Monday, 24 February 2014

I Can Stop at Any Time

Balvenie Doublewood 17yo - 43%

Just one more hit
Ahh, Balvenie Doublewood. My gateway malt. Back when I was still stuggling to appreciate whisky (diesel and hairspray being the only two notes I could readily identify), the Doublewood 12yo was the tranquil eye of a gustatory storm. Back then a single dram of The Balvenie on a Saturday, in a tumbler no less, was all I needed to slake my whisky thirst. These days it's all peat on toast and mainlining single cask 'dronachs.

As a result, subsequent returns to Balvenie expressions have left me somewhat underwhelmed. 21yo Port...meh. 12yo Single Barrel...meh. 30yo...expensive meh. To this day I've yet to return to the Doublewood 12 lest memories of my whisky infancy be cruelly destroyed. They say you should never meet your heroes. Therefore it is with some trepidation that I approach its older sister, the Doublewood 17.

Sweet. Bags of sweeties; honeyed patisserie fare with snatches of marzipan. The sherry is evident but the vanilla and honey notes, so linked with bourbon casks, dominate.

Water does not detract from the liveliness of the nose. A teaspoon of water leaves a nip in the glass, preceding a boosted vanilla/marzipan note. Summer fruits join the party, given a little time.

More honey. Almond biscotti with Christmas spices. The sherry is more noticeable with raisins and dark wood featuring.

With the water it's still a sweetie. Creamy now; imagine porridge swirled with strawberry jam. The spices are still there and, although softened, the wood stands proud. Toffee and caramel make a late play.

Medium length and nicely balanced. Warming with lingering honey and drying oak. Mildly astringent and, if I'm being critical, possibly a little heavy on the back end.

Water dampens the sweetness but does not alter the warmth. Less astringency but enough wood and spice to keep things interesting.

This is a very capable malt. I can't really compare it to the 12 as it has been so long since I tried it. Also, I imagine my palate is more seasoned. This is a tad expensive for what it is but still enjoyable and approachable; everything you'd expect from a Balvenie.

Grade: B
If I hadn't spent the last three years consuming weapons-grade Islays, I'd probably rate it more highly.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Thanks a Lot

Douglas Laing: King of Scots - 40% (Old bottling - Italian Export)

Made from real kings
Despite my general misanthropy and surly demeanour, I have a friend. Actually, I have a few and a couple of them are whisky enthusiasts. On a semi-regular basis one of us will host a blind tasting evening; a nice meal, a sporting event on the telly and six drams (10ml) that are, at that point, unknown to the guests. Each guest will make their tasting notes, maybe even have a stab at ABV/region/distillery etc. At the end of all six, the host does the big reveal; it's a lot of fun, I urge you all to try it. 

Both of these friends are regular visitors to online whisky auctions. One of them will aim for orthodox bottlings with varying degrees of success, whilst the other tends to plump for some of the weirdest shit imaginable and, as a result, almost always gets them - Lithuanian death whisky, anyone?

It is thanks to the latter, @cecilnorris1988 if you want to look him up (rugby player, dad-to-be, laughs like a girl), that halfway through a blind tasting, I got my first experience of the recently auctioned King of Scots. Looking back at my notes for the evening I rated it 3/10 and thought it was absolutely abysmal. However, as a result of the other whisky pal (not a Twitter member; he believes that the internet steals your soul) remarking that I only review whiskies I like, I find myself sat down with another dram of this whisky looking to give it a fair appraisal on a clear palate.

Weak. Saccharine rum-raisin odour with slight lemon sherbet notes. Thoroughly uninspiring. A little patience rewards me with a hot plastic stench.

The nose is all but destroyed by the addition of just a few drops of water. It's a bit of a relief really. Is there a suggestion, not at all.

More saccharine with minimal spark and a bitter final bow. Watery mouthfeel. I'd go so far as to say this is quite unpleasant.

With water...yeah, that's really not good at all. The sweetness has departed leaving an awful, ashy bitterness. Very few redeeming qualities here.

Bitter again with wisps of menthol and hot, feinty flashes. Mercifully, it's quite short.

Surprisingly, the finish is unaffected by water. Proof positive that there is no God.

I was either overgenerous with my scoring when I first tried this whisky or its position in the middle of the lineup did it a few favours. I'm struggling to think of anything good to say about this other than I don't own a bottle.

Grade: E
Utter bilge. It cost @cecilnorris1988 £10 + P&P. You were robbed mate.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Old Age Puncheon - Part IV

Highland Park 40yo - 48.3%

How much does a kidney fetch?
The last, although somewhat late, stop on the OAP bus route brings us out of the realm of affordability and nearer to the edge of economic destruction. For most of us mortals this is a fantasy dram. Unobtainable enough when first released, this now commands well into four figures wherever you're lucky enough to find one. As such, I'm going to concentrate merely on the taste experience and try to keep myself from sinking into depression at the thought of never being able to try this beautiful, beautiful dram ever, ever, ever again.

Bottled at 48.3% this is also the highest strength of the 40 year old whiskies I've tried in this series; an indication of good cask management perhaps with a possible nod to the Orcadian climate. Truly a worthy finale to the series, right? Right?

In a word, complex. Honey and beeswax. Soft, supple leather and old cigar boxes. A wee alcoholic nip; quite a punch for an old fella. It's fair to say that age hasn't totally tamed this spirit.

Water uncovers candied oranges, rich sherry and a hint of chocolate. Traces of pine needles and old libraries. Incredibly evocative.

Sharp and heathery at first with a lingering smokiness. Bold and punchy with a savoury complexity that sweetens given a little time. Miniscule amount of soapiness and a robust white pepper hum nearing the finish.

Water brings a creaminess and a buttered toast vibe. Highland heather and beach bonfires. Playful spices, orange zest and sugared almonds.

Long. Very long. Perfectly balanced with the characteristic smokiness so evident in the 18yo but flanked with a sweet meatiness that isn't a million miles from a good Mortlach.

Water showcases more of the sweetness but maintains balance as the mouth dries. Oaky, smoky and beautifully long (still!).

What can I say? It exhibits a complexity the likes of which I have rarely experienced. Every sip reveals a new slant; every sniff a surprise. Ignoring the price and lack of availability, the only bad thing about this dram is that it's finished and I can't afford a bottle.

Grade: A
Spankingly good. Bastards.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Old Age Puncheon - Part III

Black Bull 40yo - 4th Release - 41.9%

Play with the bull.....

Relentlessly, the Saga tour bus trundles on through the world of aged whisky. As I load up on Sanatogen and struggle to come to terms with decimalisation, the skies darken, the wind howls and the road becomes decidedly rocky. The last (affordable) 40 year old to be examined this week takes us into blend territory.

Duncan Taylor has now released four super-aged versions of their beautiful, bovine blend, each more expensive than the last. They are touted as being excellent quality and the 40yo versions are bottled with a 9:1 malt to grain ratio. Past releases have reportedly contained some of the heavy hitters of the whisky world, such as Bunnahabhain, Glenlivet, Tamdhu, Glenfarclas, Springbank & Invergordon, to name but a few. With such a glamorous pedigree, you can imagine it has the potential to be nothing short of spectacular.

Opens with black cherries, almonds, sherbert and Turkish delight; think sweetie shops of old. A little time uncovers mixed peel and creamy vanilla.

Water causes a stark transformation as board markers and mild aniseed join the fun. Fresh fennel and strawberry cordial. Time to rest gives a more floral bouquet and a faint, soapy note.

Sweet and fizzy and with a fair amount of smoke. Milk chocolate and mild clove with gentle wood drawing in. Charred oak and wisps of barbecue.

Water turns the experience into a much gentler affair but dilutes the sweetness. Smoke is still there but it starts to meld with bitter wood and dark chocolate. A little time shows sherry and walnuts.

Quite tart at the outset but not at all drying. Subtle spices on the front of the tongue but overall a little short and unsatisfying.

Water pretty much destroys the finish. Even shorter than before with only mild, spicy cameos keep the whole thing from collapsing completely.

Alarmingly gentle, despite the high malt content. Plenty of flavour when taken neat with only the finish suffering as a result of water, although this is a bit of a problem when the neat finish is so short. This version retails for around the £200 mark, if you can still get it. No doubt the next release will cost you £50 more.

Grade: B
Tasty and ever so drinkable but disappointing on the finish. Some may balk at paying such a price for a blend but I dare say it offers better value than some of the NAS, premium blends currently in circulation.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Old Age Puncheon - Part II

Glenfarclas 40yo - 46%


You old smoothie, you

Every now and then you come across a distillery that doesn't shout, doesn't flannel, doesn't try to fleece you at every turn, it just sticks to what it's good at and pumps out batch after batch of quality whisky. Bladnoch is a good example of this, but what immediately springs to mind when I think of such distilleries, is Glenfarclas. The core range is, bar one - possibly two exceptions, fantastic.


I have a friend who believes the slogan above the distillery door should read "Welcome to Glenfarclas - If you don't like sherry and you don't like wood, you can f**k off.", and I must say I agree with the sentiment. I'm not saying their core range whiskies are one-dimensional, not in the slightest, but they do sherried expressions and they do them incredibly well. What's even more impressive is that the prices are relatively low at almost every age point. The 15yo is fantastic, the 21 is different, but great and the 25, 30 and cask strength standard 105 releases rate among the best whiskies I have tried. This, however, is 'Super-aged Whisky Week' and so we turn to the daddy of the core range; the much lauded 40yo.

Seville oranges and oloroso. Bitter marmalade and marzipan. As the dram settles we get fresh orange juice making an appearance backed up by rich, buttery toffee and honeycomb.

A few drops of water reveal sharper citrus notes with pineapple at the expense of the toffee. The honeycomb is more pronounced and there are traces of heather honey.

Citrus and other tropical fruits and a little spicy. Slightly drying as wood appears nearer the finish. Wonderful, silky mouthfeel.

Water gives the tropical fruits a chance to shine as the spice is dampened down. After a while the wood becomes quite dominant, not in an unpleasant way but the imbalance becomes evident.

Slightly woody with bags of spice, tannins and a sprinkling of black pepper. Relatively short for a whisky of this age but an abundance of flavour means this is forgiveable.

Water gives it a woodier complexion with a mild astringent quality. The spicier notes have migrated to the back of the tongue with grapefruit and orange peel taking centre stage for the encore.

The 'farclas 40 isn't new to me but I have to admit that this isn't how I remember it. It's neither better nor worse, just different. Taken neat, it wears its age very lightly and is beautifully fruity and fresh. With water things get a little unbalanced but it's still a very good whisky. Can be acquired for a shade under £300 although, if I'm brutally honest, I feel some of Glenfarclas' younger offerings give better value for money.

Grade: B
You're not going to get many 40yo distillery bottlings for such a good price. If you're looking for an appropriate 40th birthday/anniversary present, this should be top of your list. If you're looking for 'bang for your buck', go with the 25.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Old Age Puncheon - Part I

Master of Malt 40yo Speyside - Second Release - 43%

Not a lovehandle in sight.

Worryingly, I've developed a sore back. I've also developed a penchant for Radio 4, a fondness for early nights and a suspiciously right-of-centre political attitude. It's fair to say I'm getting old. Therein lies a problem; it's getting harder to find (and fund) whiskies older than me. Clearly I have joined this game too late...

Say what you like about teenage binge-drinkers, but they can have the thrill I'm seeking for around 35 quid, when they're not too busy taking selfies in the bathroom mirror or catching chlamydia. With this in mind, I shall be spending this week reviewing a series of reasonably priced (ok, one of them isn't so reasonable) whiskies that reached their 40th birthday before me.

Up first is an offering from the chaps at Master of Malt. They've put out a 40yo bottling of indeterminate origin, save for the fact that it comes from Speyside. 'Great', I hear you cry 'That narrows it down to around sixty or so distilleries'. Actually, it's a rather clever move; by keeping the distillery name under wraps they claim they can source, and of course sell, at a lower price. That's something that never gets old.

Deep, rich and sweet. Chocolate raisins and fruit cake. Concentrated sherry notes with cinnamon spiced Christmas pudding. Without exaggeration, the finest nose I have ever experienced on a whisky. Superb.

Three drops of water uncovers a beautiful caramelised apple pie crust, candied fruits and spiced orange. Nutmeg, more cinnamon, icing sugar, stollen cake and a hint of beeswax. Christmas in a glass.

Hmmm. Quite austere when compared to the nose. The chocolate is present but it's more bitter than expected. A fair amount of wood is evident and this lends to the astringency. With a little time, the expected sweetness of the sherry makes an appearance, accompanied by burnt demerara sugar.

Water does a great job in softening the harsher, woodier notes and allows the fruit to take a starring role. Dried figs, sweet chilli and charred bell peppers. Sugared almonds and flecks of walnut.

Long and woody with mild smoke and dark chilli-chocolate. Dries the mouth almost entirely but is rescued by a mouthwatering finale.

Slightly shortened by the water but still woody and mouth-watering. The spice has been amped up a little but it's not harsh. Pleasing hints of cayenne and cinnamon.

This is a good example of clever cask selection. Wood is naturally very evident but not overpowering. The nose is simply stunning and the palate is very competent too. Purists may argue that the ABV should be bumped up to 46% but, unusually for me, I'd disagree; I think it works well as it is. Currently selling for £260.00, this is a good chance to get your hands on a super aged single malt without having to sell your least favourite child.

Grade: A
I'll be honest, this would have been a B if not for the incredible nose. All things considered though it's still a very good whisky. If you're thinking of buying me a present, I turn 40 in 2019.