Monday, August 31, 2015

Whisky Review: Càrn Mòr Braes of Glenlivet 19 Year 1994/2014

For whatever reason, the Braes of Glenlivet, now known as Braeval, filled a lot of fresh bourbon barrels in 1994. Dozens of single cask bottlings have hit the market over the last couple of years. It seems probable this is because the casks are approaching or over two decades old and the small bourbon barrels will impart more oak to the spirit than slightly larger hogsheads would.

This whisky going into this expression was distilled in 1994, aged in two ex-bourbon barrels, then proofed down to 46% and bottled without coloring or chill filtration in 2014. I purchased a sample from WhiskyBase, which is unfortunately sold out now.

Càrn Mòr Braes of Glenlivet 19 Year 1994/2014

Nose: generically malty with somewhat tired bourbon barrel influence, hints of caramel, something a bit metallic, tropical fruit esters, musky melon, a touch of solvent in the background, cinnamon graham crackers. After adding a drop of water, it becomes more integrated, though the fruit becomes more grape-y and less tropical, and the wood becomes more evident.

Taste: solid malt and barrel sweetness up front, mixed bourbon barrel fruit (almost sherried) emerging with time, fading through slightly tired oak with a savory/yeasty edge and a touch of green malt. After dilution, it comes together better - the malt and oak integrate, the wood becomes a bit perkier, balanced by the fruit esters and some citrus top notes (lemon curd).

Finish: very pleasantly malty, lingering mixed fruit esters, mild oak, vanilla

This is one of those whiskies that really seems to suffer for having been bottled at 46%. There are hints of better things that might have been more readily apparent at full strength, but as is they're too indistinct. At the same time, it gets a bit perkier with water, so it may just be that 46% isn't the sweet spot. There's nothing wrong with it as it is per se, but neither is there anything that grabs me. I can see how this would be a solid base for a blend, but it needs something more to really come together. Perhaps unsurprisingly Càrn Mòr bottled another barrel of Braeval from the same vintage at full strength, which seems to have gotten much better reviews.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Whisky Review: Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L Wines

Craigellachie is another Speyside distillery that is known for producing 'meaty' spirit, much like Mortlach. This is usually attributed to being one of the few remaining distilleries to use worm tub condensers, rather than the now more common shell condensers. This reduces the amount of copper contact the spirit has, leaving more sulfur compounds in the resulting whisky. Craigellachie has been difficult to find as a single malt except through independent bottlers, until Bacardi recently decided to up the profile of their malt whiskies.

This whisky was distilled in 1995, aged in a sherry butt, then bottled at 54.3% without coloring or chill filtration in 2014 for K&L Wines.

Thanks to Dave McEldowney of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this.

Hepburn's Choice Craigellachie 18 Year 1995/2014 for K&L

Nose: thick, meaty sherry, raisin reduction, moderate oak, coffee beans, clean malt, vanilla, a bit of elemental sulfur, a whiff of something vegetal or peated, a little rubber, a touch of motor oil, orange peel. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry gains a balsamic vinegar edge and becomes less sweet, letting the oak and dirtiness expand, and some corn/bourbon notes come out.

Taste: opens with bittersweet sherry, flows through malt sweetness, then rising oak tannins, a touch of fresh vegetation, sulfur, and peat, then it leaves with more dirty sherry and malt. After dilution, the malt sweetness is stronger and carries through the palate, pushing the sherry towards the middle, where some floral notes emerge followed by chocolate near the back,

Finish: raisins, malt, oak, a touch of sulfur, earthy/peated

Considering the current vogue for big, bold sherry cask whiskies, this one appears to have been a bit of a sleeper. While there are certainly blogs talking it up (and some who were less thrilled), K&L appears to have plenty left on the shelves. It's possible that people have been scared off by the mentions of sulfur, which as you'll see from my notes is definitely a component. However, I feel like it provides spice to what would otherwise be a fairly standard sherry-driven whisky, keeping it from being unidimensional. Additionally, this was a whisky where I felt like the palate managed to match the nose, which is often not the case. This is one of the few K&L picks I've tried that really hits it out of the park for me, so I'm pretty sure I'll end up buying a whole bottle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Whisky Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society 36.70 "Rosewater Flavoured Turkish Delight"

Benrinnes is one of Diageo's workhorse malt distilleries for blends in Speyside. Until recently it had the distinction of being one of the few distilleries to use partial triple distillation - the distillery has six stills, two wash stills and four spirit stills that were used in sets of threes. Feints from the wash still and weak feints from the spirit still were redistilled in the low wines still and the foreshots and hearts from those runs were added into the spirit still, increasing the number of times that the feints were redistilled. For a diagram of this process, check out Whisky Science. Additionally, Benrinnes is one of the few remaining distilleries to use worm tub condensers, which reduce copper contact and purported give 'meatier' spirit.

This whisky was distilled in 1991, aged in some kind of cask (if it doesn't say, I'm going to hazard a guess that it was a first- or second-fill hogshead), then bottled 21 years later by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at 54.2% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Dave McEldowney of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this one.

SMWS 36.70

Nose: oak, fresh sweet malt, rhubarb, orange peel, light vanilla, floral (violets), hints of berries, earthy. After adding a few drops of water, the malt and oak integrate while softening a bit and there's more fresh fruit (apples).

Taste: sweet malt and oak up front, floral/green/berry overtones throughout, becoming more tannic and bitter with vanilla and a touch of sulfur towards the back. After dilution, the malt and oak integrate, the berries notes significantly expand and are joined by fresh apples, oak spices come in around the middle, and the incense and savory vanilla come in earlier.

Finish: oak dissolves into sandalwood and cedar incense, coffee beans, floral, savory vanilla, and green notes

This is one of the few whiskies I've had where the finish beats out every other component. The cask seems to have been in just the right place to add weight, structure, and aromatic character to the sweet spirit without overwhelming it. This is an example of what bourbon cask Speysiders can be, but so rarely are. However, this was released a number of years ago and is long sold out, so I'll have to content myself with other versions of Benrinnes. After this intro, I'm looking forward to trying more.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Whisky Review: Whiskybroker Strathclyde 27 Year 1988/2015

Strathclyde is Pernod Ricard's grain distillery, located in Glasgow proper. While fairly unremarkable as far as grain distilleries go, it does have the distinction of once having a malt distillery within the property - Kinclaith was built inside the grounds and operated from 1957 until 1975.

This whisky was distilled in 1988, aged in an ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled in 2015 at 54.8% without coloring or chill filtration by Whiskybroker. Given my current fascination with blended whiskies, I picked up a sample as part of my last order from the WhiskyBase Shop.

Whiskybroker Strathclyde 27 Year/1988

Nose: mellow wheat, well-integrated oak, fresh toast, caramel, vanilla, a touch of molasses. After adding a drop of water, it becomes more aromatic, like an old bourbon.

Taste: big grain and barrel sweetness up front, fades through floral/herbal esters, mild/tired oak, and opens up to fresher but less sweet grain at the back. After dilution, the sweetness and oak overlap/integrate and there a fudge-y note at the back.

Finish: wheat, lingering oak, bittersweet

Well, that was... something. Thoroughly middle of the road, it has all the characteristics I would expect from a wheat-based grain whisky, albeit without any of the flaws that they are sometimes prone to. The fact that it was aged in a barrel means that it picked up a lot of bourbon character over its almost three decades in oak, so I think this might appeal to fans of mellow wheated bourbons. It's also possible that I would have found more to appreciate given a larger sample - the improvement with water makes me suspect that more is possible. Given the age and current state of the whisky market, the price is extremely fair - the same shop has a slightly younger Cadenheads Strathclyde for 35% more - but it's not quite enough to make me want to bite.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Whisky Review: Ledaig 15 Year

Ledaig, or Tobermory as it is now known, has had a rocky history. Since its founding in 1798, making it one of the oldest distilleries to still be open, it has operated for maybe half that time. Multi-decade stretches of being mothballed were punctuated by operating for a handful of years or decades. The most recent closure came during the nadir of the industry in the 1980s, with the doors closed from 1982 until it was purchased by Burn Stewart in 1989.

This bottle was released in 2001, which means that the whisky in it must be at least 19 years old, since the distillery had no 15 year old whisky until 2004 or 2005. This expression was bottled at 43%, presumably with coloring and chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael for the sample. He's posted his own review alongside this one and one from MAO at the same time.

Ledaig 15 Year

Nose: very herbal peat, earthy, used coffee grounds, wood smoke, cured meat, Jamaican rum esters, mellow salinity/seashore, berry overtones, unripe bananas, oak in the background, rounded malt, graham cracker pie crust. After adding a couple of drops of water, the peat becomes stronger and more mossy, the berry notes become more grape-y, the rum esters turn into nutmeg, and some floral notes emerge.

Taste: moderate malt sweetness up front that builds towards the back, berry overtones throughout, a slightly rubbery note around the middle, light vanilla and bitter orange peel, mild grassy notes combined with herbal peat near the back. After dilution, the malt becomes less sweet and integrates with the berry notes, the peat becomes stronger and expands towards the middle, and some apple/pear notes join the berries, seaweed, grass, and nutmeg emerge.

Finish: biscuits, vegetal/herbal peat, wildflowers, earthy, cranberries, grapefruit peel

It's hard to make up my mind how I feel about this whisky. It clearly represents a very different era, when there was less focus on clear, bold flavors. In some ways this feels like a Campbeltown malt, somewhere between Glen Scotia and Springbank/Longrow. The coastal elements are there, but without the brashness of Islay or even Skye. Whatever charms it possesses are relatively subtle and take time to emerge. For better or worse, this is very difficult to find anymore, so I'll have to content myself with other versions of Ledaig that are more available.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Whisky Review: Archives Glen Keith 21 Year 1992/2014

Glen Keith is one of the newer distilleries in Scotland, having been established in 1959. Chivas Brothers built it to provide malt for blends, but it was also their experimental distillery. Peated whisky was produced at the distillery, but not by the usual method of kilning the malt with peat smoke. Instead, peat smoke was passed through water, then that was was used in the production process to produce whisky that was labeled as Glenisla or Craigduff. Additionally, as with Four Roses when it was owned by Seagram, yeast strains selected for their ability to produce different flavor profiles were cultured at the distillery.

This is more mundane whisky from the distillery that was bottled by the WhiskyBase shop's Archives label. The spirit was distilled in 1992, aged in an ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled in 2014 at 51.5% without coloring or chill filtration. I got a sample for free with my first order from WhiskyBase, which was quite nice of them.

Archives Glen Keith 21 Year 1992/2014

Nose: sappy pine resin, strongly floral with a hint of soap, buttery oak, savory vanilla, clean malt, berry esters. After adding a drop of water, the new make notes intrude, while the oak and malt integrate more, with the floral and fruit notes diminishing, while the pine hooks up with the oak spices.

Taste: clean, fresh malt sweetness up front, starting with an undercurrent of oak that grows to fresh cedar and lumber with tropical fruits, raisins, and orange peel around the middle, then fades out with a bit of green malt plus butter and cream. After dilution, the oak and sundry fruit notes (gains some red apples) expand from the middle outward, though the new make character new the back becomes more obtrusive.

Finish: fresh untreated lumber, buttered popcorn, orange juice, grainy malt,

Since this came from an ex-bourbon barrel, there was a higher surface area:volume ratio than one finds with the standard rebuilt ex-bourbon hogsheads. The oak is the key player here, but doesn't completely overwhelm the spirit. However, in the case of the new make notes near the back, that's not necessarily a good thing.

While this one is just a bit too oak-heavy to tickle my fancy, it does make me want to try more from Glen Keith. For being, up until a couple of years ago, effectively a closed distillery, prices are still very good on 20+ year old Glen Keith and the spirit seems to be well-regarded when it has a bit of age on it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Whisky Review: Kilchoman Single Cask #74 for K&L Wines

As part of their single cask program, K&L Wines brought in a clutch of casks from Kilchoman. While the sherried one sold out fairly quickly, four ex-bourbon casks - two made from Port Ellen malt and two made from the distillery's own floor malt - languished on shelves and in their warehouse.

Some months ago Michael Kravitz proposed splitting one of those casks, #74, as the best of the bunch. At $20 for a quarter of a bottle, it wasn't a major investment, but still gave me enough whisky to get a good sense of its character.

This is whisky made from Port Ellen malt distilled at Kilchoman on February 22, 2008, matured in an ex-bourbon cask, then bottled on December 16, 2013 at 58.4% without coloring or chill filtration.

Reviews have been posted simultaneously at Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.

Kilchoman Single Cask #74

Nose: inky, coal dust, dense peat smoke, rich polished oak, dry malt with a roasted edge by the seashore, berry fruit leather, raisins, cooling tar in the background, fresh cut grass, heather. After adding a few drops of water, oak is significantly toned down and the peat is joined by smoldering cinnamon bark, giving it an incense-like quality, and some ham and sweet vanilla notes come out.

Taste:big cask strength sweetness on top of a thick layer of oak, cinnamon buried in the wood, berries, raisins, and fruit esters around the middle, inky peat becoming more mossy right at the back. After dilution, the basic elements are retained but softened a hair, the berries become much stronger in the middle, the malt becomes drier and dustier with some hay around the middle, but the alcohol heat becomes more significant at the back.

Finish: fresh mossy peat, a touch of ash, sweet malt, berries with a bit of dirt, polished oak tannins, mineral/stones

This is big in every sense of the word. The key elements - malt, oak, and peat - dominate the experience and push aside almost any nuance. The oak has that concentrated quality found in some recent Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength releases that makes is almost seem sherried. While I can see the appeal at this strength, the lack of nuance doesn't really do too much for me, especially considering the price. At the least, adding water is a necessity to get some complexity, though the extra alcohol heat makes that less palatable.

Continuing my tradition of experimenting with cask strength releases, I diluted this whisky to 50% and 46% to see how it developed.


Nose: malt dominates with a bit of a sharp edge, mossy peat is very shy (though it expands a bit with time) and integrates with the green herbal/grass notes/seashore notes, integrated vanilla, bright but not aggressive oak

Taste: malt sweetness up front that is quickly joined by moderate oak tannins underneath, strong herbal/floral/vanilla notes in the middle, cinnamon and nutmeg, mossy peat is in the background near the end, berry overtones ride throughout

Finish: light mossy peat, dry malt, dried flowers, fresh vegetation, sweet berry notes

This strength presents a very peculiar balance - the peat is almost difficult to find, which lets the barrel and malt talk more loudly. It's not as soft as the 46% dilution - the alcohol makes itself known without being a kick in the face. The amped up sweetness, spices, and berry notes in the palate give it a bit more character, though the peat is even harder to find here.


Nose: lots of dry malt with a touch of hay and polenta, light peat, a touch of smoke, dried mushrooms, green grass and herbs, vanilla frosting, very lightly floral, seashore/seaweed in the background, cinnamon, nutmeg, a touch of mint, fresh earth

Taste: very malty, lightly sweet, American oak with light floral and minty/herbal overtones picks up around the middle, joined by light peat wrapped around creamy vanilla malt at the back

Finish: hints of fruit esters (apples and berries?), malty, balanced oak tannins and peat, light vanilla

Considering its bombastic nature at full strength, the spirit gets downright tame when proofed down to 46%. While the peat certainly hasn't disappeared, it gets a lot softer, almost playing second fiddle to the malt. The palate isn't wildly complex, but the nose brings a lot more action, taking it in a fresh but not immature direction.

Looking over these three strengths makes me feel like we really need to step back from the veneration of cask and batch strength malts. While they do give consumers more options to drink their spirits at the strength of their choice, few will take the time to experiment and find the best dilution. For me the palate worked best at 50% while the nose shone at 46%. Proofing down single casks shouldn't be heresy.