Thursday, January 8, 2015

Whisky Review: Gordon & Macphail Glentauchers 16 Year

Glentauchers, is generally an obscure malt, but pulled off a trick that very few distilleries built in the late 19th-century managed: surviving the Patterson Crisis. Check out Malt Madness for the full history (and some transposed dates).

My only previous exposure was a 7 year old first-fill sherry cask that was bottled for The Good Spirits Co in Glasgow. That was only a taste, so I didn't get much of a sense of the distillery character.

This particular whisky is the semi-offical bottling from Gordon & Macphail, which was bottled at 43%, presumably with chill filtration and possibly with caramel color.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

G&M Glentauchers 16 Year

Nose: clean malt, graham crackers, floral vanilla overtones, unripe green fruit, banana, very light oak, slightly vegetal, baking spices, and a hint of bacon-y smoke. After adding a few drops of water, the floral elements are emphasized over the malt, it becomes cleaner and less vegetal, with a touch of sea air and incense popping out,

Taste: sweet & sour malt throughout, cardboard-y oak, floral/vegetal mid-to-back, artificial fruit flavorings in the middle. After dilution, the sweetness becomes more syrupy, with the floral and fruit overtones integrating into the malt.

Finish: sour wine edge, floral/vegetal, malty, very mild cardboard-y oak, purple bubblegum

This one really seems to suffer for being bottled at 43%. G&M bottles often punch over their weight, but this one feels like it needs more than it has to offer to really shine. There are suggestions of depth and complexity, but the majority of what I'm getting is nice, clean malt. I can see why this would be good for blends, but it's not quite hitting the mark for me. However, if you'd like to try some, The Party Source appears to still have it, with the caveat that they don't ship alcohol anymore.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Whisky Review: Glen Moray 12 Year

Glen Moray is another distillery in Speyside that has mostly focused on production for blends, though their single malts have garnered a certain amount of fame/infamy. I'll let Malt Madness give you the details, but Glen Moray followed its big brother Glenmorangie's lead during the 1990s, releasing a number of wine cask matured and finished whiskies. Some of these were well-received, others less so.

This particular expression is about as basic as you get - all of the spirit was matured in ex-bourbon barrels for a dozen years, then proofed down for bottling at 40%, presumably with coloring and chill filtration.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Glen Moray 12 Year

Nose: lots of new make notes - sour green grass and barley, sugarcane, white wine, a whiff of vanilla and cinnamon smoke, dry grain, very light oak (more with time), lightly floral, pineapple, berries underneath. After adding a few drops of water, there are some odd sour citrus overtones, along with more grass and floral notes, and something kind of soapy, but it does get creamier with a bit more vanilla.

Taste: sweet barley throughout, rather green and bitter, with new make and slightly sour wine notes riding over everything, uncomplicated but soft. After dilution, the new make character settles down a bit, though the barley itself becomes more grassy and bitter - not much improvement, but it doesn't fall apart either.

Finish: fresh barley, a touch of wine, bitter grain/oak

This reads to me like a much, much younger whisky. It seems like most of it came from relatively inactive casks, as there's very minimal oak influence and the spirit itself is in the fore. To put a positive spin on that, it is, as Florin puts it, 'honest'. There are some vaguely interesting things going on with the nose, but it kind of falls flat on the palate for me. Overall, I found that it improved a fair bit with time in the glass, but never really lost its youthfulness. It's possible that this would be improved by higher strength - my experience with a bottle of Arran Bourbon Single Cask found that the off-notes were strengthened significantly by dilution - but it's hard to know.

All of this should be taken with a grain of salt, since I tend to be rather sensitive to new make character in a whisky (this is also why I've never been able to warm up to genever). Glen Moray also has the virtue of being extremely cheap - you can find the 12 Year for under $30 in some places - though I would pony up the extra cash for Glenmorangie Original if I was looking for a basic bourbon cask whisky.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Rum Review: Berry Bros. & Rudd Guadeloupe 12 Year/1998

Rhum agricole made from fresh cane juice rather than molasses is usually associated with Martinique, but other French islands also produce rhums in that style. This one comes from the islands of Guadeloupe, an overseas French department. While not specified on the label, I've read that this is from Distillerie Bellevue on the small island of Marie-Galante, which is a short hop from the larger islands of Basse-Terre and Grand-Terre.

Bellevue was originally built in 1769, with a new distillery on the site opening in 2003. As with all distilleries that produce rum from cane juice, the cane is grown nearby so that it can be harvested and transported to the distillery as quickly as possible to keep it from spoiling. As with most agricoles, the cane juice mash is distilled in a column still, though I can't find any information about the specs.

This single cask was purchased by Berry Bros. & Rudd, then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Guadeloupe 12 Year/1998

Nose: classic aged agricole - grassy, wine/raisins, edging into brown sugar, mild (European?) oak, nutmeg, vanilla, beeswax, baked apples, lime peel. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes buttery, with melted brown sugar, bright berries over toasted oak, and cinnamon rolls.

Taste: a little thin up front, a nice melange of grassiness, mild oak, and sugarcane/brown sugar sweetness at the beginning, berries/brandy near the back, nutmeg and a slight waxiness throughout. After dilution, it becomes a little watery, there are more berries, less grass/sugarcane, the oak becomes buttery, and there's a strong orange peel note throughout.

Finish: berries, sugarcane, mild oak, creamy, nutmeg

This is nearly everything you could want from an aged sugarcane rum - the distinctive grassiness hasn't been wiped out by the cask, but it is tempered by time. There's sweetness, but not nearly as much as you get from most molasses-based rums. Overall it's really well balanced, only falling short in terms of density of flavor, which I think could have been rectified by bumping up the bottling proof  a bit. The other reservation is price, which is a somewhat eye-watering $100+. While this is a very good rhum and I would love to drink more of it, I don't think it quite manages to justify its retail price. But I'll be keeping my eyes out for other sugarcane rums from Guadeloupe that are a little easier on the pocketbook. They're clearly making quality spirits on those islands.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rum Review: Renegade Monymusk 5 Year Tempranillo Cask Finish

Renegade was the rum arm of Murray McDavid, Mark Reynier's independent bottling company that was run out of Bruichladdich distillery for many years. As with many of MMD's bottlings, most of the rums were finished in various sorts of wine casks.

This rum comes from the Monymusk distillery of Jamaica, which is one of the oldest distilleries on the island, having been built in the 18th century. The name appears to come from the Monymusk estate in Aberdeenshire (where there used to be a Monymusk malt distillery in the mid-19th century), which is somewhat unsurprising as many of the distilleries on Jamaica are named after Scottish sites, having been settled by Scots and English after driving away the Spanish in the 17th century.

The distillery is now known primarily as the main source of Myers's rum. However, a few casks do make their way into the hands of independent bottlers. This particular one was bottled at 46% without chill filtration or coloring. I was able to get a sample through Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram, as bottles of this rum sold out long ago.

Renegade Monymusk 5 Year Tempranillo Finish

Nose: huge wave of Jamaican dusty/earthy/smoky esters with a burnt sugar edge - almost industrial, seashore, wine cask/berries hang in the background, vanilla and fresh wood underneath, creamy honey, green apples, floral perfume. After adding a few drops of water, the wood becomes more prominent, shoving the esters aside and integrating with them, plum/raspberry notes become more clear, and it gets sweeter overall

Taste: mild sugarcane and berry sweetness up front, quickly subsumed by a bump of oak tannins and esters, which do a slow fade out to reveal the sugarcane and toffee sweetness, with the wine cask notes finally making an appearance at the back - over time the esters settle down to reveal more wine cask influence throughout. After dilution, it becomes much sweeter throughout, with the sugarcane notes gaining a lot of ground, the wine cask influence really comes out to play, with the rum's esters being relegated to the back, while wood and wine dominate the rest of the palate, with somewhat sour vinous notes become much more prominent and there is an earthy quality throughout.

Finish: sugarcane, mingled oak tannins and dunder esters, wine cask overtones, burnt sugar

In many ways, I find this rum analogous to the peated Bunnahabhain from Murray McDavid that I had last year. Both are red wine finishes of very flavorful spirits where the wine cask plays a supporting rather than a leading role in the undiluted spirit, then becomes more dominant after adding some water. Given that MMD finishes were often derided for overwhelming the spirit, it is probably for the best that this rum was bottled when it was. I also think that this would appeal to fans of peated single malts, because the Jamaican esters give it an earthy quality similar to that of peat.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Whisky Review: Master of Malt Bunnahabhain 23 Year/1989

This is a sample from the UK retailer Master of Malt, who have been doing their own bottlings for a number of years.

The whisky was distilled in 1989, then filled into an ex-bourbon cask and aged for 23 years, before being proofed down to 46% and bottled without chill filtration or coloring.

Master of Malt Bunnahabhain 23 Year/1989

Nose: very rich - gobs of honied malt, seashore/seaweed, a hint of bacon, herbal/grassy/hay, light floral perfume, soft green fruits (apple, pear, grape), light berries, light vanilla, orange creamsicle, nutty charred oak. After dilution, it becomes more integrated, but loses a lot of punch, with the creamy floral element dominating, bubblegum pops out, with salty seashore notes remaining in the background,

Taste: rather sweet with an almost sherried thickness up front, with clean malt slowly giving way to moderate oak, seaweed, fresh cut grass, floral perfume. After dilution, the sweetness up front becomes pure sugarcane, rounded out by a solid backbone of caramelized oak, which slips into fruit and bubblegum esters in the middle, then a big burst of creamy bittersweet herbal/floral flavors near the back

Finish: very herbal/grassy, floral perfume, fresh malt, a whisper of oak

This is an interesting example of a bourbon cask Bunnahabhain, getting significantly better with time in the glass. It reminds me a lot of the grassy/herbal Arran Bourbon Single Cask I had a while back, but inflected with the island character Bunnahabhain is known for.

If nothing else, I feel like this would have benefited from bottling at a slightly higher proof. While the nose had plenty of power, the palate felt weak and watery in comparison. Something in the 48-50% range probably would have given it a helpful boost.

Given its age, I'm guessing this was a rather inactive cask as the malt still tastes very fresh and the oak impact is quite minimal. If you like your whisky 'naked', this is probably a nice one, though I do wonder if it would have been better with a slightly more active cask as it feels a tad immature, with some edges left to round off. If I was tasting this blind, I would probably peg it at somewhere around ten to twelve years old, which makes the price that MoM wanted for it a bit hard to swallow. I'd stick to younger indies Bunnahabhains if you want a similar experience at a more tolerable price.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Whisky Review: Aldephi Liddesdale 21 Year

This is the second sherry cask whisky this week from Bunnahabhain, though this one is significantly older. The name refers to a hill near Adelphi's recently opened Ardnamurchan distillery and is used for their small batch releases of Bunnahabhain. I believe this was from Batch 6, which was assembled from 4 European oak ex-sherry casks, proofed down to 46%, then bottled without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Ian of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this one.

Adelphi Liddesdale 21 Year

Nose: toasted malt, dry sherry, seashore/seashells, vanilla, pineapple, a thread of wood smoke, fresh grapes, baked apples, a hint of vegetal peat, herbal, caramel/toffee, burnt sugar, unsweetened chocolate, something savory. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes softer and more integrated without losing too much intensity, the sherry becomes more savory and the malt comes out more strongly, with some nuttiness emerging.

Taste: a sour top note (almost vinegary) runs throughout, big malty/vanilla/berry sweetness up front segues into oak tannins, unsweetened chocolate in the middle, which then turns into seashore/uncooked shellfish notes with a touch of peat and somewhat plastic-y sweetness near the back. After dilution, it becomes more balanced and less sour, the sweetness is cleaner, and the seashore notes become earthy and almost peated.

Finish: plastic-y sweetness, earthy sour peat, slightly creamy sherry, malt, burnt sugar, oak tannins, vanilla,

While there are good qualities to this whisky, especially the nose, it never quite reaches a point where I feel like it justifies its price tag. Most of what it has to offer can be had from Glenfarclas without some of the off notes that I found in this one. So I think I'll pass on a full bottle.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Whisky Review: Prime Malt Bunnahabhain 10 Year/1999

Prime Malt is a series of single cask releases from Gordon Bonding, which I can find basically no info about. They were usually reduced to a relatively low strength (40-43%), but also tended to be at bargain-basement prices.

The bottle states that particular whisky comes from a refill sherry cask that held heavily peated Bunnahabhain spirit. However, to my knowledge, Bunnahabhain was not distilling peated malt between its earlier 1997 experimental run and the sale of the distillery to Burn Stewart in 2003. This makes me wonder if this was actually unpeated spirit that was aged in a cask that used to hold peated whisky. Either way, the spirit was proofed down to 43% before bottling - I suspect that it was chill filtered, but the color makes me think that no caramel was added.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

Prime Malt Bunnahabhain 10 Year/1999

Nose: clean malt, fresh hay, herbal/floral, sherry with a sour tang, berry sweetness, ink, graphite, cigarette ash, light earthy peat, bubblegum, vanilla, honey, pencil shavings. After adding a few drops of water, there isn't any drop in intensity, but it becomes more malt-focused, with the sherry (top note) and grassy/herbal peat (bottom note) sliding into the background a bit, with the vanilla and perfume notes growing stronger.

Taste: opens with malt and wood sugars overlaid with a thin veneer of sherry sweetness, segues through malty vanilla into mild oak tannins with a faint peat back, with the earthy/ashy peat coming into focus at the back, while there are orange peels overtones throughout. After dilution it becomes a little watery up front, with the malt fading a bit while the sherry becomes a stronger top note, while the oak tannins and peat becomes more pronounced at the back.

Finish: vanilla malt, light oak, earthy peat, whispers of sherry

This is, in my opinion, a very good whisky at a very good price. It pulls off a similar trick to Highland Park 12, opening sweetly, then switching to a more bittersweet peaty mode.

The only place I've ever seen it for sale is The Party Source and I'm still kicking myself for not grabbing a bottle when they still shipped spirits. At least I got to enjoy this little bit of it.