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: Single 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 Single 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.

50%

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.

46%

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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Whisky Review: Whisky-Fässle Ledaig 8 Year 2005/2014

There have been a rash of these young, cask strength Ledaigs showing up on the market over the last handful of years. I've had rather mixed feelings, but there can be some pluses to them.

This was released by the German bottler Whisky-Fässle at 53.3% without coloring or chill filtration. The sample was purchased from the WhiskyBase Shop.

Whisky-Fässle Ledaig 8 Year 2005/2014

Nose: peat-driven, mossy, decaying vegetation and flowers, sharp oak, rather salty, low tide seashore, rotting seaweed, a touch of old coffee grounds, fresh green malt, hints of caramel. After adding a drop of water the oak comes forward, integrating with the peat, with a mellow rubbery/plastic note alongside sweet berries and a touch of ham emerging.

Taste: malt sweetness up front, sharp oak underneath, lots of mixed berries in the middle, with a big lump of mossy peat, fresh earth, and oak dumped on the back. After dilution it becomes more integrated, with the sweet malt, oak, and peat all arriving at once, mocha coming out around the middle, and the other elements making way for the berries to shine at the back.

Finish: oak tannins, bitter peat, earth, berries

I have very mixed feelings about this whisky. It is one of the few young bourbon cask Ledaigs I've tried that approached the point of being something I would want to drink again, but ultimately it is betrayed by the same flaw - it just feels underdone. Either more time to let the new make notes fade or more active wood seem like necessary ingredients to elevate the spirit to a drinkable level. Given that Ledaig is very powerful spirit, it can absorb very strong cask influence without being overwhelmed, so the used cooperage that typifies many of these releases just doesn't cut it. Since most of these young Ledaigs seem to be from 2005, I wonder if releases over the next couple of years will finally be old enough to start hitting the mark.

With that said, a lot of people who reviewed this on WhiskyBase liked it a lot, so there's clearly an audience for these kinds of malts. But it appears to not be available anymore, so the point is academic.