Oct 202012
 

Aberlour 10 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

Wow.  How does a whisky this good sneak under the radar at $30-35 a bottle?  Truly astounding.  While not a stunner by any means,  when one considers the alternatives in this price range, this is really quite a find.

Relativity is key to many things in life.  This whisky is one.  In its own way, it is nearly as astounding as the a’bunadh (which, of course, I am a fan of).  The 10 year old is a beautifully balanced sherried Speysider, full of character and individuality.

So…let this fine young Aberlour be a lesson to the snob in all of us.  Though I generally do not shop based on age statement, price point or region…I will confess to never having found a whisky this good in this price point.  And for this very reason, I simply stopped looking.  Many moons ago, for one of our club gatherings, one of the lads had a few dollars of his whisky budget remaining and saw this on the shelf.  We’d yet to have a go at it so he nabbed it blindly and threw it out to the rest of us.  The reception to such a young and unassuming malt was quite incredible.  At least three in my immediate dramming circles have been swayed to keeping this as one of their ‘house’ bottles for daily dramming.

Nose:  Fresh baking cookies, rich in vanilla and cinnamon.  Light spiced rum.  Possibly some walnut.  Orange rind and dried apricot and sultana.  Nice balance.  Nothing too out of character yet, but the potential for greatness is already showing its face (i.e. Give this another 8 or 10 years in oak and bottle at natural strength…wow!)

Palate:  Doesn’t diverge much from the nose.  Dried fruits, sweet sherry and slightly syrupy, even at this rather neutered abv.  Still somewhat fruity, with a smooth vanilla richness.  Typically, it fades into sodden woody notes and wine-like tartness.  Not bad at all.

Great entry level malt for anyone reluctant to take on the buckings of peat or the added price point of some of the older, more storied malts.  At this price…highly recommended.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:54 pm
Oct 202012
 

GlenDronach 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  84/100

 

Re-tasted and Re-evaluated.

Try as I might, I can not love this whisky.  I first reviewed it a couple of years back, and after having dipped my beak into the fantastic 15 year and other older variants, I began to second guess my earlier appraisal of this 12 year old.  I went at it completely independently of my previous marks and scores.  Interestingly enough, with absolutely no idea as to how I had initially broken down my scoring, I differentiated in only one place (the nose), and by a mere half point.

In an attempt to allow this bad boy to sparkle a bit, I threw together a bit of an informal horizontal tasting.  Four 12 year old sherried malts from the Highlands/Speyside regions went head to head.  The results were…unspectacular.  All good.  None exceptional.  Though I figured this may come out on top…it actually ranked in the bottom.  Sorry…ain’t gonna tell what the others were.

GlenDronach is a Highland Distillery of some esteem, and rightfully so.  Founded in 1826, they have been producing fine whisky for just shy of 200 years.  In recent times (2008) GlenDronach has been taken over by BenRiach.  The tradition of crafting bold sherried scotch whisky has not flagged in the least.

And while this is bold, it’s by no means beastly. 

Nose:  There seems to be a slight imbalance here, in that the barley is still singing over all else.  I would hope for a little more restraint on those cereal notes by 12 years.  It’s not unpleasant, just…not quite there yet.  Rum-soaked fruitcake notes (the usual spiel with sherries malts…figs and raisin, etc), some orange, chocolate dustings and pencil shavings.  Some toasted marshmallow creaminess too.  Though not bad, it sounds more pleasant than it is, if I’m to be honest.

Palate:  Barley, sherry (grape/wine) and sweet citrus are primary flavours on the palate as well, dipping and dodging the oak notes.  The arrival is firm, if unexceptional, before it moves on into drier fruits and a lingering oak whimper at the end.

If not for a bit too much cereal roughness (which is long ironed out by the 15 year expression) this would score higher.

Enjoyable, but a little disappointing.

Now…let’s go back to the beginning, in referencing the 15 (and other releases as well).  Though I can’t say the 12 y.o. does much for me, everything from the 15 year mark and on is really, really worthwhile.  GlenDronach, along with sister distillery Benriach, has some of the greatest old stores around.  Hit up some of those exceptional single casks if you can.  Those from the ’70s, in particular.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:32 pm
Oct 202012
 

Macallan Cask Strength

59.3% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Let’s not delve into the comparison conversations that always crop up regarding the young cask strength sherry bombs.  They’ve been tackled rather relentlessly to date, and I’m sure that at this point most drinkers and drammers have sworn their allegiance to one or the other.  Or the other.  Whatever.

There’s simply no two ways about it.  This Macallan holds its own and stands on its own two feet, needing no competition as a measuring stick to assert its value.  This is a damn good malt.  Overpowered and bursting at the seams with flavor, this is a whisky for snowy winter eves and late summer nights.  Fortunately…we have stunning examples of both in Western Canada, so there is no shortage of excuses to tip the bottle.  Not that I ever need an excuse to justify indulgence in that aural beauty of the pop of a cork from a bottle of single malt.

First things first…extra points for the absolutely sparkling clean Oloroso.  Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to concede that Macallan get some truly pristine sherry casks to work with.  The inherent perks in having direct linkages to their own bodegas in Spain, I suppose.

Snug in that nest of comforting sherry are deep dark vanilla, toffee and chewy dried fruits.  Fresh fruits, by way of black cherry and concorde grapes.  The nose alone sets my mouth to watering, with its heavy array of branch-bending juicy tree fruits.  Darker nuances like chocolate and shredded tobacco as well.

The palate is chewy and rich in spicy sherry notes of rum-soaked fruit, citrus and vanilla extract.  Some sort of caramel/toffee warmth and cocoa meet pleasant oaky charm.

One of my favorite Macallan’s, to be certain, and a good go-to when it is one of those ‘sweet tooth’ evenings.  This Macallan, I believe, was bottled for Canada (or maybe North America…can’t remember exactly what I had heard), and sadly is to become obsolete if rumours are to be believed.  Snatch up a bottle or three while you can.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:02 pm
Oct 202012
 

Fettercairn Fior

42% abv

83.5/100

 

Here’s a fiery little number from the Old Fettercairn Distillery.  What the hell is with the color on this one?  Wow.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a vibrant shade of orange/amber in a whisky before.

Apparently ‘Fior’ means something along the lines of ‘pure’ or ‘true’ in Gaelic, but based on color and linguistic similarity, my first guess would have been something more like a Latin noun for something along the lines of ‘fire’.

Alright…now that I’ve expounded on my linguistic ignorance, let’s move on to the Fior.

There is a sweetness here that borders on liqueur.  Big bold orange notes meet a sweet smokiness and tangy sherry before splashing headline into pools of caramel and melted Swiss chocolate.  There is a pronounced floral side to this as well that almost reaches the point of ‘perfumed’.  Finally, a big over-arching citric note that adds a sort of electric zing to the experience.

Chinese spice and slightly plummy now on the palate.  Wine now.  Something with a bit of spice and pepper to it, like a Shiraz (lacking the flavors of a shiraz, to be sure…I’m speaking more to the characteristics of tannins and spice).  Dry plum skins.  Hmmm…odd one.  When this was first given to me, I spoke with the fine chap who passed it over to me and asked if he had noticed an odd textural quality to it.  I said it seemed almost gritty, like it had a very fine particulate in it.  He said, in not so many words, that I was off my f’n rocker (he’s actually far too much of a gent to say that, but either way…did not see what I was speaking of).  I did notice though that our mate, Serge, over at Whiskyfun has referred to it as chalky.  Maybe we’re on the same page?

Anyway…neither spectacular nor one to avoid.  I kinda had fun with the Fior.  Decent entry level malt.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:13 pm
Oct 192012
 

Ardbeg Renaissance

55.9% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Fires of hell, is this hot!  Unbelievably explosive.  Ardbeg rarely fails to deliver an enormous whisky, both in terms of aloholic content and a flavor profile so defined it is nearly a caricature.  “Renaissance” is no exception.  This is the fourth installment in Ardbeg’s “young” line, which has allowed us to witness Ardbeg maturing from “Very Young” to “Still Young” to “Almost There” to this ten year old cask strength…”Renaissance”.  Brilliant little campaign that I wish we Westerners had been allowed to partake in.  Sadly none of these expressions hit Canadian shores.

Recent trips to Islay have allowed me the opportunity to try all of these young beasties however (and perhaps mule a little home for my personal stores), so why not share a few details?

The nose on this hot young cracker is peppery like a young talisker.  Freshly cracked black pepper.  The chocolate and fruit notes are reminiscent (no kidding) of a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Sharp peat, citrus and smoke are generously splashed all over a clean medicinal backdrop.  Though the nose doesn’t hold a candle to the tang of the palate on this one, I am blown away by just how razor-sharp it is.  Almost brittle.

First sips…kinda like tongue-wrestling a mouthful of porcupines.  Prickly as hell.  Hot and peppery, smoky and peaty.  Some smooth chocolate here as well, but think mole chile.  I adore the firey anesthesia that comes part and parcel with this Ardbeg.  When the heat finally wavers a touch (some time later) what remains is the typical green apple skin peatiness and a tart, drying mouthfeel.

Not my favorite Ardbeg, but still head and shoulders above 95% of its contenders.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:06 pm
Oct 192012
 

Ardbeg Almost There

54.1% abv

Score:  89/100

 

So here we are rounding third.  Ardbeg’s next-to-last step along the way to reaching a standard ten year old release.  So this, rather logically, would be a nine year old.  (I say ‘rather logically’, however this four part series actually only saw releases at 6, 8, 9 and 10 year marks).

So…the name of this expression begs the question ‘almost there to what?’  Simple answer…a flagship 10 year old comprised of distillate produced entirely in the age post-restart-up.

Coming into the homestretch it must have been a hell of a pleasant run for the guys and gals at Ardbeg when they realized that there was a rather decent shot at restoring the distillery’s stocks to the quality they once were in its earlier incarnation.

The nose on the Almost There is wet rock, salt and smoke.  Lemon peel and vegetal peat notes.  Cereal notes still carry through, with the barest dash of almond paste.  Vaguest hints of some sort of white fruit.  Maybe, jus’ maybe, a bit of some sort of ‘lemon clean’-type polish.  Anise or fennel, and powdered ginger (not the fresh stuff!).

Smoke and sharp tangy citric notes hit the palate first.  A salt licorice flavor too.  And to compliment the salt?  Pepper, of course.  The grains are there with a touch of oak and vanillins at the end, meeting that familiar tartness on the finish.  At this strength you get to see all the beautiful nuances Ardbeg is now being recognized (and lauded) for.

Underdeveloped?  Sure.  Unrestrained?  Absolutely.  Rather exceptional for this age?  Hell yeah!

On to the Renaissance…!

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:02 pm
Oct 192012
 

Ardbeg Still Young

56.2% abv

Overall:  88.5/100

 

Well now…this is a zippy little lad.  If you’ve read many of these short reviews on ATW, I would imagine you know by now that I have a soft spot for young peaty whiskies, and a less than clandestine appreciation for most things Ardbeg.  So here’s the deal…most Ardbeg is produced in the same manner.  The differences in expressions tend to be from different bottling ages, or possibly different woods.  When the root of the spirit (or ‘new-make’) remains constant, and is exceptional, the derivatives are bound to be of a fairly uniform high quality as well.

Sigh.  Unfortunately I occasionally feel like I have to justify my Ardbeg adoration.  This will be the last time.  Hey…they make bloody good whisky.  Why shouldn’t I say so?

So, where does that leave us in terms of the Ardbeg Still Young?  This is the second bottle (of four) in the ‘Path To Peaty Maturity’ series, so what can logically be expected is an abrasive young whisky which has not had all of its sharp corners knocked off yet by mellowing in wood.  It is a cheeky young barroom brawler, flipping its kilt up, and rolling with the punches.  At 56.2% abv, it is Ardbeg as Ardbeg is meant to be seen.

The nose is enormously Islay.  Buckets of sea water, iodine and smoke.  Extremely medicinal.  It is fruity, with the grains hidden deep…very deep…in the background, and wave after wave of smoke blocking most individual notes anyway.  You truly don’t think that’s a bad thing, do you?

The palate delivers some mouthwatering fruit, primarily green apple and lemon rind.  More salt and…have I mentioned smoke?  The sheer blunt force delivery of heat and alcohol carry the finish on for infinite amounts of time.  In all honesty I’m not sure what could possibly wipe these flavors off the tongue.  Still Young loses a mark or two for overall balance though, as there’s something slightly ‘off’ in the latter stages of development.  Can’t quite put my finger on what note it is I’m having trouble with here.

Strong showing for a young Ardbeg nevertheless.  If you can find it…grab one.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:05 pm
Oct 192012
 

Ardbeg Very Young

58.3% abv

89.5/100

 

When our saviour, Glenmorangie PLC, came to the aid of malt lovers ’round the world, purchasing the defunct remains (and priceless old stocks) of Ardbeg, little could they have foreseen the coming renaissance that they would be responsible for.  This event, in the year of our lord, nineteen and ninety-seven, marked the birth of a movement.

Daily…globally…legions of Ardbegians swoon and hang on every word uttered about Ardbeg like the second coming of this Islay distillery is no less relevant than the…

Wait…’saviour’…’renaissance’…’second coming’…

Before I finally cross the line into explicit blasphemy (which I do frequently, but not often in the greater blogosphere if I can help myself), let’s settle down and focus on the malt at hand.  Ardbeg Very Young.

After a significant amount of investment on the part of Glenmorangie (pounds, time and labour), the copper stills bubbled, the new spirit flowed and whisky met wood.  Six years later, in 2004, Ardbeg had in hand the first in their ‘Path To Peaty Maturity’ series.  Though old Ardbeg is the stuff of legend, and well nigh worthy of killing your first-born for (sorry…couldn’t help myself), how would this new Ardbeg distillate hold up?  Exceptionally well, it would turn out.

Nose:  Fiery, fiery pepper and dry smoke.  Young chilis and spiced greens.  Lemon and peat, freshly grated citrus zest and newly cut hay.  Grassy with subtle splashes of milk chocolate.  Ripe and sweet…just emerging.

Palate:  Spritely and alive.  A coarse pepper bite meets brine and seaweed (nori).  Smoky bonfire and a sweetness reminiscent of chewing the soft centers out of grains right off the stalk.

This really is a great young Ardbeg.  I’ve seen some rather unforgiving notes on this one, but I don’t buy into that line of thinking.  Score well-deserved and rather indicative of the possibilities open to a distillery with a spirit this clean.  No…this is not over-rating it.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Oct 132012
 

Hello all – it’s been a while!

For those who are keeping score this is the first Whisky Pilgrimage posting in quite some time. Since it has been so long, it is probably easiest to browse through the back-posts and get a refresher on what the Whisky Pilgrimage is all about, the rules of the game, and so on:

Episode 1 – A Long Journey

Episode 2 – Aberlour 10

Episode 3 – Riedel v Rocks

Episode 4 – Try it and you may, I Say

Episode 5 – Macallan 12

Episode 6 – Glendronach 15

Episode 7 – Glenfiddich 15

 

What the hell happened?

As you can see, when it comes to meeting schedule I’m starting to close in on a “Chinese Democracy” level of credibility. It just isn’t working out the way that I planned.

In January I was concerned that the 1 bottle / month stipulation was going to be too slow. Surprisingly, it turns out to be exactly the opposite of that. I am enjoying the variety and the focused appreciation borne of this Whisky Pilgrimage, but struggle to keep pace with the schedule. It’s not nice feeling that I’m constantly falling behind…not generating the new content quick enough…and so on.

Having spent about a week cut off from civilization without a drop of whisky in site, I came to a few realizations:

  • All Things Whisky is about appreciation of whisky, which has nothing to do with the pace at which I move through the lineup.
  • Slow as I may go, this Pilgrimage is far more enjoyable when I share stories and details about the journey. Most of the positive feedback I’ve received has to do with small observations or side stories. And as you might have guessed, these are the things I most enjoy writing about
  • So, for better or worse, schedule be damned. Onward with enjoying this all day by day without any artificial pressure to keep to a clock. The world has enough of those already, I needn’t add another!

 

Where do we go from here?

Despite my laissez-faire attitude towards the schedule we still have a journey to take, and we can’t get there without at least a bit of a plan. One step in front of the other. What I would like to do is continue on with three bottle cycles as planned, keeping in the $150 range for the cycle. Rather than arbitrarily cutting off at the 1 yr mark though, I’d like to add to the queue over time based upon my own personal interests and recommendations from readers. We currently have the following…

  • Sherry
    • Aberlour 10: $32 (warm, inviting whisky – best value of the bunch)
    • Macallan 12: $55 (bold, rich, and demanding)
    • Glendronach 15: $72 (warm, sweet, rich – best of the cycle, and worth saving for)
  • Speyside
    • Glenfiddich 15: $48 (a complex, interesting whisky – good value)
  • Blends
  • Peated

 

In no particular order, I would like to add Irish and Bourbon to the above list. I’ve never properly been able to get my head wrapped around Irish whisky, and this is exactly the sort of boundary smashing I had set out to accomplish on the Pilgrimage. I am a bit more familiar with Bourbon and will try and plan this cycle to hit right around summertime so that I can enjoy the odd mint julep outside on the deck on those hot summer days.

Any other recommendations or ideas you may have will go on a waiting list, which I’ll revisit from time to time.

 

And finally, what of Speyside?

Ah, Speyside. I am now on the 3rd and final bottle and have still yet to make up my mind on this region. Complex and subtle whisky requires equally complex and subtle thinking, and I am just not there yet. I will continue to try as I would like to put these thoughts to paper and get some conversation running that might help me to guide me out of the fog.

In the meantime, let’s get you all caught up. My Speyside selection #2 was none other than the ubiquitous Glenfiddich 12.

Glenfiddich 12 is undoubtedly one of the most recognized single malt scotch bottlings in the world and despite my reasonably broad level of exposure, I knew very little about it.

Personal confession: aside from the odd drink on an airplane, the only other notable occasion in which I had consumed Glenfiddich 12 was as the primary ingredient in a shooter called “The Douche Bag”. This charming drink consists of 1 oz of Glenfiddich 12 followed by a 1 oz chaser of pickle juice.

DO. NOT. RECOMMEND.

It’s every bit as nasty as it sounds. Having sampled roughly a 1/2 dozen in one terrifying sitting, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter. Do the right thing and leave the Douche Bags, to well…the douche bags. No more need be said.

Obviously my Glenfiddich 12 education was lacking, and at $32 per bottle this was easily corrected.

I should admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the old ‘fiddich 12. It is a straight-arrow whisky with some nice light floral tones. This type of whisky is particularly nice before dinner on a hot summer afternoon – it is fresh, clear, and not too overpowering. I enjoyed several drams of it in this way and was never disappointed with the experience.

On the downside, you really have to dig in and concentrate to pick up on the complexities, and that job is made more difficult due to the addition of water to bring this down to 40%. Some whisky can handle a bit more water – Macallan 12 in my opinion gets a lot out of a low ABV – but in some cases, the water just cuts the legs right out from underneath a dram.  I fear that water is getting the best of this one. If anybody has spent some time with a higher ABV Glenfiddich, I’d be interested in hearing about that.

Glenfiddich 12 is a very friendly introduction to scotch and I can understand its popularity as a first time purchase, a general bottle for the liquor cabinet, etc. However, if you’re picking this one up for yourself, there are much better options even at this price point (Aberlour 10?) and if you’re willing to spot the extra $15 or so, the Glenfiddich 15 is a far superior drink.

Next up will be the revealing of my 3rd Speyside whisky. Other topics to be addressed soon are the long-promised whisky cooking adventure, and my thoughts on Speyside on the whole.

In the meantime I’ll keep moving forward with this journey. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past 8 months, slow-footed and haphazard as it may be…this is certainly a journey worth taking.

Thanks for reading along.

 Posted by at 9:47 am