Thursday, April 30, 2020

Whisky Review: G&M Connoisseurs Choice Arran 8 Year 1998/2007

Not too long ago Arran seemed like the new kid on the block. With the exception of Kilchoman, it had been one of the only truly new distilleries in Scotland for quite some time until the spate of new construction during the last decade. This spirit was distilled within a few years of their founding, which also happens to be the era when many of the single casks in my cabinet were distilled. So I was pretty happy to find this bottle for what was something of a bargain price at Clearview Spirits & Wines not long after Washington privatized their liquor system. Miraculously they also offered shipping to Oregon, which saved me a fairly long drive.

This whisky was distilled in 1998, filled into 'oak casks' (probably refill ex-bourbon casks, but maybe tired sherry casks), then bottled in 2007 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

G&M Connoisseurs Choice Arran 8 Year 1998/2007

Nose: very malty, a little caramel/toffee, vanilla, light oak, earthy/herbal, a little new make, vague floral notes. After adding a few drops of water the floral notes are amplified and become more perfume-y, while the new make notes turn into green fruits (apples/pears).

Taste: opens with balanced malt and cask sweetness with light berries, creamy citrus peel (orange?) starting right behind, fading through some light floral malt near the middle, then very light oak tannins going into the finish. After dilution the sweetness is amplified and carries further back, the oak becomes almost sherried in the middle, and there's a sort of funky floral/herbal/malty note at the back.

Finish: a little hot, fresh malt, caramel, gently herbal

While not a stunner, I've found this to be a rather pleasant malt. The casks weren't exceptional, but the quality of the spirit still manages to shine through. If you're not already a fan of Arran I'm not sure this has a ton to offer you, but it's a pleasant reminder for me of how much I enjoy what they've been putting out.

As with many other bourbon cask Arrans, I also found it to be a solid platform for blending. A little sherry cask malt smooths out its rougher edges, while peat takes it in a more herbal direction. Or you can do both, like I've found adding Benromach 10 Year to it.

Overall it's not worth being sad if you missed out on this particular bottle. There are plenty of other ways to get your hands on younger bourbon cask Arran, though that is more challenging if you'd like to try something from their earlier years of production. But I've found Arrans to be pretty consistent, so my guess is that their current output will be as good or better.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Whisky Review: Highland Park Magnus

Over the last decade Highland Park has gone from a relatively unassuming distillery within the Edrington group (even if I remember how much people griped when they switched over to the flat bottles) to a much more high profile brand, often for not so great reasons. While they used to have a rather basic lineup, they started to release an increasingly bizarre array of NAS whiskies with fanciful names and wild price points. They also went all-in on their 'Viking' heritage, from the one-offs named after various Scandinavian deities to the current lineup where most of their core releases seem to be some variant of "Viking X".

While most of their NAS releases were aimed at the higher end of the market, they have finally succumbed to inserting it at the bottom of their list as well. This is now their entry-level single malt below their 10 and 12 Year olds.

This whisky was aged in sherry seasoned casks (ex-bourbon casks refreshed with sherry), then bottled at 40% without coloring but with chill filtration.

I purchase this sample from Raised by Wolves in 2019.

Highland Park Magnus

Nose: pleasantly creamy malt, a touch of rounded sherry, mild peat smoke, green vegetation, heathery floral notes, a bit of ripe banana, light American oak, a little bit of new make spirit. After adding a few drops of water the malt becomes fresher and less creamy, the sherry retreats into the background, the peat gets stronger, and it generally loses whatever complexity it had before.

Taste: opens with creamy malt and sherry sweetness throughout, an undercurrent of new make spirit and pine with some berries around the middle, then a creamy fade out with a touch of oak. After dilution it becomes sweeter but less mature with more pronounced green malt notes, the sherry largely fades, but the peat shows up earlier at the back

Finish: very creamy malt, vanilla, sherry residue, a touch of heathery peat and pine, lingering chocolate

As I have commented a number of entry-level OBs, this is a whisky built to a price point. It is perfectly acceptable given the current state of the market, but there's nothing here that can't be found for a bit more from their age dated expressions. It reminds me of Bowmore Small Batch, which held a similar position in that distillery's lineup and also took the distillery profile and mellowed it down. While I wouldn't say no to this if offered, it's nothing that I would reach for again.

The best I can say is that it's inoffensive and the finish is mildly pleasant. I can see how this might hold appeal for more casual drinkers and could be a gateway for JW Black drinkers into single malts, there's pretty much nothing on offer for the whisky enthusiast. It's not a bad whisky, it's just not for me.

Friday, April 24, 2020

New Cocktails: Le Dernier Mot

The Last Word is a classic for a reason - it uses a lot of ingredients with bold, complex flavors that build into something unique. It has also proved amenable to all sorts of variations, swapping out each ingredient to build a whole host of new drinks.

This comes from a simple substitution - replacing the original's gin with blanc rhum agricole. While not bitter, the grassy notes seem like a good accompaniment to the other components of the drink.

Le Dernier Mot

0.75 oz rhum agricole blanc
0.75 oz lime juice
0.75 oz green Charteuse
0.75 oz Maraschino

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice for six second, then double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

The nose is dominated by the Charteuse, with bits of maraschino and rhum peeking around the edges. The sip opens sweetly, gets a bump of funk from the maraschino, switches into herbal notes from the Chartreuse that bounce back and forth with the emerging notes of rhum. The finish settles into a balance between the two and fades, encouraging another sip.

Dang, that was good. I figured rhum would fit right into this mold, but I like exactly how it works here. It's less assertive than gin would be, despite the higher proof, but that subtly fits. This could also be a good place for something like clarin, as the funkiness will have plenty of play off of.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Whisky Review: The Gauldrons Small Batch #1

Douglas Laing has been putting out a series of regional blended malts for a number of years now, which entry-level NAS releases and more limited (though generally affordable) limited age dated releases. With the release of The Gauldrons they have completed their range with a blended malt from Campbeltown.

This whisky was aged in what I presume were refill ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 46.2% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from WhiskySite.

The Gauldrons Small Batch #1

Nose: lots of fresh malt with a green edge (reminds me a bit of younger Auchentoshan), dry hay, hints of Campbeltown funk in the background. After adding a few drops of water the aromas are more closed off, but a bit of peat comes out.

Taste: clean malt sweetness up front that carries through to the back with hints of unripe fruit and rum-my Campbeltown funk swirling around it, rose petals going into the finish. After dilution it remains largely the same, but the sweetness is thicker and there's some fresh hay at the back.

Finish: clean malt, fresh hay, roses, vague fruitiness, very mild peat

Given that this isn't particularly peated, my best guess is that this is largely Glen Scotia with a little Springbank. I have yet to see any IB Kilkerrans, so I have to assume that all of Glengyle's production has stayed in house. My only other theory would be an inadequate cask of Hazelburn that Springbank passed on because it reads almost more like a Lowland malt than something out of Campbeltown.

Much like the Timorous Beastie 10 Year I tried, this is pretty lackluster. While it somehow reads as less overtly youthful, I'm struggling to find much that's particularly Campbeltown about it. I managed to dig out a bit of funk, but there was no peat, nothing industrial, and no leather. While this isn't bad, per se, there's nothing here that makes me want more. While I could keep trying the Laing's series, nothing so far has really drawn me in so far.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Whisky Review: Glen Garioch 12 Year

Somehow I completely forgot that I also had a miniature of Glen Garioch 12 Year when I reviewed the Vintage 1997 and neglected to taste them side by side. Hopefully my memory holds up well enough to make some sort of comparison.

This whisky was filled into ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (though I expect much more of the former than the latter), then bottled at 48% without chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Glen Garioch 12 Year

Nose: pleasant bourbon cask influence - caramel, moderate oak, a little vanilla, honey, orange blossom, citrus peel, somewhat savory, clean malt, fresh grapes, raisins, and berry preserves. After adding a few drops of water it gets maltier and sweeter, the cask influence diminishes, and the savoriness is amplified.

Taste: pleasant malty sweetness up front, a burst of mixed fruit in the middle, then a slide into savory but not particularly tannic oak with a touch of vanilla at the back. After dilution the flavors merge and spread out so they all arrive together, the fruit is amplified, and the oak gets stronger.

Finish: lightly tannic/savory oak, clean malt, a touch of mixed fruit

While not quite as characterful as the 1997, this is something that you can't find in many other places (Ben Nevis, maybe) - the savory character coupled with just enough fruit and a little bit of oak. While I could be happy with maybe 10-20% refill sherry casks to make it just a bit more complex, the undiluted bourbon cask character is a pleasant treat. I also wish they would bring back their lightly peated floor malt, which would also go a long way towards increasing the complexity without covering up the parts that make it so good. Those quibbles aside, I would still recommend this whisky. It's on the expensive side in my neck of the woods (~$60), but closer to the average price ($50 per Wine Searcher) and at 48% you're still getting a good deal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 9 Year Sherry Cask Matured

Bowmore's lineup has taken more twists and turns over the last decade than any Islay distillery short of Bruichladdich. Somewhere in there they transformed from a fairly stolid and almost forgotten producer of peated whisky, frequently derided for the controversial quality of their distillate, to a powerhouse commanding top-tier prices. At the same time, they've also pushed out a number of budget options since their long-standing Legend release disappeared.

Contrary to the label, this whisky was matured in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, then bottled in 2016 at 40% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Dramtime.

Bowmore 9 Year Sherry Cask Matured

Nose: a hodgepodge of classic sherry notes, rotting seaweed, ocean air, a touch of peat, clean malt, oak, cheap cinnamon, floral notes, and fresh vegetation. After adding a few drops of water the peat expands and the sherry becomes fruitier, the seaweed disappears, and some fresh apple cider notes emerge.

Taste: sherry sweetness with a sour edge up up front, which dries out and is joined by an undercurrent of dry peat building gently towards the back, with a flourish of malt near the end. After dilution it gets softer, the sherry spreads out, the peat is pushed towards the back, and there's more noticeable oak.

Finish: dry peat, fresh malt, sherry residue, mineral/clay - the drier elements linger for a surprisingly long time

I wanted to like this more. It has a lot of the Bowmore hallmarks that I enjoy. The aromas are definitely the best part, even if I found them muddled. The finish had surprising staying power, though I wasn't totally sold on the profile. Even the classic Bowmore floral notes that can be off-putting kind of worked here, though more peat would have helped.

Overall I mostly wanted a bit more punch. The flavors were a little forgettable, but I could see myself enjoying this on the regular if I wanted something mildly peated that didn't expect a lot of attention. As is, it's just a little too tepid for me to recommend it.

I'm just not entirely sure what they were trying to get at here. Is this supposed to be a cheap, approachable Bowmore to draw people in? Is it trying to make money off of casks that weren't good enough for their standard releases? Or was it just trying to feed the ravening consumers demanding something new all the time? I really can't tell.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Whisky Review: Edradour 12 Year Caledonia Selection

This release came about as a collaboration with the Scottish musician Dougie MacLean, who wrote a famous song of the same name in 1977. He grew up in the same Perthshire region where Edradour is located and helped to select some of the casks that went in to the original version.

The whisky is originally aged in ex-bourbon casks, then transferred to ex-sherry casks for three years and bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

I purchased this miniature from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Edradour 12 Year Caledonia Selection

Nose: rich but relatively dry sherry, vaguely floral, honey, clean malt, bourbon cask influence, a little grungy funk. After adding a few drops of water it gets brighter and maltier, the sherry influence diminishes, and the floral notes become stronger.

Taste: thick, rich sherry begins up front and carries through to the back, there's a thick/oily mouthfeel, a little funk around the middle, honied malt underneath, more bittersweet and savory going in to the finish. After dilution the sherry fades a bit to reveal more malty sweetness and becomes brighter, but there's some unripe fruit tartness and peppery spice going into the finish.

Finish: some heat, strong sherry, vaguely savory, light oak tannins, clean malt, a little peat-y funk

Well... that was... sherried? Again, I'm not sure if this miniature has gone off, but there's really not much else going on here. It's surprisingly generic given all the distillery character I got out of the 10 Year, but maybe that's the heavy handed sherry casks. In some ways this reminds me of overly sherried Bruichladdich, which also suffers when the distillery character can't shine through.

Water helps push back the sherry, but it doesn't reveal much that makes the experience better. If anything it reads as more youthful. I might not say no to a fresh bottle if it was offered to me, but I'm pretty sure there are other whiskies I'd rather be drinking.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Whisky Review: Edradour 10 Year

Edradour is, to put it mildly, an odd duck. One of the smallest distilleries in Scotland (though the growth of craft distillers has changed the playing field), it is owned by the independent bottler Signatory. They produce both unpeated (Edradour) and peated (Ballechin) whisky, with fairly small core ranges supplemented by a dazzling array of limited editions and one-offs that would almost make Reynier-era Bruichladdich blush.

This whisky was aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 40% with chill filtration and (maybe?) coloring.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange in 2012.

Edradour 10 Year

Nose: an odd mix of malt, sherry, and putty, some creamy vanilla and dunnage funk, apples/apple cider vinegar and floral notes in the background, with some bourbon barrel notes emerging after more time in the glass. After adding a few drops of water some new make notes come out, the peat become stronger, and the sherry isn't as strong.

Taste: opens with sherry sweetness and light baking spices that slowly transform into clean malt and apple cider vinegar, then light peat emerging at the back, with gentle oak tannins a constant presence in the background. After dilution the flavors are more integrated and have less evolution, but feel like a more coherent whole.

Finish: peat-y funk, green malt, a little oak and sherry residue

Given all of the very mixed reviews this malt has received in the past, I'm honestly unsure whether the mini has gone bad or if this is just what they were putting out at the time. There are bits and pieces that click for me, but taken as a whole it feels like a real mess. In that respect it reminds me a bit of Bruichladdich - some odd funk, sherry that doesn't quite fit, but a profile that I really want to like. I'd be interested in trying a sample of the 43% version from a full bottle, but I can't see myself springing for more than that right now.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Whisky Review: Dalmore 18 Year (2018)

Somehow in all of this I've neglected to say much about Dalmore's history. Founded in the late-19th century, it rapidly expanded production. There was a major hiccup when the British navy used the grounds for manufacturing mines, which led to an explosion that nearly destroyed the distillery. Another major expansion during the 1960s put Dalmore in the upper tier of malt distilleries, which laid the foundation for them to become a major player both in single malts and as a component of Whyte & Macky's blends. Their ever-flamboyant master blender Richard Patterson was instrumental in their turn towards increasingly expensive malts, leading to ever more eye-watering prices for special releases.

This whisky is part of their less exalted core lineup and was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and Matusalem sherry butts, then bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from Whiskysite.

Dalmore 18 Year (2018)

Nose: big, rich sherry, some sour new make notes, savory, cinnamon and baking spices, graham crackers, chocolate, vanilla, citrus peel/pineapple, floral notes underneath. After adding a few drops of water it becomes maltier and creamier, some honey and caramel come out, the oak gets a bit stronger and turns towards cedar notes, the floral notes move towards the foreground, and the new make is pushed towards the background.

Taste: sweet sherry with new make overtones and mixed berries up front, red wine sourness and new make-y notes with more berries around the middle, then a creamier/maltier fade out with lightly tannic oak and a touch of something floral at the back. After dilution the sherry fades a bit up front, the new make notes are not nearly as strong, and a little savory tannic bitterness comes out around the back.

Finish: floral overtones through, slightly sour sherry at the beginning, fading into creamy malt and nougat with sour sherry residue and dank mildly bitter oak, savory, building floral notes that linger

My first pass with this sample was really not good. Like, worse than their current 12 Year by a noticeable margin. It almost feels like the samples got switched, because this one comes off as a lot younger, albeit more sherry influenced. The second tasting was significantly better, which makes me think that something happened in the process of bottling this sample. For Dalmore's sake I really hope that a full bottle would be better.

I found it rather peculiar that this has so much sherry influence but so little oak. The two generally go hand in hand these days, so I'm curious what the casks were like before they were filled. Overall this is just very strange for a standard 18 year, bucking a lot of the expectations I have for how they're constructed, especially when they're aimed at non-enthusiast buyers.