Robust Rosewater Purr: The Creative Whisky Co.’s Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1994 20 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength, Single Malt Scotch Whisky

GlenGarioch1994EM-kI have never had a full dram of the standard releases of Glen Garioch, the Founder’s Reserve, the 12 year old, etc., but I have been fortunate enough to indulge in several drams from the cask strength vintages. I remember in particular the 1991 and the 1994 and a single cask distilled in 1998 that was selected by and bottled at cask strength for Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, MA. That one was heavenly good! But they were all very good to wondrous, so the potential of this 1994 single cask had me salivating before I even opened the sample bottle…

The Whisky

Glen Garioch is one of the old ones, founded in the Eastern Highlands in 1798 near Inverurie. Its old style was that of the “smoky Highlander” (like its close neighbor, Ardmore) but the distillery now focuses on unpeated whisky – which is something you would never guess with this Exclusive Malts single cask from 1994: It hints at peat and smoke in several more or less subtle ways from many different directions. A return to the smoky Highlander style, perhaps.

As always, this Exclusive Malts bottling is unchillfiltered, unspoiled by deceptive coloration and bottled at a cask strength of 56.6% ABV after spending 20 years in a refill hogshead that (I suspect) was previously used to mature a more insistently peated whisky.

Nose

A rosewater lake dotted with islands of dark toast dripping with wildflower honey; toasted marshmallow clouds float by.

Now I walk into a shop where almonds dusted with confectionary sugar are served in waffle cones.

Open the window and a light breeze of smoky peat wafts in over the clean fur of a large sleeping cat.

I start to purr.

In a kitchen now, where apples were baking an hour ago; there is a chocolate covered cherry hidden somewhere in one of the cabinets. A young mother walks in and you can smell her infant’s hair.

Back in that confectionary shop, but, this time, warm vanilla ice cream is being sprinkled with powdered chocolate and served on charred oak staves from a dismantled cask that had previously held a peated whisky. (24/25)

Palate

Before you tasted it, you thought you would never like French toast with no butter and no syrup, but now you know you do.

Caramel being stirred over a peat fire and then poured over the maltiest of malted barleys.

Oat bread toast is fine by itself, but it is much improved with the addition of almond butter. (21/25)

Finish

A very protracted, long finish distinguished by a slow, radiating, blooming burn on the tongue that unfolds crushed almonds and oaky apples slowly, like a time-elapse flower, but suggesting nothing like a flower…

And it ends with – try to imagine this – the taste of the syrup inside a chocolate cherry, slightly peated but unsweetened. (22/25)

Overall Impressions

A very lush, satisfying whisky that combines many things I like to find in my glass and contains nothing that I don’t like. The nose is the clear winner here, but the palate, while less far-ranging and eclectic, and thus less wow-inspiring, is not a disappointment by any means. I have already made arrangements to buy a bottle of this and to have it shipped to my doorstep. (23/25)

Total points for this whisky: 90 

PS: Don’t look too closely at that illustration I used: It’s the 18 year old version of the 20 year old I’ve reviewed here that was previously released to the British market. I couldn’t find an illustration of the one I was reviewing and the label on the sample bottle was damaged.

A Fine Full Day in a Dram: Chieftain’s Glentauchers 1992 20 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2014_07_09_22.40.28__76938.1405292116.1280.1280Life is good. That is a proposition that hadn’t occurred to me for months. There is so much stress and so little free time in my current situation – working a full time research and editing job, booking and promoting musicians and bands for a struggling venue I bought with friends about a year ago, renovating a house built in 1880, inside and out, down to the original studs and shingles, and taking on the responsibilities of a general contractor for the first time in my life, and so on and so on and so on and on… So busy, I declare, that I haven’t had sufficient leisure to make time for whisky, friends or reflection.

All that changed last Friday night. I made plans to visit with some of my old Ethanolics Club chums back in Massachusetts – let’s call them Bikram, Tom and Patrick (because those are their names!) – as well as with some newbies to the club – let’s call them Deepak and Nitish.

It is always good to meet up with old friends and to meet new people who share a common passion, and that was surely the case that night. Still, for me, the core experience of that gathering, the aspect of it that glowed most warmly and with such unstinting radiance, was the brimming generosity – of both spirit and spirits – displayed by all present. Some of the best whiskies I’ve ever drunk in my life were, in fact, drunk that night. An exquisite older bottling of a 15 year old Lochside, a luxurious 16 year old Laphroaig, a cool and very fine 18 year old Caol Ila, a fertile and sumptuous 25 year old Highland Park – each from a different independent bottler – were among the riches offered so freely that night. Good conversation and good food, great whisky and great friends… As I was driving away, circumspectly as you might guess, to stay at the home of another deeply generous soul – let’s call him Brad – I kept repeating something of which I was so glad to be reminded: Life is good. And indeed it is. Life is… Good!

The Whisky

I’ll tell you right up front, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I wish I had had it in hand to bring to my old and new friends that night. The bottle is very limited – only 265 bottles from a single cask – but it’s still around if you dig hard enough. I dug and I found it.

You can learn more about the distillery here: http://www.maltmadness.com/whisky/glentauchers.html.

And you can learn more about this storied independent bottler here: http://www.ianmacleod.com/brands/chieftains.

This particular single malt is quite light in color considering its advanced age; the color of white oak tears, perhaps.

With an ABV of 59.5% – after 20 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead! – you’ll want to get your distilled water ready right at the start; if you skip that step, the biting alcohol will overpower and conceal much that this dram has to offer.

The legs are narrow, both fast and slow, but mostly slow, and promising.

Nose

Rose petals macerated in ethereal rum oil sprinkled with cinnamon and oak bark dust.

Big Red gum dampened with a drop or two of Afrin nasal spray (Oxymetazoline).

Wildflower (“drier” than clover) honey blended with Japanese curry.

Or perhaps the spice is chat masala, made with coriander, cumin, dried red chile peppers and a touch of amchoor, but little salt and almost no black pepper.

Which is not to say this is too spicy: It is not. The spice rides over the soft warm fruit of this redolent dram like a warm breeze over supple, sunbathing flesh.

There’s just the slightest note of smoke, like the wet earthy energy that rises off fire-roasted tomatoes – but without the crushed tomato smell.

All of the above revealed itself with a bit of water. It is all a bit hotter and hidden if you nose it uncut.

Good complexity with some unusual, unexpected elements. 23/25

Palate

Straight, this nearly 120 proof elixir pulls no punches, but stings and numbs the tongue and lower gums.

Still, a wholesome wave of non-citric fruits poached in liquefied honey crystals pushes through the fire.

Add several drops of water and you get slices of ripe cantaloupe melon floating in light sugar and agave syrup.

And you notice a pleasant, sensual, slightly oily mouth feel.

The fruitiness has a nice astringency, like tannins slightly puckering a fruity Shiraz.

There’s a grassy barky earthiness to this, but with an un-cloying sweetness, like some craft sarsaparilla root or birch beer soda.

From the nose, the “dry” wildflower honey and the complex multicultural spice follow through to the palate.

And, again, good complexity (though a bit less complex and enticing than the nose) with earthy, sweet and spicy surprises. 21/25

Finish

The confluence of a high octane unfiltered ABV, warm fruit, measured sweetnesses and a global spice mix, combined with a tannin-like astringency that nonetheless holds itself a few paces back from “too dry” – and you have the formula for a long, tantalizing, warming finish – which is precisely what you get here. 23/25

Balance/Structure

The structure of this whisky is a weave of disparate elements that results in a very full, beguiling experience that brings the drinker across a single bridge from sight to nose to palate to finish – a bridge with remarkable twists and turns, all worth taking. This is well-tended, well-aged, well-structured and nicely balanced whisky that responds generously to close scrutiny. Lovely and robust simultaneously. 23/25

Total Points for this whisky: 90

A very special thanks to Adam Maur and to ImpEx Beverages for the samples.

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.