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

Fandango in a Glass: SMWS 93.61 CalMac Welder’s Tea Break 14 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky 58.3% ABV

FullSizeRender copy 7This 60ml sample was sent to me by the generous people at Spirit Imports, Inc., “Purveyors of Ultra Premium Distilled Spirits” such as the distinguished lines from McGibbon’s Provenance and The Classic Cask, which are both among my favorite independent bottlers of single malt Scotch whisky. I’ve known of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) for years, of course, but I never got around to joining up and only once, long ago, had the pleasure of attending one of their tastings. So this (and another sample, which shall be reviewed soon enough) was a special treat for me – sent, as I understand it, as a sort of Valentine’s Day gift to reviewers. Ahh, yes, the perks make it all worthwhile…

With a bit of research, I found out that cask 93.61 came from the Glen Scotia distillery on Campbeltown. I’ve only had two other bottles of Glen Scotia, a 14 year old and an 18 year old, both from the Signatory Campbeltown range. I loved them both.

Getting back to the whisky at hand, let’s start with an antonym: Boring. By which I mean to say, this is one of the most compelling, most diverting whiskeys ever poured into a glass, lifted to my nose and poured over my tongue. You can inhale the aromas with your nose a good 16 inches above the glass. It’s really quite stunning, by which I mean to say hypnotic.

Nose

Dried fruits, especially raisins and pineapple. All soaking in ethyl alcohol. There’s a bit of new leather in there, a wisp of soured vanilla, marshmallow, the smell of a toasting plain bagel and maybe oak or red cedar of the type used to make the soundboard of a good acoustic guitar. A quick spray of Pledge, perhaps, but it isn’t lemon-scented. There’s something oily going on as well, some mixture of butter with equal parts almond and engine oil. And there’s the aroma (this is a first in my tasting notes) an aroma of fried chicken – not a strong aroma, but as if a plate of battered and fried strips of chicken breast was being served two tables away in a restaurant. Beneath the dried fruits I sensed on top, I also get a sliced green apple. And the aroma – late but unquestionably – of salty Spanish ham. Quite a feast for the olfactory passages! 24/25

Palate

On the palate, the butter and oil continue in terms of both taste and mouth feel. The darker crumbs from the toasted bagel have been swept together and added to some oleaginous seed oil of some kind – grape seed, maybe, but without the tannins and bitterness. Almond and maybe a touch of olive oil, too – especially if you taste it while breathing in through your nose. Baked apples but with no sugar or cinnamon. And I’d like to say green grape, but it’s something darker and older than that, an overripe burgundy wine grape, perhaps. But certainly NOT sherry. In no aspect of this whisky do I get any sense that it spent any time whatsoever in anything but an ex-bourbon hogshead of some sort, very likely a second fill. 22/25

Finish

The finish is big, long, spicy, a bit fiery and just a little smokey. I finished tasting it four or five minutes ago, but I’m still feeling its slow burn. 21/25

Structure and Balance

The structure here is tight but a bit cobbled, like a nicely wrapped croquet set that has been packaged, a bit weirdly, with golf balls and a baseball bat. Nothing bad in the package, mind you, it’s all useful to pleasure and of fair balance, but it leaves one feeling a little confused. There’s good follow-through from the nose to the palate, but the finish is less interesting than the rest and the palate is less interesting than the nose, which is a veritable smorgasbord of olfactory delights. In a book or a movie or a whisky, a too-stunning and wondrous first act can prove a detriment to the whole – and that, to a good extent, is the case here. Having said that, I would certainly like to get my hands on a bottle of this gripping, powerful elixir, if only to inhale it for hours on end. (22/25)

Total points for this whisky: 89

Like a Master Boatwright’s Apprentice: The Classic Cask’s 1991 Bunnahabhain 22 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Bunny22Bunnahabhain is one of those distilleries I can usually pick out of a line-up – especially independent bottlings of it. Its juice, in those instances, typically displays a very tight, subtle structure and has a core character that is quite distinct, with hard candy, lettuce, butter, cherries, wax and nuts at play, though the emphasis on each of these elements will differ.

Bunnahabhain ages well and age most certainly makes a difference with this elixir – which is not to say that the 8 and 12 year olds out there aren’t worthy of close attention and patient savoring – they are. But the older bottlings of Bunnahabhain I’ve had have nearly all approached greatness in one way or another.

So, if every good independent’s bottling of Bunnahabhain has strong similarities to every other (which is my experience), things like structure, level of refinement, signs of good casks and good cask management – and unusual characteristics – come forward to distinguish the best from the better and the better from the good (Bunnahabhain is always at least good). Therefore, less emphasis might be given to the flavor and aroma profiles, though there will be distinguishing individualities here as well that must be noted.

The Whisky 

This is a single cask bottling of Bunnahabhain from Spirit Imports’ The Classic Cask line distilled in 1991, bottled in 2014 and reduced to an ABV of 46 percent. In appearance, it has a light golden honey color that, considering its 22 years in cask, suggests a second or third fill ex-bourbon barrel was used. Twirled in the glass, it displays multiple thin but slow viscometric rivulets. It was not chill filtered and is untainted by the duplicitous E150a caramel coloring.

Nose

Iceberg lettuce as ribbon candy; a large tab of sweet cream butter floating in a small cup of cherry juice; a refined earthiness (truffle?) over which a breeze of ozone floats like fog; pear juice and acetone spilled on a just-unpackaged flannel shirt; slices of Honey Crisp apple marinated in ‘lite’ caramel and Mott’s apple sauce on a slice of lightly toasted whole wheat sourdough bread. Mmm-mmm good… 24/25

Palate

Subtle, pleasant and warming. The oak comes through like the taste of the air in a small room where oak boards have been recently sawn – like walking into a room where oak floors have been sanded and tasting that! The sweetness is bitter and the bitterness is sweet, like biting into a sappy apple and chewing some seeds with the flesh. There’s a maltyness but it is tight and light. I suspect this juice came from a tight, secure, long-undisturbed cask – there are really very few signs of its rather advanced age. This drinks like a Speyside but has all the gustatory elements of the Bunnahabhain core. Which is an unusual thing but a good thing. 22/25

The Finish

Buttery candy with a whisper of white pepper and hot sauce that is thin and muted at first but follows through for a spicy, warming, moderately long finish. The kind of whisky that, once swallowed, causes one to pause for a long moment before speaking. 20/25

Structure and Balance

This has the tight architecture of The Exclusive Malts’ 26 year old single cask Bunnahabhain, but it is not cask strength and isn’t quite as good at balancing disparate elements. It also, like that 26 year old, lacks the mouthwatering maritime character that comes through in every distillery bottling I’ve had. The arc from nose through the palate is a good one, with consistent elements embellished by some unique differences, but interest falls off in the finish, which is notably simpler. Having said all that, let me emphasize that this is a very good whisky; I enjoyed drinking it very much. But I’ve been privileged to drink some very, very good Bunnahabhains and this falls a measure short of those. 20/25

Total points for this whisky: 86