Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

Cocktails, science, and inspiration from Aviation gin? How can I resist?

This book by Amy Stewart looks at the wide variety of plants that play one role or another in the creation of alcoholic beverages, whether fermented, infused, or distilled.

The first section of the book looks at the plants that form the base of beverages, from agave in tequila and mezcal, to grapes in wine, to sugarcane in rum, cachaça, and arrack. There is a smaller chapter on less frequently used plants, such as bananas or parsnips. Each entry includes information about the plant itself, how it is processed and used to make various beverages, and at least one cocktail recipe that utilizes that particular plant.

The bulk of the book is taken up by sections recounting the herbs, fruits, seeds, barks, nuts, and so forth that are infused into liquors to give them flavor. Again, there is background on the plants, descriptions of their uses, and cocktail recipes.

The last major section covers plants that can be used as garnishes or accents, used to add flavor at the last stage of cocktail preparation.

I really enjoyed the writing style of this book, as the author is so clearly excited about her subject. There's a good balance of science, history, and practical information for the reader trying to understand the contents of their bottle.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Whisky Review: Ardbeg Ardbog

The march of Ardbeg special releases continued in 2013 with Ardbog - named obviously for the numerous peat bogs on Islay. It was composed of a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-manzanilla sherry cask whisky, with no age statement (guesses place it around 10 years and I would tend to agree). It was bottled at a batch strength of 52.1% (kind of low for 10 year old whisky, so there may have been some older casks that were rapidly losing strength).

Thanks to MAO for a sample of this whisky.

Ardbeg Ardbog

Nose: moderate Ardbeg peat, rather woody, moderate sherry influence/raisins and brine, savory caramel, maple syrup, apple blossom, bourbon cask fruit esters. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes more savory but noticeably thinner, with cured meat popping out, while the peat becomes drier and less assertive, the sherry tucks into the general savoriness except for a few fruity overtones, and everything integrates into the wood.

Taste: begins somewhat muddled, then resolves into woody sweetness, which becomes more peppery/tannic with hints of sherry smoothness further back, slipping into a small puddle of peat at the end. After dilution, it becomes more robustly sweet up front with the sherry adding some of its own sweetness to the mix, though the wood also becomes more assertive, with an odd interlude of more savory sherry overtones near the back, before sliding into very mild dry mossy peat

Finish: young wood oak tannins, dry mossy peat around the edges, black pepper, bittersweet overall,

The manzanilla sherry influence is much more noticeable on the nose than the palate. It makes for something of an interesting twist on the normal Ardbeg profile, but I felt like some of the distillery character (especially the peat) had faded too much. The palate felt flat, with the wood overtaking most of the experience. Overall, I felt like the casks were a bit too active, like the whisky had been pulled out because it was about to go over the edge into oak juice.

When it comes right down to it, I have yet to try one of the recent Ardbeg special releases that seemed like they even matched up to current batches of Uigeadail or Corryvrecken. I'm all for experimentation, but charging at least 50% more for worse whisky doesn't do it for me. While this is better than Galileo, that's not saying much. I'm not sad that I gave it a miss when bottles were still available in Oregon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whisky Review: Octomore 01.1

In the far mists of 2008, Bruichladdich ignited the brief but brutal Peat Wars.

For most of the history of whisky, 'heavily peated' meant that the whisky had been made from barley peated to somewhere around 50 ppm phenols. And the resulting spirit is going to be very, very peaty. But Bruichladdich under the ownership of Mark Reynier was all about experimentation and they wonder what would happen if you packed even more phenols into the malt.

The experiments became Octomore. This first batch was made from barley that was peated to 131 PPM, aged for 5 years in fresh ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at a hefty 63.5%.

Thanks to Ian of PDXWhisky for letting me try a sample.

Octomore 01.1

Nose: clay, play dough, tortilla chips, pervasive but not particularly aggressive peat, salted green vegetables (spinach?), fresh malt, wood polish, young oak, very light fruit/floral esters, and something a bit jammy. After adding a few drops of water, there's some Laddie funk in the foreground, the clay becomes putty and overtakes the peat, which slips into the background, the wood and brine integrate, and the malt fades.

Taste: waves of sweet malt and wood sugars with rounded stone fruit esters and an underlying brininess, fading into oak tannins, moderate peat, and clay. After dilution, the sweetness is slightly smoothed out and resolves into sugarcane syrup, the peat comes in earlier, but fades more quickly in favor of strong wood tannins/barrel char.

Finish: clay, moderate peat and wood

I will presage all of this by saying that this sample came from a bottle that has been open for years, so it's hard to know how much the spirit has lost in that time. But honestly? This is kind of boring. There is literally nothing going on that would make me think this was peated to a particularly high degree (this may have to do with Bruichladdich's stills) and at 5 years old there's not enough development to add much from the barrel to give it more character. In fact, part of me wonders if this was bottled when it was because the spirit had already extracted so much tannin from the casks that it risked becoming over-oaked. Oddly, the high proof isn't even particularly evident - I've had whiskies that were below 60% that singed my nose more.

I can envision some of the cask experiments like Comus and Orpheus giving it a little something more, but every release of Octomore has become a collectors item and is basically impossible to find at this point. Beyond that, they cost more than I would care to pay even at retail. So, one more whisky that I'm perfectly happy giving a miss - my bank balance will surely thank me.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Drinking in NYC: Dutch Kills

Last fall I had the luck to go back to New York. As always, finding good drinks was high on my list. Far and away the best ones I had while I was there were at Dutch Kills, the semi-remote (by NYC standards) bar in Queens.

The only visible indication that you have found the right place is the simple neon BAR sign outside. It was extremely quiet on the Tuesday evening when I visited, which meant that the bartenders were largely hanging out and shooting the shit. However, service was still extremely prompt.

Over the course of the evening, I had three different drinks, all constructed from vague desires - "something dry-ish with rhum agricole",  "a Negroni variant", and "another Negroni variant". Much to my amazement, every single one was fabulous.

#1 - blanc rhum agricole, Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, bitters, and lemon peel
#2 - rye whiskey, Gran Classico, Cardamaro, sweet vermouth, Campari
#3 - Bowmore 12 Year, sweet vermouth, Campari, and chocolate bitters

As someone who mostly makes cocktails at home and tends to be picky about how other people make them, Dutch Kills is easily one of the best experiences I have ever had going out for mixed drinks. If you live in New York or have occasion to visit, you owe it to yourself to take the 7 train and visit Dutch Kills. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Whisky Review: AD Rattray Glen Ord 12 Year/1998

Glen Ord is a somewhat nondescript Highland distillery located west of Inverness. It produces a vast quantity of malt whisky, roughly 5 million liters, every year and also contains a major maltings plant that supplies not only the distillery itself by also other distilleries.

This particular whisky was bottled from a single ex-bourbon cask at a very hefty 60.1% without chill filtration or coloring.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

AD Rattray Glen Ord 12 Year/1998 Cask #24

Nose: *very* grain-driven, kind of sour, berry esters, honey, oatmeal, light new make notes, green apples, lemon/pineapple/melon rind, woody vanilla, slightly floral and musky/bacon-y. After adding a few drops of water, the grain becomes softer, fatter, and more honied, the musky notes gain strength, and raisins and cherries pop out, giving it more refill sherry character.

Taste: berry/malt/honey sweetness throughout, sour green fruits/pineapple up front, fading into berry/fruit esters, toasted oak tannins, and vegetal/floral green malt notes. After dilution, it becomes much sweeter overall, the fruit (cherry, especially) and wood take on an exceptional balance and the alcohol is toned down but still leaves a lingering burn at the back alongside some grassy notes.

Finish: new make malt, lots of heat, sour pineapple, ethereal berries, and bittersweet wood

This is everything hinted at by the Singleton of Glen Ord bottling turned up to 11. The alcohol can often be overwhelming and it helps to air out the whisky before drinking it.

I really, really like the nose - it's just about everything you could want out of a younger bourbon cask malt. Lots of ester formation gives it all sorts of aromatic notes without getting muddled. The palate doesn't quite live up to the promise of the nose, but delivers pretty well. I didn't think it improved with water, despite the alcohol getting turned down a bit. Overall I can definitely see why Florin wishes he could by more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whisky Review: Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 Year/2002 for K&L

This was one of three casks of Bladnoch that were bottled directly by the distillery for K&L Wines - the first OB Bladnochs available in the US. Sadly it was not long after they arrived that Bladnoch announced that it was going into receivership (bankruptcy) and that it will be sold off.

This whisky comes from malt that was peated to about 15 PPM (a touch above Springbank, but a bit below Talisker or Highland Park) that was distilled in 2002, aged in a single bourbon cask (#303) for 11 years, then bottled at 51.5% ABV without chill filtration or coloring.

For a different take on this whisky, see Sku's Recent Eats.

Thanks to MAO for a sample of this whisky.

Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 Year/2002 for K&L

Nose: solid bourbon cask malt notes of fresh grain, rich caramel, light fruit/berry esters, raisins, grass/hay, light vanilla and woody spices, and something a bit floral, which are offset by new make with very light earthy/rubbery peat. After adding a few drops of water, the caramel, wood, and fruit/raisin notes integrate into a wonderful whole and the new make and peat retreating significantly.

Taste: soft and rounded malt sweetness throughout, fruit/berry/floral overtones that shift along the palate, sliding into green new make notes, dank peat, and mild bittersweet oak. After dilution, the palate becomes more barrel-influenced and balanced, with the fruit (raisin especially) and oak notes expanding as counterpoint to the malt sweetness, while the wood and peat integrate more harmoniously at the back (though this does lose something in terms of nuance), and a touch of barbecue pops out, though the new make notes do become stronger at the back.

Finish: bitter oak tannins and dirty peat, with a little bit of green malt sweetness

While still a bit immature, this shows a lot of promise. It combines a lot of the traits of a solid bourbon cask Lowland whisky with a touch of peat, which builds towards the back, leaving in a much dirtier fashion. Water pushes it more towards its Lowland roots, with the peat acting more as a spice than a distinguishable element. I feel like it would have been more enjoyable after enough time in the cask to burn off the new make character, but it's hard to know how much peat would be left after another handful of years in oak. At cask strength it has some heat, but is surprisingly tame most of the way through, likely due to having already lost a rather significant amount of alcohol in its 11 years (most whiskies of this age are >55% ABV).

For better or worse, this bottle is sold out, so you'll have to look for Europe if you want to find other lightly peated Bladnochs.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Sherry Bodegas and Whisky Distillers Want Very Different Casks

During conversations on Twitter, I have seen confusion about what constitutes a 'good sherry cask'. There was some discussion in the spring 2014 issue of Whisky Advocate, but it seemed worthwhile to elaborate on the subject.

Demonstration casks at Springbank distillery
There are a number of different ways in which 'aging' occurs when an alcoholic liquid is placed in a cask.

The first, and most obvious, is that compounds are extracted from the wood by the alcohol. This is influenced by a number of factors:

•The range of compounds that can be extracted from the wood - which is influenced by the type of wood, where it was grown, how long it was seasoned (left out to dry before being shaped into a cask), how the cask was toasted or charred (more heat breaks bigger compounds into smaller ones, producing new compounds), and how many times and for how long the cask has held other liquids before (hence the new wood/first fill/refill/etc terminology one finds in whisky info).

•The ABV, as some compounds will be more soluble in ethanol while others will be more soluble in water, so the strength will shift the sets of compounds that are extracted, everything else being equal.

•The size of the barrel, as the interaction between spirit and cask is limited by the surface area. So generally a smaller barrel will increase the rate of extraction as there is a higher surface area:volume ratio (hence why some distillers use smaller casks to 'speed up' maturation), while the opposite is true for bigger casks.

•Temperature fluctuations will cause the spirit to expand and contract, pushing and pulling it out of the wood. So a climate with broad temperature extremes will increase the rate of extraction, while a climate with narrow temperature extremes will slow down the rate of extraction. This is why some rum distillers in the Caribbean will actually heat their warehouses, to prevent the barrels from cooling down at night and increasing the rate of extraction. On the flip side, this is one reason why cool, maritime Scotland tends to have lower rates of wood extraction.

This can generally be thought of as 'additive' aging, whereby new compounds are added to the array present in the liquid when it is first placed in the cask.

Second, compounds are extracted out of the spirit by the wood, more so in casks that are heavily charred, by the layer of charcoal on the inside of the barrel. Some compounds will be absorbed into that layer of charcoal in the same fashion as household water purifiers. This is one form of 'subtractive' aging, whereby compounds that are present in the liquid when it is added to the cask are removed.

Third, compounds evaporate from the cask as it interacts with air. This is one reason why Diageo's notorious 'cling-film' experiment never went very far - there needs to be a certain amount of interaction with air to allow high boiling compounds that made it past the foreshots cut to evaporate. Otherwise the whisky would be left with more 'immature' and off-putting odors and flavors. Additionally, water and alcohol also evaporate, depending on environmental conditions, changing the volume and ABV of the liquid inside, which will influence its extractive potential as noted in point 1.

Fourth, compounds react, both with the wood, with other compounds within the liquid, and with the oxygen in the air.

•One of the main ways in which compounds within the liquid react with each other is via the formation of esters. Put simply, an ester is a combination of an acid and an alcohol that gives off water in the condensation process. Some esters are created during fermentation or the distillation process, but they can also be created from free volatile acids and alcohols that react as the spirit matures. Additionally, recombination will happen, especially as ethanol displaces other alcohols in esters via mass action. Additionally, as ethanol is oxidized to acetic acid, acetate esters will also become more common. Putting the two together, ethyl acetate tends to be the dominant ester in all spirits. This will be influenced both by the concentration of alcohol (primarily ethanol), temperature, and the rate of oxidation.

•Oxidation will transform molecules within the spirit. Alcohols will become aldehydes and ketones, then aldehydes will become acids. Unsaturated compounds will be cleaved into aldehydes and ketones. This is influenced by the oxygen tension in the cask, the rate of gas exchange, and the ambient temperature (a general rule of thumb for chemical reactions is that they will go 2x faster for every 10º C that the temperature is raised). But as these reactions are generally uncatalyzed and molecular oxygen is not a particularly effective oxidizer of organic molecules on its own, they will be rather slow.

•Alcohol will help to break down the macromolecules that make up the wood, increasing the range of substances that can be extracted into the spirit. This is influenced largely by the concentration of alcohol in the spirit.

Sherry butts at Bruichladdich
Now back to the question posed at the beginning. What it comes down to is that sherry bodegas and whisky distillers want to focus on different axes of the aging process.

Sherry begins as a white wine, produced largely from palomino grapes, which is then fermented to dryness at ~15% ABV. Most sherries are then fortified to between 15.5% and 20% ABV with neutral grape spirit.

Aging sherry focuses primarily on the recombination of compounds already within the liquid and, for some varieties, on oxidation. This means that the casks are basically inactive, acting as contains rather than as direct participants in the process. If you've tried sherry before, you will have noticed that it doesn't have the tannic notes of, say, a California cabernet. This is because the casks used by sherry bodegas are first seasoned with lower quality wines that are later used for making sherry vinegar and the like, to extract the bitter tannins before they are used for higher quality sherry. That is not to say that the casks play no role - storing sherry in truly inactive containers of glass or stainless steel would not produce the same product.

The casks are host to microbial flora that interact with the wine and are critical in the formation of flor - a waxy layer of yeast that forms on top of sherry when the concentration of alcohol is around 15-16% ABV. It acts to exclude gas exchange, protecting the sherry from oxidation. This is critical for fino and manzanilla sherry to retain their freshness, even after prolonged time in the cask. On the flip side, amontillado and oloroso sherries rely on the gas exchange afforded by casks, aging oxidatively. These sherries are fortified to 17-20% ABV, which kills the flor, allowing oxidation to occur. This develops color and new flavors in the sherry that are not found in fino and manzanilla sherries.

In addition to primary cask aging, sherries are blended in a process called a solera. This is formed from layers of casks - wine for bottling is withdrawn from the bottom level, which contains the oldest wine. The casks on the bottom are then refilled from the level above, continuing upwards until the top layer is filled with new wine. This is a process of fractional blending, where some of the old wine always remains in the solera, adding complexity to the finished product. Solera casks also tend to be extremely inactive - if they contained significant amounts of extractable compounds, the final product would become intolerably bitter as more tannins were leached into the wine.

Duty paid sample sherry casks at Lagavulin
Now let's contrast that with whisky. In many ways, aging whisky is a more complex process as it is operating on every one of the aforementioned axes - extraction, subtraction, and reaction. While subtraction and some reaction can occur in inactive casks, extraction necessitates very different casks than those used by sherry bodegas.

In fact, as noted by Whisky Advocate in their article about sherry, there was a period in the 1980s and 1990s when distillers were buying solera casks from the bodegas. The wood was, as noted above, rather inactive, so these casks would have added a layer of sherry flavor on top of the whisky, but would not have contained the other extractable compounds that distillers seek. In addition, they likely would have been leaky, necessitating extra work by the coopers.

So what constitutes a good sherry cask for a distiller? For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, these were casks left over from transporting sherry from Spain to England, where it was bottled by British firms for British consumption. These could range from local grocers buying a cask or two, to large firms like Harveys, who would bottle cases upon cases. After the sherry was dumped, there were a lot of casks left over. It didn't take long for Scottish distillers to realize that not only were these cheap containers for storing their spirit, but they also made it tastes a whole lot better. The critical element for distillers, beyond price and availability, was that the transport casks often would have been new wood, rather than the inactive casks preferred by the bodegas. So the fresh wood would be impregnated with sherry for a relatively short amount of time before being turned over to the distillers. Transport casks eventually ceased to be an option, due to sherry producers beginning to bottle their own products in the late 19th and early 20th century and the eventual ban of transporting bulk wine over 15.5% ABV within Europe in 1981 (I've seen it stated as 1986 elsewhere).

In the early 20th century, DCL figured out that they could 'improve' the process by adding a thick, syrupy form of sherry called paxarete to a cask, then subjecting it to high pressures and temperatures, to artificially 'inject' sherry into the wood. Especially after Prohibition was lifted in America and ex-bourbon barrels became extremely cheap due to regulatory requirements, this became a way to create a new 'sherry cask'. This was helpful, both because it was even cheaper than transport casks (by that time it would have been clear that they still had value) and consistency, both in terms of the output and in ensuring a steady supply, due to the decreasing availability of transport casks. The practice of using pax was fairly common from roughly the 1920s until the 1980s, when the Scotch Whisky Association banned it. Again, this would often be carried out on relatively new wood, either a freshly made cask or an ex-bourbon barrel that still contained a lot of extractable compounds.

Used sherry casks at Springbank
Currently, most sherry casks used by distillers are custom made. These are either built to order by contractors such as Toneleria del Sur or, like some distillers are now doing with their bourbon casks, specifically coopered by the distillers, then 'loaned' to the bodegas for aging sherry destined for vinegar or distillation. The switch to custom casks has also involved a switch to European oak (it contains flavor compounds that distillers want), whereas the bodegas tend to favor American oak as it is both cheaper and easier to work with (the bodegas want neutral casks, so the differences in flavoring compounds in the wood is largely moot). A point to note is that these custom casks are, in many respects, very similar to the transport casks that distillers were so fond of a century ago. In both cases, the wood will be new when sherry is added - you can see how new the wood is when the casks arrive at the distillery in this picture from Springbank. The sherry that comes out of the custom casks, often having spent years seasoning the wood, will likely not be fit for drinking (this is part of why custom casks tend to be so expensive), as it will have pulled a significant amount of tannins and other bitter compounds out of the wood. However, that is good for the distiller, as those compounds will not be present when the cask is filled with whisky.

One of the most important aspects of making good whisky is achieving the proper balance of extractable compounds in the wood. New wood (sometimes known as virgin oak) is, with rare exceptions, considered to be too active for scotch, being used only as a finish for whisky that spent most of its maturation in casks that had previously held some other liquid. Distillers usually seek a balance of extractable compounds - enough to impart flavors of vanilla and coconut (these tend to be the dominant elements of American oak) or spices (these tend to be dominant in European oak) to the spirit without completely overwhelming it. The sweet spot is an ex-bourbon or ex-wine cask that is being filled with whisky for the first time (a slightly misnomered 'first-fill' cask) or second time (also slightly confusing 'refill' or 'second-fill' cask). First-fill casks are perfect for whiskies that will be aged a relatively short time, say 8-15 years. The more active first-fill casks will impart their flavors more quickly, adding a significant amount of richness to the spirit, but there is also the risk of going too far and making the spirit overly oaky. Refill or second-fill casks are more suited for longer periods of time, where the wood will impart flavors, but then hit a point where the wood has given up all it can, allowing the other axes of maturation to proceed without overwhelming the spirit with extracted flavors. There are always exceptions to these rules of thumb - first-fill casks will not always stamp a heavy mark on the spirit or may be well-suited to a particular distillery with intrinscially weighty or flavorful spirit (Mortlach or Ledaig, for instance), while refill casks will on occasion provide more richness than a first-fill cask. Additionally, distillers will often continue to use a cask for 3-5 fills, especially for lower quality or grain whiskies that are destined for less refined blends, though these also sometimes end up in the warehouses of independent bottlers. But increasing attention is being paid to getting the right amount of extraction out of wood, providing the right amount of flavor from the wood to balance the character of their spirit. For instance, Laphroaig will discard their casks after a single fill because the heavy character of their spirit requires active casks to balance it out (though there are also cases where they may have overshot the mark).

The take-away from all of this is that aging alcohol in oak casks requires an understanding of what the wood will or will not impart to the liquid, given its state and the amount of time it will be spending in the cask. Aging is a complex process and focusing on one element or another will require different sorts of wood. A good distiller or venenciar will know how to use the casks to achieve the final product they desire.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Whisky Review: Glenfarclas 17 Year

I've slowly been working my way through Glenfarclas' line, beginning with the 12 Year and moving up to the stellar 15 Year (which unfortunately isn't available in the US). Now thanks to Ian of PDXWhisky, I get to try the older 17 Year.

Glenfarclas' whiskies are aged exclusively in ex-sherry casks and most (with the exception of the 15 Yeaer and vintage releases) are bottled at 43%. They are in all likelihood chill-filtered and possibly colored.

Glenfarclas 17 Year

Nose: rich sherry influence (edging towards rancio) over a malt core, moderate and well-integrated toasted oak, solid vanilla, juicy raisins, cherries, oranges, slightly musty/vegetal, lightly floral. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry became more aromatic and punchier - somewhat overwhelming the malt and oak, with a drier character overall, the vegetal/floral notes tuck inside everything else - giving it a fresher character.

Taste: clear but not overwhelming sherry influence throughout, opens with a brief burst of sourness that resolves into tart berries, flowing into moderately sweet vanilla malt, then segueing into very mild oak with a touch of black pepper near the back. After dilution, the initial malt sweetness ramps up, while the oak tannins do the same, while the sherry integrates with the berry notes to give it more pop, and some floral notes wend through everything, giving a less flat experience.

Finish: clean malt, mild oak, ethereal sherry, cocoa powder, something vegetal (seaweed?)

Compared to the 12 and 15 Year expressions, I found this one simpler and more sherry-focused, though also more mature. However, everything was a bit on the thin side, likely let down by the relatively low bottling proof (Glenfarclas is really missing the mark by now upgrading their whole line to 46% like the 15 Year). Water helped to pep it up, but that also made it seem a bit more youthful, which shifts it more towards the character of the 12 Year. Ultimately, while I find this to be an enjoyable whisky, I would take the 15 Year and maybe even the 12 Year first, as both of the younger whiskies have significantly better QPR for me. Beyond Glenfarclas, I think Glendronach (especially the 15 Year) is a better pick for heavily sherried whiskies right now.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Whisky Review: Sovereign Caperdonich 18 Year/1994 for K&L Wines

Caperdonich was the twin to the Glen Grant distillery in Speyside, built in 1898 during the height of the late 19th-century whisky boom. As the collapse came soon after, Caperdonich was closed four years later in 1902. It was only restarted in 1965, and operated for almost forty years, when it was closed for good in 2002.

This particular cask comes to us care of K&L Wines, who had it bottled under the Douglas Laing Sovereign label, which was a first for the States. It was bottled at a fairly hefty 58.4% from a single ex-bourbon cask without chill filtration or coloring.

Thanks to Michael for the sample.

Sovereign Caperdonich 18 Year/1994

Nose: stone fruits, apples, berries, a sherried edge, herbal/vegetal, malt, vanilla, grass/hay, ripe cheese, cardboard, very light floral and oak notes. After adding a few drops of water, the oak starts to come out more, the malt becomes honied, while the fruit and herbal notes integrate with the oak, and some clove/incense notes along with bacon-y peat notes emerge.

Taste: a fair amount of alcohol heat, honied malt sweetness up front, slowly fading into bittersweet berries/stone fruit/apple esters, herbal/vegetal notes, wood smoke, and light oak. After dilution, the oak gains more presence and integrates with the barley sweetness giving it an almost raisiny quality, with the fruit esters and herbs riding on top, plus incense and peat notes right at the back, with salt/umami riding through the background.

Finish: barley grist, mild fruit (apple especially), mildly bitter herbs

This appears to have come from a fairly inactive cask as the wood has had rather minimal influence, despite the spirit resting in it for almost two decades. In this case, I think that's an asset rather than a problem. The lack of oak makes it read as a younger whisky, but without the new make character that can mar those spirits. There isn't a lot of sweetness or vanilla, which is where so many whiskies are now trending as extraction is pushed over time and oxidation. It's austere but still enjoyable. Adding water shifts it into a very different mode, with the oak overriding many of the more delicate smells and flavors, giving it more a more traditionally mature character.

This is, however, all a moot point as the whisky has long since sold out, but I will be keeping my eye out for other well-aged Caperdonichs and Glen Grants.