Musical Dram: Ben Nevis

Let me tell you: That Glencoe is a blast! If you can find it, snatch it up. You won’t regret it. Now, since today is the 44th anniversary of Hip-Hop, we will play the “Anthem” of Break-Beats.  This Track brings me just as much joy and satisfaction as the Whisky…and it was heavily played in the 80’s. Hope you can relate.

Artist: Grandmaster Flash (Incredible Bongo Band)

Track: Apache

Trailing Ben Nevis

 

I recently aquired a bottle of Mac Donald’s Glencoe at auction.
It intrigued me that it was, supposedly, bottled in the 80’s and bottled at a whopping 57% vol. Given that it is a Blended Malt (or Vatted Malt if you prefer) that is quite unusual. Knowing that a big proportion of this juice consists of Ben Nevis I had to get it and experience a taste from the past. Alongside I have a rare bottle by Whisky Galore and the revamped (such an ugly word) 10 year old distillery version.
That should give us some perspective.

Ben Nevis 8, Whisky Galore, 46% vol. 1996-2005
S:6 G:3 P:2 / Color: white wine / Score: 82

Starts sweet with many ripe fruits. The basket offers: Melons, peaches, bananas, pears and apricots. Also some menthol freshness which might just be the young spirit. Then building materials 😉 Chalk, gravel and some wet concrete. See what I mean? Tasting notes are fun. Eucalyptus, some bouillon in the background and after ten minutes F**** Mango. Tastes sweet with just a little oak. Mind you it wasn’t in the cask very long. This bottle should be called fruits galore. Melon, mango (could be my brain now) and peaches. Something metallic that seems to belong there… Tin!!! It’s tinned fruit salad. Lovely. Over all not very complex but quite fun. This is why we love our independent bottlers so much, they give us a different angle on the things we enjoy. Furthermore I respect the fact that they state the young age. Bravo

Ben Nevis 10, Original Bottling, 46% vol., 2016
S:3 G:3 P:2 / Color: light gold / Score: 84

Less sweet on the nose with eucalyptus and menthol again. Cold fruit pie made from peaches, apricots and blood oranges. Can you smell the crust? A grassy element like dried hay. And…oh…cinnamon! Nice. On the palate it’s drier but with a sweet backbone. Good mouthfeel, full and well balanced. Fruit compote with spices: Cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. The oak hardly feels at all, it’s there but just supports the overall concept. Well it does taste different than the old version but it is still great value for the price. The dunnage aftertaste is still present, good. I salute original bottlings at 46% it’s so much more expressive. The new design is well in line with the old one and I do like that they didn’t overdo it: Ben Nevis you have my loyal support.

MacDonald’s Glencoe, Blenden Malt, 57% vol., 80’s
S:6 G:3 P:3 / Color: gold / Score: 89

Noses light at first and totally on ripe honey dew melons. Then follow menthol and eucalyptus (there is a consistency here). Even at 57% it doesn’t feel much stronger than the others. Some wet gravel on a train track where a mechanic is repairing the breaks with an old tool box. Sound good? I’m serious! Tastes sweet and syrupy. It’s totally harmless ant full strength. Weird. Some oak for good measure. Menthol? Yes. Eucalyptus? Check. I love when the consistency gets almost chewy and it’s happening here. Melon sirup with tinned limes. Fun, fun, fun…

Tomatin Ranger

You might be surprised to hear that the Tomatin 36 year old has received the ‘Best Scotch’ award at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. With a price tag of 525£ it is just slightly out of my league but I could come up with about 8 really great whiskies that I would rather spend that  money on. I don’t think this medal is going to influence our decision whether or not to buy this distilleries juice. The rebranding of their range has definitely made them look more appealing. But as always, we care more about what inside the bottle. Lets see…

Tomatin 12 , 43% vol., 2017
S: 4 G: 5 P: 2 / Color: gold / Score: 76

Starts on vanilla and the scent of violets. There is some active oak involved which keeps it on the fresh side. I also detect broken branches, unripe sour lemons and vegetable stock. It has a funny chalk and sawdust smell to it as well. On the palate: Sweet and soft with vanilla fudge and a prickle from the barrel. The mouthfeel is quite light. Some garden herbs, like mint and thyme, could be found as well. Any fruit you ask? Yes, some slightly unripe apricots and pineapples. Finishes on a medium length and gets a little drying. Not a bad Whisky, just doesn’t achieve total balance. Feels somewhat constructed.

Tomatin 14, Port Cask, 46% vol., 2017
S: 6 G: 5 P: 2 / Color: amber / Score: 79

Sweet and dense nose. Vanilla, chewy caramel and a hand full of raisins. Broken branches again, the chalk and the violets are a little more in the background. Seem to be signature notes here? Quite sharp when nosing. Sawdust, sap and brine are also to be noted. A rounder and richer mouthfeel (higher strength my good friend) with sweet juicy forest berries. The oak is well integrated, not very complex but balance is achieved. Nice lingering oak in the longer finish. The nose is just as odd as the 12 but the taste is significantly more enjoyable.

Tomatin CS, Bourbon& Sherry, 57.5 % vol., 2017
 S: 6 G:4 P: 2 / Color: gold / Score: 82

Honey sweetness, vanilla and caramelised nuts open the experience. A lot more substantial. The obligatory violets, green branches and chalk are all here. The CS version has the least amount of bite, how does that work? I can taste sweet vanilla toffee with a rich, oily texture. Here come the fruits: Peaches, apricot (Jam), oranges all nice and ripe. Some malt sugar and bread dough in the background. The finish is long and sweet with just the slightest bit of oak clinging to your cheeks. Really a nice, pleasant surprise and kind of what I would expect the 12 year old to taste like.

Cu Bocan NAS, 46% vol., 2017
S: 5 G:5 P:4 / Color: gold / Score 83

Opens sweet and smoky with vanilla and caramel. Pears, lemons and some brine follow. Balsamic vinegar, hay, liquorice and smoked ham. Interesting combination. Of course we couldn’t do without the branches. The smoke is never overpowering, just a wisp of highland smoke in the background. Tastes of sweet peat, very smooth (could that be a good thing?). Pears again balanced with some oak. Simple but well put together. Finishes long, sweet and warming. It is almost as if this distillate likes to be peated. I seems so much more fused. Makes me wonder if not all Tomatin would have been dried over peat smoke, traditionally. I am glad we had the Cu Bocan for reference. It’s really remarkable how many similarities these Whiskies show. A defined house style at least. Noteworthy is also that the higher the strength the better they seem to keep their composure. The branding might be done well but the Range needs some work!

The Laphroaig Brothers

The best selling Islay export I hear. I could go for a Laphy anytime but it’s not at the top of my personal Islay list. Today I will compare the original 10 year old to a 15 year old bottling by Clan Denny for Divo. Let’s see if they can change my mind…

laphroaig10Laphroaig 10 , 40% vol., 2017
S: 3 G: 3 P: 5 / Color: light amber / Score: 85

Noses quite dense and thick, brine and seaweed give way to some citrus fruits. All of that is of course smothered with cold smoke, ashes and iodine bandages. Some, wet tarry ropes are present and if you manage to get past all those hefty aromas you could find some vanilla hiding in a corner. The mouthfeel is oily, which I like a lot. Some anise, liquorice and a just a hint of Demerara sweetness. Good, light wood influence and of course ash, tar and a gulp of ocean water. Not overly complex but good Laphroaig the way we know and like it.

LaphyLaphroaig 15, The Clan Denny, 54.6% vol., 2016
S: 5 G: 2 P: 4 / Color: white wine / Score: 87

A lot fresher and brighter on the nose with lots of freshly made tablets (Scotch caramel, you should try it). Ripe, juicy lemons and surprisingly the peat is not to obvious on the nose. Interesting! Tastes sweet, thick and almost chewy. After this unusual start come signature the ashes and spices. Again anise, liquorice and additional cardamom and chilli for good mesure. Medicinal sweetness;) This is Laphroaig alright! Not as coastal as the 10 year old but really a great perspective. I suspect a good first-fill bourbon barrel had something to say. Like this!

The Clan Denny is somehow more intriguing. I will try to find a track to accompany this wee dram. Will publish shortly…

Whisky Castle Vertigo

For Christmas I received these three Whisky samples from my son. What a wonderful boy he is… They came from the Whisky Castle in Switzerland. It is actually just around the corner from where I live and yet I have never tried their wares before. Well, over the holidays was the time to do so. There where three different expressions in the gift set:
Family Reserve, Double Wood and Smoke Barley.

Family Reserve, 43% vol., Cask Nr. 17
S:1  G:1  P:1  / Color: amber / Score: 59

Starts with a hint of raisins, possibly ? A little whiney and quite a  lot of new make spirit on the nose, there is also a little metallic note which could come from the youthfulness of the distillate. There is also something rubbery but this time not in a good way. On the palate it is dry with some oak, cardboard, sawdust and you can really feel the that the whisky is young and spirity. Quite thin and bland. Finishes medium but on a sour note.

Double Wood, 43% vol., Cask Nr. 462
S:1 G:1 P:1 / Color: light amber / Score: 59

Similar nose (sadly), rubbery raisins, spirit and maybe a tiny hint of vanilla. Tastes flat, bland and the spirit shows with a little oak. I am trying hard to get something more out of this but there isn’t. The finish is medium and sour just as above. Seems to me like it’s the same stuff just a tad younger.

Smoke Barley, 43% vol., Cask Nr. 502
S:2 G:1 P:1 / Color: light gold / Score: 60

Vanilla and an off-putting vegetal note, could be broccoli with cheese… New make and a little lemon to be fair but smoke? Nope. Tastes a little sweeter, thin with a little oak. And that’s all folks! It’s almost an art to make a Whisky this unexpressive. Ends medium but a little less sour, so that’s an improvement I guess. I am missing the smoke here. Maybe the name is a question: Smoke Barley? Yes, please!

Well, I am a quite disappointed. What to do with this?
I have an idea: Let’s compare these with the spirit we made in 2015 (earlier post DIY-Whisky) and see how we fare…

Mean Amar

MEAN AMAR, around 53% vol.
10L ex-bourbon micro cask
S:3 G:2 P:1 / Color: amber / Score: 65

Vanilla, spirity with hints of fruit schnapps (I think the distiller didn’t clean out the still properly) and after a while some rising bread. Some barley sugar and a slight hint of something umami. Taste wise: Sweet with some good oak (big THANK YOU to the cooper) and of course some spirit feels (it is only one year old we don’t claim this to be Whisky) but it has a nice chewy texture. Finishes medium long and gets drying with a little oak.

Well, this is motivating. Even though the Whisky Castle has not been a huge success it makes me think of doing some more of our own experiments. Maybe we should look into getting ourselves a license…

Mystery-Tasting 6

This flight will conclude the Mystery-Tasting Series for 2016. I hope we can finish this year with a bang. From Speyside we will have Glenfarclas 18 year old. From the Highlands a Clynelish with the working title “Waffles and Ice Cream” and from Islay a Bunnahabhain from our friends at Adelphi. We should be able to find some gems here. Let’s see…

IMG_1111Glenfarclas 18, Original Bottling, 43% vol.
S:5 G:3 P:1, Colour: dark amber, Score: 83

The Glenfarclas-sherry-arrival, just the way I like it. Christmas cake (how appropriate) and spices with almonds. Some over ripe pears and some orange peel, or make that candied orange peel since the Pannetone is just around the corner. On the palate it starts with spicy oak then becomes medium sweet and creamy. Really quite dry and with compliments from the cask. Not as fruity as the nose would suggest but well balanced. By adding water the whole gets younger and lighter. The concept is lost and the oak feels more. Don’t do it. A higher strength would have helped. Finishes medium long and drying, could this be European oak?😋

imageClynelish, Wemyss Malts, 54.2% vol.
“Waffles and Cream”, 1997-2015
S:5 G:3 P:1, Colour: gold, Score: 88

On the nose I get vanilla, floral notes and some yeast. As weird as it sounds I do get something creamy. Could be the ice cream they are talking about. Peaches, Apricots and minimal oak. Also pencil shavings and old school shoe polish. There is a savoury note in there and just a whisp of smoke. It tastes sweet and round with a wonderful creamy mouth feel. I don’t find any waffles but maybe it should rather be “Peaches and Cream”. With water it gets fresher, more lemons but the general profile remains. Lots of tinned fruit and and cream. Looses some depth but it’s worth playing with water. The finish is long with good lingering oak. Quality liquid from Wemyss.

IMG_1059Bunnahabhain 11, Adelphi Selection, 56.4% vol.
S:3 G:4 P:4, Colour: light amber, Score: 85

Mmm bonfire, brine and juicy lemons. I like! There is something nutty and definitely umami. A tiny floral note and maybe some green tomatoes. Quite strong nosing at 56.4. Taste: Spicy and dense arrival, sweet but drying. Quite oily and savory with well balanced peat. Some quality oak, ash and lemons. Easy drinking, even at full strength. But just for fun: Water please! Lemons in brine, that’s it for the nose. Less immediate but still oily and dense. Less spicy but the oak remains present. Holds up to a lot of dilution. Long and warming finish with some tingling in the cheeks. Some dunnage taste arriving late. Once again Adelphi delivers…