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.

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.