A Feast on Spice Island: The Creative Whisky Co.’s Exclusive Malts Auchroisk 2003 11 Year Old Single Cask Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EM Auchroisk 2003A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to somehow get my hands (and nose and palate and throat) on a sample of an older (17 year old? 30 year old? – alas, I don’t recall!) Auchroisk that was selected and bottled for the Exclusive Malts (or Exclusive Casks?) range but, if I am not mistaken, was never shipped to U.S. shores. It was big and woody and fruity and spicy – a mouthwatering marvel of a dram. This 11 year old from Exlusive Malts’ batch 7 does not quite measure up to the loftiness of that older gem, but all the same I did really savor and enjoy this new offering from my favorite independent bottler.

The Whisky

The Auchroisk Distillery is very young as Scotch whisky goes, built in Speyside in the County of Banff in 1972 to produce whisky for Justerini & Brooks’ J&B blend. The distillery first bottled a single malt in 1978 under The Singleton name. After a few more name changes, it became known in 2008 as The Singleton of Auchroisk but is now – though very rarely – bottled simply as Auchroisk. As usual, the Malt Madness site does a great job of introducing this rarely-bottled-as-a-single-malt whisky to those coming to it for the first time:

http://www.maltmadness.com/whisky/auchroisk.html.

This particular example of Auchroisk is, like all Exclusive Malts bottlings, unchillfiltered and untarnished by artificial coloring. The cask strength ABV is 56.4%.

Nose

Ginger bread and marshmallows in a carved oak bowl beside a cup of freshly brewed black coffee. Orange and lime peels in the long green grass beside a pile of pine boards left to dry in the open air. A newly oiled old leather mitt. Lemon drops. Candied ginger. A lime ricky spilled on a zink countertop – and there is an empty jar of cinnamon over in the corner somewhere. Beside a carved crystal glass of Oloroso sherry. Oddly: A new, just-opened box of metal screws. Indeed, this is more mineral than fruity organic, but there may be some atomized persimmon in the air above this dram to round out the somewhat sharper green and orange hints of citrus. (22/25)

Palate

Big, bold, malty and spicy with a nice oily mouth feel. Brings a candied ginger burn to the tongue, softened slowly by the sherry influence. Some very dark fruit here – fresh dates above all else – stewing in glutinous marmelade, but the sweetness is unusual – the old steel and iron machine that is used to package sugar, lets say, but not the sugar itself. There’s some citrus zing as well. And the taste of chewing oak staves – or rather the staves of an oldish sherry butt – something I’ve never done, of course, but that’s what this whisky brings to mind. (23/25)

Finish

Long and more spicy than sweet, as if you’d just chewed a mouthful of candied ginger. Any potential unfolding of complexities is overwhelmed by the gingery spice, which will be a problem for some palates and not for others. (21/25)

Overall Impressions

Though I truly enjoyed this sample, I would be excited to taste this promising elixir again after several more years in cask to discover if a prolonged maturation would curb the spice a bit. Personally, this whisky is just beyond the level of spiciness I would prefer – and still, I know very well I have friends with great palates who would disagree with me on that score. Truth be told, the bold spiciness here does not hold back the coffee, citrus, persimmon, oaky, winey and metallic qualities that also distinguish this single malt. Overall, a whisky I surely would not mind having around – I would no doubt visit it often. (22/25)

Total points for this whisky: 88

The Heart’s Cockles’ Heat: The Exlusive Malts’ 2000 Craigellachie 12 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140427_103934_395~2This distillery (with emphasis on the “ell” syllable) is completely new to me. I have learned that Craigellachie Distillery was built to take advantage of new railroads in 1891 on what is known as The Rock of Craigellachie in the Village of Craigellachie, not far from Thomas Telford’s elegant cast iron Craigellachie Bridge. The village is also home to the imposing Craigellachie Hotel, that itself houses the rather famous Quaich Bar, which stocks more than 700 malt whiskies. (I believe Craigellachie just rose to the top of my list of villages to visit along the River Spey!)

The Whisky

David Wishart writes that Craigellachie’s mash tun “is one of the most technically advanced in the industry, with continuous sparging, by which hot water is added continuously rather than in the traditional three batches. The arms move up and down while rotating and use a combination of rakes and blades to ensure maximum extraction of sugars.” That all makes it sound very modern, so it is good to know that “Craigellachie is one of the few distilleries to have retained traditional copper worm condensers” (see Whisky Classified, 2012 Edition, page 112). Wishart and others say this gives the Craigellachie juice a rich, sulphury character, but in this single cask expression – The Exclusive Malts’ Craigellachie 12 year old, untinted by any coloring, un-chillfiltered and bottled at a cask strength of 111.9 proof – there is richness galore and only the slightest, faintest wisp of sulphur. But I’m getting ahead of myself… The distillery did its own floor maltings until 1994 or 1997 (depends on who you read), so the whisky here at hand, bottled in the year 2000, was distilled after floor maltings had ceased.

Nose

At first, you don’t get a very broad redolence from this copper-amber, oily elixir, but give it time and its layers, slowly, begin to unfold. I get vanilla sugar icing, honeycomb, sweet lemon-orange glaze, new oak, sawn oak and those orange circus peanut confectionary treats that show up in bags around Halloween. There is also something very fresh and green, new moss with a small pinch of clove sprinkled on it, cantaloupe, sugar cookies, spearmint and just the slightest, not-unpleasant-in-the-least hint of sulphur. And, surprisingly, a brief, almost ghostly suggestion of smoke. Malt, the citrus, the sugar cookies and the vanilla icing become more prominent with water. This one is not very easy to disentangle and it’s a bit reticent, but take your time and make the effort and you will be pleasantly rewarded. (21/25)

Palate

Right away, I’m smitten. This has a beautifully full, oily mouthfeel. I taste wildflower honey, spelt, some spent-candle waxiness, a fresh mix of lemon and orange juice, sweet malt and a definite oakiness. There is also warm vanilla cake, Ak-Mak Armenian crackers, warm, pleasant spice, dried cherries and maybe some cherry juice. Adding a few drops of water dials down the sweetness – which wasn’t cloying to begin with – and emphasizes the oak, spelt and malty qualities. Truly a rich, satisfying dram. (24/25)

Finish

In any whisky, the one thing that usually gives me the most pleasure (if it is there), and thus the one thing I most hope to find, is a radiating, rich, soft-searing burn in the finish that goes all the way down to envelop the heart in its profligate, pleasant warmth – and here it is! The finish on this whisky hugs you like a loving, well-padded mama hugs her troubled child. It is long enough and warming with lots of oak and just a touch of peat smoke and some warming clove and a wonderful lack of harsh pepper or stinging cinnamon. Add a bit of water and just a bit of exotic (not black or white) pepper sneaks in. A deeply friendly dram. (24/25)

Balance/Structure

I have seen this whisky referred to as “muddled,” but I strongly disagree. While it may lack the clean, precise structure one often finds in these Exclusive Malts single cask bottlings, it is certainly not muddled. Slightly out of focus, perhaps? Or a bit fuzzy, like a thick cashmere sweater worn against the winds of a cold, cruel world? Yes, the nose is a bit niggardly, at least at first, so I suppose this potion is some distance from perfect, but it’s the kind of imperfection you might savor or smile about in a friend or lover. This whisky builds as you take your time with it, growing in quality from the nose to the richer palate and finish. I’ve already located a couple of bottles online and I’ll be ordering them in the morning. (22/25)

exmalts_craigellachieTotal points for this whisky: 91

This website makes me drool! http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts

A big thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia for the sample.

The Pleasures of Promise: Kilchoman’s 2007 Vintage Single Malt Scotch Whisky

14 - 1-1I first tried this at a tasting some time around the beginning of this year and I liked it – along with the Loch Gorm and Machir Bay expressions – enough to add them to my ever-growing “must buy this someday” list. (In truth, I only added two of them to my wish list that day because I took a bottle of the Machir Bay home.) Since then, stronger obsessions – can you say Campbeltown? Springbank? Glen Scotia? – raised their fair heads and interrupted my Kilchoman train of desire. Thus, I never got around to picking up the 2007 Vintage, nor the Loch Gorm. As luck would have it, in the first package of samples sent to me by the good people at ImpEx Beverages, a goodly sample of the 2007 was included. Thank you, Katia!

The Whisky

According to Kilchoman’s own website, the Vintage series of bottlings is “created from specially selected fresh and refill bourbon casks. The bourbon casks selected for the Vintage releases are some of the oldest we have maturing. Being matured exclusively in bourbon barrels gives these releases powerful peat smoked fruit on the nose and mouth-filling butterscotch and clove sweetness on the palette”. Sure enough.

The 2007 Vintage, at 6 years of age, is the oldest Kilchoman juice bottled to date. The ABV is 46 percent. It is natural color (a nice summer hay) and un-chillfiltered. I had the 5 year old 2006 Vintage last year and liked it, but this 2007 represents a leap in quality in my opinion. With this bottling, you get the sense that this distillery, always courageous and far-sighted, has really begun to come into its own. When I sip and savor the 2007 Vintage, as much as I enjoy it, I can’t stop myself from dreaming ahead four to six years to the 10 and 12 year old vintages. Those, I am confident, will be vintages truly worth celebrating.

A New Rating System for Samples

Because I am dealing with a smaller amount of the juice here than I am wont to drink in undertaking one of my more in-depth, fully indulgent and indulging reviews, I have decided to simplify my process, using four categories instead of my usual six.

Nose

Sootiness and a clean, bracing freshness combine as if by alchemy. Sweet peat smoke, sweet soot, sweet tar (or should I say, macadam) and bright, sweet oak rise and comingle with a lemon-minty honeysuckle cloud wafting on the salt sea air. Its youth is so sensual it makes me blush. Like a bag of seashells left in the back seat of a minivan parked beside a bonfire and only discovered the next day, smoky ocean scents float an ambience in which a broad assortment of aromas dwell. Hints of vanilla and butterscotch – not caramel – and an ethereal yet earthy spice I can’t quite place. And a wonderful, rather prominent interweaving of sweet butter and what my aroma kit refers to as balsamic hay – a delightful, provocative medley of nose-pleasuring scents. But that is not all the nose of this potion has to give. There’s a menthol quality that reminds me a bit of Vick’s VapoRub and a slight powdery quality that reminds me of Desonex foot spray. These are admittedly odd, but not detrimental, elements of the nose here. They are very slight, but, in this context, I actually enjoy them. I enjoyed identifying them as well (it’s good exercise, running from the whisky in my dining room upstairs to the medicine cabinet and back downstairs to the whisky again). Finally, there is that spice I can’t define. Yes, it’s a bit clove-like, as the distillery says, and also a bit ether-like, but, still, it is darker than that, earthy and herbal. Altogether a heady mix of treasures from the ocean deep all wrapped in the t-shirt of an arsonist running home on itchy feet past a lemon cart to treat his sinus congestion with vaporous salve from a little blue jar… Mmm-mmm good! (24/25)

Palate

On the tongue, several elements of the nose are referenced, but nearly always in a less pungent way. You get the peat and soot and smoke and salt – even a bit of campfire ash – but that complex amalgam that blossomed in the nose is less giving here, less present. There’s a trickle of buttery sweetness, some nectar, some malt, a good bit of lemon – enough strands to weave a wide wrist band, but it’s not nearly as compelling as the nose, from which you could weave a multi-family house. The mouth feel, too, is a bit thin. After the gloriously Gordian, cornucopia-like aromas rising from the glass, the impression made on the palate, while not quite a disappointment, is something like a disappointment. Still, it has a roundness to it that is surprising for a 6 year old whisky. And I appreciate the practical joke quality of imparting some ash on the palate after all the smoke in the nose… (21/25)

Finish

Unfortunately, more like the palate than like the nose. You get the peat and soot, some sweet oak spice with a bit of clove and pepper, but it’s wrapped in something rather sour. Though long enough in terms of duration, it’s rather quick to dry, and while the burn holds on, it lacks much discernable character beyond that of a vaporous burning and even that doesn’t reach much past the throat. It’s not a repugnant finish by any means – there’s enough going on to hold your interest for half a minute or so – but, like the palate, it doesn’t nearly quench the anticipations aroused by the splendiferous nose. (19/25)

Balance/Structure

The overall impression this gives is one of immense promise on its way to fulfillment but not quite there yet. Perhaps for the first time with this Vintage series, the core product leaves you with no doubt that truly great things lay ahead. The nose is world class, right up there in terms of pure pleasure and complexity with some major contenders, but the palate and finish grew exhausted too soon to make it to the peak where those aromas live. They haven’t fallen down the cliff, but they’re barely within earshot. Nevertheless, there is great promise and a sure sense of direction running through every aspect of this surprisingly mature youngster. Perch your nose over the glass and you will harbor no doubt that this capable kid, barring unforeseen accidents, has a wonderful future ahead of him. (21/25)

kilchoman-2007-vintageTotal points for this whisky: 85

Kilchoman has a very good website: http://kilchomandistillery.com

Puissant Juice of Insouciance – The English Whisky Co.’s Classic Single Malt, Unpeated, Cask Strength

article-1231476-0760BC40000005DC-463_233x423A distillate of the sweat of Hercules – or, rather, of Geb, the Egyptian God of the Earth – or maybe it’s eau de Gaia, Goddess of the Earth – or, just as likely, a distillation of the Sirens’ song that nearly drove Ulysses out of his wits.

But perhaps it’s a distillation of the natural world itself, of that half that glows in sunlight.

This is a whisky of stunning amplitude and depth and, yes, undeniably, I am enthralled by it. Until now, all of the single malts I hold dear, those I go back to again and again, have been single malt Scotch whiskeys with a date or an age statement printed clearly on the label. This one has no age statement and it comes from, of all places, England, erstwhile scourge of the Scots, “Scotland’s Mexico” as I once heard a Bowmore distillery manager joke – and, surely not least among its many sins, the nation responsible for flooding the world with the gut-peeling, vile trepidations of gin.

Still, despite its provenance, let’s get in closer to what beckons from the glass: Hot smooth rocks along the banks of a tidal river; the sandy scent of old bleached bones long dried in the desert sun.

This is elemental stuff, earthy and mineral. Leaves in an overgrown hardwood forest that have fallen to the ground, before they rot. Dry bark; cereal grains; a smidgen of raw pollen. Dried wildflowers, pussy willows, cat ‘o nine tails…

Breathe it in undiluted and it’s almost indescribable, as if a new wet sponge had sopped up Autumn, a fermentation of the naked heat of time-smoothed river rocks drying in the sun.

A hint of camphor, perhaps? A whisper of organic solvents?

Take your time and more familiar elements arise. At this point, I have devoted nearly a week of nocturnal study to unraveling this libation’s recalcitrant code. The first night I spent with this spirituous soul-wash, the first thing I smelled was Dentyne Gum, the red version, in the old flat packs. And my second thought was: Rocket fuel! And yet, there are scents of malty sugars in there, and the brittle sweetness of ribbon candy.

Much more develops with the addition of water, but we should buck up and taste this muscular dram at its undiluted cask strength first.

That first night, I opened the bottle as soon as I got home from Andy’s and left the cork off for an hour or so before pouring a wee measure of its contents into my new Villeroy & Boch nosing glass. Enticing aromas filled the room.

Swirling it in the hand-blown glass, one thing struck me immediately. This whisky, a lucid gold in hue, does not form legs. As high up the sides as you get it, it simply and evenly coats the glass. After some time, small beads form and begin their very slow descent. And, night after night, it did exactly the same thing.

Cautiously, then, I bent my nose to the glass and inhaled its emanations for a good ten minutes. Finally, I poured it over my tongue.

This is indubitably powerful stuff, a fluid containment for a force of nature, the taste of the souls of mountain men, a distillate of nature untrammeled…

Still, there are real-world comparisons to be made. At full strength, this makes me think somewhat of the Caol Ila unpeated cask strength, but without the sherry mitigation of the newest edition of that dram. It also reminds me, just a bit, of the peated Connemara cask strength single malt from Cooley, despite this “Classic” being decidedly unpeated. I can’t explain that, I’m just reporting my experience…

My first note on that first night upon first tasting it: Red Hots candy, those compact little nuggets of concentrated cinnamon sweetness and heat. But I didn’t get that on subsequent nights nor even later that first night. More consistently, one gets a light, very pleasant oakiness in the taste, and drying woody tannins balanced against a sweetness that is neither sugar nor honey, but something in between.

ewc-245x300At 60.5% ABV, it’s more than recoil that counsels adding a bit of water to this. I did so using an eye-dropper, which is the best way to observe the mesmerizing viscimetric whorls that come alive when two liquids of different viscosity – water and cask strength whisky – mix. There used to be scientists called viscimetrists devoted to the study of this naturally occurring phenomenon, but they are long gone, disappeared with the likes of hepatomists and xylomancers into the opaque mists of time. Still, I highly recommend the essay “Awakening The Serpent” found in Charles MacLean’s compelling Miscellany of Whisky, which looks into this lost science at some length.

Adding water two eye-dropper measures at a time, I finally diluted this mighty distillation to what I imagine is its sweet spot, likely somewhere around 100 proof US. Thusly diluted, this is where the rose opens and unfolds above the thorns of this whisky’s formerly brawny bearing.

Where the undiluted nose was reminiscent of, among other things, a heady autumn day, adding water transforms the olfactory experience significantly and blows the calendar back to late spring, early summer.

Immediately, thin layers of raw green vegetables emerge, celery, crushed peas and their pods, iceberg lettuce. The smell of grass in the sun, wafting mint. A breeze coming through a small pear tree orchard. But also, surprisingly, way in the back, the scent of talcum powder. Weird, yes, but, in this particular aromatic context, not unpleasant. One of my notes adds an even more obscure reference: The smell of a fresh hide banjo skin! Still, in the mix, you find those river rocks drying in the hot sun and that unspecific but pleasurable sweetness.

The finish – even diluted – is long, very long, its sweet radiating burn embracing the heart. And it is sweet, malty, a bit nutty, full, with those woody tannins directing the experience to a drying and still pungent and delightful dissipation. But it never really ends. Never before have I drunk an unpeated whisky that still mingled on the taste buds the morning after, that remained ghostly in the nose while making the morning coffee and buttering the morning chiabatta toast. Octomore, yes, but an unpeated whisky? This is the first.

It took five long nights and more than half a 750ml bottle to get me this far in my assessment of this very special drink. And I’ve already bought a second bottle. And I am contemplating the purchase of a third. Evidently, only five six-packs of this unprecedented whisky were shipped to the U.S. and, if I could afford it, I would buy them all. This is something I want all of my friends and even a few of my enemies to experience.

Check out the distillery here: http://www.englishwhisky.co.uk

I don’t rate whiskeys, but, if I did, this unpeated Classic Single Malt from The English Whisky Company’s St. George’s Distillery, Roudham, Norfolk, England, would be the first non-Scottish single malt tipple to find its place in my top ten. This is the potent, burning side of glorious, and, every time I pour a glass, my estimation of it rises.

Here are a couple of music clips to accompany your ride through this whisky. First, something that, like this whisky, is young and indisputably amazing…

And second, something powerful, stunning, intoxicating and far from ordinary…