Puer Aeternus in an Oaken Vest: The Exclusive Malts’ 1985 Longmorn 28 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EM LongmornJohn Duff built the Glenlossie distillery in 1876, Longmorn in 1893 and BenRiach in 1897. That’s a great string of distilleries if ever there was one, but Longmorn – if the bottling under review here is any indication – may be the greatest of them all. Beloved for its contribution to blends, Longmorn has been called “the master blender’s second choice” – his first choice being his own blend, of course. The only readily available bottling of Longmorn is the distillery’s own 16 year old, so finding this 28 year old single cask is quite a treat!

The Whisky

The wash stills at Longmorn were converted to steam heat in 1993, so this whisky, dating from 1985, is from a period when the distillery heated those stills directly with coal fires. Like all bottlings from The Creative Whisky Co.’s The Exclusive Malts line, this particular Longmorn juice is from a single cask and was bottled without the duplicitous E150a coloring and without chill-filtration. It is cask strength with an ABV of 51.6%.

Nose

My first thought upon holding a dram of this up to my nostrils: Wow! – This is going to take some time! So rich and full, so much going on. A handful of fresh peach stones with some flesh still on them. Cherry stones, too, but drier. Apples, stewed, with citrus peels, nutmeg and a few crushed banana chips – or, maybe: A very dry, light Calvados? Some bourbon barrel characteristics arise – light vanilla and light caramel and some white oak spice – but the wood character is young and fresh, like opening a package of little balsa wood panels purchased at the craft store. The malt is tight, bright and full and there’s a weave of fresh grain and the wholesome bouquet of a bowl of dry Grape-Nuts. Less strong but still there is a whisper of dry cornmeal. Confectionary sweetness, as if you’d just opened a bag of marshmallows or – something I get now and then in these cask strength Speysides – a bag of those squishy orange “circus peanuts” that appear on pharmacy shelves around Halloween. There’s also a dry candy minty-ness, like crushed wintergreen Necco Wafers. There’s a more natural flintiness as well, and just a tad of dry grassiness or moss. The high ABV is quite apparent on the nose but it doesn’t stab the nostrils. A few drops of water bring out even more fresh cherry stones and a candy sweetness, but this is never cloying. A very firm, fresh, full, rich and classy act is presented here and I can find no fault with it. (25/25).

Palate

Now that the nose has me salivating and has the maltfreak in me eager as an ermine in estrus, I close my eyes and take a sip, allowing this silky elixir to cover my tongue like a 1000 thread-count bed sheet. Wow. The surprise is how big, rich and warm it is. The repeated suggestions of “dry” on the nose have completely liquefied here. And again, on the palate, I don’t get the least hint that 28 years was too long to mature in this cask – oh, what a cask this must have been! Fruit comes more to the fore now, as in peach cobbler fruit and apple pie fruit prepared with just a pinch of cinnamon. The sweetness is now more honeyed than sugared and there’s a wonderful progression as the sweet awakens the tip of the tongue, followed by a wash of fruit and malt, which in turn is followed by oaky drying tannins and spice – but, wait: That’s the finish… (24/25)

Finish

As I was just saying, the sweet fruit and malt delivery slowly dissolves into a drier development at the back of the tongue, with oak tannins and a pleasant spiciness unfurling in a fluid continuum to the back of the throat and down into the chest, spreading a life-affirming warmth all round the heart. Not a very layered or complex finish, but I do like that warmth! (22/25)

Balance/Structure

This is a fine Speyside whisky, an excellent presentation of what Michael Jackson considered “one of the finest Speyside malts, cherished by connoisseurs”. Its 28 years in cask did not make it sluggish or woody or thick, but seem rather to have bred a refined integrity, a weave of aromas no less plush and complex than a fine, intricately detailed Persian rug. The nose, in my opinion, achieved a level of perfection, and I’m confident I could have continued finding new bouquets and fragrances beyond the many I did find if I’d resisted sipping this potion a while longer. The palate was excellent, but not quite the equal of the nose, and the finish, though pleasant and even deeply satisfying, was also just a bit of a winding down in the arc of exultation this presents. Still, this is a wonderful whisky. I can’t imagine any devoted whisky drinker, except perhaps the most cultish peat-freaks, finding anything but delight and satisfaction in this excellent dram. (23/25)

EM Longmorn
Total points for this whisky: 94

Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages and to Marina Hachaturova at Dime Group International for the sample.

Youth in Age (The Incomparable Jimmy Scott)

Dizygotic: The Exclusive Malts’ 2003 Speyside 10 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Speyside-10-Year-2003-from-The-Exclusive-MaltsPlease read through to the end: This moody tonic receives two different scores based on two different samples…

Calling this whisky “Speyside” rather than naming the distillery it came from has led to a bit of speculation online (and, as you’ll see, to further speculation below). There are a few Speyside distilleries that won’t allow the use of their names by independent bottlers: Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich, for example. I have seen Glenfarclas suggested as the source of this Exclusive Malts “Speyside” but that hardly seems possible given the typical Glenfarclas profile with it’s warm full body and refined bready fruitcake character. I’m going to hazard a different guess: Balvenie. I’m not the first to make this guess. At an Exclusive Malts tasting held at Norfolk Wine & Spirits nearly a year ago, the proprietor, Bikram Singh, responded to his first sip with that name: Balvenie. And I concur. If you can deconstruct the 15 year old Balvenie Single Barrel in your mind (having a dram of this expression in your glass, of course), imagining what the nose and palate might be like without any sherry cask influence, with considerably less bloated sweetness and with the ABV turned up from about 48% to more than 56%, it isn’t hard to understand this Exclusive Malts offering as the whisky that would result. I’ve spent many an evening with favorite bottles of Glenfarclas (17, 21, 25) and I don’t find the whisky under review here reminiscent of that distillery whatsoever. Then again, imagining Glenfarclas with no influence of sherry cask maturation is for all intents and purposes impossible, so I suppose that feasibility must remain open. Nonetheless, I’m sticking with my first guess: Balvenie.

Or am I? There is another intriguing, but highly unlikely, possibility: The Speyside Distillery, a very small affair on the upper section of the River Spey that produces less than 160,000 gallons of whisky annually. I have never had a drop of juice from that whisky maker, but the descriptions I’ve found sound similar to this Exclusive Malts single cask. Michael Jackson describes Drumguish, which was an NAS bottling from the Speyside Distillery, as “intense” with “jasmine” and a “slightly oily” body, “[a] creamy core” but with “dry (grassy) edges” – all of which, except for the grassy note, could be adjusted to fit with my take on the whisky here under review. And Charles McLean describes the palate on a distillery bottling of Speyside 12 Year Old as “richer and more full-bodied than you would expect from its restrained nose” – a description I could use, word for word, to portray this “Speyside” from Exclusive Malts.

The Whisky

Distilled April 14th 2003. Bottled September 2013 at an ABV of 56.3%. One of 296 bottles from a single cask. I have seen no official word on the type or size of cask used, but I have read that this whisky spent its entire ten years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and I suspect that’s true. Like all of this bottler’s offerings, this whisky is untainted by the misleading E150a caramel coloring and is un-chill-filtered.

Nose

I was having some trouble deciphering this one, so I looked at a couple of reviews online to find out what others had unraveled. One reviewer calls this whisky an example of “a classic sherry bomb”. I don’t get that, not at all. If this juice spent more than 10 minutes of it’s 10 year maturation in anything other than a (second fill?) ex-bourbon hogshead, I would be damned surprised. I find no sherry influence in this whisky whatsoever. What I do find most prominent on the nose is a clean, bright, hardy malt encased in a weave of rather sharp (French?) oak spices. Far below all that, I get some wildflower honey (i.e., not conspicuously sweet, as in some drier meads, which this is beginning in some ways to resemble on the nose) and, even farther out, like ghosts in a distant darkness, salt marsh reeds? a dusty shale-like flintiness? spilled, dried cherry juice on a just-opened package of high cloth-content copy paper? There is something distant but elusively floral as well – jasmine tea? withered carnations? The high ABV can be stabbing in the nostrils if you get too close, but I didn’t find that water did much to ameliorate this characteristic until it became too much water and washed the good away. What one can discern here is pleasant and varied, but, overall, this is a shielded, clenched and parsimonious nose that refuses to give much up. (20/25)

Palate

Well, now… This is where she divulges a few of her secrets – but only a few. The wonderfully silky, oily delivery displays that tight malted barley, a little less bright now, awash in an amalgam of light raisons, peach and cherry pits, less-than-identifiable savory elements and a touch of burnt caramel, all of it steeping in a light, thin sugar syrup. The spice is a constant after the first few seconds, but it rises along a gentle arc that never gets overpowering.

And that, for me at least, is all she wrote. She doesn’t do all that much but, what she does do, she does well – and she truly does nothing wrong. I should add, however, that a few of my friends and some reviewers refer to the palate on this whisky as cloyingly sweet and “ridiculously sweet,” as one friend described it. That was not my experience at all. Was my sample too old or too oxidized? I have no way of knowing; all I can do is review the sample I was sent. If I should have a chance to taste a fresh bottle of this potion anytime soon, I’ll write an update to this report [see the Addendum below]. (21/25)

Finish

A mouthwatering, long, slow-burning finish that spills raisons and dates across the tongue in a wash of not-really-very-sweet caramel and honey, all of this on a foundation of sturdy barley malt, savory spice and drying oak tannins that reach down into the chest with a bloom of searing, drying, slow-slow fading, high frequency alcohol. (21/25)

Balance/Structure

As an arc, this works – more or less. Thanks to the malt itself, there is a nice, tight, clean component that runs through the entire experience this whisky offers. The nose, though shielded and stingy, leads naturally enough to the palate – which has that wonderful silky delivery. The finish starts with great promise but ends with a slow-searing burn that won’t be to everyone’s liking. (20/25)

Total points for this sample of this whisky: 82

Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages and to Marina Hachaturova at Dime Group International for the sample.

Speyside-10-Year-2003-from-The-Exclusive-Malts
ADDENDUM:

Thanks to Bikram Singh (once again!), who had an open bottle of this whisky at his store, I did manage to get my hands on a fresh sample. There is a big difference between this and the sample I was sent. On the Nose, one gets an even more vibrant maltiness, a nice light honey, river rocks drying in the sun and some cinnamon and white pepper spice, though the alcohol is still stabbing the nostrils a bit (+2 points). On the Palate, the silky oleaginous delivery is still there and one now gets – especially with some water – baked apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, pear candy, light raisons and thin honey (+2 points). The Finish is much the same, but – with water, especially – sweeter, less burning, longer and more flavorful (+1 point). As for the Balance and Structure, I’d say the Structure remains much the same, dominated by a nice firm malt, but the Balance is improved because every step of the experience has been improved. Is this as sweet as my friends and others said? Well, it’s sweeter, but not ridiculously so, and the additional sweetness balances in pleasant equipoise with the spice, malt and tannins. (+2 points).

Total points for this sample of this whisky: 89

That’s a big difference!

Speyside Beauty: The Classic Cask’s 1993 Glen Keith 20 Year Old Single Cast Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140613_225039_776~2~2Yesterday, when I sat down with this delightful whisky to write my notes for this review, I didn’t own, nor had I ever seen, a bottle of it for sale. My tasting session was conducted with two 30ml sample bottles. Nevertheless, I do own a bottle of this extraordinary Speyside elixir today. Bikram Singh, proprietor of my favorite whisky store – Norfolk Wine & Spirits – took delivery of one case just hours before I arrived there for a Kavalan tasting this evening. Amazing synchronicity! I sometimes hear that my reviews are good but useless because the whiskies I spotlight are unobtainable. That simply isn’t true. I have found and bought every whisky I’ve ever really wanted and could afford to buy. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort, a circuitous Google search, a couple of phone calls, a long drive, extended, passionate, vigorous bartering… Still, let me assure you, dear reader: The whisky is out there. If you really want it and can afford it, you will find it.

The Whisky

The Glen Keith Distillery is younger than me. It was built by Seagram’s across the Isla River from the Strathisla Distillery, which they also owned, and not far from the Aultmore, Strathmill and Glentauchers distilleries, on the site of an old corn mill in Keith, country Banffshire. It was intended to turn out malt for Chivas Regal, Passport and other blends. First opened in 1958 – the same year as Tormore, to which it has similarities – it was the first distillery to use computers and direct gas-firing of the stills. Mothballed by Seagram’s in 1999 – six years after the whisky here under review was distilled – it was purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2001 and reopened with an annual capacity of 6,000,000 liters of pure alcohol on June 14, 2013. There has only ever been one official distillery bottling, of a 10 year old in 1994.

This Classic Cask single cask bottling was distilled in 1993 and bottled – one of 270 bottles from cask #136 – at an ABV of 46 percent, 20 years later in 2013. Like all of this independent’s offerings, this whisky is untainted by E150a and un-chill-filtered.

Nose

If a lemon went to bed one night and woke up next morning as a melon (anagramized, you might say), this is exactly how it would smell. But there’s far more going on here than only that. I get weathered cedar hope chest out in a pear orchard, pear-flavored hard candy and just the faintest trace of Speyside solvent. I also get celery salt on almonds, pencil shavings, lemon oil polish, overripe honeydew and dusty dried dark fruit skins. There is also, as my friend Marco pointed out and I later confirmed, a mild breeze of Earl Grey Tea rising from the glass. And though this may not be proper whisky blog etiquette (is there such a thing as whisky blog etiquette?), I must say this particular Classic Cask potion presents itself to the nose in a manner very reminiscent of some of my favorite Speyside bottlings from The Creative Whisky Co.’s The Exclusive Malts range – of their 29 year old cask strength Tormore in particular. The similarities are these: There is a direct citric freshness and a startling prominence of very clean, tight, still vigorous barley malt despite decades of maturation; also fresh oak and melon scents and a patient (reluctant?) unfolding of olfactory riches. These whiskies seem to be testing you, scrutinizing your every gesture to discover if you will give them the time and focus they require. If you do, this startling Glen Keith will reward you handsomely. In my experience, this is a perfect Speyside nose; slowly, little by little, dispensing its many treasures. (25/25)

Palate

The malt on the palate is prominent but more mellow and rounded than on the nose. This is where two decades of patient maturation in a decent cask (a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, I suspect) pay off. The pleasantly oily body carries expressive soft spice along the sides and center of the tongue, never becoming forceful or sharp or overpowering. Honeydew melon peeks through the spice and malt sweetness, as does a mild, refined chocolate note that I didn’t expect. The other sweet here seems to be a mild vanilla frosting with just the faintest whisper of caramel. Dark dried fruits – dates, perhaps – seem to be calling from the distance, but they can’t quite distinguish themselves from the more conspicuous malt and spice. (24/25)

Finish

Splendid, rounded, mellow malt, mild chocolate, some oaky tannins and a patient blooming of spices at the back of the tongue that slowly cascades down into the throat to warm and stimulate the upper chest. Long, but not overly long, and not very complex, but a fine finish that does nothing wrong. (22/25)

Balance/Structure

There is both a tight, clean structure to this whisky and a very even and inviting balance overall. The arc of the experience it offers is smooth and pleasing, soaring highest at the beginning with the nose and descending slightly to the palate and finish, never exposing a significant lack or blemish or falling below outstanding. It is quite thrilling, truth be told, and one of the best Speyside whiskies I’ve ever had. (24/25)

glenkeith use
Total points for this whisky: 95

Many thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer at Spirit Imports for the samples.

Afterword: A Note on Presentation

I don’t usually complain about such things and I would never add or subtract points because of the aesthetic appearance of the packaging of a bottle of whisky, but the current presentation of The Classic Cask line, in my opinion, could be better. The shape of the bottle says wine, not whisky, and the layout of the label (informative, printed in legible fonts and appealing colors, I’ll give them that) looks like it was done entirely on a computer using an old version of Adobe Illustrator – with no consultation, evidently, with a trained designer or visual artist. And they shamelessly send their whisky out as such without a tube or box to keep it hidden in. I really don’t like it when my whiskies are without a tube or box to hide and protect them! Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is a line of very good whiskies – the one under review here is of stunningly good quality – but, when the nose, palate, finish and balance are as good as they are in this instance, a reviewer like myself feels the need to find something to complain about. I chose the whisky’s presentation.

Icarus in a Bottle: The Classic Cask’s 1989 Bunnahabhain 24 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

icarus9In Greek myth, Icarus was the son of the master inventor Daedalus. When Icarus and his father are about to attempt an escape from Crete with wings that Daedalus constructed from feathers, twine and wax, the father warns his son first of being too complacent and then of pride, what the Greeks called “hubris”. Do not, daddy Daedalus told his son, fly too low, nor too high, because the sea’s dampness would weigh the wings down or the sun’s heat would melt the wax holding the wings together. Icarus ignored his father’s instruction not to fly too close to the sun and the melting wax caused his wings to disintegrate and Icarus to fall into the sea, where he drowned. Yes, this has something to do with the whisky here under review.

The Whisky

Oily in appearance when rolled in the glass, this elixir is a vibrant, brassy color, like soft, pure gold hammered so thin it becomes translucent. Like all the whiskies in The Classic Cask line (in my experience, anyway), this whisky is from a single cask, un-chill-filtered, untainted by the deceits of E150a and bottled at an ABV of 46 percent. Despite a couple of tastes and aromas that hint vaguely at a bit of sherry maturation, I suspect this juice was aged for it’s entire 24 years in a second- or third-fill ex-bourbon hogshead.

Nose

Juniper berries dipped in varnish and then rolled in watermelon flavored Kool-Aid powder. Below that, the compelling aromas of banana cream pie, a nutty maltiness and vanilla butter, if there is such a thing. There’s the ghost of an almost sour astringency, as if the person next to you bit into the white of a watermelon rind. The ghosts of peat and smoke are even farther off and more diaphanous. I get just a touch of rose water, too, and, above that, an approaching field of heather and carnations (we are driving through the country with the top down, evidently). Also some whole grain bread in there, last Saturday’s cut grass, and cookie dough – but cookie dough for which the recipe substituted lime juice in place of water. Quite a broad and diverse yet enjoyable sojourn across the olfactory bulbs… (23/25)

Palate

The warm and luxurious, mouth-coating light maple sugar sweetness of the delivery here may be the best I’ve ever experienced. For at least a few seconds after you take a sip, as this potion covers and coats the tongue, this is the best whisky you ever had. Anything this opulently perfect can’t last, of course, but that delivery may be worth the price of admission to this entire show. I sipped and sipped and sipped and sipped to keep experiencing that sumptuous few seconds of velvety tongue-bliss over and over and over again, as if I’d found a tiny fountain of splendiferous oral pleasures… And after those repeatable few seconds of heaven pass, you’re still in good territory, but now you’re back down on a recognizable planet. There is a whole grain bready wholesomeness to this second act, which is followed by alternating waves of malt and maple sugars. The nuttiness is still there, and just the slightest hint of nutty astringency along with a nice fluid saltiness and just enough spice to engage the back of the tongue. (24/25)

The Finish

Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe… Everything was going so well before this! Have I somehow swallowed a whisky other than the one that had just been bathing my tongue with such purring pleasures? I fear that isn’t the case. Beautiful Icarus, once again, has flown too close to the sun! Those ghostly whispers of astringency in the nose and palate become fully incarnate and unmistakable here. The malty sweetness is still present, but it is coupling with a pronounced bitterness. Are these oak wood tannins getting out of hand after 24 years? Yes, very likely, but that’s not exactly how this strikes me. It’s more a dance of sweetness and astringency and astringency is either a better dancer – winking at bitterness all the while – or it is just more noticeable because of the wondrous, complex waves of sweet one was experiencing just seconds before. It’s the contrast here that disappoints – this is really not all that bad a finish, but it is distinctly sub-par relative to the broad arc of complexity in the nose and the near perfection of the palate. And the spice becomes an assertive, radiating burn that swells and then fades rather quickly, leaving an astringent maltiness to slowly lose its luster at the back of the tongue. (18/25)

Balance/Structure

What can I say? This experience was like listening to a grand symphony being played almost to perfection when, suddenly, in the final measures, half the orchestra fumbles and drops its instruments to the floor. Yes, the rest of the musicians play on beautifully, but that’s just not sufficient to save the performance as a whole. Or, you might say this was like a ride in a splendid vehicle on a splendid day though a splendid park that ends with a fender-bender. Does that cancel and negate the pleasures of the full ride? No, of course not. Would I seek out and buy a bottle of this whisky? Yes, if only to re-experience that warm, soft, lavish delivery again and again. Should you seek out and buy a bottle? How can I say? I don’t know if your palate would respond as mine did – nor do I know that the awkwardness and bitterness in the finish would disappoint you as it disappointed me. I am very pleased that I got to try this whisky because it has given me a new touchstone for delivery. For all the pleasure it gives, I cannot judge it too harshly. (21/25)

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Total points for this whisky: 86

Many thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer at Spirit Imports for the samples.

Intoxicating Harmony: The Creative Whisky Co.’s The Exclusive Blend 21 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140606_010903_854~2All of the top Scotch whisky brands, at both entry level and prestige pricing, are blends. And blends account for at least 90% of sales in the entire Scotch whisky industry. You’ve already been told this a thousand times by Scotch ambassadors and reps, typically during tastings at which blended Scotches are nowhere in sight – because blends aren’t “unique” like single malts, and blends are old fashion, a drink for “squares,” for stodgy old bankers, neo-conservative ideologues, aspiring corner office mangers or other well-dressed capitalists. And blends are “light” and “smooth” and “round” and thus, surely, less manly and freethinking than the craggy potencies of our dear monadic single malts.

The exceptions to this rule among independent bottlers would include Meadowside Blending, whose ambassadors whet your whistle with a splash of their appealing Royal Thistle blend before hunkering down to more serious fare with their excellent but pricey The Maltman line, and the subject of this review: The Exclusive Blend 21 Year Old from The Creative Whisky Co., best known in this country for its consistently exceptional The Exclusive Malts line of single cask, cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies. In this case, The Exclusive Blend is not trotted out as an appetizer to prepare the palate for the “real” (i.e., the single malt) entrées; rather, at both Exclusive Malts tastings I’ve attended, The Exclusive Blend was offered as an equal to the other bottles in the line – which is, I contend, as it should be.

The Whisky

This blended Scotch whisky consists of 80% malt whiskies and 20% grain, all of them distilled in 1991 and matured in oak ex-sherry casks for 21 years. It has been bottled with an ABV of 46%, is un-chill-filtered and untainted by the mendacious E150a caramel coloring. I have searched extensively to discover the constituent whiskies making up this blend, but I can find nothing on the subject. Still, why not hazard a guess? I suspect this is made up primarily, if not exclusively, of Speyside malts. My first guess would be Tormore, with perhaps some Braeval or Glen Moray, maybe a spoonful of Mortlach and just a dropper of Auchroisk for spice. Maybe some Longmorn or Glenlivet for dressing? If there is a non-Speyside whisky involved, I’ll conjecture that it may be Clynelish – a northern Highland whisky just across the Moray Firth from Speyside. I could be completely wrong about all of this, of course, and I probably am…

The Nose

First impression: I’m getting whiffs of the classic Speyside battle between solvent and pear drop aromas, but the pear drops are winning. There’s a sweet but dry maltiness that I like. Dried apple, dried pear, banana chips, all floating in a glass of cream soda. There is also a breeze of oaky, nutty rancio coming from this elixir’s long stay in an ex-sherry cask – which I suspect, based on the golden amber hue, was neither a first fill nor a nearly exhausted refill butte, but rather something that still had much, but not too much, to offer the whisky inside it. In any case, the longer you keep your nose over the glass, the more prominent the influence of the wine appears to be. Not that this is by any means a so-called sherry bomb – it isn’t. The sherry is one constituent aroma, not a bully pushing other fragrances back. There is also just a hint of sulfur here – I’m not Jim Murray, so that doesn’t even begin to blemish this whisky for me – and also a very, very slight, ghostly presence of smoke that makes me suspect there could be, just maybe, perhaps, more than a dribble of Craigellachie (yup, that’s another Speyside malt) blended into the mix here. (23/25)

The Palate

There’s a malty sugary center to this, as in many Speysides, but it is modified in one direction here by a cool candy apple caramel creaminess and in another direction by a mild but fulsome spice – a mix of nutmeg, black pepper, hot pepper and oaky tannins that slowly but surely grows in prominence. This is all very nicely balanced with dried apricots, Brazil nuts and tamarind, giving every part of the tongue a flavor partner to dance with. I wish this potion were a bit thicker and creamier, but perhaps that’s because some of the flavors here remind me of thicker, creamier malts – Glencadam, for example (an eastern Highland malt that shares some characteristics with Speyside). (22/25)

The Finish

There are two ways to look at this. If you swallow this blend soon after pouring it past your lips, the mild but fulsome spice broadens and intensifies after you’ve swallowed, so you get to taste the malty nutty caramel cream before the spice overwhelms it. If you allow the whisky to linger on the tongue for very long, however – as long, say, as a whisky blogger who is tasting for review and thus savoring the savory juice a bit longer than your average anorak might – the spice and heat soon become more prominent than the other flavors and an important element of the finish is cut short. But I don’t want to overemphasize this. The spice and heat here are more than tolerable – they are elemental and are long and lingering enough to allow some discrimination among the flavors of the spice itself. And, in the end, the overall effect is very warming, which to me is essential. (21/25)

Balance/Structure

This tastes more like single malt than any other blend I’ve ever tasted, including vatted malts. Every element is so well integrated with every other – perhaps because they all come from the same region of Scotland? a region called Speyside? if that is even a little true? – that you spend your time with it savoring the whole rather than tripping over the parts. And though the finish gave me a little trouble due to the way I drink whisky – very slowly, savoring every sip – I think the seamless integration of the several elements that went into making this blend is evidence of real mastery of the blender’s art. If, like me, your diurnal dram is nearly always – as in 99.5% of the time – a single malt Scotch whisky, this 21 year old Exclusive Blend may blow your mind; short of that, it will definitely change your mind about a huge portion of the Scotch whisky universe you thought might never appeal to you. This is truly a blend for the single malt connoisseur. (24/25)

Total points for this whisky: 90

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If you’re already a fan of this blend or of other whiskies in The Exclusive Malts line, feast your eyes on this photo to the left, a little glimpse into the very near future… Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages.

Harmonious blending…

The Arc of Life in Amber: The Classic Cask’s 1991 Glencadam 22 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the path of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours.

So said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I would add: And to a very few bottles.

The combined genius of raw materials – water, malted barley, yeast and oak – and of time, and of the skills and patience of craftsmen and masters distillers, sometimes contract into bottles of fine whisky – a distillation of geniuses, you might say. I could go on and on about this alchemy-like process, but I want to get straight on to the whisky at hand from a distillery I’ve never had the chance to try before. I leave you, dear reader, to discover the possible connections between life, whisky and transcendentalism suggested by that Emerson quote. Just know that the story and the answers you seek may be right there in your glass.

The Whisky

The Glencadam distillery is in the Eastern Highlands, not far from Speyside, and that is manifest in this whisky’s straddling of the two districts. It is reminiscent of some Speysiders I’ve had – better Linkwoods and Tormores, for example – but also of some of its closer neighbors such as Fettercairn and Glen Garioch. This is not to say it doesn’t stand on it’s own with an individualism that distinguishes it from other malts; it just shares, as most whiskies do, some general characteristics of its region like an overall brightness and lightness and a fresh lemon-grassiness, especially on the nose. It was once, and may still be, a constituent of the Ballantine’s and Stewart’s Cream of the Barley blends. This particular expression, from Spirit Imports’ The Classic Cask range, gains significantly in individualism by being bottled from a single cask filled in 1991 and matured – expertly, I’d say – for 22 years. It is presented with an ABV of 46%, is un-chill-filtered and untinted by the deceitful E150a. So, we’re off to a very good start…

Nose

Wowza! This is effusively fragrant stuff! Fresh mown grass, lemon zest, strawberry jam, fresh celery and sliced green peppers. When first poured, I got a whiff of Play-Doh – not a bad smell, but it dissipated within a few minutes anyway. Then there arose an olfactory air show of delectable creams: Strawberry cream filling, lemon cream filling, mint cream as you might find it in a Viscount Peppermint Patty (without the chocolate, however). There are salted almonds and pear juice and maybe just a hint of graham cracker. Fresh, involving, compelling, delightful. This is well-made, well-tended whisky; that, at least, is what the nose suggests. Water brings out more maltiness and something unspecifically floral. (23/25)

Palate

Warm and creamy, which is a combination I love. Tight, bright malt surrounded by warm sugar cookie crumbles, a touch of overripe cantaloupe, almond cream or perhaps a less specific creamy nuttiness, or Brazil nuts, maybe, shelled and piled like eggs in a grassy nest. There is a mild taste that is hard to pin down, something like chewing gum once you’ve chewed all the flavor out of it. More distinct than that, there is the luscious taste of butter pecan ice cream – but warm and without the pecans! Good stuff. Water brings out more oaky spice, more malty sweetness and, uh, a quick trace of what struck me for a moment as ozone; still, a few drops of water did not diminish the creaminess of this elixir whatsoever. (22/25)

Finish

Long and lingering, like spiced, melted butter. It courses down the throat and massages the heart with soft, warm fingers. While there are traces of oaky tannins passing through like frightened, bashful, elusive ghosts, this is, I think, the most mouthwatering finish I’ve ever experienced. So, so good! Water brings out more spice and a thin, slight but surprising whiff of iodine. (23/25)

Balance/Structure

This is well-made whisky – that is obvious in every aspect of it. The cask, which I assume was a refill American oak hogshead, was evidently tight and firm despite previous use. The balance here between nose, palate and finish follows an arc that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in such a clearly defined manner before. The nose is all freshness and delight, offering up the best aspects of youth with all its fresh sliced peppers, celery, lemon zest, fresh-cut grass and pear juice among bakery and confectionary creams. The palate starts to bring in age with its creaminess and warmth, overripe cantaloupe, nuts and nut creams; you might say the palate is middle aged. The finish, long and lingering, easy on the throat, heart-warming and mouthwatering, has the comfort and easiness of age about it. Three stages of life in one potion. I have made these judgments, by the way, based on my experience of this whisky without water. Water didn’t diminish this nice old Highlander, but I preferred it at its bottled strength of 46%. (23/25)

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Total points for this whisky: 91

Many thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer at Spirit Imports for the samples.

Warm Kisses from the Bride of Frankenstein: Cadenhead’s 1996 Ben Nevis 17 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

188384When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I would often go outside in the middle of winter with no more than a t-shirt or a short-sleeve cotton shirt on my back, telling myself that cold is just a feeling, just a sensation, and that any discomfort it caused could be willed away if one’s volition could be sufficiently steeled against nature – that is, if one’s will were manly and strong enough. I still felt cold, but I told myself I wasn’t cold and, now that I think back on it, I didn’t really suffer any ill consequences from dressing as I did in weather that called for warmer clothing. Eventually, however, thanks to something that might be called maturity (or maybe I just stopped reading so much Nietzsche and Max Stirner), I relinquished seeing every reality as a challenge to be overcome; I no longer considered a winter coat a sign of weakness or gullibility.

Which may or may not have something to do with this whisky.

As I look at my notes, I don’t see many descriptors for appealing aromas and tastes; yet my experience with this whisky was quite positive overall. It wasn’t as if one odd characteristic was masking another, either – the aromas and tastes, if noted, were present and discernable.

So, did I just refuse to be repulsed by, say, the aroma of petroleum jelly, or the taste of musk and meat drippings on cardboard, the way I used to refuse to acknowledge the cold? Was I trying to bend reality by liking this whisky despite its conglomerated oddnesses?

I don’t think so. Rather, I’d say, overall, that this is an unusual whisky that manages to balance unexpected and, on the face of it, undesirable elements into some sort of pleasing harmony.

The Whisky

This is a 17 year old single cask Ben Nevis distilled in 1996, matured in a refill bourbon hogshead and bottled in 2013 at cask strength, giving it an ABV of 55.2%. It has a rather stunning medium gold color and appears very oily in the glass, coating the sides and forming very slow, sultry rivulets. Provocative and alluring to the eye…

The Nose

Here’s where things start to (seemingly) go awry. The first aroma one picks up is salted caramel, but that soon becomes salted ham. There are raisons and dates, chocolate, taffy and a savory salt, but there is also an oaky musky spice that is almost feline in character. Hard to believe, but, believe it or not, this is not hard to take in the olfactory sense. It fits somehow. And just as weird, I get the smell of petroleum jelly. This is all rounded off with stone fruits, especially apricots, and gentle wafts of curry, but curry divorced from its wonted fire. All in all, one of the most unusual noses I’ve encountered, but somehow it works. Imagine going to a theatre and seeing a stage full of more or less misshapen people of many odd shapes and sizes who nonetheless have been beautifully choreographed and who all know their parts in the dance very well. That’s what the nose on this whisky is like. (23/25)

The Palate

Cardboard on which the meaty juices of hamburgers being basted with an organic musk cologne have dripped. You also get wood, oak, but not too-long-in-the-cask oak woodiness – just a nice oaky taste mixed with a moderate measure of malty sugars and a touch of tamarind. Also dried fruit, maybe those apricots again, but definitely stone fruits other than peaches. Almonds are thinly discernable, and a sense of leather as if it were suspended in the mouth without touching the tongue – something like that. This dance has fewer participants and they are a tad less practiced, but this is still a rich, enjoyable show. (22/25)

The Finish

Of medium length and moderately warming, with astringent leather and the taste of savory pineapple on grilled meat. As it goes along, the savory aspects linger as the malty sweetness dries. (21/25)

Balance/Structure

For some devoted whisky drinkers, a rich, multifarious nose is enough to carry a whisky; if that describes you, seek this whisky out immediately before it disappears. In terms of the balance and structure of the whole picture a whisky presents, however, the palate and finish, in my opinion, should make equal but distinctive contributions to the overall experience of the drink being savored. The problem with this 1996 Ben Nevis is that the nose is especially and unusually interesting while the palate, though very good, is less so. And the finish has the least of all to say. Still, I enjoyed drinking this whisky. It’s just that the palate and especially the finish were not as compelling as the oddly alluring nose caused one to hope they would be. (20/25)

Total points for this whisky: 86

Check out the bottler: http://www.wmcadenhead.com/about-us

Many thanks to David Catania of Burke Distributing for the sample.

The Bride of Frankenstein (Elsa Lanchester): More alluring than you remembered?
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At least until she sings!