Monday, 13 October 2014

Tasting Notes: Lochside 1981 (Lombards, 23 Years Old, Sherry Cask, 50% ABV)

     Delving into my notebook, I've found another dram that stood out from my journey to Las Vegas.   In sifting through some of the shelves in the bars I visited, once in a while a fantastic dram would appear right before my eyes. In this instance it was a rare dram indeed, a Lombard 1981 from the fabled Lochside distillery. 

    Lochside was closed by the Macnab Distillers Ltd in 1992, and produced both malt whisky and grain whisky through its life.  The distillery itself was levelled, and turned into housing in 2004-2005 era, and has therefore become a lost dram. The few bottles that can be found tend to have the 'lost distillery' price tag attached to them.


  The Lombard brand is a more recent addition to the LCBO shelves (which are severely lacking in independent bottlers), netting us some fantastic single cask selections; but also some fantastically high prices in many cases.  I have tried the Macallan 14 that was released by Lombard, as well as a 21 year old Clynelish, a Balmenach, and even a Teaninch.  One of the best 'traditional' Rosebanks I have ever had came from a Lombard's bottle as well.  This jewel of Scotland has been bottled from stock that was distilled slightly before the doors shut for good on the old Lochside distillery. Served without the addition of colour, without the need for chill-filtration, and with a hefty 50% ABV; this is what malt drinkers search high and low for.  Let's see what the notes reveal about this relic:

Colour: Autumn Gold (How's that for a colour?); It's wonderful golden yellow with both hints of mahogany and tinges of ruby.

Body:  A single roll shows medium body.  Drops form slowly and run slowly; if at all.  Almost seems clingy to the point of being oily.

Nose:  Rich! Super rich malty nose with a huge whack of fruits!  There is a musty note like a damp library, but it doesn't detract from the malt's richness, instead amplifying it.  There is a lot of wood here, not new wood, but old oak with wood polish and ancient must lumber too.  The fruits are a combination of many things, macerated/stewed purple fruits (think plums and strawberries), over ripe almost rotten fruit (those raspberries that were on the counter too long), and hints of dark dried plums.

Palate:  The richness doesn't stop here.  Rich warmth of malt and stewed fruits take centre stage, the malt playing second fiddle isn't to be missed either.  The wood spice almost dances between, offering sharp punches to break up that rich spirit.  Lots of wood spice through the mid-palate, cinnamon, clove, mace, cardamom and the like.  There are some dark notes of raisin and something different, like long pepper or a hint of truffle in the background.

Finish: Velvety and long, this goes on for quite some time.  Richness doesn't seem to subside, but more sherry-vanilla creme comes out now.  The sherry wood almost dominates the finish, but there is an interesting poached pear note here too.  Worked leather, library dust and wonderful soft oak wrap up a lush dram.

Empty Glass:  I was so over occupied with my other notes (and the lights of Las Vegas!), I missed most of the empty glass.  I recall a lot of wood notes, more of the damp library and over worked sherry.  Things you don't smell any more; things that are earmarks of old whisky.

    This was an immensely enjoyable dram, one from a distillery who's heritage is all but forgotten.  This was made even more enjoyable by the company of my friends in a far away place (Vegas is far enough away from Toronto).  Lombard bottles seem to be typically good whisky, but the price varies greatly on them.  I'd strongly suggest searching some out and trying them if you can.  And as for Lochside; it's a wonderfully fruity dram and should you have the chance to taste one, it's worth seeking out.

     I'm still rummaging through my sample drawer and have yet to write up some drams, but I have a couple of notebooks filled with some interesting drams too.  I'll see what I can draft up for next time, and I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed!  Until next time folks:  Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Tasting Notes: Macallan 1997 (Duncan Taylor, Octave Cask #721315, 13 Years Old, 53.4% ABV)

    I've made it back to the interweb again with another interesting bottle!  This post's dram review comes from a trip to Las Vegas with some good friends of mine; hopefully you'll find it as interesting as I did! We had a great time in Sin City and I had plenty of chances to peruse bars on the strip, finding a few bottles that really peaked my interest; some of which I actually got to sit and write about.

     In one such bar, my friend and I stumbled upon an intriguing bottle of Macallan (not literally!). I'm a sucker for a Macallan (thanks impart to my dad), but I've been burned in the last couple of years with the introduction of the new Macallan NAS lineup (that's a different post).  I thought it was worth the gamble as it was an independent bottling by Duncan Taylor.

     Duncan Taylor bottles a range of single malts under a varied group of labels in addition to The Octave, and one of the more prominent is the Dimensions line (especially for Ontarians, as we don't see many other Duncan Taylor's in our stores).  One of the best Dimensions bottles we've had in the LCBO was the cask strength Balblair that came in a few years ago (and boy, was it a good one!).  We also saw a line up of 46% ABV Dimensions bottles featuring Glen Moray, Glen Elgin, Glenlossie, Macduff and Royal Brackla; I might still have my notes somewhere about some of these so watch out for further reflective posts.

     Distractions aside, The Octave selections are matured in the typical hogshead/butt oak barrels for the majority of their life, then selected and finished by placing them into the much smaller octave barrels (so small that they typically yield only 60-90 bottles per octave).  This imparts a more wood onto less whisky; in a sense, sort of speeding the aging process up.  Of course, as a Duncan Taylor bottling, there is no additional colour or chill-filtration.  This allows us whisky nerds to lift the skirts of said distillery and really see what's behind their product line.

  The Macallan Octave bottle I tried derives from Cask #721315 and hails in at a whacking 53.4% ABV.  Finished in a sherry octave, the dram almost called to me from the other side of the bar (with such a striking label, who wouldn't be interested!?).  This particular bottling yielded only 71 bottles and was destined for the USA.  At only 13 years old, and ever leery, I took my chances and rolled the dice.

Colour: Light gold with a subtle reddy-brown hint to the spirit.

Body: Rich and oily, surprisingly thick.  The roll shows a thick cling, and tiny drops  The legs, though, take forever to get back to the glass.  This is really looking up!

Nose:  Wow!  First thing you'll note are nuts!  Tonnes of roasted nuts backed up by wonderfully sweet vanilla notes.  This is a very Macallan dram!  The wonderfully light floral notes from the bourbon cask poke through and cut the sweet nutty goodness.  As it settles in, more hints of wood appear, adding another layer of depth to the already swimming nose.  Cinnamon and cloves intersperse with white wildflowers and drops of vanilla cream.  In the far background white pepper sharpness and a starchy note that piques my interest.

Palate:  We're in for a ride: the bar is down, there are no stops, the train is leaving the station (at only 13 years I'm expecting this could be a bumpy ride, especially with my recent luck with Macallan).  There is a galloping chariot of heat at the front, searing white pepper and sun burnt oak spices.  It's a little brash, but instantly it relaxes with more roasted almond and sweet pecans coming through the dram.  As it rolls about in the mouth, I'm getting more sweet roasted corn (even corn nuts), and hints of dried cherry.  The oily palate really suits the dram well, coating the mouth like syrup.  Interspersed in the background are slight notes of acidic char and rich soft wood spice (cardamom and mace, like a spice cake).

Finish:  In the finish, the heat has subsided and reveals a thick layer of butter cream and pound cake.  Loads of vanilla pods rolled in pepper with hints of dry oak spices.  It's surprisingly long, and draws out so nicely with vanilla creme supporting the whole cast.

Empty Glass:  Wood abounds, but is broken up by spiced pecans (a warm memory of sothern tradition).  There is a definite oak spice harshness but the sweet nuttiness of the dram counters it nicely.

     I bet large and Vegas paid out with a wonderful Macallan that I've been longing for!  The NAS line did very little to bolster the Macallan name, and running out of well aged stock has pushed their limits of both production and quality.  The quality is still there in the base spirit, but they will need to do as Duncan Taylor did: relax and hold onto some of these casks until they are actually ready to be bottled.  This dram is proof that quality whisky is out there still, but finding them is now even more of a challenge with so many 'investors' snapping up anything with a recognizable name on it.  Keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass and next time I'll see what else I can drum up.

                                                                                 Roscoe (ScotchGuyTO)


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tasting Notes: Clynelish 1990 (Dun Bheagan, 22 Years Old, Port Hogshead Finished, 46% ABV)

    Well dram-mates, It would seem it's time for an update on tasting notes.  I recently hit up a local LCBO to my neighbourhood and found a tasty treat that I've been hunting for a while.  A few weeks back the LCBO released a varied group of products, including a few new bottles of Scotch, one of which is a 22 year old Clynelish.  Hailing form the Highlands region, this distillery is a favourite of many whisky buffs, and its sister distillery, Brora, is one of the most highly collected, and overpriced, whiskies on the market at this time.  The distillery features a somewhat fruitier malt, with subtle (sometimes), hints of coastal  or waxy notes to it.  As such, it's usually on my list of distilleries for hunting out reasonably-priced bottles.

  This bottling is brought to us by Dun Bheagan (pronounced done vey-gan; like the name Megan).  It was distilled December 1990 and bottled in mid 2013.  It's comprised of 2 casks (#93781 & 93783), which are cobbled together to form Port hogsheads.  Served without the 'aid' of chill-filtration or the addition of artificial colour, this is right up a whisky buff's alley.  However intriguing, at $220.95 [SKU #371013], my whisky-spider sense was tingling and warning me Caveat Emptor.  I typically shy away from expensive bottles at the LCBO  for two reasons: one - they are are not worthy of the high price tag, and two - they typically have little to no information provided about them to make a good judgment call.  So instead of buying an expensive, but intriguing bottle, I waited until one came up for tasting.  Sure enough I found one; and below are my notes.

Dun Bheagan Clynelish 22 Years (Port Hogshead, NCA, NCF, 46% ABV):

Colour: Bright rose gold; no colour added.

Body: Medium but oily, no chill-filtration. Upon first roll of the glass, the drops almost don't seem to want to form.  They do eventually and the legs slowly run (looks like a whack of flavour).


Nose: First crack at the bat, heavy fruits!  Rich red fruits, like overripe strawberry and hints of overripe cherry, with a dash of plums thrown in for good measure.  This sort of dwindles out into some more stone fruits (apricot, peach and the like). That was a little weird; Clynelish isn't usually this type of fruity.  Rotten peaches and old oak, like sun baked picnic tables.  Hints of moss and black pepper wash into some farm-y notes (that's manure, straw and livestock... things that smell bad in your home actually taste quite good in whisky). As it settles out, the farminess becomes stronger, but not to the level of a typical Clynelish; it's still overshadowed by the macerated red fruits.

Palate: Wow! A wallop in the tongue of sharp oak!  Black pepper follows up with its crew of wood spices (cardamon, and cassia).  After the invasion of wood power, the malt slowly comes out from under the shadow.  Malty notes mingled with nectarines (not sweet, just the smell), and far off in the background is a hint of brine.  There is surprisingly little sweetness in this dram - given time it does come forth.  The complaint is that the tannin/wine in the finish wood are far overpowering the soft and delicate malt notes that you should expect in a 22 year old whisky.

Finish: The wood spice continues to stomp all over the finish.  Harsh oak tannin and sharp cassia (Cinnamon's hotter/rougher cousin - think Cinnabon cinnamon), some twinged notes of vanilla extract (the good 35% ABV stuff; which isn't that pleasant to drink but wonderful to nose), and some strawberry cream.  As it dissolves, the malty notes and more red fruit comes through but never enough to save the dram.

Empty Glass:  Lots of wood here (this is where you can usually get a sense of the casks used in the whisky).  There is a huge offering of wood spice (again), both old wood and new, much younger wood.  There is also a dry wine note; not even the red fruity note from before.  Once again, the tannins come through quite strongly.


   Adding water brings more stewed fruits to the nose, and nectarines (still not sweet nectarines though).  It takes even more settling out to get to the malt behind the finish.  When the coastal nature starts to come forth, it does so in spades.  More hints of brine and sweet malt appear, and the farmy notes seems to become more readily available.  The palate, however, suffers with the addition of water; becoming somewhat sweeter with the fruity malt playing lead.  That tannic note showed up again and lead to a bitter finish.
  
    All in all, it's not a bad dram, but there are a few caveats to this.  My suspicion is that it was over-wooded in the original casks, and this has been subdued with the Port finish.  Although this Port finish may have helped the original over-wooding, it overwhelms the old malt, taking over the soft and subtle notes with a brash red fruit wash.  It's sort of a shame; but not completely undrinkable.  Overall, I would have guessed this was a 12-15 year old port finish Clynelish, not a 22.  Seeing as it is overpriced to begin with as a 22 year old, it is even more-so when you're not experiencing the full age benefit. There is a wonderful Clynelish under there, its just buried.

     In conclusion, this bottle doesn't make the grade and will not join my collection, but it was worth the taste.  Remember that whisky tasting is a subjective thing, and you may enjoy this heavily wooded dram more than I did.  Try it if you can, but skip the purchase until you have; there are many more worthy bottles out there to spend your hard earned money on.  Keep you stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass.

                                                          Roscoe (ScotchGuyTO)