Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Tale of Two Macallans - Part II (A tale of more Macallans)

  Another bottle to add to the Macallan debate reviewed by our very own Tom Alexander.  This time another travel retail bottle, but is it a good one?

The Macallan 1824 Collection - Whisky Maker’s Edition - 42.8% ABV   

About a month ago I did a comparison between Lombard’s 14 year old Macallan, and the distillery’s own bottling, “Select Oak”, from their 1824 collection. Well, this morning it is Christmas Eve and have a few minutes to do yet another Macallan, also from the 1824 Collection, called “Whisky Maker’s Edition” (thanks to Ross Allen for providing this!)

This particular expression, according to the distillery, has been individually crafted by Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno, using a mix of sherry and bourbon casks, and bottled at the higher 42.8% ABV (which is “how Bob likes to savour his Macallan”).

The colour is dark gold with amber highlights. On the nose, you get an immediate hit of barley sugar, caramel and vanilla, ginger and cinnamon. It’s very fruity. A lovely nose, not as sherried as you might expect. A drop of water opens it up nicely.

The palate, however, disappoints. There is more sherry here but it is sulphurous. Darker dried fruits, cinnamon and cloves. Water tames the sulphurous elements but unfortunately not enough.
Finish: a bit chalky, and much more spice on the finish than on the nose or palate. But on the death, there is a lot of astringency due to those sulphurs.

There is not as much to this as I had been hoping, and I think this is a flawed Macallan; somehow they got stuck with poor casks. Which is surprising: to take this and call it the “Whisky Maker’s Edition”, immediately calls into question Mr. Dalgarno’s skills (which we know are considerable given the exacting standards of Macallan). If they felt the need to do something with this, why market it as being indicative of “how Bob likes to savour his Macallan”?

If I compare this to the Select Oak (of which I have a final dram left in the bottle!), it pales in comparison (and would certainly pale next to the Lombard’s mentioned above - that was outstanding). The Select Oak has richer dried fruits, and a deeply beautiful sherry element (though still very slightly sulphurous). If this were a family Christmas dinner, the WME would be the drunk eccentric uncle with a lampshade on his head and a whiff of BO, next to the SO’s down-to-earth, hearty and gracious second-cousin.

Regardless, a great start to Christmas Eve - sampling two single malts that are as indicative of Christmas as you can get (minus the screaming kids, family dysfunction and mouth-drying turkey). Happy Holidays!

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Tale of Two Macallans

   Another post from Tom, this time on a pair of Macallans.  Some very interesting comparisons on the bottles, and a couple of rare finds as one bottle is travel only retail.  There will be a follow up to this article to be published shortly featuring a review from Tom from my other bottle of Whisky Maker's Edition Macallan.  We'll see if that stacks up to either of these given the moniker.

The Macallan 1824 Collection - Select Oak - Travel Retail Exclusive - 40% ABV

The Macallan 1989 14 Year Old - Lombard’s Jewels of Scotland - 58% ABV

  One of the true highlights of my trip to Scotland, for the May Speyside Whisky Festival, was visiting the Macallan distillery. Besides being nestled within a gorgeous setting, the distillery and its visitor’s centre give an excellent overview of their philosophy in whisky making, with an interactive “museum”-like experience that is fun and informative for both novice whisky drinkers and connoisseurs. Even greater, of course, was the tasting, which went through a range of many expressions, including the new make. Our tour guide encouraged us to sample the new make between each tasting so that we could better differentiate between the spirit and the wood - brilliant idea. In my experience, Macallans don’t tend to excite whisky connoisseurs (or maybe I’m wrong and it’s just my circle) and on one hand, I can see why - they tend to be heavily sherried expressions that could sometimes use more complexity. On the other hand, however, I love both the spirit (very fruity and floral, and that silky mouthfeel is unique to Macallan) and their use of wood (they pay very close attention to the quality of their casks, both sherry (which is their trademark) and bourbon).

  So here we are comparing two very different styles of Macallan. Our first is from their 1824 Collection, available only through travel retail. I picked this one up at the duty free store at Newark airport, having caught one of the last flights out of NYC before Hurricane Sandy hit. It is the Select Oak, wherein the the spirit is matured in five different cask types (what those cask types are, they do not say). Other expressions in the 1824 Collection are known as Whisky Maker’s Edition, Estate Reserve, Oscuro and 1824 Limited Release. The Select Oak is 40% ABV, and is presumably both coloured and chill-filtered.

The colour is a burnt gold with straw highlights. On the nose, quite complex and fruity. Definite sherry and oak, with dates, plums, dark cherry, almond brittle, nutmeg. Water brings out more sweet maltiness. The palate immediately shows sherry, with a very sweet and silky mouth feel. Cherry compote, also vanilla, cinnamon and a little bit of pepper. A little water brings out the spices. I detect the faintest hint of sulphur but it’s not terribly unwelcome here. Smooth and rich.

The finish is long and deep, filling the upper chest - but ends up a little dry and tannic. This is a very smooth, rich, lovely dram, though a bit more of a blunt instrument than most Macallans. I’ve been working it for the last hour and I do find it a little much after a while, despite some complexity,

Our second Macallan comes not from the distillery but from Lombard’s, an independent bottler, from their “Jewels of Scotland” range. This spirit was distilled in 1989 and aged for 14 years, and bottled at 58%, non-coloured and non-chill-filtered. I am reviewing this off of a sample so I do not have any other information from the label at hand. However, this particular bottle was available through the LCBO at $134.95, and is well worth getting (sadly out of stock now). Never fear as you can order a dram at Habits Gastropub on College (west of Ossington).

The colour is a light-to-medium amber. The nose is very robust and malty, with a little smoke (wonder where that comes from, since Macallans are not peated?) Also featuring vanilla and sugar, so it’s almost a little bourbon-y (as befits the cask). Dry roasted almonds and mint. Water brings out more oak, surprisingly. Beautiful.

The palate reflects that classic Macallan silky mouth feel, with more alcohol heat than you might be used to from this distillery! Features many of the notes from the nose, but more almonds and macadamia nuts, some dates. And with water, we have more oak - which works beautifully with the malt. Water tames the alcohol and brings out more malt, nuts and fruit, which is very welcome. Extremely complex, developing, changing over time.

The finish is very developing - it goes from short to long to heavy, almost mossy finish. This is an excellent whisky, more challenging than standard Macallans with the heavier alcohol and the stronger bourbon cask notes.

To compare - I feel the Lombard’s is the superior dram, though the more introductory drinker may feel differently. The Lombard’s is more complex, more challenging and changes over time. The Select Oak does not push the boundaries of what Macallan has to offer, but features classic Macallan notes that are undeniable. Both are worth trying, but the Lombard’s is your best bet, and something quite different than the usual distillery bottlings.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Crying Over Spilled Scotch

Our next post is from a good friend and prospective member to the Westside Whisky Society, Richard Culver.  An avid whisky drinker and a new addition to our entourage.  During our last meeting, he proposed a post on bottle carriers, which I asked him to forward and I'd gladly post.  I feel that we don't come across this type of information often enough, so I'm pleased to offer a post that might help anyone prevent the loss of a bottle.

  There is an old joke about a Scot walking along carrying a fine bottle of whisky when he tripped and fell. As he was getting up he felt liquid seeping into his trousers… He looked up at the Sky and said, “Oh Lord, Please! I beg you let it be blood!”

  In the movie The Angels Share there is a similar scene where (spoiler alert) an irreplaceable bottle of old scotch gets broken. A gut retching event that can bring a grown man to tears. Good movie. Go see it. 

The fact of the matter is: Bottles can break.

   During my travels I have been fortunate to pick up some fine whiskies from great retailers like The Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow and Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inveraray. These retailers know the importance of protective packaging and will gladly ensure your precious cargo is lovingly and tenderly wrapped. What happens when you find a rare and forgotten bottle in the Scottish souvenir shop in Oban, but they don’t have any bubble wrap.  Then they tried to sell you a pair of tartan Scottish hose (long socks) to put your bottle in; surely your own socks would suffice. Wouldn’t they? Maybe. Maybe not. Do you want to trust a pair of crusty worn socks? Not a problem you say. You always do your laundry while on holidays. Well I didn’t. And I had never had a bottle break before in spite of wrapping it in my clothes. Why would this time be different?

  I had an opportunity to raise the issue of bottle breakage with the WestSide Whisky Society at one of their tastings. It was a remarkable night ranging from quietly contemplative while coaxing aromas out of a glass, to moments of boisterous laughter.  Impressive camaraderie! At times I was awed by the depth of knowledge that sprung forth. Anyway, only one of the members had a bottle break in his luggage case, a backpack as it were. So it does happen. Has it ever happened to you?

  Some bottles do come in protective containers. I took a look around and purchased some items that are made for protecting bottles. I hope the review that follows here may save you some time and expense when deciding what to buy.  Considering the minimal expense per bottle I felt it was worth it. Consider it bottle insurance.

First up:  The WineSkin

Available at CAA/AAA stores, costing $9.99 for three, members get a 10% discount. The simplest of the containers. Sealed bubble rap in the  shape of a bottle. Has a piece of sealing tape that you can only use once to prevent leakage in case of breakage. Folds relatively flat for packing on the trip over, but you may use it to transport a bottle to your friends in Scotland or elsewhere. This packaging is exactly the right size for Forty Creek special releases. John Hall may have them at the store.

Next: The Tracker (carrier in grey)
Available at luggage stores like ACCESS, costing $12.99 for two.  Essentially the same as above with a thin rubber skin melded on the outside for additional protection and a sturdy reusable zip lock seal. The bubble pack inside this one is sealed to the outer shell unlike the WineSkin. This also folds flat when empty. The reusable seal and better quality may make it worthwhile investment.

Next: Sturdy Inflated Package (Package on the left of the pic)
I’m not sure where Mark at The Good Spirits Co. came up with this, but I’m glad he did.  Even the big Balblair and Bunnahabain bottles fit in this. Some precious drams have travelled in my suitcase in both directions with this packing. The downside is it does take up some room in your luggage when empty. I considered that a small price to pay to know that what I had in my luggage was going to be safe.

Next up: The Rabbit (Package on the right of the pic)

I found this at the restaurant supply store. A neoprene sack with a cost of $11.00 for the single, and $16.00 for the double bottle model. Works great for the slim bottles but won’t fit a Bunna or big Balblair bottle. It can provide additional wrap protection though.

Last up: The Vinnibag

Can be found online at  I paid $29.99 at Urban Traveller for one.  It has an internal bag inside an inflatable bag.  Be careful to not over inflate the bag; allow a little room for squeezing. There's a nice video on their website of someone jumping on a suitcase and it being dropped off a bridge. I’m sure the baggage handlers at the airport take much better care of your luggage than that. Don’t they? Yeah. Sure they do.

  The bottom line is this: If you don’t pick up some extra protection, you're running the risk of losing that investment.  Some ideas to keep in mind are to make sure that your bottles are in the centre of your luggage, surrounded by clothes/padding.  Make sure that any metal, sharp or hard objects are not able to come into contact with any bottle surface, and cross your fingers and toes.

  Perhaps you found something better then what I’ve listed above. If so I want to hear about it. Or if anyone has a WineCruzer they no longer want let me know. If you’re in Canada and want to see The Angels Share then contact e-One  and ask them to release it.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for November 2012

  Ah, the winter season is upon us!  I expect to start cracking into some Islay's and big rich malts soon to keep the cold out.  The first release for November 10th doesn't have any news for us, but it does contain a great entry level Armagnac from Armagnac de Montal should you be interested in learning more about Congac's grittier brother.  That aside, the second release contains a sherry monster... an affordable big sherry that (IMO), topples, crushes and lays waste to the king of the 18 year old Sherries (Yeah, I'm referring to the stupid purple box).

  The November 27th release holds only a single bottle, but what a bottle!  I've been a round the block a few times and sherry finished whiskies are still a great love of mine, they were one of the reasons I got into drinking whisky so easily, as a big sherry whisky tends to be a super easy drinking dram.  Now that I'm a little older and a few hundred drams more knowledgeable, there is a bit more expectation out of these drams.  I realize that the base spirit needs to shine through, not play second fiddle.  All that sherry should be used to emphasize the whisky, whereas it tends to be used to hide some poor distillates sometimes.

  I can vouch though, that spirit in the bottle were about to delve into is neither a poor distillate, nor a cover up.  This is the real ting that so many big sherries attempt to live up to.  Glendronach 18 year old Allardice (named after the distillery founder James Allardice), is a fantastic example of heavy sherry done right!  Non-chillfiltered, no colour added and served at 46% (all hallmarks of this distillery and of quality Whisky), all appear on the outside of the bottle which immediately caught my eye.  Seeing as how this is the only bottle this release, we'll give it the star treatment.

  • Colour:  Deep, rich and enticing mahogany.  I see hints that range from dark brown rums to highlights of tawny port. Non-chillfiltered and no colour added marked clearly.
  • Body:  Thick and rich.  Oily consistency with big drops slowly forming on the side of the glass.  Equally big legs take forever to form when twisted and run incredibly slowly back into the glass.  This ladies and gents, is flavour country.
  • Nose:  Incredible sherry!  Loads of deep rich sweetness with notes of raisins, almond, candied oranges and a hint of mineral smokiness on the back end.  Hints of richly macerated fruit and honey (like Christmas cake), Demerara sugar/fudge, and earwax (not unpleasant, but a common element in sherried whisky).
  • Palate:  Oh boy!  Incredibly rich sweetness, this is a monster!  Macerated fresh cherry and baking spices on the forefront, with black walnuts, dark chocolate and tangerine on the back end.  More roasted nuts and mineral earthiness, with subtle hints of grassiness hidden under neath fantastic Oloroso sherry!
  • Finish:  I think you can imagine this.  Long and drawn out with loads of rich toasted oak, Muscavado sugar (similar to Demerara but with a little more molasses left in for a more mineraly note),  more baking spices now with some anise.  Deeply sweet and indelibly complex.
  • Empty Glass:  Rich sweetness spices and rubbed oak, with more hints of fudge sweetness and sour gummy candies (kinda like Wine-Gums).
  If you can't tell, I'm kind of over the moon with this one.  This is my new benchmark for a masterful sherry finish.  I've tried both the 12 and the 15 (and love them both equally), but this is the sherry monster that lurks in my dreams of whisky.  This is a fantastic bottle, that I strongly recommend looking for, whether it be a gift for that whisky lover in your life, or an early Christmas present to yourself.  Priced at $140 (yes, it's on the high side, but after you've tasted it...), check you local LCBO for this one <HERE>.

  So that about wraps up November, and soon we will be rolling into the Christmas season .  That means you'll start to see some more chewy rich whiskies and Islay's coming in and most importantly; my personal favourite malt Mortlach.  So in closing, keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.