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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The Serenity of Wow: The Classic Cask 1975 Dallas Dhu 28 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

IMG_20140501_143658_049~2This is good whisky, with a very long ooooooo between the g and the d. This whisky does so much right, it’s difficult to gauge – you want to put your damn pen down so you can freely and patiently drink and savor. This is a wondrous gift to the whisky drinker, granted by all of the people involved in its pilgrimage from the now long-gone Speyside distillery, where it was put into cask in 1975, to the XV Beacon Hotel in Boston, for whom The Classic Cask bottled this delectable potion for hotel guests, exclusively, nearly three decades later, to the esteemed little liquor store where I found this gem, ten years after it was bottled, in a small glass case I had neglected to look into on previous visits. I promise you this: I will find more of this elixir and, when I do, I’ll buy it and share it with friends. Anything this odd and enticing needs to be experienced by those who can and will appreciate it.

To stay on task and to keep myself from savoring aimlessly, I enlisted a friend of long experience and acute sensibilities in the whisky realm to join me in this endeavor of assessment. He wants his whisky reviewer moniker to be “Indy” – exactly why, I don’t recall. Regardless, he’s a good man to sit down with me to share and savor this rare, sumptuous find. I should say that Indy knew nothing of this bottle before he arrived; he had no idea he was to be deployed to Dallas Dhu duty immediately upon his arrival. In the end, however, as it turned out, Indy didn’t mind.

The Whisky

Exactly what this is is a bit of a mystery. Distilled at the Dallas Dhu distillery in the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands in 1975, a cask (or more?) evidently ended up being bottled for the XV Beacon Hotel in Boston – a very classy, luxurious, boutique establishment built in 1903 and converted to hotel use in 1999. The 28 year old juice was reduced to 43% ABV and bottled in 2004. Oddly, it was put into both standard 750ml bottles – for the hotel bar, perhaps – and 375ml hip-flask style glass pint bottles with aluminum screw caps –for sale to patrons to take to their luxury suites, no doubt.

The Dallas Dhu distillery was closed in 1983 and three years later converted into a museum by Historic Scotland. Much farther back in time, in the XIIIth century, a man associated with the Church of Saint Michael, located in the region where the distillery was later built (in 1899), changed his name from William de Ripley to William de Dallas – why, nobody seems to know. Nonetheless, one descendent of this early Scotsman leant his name to the distillery, while another, a George Mifflin Dallas, became the 11th Vice President of the United States under James K. Polk. The city of Dallas, Texas was named for that one in 1845. All of which is interesting for about the length of time it takes to write it out, and has nothing to do with the quality of this whisky.

Appearance

A pale gold, like a field of young barley at noon on a sunny day. Makes one suspect this was put into a refill bourbon cask for its slow, 28 year development. It grips the glass when swirled in one, with patient rivulets forming and running at a rather slow, sensual speed. Nothing wrong here, nothing at all, but there’s really barely a whisper of a hint of the splendors to come. Should that be admired? Hard to decide, hence the fraction… (7.5/10)

Nose

Indy’s first impression was melon. Mine was watermelon. I also sensed his melon, one of the cantaloupe variety, but only under that scent of watermelon one gets from watermelon-flavored candies, especially gums with gooey centers. Indy didn’t get this. He did get something flowery, which I did not. In any case, simultaneously, Indy and I both picked up a rather unexpected aroma: I said Gin & Tonic, Indy said Evergreen, then we both said Juniper! I also got lemon-lime where Indy got orange, but at least we agreed there was something citrusy at work. We also agreed there was a somewhat botanical undertone to the nose here, a very pleasant one, and a light honey sweetness comingling with a stunning, firm and fragrant maltiness that caused the mouth to water in anticipation of what promised to be a glorious ride on the tongue. (19/20)

Palate

This spirit has so much flavor, I don’t regret that it was reduced to a 43% ABV. Would it be better at 50% or at cask strength? Perhaps, but this whisky is so flavorful at its current strength, these thoughts never occurred to Indy or me while we were busy with our task of assessment.

Our individual analyses of the palate were very similar, with one exception: Indy said he could taste the Body of Christ… Well, what he actually said was he was getting the unleavened qualities of a communion wafer in the taste. I had already noted the taste of waffle, which is in some ways similar, though more reminiscent of a motel lobby in Atlanta than of an altar call at a Catholic church in, say, Billerica, MA. Be that as it may, we were both very impressed with the quality of the malt here, with a sweet, slightly peppery oakiness, with the citrus now less pronounced than in the nose but, like yesterday’s rain in a landscape, never quite out of sight. The honey sweetness, too, was ever present, but without being cloying in the least; a wildflower honey, perhaps, or, better, a heather or comb honey. All of this combining to make fulsomely manifest the promise of the nose. (19/20)

Finish

There is a real sparkle to the finish, as the honey sweetness fades to a delightful, diluted nectar. And the spice, though still mild, cranks up a bit to help the wondrous malt dissolve on the tongue into a very rounded, gin-like-drying (“slow” tannins, so to speak, and quinine?), moderately long and warming finish with just the slightest hint of licorice at the end. Mouthwatering in a sensual, almost erotic way. (19/20)

Balance/Structure

The nose of this whisky is wonderful and it swims like a school of humming mermaids into a no-less wonderful palate and finish. This is very good stuff! The citrus fruit bite is perfectly balanced by the just-right honey sweetness; the firm, round old malt balanced expertly by the slender but scintillating juniper qualities and by a light peppery spark. Every roundness is met by a counterbalancing titillation and every quality indicating long maturation is met by a counterbalancing freshness. The result is a sophisticated single cask excursion that is, in my experience, about as good as it gets. (20/20)

The Quality of the Buzz

Here I must speak for myself. Indy had to drive home, so over-buzzing with excessive drammage of this alluring malt, though difficult to resist, had, by Indy, to be resisted. He drove off. I sat back down and poured another dram.

While some whiskies induce excessive vigor or sloppiness beyond a certain sum, others become more unflappably calming, more sensual, making one more prone to tranquility and broad imaginings, massaging a capacity to ride long trains of thought with attentive ease. While not stupefying in the least, this delightful Dallas Dhu falls into the latter category. It makes you comfortable, thoughtful, open and unguarded. And the buzz itself, the “high” one gets, is stunningly fine and finely pitched, like the motion of a hummingbird’s wings. When one pours a dram of whisky not simply to savor it but in pursuit of peace and rest, to unwind and uncoil into a frame of mind that eschews all the nagging pinpricks of the day, the buzz one gets from this Dallas Due is exactly what one is looking for. Yes, I’d say this is perfect. (10/10)

Total points for this whisky: 94.5

Check it out: http://www.spiritimportsinc.com/index2.php#!/THE_CLASSIC_CASK