Wednesday, 20 February 2013

January 19/2013 Vintages release

Well mid way through the month, and I've finally got all my reviews in hand.  It's been a while and I'm sorry for the delay, but I can't be everywhere and at work at the same time.  There are quite a few bits of ground to get through so let's check into whats on tap for us.

 First up will be Gordon & Macphail's Whisky Liqueur.  Yes, I do diversify my interests and there are some really interesting spirits out there, but Liqueurs don't usually do it for me.  I've sort of grown out of the super sweet mixers and sippers, but as I recently tasted this at an event, it should be included.  Dunkeld Atholl Brose is the name of Gordon & Macphail's Whisky Liqueur.  There is a whole story of the last lord of the Isles that fled from persecution and was foiled by a mixture of whisky, honey, herbs and oats.  But I'm not reading into that currently (you get a reprieve from the history lesson for now...), I'm more into the beauty of the liqueur.  It's quite sweet (to be expected), but over shaved ice it would be a real after dinner treat.  The nose is sweet and filled with a complex note of eucalyptus, menthol and roasted oats.  There is a sweet honey note and some hints of herbs (like cardamom and clove), but I found it a little cloyingly so.  Hence the ice comment (I can add ice to this because it's not straight whisky but a liqueur).  My dad has always been a fan of Drambuie with shaved ice, so I'm thinking this might make a much higher quality replacement to that after a rich meal.  This is a well crafted liqueur, and should you be into such things you're looking at $50 for a half litre bottle.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

  Enough about that, lets get down to the good stuff.  First up is one of my favourite Speysiders... err Highlanders... wait... High-Speysider? (Everywhere I see their bottles they're credited as both, so I'm not really sure anymore.  I'll stick with Highland as that's what it says on my bottle). Glenfarclas 105, a cask strength 10 year old sherry monster.  Be ready for a slap in the face with a whopping 60% ABV!  This is a strong and brutish dram, but don't think of it as being all brawn and no beauty. When you get over the muscle flex there is an incredibly beautiful floral, spicy, sort of warmth in this whisky.  The nose on this is fantastic, hugely rich with oily sherry, grape and malt almost overwhelming everything.  The longer you play with this, the better it gets; and it takes quite a while to loosen up but can be convinced with some water.  There is a deep rich raisin and sweet spice cake note, the grape note settles and sweetens quite a bit (much akin to crape syrup), and there are tonnes of sweet malt and deep sherry oak spice.  In fact there are lots of spices in the nose and the palate; think of a bulk foods store or even a spice shop.  The nose and palate both exude an oily note that becomes some sort of toasted oily nut (like Brazil nuts maybe).  There is so much happening in that glass it's almost hard to put a name on everything.  Think of this as like putting your face out a car window on the highway... awful hard to smell the fields of flowers, but if you slow the car down and take your time you'd be surprised what you pass along on your journey.  This is a journey in a glass (so to speak), and comes highly recommended. Yes it's expensive at $82/bottle, but you're getting a hell of a bottle of Scotch!  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

  Another returning bottle left over from the Robbie Burns celebration; Isle of Arran Robbie Burns Single Malt.  This is a simple fruity and spicy bottle of great quality single malt whisky, at a reasonable deal (LCBO rules apply here).  What you're getting is a non chillfiltered, no colour added Isle of Arran 8 year old single malt (or so I've been told through the rumour mill), that is endorsed by the World Burns federation.  Coming in at only 40% for $42 doesn't seem like a great deal until you taste the spirit.  What's in the glass is a fruity and spicy malt that will get you hooked, and keep your attention.  The nose is very forward fruity, lots of pears and green apples with notes of vanilla and toffee.  The palate is lively and spicy, lots of baking spices (more cassia and cardamom), and quite a punch of heat like ginger and pepper.  The finish is short, but very rewarding with lots of wood spice and fruit preserves.  This isn't a deep contemplating dram, but rather a light-hearted single malt that doesn't always take itself seriously.  Treat this as a gateway malt to an evening of tasting, it makes a great first dram to warm up your tastebuds before delving into the bigger malts of the evening.  This, for me, was the gateway malt to the Arran distillery profile.  I bought my bottle a couple of years back for $38, and dug into it right away.  It was an eye opener, and really got me into researching the drams a little deeper.  I'd suggest you check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and at only $42 it's a pretty slick deal well worth hunting for.

  Tomintoul 16 is the next bottle on our listing.  Tomintoul (pronounced Tome-in-tool), is a gentle Speysider which is owned by the independent company Angus Dundee (as of 2000 when it was purchased from Whyte & Mackay).  Their 21 year old was released to our shelves not that long ago (review HERE), and the 16 is no newcomer to our shores.  I'll admit that I like the 'Speyside-Glenlivet' moniker on the label; it gives you a peek into the heritage of the dram. I'm not so crazy over the colouring and the 40% ABV, but seeing as this is a nit-picky thing for me, I won't hold it against them.  I'm quite a fan of gentle whiskies and this is a great example.  I feel the asking price of $95 is a bit high, but then again the 21 is only $125, so it's not far off the mark; and most importantly you're supporting the little guys in the industry.  What's in the glass is a great floral-sweet dram.  Very soft nose with hints of field flowers and honey, some notes of fresh leather and distant roasted nuts.  In the mouth it's very full with more fruit creme and honey taking the reins.  There's a lot going on in the palate, rich roasted nuts, linseed oil and ripe pears.  There are hints of barley sugar and rich custard, with subtle notes of wood spice and candied orange in the background.  The finish is quite nice, still quite fruity and spicy with a running vanilla cream and subtle wood smoke in the background, very light but medium in length.  Either way, should you feel flush enough to grab a bottle at the LCBO prices, check <HERE> for the 16 year old and <HERE> for the 21 which is a sublime sipper.  I don't think you'll be disappointed in either dram.

  Last but not least is the marketing juggernaut 'Thor' from Highland Park (I think you can see where this is going already...).  It's a limited edition 16 year old from the 'Valhalla Collection', arriving in a smug wooden 'Viking Ship' package, proclaiming itself to be a great warrior god of old. Pfft, yeah you guys really cooked up some stories for this one.  The case features a pair of Norse bowsprits carved from oak surrounding a glass oval bottle (similar to the modern HP bottles but with thicker more natural glass to give it some character).  Be forewarned though, it's huge!  It will take up a small end table in any room.  It's so large that when I first noticed it, it was blocking my view of a hand-blown XO cognac bottle in a display case (think of something around the size of a Louis XIII bottle).  Let me just say that at almost foot across, this packaging is more than a little excessive. To top that off the price tag rests at $250; I both appreciate what they've created, but feel that the marketing monster has fattened itself on all your ideas.  Checking the bottle I'm rewarded with 52.1% ABV, but the colour leads me to point the finger at some heavy colouring.  My unrequited jabs aside, what lies within the bottle is what we're interested in, so I'll delve into my notes on that.  It's a great spirit, with good depth of character.  The nose is vibrant and expressive with lots of hot notes and earthy tones.  There are notes of fresh cut ginger, macerated plums and sweet barley syrup, but behind this there are notes that I'm not crazy over.  There's a metallic earthy note, and a slight violet sharpness note (these typically arise in bad whisky).  There is also the stereotypical HP aromatic smoke and subtle peat, and that drying sensation that makes my mouth start to water.  The earthy note is fine with me, in fact it's quite nice and deep (like wet garden soil), but it's the metallic notes and the violets that make me worried as these are precursors to bad whisky in my previous experience (see most Bowmore DB's from the 80's).  In the mouth there is a very strong dry burn with overly hot ginger snap cookies... it needs some water to relax.  Upon hosing the mighty Thor down, we are rewarded with herbal vanilla and dark yellow fruits (like ripe peach and mango), mingling on a warm malty base.  There is still quite a kick of baking spices (especially cinnamon), and wood in the finish making it very dry and intense but not overly long.  I also found an orphan note of mint (which is a marker of excellent old school style whisky), but it seems out of place here; almost placed there to fool us into believing this is better quality than it is.  I dunno... I'm not sold on the marketing ploy and the whisky itself isn't what I expected after hearing so much about this.  As great as it should be, it never seems to live up to what they sold to us.  It looks like what we have is a Thor cosplayer (Wiki reference HERE);  it's a great outfit but underneath is just another kid from the block looking to show off to his friends at a comic convention.  Should you feel the need to toss $250 away, please contact me personally and I'll recommend 2-3 bottles far more worthy of your hard earned money and time.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> to see the boat bottle in person.

  Well there we have it, January has been finally completed, lots of interesting bottles, but not a lot of substance (IMHO).  There are much fewer bottles coming in February (Thank goodness), but still some very good things coming our way.  So ladies and gents, until next time keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A Tale of 2 Taketsuru's

Another review from one of our own members; Tom Alexander.  This time he takes us on a trip to Japan to taste a couple of the older blends from Nikka distillery.


Well, right now I am supposed to be in Park City, Utah - at the Sundance Film Festival. Seeing films. Partying with celebrities. Freezing my ass off. However, my flight was cancelled (at the last minute) and it was impossible to fly out until tomorrow morning, a serious problem both on a personal and professional level. I am seriously pissed. So what to do in the meantime? Well, drink whisky and write about it, of course - what else?!?

Masataka Taketsuru is perhaps the key figure in the history of Japanese whisky, having learned the art of distilling in Scotland, and then bringing that knowledge back to Japan as master distiller for Yamazaki. After he left Yamazaki, he founded Nikka - and this range of blended malts is named after him.

On the bottle, the spirit is referred to as “Pure Malt”, a term that is illegal to use for Scotch distilleries, who must refer to it as “blended malt” - that is, the blending of malts from two or more distilleries (note the term “blend” is not the same as “blended malt”, as blends - Johnnie Walker, Grant’s, etc. - are a combination of malt and grain whiskies, whereas blended malts have no grain whiskies in them at all. Confused yet?) Taketsuru whiskies come from the two distilleries owned by Nikka: Yoichi (a heavier, oilier style) and Miyagikyo (lighter and fruitier). It does not use malts from competitor Suntory (nor vice versa).

Our vertical tasting today compares the 17 Year Old and the 21 Year Old. There is also a very good 12 Year Old, not written about here (but which is available at the LCBO - sadly, the older expressions are not. But you can also get the single malts Yoichi 10 Year Old and Miyagikyo 15 Year Old through the LCBO).

The colour of the 17 Year Old is medium-to-dark amber, with bright yellow highlights. When  you nose it, right off the bat it is very fruity, across a wide range: apricots, plums, dates, blueberries, papaya. Lots of malt. Milk chocolate. Dunnage warehouse with damp floor. Some oak and leather, a little honey and the faintest hint of smoke. With a drop of water, more malt and a little more smoke. Rich, fruity, malty and delicious.

Saltier on the palate than you would expect. Very creamy mouthfeel, and yet you get bitter tea. Very oaky as well, more than you would think from a 17 year old. And lots of malt as well, with tons of honey. Peat is a little more prevalent here, but it is not coming at you in waves of smoke. With water, the heat turns up with some cinnamon and, believe it or not, now the smoke comes! Incredibly complex, layered, ever-evolving in the mouth.

We have a deep oaky finish, pencil shavings, lots of spice and blood orange. This is such a gorgeous whisky - the epitome of malt and wood in all its essence. Not a singular malt style but rather, showcasing the complexities prevalent when the distilled spirit combines with oak. Absolutely wonderful. This won the World’s Best Blended Malt Award at the 2012 World Whiskies Awards.

How does the four more years in wood compare? Well, in the glass, we see dark amber with yellow highlights - only slightly darker than the 17. On the nose we get purely dark fruits right away - dates and raisins, as if pulled right out of a fruitcake. Cocoa. Pure malt underneath the rich oak. Herbal as well with mint and a wee bit of smoke. Again, dunnage warehouse with damp floor. Water tames all those dark fruits and brings out the malt, herbs and smoke.

Saltier than you would expect in the mouth, and with some peat. It then becomes hotter in the mouth and with more herbs like oregano and sage. Wow. Of course, very malty with a honeyed sweetness. A drop of water really spices it up, similar to the 17 year old.

We get more herbal notes on the finish, which is mouth-drying with some brine. Long and deep with lots of oak. This is a huge whisky, very much for after dinner by the fire. Like the 17 year old, this showcases the incredible range of flavours malt whisky can bring, but this one does so under a heavier layer of dark fruits and oak (if you can imagine heavier than the 17 year old). This whisky has won numerous awards, including World’s Best Blended Malt at the World Whiskies Awards three out of four years running.

So how do they compare? Well, to be honest, one seems to have simply aged in oak for another four years (rather than being distilled or aged in a different way). I know the 21 Year Old is finished in first- and second-fill bourbon barrels, and I presume from the taste profile that the 17 Year Old is as well. But these are both absolutely fantastic - rich and fruity, full of oak and malt, sweetness and spice. Do I have a favourite? Well, after spending a good chunk of the afternoon with both of these, I’m giving a slight edge to the 17. In the 21, you have such a richness of oak and dark fruits, it slightly (only slightly) obscures the other qualities that come through from the spirit. In the 17, there is a bit more balance between the spirit and the wood, and hence a further complexity is revealed. But don’t take my word for it - if you ever get the opportunity to enjoy either of these (or the 12 Year Old, which doesn’t quite reach the heights of these two but is very enjoyable), take it. These two are among the best whiskies you will ever have. And now I feel much better about my wasted hours at the airport this morning. Tomorrow is another day.