Wednesday, 2 September 2015

#Heelslayer: Glenmorangie 15 (Old Distillery Bottling, 15 Years, 43% ABV)

    This week's #Heelslayer dram comes from the distillery claiming "the tallest stills in Scotland" (I think I've heard that from others too, much like the 'oldest' distillery claims), Glenmorangie.  This is a rather special bottle though, as this comes from the era before the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennesy takeover in 2004.  This 15 year old bottle, served at 43% ABV hails from about the mid to late 1990's, and comes from a time when production was a little more detail oriented, and less factory produced whisky.  Still aged in the classic Bourbon-only style of Glenmorangie, this has long been a favorite of the both the collector and the GlenMo fan. Let's delve into the hell of this bottle and I'll tell you why.

  • Colour:  Autumn gold with hints of amber.  There's no indication of colouring on the label so I'll assume it has some caramel in it, albeit rather light.
  • Body:  An oily medium that wanes toward the thin side.  No mention of filtration type, but considering this stays crystal clear in a -30 car ride... it's pretty heavily chill-filtered.
  • Nose:  Holy cow!  Vanilla city, pudding, white flowers and soft malt notes.  The rich malty backbone plays with hints of sweet corn and apricot cobbler.  Peaches, stone fruits and melted vanilla ice cream.  In the background there are subtle notes of jasmine and herbal green tea with a hazelnut twist.  The nose swims with so much vanilla, almost overpoweringly sweet, but so delicious.
  • Palate:  Sweet cornbread, malt syrup and peach compote.  Sublime wood spice notes (fenugreek with hints of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg), drive the mid palate as oily malt notes lift the bottom.  Toasted oak and cream flourish here with subtle hints of lilac and more jasmine green tea again.  Towards the end Tellicherry black pepper, stone fruits and more herbal notes come forward as the sweet creaminess abates.  The malt shows great depth throughout the dram.
  • Finish: Sweet creamy malt and deeply complex oak.  White flowers again provide highlights as does sweet black tea and some hints s of brine.  Vanilla oils, shortbread and hints of oak char.  Wood spices are diluted here, but still present and have picked up an almost cedar note.
  • Empty Glass:  Peach Melba and more white tea this time.  There's a doughy middle note and some herb-ed liqueur and roasted malt.  The sweetness continues through the empty glass, with malted milk chocolate sweets and Applejack. 
     I actually noted in my notebook on two different tastings of this that 'I will miss this bottle when it's gone.'  It's like an improved-upon 10 year old Glenmorangie Original: oilier, heavier and with more wood presence but with all the rich vanilla sweetness that you've come to love.  I can't help but wonder why this was discontinued, and more importantly where the quality has gone.  This dram is hands down my favorite Glenmorangie of recent tastings, save some independent bottlings, and it bears to mind the quality shift of all the Glenmorangie offerings.

     With the recent limited releases like Tùsail, glimpses of this distillery's true character are still present, albeit now a manufactured façade.  I understand the same quality of barrels are no longer present (LVMH uses Jack Daniels and Heaven Hill primarily for the GlenMo10), and the quality of engineered barley is now very different from years past.  I think that whisky, like comedy, should come naturally, and cannot be forced.  Stepping off my soapbox; keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

#Heelslayer: 1995 Ben Nevis (Blackadder Clydesdale Label, 15 Years, 59.5% ABV NCA/NCF)

     Well it's been a while, and a crazy summer for myself!  It seems like it's hard to settle down and write something meaningful and eloquent when it's so nice outside.  Instead of penning another ode to a dram, I've searched my open bottles and decided to write out some notes on my heels.  Below is the first of my tasting notes on a selection of drams from my #heelslayer weekend project.

     First up come form the dew of Ben Nevis... or so they call it.  Long John McDonald founded the distillery in 1825 at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, where the cool mountain air condenses into the two pools from which the distillery draws her water. Popular enough that by 1878 a second distiller had to be built next door which eventually was amalgamated back into the Ben Nevis of today.  The most recent change of hands in 1989, was to the Japanese Nikka company, who still produces the malt to this day.

     The bottle that I'm reviewing today comes form the Clydesdale independent bottler lineup under the Blackadder label.  Aged 15 years in sherry cask (likely a refill), number 0350/2626 and bottled at a whopping 59.5% ABV without any chill filtration or colouring.  I tried this bottle many moons ago and was astonished that something so high on the ABV scale could seem so approachable.  This was my first foray into cask strength drams, and it was a more that pleasant experience, and cemented my love of independent drams that can actually display the  character of the distillery.

  • Colour:  Bright straw gold.  No colour added.
  • Body:  Thin to medium.  Very tiny drops and thin legs, slow run back to the glass.  No chill filtration happening here either!
  • Nose:  Bright and lively!  Hay (cut and dried), and fruits., hints of flowers and very subtle malt.  Rich pastry notes with apricot and peach schnapps.  Pineapple upside down cake, hints of vanilla and varnish.  Yellow plums, flint and dry cocoa in the bottom with hints of lemon and mint in the background. 
  • Palate:  Surprising power here, but not in the way you'd think.  That almost 60% ABV still comes across as soft and dignified like a 43-46% dram.  The power comes with the wallop of flavour it brings with it!  Spice and wood notes start up with a brine note playing second fiddle.  The malt comes in strong next with more pineapple in tow.  A warm fruit compote with some sort of... what I can only describe as yellow flowers.  Roots and rich gobs of dried fruit (papaya), shortly follow this up with a wood smoke or cocoa dryness.  The cocoa comes in a little more strongly as it transitions towards the finish with just a slight hint of struck match  in the background.
  • Finish:  The heat shows up here from the ABV, but it still doesn't overwhelm the finish. Daisy... or maybe cooked daisies with more yellow plums (also cooked).  Good dutch cocoa and more toasted oak here.  Some astringent notes, specifically astringent peach, and a rather hot dryness.  The dryness is very welcome as shortly afterwards your mouth begins watering; yearning for the next sip!
  • Empty Glass: Wood smoke and cherry cough syrup.  Coffee dregs and pineapple vodka (not sweet though).  Wood spices and play-dough , citrus and some bitter almond in the bottom.  Almost hints of grilled peach and fruit salts (is there such a thing as fruit salt?  I'm thinking a salt that has a yellow fruit note...).
    What can I say?  This was a fantastic dram, filled with stone fruit, yellow flowers and malty goodness.  Loads of baking spices in the palate and a finish that leaves your mouth watering, leaving  you craving another.  I was amazed that high ABV could come across so smoothly, which attests to the quality of the spirit; it even fooled me on my first tasting.  Water tames some of the wood spices and brings a more soft floral malty note to the whisky, but it doesn't seem to be needed in this dram.  Should you ever see this listed in a bar, I highly recommend that you taste it as I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Until next time: keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The USDC 30th Event! - 30 Year Old Malts... 5 of them... Seriously

       Well, not often will I publish a quick turn around review, but last night stuck me as something special.  If you happened to be watching my twitter feed, you will have noted a few very interesting and rather old bottles appear.  This is attributed to the 30th event for The United Scotch Drinkers of Canada.  It was decided that the group would celebrate in style, and source a list of 30 year old malts -  and what transpired was nothing less than a stellar night.

     First up, the USDC:  A group of like minded men and women who started a tasting group made up of friends who enjoy whisky.  What started with tasting of basic blended malts and learning the distiller's lingo has since been transformed into locating some of the most sought after bottlings possible.  This typically results in some collectors crying their eyes out as we wrench open the tops on whisky that is oft deemed too rare to drink.  On the other hand, as an malt enthusiast, this allows an opprtunity  to try whiskies that are far outside the acceptable price range or almost impossible to find.  Let's delve into our opening dram...

Weymss Inchgower 1982 (Pears and Almonds, 46% ABV, NCA/NCF):
  • Colour:  Light amber, almost honey coloured.
  • Body:  Thin, but leaning towards the oily side.  Drops form at a medium rate and fall at the same leisurely pace.
  • Nose:  Soft perfume notes begetting white floral notes and soft roasted almond.  As it develops, almond becomes toasted and a little brash.  Soft malt and sweet marzipan round out into a creamy sort of nose.  The floral seems vaguely 80's Bowmore.
  • Palate:  Milky soft and creamy, malt sweetness and more floaral notes.  There's n odd note in here though, maybe herbal almost sharp that I can't quite figure.  Mashed banana and sweet custard in the bottom, but the violet notes start to take over the mid-palate.  Towards the end there is a very interesting chalky note that smooths it all out, and hints at a bit of salty dust.
  • Finish:  Sharp and prickly.  This is 30 years?  It's very lively as the wood spices come up and dominate the finish.  Creamy and chalky wood comes along and supports more custard notes but they take a back seat to some strong wood spices (coriander, cassia, mace and the like).
  • Empty Glass:  The salty brine sort of comes up here but is subdued by huge butter toffee notes.  There is a rich and almost silky malt note in the dregs.
   Not quite my cup of tea, I found it very floral and quite a bit of roasted nuts.  The finish almost made it seem much younger than it actually was, almost half the age.  I can still see the appeal to this though as it is such a light and soft whisky.  What's next?

 Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Glen Grant 1978 (REF 4714, 49.6% ABV, NCA/NCF):
  • Colour:  Soft harvest gold
  • Body:  Rather thin, almost a touch watery.  Drops form rather slowly and almost refuse to run back to the glass.  Seems to sheet back to the bottom.
  • Nose:  Wow, Glen Grant straight out of the gates!  Intense old whisky!  Lots of prickly pear and almost some sweaty notes.  Great wood spices and hints of aftershave (not detracting from the malt), with a fantastic malt base.  As it develops, it becomes soft and perfumed, but never loses the quality.  There is a hint of citrus, or some sort of citrus baked good... like a lemon square but with 1/4 of the lemon.
  • Palate:  A 180 from the nose, soft and subtle... somehow maintains intensity in softness.  The perfume is still here, but it plays hand in hand with malt, biscuits and baking spices.  As it develops the malt takes precedence and shows the almost perfect integration of pepper heat and sweet.  The balance is spot-on.
  • Finish:  Herbal wood spice and pepper heat again, Twinges of wood smoke come through and soothe the malt.  Hints of bitter tannin and Crème Anglaise support the finish.  The balance shows no signs of stopping here as the finish carries on for quite some time.
  • Empty Glass:  Rich aftershave notes of sandalwood and almost a hint of camphor.  Soft peaks of malty brine and vanilla support the finish in your mouth.  Le sigh....
      Okay, this is a pretty stellar malt, the balance of the flavours makes it supremely delicious and dangerously more-ish.  The aftershave notes in the finish support the rich malt underneath and the smattering of wood smoke peppers just enough to cut into the dram without disruption.  Holy crap, there's more?

Balvenie 30 (DB, 47.3% circa mid 2000's):
  • Colour:  I think it's the Ron Burgundy... rich mahogany, but likely coloured.
  • Body:  Oily thin, huge fat drops form rather quickly and run slowly back to the bowl.  I dunno; it's heavily filtered but still relatively intact.
  • Nose:  The Balvenie through and through.  Honey, treacle tart and soft Sherry run through the malt.  There is a fermented strawberry note in the centre that I'm not in love with, but it supports the sherry very well.  Soft torched toffee and wood spice with a hint at cocoa in the back end.
  • Palate:  Rich Gypsy pie, very sweet on the front end, and dangerously smooth in the mid-palate.  Hints at leaves and wood spice, but honestly nothing is standing out.  It's a very manufactured palate, but it's much clingier that the newer 30 year old.
  • Finish:  It's long, but it doesn't stick around enough.  The typical vanilla, caramel and softened baking spice in the finish.  Lots of sherry sweets and malt here too, the cling dissipates too quickly leaving you wanting another dram.
  • Empty Glass:  I'm almost not too sure there was whisky in my glass.  The dregs almost evaporate and leave very little  Hints of bitter almond and sherry, some touches of wood of some sort... but not much else.
     This was bottled about a decade back, and features almost all of the stereo typical Balvenie notes of the modern whiskies.  The cling on this though is much more interesting, just a shame though that it doesn't stick around for long enough.  It's a dram I could drink all day, but then I would check the empty bottle at the end and be a little disappointed that there wasn't more there...

Adelphi Miltonduff 1981 (53.8% ABV, Ex-Bourbon Hogshead #5077, NCA/NCF):
  • Colour:  14 karat gold
  • Body:  Oily to medium thick.  Drops are fat, and run so slowly down.
  • Nose:  Oily fruit salad!  Fatty and bitter lemons, rich fruits and sharp oak.  Spicy notes of chili and grapefruit.  The wood spice and malt sweetness are muted to begin.  Adding water drive the fruits to insane levels and mutes the thickness of the dram.
  • Palate:  Meg Ryan shouting yes, yes!  Soft and sweet to start, then the tempo picks up!  Rich malt traverses into very fruity notes.  Soft oily thickness carries vanilla cream across and then shoves a bunch of spices into your face (cardamon, fenugreek, and Ceylon cinnamon). Towards the end there is a salty note and more rich waves of malt.
  • Finish:  Intense, rich and almost drying.  Milk chocolate and sharp oak play together on an oily creamy bed.  Very rich malt with more surprising fruits dot the finish.
  • Empty Glass:  Almost a hint of brine here now, cooked dough and hints of preserved lemons.  Fruity wood peeks through and supports a soft oak char note.
     In case you might have missed it, this was my stand out of the night.  The fruits, oiliness and malt cream were so good... I just wish I had more of this. The odd spice notes seem to support the fattiness of the dram and drive the finish of for quite a long time.  But wait, there's more!

Douglas Laing Director's Cut Caperdonich 1982 (50.9% ABV, Refill Butt DL 8778, NCA/NCF):
  • Colour:  Almost red-y amber!
  • Body:  Rich and oily, drops stay small and take forever to form.  The swirl seems to sheet back to the bottom, not so much as legs, but rather as a thick blanket.
  • Nose:  This is what its all about... Tobacco and sherry sweetness dominate this dram.  Honey and coffee dregs, cocoa and twinges of cherry medicine in the background.  Match heads at the start quickly give way to the sweet sherry and almost cut the sweetness down a bit.  There is a hint of metallic, but it's not derivative of the malt.
  • Palate:  Soft sweet and super smooth sherry malt lead the way.  Big cigar tobacco and 75% dark chocolate drive the bottom end.  The honey sweetness and hints of floral notes twist with rich Colombian dark roast coffee and touches of ginger spice.  The smoothness of this dram known no limits, water need not apply here.
  • Finish:  The sweet tirade continues, but offers more of the malt and hints of wood char and sweet oak throughout.  There's a soft almost creamy note that supports through out finish.
  • Empty Glass:  Tannin drives up here, cheap coffee dregs and twinges of metal (maybe aluminum).  The sweet sherry takes a back seat and more oak spices come up (mace and cassia), but the soft creamy note still lingers the strongest.
     Oh man, as good as the previous was at showing a quality Bourbon aged spirit, this shows off a proper Sherry aged spirit.  This was so sweet and so delicious, I just wanted to curl up in it.  The metallic notes were a little off putting, but not so much that it was a distraction.  The hints of match heads actually cut the richness in the nose to a manageable level too.

     So after a wonderful evening of barbecue, camaraderie, and incredible single malt whiskies, we readied ourselves to part ways into the ongoing rain storm.  Then, what should my eyes behold... a touch of peat to set us off on our way!

SMWS 29.115 Candy Floss in a Fairground (55.8% ABV, NCA/NCF):
  • Colour:  Light gold
  • Body:  Thin to medium, rather light.  Drops almost refuse to form, but slim legs run very slowly back to the dram.
  • Nose:  Gunpowder and treacle toffee.  Tonnes of peat (wow,  a lot for 22 years), and hints of sweet candies... like candy floss.  Sweet peat and touches of mechanical grit, rum soaked raisins and wine must show up.  Salted peanuts and somehow herbal notes too, maybe crushed burdock.
  • Palate:  Gritty dirt notes, almost hot stone too.  Peat washes over everything, smoking peat fires and hints of sweetness abound.  There's a waffle note or something sweet and breaded in the background, with soft seaweed hanging about in the background.
  • Finish:  Depths of peat smoke and wood spice! Incredible amounts of peat for 22 years, mud and soft sweet baking spices come along.  Tobacco ash, cumin and black tea notes.  Towards the end, play dough notes (cooked dough and briny salt).
  • Empty Glass:  Peat smoke and hints of jasmine tea.  Bitter soy sauce and touches of vanilla.
     I'm not one for peated whisky, this was not quite in my directions.  There was a little too much peat for me, but upon adding water, the sweetness comes rushing in and brings so much more with it!

   So that about wraps up a wonderful evening!  Some incredible drams, some great friends and some heated conversations about everything from whisky to hockey.  The ages of the drams here were moot, the whisky spoke for itself above all else.  What more can I say... I'm still enamoured with the quality that comes from independent bottlers.  Keep your eyes peeled for anything form this tasting, all were very memorable, and all had their own quirks.  So until next time - Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass!