Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A Rose by Any Other Name: a review of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

*Disclaimer: Bourbon is not scotch. I know this. Bourbon is delicious though, and I was drinking it before I tasted my first scotch. As such, I offer no apology for including bourbons in my reviews. If you've never had bourbon, I urge you to give it a chance. You shan't be disappointed. In keeping with the spirit of the reviewed beverage, I've chosen to use American spelling conventions, just this once.

Prologue




Peace?! Tybalt hates the word, as he hates hell, and all bourbon

Perhaps things need not be so dramatic. Although reading through various whisky/whiskey blogs, you might find scotch and bourbon enthusiasts much like Montagues and Capulets. Or Tybalt and Mercutio dueling over perceived slights. Some malt-heads refuse to ackowledge how good bourbon can be, while some bourbon lovers bite their thumbs at scotch. It's a shame since there's room in your liquor cabinet for whiskies from all over the world. If you insist on one over the other, you'll miss out on some beautiful flavors, and in the end, all are punishèd. (that's "punish-ED", make sure you pronounce the ending)

 

First Act



First things first; what is bourbon? Bourbon is whiskey. With an "e". American whiskey. It can be produced anywhere in the United States, but it is strongly associated with Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. U.S. law states that bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be:

  • Produced in the United States
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
  • Aged in new, charred American oak containers (this caramelizes the sugars in the wood and improves bourbon's flavor and color)
  • Distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 62.5% alcohol by volume
  • Bottled at 40% alcohol by volume or more.

Bourbon has no legal minimum aging period, except for straight bourbon, which has a minimum aging requirement of two years. Straight bourbon must NOT contain any added coloring or flavoring, which makes some scotch enthusiasts swoon with envy. Any bourbon aged less than four years must include an age statement on its label. Much like scotch, bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.  A bourbon that is "bottled in bond" must be the product of one distillation season (January – June or July – December) and one distiller at one distillery. It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 50% alcohol by volume. The bourbon's label must identify the distillery where it was distilled and where it was bottled. Only spirits produced in the United States may be designated as bonded.


A Brief History of Four Roses


According to their website the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, Paul Jones. Jr. was smitten with a particular Southern belle. He reportedly sent her a proposal, and she replied that if her answer were “Yes,” she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Jones waited for her answer excitedly on that night and when the woman arrived she wore a corsage of four red roses on her gown. There are no reports as to whether Jones' love interest had a cousin Tybalt who wanted to kill him. Probably not. Jones later named his bourbon “Four Roses” as a symbol of his passion for his wife. Four Roses survived prohibition, as they were licensed to produce bourbon "for medicinal purposes only".



Four Roses Single Barrel
That's a true Southern belle
Just look at this bottle. It's beautiful. Even if you don't drink bourbon, you could keep this around as a decoration. You'd be missing out if you did, though. This is a really good bourbon for not a whole lot of money.

Tasting notes


Nose (undiluted): floral vanilla, toffee, menthol, oak

Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, spicy arrival, vanilla, toffee sweetness, hints of orange peel, black pepper, rye/rosemary spiciness

Finish: medium-long finish, peppery rye, herbal (rosemary) notes with a lingering oakiness.

Adding water to this bourbon toned down the pepperiness and bite a bit. The quality of this bourbon did NOT suffer with the addition of water. It's bottled at 50% ABV, so it can take it. Water also pushed the menthol note a bit further back.


Conclusion


If you're new to the bourbon world, or even if you only plan on using bourbon when making a tasty Old Fashioned or a Mint Julep, you'd be well-served with Four Roses Single Barrel. Some lower ABV bourbons can lose something when mixed, but not this heavy-hitter. I haven't tasted bourbon as extensively as I've tasted single malt scotch, but this is, without a doubt one of the best I have tasted. Highly recommended.


Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches


Cheers !

Friday, 26 May 2017

Oh Sherry ! A review of Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt

The 1980s was a decade of spandex, mullets, big guitar solos and big hair. It was a great time to be alive !  I was a child at the time, but a few things stick in my mind from this era; my beloved Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1986, the Edmonton Oilers dynasty was rocked by the Gretzky trade of 1988 and popular music was dominated by big, flashy, arena rock anthems. The music is what I remember most from the 1980s. In case you don't know, I'm a musician. Sort of. A guitar player and sometimes a singer. The 1980s rock scene was dominated by tenor voices such as Axl Rose's angry screeching, David Lee Roth's scatting and beebopping with Van Halen, and Steve Perry's saccharine vocal hooks with Journey. While I'm clearly a baritone, I admit that I belt out my fair share of 1980s hair rock in the car, when no one else is around. And Steve Perry's vocal stylings always had the strongest pop sensibilities. Those high, reaching vocal runs are a fist-shaking good time. I dare you to listen to "Oh Sherrie" and NOT sing along. Go on, try it. I'll wait.



Couldn't do it, could you? It's ok; your secret's safe with me. So what does this have to do with scotch? I'm glad you asked. Sometimes, we like popular, easily accessible things more than we care to admit. Like Steve Perry, or sherried scotch whisky. (nice segue!)

Glendronach 12 Year Old Original


Glendronach is a Highland distillery located near Forgue and draws its water from the Dronach Burn. It was founded in 1826 by James Allardice and was bought only four years later by Walter Scott. Over the years, the Glendronach distillery has changed hands as often as the Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. After Walter Scott, Glendronach has belonged to Captain Charles Grant (son of William Grant, founder of Glenfiddich), William Teacher and Sons, Allied Distillers, Pernod Ricard and Chivas Brothers, and finally by the BenRiach Distillery Company.

Glendronach's 12 year old expression is matured in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks for the entirety of its maturation. This malt is what you might call a "sherry bomb". While sherry bomb scotches are not as controversial as E150A caramel colouring or chill-filtration (neither of which are used in this whisky, F.Y.I.), some malt-heads don't really like to admit that they like them. My favourite malts are peated, smoky, spicy scotches from Islay, like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Caol Ila. Perhaps it's silly machismo on my part, but I'm always a bit cautious about admitting I like sweeter, fruity scotches. But I'm nothing if not honest. I should note that the bottle I'm reviewing was not mine. My wife's grandfather is very generous and I have shared this particular bottle on several occasions with him dating back to December 2016. You should note: the last third of the bottle was much fruitier than the first two thirds. Some of the vanilla and toffee is toned down as the scotch is exposed to the air.


Tasting notes



glendronach 12 year old scotch



Nose (undiluted): dried fruits (raisins, figs), spiced wine, vanilla, maybe hints of pear

Body: Full-bodied, very rich mouthfeel

Palate (undiluted): this is where Glendronach shines. The flavour is rich, with a nice development. It starts with raisins and dates, progressing to caramelized sugar, red licorice, and then dark cherries

Finish: medium, with more dark cherries, a hint of black pepper and some toffee sweetness

I've never added water to this whisky. It's bottled at 43% ABV, so it isn't that strong. It's also very fruity, but not too sweet, ergo I did not feel the need to dilute it in order to tone down any flavours. I also thoroughly enjoyed the rich mouthfeel, and adding water would likely take away more than it contributed.




Conclusion


Scotch is best enjoyed with company. It's a drink to linger over and savour, it's not one you rush. This dram is a perfect after-dinner sipper. It's sweet enough to take the place of dessert. I'm not much for "fruity" drinks, but it's hard to find fault with this whisky. It's not the most complex malt, residing firmly in the "fruity" category, but it doesn't claim to be anything else. Glendronach 12 Year Old is a good choice for those who have only tried Glenfiddich's 12 in the single malt category. Glendronach won't break the bank, and there's very little chance you'll dislike it. Peated scotches (my favourites) are like the band Rush (also one of my favourites); they tend to polarize people into "love them" or "can't stand them". Sherried scotches are more like Journey; they may or may not be your favourite, you may or may not admit that you like them, but you'll sing along when you hear them. Or in the case of Glendronach 12, you'll certainly accept a wee dram when it's offered. 


Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches



Slainte mhaith !

Friday, 19 May 2017

It's a Family Tradition: a review of Grant's Family Reserve Blended Scotch

The whisky blogosphere is a funny place. Not ha-ha funny. More like "a turtle on top of a fencepost" funny. Writers often review pricy, unfindable malts, special bottlings or limited edition "travel retail" whiskies. They rail about atrocities (a.k.a. their personal pet peeves) done to whisky: the evils of caramel colouring, the greed which drives distillers to bottle single malt at a "paltry" 40% ABV and a host of other seemingly minor details. For the record, my pet peeve is NAS scotch, or more specifically, the price distillers charge for it and all the secrecy and double-talk surrounding age.

There is very specific vocabulary to learn in order to communicate with other whisky enthusiasts. But all of it is well worth the effort. Most bloggers respond fairly quickly to comments, eager to share ideas about a common love (whisky). There are a few things I think we can all agree on. Scotch needs to shake off the image of being a rich old man's drink. This is happening as whisky begins to appeal to younger malt-heads all over the world. There is still, in some circles, an undertone of sexism in the way people talk about single malt scotch. But that's a post for another day.

What is missing, practically speaking, is a more thorough examination of inexpensive blends. I realize it's not as sexy to talk about Grant's Family Reserve ($27.95 for 750ml), as it is to talk about a limited release of Angus MacKilty's 65 Year Old Single Malt Bagpipe Reserve, sold at $50 000 per bottle, but which scotch are more people likely to drink? The thing with inexpensive blended whisky is it allows those new to scotch to taste different things and develop their palates without spending a fortune. I understand the more experienced, professional scotch bloggers (journalists?) may find the task of describing a budget blend laborious, so I will endeavour to do my best in their stead. As always, you should note that I'm not a professional and my opinions are just that; personal opinions.
 
The newcomer whilst reading whisky blogs

What is Grant's?

Grant's is named for founder William Grant, who opened his first distillery, in Dufftown, with the help of his wife and nine children. Sound familiar? It should; William Grant is the founder of Glenfiddich. So there's a good chance that some of the malt whisky (about 40% of the blend is single malt) in this blend is Glenfiddich. About 60% of the blend is grain whisky, much of it from Grant's own Girvan distillery. More on grain whisky at a different time. Grant's makes a whole range of blended whiskies, from the Family reserve, to Ale Cask, Sherry Cask and even some guaranteed age statement expressions. It's a fairly recognizable brand all over the world. Grant's is truly an equal opportunity spirit.


Tasting notes

Let's keep in mind that at under thirty bucks, this isn't the most complex whisky around.

Grant's Family Reserve Blended Whisky
Nose (undiluted): strong nail-polish remover (acetone) smell at first. Grant's, like many scotch whiskies, needs to breathe in the glass for a few minutes. After 10 minutes or so, it was pleasant, albeit straightforward: dried fruits (mostly raisin and prune), toffee, cereal

Palate (undiluted): medium to light-bodied, toffee, dried fruits (sherry influence?), slight pear note, barley

Finish: medium length, vanilla, cereal grain, oak

Adding water didn't change the character too much. It toned down a bit of the sherry-like quality that was on the palate and allowed the neutral, sweeter flavours to come through. I don't personally recomment adding water to Grant's.

Conclusion



I've read Grant's described as a "universal solvent" (over at www.connosr.com) and it's a pretty accurate description. This blend is fine on its own, but it won't move you to tears. It is neutral enough to work in most whisky-based cocktails from a Godfather, to a Rusty Nail or a Rob Roy, but for some reason, it really did NOT work in my favourite whisky cocktail; the Old Fashioned. Bourbons and rye whiskies are better-suited to that task. Hey, Grant's can't do everything. It's not as bold a blend as Islay Mist 8, but it certainly won't offend the palate. If you want an inexpensive introduction to scotch with a hint of Speyside character, this might be it. And Grant's won't break the bank. Now pass the MacKilty's.

Rating: 2/5 moustaches


Slainte mhaith !



Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown

*Disclaimer: I realize I'm reviewing a Canadian whisky and not a proper scotch. But since this whisky has caused more controversy, anger and resentment than the 2016 U.S. election, I thought I'd share my thoughts on Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.

Jim Murray, author of The Whisky Bible, kicked a hornet's nest when he announced, in the 2016 edition of his book, that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was his choice for world whisky of the year. He even awarded the Gimli, Manitoba whisky 97.5 out of a possible 100 points. People have since accused Murray of resorting to controversy and sensationalism to sell his book. Some love to point out Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye didn't even win best Canadian whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards (that honour went to Lot No. 40). Murray, in response, stated that awarding a Canadian whisky his prestigious award actually hurts book sales. He says his publisher's reaction was one of despair, not jubilation when he was told of Murray's choice. So how did Jim Murray reach his conclusion? Were there shenanigans afoot? Does it really matter?

Crown Royal: the Joffrey Baratheon of whisky?
The crown doesn't make the King


According to interviews I've read, Mr. Murray tastes over 1000 whiskies per year under very strictly controlled condidtions. He eats bland food, he won't taste if he's got a cold and he doesn't even permit hotel staff to clean his room with strong cleaners. Murray awarded this whisky's nose a perfect 25 out of 25 points. His much publicized quote sums it up "To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice." That's bold. Murray is a professional, and I am naught but a humble whisky enthusiast. Before I share my notes, let me say tastes and preferences differ. In fact, your whisky tasting experience may change from one week to the next or from one bottle to the next. So keep that in mind and use reviews, including mine, as a guide. No one but you has "the final word" on any whisky. Awards for "best" anything are incredibly subjective and "best whisky in the world" is no different. If it were me, "best in the world" would likely be something smoky and peated, since those are my preferences. I don't know if Mr. Murray does his tastings "blind" or with the knowledge of exactly what he is tasting. I don't want to question his motives or his honesty, since I don't know him personally and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. Not that I am in a position to bring him into disrepute, but I want to be clear that I don't think he has an ulterior motive.

Best in the world?


Tasting notes


Nose (undiluted): cloves, rye bread, orange peels, vanilla, oak

Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, brown sugar, orange, cloves, rye bread, cinnamon, vanilla

Finish: pepper, oak, ginger and cloves


Adding water increased the fruitiness and calmed down a bit of the spiciness. I prefer a spicy whisky, so I wasn't a fan of adding water to this expression. Note that it is bottled at 45% ABV. If you have never tried a whisky this high in alcohol content, you may want to add a little water.

Conclusion



There's a good chance the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye you purchase today is NOT the same bottling Jim Murray tasted back in 2015. This doesn't mean the producer is "cheating" or deceiving you. The bottle I tried back in December 2015 was different than the one I had in November 2016, which was in turn different from the one I had in March 2017. I found the second bottle sweeter, with more pronounced citrus, and a bit less nutmeg/peppery spiciness than the first one. The third one, from March 2017, which I used for these tasting notes, had a far more pronounced rye and clove flavour than the other two. Tastes change over time and there are natural variations in something as volatile as whisky. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is accessible, consistently good, so I like to keep a bottle on hand most of the time. Is this the best whisky in the world? I don't think so, but it is a very good whisky and a great value for the money (approx. $35 CAD in May 2017).

Rating: 3/5 moustaches



Cheers, eh ?!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

You Can't Handle the Truth: NAS Scotch is Overpriced

Truth is so rare that it is delightful to tell it.
Emily Dickinson

We live in the post-truth era of "alternative facts". Regardless of your personal views, some truths are cold, objective facts. Neil DeGrasse Tyson famously said "that's the good thing about science: it's true whether or not you believe in it. That's why it works." So what would it take for you to change your mind? Most of us, whether we admit it or not, exhibit  confirmation bias. Any information that confirms our beliefs is uncritically accepted, while any information that directly challenges our beliefs is intensely scrutinized and is often dismissed (e.g. "fake news"). This isn't my opinion, it's a pretty well-known phenomenon in psychology. What does this have to do with whisky? A lot, actually. There are several seemingly minor (well, one not so minor) issues that polarize the whisky world into bitter rival factions. And on these issues, both camps seem intent on convincing as many people as possible that their side is the sole arbiter of truth. Both contingents refuse to acknowledge valid points from the other side. Whisky "connoisseurs" dismiss anything that contradicts their ideas and beliefs as corporate propaganda. Representatives of some corporate conglomerates dismiss their critics as "uninformed hot-heads who don't know anything about whisky".   Allow me to tackle these points as fairly as possible, presenting both sides of each issue and my synopsis. I'll save the best, most interesting, most contentious issue for last.


Issue number one: Caramel colouring


With colouring
Without colouring




Have a look at these whiskies. The one on the left contains E150A colouring, the one on the right does not. While many factors affect a whisky's colour, some distilleries add caramel colouring to their whisky. It is one of three ingredients permitted in single-malt scotch by Scottish law. The other two are malted barley and water. So what's the problem with caramel colouring? Here are the sides in the debate:

Arguments in favour of caramel colouring

 

Dr Nick Morgan is head of whisky outreach for Diageo (dee-AH-gee-oh). For those who don't know, Diageo is the corporate owner of brands such as Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Smithwick's, Kilkenny, Captain Morgan's, Smirnoff, Crown Royal, Tanqueray, Gordon's and more. In an interview with scotchwhisky.com Dr Morgan states that

"Appearance, the colour of your Scotch in your glass, is of huge importance. That’s why, for generations, blenders have used spirit caramel, an entirely natural product, to even out the entirely predictable colour variations between different batches of whisky, a practice long enshrined in the Scotch Whisky Regulations."

Morgan also makes a strong argument by stating that the minute amounts of spirit caramel used in scotch whisky do NOT affect the taste. Caramel colouring is actually quite bitter, not sweet. It would be illogical, Dr Morgan argues, to "spoil" a product with caramel colouring after it's spent years maturing in various barrels. Morgan notes that when put to the test under rigorous conditions, even so-called experts cannot detect the presence of E150A. You can't taste it and some people prefer the even, predictable colour. So there is no real downside, other than the ire of cantankerous whisky snobs, according to the pro-colouring people.

Arguments against the use of caramel colouring 




is e150a the oompa loompa of whisky
Is E150A the Oompa Loompa of whisky?
Those opposed to caramel colouring compare its use to a fake tan. They allege that distilleries using caramel colouring  are deliberately misleading their consumers. A deep ruby colour suggests longer maturation times, sherry cask influence and "deeper" flavour. And in these days of disappearing age statements (more on that later), opponents accuse distilleries of disguising younger, allegedly inferior spirits with caramel colouring. Adam Hannett, head distiller at Bruichladdich, insists that caramel colouring affects a whisky's taste. He also emphasizes the fact that whisky will always exhibit colour variations and that consumers should understand this. Jim Murray, controversial author of "The Whisky Bible", has also been a vocal critic of E150A's use. In an interview with the great website "The Whisky Exchange", Murray said: "The industry says caramel does not affect the flavour; yes, it does, massively."

My take


I'm a bit ambivalent on caramel colouring. I understand why distillers use it, but I worry it misleads some consumers. I think Dr Morgan and his ilk give consumers too little credit. Are people going to stop drinking their favourite whisky because the colour is a bit lighter or inconsistent from one bottle to the next? I doubt it. The smell and taste of whisky are the important aspects of the experience. But then, maybe I'm wrong. I can understand E150A's use in cheaper blends like Johnnie Walker Red, but why bother with a single malt like Caol Ila 18? People who are willing to spend that kind of money on scotch know about colour variation.

I think Dr Morgan's logic inadvertently makes the best argument against the use of spirit caramel. In the aforementioned interview, he states that whisky naturally has "predictable colour variations", but then goes on to argue that whisky needs to look identical from bottle to bottle since it's "a measure of authenticity and product integrity." If colour variations are natural, isn't it authentic to have variations in colour from one bottle to the next? Isn't the use of colouring disingenuous? Or is Dr Morgan referring to brand "authenticity"?  I believe Dr Morgan is referring to the latter version of "authenticity".

Ultimately, I agree with Dr Morgan on at least one thing: taste. Unless you're a super-taster, I doubt that you can detect the taste of caramel colouring in your scotch. Saying you can tell means you're probably biased on this issue and unlikely to change your mind, regardless of what the evidence shows. I wonder if Jim Murray would be willing to do a blind tasting to test his claim? The use of caramel colouring is not a huge issue for me. I'd prefer it if distilleries didn't use E150A, but I won't deliberately avoid a whisky that does. And for the record: I don't put much stock in catch-phrases like "natural" and "authentic". These are marketing terms, not taste profiles.

Issue number two: Chill-filtering



I wonder if Suzie was in favour of chill-filtration?


Canadian beer commercials always reference "cold, crisp, mountain" whatever. If you are unfamiliar with scotch whisky's distillation process, you might be forgiven for thinking chill-filtering sounds as wonderful as J. Peterman's voice. But this issue is a bone of contention among malt-heads. So what is chill-filtration? According to "Whisky For Everyone",


The process of chill filtration involves dropping the temperature of the whisky to zero degrees Celsius in the case of single malts and -4 degrees in the case of blends. Once chilled, the whisky is passed through a series of tightly knit metallic meshes or paper filters under pressure. During this process, any other sediment or impurities from the cask (called 'coals') that are present will also be removed.

So what are the arguments for and against?

Arguments in favour of chill-filtration


Whyte and Mackay Master Blender Sir Richard "the Nose" Paterson spoke to this issue briefly during an interview with Mark Gillespie. He states that chill-filtration does NOT affect the taste at all.  Paterson explains consumers are skeptical when distillers tell them cloudiness in an unchill-filtered whisky is "natural". He states that several people believe that a whisky is "off" if it is cloudy. He adds Dalmore does have expressions (albeit costlier ones bottled at higher ABV) which are not chill-filtered and that consumers have the right to choose which one they prefer. The Glenlivet website also has a section on chill filtration wherein they mention that some people prefer the taste and mouthfeel of a chill-filtered malt. Human taste perception is complicated, they say, so you have to find your own preference. Most Glenlivet expressions are chill-filtered. A study conducted by Dr Horst Lüning showed, despite a relatively small sample size (111 experts testing 24 whiskies), that even so-called "experts" could not tell the difference between whiskies that where chill-filtered and those that weren't at a rate significantly above the statistical mean.

Arguments against chill-filtration



Opponents of chill-filtration insist that particles filtered out must influence taste. Not all of a malt's flavour compounds are water and ethanol-soluble. Thus removing the micelles, the particles which clump together to create cloudiness, during chill-filtration removes flavour compounds. Or so the argument goes. Those opposed to chill-filtration insist that removing these esters and fatty acids leaves the consumer with a watered-down, inferior product. They add that these chill-filtered products are usually bottled at a lower ABV because the distillers want to stretch the stocks to make more profit from diminishing supplies. The result, they say, is more low quality whisky flooding the market at elevated prices.  


My take

From the conlusion to the study done by Dr Lüning:


The influence of chill filtration, on the quality of whisky is merely a marketing claim. Neither can the participants identify the filtration method, nor is the quality rated better. Instead of falling for the argument of non chill filtration the consumer should better aim for an additional maturation in ex-sherry or wine casks. Here an improved quality rating is statistically measurable.


There is, in the anti-chill filtration faction, a strong tendency to use the appeal to nature fallacy. Briefly stated, they believe natural = good, and extra man-made steps = bad. They type this on their iPhones, iPads, or they vlog this and upload it to YouTube. Apparently the irony of ranting against modernity on the World Wide Web is lost on them.

I'm not really sold either way on this one. I understand the business perspective of wanting to appeal to as a wide a market as possible. Chill-filtration helps with consistency and perception. Is it deception if distillers perpetuate this perception instead of educating their consumers? Perhaps.

It's hard to dismiss the fact that a scotch expression bottled at 40% will yield greater profits than one bottled at 48%, as the former is more diluted, yielding more bottlings per batch. And the bottle at 40% is unlikely to be more affordable, so savings are not passed on to consumers. Also, unchill-filtered expressions are often sold at a premium, so consumers are paying more for a product that theoretically costs less to produce as the chill-filtering step is omitted. Distillers are simply increasing their profit margins, under the guise of taste preference, which is their right. But they may want to consider the damage this might inflict upon the reputation of their brand(s).

The truth is scotch "enthusiasts", the ones who really care about this stuff, are few and far between. Most people who drink scotch buy a bottle of Ballantine's, Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse or Grant's, serve it over ice and don't think about any of this stuff. If big corporate conglomerates lose the business of a guy like Ralfy (or yours truly), they aren't going to lose sleep over it. The demand for high-end scotch in China is booming, and that's a much bigger market than Canada.

That said, I remain an advocate of honesty with regards to labeling. If you're paying over $80 per bottle here in Ontario, I think you deserve to know exactly what you're buying. This idea is not without precedent; labeling laws in Sweden and Germany require distilleries to disclose the use of caramel colouring. Similar laws could be enacted regarding chill-filtering. Or distillers could simply tell you what you're buying. Ultimately, chill-filtering and caramel colour aren't a deal-breaker for me. Lagavulin 16 Year Old, which is both chill-filtered and coloured, remains my favourite malt. These debates are interesting, but I think obsessing over it is nano-analysis.

Issue number three: No Age Statement (NAS) Expressions


Ok. This is the big one. I'll admit that this one gets me a bit hot under the collar. But probably not for the reasons you think. Hint: it has nothing to do with taste or quality. Have a look at these two malts:

12 year old macallanmacallan amber nas scotch


What is the difference between the two? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? They're both from Macallan, a distillery of noble repute. They both look rich and sweet. They both sell for about a hundred bucks per bottle (in Ontario). The one on the left contains malts from the Macallan distillery which have been matured for at least 12 years. The one on the right contains malts from the Macallan distillery which have been matured for at least.....how long? Macallan won't say (note: according to Scottish law, all scotch whisky must be matured in oak barrels for at least three years). You may be getting a high proportion of whiskies older than twelve years, or you may be paying the same money for much younger whiskies. Aye, there's the rub. Here are the arguments for and against No Age Statement (NAS) scotch.


Arguments in favour of NAS expressions


Jim Murray, in the interview previously cited, doesn't mind NAS scotch. He points to the fact that most Scotch whisky used to be NAS whisky. The original Glenfiddich did not carry an age statement. Murray has repeatedly stated, "the only criteria I look at is quality." In a YouTube interview with The Whisky Exchange, Murray incites whisky drinkers to try NAS malts as many of them are, in his words, "very well-layered and quite exciting". In a debate on scotchwhisky.com, Macallan's creative director Ken Grier also makes some convincing arguments. He states that age and maturity are not the same thing, a statement often echoed by teachers and parents. Grier denies the charge that removing age statements is an underhanded way to keep prices high while watering down mature malts with younger whiskies (note: many distillers' stocks of mature whisky are running low with the increased popularity of scotch) . He insists flavour is paramount and removing the "shackles" of age guarantees permits blenders to use the right spirits to create the ideal flavour for each expression. He compares the process to picking an apple off a tree when it is ripe and at the peak of perfection, not at a pre-determined date. In an interview with The Whisky Exchange, Diageo spokesman Dr Nick Morgan states:


When the rush towards single malts occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the easiest thing to create a credential was putting numbers on bottles. It justified higher price points and it gave them integrity. [The industry] decided to teach people that age equated to value, so in some ways, it’s a situation of our own making.


So according to Dr Morgan, age does not really equal quality; that's just something distillers told consumers in the 1980s so the companies could make more money. Because, you know, lying to make money is integrity. But now that stocks of mature scotch are running low, age doesn't really matter. And they're totally telling us the truth now when it comes to NAS expressions, because, you know, integrity. This brings me to.....

Arguments against NAS expressions



Mr. Chiles is not impressed with NAS scotch
Watered-down and inferior. Mischievous and deceitful. Chicanerous and deplorable. NAS scotch is a clear violation of your rights as a consumer. It's an infringement on your constitutional rights. It's outrageous, egregious, preposterous. At least, that seems to be the sentiment from the anti-NAS crowd.

Managing reserves of scotch whisky is tricky. Professional economists have a hard time accurately predicting what will happen next year. It may seem unfair to judge the scotch whisky industry for not having been prescient enough to foresee the increase in single malt's popularity. It's hard to criticize them for not managing stocks accordingly, at least in the past. Critics of NAS expressions, however, don't necessarily criticize the existence of NAS scotch, but rather its price point and the secrecy surrounding its age. Many also worry what the rush to drop guaranteed age statements is doing to current reserves. They wonder: How much 5 year old malt is currently being used in cheaper, watered-down "more creative" expressions? This is whisky that won't be 12 year old stock in seven years time. George Grant, sales director at J & G Grant (makers of Glenfarclas), clearly sums up the way many consumers feel:

If you’re spending £40 (ed: about $75 CAD) or more on a single malt, wouldn’t you want to know what’s in the bottle, rather than just the fancy name on the outside? Of course age isn’t everything and there are some very good young whiskies out there. But I think the thing that annoys consumers, and certainly annoys me, is the fact that people are bringing out NAS whiskies that are quite clearly younger than the whiskies they’re replacing, yet carry a 50% price increase.


Re-read that part in bold. That's not a mistake. Ah greed, the heart and soul of capitalism innovation. Without age statements, how can Macallan explain to the retailer, or the consumer, the difference between an $80 bottle of Macallan Gold and a $315 bottle of Macallan Ruby? Is it because the deeper colour means the Ruby expression contains a higher percentage of older spirit? But wait, don't distilleries present "age does not equal quality" as an argument in favour of NAS whisky? Why should consumers trust distillers whose narrative is internally inconsistent? 


The argument against NAS scotch boils down to economics: distilleries are producing and bottling younger scotch which lowers the cost of production. HOWEVER, they are charging the same price (or sometimes more) for malt whiskies with catchy names (Superstition, Amber, Storm, Rare Cask, Cigar Malt Reserve) as they would for age guaranteed scotch. The anti-NAS crowd calls shenanigans. Shenanigans has been declared !


I declare shenanigans !!!

My take


I've had a few NAS expressions. I've liked many of them. Loved a few of them. A good friend of mine loves Macallan Sienna. Aberlour A'Bunnadh is a favourite among many scotch enthusiasts. Laphroaig's Quarter Cask is one of my favourite malts. To Laphroaig's credit, they don't try to hide the fact that QC contains whiskies as young as 5 years old. Their promotional video states that QC contains whiskies between 5 and 11 years old.  Shouldn't taste be the only thing that matters? Maybe.

I have to side with the No Age Statement critics on the economic front, however. If you want to sell me a whisky comprised mainly of malts less than 10 years old, the sticker price should reflect it. Are we paying for the shiny new labels and marketing slogans? A good product will always sell if it is fairly priced. Would you pay $75 000 for a base model Honda Civic if the name was changed to Acura? I know I wouldn't. That's not a knock against the Civic, but that price point would not be fair value for what you're getting. Aberlour has been selling A'Bunnadh, an NAS expression, for almost 20 years. It is almost always favourably reviewed. It is bottled at a whopping 60% ABV and sells for about $100. Most seem to think that this is fair market value for a cask strength whisky, even if it contains younger spirit. I feel the NAS category would be well served if distillers were more forthcoming with information about the contents of the bottle. 

Let's say a successful Speyside distillery, let's call it MacLeod, is running low on 12 year old spirit at its North Kilttown distillery. They have a few options. They can reduce the number of bottles going out the door and raise the price of the 12 year old expression. They can keep everything as is and risk running out of stock. Or they can blend some 12 year old malt with some 8 year old, some 6 year old and some 4 year old malt and rename the new expression "Starboard" in honour of their founder Angus MacLeod who may or may not have been a great sailor. The MacLeod website can then write up a section on their founder's exploits (real or invented) and release a whole range of expressions based on nautical terms to mask the fact that you're paying more for younger whisky. The newer expressions might taste great, but the price increase is NOT economically (or ethically) justified. The 15 year old might be replaced by the new MacLeod "Squall", the 18 year old might be replaced by the new MacLeod "Captain's Table". They could even take some of their remaining 25 year old stock, water it down creatively blend it with younger whiskies "for balance" and sell it as a limited edition bottling of "Admiral's Reserve". MacLeod could, alternately, prove themselves true pioneers and tell its consumers that the new MacLeod "Squall" is a "special blend of carefully selected malts: classic 15 year old malt made richer by the addition of some 17 year old sherry cask-matured spirit, perfected with a refreshing infusion of 7 year old spirit for a crisp, balanced finish"**. Or something along those lines. Now consumers still wouldn't know exactly how much of each whisky was in the hypothetical "Squall", but it would be a start. MacLeod distillery could even take the revolutionary step of pricing their new NAS expressions fairly. Add a small print on the box or the back of the bottle stating whether or not the malt was coloured and chill-filtered and you'd have all the critics singing MacLeod's praises.

**Edited Sept 24/2017: I have researched this further and current Scotch Whisky Regulations (and some EU regulations) prevent distilleries from providing the consumer with any age-related information other than the youngest malt in an expression. That means the bottle, box and even the website's promotional materials can only tell you the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. However, this doesn't change my opinion. The Scotch Whisky Association could petition the UK and EU governments to change certain regulations. They could, at the very least, make public statements to inform us they are making efforts to allow producers to be more transparent about the contents of their whiskies. Compass Box tried to be more forthcoming with what's in the bottle and was taken to task by the SWA for it. The truth is, many big players do NOT want transparency. Some of the big players' image might suffer if some distilleries started providing more information (age of all component whiskies, the percentage of volume each whisky represents in a bottle, the casks used for each whisky) while the big guys refused to do so. Thus many mega-corporations have a vested interest in maintaining the "mystique" and preventing too much information from going public. A sad state of affairs indeed.

Conclusion


None of these issues will be resolved any time soon. Like most malt-lovers, I understand the reason NAS expressions are becoming more common. I'm willing to try them, if the price is right. But in most cases, it isn't. I'm not trying to be insubordinate and churlish. I'll point to an example near and dear to my heart: Laphroaig's Quarter Cask, which I love, is currently only $4 cheaper than Laphroaig's 10 Year Old signature dram (edit: they are, as of Sept 2017, essentially the same price). Do I feel this is fair value? No. And the economics support my argument. There is an objective, market correlation between age and price. So I won't buy the Quarter Cask anymore. I won't turn it down if it's offered to me, but if I'm spending my dollars, I'll buy the Ten. Or something from another distillery. Laphroaig's QC was about $17 cheaper than their 10 Year Old when it was released. Over time, the Quarter Cask's price has crept up while the price of Laphroaig 10 has remained fairly steady. I doubt they are using more mature malts in Quarter Cask these days, it's just a cash-grab. Of course, the LCBO is probably just as guilty of gouging as the distilleries are.

Macallan Amber is exactly the same price as Macallan 12 Year Old Double Cask. At $100.15 for either Macallan, it's a risky proposition to "just give NAS whisky a chance". The Macallan brand carries a certain reputation for quality, but do these new expressions live up to the hype? I'm not sure, and I'm not spending a hundred bucks to find out.

If distillers want to increase consumer confidence, perhaps they should include tasters of their NAS expressions alongside classic malts. If Talisker included a 30ml sample of Storm alongside their $100 bottle of 10 Year Old, I might eventually find it reasonable to save ten bucks and buy a bottle of their NAS whisky. Maybe. But I'm not dropping $90 to find out if I like Talisker Storm.

Caramel colouring and chill-filtering are less important to me personally, but again, distillers should be more forthcoming with this information. Some, such as Glenlivet and Springbank are transparent where this is concerned and they should be commended for it. Most distillers have yet to answer clearly when it comes to the relation between age, quality and price. To wit, why is the age of whisky irrelevant with a $185 bottle of Talisker 57 North, yet age matters immensely with a $2000 bottle of Macallan Sherry Oak 25 Year Old? You can't have it both ways. Either age matters with regards to pricing or it doesn't. Corporate spokespeople who refer to their critics as "ill-informed, ignorant hot-heads" would do well to remember the free market is a democracy. We vote with our dollars.


Slainte mhaith !



Tuesday, 9 May 2017

We Never Go Out of Style: a review of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

Oscar Wilde


Aesthetic preferences are fickle. Definitions of cool come and go. The fashion industry, the automotive industry, and the music industry (among others) depend on continual change to grow their revenues. Outlandish style often rules over substance. At some point deep in the 1980s, grown men thought sporting a mullet was a good idea. It wasn't. Fortunately, some great things don't change. Some things are perennially "cool" : the Ford Mustang, Ella Fitzgerald, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Converse Chuck Taylors, Johnny Cash, Cohiba cigars, the "little black dress", Taylor Swift, and Glenfiddich Scotch whisky. Yes, I included Taylor Swift. Of course, any time an artist, actor or brand enjoys sustained popularity, it will invariably draw criticism. Sometimes that criticism is justified, sometimes minor (perceived) deficiencies are exaggerated and sometimes people are just bitter and jealous. Like those who criticize T-Swift. Or Glenfiddich Scotch.

Mercifully, this HAS gone out of style
Glenfiddich is the world's best-selling single-malt whisky. It is also the most awarded at the International Spirits Challenge. If you ask a non-Scotch drinker to name a Scotch, there's a good chance they'll name Glenfiddich. The brand and its ubiquitous stag's head logo have become synonymous with malt whisky. It is the preferred brand of Inspector Morse, Prince Harry (rumoured), George Clooney (allegedly) as well as being the bottle Brian from  Family Guy keeps in his emergency stash.   The only brand more people equate with scotch is Johnnie Walker, the über-popular purveyor of blended scotch whiskies. But being the most popular also comes with baggage: the frequent, vocal ire of critics. A quick examination of the whisky blogosphere, reveals some animosity toward the brand: too big, too corporate, too generic, not a "craft distillery", frequent use of chill-filtering and caramel colouring, not complex enough, etc. Is this criticism justified? Are all scotch bloggers pretentious snobs?

The Glenfiddich Origins Story


In 1887, William Grant built what was to become the first Glenfiddich distillery near present-day Dufftown, Scotland, in the glen of the river Fiddich. Glenfiddich means "Valley of the deer" in Scots-Gaelic, hence the logo. Grant built the distillery with the help of his wife, his nine children and a single stone mason. According to the Glenfiddich website, the first drops fell from the stills on Christmas Day 1887. Happy Christmas indeed. Glenfiddich was one of the few distilleries to survive prohibition; they increased production in 1923 to meet a growing demand for quality whisky.  In the late 1950s, Glenfiddich kept coppersmiths on-site to ensure the stills remained in good working order. At the end of the decade, they opened a cooperage (barrel-making facility) onsite, a practice which remains to this day. You can't fault them for their dedication to quality control and consistency. Around the mid-1970s, Glenfiddich began marketing their single malt as a premium brand; up until that point, most scotch whiskies sold globally were blends. (Note: Blended scotch still accounts for 85%-90% of global scotch sales) W. Grant & Sons also increased advertising campaigns and created a visitor's centre at the distillery.

The Signature Malt


Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch. The stag's head, the green triangular bottle, the pale golden liquid; this is the quintessential Speyside whisky. This expression is matured in a combination of American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks. Glenfiddich presents this as their signature malt for good reason: this whisky is very accessible, it isn't challenging, it isn't hard to find, and it isn't outrageously priced. 

glenfiddich 12 year old single malt scotch
Always a good choice

Tasting notes


Nose (undiluted): Green apple, toffee, pear, cereal, oak

Palate (undiluted): toffee, pear, malt (oatmeal?), creamy, light oak

Finish: clean and crisp, short to medium length, apple, pear, a touch of vanilla

Glenfiddich 12 is bottled at 40% so I was loathe to add water to it. But I'm glad I did. Two teaspoons of distilled water really emphasized the fruitiness of this dram and toned down the sweetness a bit. I definitely recommend adding a bit of water to this one.

Conclusion


The cool kids may eschew this malt in favour of "boutique" drams and "craft" distilling, but their loss is your gain. This whisky is reliably good. No scotch drinker should be put off by this malt. It isn't the most complex dram out there, but it doesn't claim to be. Glenfiddich 12 presents exactly what you expect. It is light, fruity, crisp and refreshing. Its popularity is easy to understand. This malt is never a bad choice, and at less than $60 at the LCBO, it's a reasonably priced indulgence.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches


Slainte mhaith !!!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Aberlour 12 Year Old: an underdog story

If you're close to my age, you undoubtedly remember the Nintendo game "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out". The premise was fairly simple; you played as "Little Mac", a diminutive yet plucky young pugilist who was determined to be a champion. Under the tutelage of trainer Jerome "Doc" Louis, you fought your way through the ranks, challenging boxers from three different circuits until you faced the ultimate champion: Kid Dynamite himself, "Iron" Mike Tyson. The game even included an inspiring 1980s training montage each time the player beat a circuit champion. Aside from the not-so-subtle racism, it was a great game.

aberlour punches above its weight
I probably still remember the cheat codes

So why am I waxing nostalgic over a video game? Glad you asked. Moderately-priced single malt scotch or "entry-level" malts, as they're often called, remind me of the four foot seven, one hundred and seven pound Little Mac. People underestimate them, pass them by in favour of pricier offerings, mistakenly believing that price equals quality. This could not be further from the truth. There are some pricey whiskies that fail to impress just as there are moderately-priced whiskies that punch well above their weight, just like Little Mac. How does Aberlour 12 Year Old do this? The family motto of James Fleming, Aberlour's founder, is "Let the deed show". Aberlour 12 Double Cask speaks for itself. Let's look closer.

aberlour 12 the little mac of scotch
Very mature for a 12 year old


Double what now?



This twelve year old single malt is double cask matured. Put simply, this means that the whisky spends time maturing in traditional oak casks and is finished in seasoned sherry butts (casks). I'm not sure how much time is spent in each cask, as Aberlour doesn't reveal this trade secret on their bottle or on their website. I emailed them regarding maturation times, but they have yet to respond. Nevertheless, the sherry casks impart a rich, fruity flavour to this Speyside malt. "Finishing" whisky in used sherry casks is a practice that dates back to the 16th century. Sherry was shipped around the world in wooden casks which were emptied upon arrival. The sherry only stayed in the cask for the duration of its journey, which only lasted a few months, even back then. While it didn't take much time to travel from southern Spain to northern Europe, it was time enough to infuse plenty of sherry flavour into the wood. Not wanting to be wasteful, the Scots re-used the casks to age their whisky and sometimes, their ale. Thus, finishing whisky in sherry casks became a cherished tradition. And the Aberlour distillery is steeped in tradition: Aberlour states that there was a distillery manager who went so far as to play his bagpipes near the maturation barrels. I guess he wanted to ensure the malt was a "true Scotsman".


EDIT: Brand ambassador Ian Logan has responded to my email and I feel that I should clarify the above point as my description of "double cask maturation" is incorrect. The misunderstanding is entirely mine and I take full responsibility.

Here is the relevant portion of the email Mr. Logan sent:

"A certain percentage of the whisky has gone through a minimum of 12 years maturation in ex-European casks with the remainder going through the same amount of ageing ex-American Oak before both being vatted together at the end . If we moved all of the whisky from one type of whisky from one type of cask to the other it would technically be a finish, we do not do that at Aberlour."

A minor point to some, but I want to strive for accuracy. Thanks to Mr. Logan for the reply.
 

Tasting notes


Aberlour 12 Year Old is bottled at a moderate 40% ABV, but I still recommend you let it sit in your glass for 10 minutes or so to let it open up and breathe. Just do it. You'll thank me later.

Nose (undiluted): Cinnamon, toffee, dried fruit,vanilla, oak, apple, it smells like Christmas.

Palate (undiluted):  Very rich mouthfeel, sherry, buttery toffee, cinnamon, vanilla, raisins, nutmeg, brown sugar, cherry notes, very moreish

Finish: Medium length, sweet vanilla, toffee, a little spicy nutmeg with hints of chocolate cherries

I don't recommend adding water to this whisky. Doing so allows a bit more fruitiness to come through, but Aberlour 12 isn't bold enough to require water. Diluting tends to tone down the richness a bit, and the richness is one of the things I love best about this whisky. But hey, do what you like.

Final thoughts


Aberlour 12 Year Old sells for about $65 here in Ontario. That's not a lot of money for a scotch this good. This malt easily outperforms many whiskies that sell for $20 to $30 more. Their ten year-old is good, but this twelve is only about three bucks more and the difference in flavour and complexity is striking. I highly recommend this to "noobs" and veterans alike. A pleaser for all palates. It's almost a four-moustache malt, but not quite there. I'm willing to bet the 16 year old would be at least a four moustache malt. Nevertheless, a very respectable rating for Aberlour 12 Double Cask.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches


Slainte mhaith !

Monday, 1 May 2017

Spring Forward: a review of Springbank 10 Year Old


Again rejoicing Nature sees 
Her robe assume its vernal hues: 
Her leafy locks wave in the breeze, 
All freshly steep'd in morning dews.

Composed In Spring
Robert Burns,1786


Spring is about re-birth, renewal, and fertility. The air smells of fresh earth and budding flowers. The days are getting longer and warmer and it might be time to try something new. Or something old that's new to you.

Campbeltown once branded itself "the whisky capital of the world". At one time, the small town of about 5000 people boasted over 30 active distilleries. But the times, they were a-changing. A number of factors contributed to Campbeltown's decline. Some less-than-honest Campbeltown producers cut corners in order to increase output and the product suffered. A Highland train line was completed, allowing whisky blenders in the cities to buy rival whiskies that had been previously difficult to transport. Rationing during First World War reduced the demand for whisky. Prohibition came to the U.S. in the 1920s, lowering demand for scotch whisky abroad. The depression of the 1930s devastated many industries, and Campbeltown whisky producers were not immune. By 2010, only 3 distilleries remained.

Sprinbank is one of the only Campbeltown distilleries that has never "gone silent". The Mitchell clan has maintained ownership of Springbank since its inception in 1829. According to The Whisky Exchange, "Springbank is one of the most traditional distilleries in Scotland and, remarkably,all aspects of production - from the malting of the barley through to the bottling of the finished whisky - are still carried out by hand in the traditional manner at the distillery itself."  It's no wonder, with all this traditional craft distilling, that Springbank is a darling among malt purists. They eschewed chill-filtering and refused to use caramel colouring before it was cool. Springbank is the hipster of the scotch world. Sort of.


springbank is the kramer of scotch
Is this the face of Campbeltown?

Unlike urban hipsters, Campbeltown scotches are not always easy to find in Ontario. But they can be immensely rewarding. I'd read a few reviews online, and people were raving about Springbank 10 Year Old. After watching the sagacious Ralfy review this one and give it his seal of approval, I decided to try Springbank to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, the closest bottle was at an LCBO 2.5 hours away from me. Lucky for me, a pleasant and helpful employee of our Wine and Spirits Overlord contacted the store in question and less than a week later, I had my prize.

Tasting notes


Before I describe this whisky, let me say that it needs to breathe in the glass for at least 15 minutes before you enjoy it. That may sound like ostentatious snobbery, but I assure you it is not. This is a complex single malt and it really needs time to "open up". Also, it's bottled at 46% ABV. Strong stuff. After 15 minutes, your nose can tell you if this whisky is ready. I'm sure there are scientific, environmental and chemical explanations for this, but I don't have them. I'm an historian, not a scientist. Once you've waited about 15 minutes, give your glass a light swirl and nose it. Do it three or four times (Hello. How are you? I'm well. Thank you very much). If all you're getting is alcohol burn and (nail polish remover) acetone smell, give it more time. Under the burn, you should get smoke and sweetness. Now, right to it.


Nose (undiluted): toffee, dried fruit (raisins?), light smoke, peat, vanilla, pears, leather, citrus (orange?), pine needles in the background. Don't rush this. It's a delightful nose. Take your time.

Palate: this is where Springbank's complexity really shines. Thick, creamy, full-bodied, starting with toffee, smoke, vanilla, developing light peat, floral honey, ginger, ending on cinnamon, biting black pepper and tangy brine. You really want to "chew" this one for 10 seconds or so, to appreciate the complex development it presents. Fantastic.

Finish:  Smoke, peat, ginger, pepper, oak, leather, tobacco notes, hints of banana. Breathe and really enjoy the finish.


Adding water to Springbank brought out more sweetness on the nose as well as floral and herbal notes on the palate. Hints of pine nuts or cashews perhaps. I was expecting it to be smokier and peatier, but these notes are complimentary and do not dominate the malt the way they do in a Laphroaig or an Ardbeg. I would not recommend Springbank to a scotch neophyte. If you're relatively new to scotch, save this one for later. Train your palate by working your way through Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Auchentoshan, Dalwhinnie, Aberlour, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Cragganmore, Highland Park, Oban and Caol Ila before you get to Springbank. This is a complex, challenging whisky, but the experience is an eminently rewarding one. It's hard to limit yourself to just one dram (or two). I believe the term malt-heads use is "more-ish". As in, "I want MORE of this and I want it NOW!"

ten year old single malt scotch
Please, Sir, I want some more.

Conclusion


It's hard to say anything bad about this expression. I've never had a scotch I didn't enjoy, but it's hard to remember the last time I enjoyed one this much. If you're a single malt enthusiast and you want to try something different, I strongly urge you to find a bottle of Springbank 10 and give it your full appreciation.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches



Slainte mhaith !