Thursday, 15 January 2015

Head to Head: Glenlivet Nadurras (16 Years Bourbon VS. NAS Oloroso, Cask Strength Distillery Bottlings)

    This article has been a little harder to write, typically I don't get a chance to taste compare one dram to another directly, but I've recently come across a pair of bottles allowing me to do just that.  What does Bruce Buffer always say before a fight?  "Ladies and Gentlemen, It's TIME!"  Fighting out of the amber corner, weighing in at 55.1% ABV, 16 years of age and haling from Ballindalloch, Scotland is Glenlivet Nadurra!  And to my right in the red corner, weighing in at a frightening 60.7% ABV with no age statement, also hailing from Ballindalloch, Scotland: Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso.  This will be a fair fight, I expect no gouging, spitting or kicks below the belt.  Fighters toast glasses and return to your corners.

The stare down

    Okay. I'll admit that was just a little bit too much fun, but what we have here is a face to face (rather a bottle to bottle), challenge of the old long standing champion with his brave new young upstart looking to fill his shoes.  Those of you who know me well, will know that I'm a fairly hard critic on the industry giants, and that Glenlivet isn't one of my favourite distilleries either.  The Nadurra Original (herein referred to as Nadurra Bourbon, is actually from a circa 2011 bottling), turned out to be my favourite Glenlivet that I've had from the distillery lineup.  Nadurra is Gaelic for natural, a fitting description for this expression.  It took a lot of guts to put non-chillfiltered and no colour added right on their label and I admire that.  The new Nadurra (herein referred to as Nadurra Oloroso), has some very big shoes to fill.

     I will start with the chalk (the better's favourite to win), as there are a few major notations to be made on this bottling.  First up, there is no age statement made anywhere on the packaging.  Secondly, there is no mention of coloration made anywhere on the packaging (leading me to believe that it is actually assisted, albeit only slightly).  The only carry over from the initial product is that it does state 'no chill-filtration' was used in the final product; and then this is only listed on the box.  For reference, my bottle came from batch number OL0614.  Let's see what's in store for the challenger!

Colour: Rosy Gold (As there is no indication of colour added, it will be noted as likely coloured).

Body:  Medium to Thin body.  Tiny drops appear quickly and run quickly to the pool below.  This is a 60.7% NCF bottling, and the high proof is showing in the glass!

Nose:  Tomato puree (cooked), and harsh grape distillate.  Sharp notes of alcohol sting the nose, and are redeemed with sweet malt notes.  Very rich and creamy, like malt porridge with dried apricots cut into it.  Dates and deep licorice notes towards the bottom with hints of fresh oak sawdust as it settles.  It seems very young on the nose (maybe 6-8 years-ish).  With the addition of water, the nose swims into cream of tomato soup and some hints of something sour I can't put my finger on.  The wood notes go crazy, everything from fresh cut lumber to astringent wood spices (mace and cassia).

Palate:  The first note you'll notices is all 60.7 percentiles of alcohol.  White hot alcohol bite and sharp young malt.  By the third sip, your mouth has been anaesthetized, and you begin to taste the intense creaminess of the malt.  There is still an acrid grape distillate note lurking ion the mid-palate, but it's being covered by cinnamon, cloves, mace and some very sherry wine-y notes.  Dense cocoa powder, and intensely sharp wood notes with a smattering of butyric acid (See: buytric acid: "the main distinctive smell of, human vomit").  The tomato note returns, but this time it's followed with harsh aluminum notes (like tomato sauce cooked in an aluminum pot).  With water, it becomes far more palatable.  Creamy malt and wood spice swim into Christmas cake, but there is still a heavy licorice and sawdust note in the background (neither being sweet, but rather drying and sharp).  More water dulls the creaminess and brings the wood spice forefront, like it had been over wooded.

Finish:  This is where the heat came full force!  Blinding white pepper heat and hard oak spices abound.  Slight notes of herbal vanilla and a pinch of tar,  The licorice finally settles down into the really good quality soft Australian black licorice (it's an acquired taste no less), and a dollop of quality marmalade.  With water, though the finish was super spicy.  Astringent oak and road tar with hints of dried/burnt orange peel.

Empty Glass:  Dried out Oloroso wood. Earl Grey tea dregs (rich black tea with a speckling of Bergamot), and more dried orange peel.  Fennel seed and rough oak sawdust (like the stuff that comes from the bark, not the wood itself).

    Next up, the current reigning champ of the Glenlvet stables - Nadurra Bourbon.  This bottle has quite a lot more going for it.  It specifies and age (16 years), and that there is no colour added and no chill filtration has been used to bottle the product.  The selection I'm using is from a 2011 bottling, just before the label change to the green/white bottles that you see now (Batch No. 0309H for those that need the specifics).

Colour:  Bright Gold.  No colour has been added to the bottling.

Body:  Medium.  Drops, small, form slowly and run at an average rate to the pool below.  This has some serious body in comparison!  No chill filtration was used to remove the natural oils, and it shows!

Nose:  Sweet vanilla cream, almost to the point of vanilla pudding.  Rich malt, and some hints of Orange Julius (See: Orange Julius, it's a very sweet and creamy orange drink).  Subtle almond syrup, and earwax notes appear (that's a good bourbon cask note; think walnut skins).  There's actually a sweet tequila note, if there was no sour body in Tequila.  Baked apple and rich floral notes abound!  Little white flowers and an almost buttery pastry note.  There is still a light butyric acid note, but it is very muted in this dram and actually seems constructive to the malt.  With water, the floral notes die down and the vanilla pudding rushes forward.  Oiled wood and rich toasted pecans seem to dominate the nose now.

Palate:  Sweet heat and cream come rushing in, hints of walnut skin and malt syrup.  The same sort of creamy malt porridge with a tiny bit of apricot, and some straw notes also appear.  The heat almost dries out your math, causing to to water.  It's both strong and gentle at the same time.  Ginger snaps and a subtle coal tar note in the back ground.  With water the palate becomes rich oily vanilla and dried figs.  The walnut skins dull a bit into that familiar earwax note and the dried apricot comes forward again.  Still very creamy, the bite is reduced a bit and some background floral notes begin to appear.

Finish:  Drying and spicy!  Spice oak wood and cinnamon.  Hints of cocoa and rich vanilla swirl, with faint hints of almond and mint.  With water the almond comes forward and turns a bit bitter, but it doesn't detract from the finish.  The oily vanilla is cut back a bit and the mint note starts to come forward.

Empty Glass:  There's a tarry note still and some very malty oak notes.  Herbal notes with a hint of butyric acid (albeit slight), begin to appear.  Super lush and soft sawdust notes with a twinge of rubber erasers.

      If it's not immediately apparent, there is a clear winner.  I haven't had much luck with NAS whisky (No Age Statement), and this is no exception!  The youthful spirit shines through in the Nadurra Oloroso, and there are some things I'm not too crazy over that really stick out (IE: butyric acid, tar, and poor acrid grape distillate).  On the flip side, the 16 year old Nadurra Bourbon is a richly complex and fantastic dram, one of the better Glenlivet whiskies that have been bottled by the distillery.  Some may say I started this tasting with a bias, but I think the Nadurra Bourbon is absolutely fantastic.  The Nadurra Oloroso is a finicky monster; it was okay at full strength but needed taming, on the other hand adding water didn't help the situation.  The youthful age really signed the writ, it seems they might not have aged it long enough and/or opted for poorer quality Oloroso wood for the cask.

     I'd urge you to taste either before you buy anything, as Glenlivet has a very characteristic taste that I've never grown fond of, Butaryic acid.  It's a rather unpleasant note that doesn't disappear in the distillery bottling range until you get into the 18-21 year olds, and the younger the spirit, the more prevalent it is.  My choice was fairly clear, but I'm always open to having my mind changed and my palate tested.  Until next time dram mates, keep your stick on the ice and the puck out of the net... no wait, the ice out of your glass!