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.

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

Fire Water from Planet Tar: Blackadders’s Raw Cask 15 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Ledaig 1998

LedaigSCRAW1999815y63_9PICTDear Warrior God of Ethanol – this is potent stuff! Really, this punctuates the evening’s previous sampling of one warming cognac and one lovely Speyside like the word “fuck” would punctuate a nursery rhyme. At 62.2% ABV, this isn’t the fiercest potion to ever scorch my tongue, but it tastes like it is. Fortunately, water tames and transforms this beast – somewhat – into something that can be sipped and savored without irreversible harm.

The last time I reviewed a Ledaig of around this age (the soul-smoldering cornucopia of Cadenhead’s Small Batch 16 year old Ledaig), I was immediately transported to a realm of power, poetry and mind-altering mists. The Blackadder I’m tasting here is not like that. It is powerful and there’s quite a bit going on, but it’s harder, less inviting, less organic, less yielding. Whereas Cadenhead’s luscious bottling seemed intended for peat smoke libertines, this one may be targeting masochists – which does not necessarily mean I won’t like it. Let’s see…

Appearance

Certainly more inviting than the Cadenhead, which was pale as a Chinese ghost. This is an amber-copper, almost like an older cognac but without the rufous hues, suggesting maturation in a first fill ex-bourbon cask for at least a few of it’s 15 years. And the legs are seductively viscid, treacly and oh-so-slow. At this very high ABV, I’m not surprised by any of this, but that doesn’t make its appearance any less inviting. (5/5)

Nose

Pine nuts – absolutely! In a dry old leather sack, perhaps. But the first thing one notices (before a liberal dash of water is added) is the stab of the untamed alcohol. This is certainly sharply brawny stuff, especially for a 15 year old, but even prior to a little dilution there are distinct aromas coming through. Above all else, the smell of burnt or toasted caramel. If there’s a fruit, it’s ripe banana. There is also whatever that tar-like, slightly acrid, burning-tug-boat-rope smoky peatiness from the Tobermory distillery on Mull is – and whatever it is, I love it! Both paving tar and tobacco tar aromas entwine around the scent of smoldering peanut shells. The pine nuts remain quite noticeable, even under this puissant potion’s barbed ethanol armor. Add a dropper or three or four of water (oh, the viscimitrical wonders of watching water added to such an oily demon!) and you get a bit more: Some sanded poplar comes through (yes, I was sanding poplar window trim this afternoon) and, weird to say, the smells of pewter and Vaseline. And just a hint of that singularly distinctive Springbank bloom. Is this as alluringly fulsome of wonders as the nose on the Cadenhead? No. Is this nonetheless an experience I would wish for my whisky-savoring friends? Well, despite the fact that it may burn out all of their nasal hairs – Yes, it is. (17/20)

Palate

The taste is predominantly honey, charred caramel, butter, crayons, pine sap and burnt toast. And maybe a bit of cowhide. Those are the only elements I can pull out of this thorny palate, six or seven of them, but that doesn’t make it simple or lacking in complexity. This is certainly a unique combination of taste elements, an appetizing soup of very angular sweets and savories. And the spice is like crushed black pepper inhaling a waft of ginger. And of course there’s the sting of the alcohol, like a red-hot-pepper infused clover honey. For once, I am a tad more intrigued by the palate than by the nose! (18/20)

Finish

This is where this whisky is most evidently lacking in sophistication. It is just too sharp and pungent – even with liberal squirts of filtered water added. It’s a very long finish because the burn of the alcohol won’t quit, but it is undeniably harsh. Add too much water and it lacks interest altogether – there doesn’t seem to be a happy balance point between fiery burn and insipidity (I tried diluting it with water, little by little, in three different glasses three different times, to no avail). There is honey and something bitter here, like a very overripe melon, perhaps, but this is not the long warming finish of a great whisky by any means. It scorches and dries the tongue, burns the throat like napalm, and any promise of heart-warming becomes heartburn much too soon. (14/20)

Balance/Structure

In one sense, this traces a perfect arc – from a harsh stabbing nose to less harshness on the palate to a ruinously harsh desert fire in the finish. So, yes, it is certainly in balance with itself, but is it the balance one would hope for? No. (14/20)

Quality of the Buzz

Okay, this is not the easy becalming mellow that some great whiskeys give; it just remains too harsh, even here in the realm of the mental-buzz. The unending harshness of the finish distracts the drinker from the thermal, affable place one hopes to arrive at in a long night of savoring good whisky; nor is this one of those bright-light intellectually keening experiences the highly refined cask strength Speysiders sometimes bestow upon a drinker. No, this is just too harsh – that’s the word for this one. And while the hope was certainly there at the start, to be carried to the land of the carefree by a compelling ethanolic beverage, this one is just too stingingly distracting to bring one peace or much pleasure at the end of the day. And if an expensive bottle of Scotch like this one can’t do that, what the hell is it good for? (9/15)

Total points for this whisky: 77

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.

Molten Sunshine Raisin Cake: The Exclusive Malts’ 1995 Mortlach 18 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength, Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EMMortlachForgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been nearly six weeks since my last whisky review!

Excuses? Oh, I have a dump truck load of them! There have been, no lie, ten thousand urgencies and complications of life that have intervened to trip, stump and stall me and to keep me from doing the things I love, such as savoring and reviewing good whisky. Perhaps foremost among my excuses – yes, for all their reality and impact on my life, these remain excuses – is the fact that I have moved from Massachusetts to New York since penning my last review. A scary move indeed!

Here in the mid-Hudson Valley I have not been able to find a single liquor store that carries even a tiny fraction of the treasures available to me at my beloved Norfolk Wine & Spirits back in suburban MA. It’s a three and a half hour drive back to Norfolk from where I live now, in a picturesque hamlet of emerging hipness and nascent sophistication called Beacon, NY, but I will be making that drive, as often as I can, just to get my hands on those sublime, rare bottles the profoundly good and industrious Bikram Singh* labors daily to bring to his shelves for his customers.

A particularly distressing disappointment I’ve encountered in the dozen or so liquor stores I’ve visited in this area is the lack – a nearly complete and total absence – of independent bottlings of single malt Scotch whisky. I may have seen one or two hardly-interesting Gordon & MacPhails here and there, maybe one Chieftain’s selection, but that’s it! Really! My fellow maltmen, ethanolics and whisky connoisseurs back in southeastern MA would not believe what a barren, arid wasteland this is!

So, please, good people, do listen up. If you’re reading this and you live in or nearby the Husdon Valley and you know the difference between a ‘farclas and a ‘fiddich, between a Longrow and a Longmorn or between a single malt and a malt blend, please please please do get in touch with me via this blog (or via Facebook if that’s where you’ve seen this) and we’ll get something luscious planted in this desert! I’m already in contact with a very good rep from an excellent Scotch whisky importer and he’s as eager as I am to get some good whisky flowing along the Hudson, but he and I can’t do it alone. Get in touch and we’ll make some noise – and, I promise you, we’ll share some very good malts.

The Whisky

If you think you’ve never had Mortlach, think again – it is one of the main components of Johnny Walker Black. Distillery bottlings have been very rare, but the evil (and necessary?) Diageo is now bottling it up in various expressions and selling it for exorbitant prices – which is not to say, if you’ve got the means, that those bottles will not be worth adding to your collection, sipping and savoring and drinking down. On the contrary, I’m sure they’ll be excellent. But you can find some outstanding, top-notch Mortlachs from independent bottlers at better prices. The whisky under review here is one such bottle.

The Exclusive Malts line comes from erstwhile whisky writer David Stirk’s Creative Whisky Company, which consistently bottles and sells superb single cask, cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies. This Mortlach, un-chill-filtered and untainted by the specious E150a, was distilled in 1995, has been aged “in oak” for a full 18 years and was bottled at 54.3 % ABV. It is a wonderfully clear gold in color and has legs you want to lick from inside the glass…

Nose

Plump raisins bursting in the sun, then scooped up and pressed to the bottom of a deep dish of strawberries and cream; there is also a gourmet variant of a chocolate and coconut Mounds bar here, and melted banana-coconut ice cream and a warm (warming) raspberry lime ricky. Redolent pencil shavings and oak sawdust doused with fresh-squeezed lemon, lime and orange juices. Nutmeg shells. Sweet vanilla and burned marshmallow. Baked green apple served over brown bread made with gobs of molasses. Then that warming aroma of nutmeg again. (23/25)

Palate

Some kind of luscious melon that has a rather keen but pleasant bite. A gourmet jam of apple, strawberry and lime preserves spread over Ak-Mak crackers. Raisin and date cake that has been warming on a windowsill all afternoon. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this elegant elixir is to say its palate is very reminiscent of one of my favorite whiskies of all time, the 1975 Dallas Dhu bottled at 28 years by the (once and still) discerning folks at The Classic Cask. The core of that whisky, and of this one under review, is that succulent, overripe, mouthwatering cantaloupe juiciness – braced here by a dusting of nutmeg, baked apples and warm molasses. (23/25)

Finish

Raisins again, followed by that melting chocolate and coconut candy bar, nutmeg and melon juice, lots of sweet melon juice, long and bracing and warming warming warming all the way to the heart. (23/25)

Balance/Structure

This works, each element of the experience at once echoing and balancing the other elements like the fine-honed gears of a handmade Swiss watch. This is a juicy, flavorful, warming delight that also manages to be surprising, at least to Mortlach drinkers, by standing out as a quite different member of its tribe, distinguished by a juicy fruitiness that is unusual in a Mortlach and by a sense of exalted refinement. Not quite as meaty an experience as one expects from this distillery, but very good stuff indeed. (23/25)

Total Points for this whisky: 92

* The Whisky Lover’s BFF, the one and only Bikram Singh
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Puer Aeternus in an Oaken Vest: The Exclusive Malts’ 1985 Longmorn 28 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EM LongmornJohn Duff built the Glenlossie distillery in 1876, Longmorn in 1893 and BenRiach in 1897. That’s a great string of distilleries if ever there was one, but Longmorn – if the bottling under review here is any indication – may be the greatest of them all. Beloved for its contribution to blends, Longmorn has been called “the master blender’s second choice” – his first choice being his own blend, of course. The only readily available bottling of Longmorn is the distillery’s own 16 year old, so finding this 28 year old single cask is quite a treat!

The Whisky

The wash stills at Longmorn were converted to steam heat in 1993, so this whisky, dating from 1985, is from a period when the distillery heated those stills directly with coal fires. Like all bottlings from The Creative Whisky Co.’s The Exclusive Malts line, this particular Longmorn juice is from a single cask and was bottled without the duplicitous E150a coloring and without chill-filtration. It is cask strength with an ABV of 51.6%.

Nose

My first thought upon holding a dram of this up to my nostrils: Wow! – This is going to take some time! So rich and full, so much going on. A handful of fresh peach stones with some flesh still on them. Cherry stones, too, but drier. Apples, stewed, with citrus peels, nutmeg and a few crushed banana chips – or, maybe: A very dry, light Calvados? Some bourbon barrel characteristics arise – light vanilla and light caramel and some white oak spice – but the wood character is young and fresh, like opening a package of little balsa wood panels purchased at the craft store. The malt is tight, bright and full and there’s a weave of fresh grain and the wholesome bouquet of a bowl of dry Grape-Nuts. Less strong but still there is a whisper of dry cornmeal. Confectionary sweetness, as if you’d just opened a bag of marshmallows or – something I get now and then in these cask strength Speysides – a bag of those squishy orange “circus peanuts” that appear on pharmacy shelves around Halloween. There’s also a dry candy minty-ness, like crushed wintergreen Necco Wafers. There’s a more natural flintiness as well, and just a tad of dry grassiness or moss. The high ABV is quite apparent on the nose but it doesn’t stab the nostrils. A few drops of water bring out even more fresh cherry stones and a candy sweetness, but this is never cloying. A very firm, fresh, full, rich and classy act is presented here and I can find no fault with it. (25/25).

Palate

Now that the nose has me salivating and has the maltfreak in me eager as an ermine in estrus, I close my eyes and take a sip, allowing this silky elixir to cover my tongue like a 1000 thread-count bed sheet. Wow. The surprise is how big, rich and warm it is. The repeated suggestions of “dry” on the nose have completely liquefied here. And again, on the palate, I don’t get the least hint that 28 years was too long to mature in this cask – oh, what a cask this must have been! Fruit comes more to the fore now, as in peach cobbler fruit and apple pie fruit prepared with just a pinch of cinnamon. The sweetness is now more honeyed than sugared and there’s a wonderful progression as the sweet awakens the tip of the tongue, followed by a wash of fruit and malt, which in turn is followed by oaky drying tannins and spice – but, wait: That’s the finish… (24/25)

Finish

As I was just saying, the sweet fruit and malt delivery slowly dissolves into a drier development at the back of the tongue, with oak tannins and a pleasant spiciness unfurling in a fluid continuum to the back of the throat and down into the chest, spreading a life-affirming warmth all round the heart. Not a very layered or complex finish, but I do like that warmth! (22/25)

Balance/Structure

This is a fine Speyside whisky, an excellent presentation of what Michael Jackson considered “one of the finest Speyside malts, cherished by connoisseurs”. Its 28 years in cask did not make it sluggish or woody or thick, but seem rather to have bred a refined integrity, a weave of aromas no less plush and complex than a fine, intricately detailed Persian rug. The nose, in my opinion, achieved a level of perfection, and I’m confident I could have continued finding new bouquets and fragrances beyond the many I did find if I’d resisted sipping this potion a while longer. The palate was excellent, but not quite the equal of the nose, and the finish, though pleasant and even deeply satisfying, was also just a bit of a winding down in the arc of exultation this presents. Still, this is a wonderful whisky. I can’t imagine any devoted whisky drinker, except perhaps the most cultish peat-freaks, finding anything but delight and satisfaction in this excellent dram. (23/25)

EM Longmorn
Total points for this whisky: 94

Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages and to Marina Hachaturova at Dime Group International for the sample.

Youth in Age (The Incomparable Jimmy Scott)

Dizygotic: The Exclusive Malts’ 2003 Speyside 10 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Speyside-10-Year-2003-from-The-Exclusive-MaltsPlease read through to the end: This moody tonic receives two different scores based on two different samples…

Calling this whisky “Speyside” rather than naming the distillery it came from has led to a bit of speculation online (and, as you’ll see, to further speculation below). There are a few Speyside distilleries that won’t allow the use of their names by independent bottlers: Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich, for example. I have seen Glenfarclas suggested as the source of this Exclusive Malts “Speyside” but that hardly seems possible given the typical Glenfarclas profile with it’s warm full body and refined bready fruitcake character. I’m going to hazard a different guess: Balvenie. I’m not the first to make this guess. At an Exclusive Malts tasting held at Norfolk Wine & Spirits nearly a year ago, the proprietor, Bikram Singh, responded to his first sip with that name: Balvenie. And I concur. If you can deconstruct the 15 year old Balvenie Single Barrel in your mind (having a dram of this expression in your glass, of course), imagining what the nose and palate might be like without any sherry cask influence, with considerably less bloated sweetness and with the ABV turned up from about 48% to more than 56%, it isn’t hard to understand this Exclusive Malts offering as the whisky that would result. I’ve spent many an evening with favorite bottles of Glenfarclas (17, 21, 25) and I don’t find the whisky under review here reminiscent of that distillery whatsoever. Then again, imagining Glenfarclas with no influence of sherry cask maturation is for all intents and purposes impossible, so I suppose that feasibility must remain open. Nonetheless, I’m sticking with my first guess: Balvenie.

Or am I? There is another intriguing, but highly unlikely, possibility: The Speyside Distillery, a very small affair on the upper section of the River Spey that produces less than 160,000 gallons of whisky annually. I have never had a drop of juice from that whisky maker, but the descriptions I’ve found sound similar to this Exclusive Malts single cask. Michael Jackson describes Drumguish, which was an NAS bottling from the Speyside Distillery, as “intense” with “jasmine” and a “slightly oily” body, “[a] creamy core” but with “dry (grassy) edges” – all of which, except for the grassy note, could be adjusted to fit with my take on the whisky here under review. And Charles McLean describes the palate on a distillery bottling of Speyside 12 Year Old as “richer and more full-bodied than you would expect from its restrained nose” – a description I could use, word for word, to portray this “Speyside” from Exclusive Malts.

The Whisky

Distilled April 14th 2003. Bottled September 2013 at an ABV of 56.3%. One of 296 bottles from a single cask. I have seen no official word on the type or size of cask used, but I have read that this whisky spent its entire ten years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and I suspect that’s true. Like all of this bottler’s offerings, this whisky is untainted by the misleading E150a caramel coloring and is un-chill-filtered.

Nose

I was having some trouble deciphering this one, so I looked at a couple of reviews online to find out what others had unraveled. One reviewer calls this whisky an example of “a classic sherry bomb”. I don’t get that, not at all. If this juice spent more than 10 minutes of it’s 10 year maturation in anything other than a (second fill?) ex-bourbon hogshead, I would be damned surprised. I find no sherry influence in this whisky whatsoever. What I do find most prominent on the nose is a clean, bright, hardy malt encased in a weave of rather sharp (French?) oak spices. Far below all that, I get some wildflower honey (i.e., not conspicuously sweet, as in some drier meads, which this is beginning in some ways to resemble on the nose) and, even farther out, like ghosts in a distant darkness, salt marsh reeds? a dusty shale-like flintiness? spilled, dried cherry juice on a just-opened package of high cloth-content copy paper? There is something distant but elusively floral as well – jasmine tea? withered carnations? The high ABV can be stabbing in the nostrils if you get too close, but I didn’t find that water did much to ameliorate this characteristic until it became too much water and washed the good away. What one can discern here is pleasant and varied, but, overall, this is a shielded, clenched and parsimonious nose that refuses to give much up. (20/25)

Palate

Well, now… This is where she divulges a few of her secrets – but only a few. The wonderfully silky, oily delivery displays that tight malted barley, a little less bright now, awash in an amalgam of light raisons, peach and cherry pits, less-than-identifiable savory elements and a touch of burnt caramel, all of it steeping in a light, thin sugar syrup. The spice is a constant after the first few seconds, but it rises along a gentle arc that never gets overpowering.

And that, for me at least, is all she wrote. She doesn’t do all that much but, what she does do, she does well – and she truly does nothing wrong. I should add, however, that a few of my friends and some reviewers refer to the palate on this whisky as cloyingly sweet and “ridiculously sweet,” as one friend described it. That was not my experience at all. Was my sample too old or too oxidized? I have no way of knowing; all I can do is review the sample I was sent. If I should have a chance to taste a fresh bottle of this potion anytime soon, I’ll write an update to this report [see the Addendum below]. (21/25)

Finish

A mouthwatering, long, slow-burning finish that spills raisons and dates across the tongue in a wash of not-really-very-sweet caramel and honey, all of this on a foundation of sturdy barley malt, savory spice and drying oak tannins that reach down into the chest with a bloom of searing, drying, slow-slow fading, high frequency alcohol. (21/25)

Balance/Structure

As an arc, this works – more or less. Thanks to the malt itself, there is a nice, tight, clean component that runs through the entire experience this whisky offers. The nose, though shielded and stingy, leads naturally enough to the palate – which has that wonderful silky delivery. The finish starts with great promise but ends with a slow-searing burn that won’t be to everyone’s liking. (20/25)

Total points for this sample of this whisky: 82

Many thanks to Sam Filmus at ImpEx Beverages and to Marina Hachaturova at Dime Group International for the sample.

Speyside-10-Year-2003-from-The-Exclusive-Malts
ADDENDUM:

Thanks to Bikram Singh (once again!), who had an open bottle of this whisky at his store, I did manage to get my hands on a fresh sample. There is a big difference between this and the sample I was sent. On the Nose, one gets an even more vibrant maltiness, a nice light honey, river rocks drying in the sun and some cinnamon and white pepper spice, though the alcohol is still stabbing the nostrils a bit (+2 points). On the Palate, the silky oleaginous delivery is still there and one now gets – especially with some water – baked apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, pear candy, light raisons and thin honey (+2 points). The Finish is much the same, but – with water, especially – sweeter, less burning, longer and more flavorful (+1 point). As for the Balance and Structure, I’d say the Structure remains much the same, dominated by a nice firm malt, but the Balance is improved because every step of the experience has been improved. Is this as sweet as my friends and others said? Well, it’s sweeter, but not ridiculously so, and the additional sweetness balances in pleasant equipoise with the spice, malt and tannins. (+2 points).

Total points for this sample of this whisky: 89

That’s a big difference!