Friday, January 29, 2016

Whisky Review: Dun Bheagan Island 8 Year

As I mentioned in my review of Dun Bheagan Islay 8 Year, this is a line of regional mystery malts from the indie bottler Ian Macleod. While the sources are unknown, quality generally seems to be solid.

As with others in the line, it is bottled at 43% without chill filtration and probably without coloring.

Dun Bheagan Island 8 Year

Nose: solid but not overwhelming sherry influence, gentle pine, cedar, American oak, cured meat, fresh malt, new hay, floral heather, mossy peat smoke in the background. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry recedes in favor of the malt, the malt becomes drier and integrates with the hay, the pine integrates with the peat, some saltiness comes out, and it generally feels more youthful.

Taste: sherry and malt sweetness up front that is quickly tempered by earthy oak tannins, green malt with a touch of salt in the middle that fades out through herbal/mossy peat. After dilution the sherry and peat spread across the palate giving a more uniform character, and the oak is more polished.

Finish: mossy peat, barrel char, moderate oak, sherry residue, sea salt, nutmeg

There's nothing particularly subtle or complex about this whisky, but it's hard to sniff at considering what most peated sherry cask whiskies are going for these days. Given its Islands designations, I think that leaves three sourcing possibilities - Talisker, Jura, and Highland Park. This doesn't read as something from Tobermory and Scapa doesn't do peated malt, last I checked. Given that Ian Macleod's headquarters are on Skye - their core blended whisky is called Isle of Skye - that lends some credence to the theory that this is castoff Talisker. But it's either very atypical for the distillery or from somewhere else. The next best bet seems to be Highland Park. It's unfortunate that I don't have any of the G&M Highland Park 8 Year, which would give a solid basis for comparison, but from what I can remember of that whisky this doesn't seem so far off. The heathery notes and lack of pepper also make me lean towards Highland Park.

Currently the only place in the States that still carries this whisky is Astor Wines in NYC, but they will ship to any state where it's legal and currently have it on offer for $35, which is a steal for a peated single malt of this quality. If you're ever shopping or ordering from them online, I would highly recommend tossing in a bottle of Dun Bheagan Island. It's not a world-beater, but it's everything I could have asked for at the price.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whisky Review: The Classic Cask Glen Ord 14 Year 1998/2012 for Park Avenue Liquor

Park Avenue Liquor in New York is one of the few liquor stores in the US with a long history of bringing in exclusive single cask bottlings. While they don't seem to do as many these days, there are still a few around.

This whisky was distilled in 1998, filled into a (presumably) ex-bourbon hogshead, then bottled at 43% in 2012.

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

The Classic Cask Glen Ord 14 Year 1998/2012 for Park Avenue Liquor

Nose: moderate oak, toffee, orange peel, apple cider, light wood spices (cardamom), vanilla, and raisins - almost sherried, a touch of herbal/grassy/floral/peat character. After adding a few drops of water the sweetness is amplified with more raisin character, the grassiness expands and integrates, a hint of cured meat comes out, and the spices resolve into cinnamon.

Taste: moderately sweet up front, toffee, oak, apple, pear, peach, and raisin in the middle, grassy notes, vanilla, and fresh malt with a touch of cardamom/cumin near the back. After dilution the sweetness grows and expands across the palate, taking on more of the raisin notes, with the grass and spice notes are more muted.

Finish: grassy, fresh malt, raisin/berry notes, light oak

In contrast to the James MacArthur bottling I reviewed earlier this week, this has far more obvious cask influence, despite only being a couple years older. While there is a clear familial similarity between the two, this is an approachable rather than a challenging whisky, with lots of comforting character. That's not to call it boring, just easy drinking. In terms of finding the most nuance, I'm a bit disappointed that this was bottled at 43%, but if I had a whole bottle to drink I don't think that would bother me. This is a plain nice whisky, but unfortunately also long gone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Whisky Review: James MacArthur Glen Ord 12 Year 1998-2011

Not a lot to say about Glen Ord. Let's get to the tasting notes ASAP.

This whisky was distilled in 1998, filled into what I am guessing was a refill hogshead, then bottled at 45% in 2011.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample. See his review for a different perspective.

James MacArthur Glen Ord 12 Year 1998-2011 Cask #27

Nose: lots of new make character - green malt, green grass, and sour berry notes - apples/pears, plastic, lemon/citrus peel; with time the new make element settle down and integrate, becoming softer and more rounded with a touch of smoked meat, baking spices, and floral notes. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes even more restrained, with everything but the sweet malt and vanilla condensing into a slightly musky note.

Taste: very sweet up front, fades through fizzy herbal/grassy notes, citrus, fresh malt, slightly sour berries, vanilla, and almost imperceptible oak at the back. After dilution the sweetness becomes slightly more restrained with strong grape and berry notes coming out in the middle, and the herbal/grassy notes are pushed to the back where more oak and spice notes come out.

Finish: fresh malt, bittersweet, herbal/grassy

This reads almost perfectly in between my two previous experiences with similarly aged Glen Ords - a 40% Singleton bottling and a 60.1% A.D. Rattray single cask. The Singleton was arguably more flawless, but flatter and less interesting. The Rattray was a big alcoholic beast and took a while to tame, but eventually developed a lot of good character. The MacArther's initial new make character was rather off-putting, but once that burned off it transformed into a competent but not exactly gripping single malt. At $40 or less I would grab some both as an easy-drinking single malt and as solid blend fodder, but what's currently left appears to be 50-100% more expensive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Whisky Review: Macphail's Collection Glen Scotia 1990/2003

While there is a growing body of IB Glen Scotia releases produced in the early 1990s before the distillery was mothballed for most of the decade, they have generally been bottled around twenty years old. This means that it is harder to get a sense of what the whisky was like at a younger age.

I was able to find this expression from Gordon & Macphail that was bottled in 2003 but sat on the shelf for a dozen years and is, if you care to try it, still available. However, I have some suspicions about its quality as the tube it came in was extremely bleached, suggesting that it had been sitting in the sun for quite some time. I don't know if that was also true of the whisky, but it didn't bode well.

This whisky is bottled at 40%, probably with chill filtration and possibly with coloring. While there is no clear indication, it is probably from a small batch of refill ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The Macphail's Collection Glen Scotia 1990/2003

Nose: oily - both organic (olive?) and industrial, Campbeltown malt, a touch of salinity/seashore, leathery oak, cherries/raspberries/, dry hay, cured meat. After adding a few drops of water, the berries recede and are replaced by apple and orange, the leathery quality becomes stronger and integrates with the oily character, while it becomes drier overall,

Taste: malty throughout, sweet opening with wood sugars, passing through apple/pear mid notes and berry top notes, to dry hay, then to leathery bittersweet oak at the back. After dilution the flavors become brighter and it has more well-defined dirty Campbeltown character.

Finish: leathery malt, bittersweet oak

This whisky is an odd duck. While it would seem to suffer from its low bottling strength, it has the peculiar nature that I have observed from other G&M bottlings at low proof of the flavors actually improving after adding more water. Also, it took getting a fair way through the bottle before it managed to unwind - the first 1/2 to 2/3 were intensely leathery in a way that covered up any other notes. But at this point it manages to provide a lighter side of Campbeltown that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. So while I think this is mostly going to appeal to fans of Glen Scotia (all four of us), I think it was a solid buy overall.