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!

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.