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!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tasting Notes: 1977 Glen Albyn (Signatory Yellow Label, 21 Years, 43% ABV)

    Welcome again malt mates, to the interesting and odd side of the whisky compass.  I have been wandering through my old tasting books and this next set of tasting notes I happened across, comes from a very odd distillery.

     Glen Albyn was built in 1846, as a brewery/distillery in Inverness beside the Caledonian Canal.  Early on in its life it ran into much difficulty, and by 1855 it had been closed and the remaining buildings were being used to mill grains.  In 1884, the distillery was rebuilt on the site and was attached to the Highland railway system.  Silent again through 1917-19 for use as a US Navy mine factory, the distillery was reopened in 1920 under John Birnie (of Glen Mhor fame).  By 1972 it was acquired by Distillers Company Limited (ie: Diageo), and was hit hard by the 1980's slump in whisky sales, it was shuttered in 1983 along with many other fabled distilleries.  By 1988 the buildings had been demolished and turned into a supermarket, such a sad end to one of the distilleries who pioneered the use of the Saladin box malting method.  Very few bottles are found with the Glen Albyn name on them, typically only available from independent bottlers, the casks seem to have been so few and far between that it's a great rarity.

    There are very few entries in my notes for Glen Albyn, but some do stand out as being fantastic examples of this distillery.  This particular dram is by no means in the top 10 for Glen Albyn, but it's also no slouch either.  As a weirdo whisky, this dram is a harder one to nail down, but let's delve into the glass and see what we have...

Colour:  Pale gold, like a young white wine.  This is a Signatory bottling, so there's no colour added.

Body:  Medium to thin.  It clings readily to the glass, and small drips beget thin legs.  They run slowly back to the bowl, no chill filtration here either!

Nose:  The nose opens with big malty tones and some warm dusty bits.  Apples and cinnamon (like a baked apple), and more library dust.  Seems to taste very old, but there are some interesting things to come; this is where the regular notes diverge.  Beef fat and short pastry crust. Hints of tarragon vinegar and flat dust (its dust without being in your face, think old settled farmhouse dust that was stirred up.... this one I'm not too sure how to describe, stale dust maybe), and in the background hints of floral apples (like in an apple orchard during bloom season).  Water makes oily notes more apparent and amplifies the floral apple scents, in the bottom there are hints of charred oak.

Palate:  Super soft to start, almost like drinking water.  As it acclimatizes in your mouth, sweet floral notes appear, with hints of vanilla oak and more library dust.  A subtle spice balance arrives and counters the sweet notes with malt.  Water pulls apart the delicate balance though, making the dust come forward and become astringent.

Finish:  Oily and long, it stays with you for a while, but doesn't overwhelm your palate.  Warm vanilla oak and baking spices turn to a slightly drying note making your mouth water.  With water added, the finish shows a bit more herbal vanilla, and baking spices seem more pronounced like cardamom and mace with bits of cassia.

Empty Glass:  The wood takes full control, rubbed dry oak, and slightly punky wood are both at play here. More dusty herbal notes with dashes of vanilla, twinges of cassia and pepper are thrown in for good measure.

    Well, that was certainly an interesting trip down memory lane with a very interesting dram.  Water amplified the nose, but destroyed the body which leads me to believe its a very delicate dram in a subtle balance.  Very dusty, but a rewarding dram should you be able to find one!  Search around and try a Glen Albyn if you can; they are few and far between and offer a glimpse into a lost distillery of the past.  Next time on the blog, a trio of Islay malts, so until then keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

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!