husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Booker's and Family

Yummy Yuletide Bliss
'Tis the Season!

Happy Holidays to all, and many good whisky wishes to all of you.

With the holidays often comes family.  Some of us are lucky enough to have fellow whisk(e)y drinkers in our families, and still even luckier are those of us that have relatives willing to share!

One of my family holiday parties this year was at my Uncle Tom and Aunt Rosemary's home.  It was a lovely event, filled with the usual friendly faces, and little ones zooming around all of our kneecaps.

One thing that was a little bit out of the norm was a pleasant surprise...a 95% full bottle of Booker's Bourbon!

Upon my arrival, while scanning the room and liquor layout, my eyes caught vision of a beautiful bottle of bourbon, nestled into the corner and quietly screaming for everyone to try it.

Booker's Bourbon is one of the small batch bourbons produced by the Jim Beam distillery and it is dark and deep in color.  As one of the standouts in their "Small Batch Bourbon Collection", this baby is a whopper.  She comes in at a barrel strong level of 65% ABV.

Notes I have found state that it was originally personally selected from barrels by Jim Beam's grandson, the late distiller Booker Noe. Noe originally bottled this straight-from-the-barrel bourbon as gifts to close friends and family, but eventually made it available to the general public, starting in 1992. Each barrel of Booker's bourbon was hand-selected by Noe and was aged at the center of the rackhouse, where the company says that the temperature and humidity are the most favorable for fine bourbons.

One of my favorite parts of all whiskeys is their history...before Noe even began crafting this masterpiece, he was already harnessing over 200 years of his family's work.  There is a certain romanticism and connection that comes through in many drinks of this stature.

Booker's bourbon is aged between six and eight years and is bottled un-cut and without chill filtering at its natural proof between 121 and 130.

My Uncle Tom's bottle was clearly at the 130 level:


This was not nearly as full by the end of the party...

We started with about 1.5 oz neat (wowza), and then poured a fresh glass on ice to nurse for a while.  Once the Booker's started flowing, it inherently became a necessity to share it with as many cousins and uncles as possible.  Needless to say, at this proof, it didn't take too long before many of us were in the spirit of the holiday!  (bad pun...I know)

Tasting Notes:

Nose:  Approach this one with caution, your nose is about to be assaulted by Big Oak, Vanilla, Cinnamon, all presented in a way that attacks your senses...even the Caramel can be aggressive...tread lightly.

Palate:  Powerful fire (there were some teary eyes, this one puts hair on your chest), Tannins & Tobacco, Rye and Syrup, more Wood.

Finish:  Intense, Clean and Long, a bit Drying too

Conclusion

This is a manly drink if there ever was one.  I have handled many cask strength whiskies with ease, but this one has a special gut punch power to it.  While I love the raw, untamed nature of this beast, I would highly recommend water or ice with this one.  Don't be a hero!  While I do enjoy it neat after letting it breathe a bit, at this ABV, you can still enjoy the richness of this fine whiskey (maybe even more) with some water.  Definitely recommended for those looking to do a cannonball into the deep end of the pool of big, bold, and massive whiskeys!

Score:  89

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams

Environment:

As luck would have it, I was at an event where there was a Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams sampling.

This is a limited bottling, and something I wanted to sample, I just didn’t think it would be possible.  The Cask of Dreams is a blend of Glenfiddich whiskies, but the twist is the story behind the barrels that they were finished in. 

The Glenfiddich team traveled across the US and asked people to commit their dreams and or signatures directly on to the barrels themselves.  These casks, loaded with thousands of signatures and dreams on them were then returned to Scotland for filling.  There were only 11 American Oak barrels like this, and that whisky was finished in them for about 3 months.

In total, there are roughly only 3,500 bottles of this, so I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to try this one out. 

It is the 125th anniversary of the Glenfiddich this year, and it is quite a story.  It seems like both genius marketing and complete logic that they celebrate this occasion with something tied to dreams and the pioneering spirit.  The actual cask I was able to sign is to the right...

All of that said, how does it stack up?

Does it taste good?  Was it dreamy?

Tasting Notes:

Color:  Dark yellow, brownish

Nose:  Big gusts of vanilla.  There is fruit that comes through as well, sweet, like a combination of raisins and black cherries.  Oak clearly influenced the color and nose as well, but not overpowering.

Palate:  Sweetness continues, more vanilla.  About half way through some spiciness comes out with apples and cinammon.

Finish:  The vanilla is still here, and it wraps up with a calm and smooth finish that is carried by the faintest notes of fruit.

Conclusion

I love that this Glenfiddich was bottled at 48.8% ABV.  Many of their offerings are at around 40%, and I think bottling it at this level really lets some of the more subtle notes shine through.  I could only imagine how great the 15 would be at this ABV.  I like that there is new oak in here, and the vanilla really pops because of it.  Furthermore, the massive trend of using sherried casks is abscent here, and I think that is a good thing.  This is a unique whisky for many reasons, and I commend Glenfiddich for once again doing something a little 'outside the box' and sticking to their pioneering heritage...consider me a dreamer.

Score:  85

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Macallan 15 Fine Oak

Environment:

The few times I have had this have all been at a nice local restaurant in my parent's town.  We go there occassionally, and we recently went there to celebrate nothing other than the joy of life, and to spend some time together.

Now, the only thing I can say is that the bartenders seem to be a bit inconsistant here.  I have received various pours.  I know one of the usual barmates, and he usually treats me well.  Another time, I got a newbie that went 'by the book' and literally measured out the pour she gave me.  (ugh) 

This time I was fortunate enough that I stumbled across another new person, but he was direct and down to Earth.  The Macallan 15 Fine Oak is really the only teenage option they have, and my favorite of what this place has to offer.  It had been a while, so I asked if he would give me a solid pour for a solid tip...he obliged!  Figure two fingers is nice, but this was three and a half fingers of my hand.  Please note, I have gigantic man hands.  I could palm a basketball when I was a 16.  Check out this hearty pour in a large brandy snifter:

Objects in this image are larger than they appear

Tasting Notes:

Nose:  This is a 'full' nose if that can be said.  I certainly get vanilla, and a bunch of oak.  There is some spice on the nose too, perhaps cinammon.  It is so well rounded I could sit here for a long time and just nose it.

Palate:  The show continues with a buttery honey taste, maybe toffee.  Just enough oak to let you know it is there, and a lingering sweetness...chocolate, dark chocolate.

Finish:  Spicy with some fruits.  More chocolate...smooth, sweet and long.

Conclusion

Again, I have to reiterate the environment theory I have...scotch tastes different in different locations.  Sure there are obvious factors, like scents from a kitchen, smoking cigars, or simply being in a peaceful locale without distraction, but for whatever reason, I love scotch in restaurants.  Not as much as on my own terms, but I do dig it in a hearty, wood filled arena.  The Macallan 15 Fine Oak takes the classic Macallan-sherry flavor and punches it up a bit with the Oak.  While I generally enjoy peaty Islay's, this drink reminded me of how much I miss a sweet sherried whisky every now and then.  I'd certainly keep a Macallan in my cabinet, and this one is high on the list.  Certainly my favorite of the 'Fine Oak' range.

Score:  86

Notes from 2011 & 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Glenmorangie 10

Environment:

The Glenmorangie 10 is the top selling single malt in Scotland.  It has long been a staple in the industry, and is the backbone of the Glenmorangie offerings.  It has been well received by many as an accessible and easy to enjoy spirit.  I recently went to a Glenmorangie Tasting Seminar, and they kept pounding the fact home that it is the brand the Scots drink the most.  (that and the fact that they claim to have the world’s tallest stills…roughly the height of a giraffe!) 

The 10 was one of the first bottles I ever received as a gift, (thanks Jen!) it came with two glasses to boot as part of a set.  (left)  One of the primary reasons I gravitated towards this Scotch originally was the reasonable price point, and the fact that it is fairly well-known and has a good reputation. 

I will have to create a separate post about the Glenmorangie tasting in the future, as it was a great time.  We sampled a solid amount of the range, including the new Artien.  The Brand Ambassador went through a Power Point presentation, and we enjoyed some nice selections.  Here is what the spread looked like:

7 selections from the Glenmorangie Tasting Event


Tasting Notes

Color:  Pale straw
Body:  Medium bodied
Nose:  Fruits, specifically lemons, Oak, with a tiny bit of vanilla.  Not too deep and complex though.
Palate:  Vanilla comes out more, like vanilla ice cream.  A little spicy and sweet, with some floral notes.
Finish:  Fairly quick, a little spicy and warm.

Conclusion

My notes from the bottle I had over a year ago were a bit harsh, and I think I can bump the rating up a little.  However, having this at the tasting up against the likes of the Glenmorangie SIGNET and the 18, this one really faded into the background.  I would consider it a solid all around whisky, but a little forgettable. 

Score:  78

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lagavulin 1995 Distillers Edition

Environment:

I have had this Lagavulin three times.  Twice at Whisky Guild tasting events, and once at a friend's house.  All three times, I was wowed.  (and obnoxiously taking notes)  There are a few moments when you go to a large whisky tasting that you are enjoying a sample and things just seem to slow down a bit.  As if the liquid you are enjoying has the ability to alter the space time continuum. 

The Lagavulin 1995 Distiller’s Edition is one of those.  While the Lagavulin 16 still knocks my socks off, this special variation is an excellent expression and a worthy cousin to the 16.  It is finished in super sweet Pedro Ximenez dessert sherry casks and you can tell the difference from standard ‘sherry’ offerings.  It has a darker amber color than the 16 and is thick and syrupy.

Tasting Notes:

Nose:  Surprised here.  You would expect the smoky peat to come shooting out of the gates with Lagavulin, and crush you, but there is a distinct balance with this one.  It is not just the classic smoke, but the woody fruit notes that ring most true.  I get a mix of fruits, raisins and something else. (maybe plums?)

Palate:  Rich, thick, and even sticky.  Smoky and sweet, but not tripping over each other.  Well balanced with some nutty notes (almonds/hazelnut?) and even some chocolate.   

Finish:  Long and luscious.  The chocolate is much clearer here on the finish.  Sweetness rules the exhale, not the smoke.

Conclusion
 
For an Islay, I can see this being a dessert whisky.  The sherry is just enough to take this one up a notch to decadent.  Granted, I would still prefer the 16 in a head to head battle, this is just a subltly different beast.  The Ximenez casks really mellow out the smoke, and to a certain degree make the details harder to pull out.  Overall though, you have to love it…I think if you paired this with some rich expensive chocolate (or just pop a few Hershey’s Kisses) you may just keel over with giddy joy.

Score:  88

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Talisker 10

Environment:

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to go out to celebrate our anniversary.  We went out to a rustic, old-fashioned restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  It was actually near where we got married originally, so it only added to the backdrop of a lovely evening.

Now, although this place appeared as though it was so ancient it could collapse at any moment, it was loaded with charm.  It is also well regarded as having excellent food, and a decent bar.

Not long after we sat down, I ventured over to check out their scotch collection.  It was limited, but one that caught my eye was the Talisker 10.  I had heard about it, but had not tried it yet.  There is just something about having a dram in a musty old restaurant that takes it to another level.  Perhaps it was the overall experience of being in that country restaurant, or celebrating the anniversary, but the Talisker is one of those that I just flat out enjoy…it is just different enough to separate itself from the pack.  I have purchased it a few times since, and as I sit here on a Spring evening, there is not too much left in this bottle...

Where I first tried Talisker 10

It has a golden amber color, and is bottled at around 45.8% ABV.  Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, which means that technically it is from the ‘Island’ region, and not Islay.  The first Talisker distillery was built in 1831, and lost to a fire in 1960.  However, it was completely rebuilt with exact replicas of the original stills and they have managed to preserve the unique Talisker flavor.


Tasting Notes

Nose:  You want to take your time with this nose, and savor every moment.  The aromas range from the sea salt and peat smoke (not heavy like an Islay though) to a spicy dagger of cinnamon and spice.  Tucked inside the cocoon of spicy light smoke are pear notes and sweet fruits.

Palate:  Spice, much more aggressive that on the nose.  Subtle sweet smoke mixed with sea spray.  The apples and pears are back again and balanced with the peppery spice.  The Island notes are here too, with a briny undertone.  Nice body, almost like a slightly diluted syrup.

Finish:  Very warming…and a spicy tingle waves goodbye after a lengthy finish.
 
Conclusion:

Being the coastal flavor loving peat-head that I am, I truly enjoy Talisker 10.  Although it should be noted that this whisky is not exactly an introductory dram for a newbie.  It has some new and bold flavors that would be enjoyed by a slightly more experienced drinker that is at the stage where they are desiring something new.  This is a dram for a cold day filled with precipitation…truly one worth getting acquainted with.  An intrepid classic that will have a spot on my shelf for years to come.

Score:  85
Tasting Notes from 2010, 2011, and present


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bowmore 12


Environment:
 
Despite the fact that I have tried the Bowmore 12 at a couple of Scotch tastings, my notes have been a bit all over the place.  One time, I found it to have a thick mouthfeel, and then on another date I thought it was watery.  However, my overall grading was fairly consistent throughout.  Perhaps I was just evolving and growing and gaining understanding, which in turn shifted my view.
 
The only rational solution to get a final answer was to buy a bottle!  It is a reasonably priced Islay at around $35-$45 so there was little to lose.  It is Bowmore’s entry-level offering with an age statement, and it has a golden hue.  Although there are many offerings from Bowmore, I have only had the 12, the 15 and the 18.  While they each have their differences, there is no doubt that they share the same DNA.

I am taking these latest notes as I sit peacefully on a Sunday evening in the spring, and will compare & contrast them with notes from the other experiences I have had in my travels through time. 


Tasting Notes:

Nose:  Soft smokiness with light maritime notes.  Something floral (lavender) and certainly fruity like lemons…except more like a lemon cleaner. (Pledge?)

Palate:  My final answer on the body is going to be a bit watery.  There is a grassy peat here, and a little bit of sweetness.  I like that some of the coastal elements poke their head up through the smoke just enough to make sure you never doubt this is an Islay. 

Finish:  Salt and a little more smoke with some charred wood.  A fairly short finish.

Conclusion

This is not a dram that I would add water to…just becomes too washed out.  Normally adding water unveils some additional characteristics, but with the Bowmore 12, it is not worth the slight increase in the lemon and floral notes.  It is delicate as is, and not overly complex, but certainly well rounded.  This is a much more restrained peat smoke than the heavy hitters like Ardbeg & Laphroaig.  It is toned down and sort of walks in a straight line, whereas many of the other Islays kind of color outside the lines and are a bit more exciting.  Certainly a good introduction to Islays to those unfamiliar with the region since it is not a total over the top peat bomb.  This is quite inexpensive in relation to most Single Malts, and while that is nice, I would still rather spend a bit more on an Ardbeg or Laphroaig when I need my Islay fix.

Score:  79
Tasting Notes from 2010, 2011 and present

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Environment:

My experience with this one comes from multiple Whisky Guild tasting events.  I never shy away from it, rather I seek it out.  In 2009 Jim Murray’s Whisky bible named Ardbeg Uigeadail “World Whisky of the Year”!

Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounced ‘Oog-a-dal’) is actually the loch from which all the peat-laden Ardbeg waters flow.  For this expression though, it is a union of the classic smoky Ardbeg characteristics and ex-Sherry casks.  There is an amber and gold hue...definitely darker than the 10 Year, but still a bit pale for how deep this one goes.  All of the flavors are harnessed as this one is bottled at or near cask strength, and non chill-filtered…54.20% ABV. 


Tasting Notes

Nose:  The pungent peat smoke sets the stage, but once it passes you by, there are layers.  There are raisins, and an almost meaty scent, like cleaning a grill.  Some water opens it up a bit (due to the high ABV) and it kind of smells like banana bread.

Palate:  Rich, and full bodied on the tongue.   Complex…there is a lot going on here.  It is sweet and spicy and hounded by a changing smoke, like charcoal now.  More sweet fruits and cocoa on the way down, like chocolate covered raisins.

Finish:  Long, it takes minutes for the ashy smoke to fade.  A bit of oak and sweet fruit (raisins) on the exhale.

Conclusion

This did not have quite the sherry punch I expected, but boy does it lend some sweetness!  I am an admitted member of the Ardbeg Committee, and I always have an Ardbeg on my shelf.  I can see what all the excitement is about as this one just leaves you gasping for air, and wanting more at the same time.  Just a wonderful ride, and so balanced.  If I had to pick an MVP here, it would likely be the nose.  I literally stood there and just kept nosing it over and over and jotting down my notes as new things kept emerging.  This is truly a gem…I don’t think that I could ever get bored of it.

Score:  87
Tasting Notes from 2011 & 2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ardbeg 10

Environment: 

The Ardbeg 10 is an old friend that I have had a few bottles of over the years.  It is one of those expressions that an Islay lover like me keeps around consistently in the cabinet.  Partially because the pricetag is friendly enough that I can feel  semi-comfortable putting it on a holiday gift list if/when someone asks.

I love my peat, and Ardbeg is never shy about it.  This 10 Year is no exception.  Most whiskies are chill-filtered and reduced to a strength of around 40% ABV.  The Ardbeg Ten Years Old, however, is non chill-filtered and has a strength of 46% ABV. 

The color of this Scotch is always surprising to me as it is so light.  Even drinking it by candlelight, it is still bright like a white wine.  Looks can be deceiving though…as this drink is no lightweight.



Nose:  Peat and pungent smoke at first, a plume that needs to escape.  The second whiff is where the ocean and sweetness come in.  The sweet is tart like lemons. The briny oceanic tints nestle within the peat…think smoked salmon.

Palate:  Sweet citrus up front, and crisp.  Oily, with lots of seaweed and brine before the peat comes back for round two.  The smoke is heavier this time, more tar-like.  Somehow the whole experience is balanced and smooth despite the peat not being fully tamed.

Finish:  Salty dryness.  The finish is long, and the smoke smolders like a reluctant campfire that refuses to be snuffed out.

Conclusion

This is for a peat fan and I am an admitted member of the Ardbeg Committee, as I always have one on my shelf.  Those that favor the sherried floral drams will likely be a little turned off at first.  I always loved revisiting my Glencairn glass the next day with this one.  I have intentionally left it out near the sink just so I can smell it the next morning, and the smokiness fills the kitchen.  For an Islay fan I have to consider this one for the ‘bang for the buck’ list I will be putting together.  But, I digress, the bottom line here is that it is spicy, sweet, and oh so smoky.  If you can take a peaty punch in the chin, and can handle the distinctive Ardbeg smoke, you are going to like this one.

Score:  85
Tasting Notes mixed from 2010, 2011, and present...I need more Plutonium!


Tasting Notes

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Balvenie 21 Year Old Portwood

Environment:

Any chance I get to take a sip of the Balvenie 21 Year Portwood I have to contain myself.  It is like asking someone out on a date for the first time.  I try to play it off cool as if it is no big deal, but inside I am bursting at the seams!

The first time I tried this was when I purchased the Balvenie sampler in the middle of 2010.  It was the third of three samples.  (12 Year Doublewood and 15 Year Single Barrel being the others)  It was just outstanding…although all three in that sampler are excellent, the 21 just took it all to another level.  At other tastings I have been lucky enough to get a pour or two, but it had been a while.  Then, I went to a Balvenie tasting on 4/4/12 and got to revisit it once again.

This spirit comes in a hinged and lined presentation box, which only adds to its stature.  This expression spends an additional period of maturation in 30 year old Port pipes to give it an additional level of depth and only adds to the indulgence. 

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Nutty and fruity.  I can pick out raisins and a general feeling of wood smoke, whether that simply comes from age or the port is irrelevant. It is just so balanced and extensive it is hard to describe.

Palate:  I think there is a correlation.  Sherry is to Doublewood as Port is to 21.  This is so smooth and full and sweet but still delicate.  There is a mix of nuts (almonds?), honey, and cream.  A warmth exists throughout and reminds me of a wine (port).

Finish:  Full and long and oh so smooth.  I get a little bit of wood and warmth and more nutty notes.  It is creamy and rich, I wish it wouldn’t stop!

Conclusion

The Balvenie 21 Portwood is an experience.  Nutty and silky, it is like ecstasy in your mouth.  It is one of my highest scoring whiskies despite my Islay loving palate.  This expression stands out amongst the other port finishes I have had, there is just something about it.  I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but it is distinctive.  It is delicate and has a balance and poise that can only be summed up by calling it memorable.

Score:  91

Tasting notes from 2010 and the present

The Balvenie 17 Year Madeira Cask

Environment: 

In fairness, my only time enjoying this fine whisky was at the Balvenie tasting I attended on 4/4/12.  It was a decent sized sample, but boy I wish there was more!  This is a limited edition that was released in 2009, so I can only imagine that over time, these will become harder and harder to find.

Even in the limited contact I had with this expression, it left quite an impression on me.  It spends 17 years in American White Oak casks before being moved into those previously used for fortified Madeira wines for another 4+ months according to Nicholas at the tasting. 

To the best of my knowledge, this wine is like port, but specifically from the island of Madeira.  In the past, these wines were exposed to high temperatures on sea travel, and for Madeira wine they actually heat it up to recreate the effect that would have traditionally occurred.  What does that lead to?  Basically, the wine ends up with additional raisin and nutty flavors thanks to the oxidation.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Sweet.  Kind of like a cinnamon apple candle.  There are some surprising floral notes amongst the oak that swirl around the rich toffee scents.  They don’t fight with each other though, instead they dance together peacefully.

Palate:  Full bodied and lovely.  The rich opening of vanilla quickly yields the floor to the woody oak in such a smooth way.  Not strong wood, but rather sultry, which develops into a cinnamon spicy treat.  The raisins are here, and possibly even a bit of a tobacco burst.

Finish:  Closer to long than medium, with a drying sweetness.  More raisins and oak on the exhale.

Conclusion

This is one steady-Chevy.  What you get on the nose, is what you receive on the palate and finish.  This is one that stays in line, but is anything but boring.  The complexity and balance are simply outstanding, and you would be hard pressed to find something smoother in this age bracket.  I have to say that the palate on this one was the star, such a burst.  One of my favorites in the Balvenie line so far, but I do need to revisit this one to confirm my love at first sight. (due to the small sample size)

Score:  88

The Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel

Environment: 

The Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel has come across my path a couple of times.  The first time was a gift from my sister for Christmas back in 2010 (Cask 2869, Bottle 137).  That bottle developed my affinity for this dram, because at first blush, it was a little tough for me. 

However, it grew on me quickly.  The packaging is really cool and worth noting.  It comes with the Barrel and Bottle numbers hand written on the label.  This adds a unique character to each one, and certainly makes you want to hunt down a favorite version.

After a while, I began to understand the depths of this one.  I feel that having this dram in the wintertime was proper due to the combination of the oily texture and warming feeling.  It can be a bit assertive for a Speyside at first, but once you give it a chance to breathe and get to know it a bit, it will reward you for your patience.
My Empty 15yr Single Barrel


The Balvenie Single Barrel is a 15 year old single malt which is drawn from a single traditional oak whisky cask of a single distillation. Each bottling forms a limited edition of no more than 350 hand-numbered bottles so each bottle is unique and unrepeatable.  While each cask is subtly different, I have to admit that there is extraordinary consistency between the few different samples I have tried.  (Cask 5618, Bottle 119 @ tasting 4/4/12)




Tasting Notes

Nose:  Aggressive, a bit ‘hot’, but still fragrant.  There is a distinct Oak mixed in amongst it all.  A few drops of water really reveal the vanilla and honeyed notes.

Palate:  On the tongue there is some spiciness and charred wood.  Malty.  On the exhale you can really feel the bittersweet combination of the Oak and fruits (apples?) along with a steady peppery/gingery overtone.

Finish:  This has a medium to long finish, and it continues to be peppery. Closes out the show with a hint of liquorice and a thick coating of spiciness.

Conclusion:

I love The Balvenie.  Out of their entire product line though, I find this one to be a bit ‘harsh’ for lack of a better phrase than the others I have tasted.  This is probably due to the higher ABV, but I am not 100% sure.  I would say that it is the least smooth of the bunch, and nearly borders on being a bit too robust for my personal taste.  At this price point I would likely take one of a few options.  I would either move laterally towards the 14 yr Caribbean Cask, regress back to the classic standby of the Doublewood, or more likely spend a little bit more to go up into the 17 yr Balvenie range.  In total though, it is hard to deny the complexity and beauty of this expression.

Score:  85

Tasting notes from 2011 and the present

The Balvenie 14 Year Caribbean Cask


Environment:

This is a bottle that I purchased in 2011 as I was intrigued.  Knowing the Balvenie and their skills with casks, I was interested in what they could pull off.

The Balvenie Maltmaster and Mastermind, Mr. David Stewart, is gifted and experienced, and from what I hear, an avid Rum lover.  What could be a better marriage than that?

There was a Balvenie Rum Cask released back in 2008 I believe, but I never got to try it.  I think the previous version was actually matured in the cask, not just finished.  I can only imagine that it was wonderfully in line with the excellent products they continue to crank out.  I love that The Balvenie is constantly straying from their ‘core’ line and experimenting with other expressions.  (Port, Sherry, Madeira, Peated)

This one is described as being matured for 14 years in traditional oak whisky casks, and then is transferred to the rum casks to yield something exceptional.  They are right about that.

Tasting Notes

Nose:   Simply wonderful.  Fruits (raisins, and maybe banana?) balanced perfectly with hints of toffee and powerful vanilla.  There is a woody note, but it is not the main event, it just hangs out in the background and leans against the wall.

Palate:  Vanilla comes shining through along with some nuts (almonds/cashews).  There is a buttery spice that has become best friends with the classic Balvenie honeyed flavor that we would expect at this point from a Balvenie.  Hovering above all of this in a pleasant way is the spice of the rum barrels…leaving hints of nutmeg…very refined.

Finish:  Long and soft.  Something sweet (molasses?) and very creamy…very pleasant.

Conclusion

This is just a delight.  Rum finishing is nothing new to the Scotch world, but this is something just a little bit more special.  It is tough to tell, but I wonder if there is more ‘white rum’ than ‘dark rum’ in this.  I really feel like this one has a personality and despite the kaleidoscope of flavors going on still manages to feel ‘fresh’.  It is not overly ‘rummy’ if that is a word, and I think that is what makes its character so exceptional.

Score:  86

Friday, April 6, 2012

Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood

Environment:

I have purchased this whisky twice, and I enjoyed it both times.  They were both purchased in 2010, so the tasting notes below are a mix of 2010 and the most recent Balvenie Roadshow tasting. 

This was one of the first bottles I purchased after my ‘ah-ha’ moment back the winter of early 2010.   I started researching whisky and gravitated towards this one as a good starter.  The second time I purchased it was in the fall of 2010, and it was great both times.  Believe it or not I actually think it went better with the slightly warmer temps of the fall, and the changing leaves.  The Balvenie drams are notoriously honeyed in color and the amber/gold is a spectacle to view outdoors in the fall. 

There is something beautifully distinctive about the Balvenie distillery.  The packaging is always uniform and the bottle design is lovely.  In fact, if you were to keep the bottle corked, and flip it upside down, it is actually the shape of the pot stills at the distillery.  In general there is a consistency to the line that I always loved…it kind of has an air to it, but is still 'working class' if that is possible for an drink.  Kind of like a rich person that insists on earning their own way through hard work...truly Glennfiddich's cooler cousin.

The Doublewood is listed as being matured in both whisky oak casks and oak sherry casks.  It is US law that bourbon cask may only be used once, so after that many of them wind up being used for Scotch.  The art of putting it into a second cask is what is known as a ‘finish’ cask.  Not to be confused with the tasting ‘finish’, this stage is where a whisky is allowed to spend a good 6-12+  months in a different cask, and pull some additional flavors out of that new cask.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  I get Sherry right off the bat, the Oloroso casks did their job.  As per usual with Balvenie there are some lovely vanilla and honey influences that pass through unfettered.  Very pleasant nose.

Palate:  Mellowed, but elegant.  In addition to the sherry, some nutty moments and fruitiness come through. (oranges?)  Quite sweet and honeyed.

Finish:  It is a little spicy on the way out, and it has a nice long finish.  Some additional vanilla peeks through and leaves a warming feeling.  I wish it would last a little longer, but it does carry it’s weight long enough to get to the next sip.

Conclusion:  

This is a smooth and mellow experience.  I feel there is some solid complexity and it is rather warming.  The layer of sherry helps fill it out a bit, and overall I think it is a casual and approachable Speyside that I would purchase again.  Certainly one for a future 'bang for the buck' list.

Score:  83

Tasting Notes from 2010 & the present

The Balvenie Scotch Tasting Part Two

Tasting is believing.

How honored and happy am I to be sitting in front of this:


The range sampled at this tasting:


 



What a treat! 

Presented alongside the Scotch and the placemat were a few other bonuses.  There was a Balvenie dropper to add a little water when we wanted to.  A little Balvenie pamphlet with all kinds of notes and information on the distillery, and a nice little notepad and pen courtesy of Joe Canal’s.

I am going to log each detailed review as a separate post.  This is in part because I want to keep things as organized an accessible as possible throughout this blog and also…because I think they each deserve their own space!  Perhaps if I get the time I can post a ‘side by side’ comparison column summarizing my thoughts on the whole line.  For this part of the Roadshow, Nicholas took us through each one and described the differences and nuances between each expression.

I believe we had reached the 15 Year Single Barrel when he instructed all of us to dip our finger into it and rub it on the back of our hand.  A few people began looking around at each other, unsure if he was messing with their minds.  As if he would return to Scotland and brag to his friends about how he got a room full of Americans to rub Scotch on themselves. 

Alas, he reassured us that he was serious, and calmly plunged his own finger into his and began rubbing it on his hand.  Let me tell you how pleasantly surprised I was by this!!  It somehow managed to strip the flavors down a bit and left a clear scent of the barrel and other fine points.  This must be what it smells like at the Balvenie Distillery!  Very impressive, it was quite different than the original nose we got on the 15.

Later on in the event, Nicholas suggested another similar move with the 21 Portwood.  First, we covered the top of the glass with our hand and shook it up and down.  This was nothing new to me as I had seen this done at other tastings.  Except, it was usually done prior to nosing.  In this case he said to ‘Get your hand nice and wet, shake it up and get some on your hand’.
At this point, we were four drams deep and puddy in his hands.  He could have asked us to twist like Chubby Checker on top of a car, and we would have likely obliged.

We took our wet hands and rubbed them together vigorously.  Very quickly, and for about 30 seconds.  Think Mr. Miyagi curing Daniel-san here.

Then, we cupped our hands together to form a tiny bowl of aromas, and deeply inhaled.  AMAZING!!  I was just blown away.  First, the 21 is a stunning Scotch to begin with.  Who knew that if we gave it the Miyagi treatment, it would reward us with stunning notes of coconut? Going back for another whiff, it just kept providing a refreshing odoriferous explosion of the time and energy that went into creating it.
By this point my placemat was now looking empty, and my time in Balvenie heaven was winding down.

David Stewart
Despite my intense love for Islay’s, there is sort of grace that comes with every glass of Balvenie.  This is truly a testament to all of the people involved in the process, and certainly to David Stewart.  At over 45 years with Balvenie, he has the longevity of George Blanda, and the staying power of Joe Paterno (sans the controversy)...I hope he sticks around for many years to come. 

There is a baseline of quality and refinement that emanates from every glass of Balvenie.  Clearly the dedication to their craft has led to every pour of any Balvenie dram I have had to be a splendid experience. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Balvenie Scotch Tasting Part One

As I continue my progress towards the goal of some sort of connoisseurship, I find that whisky tastings and seminars are priceless.

It works on so many levels.  There are always new bits of information on the basic fundamentals of what goes into the creating a great whisky.  Then tastings plunge deep into the actual ability of being able to pluck scents and tastes out of the dram.

As I stated in my original post, this is a journey.  I am just loving the trip and stopping to smell the roses (scotches).  I am already blown away by how wonderfully refined some people’s palates are, and how my own opinions are developing.

I am going to post this Balvenie Tasting in a two part series.  Part one will focus on the event itself and the experience.  Part Two will be about the main event…tasting The Balvenie scotches.

The Event:

I somehow managed to beat out the heavy traffic I expected after work, and got to the tasting obnoxiously early.  That seems to be a trend at this point.  My buddy Pete (who also joined me at this event) and I got to the Whisky Guild tasting in March so early that we were literally told they were not ready to sign us in yet.

That being said, I got to spend a little bit of time with a couple of talented people that were working behind the scenes to make this event as wonderful as it was.  In addition to some helpful Joe Canal’s staffers, there were two primary folks setting up the tasting.  Sue from William Grant & Sons and her partner in crime Jen.  They worked efficiently to get the place set up in a jiffy.

One of the things that struck me off the bat was their attention to detail.  Being a detail oriented guy myself, I truly appreciated some of the ‘finer points’ that they brought to the table.  For example, something tiny…the placemats.  The original placemats were a generic Joe Canals version, that while not terrible, looked a bit generic, recently printed, and didn’t really represent the feel of class and craftsmanship that The Balvenie represents in my mind.

Sue & Jen swapped them out for the much better version you see here:



Craftsmanship is one of the key marketing approaches that The Balvenie has been pushing lately.  It is one of the things they take pride in, and rightfully so.  Many of you may be familiar with the five rare crafts that The Balvenie still practices to this day that many other distilleries have long since abandoned, but if not, you can learn more here.

I think that the folks at Balvenie should be happy to know that today’s team (Sue, Jen and Nicholas) all took the ‘Balvenie Approach’ to the tasting.  That is to say that they worked hard, used their hands, and all had a down to Earth feel that is indicative of the term 'craftsmanship'.

Nicholas was a bit younger looking than I expected, but don’t let that fool you.  This man is experienced, wise and charismatic.  Perhaps all of that “usquebaugh” (water of life) is helping him age well!

Nicholas Pollachi and Whisky Joe

Nicholas has the prototypical wonderful accent, and above all else, the uncanny ability to be articulate and informative, while also being genuine and approachable.  He carried us through the range with great details on each of the expressions we sampled.  Nicholas also introduced us to some of the more unique tasting methods I have experienced to date, such as rubbing the scotch on the back of your hand, and rubbing it in your hands and cupping them to gather new aromas.  On a fun note, he wasn’t afraid to be a bit crass at times once he determined that the crowd was warm to the idea.  As he so eloquently put, “I speak the Queen’s English…if she had Torret’s Syndrome”.

One last note on craftsmanship here.  Nicholas has been driving the Morgan 8 around and honoring those that make things handmade and The Balvenie has a program that you can nominate those that you think may be worthy of such an acknowledgement.  If you know someone that takes this approach in their area of expertise, please visit  The Balvenie Rare Crafts Roadshow and nominate them.

We had the honor of enjoying five whiskies from The Balvenie:




Tasting notes on these will be in the next post. 

All in all I must say that the experience was worth every penny, and I want to thank Joe Canal’s for hosting.  The Balvenie did an excellent job of not only presenting their brand and their exceptional whiskies, but of showing how their pride in craftsmanship trickles down into everything they do.