Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Whisky Review: Balblair 2002 First Release

For the last decade or so Balblair has been releasing younger (10-12 years old) vintage single malts. I tried a couple of them (1997 and 2001) a while back and found that their character varied quite significantly despite their nominally similar composition. This whisky is part of the same lineup and was released in 2012 from what Balblair claims were first-fill ex-bourbon casks bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

This miniature is from a set I purchased at the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow in 2013.

Balblair 2002 First Release

Nose: fairly typical of younger Balblair - fresh/green malt dominates, vague fruitiness (pineapple/mango/grapefruit?), very little cask impact, a little creamy vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the green/new make notes become much stronger and more unpleasant.

Taste: sweet malt beginning up front, joined by green youthfulness all the way through, some vague fruitiness (tropical/berries) starting around the middle, more malt with a sour edge going into the finish. After dilution it becomes sweeter and the mouthfeel is thicker, but the green notes become stronger in the middle.

Finish: green malt with a touch of grainy rather than oak-y bitterness, a little sour

If you've had younger Balblair before then you probably know about what you're in for here. As with many of them if feels like this is composed entirely of whisky from second- or third-fill casks that have barely been able to round off the rougher edges of the new make spirit. The choice to bottle at 46% appears to have been necessity more than just style, since the aromas absolutely fall apart with even a little bit of water. Compared to the 2001 this was more straightforward, but also more boring. Overall, it was fine but not something that I would search out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Whisky Review: Glen Garioch Vintage 1997

Glen Garioch is one of the oldest still active distilleries in Scotland, but it has gone through a number of rough patches over the centuries when it was closed or mothballed. This happened most recently between 1995 and 1997, when the floor maltings were eliminated and the distillery switched to using unpeated commercial malt.

This whisky was distilled in 1997, filled into first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2012 at 56.7% without coloring or chill filtration.

Glen Garioch Vintage 1997

Nose: the high proof is very clear from the initial strong alcohol heat, which eventually clears to reveal fresh malt, some vague fruit notes (melon? berries?), pleasant vanilla, pencil shavings, light dusty oak, soy sauce, and a slightly industrial savory note that reminds me a bit of Ben Nevis. After adding a few drops of water the industrial/savory notes become creamier and integrate with the vanilla, the malt becomes toasted grain, the oak turns into cinnamon and cedar, and some green/pine notes poke out around the edges.

Taste: lots of alcohol heat up front, sweet, very creamy malt throughout, light oak near the back. After dilution the alcohol heat diminishes significantly and some vague fruitiness comes out around the middle, but the overall structure remains the same.

Finish: clean malt, industrial lubricants, savory, mild oak, vague fruitiness (berries, raisins). After dilution the character of the finish largely fades and becomes hot, vague, and bitter.

At full strength this is a slightly odd whisky. While I can see why it's been described as 'modern' Glen Garioch, it's also pretty clearly spirit-driven with very minimal amounts of oak influence. The industrial/savory notes are probably the most appealing part, giving more character to what would otherwise be a fairly bog standard Highland whisky.

Though I found the initial heat somewhat off-putting, it settled down nicely in a way that makes me think a whole bottle would be rather drinkable. My biggest disappointment was how the finish just disappeared after adding even a little way, removing one of the best parts of the experience. It would be interesting to experiment and see if there's a degree of dilution that retains the finish, if you don't have much to work with I'd leave it be.

I can also see why people bemoan the loss of the older floor malt Glen Garioch as a bit of peat could really take this spirit to the next level. While I'm glad to have tried a pure bourbon cask release first, I can also see how this would take well to sherry casks, hopefully edging further in the savory direction.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Whisky Review: Bowmore 17 Year

Bowmore 17 Year preceded the now standard 18 Year, then was relegated to the travel retail section. While the 18 Year has a preponderance of sherry casks over bourbon casks, the 17 Year inverts the percentages and has a higher proportion of bourbon casks than sherry casks.

This whisky was bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample as part of a gift set at the Bowmore distillery in 2013.

Bowmore 17 Year

Nose: fairly subtle - balanced sherry, malt, mossy peat, and American oak, a little savory and salty, coffee. After adding a few drops of water the oak and peat are slightly amplified, making it richer but simpler.

Taste: bourbon-y caramel up front, subtle peat and oak from the middle back, a touch of sherry with some more European oak going into the finish. After dilution the oak and peat are amplified, while the sherry spreads out underneath the other flavors alongside some floral notes.

Finish: sherry residue, oak, malt, earthy peat

While this has gotten a little tepid at full strength, it has the basic structure of the 17 Year that I tried during the distillery tasting and enjoyed quite a bit. Whether your prefer the 17 or 18 Year is mostly dependent on how much sherry you want in your Bowmore. I prefer the bourbon cask end of the spectrum, so this works for me, especially as I find the oak to be less aggressive. Sadly it is also long gone, so I'll have to make due with the cask strength 17 year old Bowmores I have waiting for me.