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

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides” * or, Good Whisky Uncorks and Blows the Marketers Down: The Exclusive Malts’ 1987 Bunnahabhain 26 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength, Single Malt Scotch Whisky

FullSizeRender copy 2I’m currently reading a history of Cognac (no surprise to friends who receive my wee hour emails on the subject) and find it interesting that, as advertising began to flourish among the sellers of cognacs in the nineteen-thirties – entre les guerres, as they phrased it then; between the wars – the equation of age and quality began to be emphasized. If it’s older and was properly matured, it’s better – that was the gist of their primitive marketing message. Now, however, the entire Scotch industry, with its deluge of no-age-statement expressions bearing more and more ridiculously romanticized names, appears hell-bent to deny the equation of quality with age. Say what they will, this 26 year old Bunnahabhain contradicts those Scotch marketers and their transparent mendacities at every sip. The idea that age equals quality is as valid now as it ever was.

The Whisky

Bunnahabhain is the northernmost distillery on Islay and it’s whisky tends to be the least peated of Islay spirits (with exceptions like Caol Ila’s unpeated 14 year old or the unpeated Bruichladdichs). But I don’t need to tell my readers these basics.

This particular bottling of Bunnahabhain juice was distilled in 1987, matured exclusively in a what I adjudge to be a second or third fill ex-bourbon hogshead, and bottled at an ABV of 47.8% in March of 2014. This is a single cask, cast strength whisky, unchillfiltered and unadulterated with the mendacious E150a coloring. This single cask produced only 297 bottles (but seek and you shall find: it’s still out there).

Appearance and Nose

The color in the glass is honey, or light amber, with no rufous blush of sherry or other wine aging or finishing evident. The relative intensity of the color suggests a second fill or (considering its 26 years in cask) perhaps a third fill ex-bourbon hogshead. The legs are thin but numerous and languid. Any whisky drinker would be seduced to follow this potion farther on…

On the nose, right up front, I get almond oil in a new rubber boot (peat?); ethereal wax, warm caramel, yesterday’s cotton candy, a creamsicle fortified with a wash of rum; white and pink Necco wafers in an old tobacco pouch; patchouli dripped on whole wheat toast; light truffle oil mixed with a smidgeon of shellac poured into a woven basket that recently held raspberries and lemons; also, as imagination whirls in this sedating mist, the smell of nylon stockings on a freshly bathed and well turned leg (smooth as silk it is, and not hirsute as that waft of patchouli might suggest); birch bark or – no, not that – balsa and cedar woods carved into a bowl that contains a mix of wet autumn leaves, garden soil, kandy korn, corn chips, salted caramels and a few maple sugar candies. And nutmeg.

This is the olfactory version of a gourmet meal (rubber boot and all!), rich without being overly pungent, enticing, tempting, drawing you forward. It’s all very subtle, but the mix of ethereal and earthly, of candied and organic and epicurean pleasures all in a keen yet beguiling balance of unlikely combinations, each element playing off the next, none overwhelming the others – yes, this is how a good whisky is supposed to greet the olfactory senses – and I like it! 23/25

Palate

Sensual, silky mouth feel. The honey, nutmeg, salted caramels and almonds find taste buds to connect to all over the top of the tongue, and then this nutty, sweet wash brings the toast and light truffle oil up and, slowly, a milder, lightly smoked paprika, which remains the dominant spice. The citrus and raspberries are still there, but are far more subtle now. While not quite as complex as the nose, this is serious pleasure. 22/25

The Finish

The paprika spice comes forward and it is the element of the finish that endures and lasts for several minutes, but it doesn’t completely overwhelm the honey-vanilla-truffle-oil sweet earthiness of this elixir. The creamsicle is still there, too, along with what seems to be a bit of unripe peach. As the spice grows in intensity, the experience slowly transforms from wet to dry and from sweet to savory. This is very good stuff. 22/25

Structure and Balance

The structure here, as with so many bottlings from Exclusive Malts, is a tight architecture of disparate but counterbalancing elements. Over the years of drinking whiskeys from this very consistent independent bottler, I’ve really grown to enjoy the challenge that each of their single cask tonics presents. Because the structure is so tight (is this the cut? the attention to and control over maturation? cask selection? all of these?), these whiskeys force the connoisseur – one who takes the time to savor and unfold his or her experience – to be patient, to give the whisky the time it requires to be properly and fully understood. This particular whisky is no different and it rewarded my patient parsing of its promise with one curiosity and delight after another.

Bunnahabhain’s own distillery bottlings are excellent, but their structure is more loose and their sweetness not quite as well balanced (as this Exclusive Malts bottling is balanced despite being an unblended product of a single cask) with other more drying and savory elements. However, I must say, the maritime characteristics are more prominent in the exquisite 18 year old distillery offering. And while I can’t say for sure if this Exclusive Malt single cask is the best Bunnahabhain I’ve ever drunk – one reason being that my memory of the distillery’s own 25 year old, which I only had once, is, though glowing and positive, vague – it very well might be. It is certainly one of the three or four best bottlings from this distillery I have ever had. 23/25

Total points for this whisky: 90

300_tennyson* This line in my title is taken from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which you can read in its entirety here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659

An Alluring Blonde Among Swarthy Brunettes: The Classic Cask’s 2002 Mortlach 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

CCMortlach11Compared to the richly multifaceted 40 year old blended Scotch whisky from The Classic Cask I had such a torrid olfactory affair with in the course of my last review, this much younger Mortlach, from the same bottler, is a relatively simple pleasure. Still, the high caliber of quality here is no less evident, which speaks volumes for Spirit Imports and it’s The Classic Cask line. Like Blackadder’s Raw Cask range or Meadowside Blending’s The Maltman series or The Creative Whisky Company’s The Exclusive Malts bottlings – and perhaps a few others – The Classic Cask line is, in my experience, consistent in quality from bottle to bottle and from one distillery to the next.

In fact, I contend that one of the distinctions that sets independent bottlers such as these apart from distillery brands is their ability to offer a very wide variety of whiskies that are of consistent high quality. Of course, yes, you can find a distillery – Lagavulin is a good example, Glenfarclas another – that offers consistent quality throughout their entire range. However, their entire range is limited to one distillery. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly confining.

With an independent bottler that offers reliable quality, such as those I’ve mentioned, the range of quality whiskies on offer may cover every Scotch region and a whole library of compelling taste profiles. Trusting Glenfarclas or Lagavulin to offer quality products across their ranges is one thing; trusting Blackadder or The Classic Cask or The Exclusive Malts or The Maltman to do so is quite another – because the range and variety they lay before us is so wide and so various by comparison. Long live the Independents, I say!

The Whisky

This is Spirit Imports’ bottling of an 11 year old Mortlach from its The Clasic Cask line. Like everything else I’ve had from this independent, this is very good whisky. And while I can’t say I’ve ever had a Mortlach I didn’t like, this bottling’s taste profile falls outside the usual Mortlach meatiness, heaviness and pungency. Distilled in 2002 and bottled at 46% ABV, unchillfiltered and untainted by the prevaricating E150a, this spirit is at once both rich and delicate, many-layered and fruity, a bit vegetal and even a little marine. Definitely Speyside, certainly very good, but captivatingly out of character for this distillery.

The Nose

As I said, this is not ‘meaty’ – as one often hears Mortlach described.

Rather, I get a lawn of sweet grass and star fruit.

It is tight and clean and relates the tale of an older (third fill?) but very firm and tight ex-bourbon cask.

While there may be a touch of oak in the nose, and some youthful spiritousness, that is not what this complex of aromas is about.

The aromatic sweetness here is that of confectionary sugar sprinkled on lemon drop cookies.

More citrus comes through – lime especially, but mango as well, and candied orange slices.

And still more fruit, but unfamiliar – maybe the aroma of cherry wood boards?

Beyond that, there is something vegetal and clean – like chopping rinsed heads of iceberg and Romaine lettuce together.

Another pass of the nose and this comes up: A dusting of sea salt on orchid petals by a white pepper mill.

While one often reads Mortlach described as ‘heavy,’ I would say this particular example of the juice is more ‘serious’ than ‘heavy’.

If this aroma were a color category, it would be strong, variegated pastels. 21/25

The Palate

A surprisingly silky, oily entry. Mouthwatering and sensual.

A blend of malt sugars with clove and vanilla.

The sweetness leads and coats the tongue like malted honey, then the various spices – ginger, cardamom, allspice – layer themselves in with casual patience. The slowness of the radiating spices here, broadening and developing slowly, is alluring.

The fruit presence is still strong but is now less citric. 22/25

The Finish

All of the above, slow and sweet and warming, leads into a drying, spicy finish that doesn’t quite embrace the chest but leaves the tongue and throat with a long, lingering, persuasive experience. 21/25

Balance/Structure

What we have here is the balance and structure of a well-selected elixir matured in a good, firm, somewhat spent cask – and by ‘spent’ I do not mean bad in any way, just not imparting as much wood influence as it might if it were a first or second fill. The delicacy and intricacy of the nose leads to a more direct, more sweet and more silky sensual palate, that then debouches in a very rich, spicy, long and lingering finish. So this doesn’t have the wonderful arc of, say, The Classic Cask’s 40 year old blend – but, then again, not much does. As an 11 year old single malt whisky that most Scotch lovers can afford, this is one fine specimen indeed. 22/25

To make a comparison…

The Maltman’s 13 year old Mortlach – I’m holding a Glencairned dram of it here in hand at the moment – is also bottled with a 46% ABV and has a more pungent, more vegetal and more commanding, but less delicate and layered and sweet, nose. On the palate, The Maltman’s dram is once again more commanding, perhaps richer and more various, but less sweet, less pleasant, less mouthwatering and alluring. The finish on The Maltman’s Mortlach is less spicy but less sensual and long. Is one of these potions better than the other? I honestly can’t say. And I know that, if I gave an answer to that question, I’d probably choose the other as best a day or two later. These are both very good whiskies and I’m very fortunate to have them both on my shelf.

Total Points for this whisky: 86

A very special thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer and to Spirit Imports, Inc. for the samples.

Queen Persephone’s Eau de Cologne: The Classic Cask 40 Year Old Single Batch Scotch Whisky Blend

ClassicCask40.jpgGood Scotch can be expensive, and, typically, the older it is, the higher the price. Are these upscale libations worth it? While I can’t answer that question for you, I can, when distributors and agents are generous enough to send me samples of their rarest and most exclusive bottlings, scrutinize, probe and appraise their product and render an opinion.

As a drinker inordinately preoccupied with independent bottlers, I find the current trend of such bottlers to create their own distinctive, high end blends both exciting and instructive. The good folks behind The Exclusive Malts line have proven, twice now, that they know how to do it. Let’s see what the good people behind Spirit Imports’ The Classic Cask line have wrought with this exclusive forty year old blend…

The Whisky

Here’s what I’ve heard and read from various sources.

This blend is 80 percent malt and 20 percent grain.

Every constituent, malt and grain, was distilled in 1972 and cask matured for 25 years, then vatted together in newly selected casks and matured for another 15 years, at which point those casks were themselves vatted and the ensuing blend bottled. 1,800 bottles resulted. For a blend, that is very limited.

It has been bottled at 43 percent ABV and, I suspect, as it is the common practice of this independent bottler, the whisky has undergone no chill-filtration and has had no misleading caramel coloring added.

Which is not to say it ain’t dark. It is very dark, a deep amber color with a dark mauve blush. The legs are thinish, numerous and slower/more viscous than one might expect at this ABV.

You can learn more about this bottle and its bottler here: http://www.spiritimportsinc.com/index2.php#!/HOME

Nose

Oh, man Oh man!

A cedar chest filled with crushed fresh cherries.

Leather tanned with raisin oil.

Dried apricots, currants and banana chips on a small oak table where half a satchel of cut, moist, aromatic pipe tobacco has spilled.

Flat birch beer soda served in an unvarnished cup carved from tidal river drift wood.

A recently showered woman’s hands cupping shelled walnuts, oak pollen and lemon verbena.

Dried varnish on a brass goblet filled with Amontillado sherry.

Fresh pomegranate juice spilled on a recently sanded oak floor.

This is the perfume the goddess Persephone splashes between her breasts and below her navel as she prepares to rise from the heat of Hades back to a warming earth’s surface, bringing the nutrient-charged soils of Spring in her wake.

Really? Well, maybe not, but still…

What an abundantly rich, elegant, generous, measured nose! Measured, but not fastidious or shy. Measured as in presenting a perfectly balanced, broad array of many of the richer, more gratifying aromas this planet and good spirits have to offer. This is without question one of the most lavishly enchanting and sophisticated, multifarious and balmy bouquets I’ve ever experienced rising above a Glencairn nosing glass. 25/25

Palate

Again, it is the balance of riches that focuses the mind.

This sumptuous tipple is both pleasantly sweet and pleasantly dry. I’m not saying that for affect – it’s true!

It has a cooling sweet center and a rounded, warming, mouth-watering prickle that bathes the sides and underside of the tongue in a pleasant, measured mix of baking spices.

The sherry casks are more prominent in the palate than on the nose, but the honey and caramel of American white oak are also here along with a flow of liquefied dried fruits – citrus, yes, but also dried stone fruits, a bit of apricot and even a trickle of honeydew melon.

And a whisper of the taste of fresh baked oat bread.

Really, folks, this is astounding stuff. I hate to be the one to tell you, but this $400 blend is worth every penny.

Twice as good as the $200 Johnnie Walker Blue? I’d say yes. And that may even be an understatement, an undervaluation of the depth of quality of this Classic Cask blend.

This splendid potation is 40 years old and, while there is some dusty oak influence in the nose, this is not overly woody in the least. It gives absolutely no indication that it was over-aged. Not by a week!

Unfortunately, I can’t afford this bottle for myself, but I can and must admit that it is well worth the asking price. 24/25

Finish

Not overwhelming, not underwhelming.

This whisky takes its time finishing.

Only the most liquid sweetnesses remain and only at the first stage.

The sherry dryness and the spice take over after that, making this finish long, lingering, dry and spicy – and yet, despite those last descriptors, I would still say this libation is richly well-rounded.

I did not say “smooth” because that’s a ridiculously vague and overused word in whisky reviews that either means nothing or means something different to nearly everybody.

The finish is the only aspect of this wondrous elixir where the thought of extraordinary balance doesn’t immediately arise. 22/25

Balance/Structure

I don’t believe I’ve ever used the word, nor implied the concept of, “balance” so often in a review. As I’ve already said, this is truly astounding stuff. Its structure is clear. This whisky is the result of an experienced master blender putting everything he/she knows into a no-holds-barred blend. And this whisky is also the very successful result of balancing the characteristics of American ex-bourbon casks and French ex-sherry casks together in a manner that keeps those characteristics both balanced and distinct. Really, with fruit and honey, citrus and nuts, leather and tobacco, dried and fresh fruits, wine, mixed spices and pomegranates, a bit of soil and a smidgen of rose petals wafting on the breeze, nearly all the desirable notes of great Scotch are represented in this blend. Even the buzz one gets is both luxurious and refined. The only categorical omission that I can perceive is the lack of even the slightest suggestion of smoke. No mint or menthol, either (or were there? Hhmmm)… In any case, it’s quite obvious that smoke wasn’t a note this blender was aiming to include. I’m sure that’s true – but, still, that’s a challenge for this blender that remains, to add touches of peat smoke while maintaining a balance with all of the other elements that are already so distinctly present. Impossible? Maybe, and maybe even probably. But, don’t ya know, in a perfect world… 24/25

Total Points for this whisky: 95

A very special thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer and to Spirit Imports, Inc. for the samples.