Monday, February 29, 2016

Whisky Review: Archives Deanston 15 Year 1997/2013

While I am quite familiar with the other distilleries in Burn Stewart's portfolio, Bunnahabhain and Tobermory, I have so far neglected Deanston.

While it isn't particularly well-known, Deanston is a workhorse distillery, churning out roughly 3 million liters of whisky a year. Located in the southern Highlands, northwest of Sterling, the distillery was established fairly recently in 1966. It fell silent alongside many other distilleries during the 1980s, only to be revived by Burn Stewart in 1990.

This whisky was distilled on December 10th 1997, filled into a hogshead, then bottled on October 28th 2013 at 55.8% without coloring or chill filtration for WhiskyBase's Archives label.

Archives Deanston 15 Year 1997/2013

Nose: strong oak/cedar and orange peel, pine/herbal/grassy notes, slightly musty dry malt, peaches, vanilla cream, roasted carrots. After adding a few drops of water it becomes more malty, the oak fades away, the vanilla becomes stronger and more savory, the fruit shifts to grape, the orange shifts to lemon, and the herbal notes become more vegetal while the grass becomes dry hay.

Taste: sweet oak up front with an almost sherried edge, earthy vanilla, berries, and citrus peel in the middle, cacao/coffee beans, then a beautiful gingery/savory/cedar/herbal berry reduction quality at the back. After dilution it becomes much more malty while the sweetness and berry notes expand, the oak is suppressed, and the finish becomes more faint and dry gingery/herbal.

Finish: polished oak, cedar, fresh ginger, herbal, malt

This whisky hits somewhere in between the Exclusive Casks and the Archives Ben Nevis samples I tried a while back, with a finish that almost exactly matches the quality I like from Ben Nevis. With that said, the nose on this Deanston is not as expressive and it doesn't hit quite as many high notes. Additionally, water seems to rob it of a lot of what makes it great, so I'd hold off on that. On the plus side it's both cheaper and still available, so I'm willing to grant it some minor flaws.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Double Edged Sword of Information

There is simultaneously more and less information available to customers in the spirits world than ever before. Many distillers release meticulously detailed information about their history, production processes, and the provenance of various releases. Spirits blogs have proliferated over the last couple of decades, providing a wealth of (nominally) independent information. But this is a very new state of affairs.

Until recently there hasn't been a lot of readily available information for customers to understand what goes into the spirits they're drinking. This is unsurprising since there were very few people who cared all that much. If it tasted good and didn't poison you, then all well and good. That's not to say that the information didn't exist - distillers have been studying and refining their process over hundreds of years. While much of it remained hidden as trade secrets, a significant amount was published in trade journals, but this was difficult for drinkers with only a cursory interest to access.

The regrowth of the spirits industry has coincided with the growth of the internet, which is both coincidental and a case of cause and effect. The coincidence is that in the late-1990s and early-2000s the industry was at a nadir, with an accompanying increase in aged stocks. The proliferation of high quality, inexpensive spirits happened at the same time that the internet made it possible to cheaply publish and access information about those spirits, which led to a growing number of people discovering those same spirits.

For most of its history, public discussion of spirits centered around advertising. These are more often than not about secondary elements, such as lifestyle associations and sex appeal, rather than the nuts and bolts of how spirits were created. Advertising about production processes tends to rely on vague elements like water, time, and history. This meant that as spirits became fashionable once again, the distillers and brands were in a position of being used to controlling their message, which led to a tense situation as more channels have opened up.

As with any subject that people are passionate about, spirit are an increasingly hot topic of conversation. The Usenet forums and weblogs of the 1990s have given rise to a growing number of spirits-oriented spaces on the internet where people can discuss the merits of various products. Anyone can now express their opinion, good or bad, about a particular product and have it hosted in a place that is likely to be viewed by other people. The rise of social media has contributed significantly, providing even more venues for discussion. This means more nominally independent voices giving their opinions, which provides new sources of information, but also makes the situation far more confusing and complicated for someone just becoming interested in spirits.

The issue for consumers is clear but difficult: who to believe? The people who make, sell, and market spirits have an obvious goal of getting more people to buy their products. That's not an indictment, just the way of the world. Some will provide lots of detailed information about their products because that is the angle they're using to bring people into the brand. Others rely on hazier information, selling stories about their products that may or may not be true and may or may not matter. There are professional spirits reviewers who may or may not have direct ties to the industry, but are inherently dependent on the health of the industry, as their livelihood depends on the broader interest of the public. They are often quite knowledgeable and have a lot to contribute, but come with their own sets of biases and interests. Last, but not least, are the growing number of people who talk about spirits and are not getting paid for it. While they're often quite enthusiastic, their knowledge may or may not be right as they are usually not specialists and are sorting through questionable information just like everyone else. Most will give their opinions as they see them, though those are subject to just as many biases. Bloggers with semi-permenant perches are sometimes influenced by the offer of free samples of spirits or other enticements by the industry, which will obviously distort their perspective. So there is no one source that new drinkers can turn to for unvarnished truth.

Even worse is the proliferation of obfuscation and outright lying. From hiding the sources of spirits to manipulating the terms 'single barrel' and 'single cask', disinformation has grown as quickly as information has become available. This makes it increasingly difficult to take even clear statements at face value as consumers become more skeptical. But it's also complicated by the fact that many customers value those stories a lot.

To cite one example, there are arguments, in no small part coming from those pushing the NAS trend, that there are lots of young casks in warehouses that are just as good as old ones, but have been ignored because of their age. But without being able to personally go into their warehouses and sample a statistically significant portion of those young casks, it's hard to know how much truth there is to the claim. There are clearly some stand-outs that support this position - Aberlour A’Bunadh has been an NAS single malt from its inception and has consistently received rave reviews. Sub ten year old whiskies are sometimes very, very good, whether they’re from newer distilleries like Kilchoman, Arran, or Glengyle that were designed to be good at a young age or single casks from long-established distilleries that happen to have hit the mark early. Independent bottlers as well as a few distilleries are also choosing to release younger whiskies with age statements, sometimes out of necessity but also to showcase the different ways that whiskies can develop.

However, the industry as a whole puts out a very mixed message. It was only five years ago that Chivas launched their Age Matters campaign, which explicitly attempted to equate age with quality. And now they're dropping one of their core single malts, Glenlivet 12 Year, from a number of markets in favor of a NAS replacement. Far more preposterous was Glenlivet Alpha, a whisky that consumers were asked to swallow on blind faith or, in marketing speak, "[challenging] consumers to develop their own perceptions of the whisky without being influenced by age, colour or cask". Just as duplicitously, Macallan simultaneously tells customers that their new 1824 lineup composed of NAS whiskies should be judged by color while retaining age statements for whiskies that are 18 years old and up. And don't get me started about releases like Rare Casks. A cynical consumer might conclude that the big companies are intentionally speaking out of both sides of their mouths in an effort to muddy the waters.

Unfortunately I can't offer any easy solutions. The only way to sift the wheat from the chaff is by putting in work. That comes in two parts. First, know what you like. It's important to have a baseline so that you can evaluate other people's taste to see how it fits with your own. The greatest reviewer in the world isn't going to be much help if they have radically different preferences. Aggregate scores are almost useless because there's no way to know the underlying preferences or the metrics by which they're measuring spirits to give out those scores. They might be able to suss out stinkers from good spirits, but if you have more uncommon tastes even those may not be any help. So it's up to you to do the legwork to find useful information - relying on 'authorities' is likely only to lead you into buying spirits you don't actually enjoy but try to convince yourself were worth it because someone else says they were good. Outsourcing is always fraught. Do for self.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Whisky Review: Whisky Galore Glendronach 13 Year 1990/2003

Glendronach is rightly famous for its sherry cask matured whisky. But when Allied owned the distillery they filled a fair amount of the spirit into ex-bourbon casks, likely destined for blends. While most of them were used for their intended purpose, a small number were picked up by independent bottlers and released as single malts. This particular cask is important for two reasons - it was made from Glendronach's moderately peated (14 PPM) floor malt and with coal-fired stills. The malting floors were closed in 1996 and the stills changed to steam coils in 2005, so what is currently being distilled should be noticeably different.

Whisky Galore was a line from Duncan Taylor roughly analogous to their current NC2 line - most were bottled at 46% and all were bottled without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

Whisky Galore Glendronach 13 Year 1990/2003

Nose: Starburst candy, bubblegum, something vinous, vaguely floral, very light herbal peat, a touch of coastal influence, clean malt, oak in the background. After adding a few drops of water, everything pulls together and becomes more integrated, while the malt shows up more clearly and the fruit is a little bit more subdued.

Taste: moderately sweet up front with strong fruit (grape, apples, berries, banana?) esters on top, herbal peat and light bourbon cask character sneak into the background and hang around throughout the palate, becomes maltier around the middle, there's a bump of peat near the back, then it shifts back to malt. After dilution, there is more integration, the apple notes are amplified, and the oak provides more backbone.

Finish: clean malt, more floral, apple/pear esters in the background, herbal/vegetal peat, chocolate oak

This is the type of whisky that is, sadly, rather difficult to find anymore. With most distilleries chasing increasingly intense flavors, whether that be oak, sherry, or peat, the middle ground has been largely hollowed out. Glendronach is best known and celebrated for its intensely sherried whiskies and they are without a doubt very good, but I'm now two for two on bourbon cask releases from the distillery. This hits all of the classic Highland notes of fruit and malt with just enough peat to add complexity and with the cask speaking but not overwhelming the spirit. It's not mind-blowing, but it is very good, especially for something relatively young.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Whisky Review: Whiskybroker Bowmore 25 Year 1990/2015

This week I've gone through a whole range of Bowmores from different phases in the distillery's history. The two from 1999, while very different, represent what is currently being released. The Prime Malt from 1982 represented a low point. To round them off, I'll finish with something right in between, a malt that was distilled when they were starting to turn their production processes around.

This was distilled on May 29th 1990, filled into a refill bourbon barrel, then bottled on June 1st 2015 at 52.5% without coloring or chill filtration.

Whiskybroker Bowmore 25 Year 1990/2015 Cask #1163

Nose: classic Bowmore peat smoke, coal dust, savory dry malt, seashore, hay, buttery vanilla, orange creamsicle, mango, just a touch of floral character. After adding a few drops of water the peat smoke softens and integrates with the malt, the savory notes resolve into slightly charred cedar, the seashore notes are amplified, and some raspberry joins the other fruit.

Taste: malt sweetness quickly joined by moderate peat smoke, overtones of orange peel, undertones of polished oak and gentle bitterness, fading briefly around the middle, then big mango/tropical fruit notes starting at the back with dry peat smoke. After dilution the upfront sweetness is muted, the orange notes are amplified and joined by raspberry, the oak integrates further, the peat waits to come in around the middle, and the mango notes are even larger.

Finish: long earthy peat and mango, orange juice/peel, malt, gentle oak, long fade out through floral and oak notes

This is without a doubt a very nice old Bowmore. Zero flaws beyond a palate that doesn't quite match the nose or finish. The floral character that 80s and early-90s Bowmore is often prey to is just visible as an element rather than a dominant note, unlike the Prime Malt 1982 Bowmore. On the upside, the mango character is absolutely fabulous and is easily my favorite part of the whisky.

There are a lot of similarities with the less than half the age Signatory Bowmore I reviewed earlier, but the Whiskybroker cask amplifies many of the best things about the Signatory. It's a total bargain in comparison to the wildly expensive OB Bowmores of similar age and vintage, so if you're dead-set on getting an older Bowmore this will be far easier on your wallet than just about anything else you can find at the moment. I was sufficiently convinced to buy a bottle, though in no small part because it will be split with Michael Kravitz.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Whisky Review: Prime Malt Bowmore 21 Year/1982

Bowmore almost completely destroyed their reputation because of the whisky they were producing during the 1980s when Jim McEwan was the distillery manager. Complaints centered around overly floral spirit that was characterized by soap, which has come to be known as FWP (French Whore Perfume). At one point it got so bad that the distillery threatened to sue bloggers who talked about it on the internet. Thankfully things turned around in the 1990s and while their whisky is still more floral than many others on Islay, it no longer provokes the same kinds of complaints.

This whisky was distilled in 1982, firmly within the dubious period of production, likely aged in a or several hogsheads, then bottled at 46% without color or chill filtration by Gordon Bonding under their Prime Malt label.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Prime Malt Bowmore 21 Year/1982

Nose: intertwined malt and floral notes (lavender/violets), whipped cream, vanilla, gentle oak, fresh apple cider, strawberries, cherry cough syrup, cola concentrate, grape/purple, integrated peat smoke/incense, light savory notes, inoffensive soap. After adding a few drops of water the floral notes are slightly dialed down and joined by some bitter grapefruit peel and a much lighter note of orange peel, plus something waxy (beeswax/paraffin).

Taste: big malt sweetness up front, quickly joined by candied violets on top, apple skins, orange peel, and a touch of soap in the middle, with both malt and floral notes becoming drier towards the back - very little oak or peat to be found. After dilution the palate loses a bit of heft, but is otherwise largely unaffected except for a little bit more soapiness and a growing pleasant bitterness (grapefruit?) and touch of smoke (burning flowers?).

Finish: lingering floral and malt notes, a touch of something bitter and savory, marshmallows with powered sugar, gentle oak, dry peat

When people talk about the FWP era of Bowmore, this is exactly what they're thinking of. The floral character absolutely dominates the spirit, which is going to be very polarizing. Only a thin thread of peat remains, which otherwise might help to balance the floral character if it was more robust. While I don't get as much soap out of it as others who have sampled from the same bottle, I can see a bit of what they're getting at and agree that it gets worse with water.

With that said, I kind of like this is. It's weird and a bit unidimensional, but strangely engaging. This is a Bowmore from another era, when it was more frequently derided than praised. The original price was commensurately quite low, running in the mid-$70 range, less than half of what even lower priced indie Bowmores above 20 years old now go for.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Whisky Review: Alambic Classique Bowmore 16 Year 1999/2015

Alambic Classique is a German independent bottler of many different spirits, including single malt whisky. This whisky was distilled in the same year as the Signatory I reviewed on Monday, but instead of an ex-bourbon barrel this was filled into a sherry butt, left in the cask for longer, and bottled at its full strength of 56% rather than being proofed down. Let's see how they compare.

Alambic Classique Bowmore 16 Year 1999/2015 Cask #15302

Nose: loads of savory sherry, yeast extract, salty, malt/fresh bread, light and integrated peat, hints of raspberries, cherries, and oak, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the savoriness grows stronger but seems more integrated with the malt than the sherry, there's a little bit of fresh sawdust, plus overtones of dark chocolate, walnuts, and tortilla chips.

Taste: fairly big sherry and malt sweetness up front, becoming drier towards the back, raisin and suggestions of something green around the middle, fading out with fizzy citrus peel, vanilla, and hints of oak and peat. After dilution the sherry and malt sweetness carry further and become more syrupy, while things kind of fall flat at the back.

Finish: sherry, citrus, malt, heat

Honestly, I found this a little boring. The smoke is almost entirely gone, leaving little in play but the sherry. The Signatory, while lacking any sherry to add complexity, ended up beating this by a mile. I can also make a contrast with the Exclusive Malts sherry cask Bowmore I tried a while back, which retained much more character and peat from the spirit. Given the almost complete lack of oak in the Alambic Classique, this feels like a tired cask that was rejuvenated with more sherry, adding wine but with very other extractives in the wood. While I think the spirit has contributed to the savory character, there's just not enough else going on to make me pick this over any number of other sherry-driven malts that are likely to cost a fair bit less money. Suffice it to say that this sample has not inspired me to buy a whole bottle, unlike a different sample coming later this week.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Whisky Review: Signatory Bowmore 11 Year 1999/2011

I've had pretty mixed experiences with Bowmore in the past, ranging from a fairly resounding 'meh' for their standard lineup to enjoying an Exclusive Malts release but thinking it was too expensive, to outright disgust at a K&L single cask. But through all of that I've believed that Bowmore makes good spirit that is too often treated poorly. So I was looking forward to trying this less heralded release from Signatory's Un-Chillfiltered Collection that I picked up a few years ago.

This whisky was distilled on April 4th 1999, filled into a bourbon barrel, then bottled on March 17th 2011 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Bowmore 11 Year 1999/2011 Cask #800195

Nose: very aromatic, fresh malt, dry peat smoke, seashore/shells, grassy/floral, rubber, moderate oak, berries, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the fruit notes are amplified, the peat tones down a bit and integrates with the malt,

Taste: big malt and oak sweetness up front, gentle tannins underneath and berries on top, fading into slightly rubbery peat and coal smoke, then growing mango/passion fruit notes at the back. After dilution the initial sweetness is slightly suppressed, the berry/fruit notes in the middle are amplified, and the peat and oak become stronger at the back, with undertones of vanilla emerging throughout.

Finish: malt, hints of peat smoke, tropical fruit, berries, gentle oak tannins, black pepper

While it took a decent fraction of the bottle for this malt to open up, it has turned into almost everything I could ask for from a young-ish peated bourbon cask whisky. There's sweetness, but not too much. Peat, but not so much that it overwhelms the other elements. Fruit, but not full Speyside. Oak, but not so much that I feel like I'm chewing on wood. At 46% there is plenty of flavor density and mouthfeel, but without the heat that would likely come if it had been at cask strength. It's just competent and tasty at a reasonable price ($54 when I bought it). Given how frequently I've been disappointed by Bowmore, either in terms of quality or price, this was a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Whisky Review: Gordon & Macphail Cask Strength Ardmore 13 Year 1990/2004

G&M has a long-standing relationship with Ardmore, releasing a number of semi-official bottlings. This also means that they have a deep selection to pick single casks from.

This was distilled in 1990, filled into a refill ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled in 2004 at 56.8% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

G&M Ardmore 13 Year 1990/2004 Cask #12275

Nose: lots of alcohol initially that burns off after a bit - reveals big floral/violet notes with a savory edge, cured meat, hard candy fruit/berry notes, apples/pears/grapes, dry malt, oak, and peat smoke. After adding a few drops of water the floral and fruit notes integrate, the savoriness spreads out, the oak become stronger and absorbs the peat, the vanilla really comes out,

Taste: lots of alcoholic heat, cask strength sweetness with undergirding oak starting at the front and working almost all the way back to be joined by berry/apple/pear/floral/vanilla overtones around the middle, followed by drier malt and more savory oak with a touch of peat near the back. After dilution the alcohol joins together with the sweetness to make it seem drier, the fruit/berry notes in the middle are amplified, there are some vanilla overtones, and whatever peat was there before practically disappears until the finish.

Finish: dry peat, savory oak, malt, lingering alcoholic heat

I have mixed feelings about this whisky. The first time I tried it, the alcoholic heat was almost overwhelming, making it hard to find anything else. By the second time I tried it, a lot of the heat had blown off, leaving it far more enjoyable. It's all academic since this particular cask is long gone, but there are other of similar vintage and age that can still be purchased and may be in roughly the same ballpark.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Whisky Review: van Wees The Ultimate Ardmore 6 Year 2008/2014

van Wees is a Dutch independent bottler. While less well-known than larger operations like Signatory or Gordon & Macphail, they have a strong reputation for producing good values. Recently they've been releasing more sub-10 year old single malts, which are often priced below €40. It's difficult to find many single cask bottlings in that range, so they're a nice opportunity to sample new whiskies without breaking the bank.

This was distilled at Ardmore on June 24th 2008, filled into a bourbon barrel, then bottled on October 29th 2014 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample.

van Wees The Ultimate Ardmore 6 Year 2008/2014 Cask #800067

Nose: new make character - becoming more herbal/floral with time, plastic, Ardmore peat smoke, bourbon cask berries/fruit, mild oak, seashells/seashore, vanilla malt, cinnamon. After adding a few drops of water the new make/plastic character returns for a bit, but smoothes out once again - the cinnamon integrates, the peat becomes sootier/more earthy, the berries are less apparent and fold into the malt, while the oak, floral, and coastal notes are slightly amplified.

Taste: unidimensional sweetness begins up front and carries through almost to the end, joined by moderate oak tannins, dry malt, orange/citrus peel, unsweetened chocolate, and peat smoke right at the back. After dilution the sweetness extends further back and the oak comes in earlier, some green overtones show up, but everything is a bit muted - especially the peat smoke, turning into a bit of a muddled mess at the back.

Finish: thin, malt, lingering peat smoke, a touch of oak, chocolate

This is young and shows it. While some of the new make character burns off with time in the glass, it never entirely disappears. Water helped to integrate some of the off-notes, but made the whole thing too muddled. If there's not a lot going on, there aren't a ton of flaws either.  It's comparable in price to the now watered down Ardmore Legacy and should hit a lot of the same notes. If you're looking for a cheap peated whisky that doesn't require a lot of attention, you could do far worse than this van Wees Ardmore. Just hold the water.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Whisky Review: G&C Pearls of Scotland Ben Nevis 18 Year 1997/2015

Gordon & Company, not to be confused with Gordon & Macphail, is another independent, family owned blender and bottler in Glasgow that releases single casks under the Pearls of Scotland label.

This whisky was distilled in May 1997, filled into a hogshead (judging from the outturn), and bottled in May 2015 at 50.9% without coloring or chill filtration.

I bought two samples from the WhiskyBase Shop to try this one, as they had a number of different Ben Nevis samples available at the same time.

G&C Pearls of Scotland Ben Nevis 18 Year 1997/2015 Cask #614

Nose: malty, almost sherried, savory vanilla, a little green, incense/perfume, gingerbread, sour. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes flatter and more malty, plus the vinous notes are replaced with woody orange peel.

Taste: big woody sweetness throughout, almost sherried in the middle, malty fadeout with floral vanilla. After dilution there is more vanilla and sweetness, plus almost smoky oak comes out.

Finish: lime peel, oak, malt, savory

While there's nothing overtly wrong with this cask, it doesn't really hit the notes that I'm looking for from Ben Nevis. The best thing I can say is that its a competent malt. Unlike the Archives bottling, there are no glaring flaws that jump out at you, but unlike the Exclusive Casks bottling, there's not a lot going on. It's just pleasant and easy drinking. So while it's reasonably priced given it's age, I'd need it to get into 'great value' territory before I pulled the trigger. Still, if this is something that sounds good to you, it's still available, unlike the Archives cask.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Whisky Review: Archives Ben Nevis 16 Year 1999/2015

Archives is a label exclusive to the WhiskyBase Shop, a retailer in the Netherlands. They usually manage to be priced as values, which is a nice change of pace from many other contemporary bottlers. Additionally they offer many of the malts in their shop as small 20 mL samples so customers can try before they splurge on full bottles. I grabbed two for this one to make sure I could get a fuller experience. I had very different experiences with each sample, so I'll present both sets of tasting notes.

This whisky was distilled on May 13th 1999, filled into a hogshead, then bottled on September 21st 2015 at 55.4% without coloring or chill filtration.

Archives Ben Nevis 16 Year 1999/2015 Cask #166

Tasting #1

Nose: rather feint-y, plastic/solvent, new make/grassy, unripe apples/pears, berry jam, light wood spices, slightly coastal, roasted peanuts. After adding a few drops of water the off notes largely disappear, with the peanuts leaping to the fore and are joined by walnuts, the berry notes expand significantly and take on a floral edge, while the wood becomes softer and integrates into the malt.

Taste: alcoholic sweetness with an undercurrent of oak up front with fudgy herbal overtones, quickly fades through berry esters into malty notes of fresh dough and classic Ben Nevis savoriness at the back. After dilution the initial sweetness, oak, and berry notes largely integrate up front, with the berries hanging on all the way to the back where they are joined by floral notes and some muskier fruit, overlaying a more muted and muddled savory note going into the finish

Finish: alcohol, grassy, malt

Tasting #2

Nose: Demerara rum with a slight sour wine edge, oily, musky overripe fruit, roast squash, malt, raisins, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes more vinous, the savory notes become sweeter, chocolate graham crackers, roses, and burnt orange peel all come out.

Taste: sweet malt with polished oak in the background up front, vinous/sherry in the middle, fading through greener/grassy notes to a malty classic Ben Nevis finish. After dilution the sweet oak spreads across the palate and the green/vegetal overtones move into the middle.

Finish: oak, savory, malt

It's hard for me to get my head around this malt. The first tasting seemed excessively youthful for its 16 years in the cask. That should have been more than enough to outgas the solvent notes often found in new make whisky, but this one seemed to have held onto them with a tight fist. While it had many of the elements I look for from Ben Nevis, the youthfulness seemed to throw everything else out of whack, preventing it from coming together into a coherent whole.

The second tasting was far more in line with what I was looking for from this whisky. The youthfulness had almost completely disappeared and left a very tasty bourbon cask malt. Easily something that I would have been willing to purchase. Unfortunately it's all gone, including samples, so we're all out of luck.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Whisky Review: Exclusive Casks Ben Nevis 14 Year/1998

Exclusive Casks is a line of single cask whiskies bottled by the Creative Whisky Company bottled for Total Wine in the United States. This is alongside the CWC's Exclusive Malts line that are found at a broader range of stores.

This was part of a batch of whiskies that hit the shelves with very little fanfare. Michael Kravitz has reviewed it twice and passed a sample along to me.

The whisky was distilled at Ben Nevis on December 1st 1998, aged in an indeterminate cask (probably a hogshead), then bottled after at least 14 years at 53.2% without coloring or chill filtration in a run of 258 bottles. There are a lot of questions about provenance because the bottle leaves out some critical information.

Exclusive Casks Ben Nevis 14 Year/1998

Nose: fresh Douglas fir sawdust, creamy fresh malt, light herbal peat, rosemary, vague sherry character, orange peel, peaches/apricots, cookie/bread dough, vanilla, American oak. After adding a few drops of water, the malt is significantly amplified but also seems younger, with the herbal notes gaining some pine,

Taste: thick malt and wood sweetness up front, quickly joined by oak tannins that build towards the back, strong orange and peach notes in the middle, herbal peat slides into the background, bitter almond notes with a bump of orange oil and something industrial at the back. After dilution, the oak and fruit notes come together to make it taste almost sherried, while the back becomes more polished oak with strong floral overtones

Finish: almond, peach, oak, vague herbal peat, root vegetables/earthy

Smells have some of the strongest memory associations and this takes me straight back to helping my father cut 2x4s on a table saw in the garage. It's exactly the same kind of fresh wood smell, but unlike other whiskies I've tried with that character it isn't because the spirit was aged in small casks and doesn't seem out of place. Overall there's a great balance between the brighter flavors of peach and orange with the danker herbal and peat character.

I would love to get a full bottle of this whisky, but as it's only available in Washington which has absurd liquor taxes that would push the price above $100, I'm going to have to pass. But I will be keeping my eye out for other bottles from Ben Nevis of a similar vintage hoping that they hit the same kinds of notes.