond/marzipan creaminess.  Finally, there is a rubbery or waxy note which is an absolute defining character of this Mortlach.

The palate:

Again the oak arrives with an understated smokiness and a dusty maturity.  Sweet caramels and mild vanilla are the initial charm, while the more seductive dry figgyness (could that be a word?) sneaks all over the place leaving its mark.  God…I salivate at the memory.  When the glass is finally dry (and your eyes moist, knowing you’ll likely never taste it again), the finish fades, warm and familiar.  All pleasant but not overly long.  Well…not long enough anyway.  You simply won’t want to let it go.

Sigh.  Gone.  It is staggering that this whisky is so perfectly intact after 70 years.  I’m truly in awe.  Is it the best whisky I’ve tasted?  No.  Not quite.  One of them?  You bet.  These flavors may never be duplicated, and to have sampled this whisky is a fulfillment I can hardly explain.

You simply could not ask more of a 70 year old whisky.

Keep checking the site here.  I am waiting on a few more details, at which point ATW will post a lengthier piece on Gordon & MacPhail’s legendary Mortlach.

One final word…thanks again, Andy.  This is one of those things I’ll remember for a lifetime.  You gave that to me.  Slainte.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:52 pm
May 192012
 

Gordon & MacPhail Generations Glenlivet 70

45.9% abv

 

Score:  92/100

 

I’ve been at sixes and sevens with a respected mate of mine as to how good this whisky is (or isn’t).  I contest ‘winner’.  He accedes ‘not bad’.  Damning with faint praise, really, when one considers the magnitude of the malt we are debating.  This is the second in Gordon & MacPhail’s Generations line, a 1940 Glenlivet.  Following hard on the heels of last year’s spectacular 1938 Mortlach, this ‘Livet is again a case study in dispelling all preconceptions of inevitable over-oaking of whisky when left too long in the barrel.  How the hell can something sit in wood for 70 years without coming out tasting like bitter wood chips?  Mind-boggling.

The argument said mate puts forth is that simply surviving this long does not a good malt make.  He is, of course, absolutely correct.  Where he takes the low road and I take the high ( ;)  ) is in regards to the inherent quality of this wizened old whisky.  I stand behind it…this is a really damn good whisky.

Cask #339 was a first fill sherry butt casked in 1940 with Glenlivet new make spirit.  After sitting in the warehouses at the Glenlivet distillery for 40 years, Gordon & MacPhail acquired the barrel on the 10th of June, 1980.  The decision to leave this whisky in wood was a brilliant one.  A further 30 years passed while this cask lay biding its time in the hallowed halls of the G&M warehouses.  What was finally decanted for 2011 was another fountain-of-youth miracle from Gordon & MacPhail.  One hundred 70cl and one hundred and seventy five 20cl bottles saw the light of day this year, with a further hundred or so held for 2012.

It is hard not to note, as well, that at 70 years, and with an evaporation loss of about 2/3 of the cask, this spirit was still a respectable 45.9% abv.  Again…astounding.  I would have expected this to have been well below bottling strength by this age.

The years are worn proudly in the way of candlewax, char, warm leather and deep smoky oak notes.  Soft toffee and melting chocolate are forefront.  There is a surprising spice that runs perfectly in step alongside threads of orange.  Muted berry, vanilla bean and creamy caramel meat smoke round out the profile.  The ultimate triumph here is how restrained the wood really is.  This whisky may not be too far from the tipping point but at 70 years old it still has not reached the point of being over-oaked.

The palate is rubbery and waxy, rich in a kerosene smokiness.  It is oily and mouthcoating, with fruits still alive against all odds.  The development is slow and comfortable.  Waxy wood notes linger and tart fruit skins recede slowly through the fade.  The finish is long, mature and incredibly drying.  I should add…when the dram is done, the empty glass has a unique character all its own…a charming sweet smoky caramel.

This is a malt that takes me away to lakeside cabins in the fall…Canadian autumns and early snows.

That G&M has been able to release two 70 year old whiskies in the past year or so, speaks volumes about their warehouses.  When asked recently about further releases in this Generations range, Michael Urquhart neatly sidestepped, confirming only that this is indeed a range.  Short answer…yes…the G&M stores hold more mindblowing malts in varying stages of age-defying suspended animation.

Is this as good as last year’s Mortlach?  Nae.  Is it good though?  Undoubtedly.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:36 pm