A Few Precious Sips of Kubla Khan: A.D. Rattray’s 34 Year Old Cask Strength Glenlivet 1978 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140522_222233_594The great, too little read Robert Browning, in his poem “Andrea del Sarto” from the collection Dramatis Personae, has the painter speak this line:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

Something about this single malt, the very small amount I received and the manner in which I received it, calls that line to mind, especially the concept of a reach exceeding its grasp. You sip and savor here of this golden, nigh perfect elixir, in awe of the focused drive behind the long patience exhibited in all those years of attentive maturation. I feel I have exceeded my grasp by taking so much time with so little juice that I have become profoundly smitten with a potion I will likely never see nor taste again. And the attendants to this wondrous water of life, drawn in and mesmerized as I was, no doubt, may have unintentionally allowed this whisky’s reach to exceed, just slightly, its grasp on time. There’s an oakiness in the palate and finish here that suggests this liquid marvel might have been better served if bottled one or two or a few years earlier than it was. But, still, this is exceedingly fine, grand stuff.

I came into possession of a few sips of this long-oaked sunshine thanks to the wondrously generous David Catania of Burke Distributing in Randolph, MA. Invited to his office, which is basically three walls of booze-laden shelves and one wall of illustrations, explanations and calendric prognostications, all pertaining to the spirits industry, I spotted, among many like it, the nearly empty sample bottle of this single malt – labeled simply “Glenlivet 34yr 106.4pf” – and asked about it. “It’s really wonderful,” David said: “Take it, but wait until tonight and take your time to savor it”. After sampling many and sundry spirits, with David enthusiastically elucidating each one’s reason for being there, I did just that – I went home, carefully poured the contents of the sample bottle into a Glencairn glass, arranged my pen and pad, sat back and eagerly took my time…

Nose

Oily in the glass. Medium gold in color. Firm, fine malt and a malty sugar sweetness, honeysuckle in a flower patch, vanilla, peach, mango, apricot, strawberries and blueberries in fresh warm cream with some very fine sugar dusted on top, and the dusty sweetness and minty-ness of a pulverized wintergreen Necco Wafer. These, I’m sure, are just the first chapter of the tome this nose has to offer, and yet, with thirty minutes or so elapsed, so little in my glass and my mouth watering in yearning anticipation, I recklessly push on…

Palate

Surprisingly powerful with conspicuous oak, an elegant maltiness and candied lemon up front. There is also a pleasing flow of vanilla and wildflower honey blending with malt sugar and nicely balanced but mild floral, fruity, waxy tastes.

Finish

The finish is long and warm with pronounced oaky woodiness, wax, thin honey, rose petals, some kind of nut oil (not peanut) and lemon and orange zest for spice.

To offer a confident take on balance and structure would really require more juice in my glass. I will say there was a nice arc from the gloriously multi-faceted nose to the powerfully pleasing palate to the long, warm, satisfying finish, with surprises and new discoveries at each turn. The woody oak, present in the palate and unmistakable on the finish, was not by any means a fatal flaw. If I saw a bottle of this rare potion and had sufficient funds available to me, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The woodiness and waxiness, from what was probably a year or two or three or four of over-maturation, manifests more as curiosity than blemish. Overall, this is a profoundly interesting, quality whisky and I highly recommend it.

Rattray Glenlivet 34
Check out the bottler: http://www.adrattray.com

Many thanks to the generous, very personable and well-informed David Catania of Burke Distributing.

Whisky Para Torcedores: The Exclusive Malts 2005 Laphroaig 8 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EM_Laphroaig_8The best Islay whisky I’ve ever drunk – thanks to Bikram at Norfolk Wine & Spirits – was the 25 year old cask strength Laphroaig distillery bottling released in 2011. Truly magnificent. The Ardbeg Day, a cask strength Caol Ila and a couple of Lagavulins came close, but all fell short of the experience of that stunningly complex, perfectly balanced Laphroaig 25.

While the drink before me doesn’t approach that experience, that doesn’t mean it isn’t excellent. It is, and at less than one-fifth the price of that magnificent 25.

I am reviewing a sample of a Laphroaig from The Creative Whisky Co.’s line of single cask, cask strength bottlings called The Exclusive Malts. I have tried and purchased and enjoyed many of these releases and I have never, not once, been disappointed. Admittedly, I’ve never had their Dailuaine 21 that reviewers exhibit such a lack of enthusiasm for, but everything I have had has been at least very good and typically, like tonight’s sample, excellent. The Creative Whisky Co. is certainly one of the best independents out there.

The Whisky

It’s funny what one can achieve with a phrase. I could say this potion is the color of flat Narragansett beer – or, rather, the color of Listerine Original – and you probably wouldn’t be very impressed. If I changed my perspective, however, and wrote that this whisky is the color of young gold, a poetic but meaningless phrase, you would probably be somewhat more impressed. Be that as it may, all three phrases describe the same color and that is the color of this whisky.

As with all of the single malt Scotch whiskies in The Exclusive Malts’ line, this is non-chill-filtered, untainted by E150, drawn from a single cask and bottled at cask strength – in this case, an ABV of 55.9%. It was distilled in March 2005 and bottled September 2013 at 8 years old from Cask # 484, one of 229 bottles.

At such a high ABV, it is no surprise that this liquor coats the glass like glue, nor that the rivuleting legs, once they begin, descend at a dreamy, languorous pace. Very promising. Let’s see…

Nose

This is young Laphroaig and, to some extent, that is exactly what it smells like. You have that hot macadam peat smokiness and salt, wet clove and seaweed, wood polish and iodine – scents you would very likely pick up if it were the distillery’s own cask strength 10 year old under your nose. At the same time, however, this is quite different. Though of a high ABV, it doesn’t stab the sinus passages. The malt itself is very fresh and forward and there is an allspice sparkle crackling under the clove. As in most Laphroaigs, there is very little sweetness apparent in the aroma, but here there is unripe banana, a restrained but fructose-like borderline sweetness. The oak of the ex-bourbon hogshead makes its olfactory appearance as a pile of oak sawdust. Think campfire on the beach with a woman wearing some kind of exotic musk perfume and rolling her own cigarette from a fresh pack of tobacco. Add a bit of water – not too much – and you get musky apples behind a beachfront tobacconist shop as the proprietor polishes her oak cabinets inside. This whisky’s youth is manifest in a bold, unflinching freshness that is not marred by even a breath of immature spiritiness. Full and exciting, especially undiluted. (22/25)

Palete

Wow! This is like rolling liquefied Cuban cigar smoke around in your mouth – so bold and yet so smoky and round! This is a wholly new expression of peat in my experience. There’s a nice oily body that seduces you to keep at it and, when you do, you get the sense that you might – and I mean this in the most positive sense possible – that you might be chewing salted leather. Tanned with tobacco and tar oil. Still, this is not without a sweeter element; it isn’t banana anymore – mango or some other exotic fruit perhaps. Add a dropper of water and the malt lifts its head above the tobacco and tar oil and offers you a warm, orange-zested cookie. Take it! (23/25)

Finish

All’s well that ends well, as the poet wrote, and to end well here I suggest you add a bit of water to this fearsome elixir. Like nearly all Laphroaigs – even the 40% ABV 10 year old – this can be a bit hot on the throat. Add a dollop of water to this expression, however – just enough to bring it down to, say, an ABV in the high 40s/low 50s – and the heat becomes sufficiently tamed to permit full appreciation of the integration of several elements that have appeared before: Peat, certainly, and malt and salt, but now everything is mellower, warmer, sweeter, even fruitier. The concluding spice mix is warm clove and nutmeg. The burn, with water, is much more subtle, and it’s long and warm and, as a final surprise, it leaves you with something butter-pastry-like on the tongue. I wasn’t expecting that at all. (22/25)

Balance/Structure

I enjoyed – savored, even – every aspect of this whisky. And if I weren’t paying such close attention I’d say it all hung together quite well. However, I did pay close attention and some structural problems, one in particular, became apparent between the nose, palate and finish. There was no smooth arc from one aspect to the other because – and this was its primary and only significant problem – some parts of the experience were better with water (especially the finish) and others better without it. A gobbet of water diminished the nose but improved the finish. As much as I liked this whisky, that’s an imbalance. Still, my advice to you, if you generally like Laphroaig releases, or like powerful but rich whisky experiences, is that you find this, buy it, share it with friends and savor it. Who knows – one of you may find the magic number of water drops per dram that can snap it all together like Arthur Ganson’s Little Yellow Chair. (21/25)

Total points for this whisky: 88

Check it out: http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts

Little Yellow Chair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFG-Lk9c2CI

Thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia – and to Bikram at Norfolk Wine & Spirits – for the samples.

Torc

The Serenity of Wow: The Classic Cask 1975 Dallas Dhu 28 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

IMG_20140501_143658_049~2This is good whisky, with a very long ooooooo between the g and the d. This whisky does so much right, it’s difficult to gauge – you want to put your damn pen down so you can freely and patiently drink and savor. This is a wondrous gift to the whisky drinker, granted by all of the people involved in its pilgrimage from the now long-gone Speyside distillery, where it was put into cask in 1975, to the XV Beacon Hotel in Boston, for whom The Classic Cask bottled this delectable potion for hotel guests, exclusively, nearly three decades later, to the esteemed little liquor store where I found this gem, ten years after it was bottled, in a small glass case I had neglected to look into on previous visits. I promise you this: I will find more of this elixir and, when I do, I’ll buy it and share it with friends. Anything this odd and enticing needs to be experienced by those who can and will appreciate it.

To stay on task and to keep myself from savoring aimlessly, I enlisted a friend of long experience and acute sensibilities in the whisky realm to join me in this endeavor of assessment. He wants his whisky reviewer moniker to be “Indy” – exactly why, I don’t recall. Regardless, he’s a good man to sit down with me to share and savor this rare, sumptuous find. I should say that Indy knew nothing of this bottle before he arrived; he had no idea he was to be deployed to Dallas Dhu duty immediately upon his arrival. In the end, however, as it turned out, Indy didn’t mind.

The Whisky

Exactly what this is is a bit of a mystery. Distilled at the Dallas Dhu distillery in the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands in 1975, a cask (or more?) evidently ended up being bottled for the XV Beacon Hotel in Boston – a very classy, luxurious, boutique establishment built in 1903 and converted to hotel use in 1999. The 28 year old juice was reduced to 43% ABV and bottled in 2004. Oddly, it was put into both standard 750ml bottles – for the hotel bar, perhaps – and 375ml hip-flask style glass pint bottles with aluminum screw caps –for sale to patrons to take to their luxury suites, no doubt.

The Dallas Dhu distillery was closed in 1983 and three years later converted into a museum by Historic Scotland. Much farther back in time, in the XIIIth century, a man associated with the Church of Saint Michael, located in the region where the distillery was later built (in 1899), changed his name from William de Ripley to William de Dallas – why, nobody seems to know. Nonetheless, one descendent of this early Scotsman leant his name to the distillery, while another, a George Mifflin Dallas, became the 11th Vice President of the United States under James K. Polk. The city of Dallas, Texas was named for that one in 1845. All of which is interesting for about the length of time it takes to write it out, and has nothing to do with the quality of this whisky.

Appearance

A pale gold, like a field of young barley at noon on a sunny day. Makes one suspect this was put into a refill bourbon cask for its slow, 28 year development. It grips the glass when swirled in one, with patient rivulets forming and running at a rather slow, sensual speed. Nothing wrong here, nothing at all, but there’s really barely a whisper of a hint of the splendors to come. Should that be admired? Hard to decide, hence the fraction… (7.5/10)

Nose

Indy’s first impression was melon. Mine was watermelon. I also sensed his melon, one of the cantaloupe variety, but only under that scent of watermelon one gets from watermelon-flavored candies, especially gums with gooey centers. Indy didn’t get this. He did get something flowery, which I did not. In any case, simultaneously, Indy and I both picked up a rather unexpected aroma: I said Gin & Tonic, Indy said Evergreen, then we both said Juniper! I also got lemon-lime where Indy got orange, but at least we agreed there was something citrusy at work. We also agreed there was a somewhat botanical undertone to the nose here, a very pleasant one, and a light honey sweetness comingling with a stunning, firm and fragrant maltiness that caused the mouth to water in anticipation of what promised to be a glorious ride on the tongue. (19/20)

Palate

This spirit has so much flavor, I don’t regret that it was reduced to a 43% ABV. Would it be better at 50% or at cask strength? Perhaps, but this whisky is so flavorful at its current strength, these thoughts never occurred to Indy or me while we were busy with our task of assessment.

Our individual analyses of the palate were very similar, with one exception: Indy said he could taste the Body of Christ… Well, what he actually said was he was getting the unleavened qualities of a communion wafer in the taste. I had already noted the taste of waffle, which is in some ways similar, though more reminiscent of a motel lobby in Atlanta than of an altar call at a Catholic church in, say, Billerica, MA. Be that as it may, we were both very impressed with the quality of the malt here, with a sweet, slightly peppery oakiness, with the citrus now less pronounced than in the nose but, like yesterday’s rain in a landscape, never quite out of sight. The honey sweetness, too, was ever present, but without being cloying in the least; a wildflower honey, perhaps, or, better, a heather or comb honey. All of this combining to make fulsomely manifest the promise of the nose. (19/20)

Finish

There is a real sparkle to the finish, as the honey sweetness fades to a delightful, diluted nectar. And the spice, though still mild, cranks up a bit to help the wondrous malt dissolve on the tongue into a very rounded, gin-like-drying (“slow” tannins, so to speak, and quinine?), moderately long and warming finish with just the slightest hint of licorice at the end. Mouthwatering in a sensual, almost erotic way. (19/20)

Balance/Structure

The nose of this whisky is wonderful and it swims like a school of humming mermaids into a no-less wonderful palate and finish. This is very good stuff! The citrus fruit bite is perfectly balanced by the just-right honey sweetness; the firm, round old malt balanced expertly by the slender but scintillating juniper qualities and by a light peppery spark. Every roundness is met by a counterbalancing titillation and every quality indicating long maturation is met by a counterbalancing freshness. The result is a sophisticated single cask excursion that is, in my experience, about as good as it gets. (20/20)

The Quality of the Buzz

Here I must speak for myself. Indy had to drive home, so over-buzzing with excessive drammage of this alluring malt, though difficult to resist, had, by Indy, to be resisted. He drove off. I sat back down and poured another dram.

While some whiskies induce excessive vigor or sloppiness beyond a certain sum, others become more unflappably calming, more sensual, making one more prone to tranquility and broad imaginings, massaging a capacity to ride long trains of thought with attentive ease. While not stupefying in the least, this delightful Dallas Dhu falls into the latter category. It makes you comfortable, thoughtful, open and unguarded. And the buzz itself, the “high” one gets, is stunningly fine and finely pitched, like the motion of a hummingbird’s wings. When one pours a dram of whisky not simply to savor it but in pursuit of peace and rest, to unwind and uncoil into a frame of mind that eschews all the nagging pinpricks of the day, the buzz one gets from this Dallas Due is exactly what one is looking for. Yes, I’d say this is perfect. (10/10)

Total points for this whisky: 94.5

Check it out: http://www.spiritimportsinc.com/index2.php#!/THE_CLASSIC_CASK

A Dent in the Maybach Landaulet: The Exclusive Malts’ 2000 Dalmore 13 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140501_240009_786~2I’m not a big fan of The Dalmore with their excessive pricing of E150-laced, chill-filtered, low ABV, shamelessly over-hyped whiskies. I’ve met and spoken with Richard Paterson – quite a personality, both a hoot and a scholar, and unquestionably one of the most talented blenders alive – and I do like, but don’t like paying the price for, the Castle Leod, the Mackenzie and the Alexander III.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a line of whiskies out there that is as consistently stunningly good as the line of single cask bottlings from The Exclusive Malts, which are un-colored, un-chill-filtered, cask strength and, considering what you get for your money, fairly priced. I’ve liked every Exclusive Malts dram I’ve drunk and a few of them are among my favorite whiskies of all time.

So, this should be interesting…

The Whisky

Fun Fact 1: “Alexander Matheson, who founded Dalmore in 1839, was a partner in the famous Far East trading company, Jardine Matheson, established by the ‘shogun’ Willam Matheson, who made a vast fortune out of trading opium from China” (Charles MacLean, Whyskypedia, page 125). We can assume, therefore, that Dalmore was founded by folks with a deep and abiding concern for the pleasures of their fellow men.

Fun Fact 2: ‘Dalmore’ is not, like the names of most Scottish distilleries, derived from a Gaelic place name, word or phrase; rather, the word is Norse, meaning ‘big meadowland’.

The whisky under review here is, as suggested above, non-chill-filtered, untainted by E150, drawn from a single cask and bottled at cask strength. The ABV is 53.5 percent. Its color is hay or straw like and its slightly oily consistency makes for rather quick but alluring rivulets running down the sides of the glass.

Nose

The nose on this spreads like a big soft blanket over all the nasal concha at once. It’s like eating – with your nose – a banana-butterscotch sundae (whipped heavy cream, but no maraschino cherry) in a restaurant where the kitchen had a fire quenched the night before. Immediately, as distinct as the colors on a color chart, you get doused camp fire, butterscotch, banana and cream. A truly luscious nose. Go in a bit deeper and you get some caramel, orange blossom, dense, clean malt and salted nuts – salted almonds. So far, this nose is presenting like a royal flush. However – why does there always have to be a However? – there is something not quite right. I believe I know what it is, but, at first, I doubt myself: I smell my fingers, wash my hands and think back over the last week’s meals to be sure this aroma isn’t coming from something on or in or around me. Nope, it ain’t me or my surroundings – and it isn’t powerful or overwhelming in any way, not a deal-breaker in the least, but I swear I smell – shallots. Mild shallots. It’s not ruinous to the nose of this fine whisky, but it is just, just prominent enough to be palpably out of place. As you’ll see, this gets confirmed further into this savoring session, so the score will suffer a bit. However, add a wee bit of water and it is much diminished, with oak and a warm sugar cookie aroma coming to the fore. (20/25)

Palate

Powerful, pungent, slightly oily, the doused camp fire is de-emphasized here in favor of the butterscotch and savory almonds. The old smoke is there still, but on the palate it is more complimentary. There is a strong, delightful suggestion of vanilla cream wafer cookies. What I at first think is an odd, utter absence of fruit turns out to be dates, a handful of dates with maybe one dried cherry, all surely present but underlying the sweeter and more pungent aspects. There’s a bit of almond paste at cask strength, but add a bit of water and you also get the distinct taste of the Bit-O-Honey candy bar. Farther down in the taste profile, less prominent even than in the nose, taking the form of a very slight bitterness, those shallots again. It doesn’t ruin anything – it just doesn’t fit. (21/25)

Finish

Here, finally, even the remotest innuendo of shallots – diced, thriced or otherwise – has been banished. In fact, this is a long, warm, drying, softly spicy finish – a wonderful finish that leaves you with an almond candy wave goodbye! The spice is of the warming kind, sort of an allspice or rich mix of clove with a little cinnamon and maybe just a slight trace of ginger. Water makes it all a bit milder, but equally pleasurable to swallow. Yum. (23/25)

Balance/Structure

If that slight trace of ‘shallotry’ in the nose and palate were a bothersome frequency I could eliminate with some exacting multi-band equalizer, this whisky would score in the low- to mid-90s. Adding a very distinct smoke to the inherent richness and complex sweetness of character of the Dalmore juice is brilliant – and probably a telling look back at the profile of Dalmores from many decades past. And the move of the almond element from salted nut to almond paste to almond candy going from nose to palate to finish, respectively – well, that’s a beautiful thing. I wish I had another sample of this one, a bottle of my own or a generous friend with an open bottle so I could spend more time with it, just to be sure. If and when that happens – and I’m sure it will – I’ll write a little addendum to this review. (22/25)

Total points for this whisky: 86

Beware: This website can empty your pockets!
http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts

Thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia for the sample.