Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Maltal Combat III - Battle of the Glens

Glendronach Cask Strength vs Glengoyne Teapot Dram vs Glenfarclas 105

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Whoever perfected the art of distillation was a genius. Whoever then decided they should mature said distillate for a number of years in sherry barrels was an even bigger genius. Whoever then decided to bottle it at ludicrously high strengths, sell it to me and get me squiffy on a Monday night is a genius of such magnitude they may well herald the salvation (or destruction) of mankind.

You’ll have to forgive my excitement; you see, as well as having a penchant for all things peated, I’m a huge fan of big flavours in general. If you peer into my collection, amongst the coastal bruisers and phenolic haze you’ll often find cask-strength, high-octane sherry bombs. It’s fair to say that you won’t find many subtle whiskies lurking within the Stumblevault.
A particular favourite at this moment in time is the Glengoyne 21yo. While not particularly strong, it’s a flavourful riot of sherry, malt and oak with a finish that goes on for days and, despite what some prissy little princesses with dainty palates will tell you, it’s in no way over-oaked.

Anyway, enough of such tish and nonsense. The latest bout in the Maltal Combat series shines the spotlight squarely on sherried monsters of phenomenal strength and flavour, with hues that exude menace and that snort derisively at the notion of an age statement. In keeping with the exaggerated nature of this contest, we’re going to bump things up a notch; we’ve got three of the buggers.

Glendronach Cask Strength – Batch 1 - 54.8%

Instantly I’m getting a slightly youthful aroma but this is soon replaced by toffee, caramel and butterscotch. A little time to open up brings crème caramel with a sprinkling of cherry bakewell.

A wee alcoholic nip to begin with but I put that down to starting on a clean palate. Butteriniess is evident on the palate with pecans and a moderate amount of freshly-struck matches. This is not unpleasant though, in fact I’d say the savouriness adds another dimension. Towards the finish there’s a hint of bitterness creeping in that’s a little disconcerting. Otherwise, this is very drinkable, even at natural strength.

Hmm, a bit of a let-down. Medium in length, mildly drying and a tad flat. There’s moderate spiciness but it’s all a little understated; not what I’m looking for in a dram of this nature. As the finish fades, there’s that bitterness again.

Surprisingly drinkable, tasty and enjoyable. I expected a little more oomph on the finish and the bitterness was a little unwelcome but still a very capable malt.

Grade: B
Falls short of greatness but, despite its flaws, there’s still a lot of flavour here. I’d be very interested in sampling later batches.

Glengoyne Teapot Dram – Batch 002 - 58.5%

This is more complex than the previous whisky. Rich with vanilla, black pepper, glacé cherries and almonds. Give it a while and milk chocolate with roasted hazelnuts make an appearance.

Definitely more grown up than the Glendronach. Complex and wonderfully rich with damsons, apricots and red peppers. Lovely, silky mouthfeel; a little time on the tongue  allows the oak to make an appearance. Enjoyable, with entertainment all the way from arrival to finish.

Doesn’t disappoint. Warm and long with spice and wood aplenty.  Just when you think it's over, the warmth floods back over the sides of your tongue for a final bow. Very satisfying.

Nowhere near as approachable as the Glendronach; you might need your big-boy pants for this one. It’s a distillery exclusive bottling so availability may be a factor but, on taste alone, it’s a cut above.

Grade: A
I was going to mark this down when considering the availability and relative price but a friend reminded me that I should be focussing on the quality. Easily the winner…so far.

Glenfarclas 105 - 60%

Less sherry than expected and quite closed when compared to the other two. Fair old sting in the nose as I try to sniff deeper; weighing in at 60% I really should have known better. Time to breathe gives a fruity aroma but not the fruits I was expecting. Peaches, toffee apples and caramelised pears are the major players here. Further time in the glass rewards mewith a cafe latte note.

Dry and fiery to start; there’s a good amount of pepper here. This develops into an earthiness that puts me in mind of some cognacs and, after the fireworks have died down, I'm amazed at how smoothly it delivers its strength. As it develops further, it displays toasted nuts and fresh figs. As we approach the finish the whole affair becomes a little floral with violets being the most detectable aroma.

Lingering, with a lively, entertaining pepperiness. Less wood than I was expecting but the earthy nature of the palate continues way into the finish and adds a savoury element, bringing a nice balance.

A very good, lively whisky. It may lack the approachability of the Glendronach and the rich complexity of the Glengoyne but that earthy, savoury, almost cognac-like note makes it so beautifully intriguing.

Grade: A
Certainly better than the Glendronach. The question I ask myself though is, on taste alone, is it as good as the Glengoyne?

Damn your deliciousness

Glengoyne Teapot Dram (Split Decision)
This was incredibly tough. Every fibre of my being was yelling ‘Glenfarclas, you arse! It’s only forty notes’. However, in my opinion, the Glengoyne is the better whisky and wins the fight.

Go and buy the Glenfarclas.

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