Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Ardbeg 10 Year Old - Single Malt Scotch Review



Bonfire on a Bluff?
Having a glass of Arbeg 10 year old in your living room is like building a bonfire made up of tree branches, scrub brush and peat freshly cut from a Scottish bog, lighting it and watching the smoke swirl upwards as it is carried away by the unpredictable winds of the Isle of Islay, Scotland. The smoke at times will fill your nostrils followed by the peat, charcoal and a whiff of salty sea spray. Ardbeg 10 year old is uncompromising like a lazy wind blowing off the coast of the Isle of Islay. It's so cold and 'lazy' that it feels like it blows through you rather than around you. Such is the experience of a dram of this single malt scotch whisky.

Isle of Islay
Ardbeg is one of eight distilleries on the Isle of Islay, an Island off the coast of Scotland that can have wind, rain and a crashing sea on a regular basis. The geography is rocky, relatively flat, with plenty of bluffs, jagged outcroppings of rock, and cliff faces above a churning white-capped sea below. Whiskies distilled on this island are often very peaty, smokey and kind of like the flavor of a menthol cigarette. Peat actually plays a large role in the smoke flavor of this scotch whisky and the others of the Isle of Islay.

What is Peat?
On the Isle of Islay there are bogs and wetlands with plenty of partially decayed vegetation like scrub brush, tall grass, and other low lying vegetation. It is cut out in blocks and when dried is used to fuel fires to dry the malt used in scotch. The interaction of the smoke from the peat imparts the unique smokey flavor that is termed "peat" or "peaty" when describing scotch whiskies especially from the Isle of Islay.

Suggested Stemware
Glencairn would be best.  Don't have that?  Try a brandy snifter. The bowled shape with the opening at the top traps the aromas to be enjoyed as you nose it. A crystal tumbler doesn't 'trap' the scents of this whisky. Nevertheless, the tumbler is better than nothing and drinking from one will certainly not affect the flavor profile, just not deliver the full bouquet on the nose.

Ice? Water? Neat?
Decisions, decisions, decisions . . . If you are a novice scotch drinker, I would recommend adding an ice cube or two, it will dampen the pronounced peaty flavor profile and take away some of the 'bite.' If you enjoy scotch and consider yourself quite serious about it, I would recommend a teaspoon of distilled or spring water be added to a single or double pour (you will have to experiment to see what works for you).   The water will add a lot of complexity.  I find 'neat' it is just too over the top.

If you are a veteran drinker, well then pony up and get ready to ride this flavor profile like "Seabiscuit."

Nose (undiluted)
Beautifully strong peat, wood smoke and salt air. The aroma of peat is so powerful, that often after having had my drink, washed my glass, returned it to the cupboard, gone to bed, up and off to work, back home, late evening retrieve my glass, and wow! I still smell peat in my glass! And not just any peat, but rather distinctively that of Ardbeg.

Palate (undiluted)

Starts sweet, mid palate fills with damp wood smoke before moving to drying black pepper and more billowing smoke like a big Cohiba. 

Finish (undiluted)
White cheddar to salt to fresh ground black pepper. Slight burn remains on the throat after it is swallowed.

General Impressions
Not what I would call “smooth” scotch if consumed neat. On the other hand, I would not describe it as “rough” either. Instead, I would describe this scotch having a flavor profile that involves an “abrupt” transition from sweet smoke to sharp black pepper and coarse salt. Not a flavor profile that I would describe as "complex" when consumed neat.  You need to add water (ie. teaspoon) to bring out the complexity and magic of this dram.  Really, water is a must!

This single malt enjoys a large following among serious scotch drinkers, and I do understand the fascination. The flavor profile is unique and a very powerful, yet elegant explosion of smoke and peat upon all the senses. You will come back to this whisky again and again, as you analyze its secrets.

Initially, I didn't understand what was all the fuss about this spirit. But that first tasting haunted me. It beckoned me back. The nose of peat and wood smoke, a promise that was fulfilled on the palate was fascinating. I must say I like this, but not my favorite. I like it, but not the way I am obsessed with Cragganmore 12 yr old, a scotch that I systematically bought all remaining bottles where I live upon learning the distributor was cutting my liquor store off.

This is not a mainstream spirit. It is for the scotch connoisseur seeking a very unique flavor. If you are considering purchasing this as a gift for someone, and not knowing their individual tastes, I would recommend choosing another single malt that is more pleasing to the average drinker.

Water really needs to be added to this malt to bring out a more complex display of flavors.  Teaspoon to a double pour I find is just enough.  One must remember that it is bottled at 46% abv.  I find that over 43% many malts benefit from the addition of some water.  Ardbeg 10 is not an exception to such a general rule.

I am surprised by my conclusion on this scotch. I thought I would enjoy it more given all the praise I have read in books and elsewhere online. It's more than ok, but I would not buy it again. I certainly do not agree with the praise rendered by the scotch expert, Jim Murray, who wrote: "Unquestionably the greatest distillery to be found on Earth. If perfection on the palate exists, this is it."

Cheers!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mount Gay Eclipse Rum


Hey! A Rum review on a Scotch Blog?
I know that the title of my blog is "Jason's Scotch Reviews." Nevertheless, I do add in the occasional review of another spirit when it is truly remarkable and I suspect my readers might be interested. Mount Gay Rum is such a spirit worthy of note.
Remember that All-Inclusive Caribbean Resort . . .
You know how you go down to Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia or another Caribbean island resort and find the rum and coke or rum based mixed drinks taste so much better than back home, and you can't figure it out because when you get back home, you buy the Bacardis or the Captain Morgan or whatever, make up your drink and it doesnt taste the same and you are dumbfounded and disappointed. Well, the reason for it is not the sunshine, the sandy beach, bath water temperature ocean at your feet and that hot tourist looking at you longingly. The reason is the rum. The rum you are drinking "down de island mon" is Mount Gay, mon, made from sugar cane, processed into molasses, aged in bourbon casks and served up in your drink. And guess what? They sell it in the United States. You just have to look for it, and if you are a little insecure, have a heart to heart with yourself and acknowledge that the name of this splendid spirit has no bearing on your sexual orientation.
Not Well Known in North America
This is not a well known rum in North America mainly due, I suspect, to a lack of advertising. In fact, I cannot recall any advertisements in the media. While it is not a bestseller, it is, without a doubt, a superior rum to all of its peers, without exception, and I am not exaggerating. People who know rum quickly acknowledge that it is very, very good. More people would drink it if it was more widely available. Needless to say, I am a huge fan of this rum, and the aim of this review is to convince you to try it.

A Message to the Rum Drinkers
I have a number of friends who identify themselves as principally, rum drinkers. A badge of honor of sorts, much like scotch and wine nuts, a category that I fall into. These rum drinking friends of mine are "Bacardi" or "Captain Morgan" drinkers or some other popular brand that have advertising campaigns that centre on pirate themes (a theme that struck fear into the hearts or should I say bowels of men during the last century, now seem to impress us). When I tell these guys they should try "Mount Gay" there is usually a snicker followed by some locker room reply like "sure, tinkerbell, I'll get right on that." So, I usually bring a bottle along to these neighborhood barbecues where the testosterone is coursing through the air much like fists flying at an Irish wake (ok, a little politically incorrect, but I am Irish, so I can make the dig). Matter of fact, I mixed one of these guys a rum and coke, handed it to him and said "drink! you fool" (complete with the Mr. T enunciation). He accepted it because it was free. A couple of swigs and he was nodding his approval. "Smooth, man, smooth. . ." He would be reaching for other words but not finding them. So, let me try. . .

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself . . .
Mount Gay Eclipse Rum is produced in Barbados and this distiller claims quite legitimately to be one of the oldest rum producers in the world. This is indeed true. Rum has been produced for over 300 hundred years in the northern part of the island. Matter of fact, a Lieutenant William Gay and Ensign Abel Gay, back in 1663, bought a parcel of land in northern Barbados that came to be known as the "St. Lucy Estate." Since 1703, rum has been produced continuously from sugar cane, spring water and molasses. It is the sugar cane that gives it a very distinctive and inviting flavor that simply cannot be replicated by the big multinational conglomerates.So, now let's turn to the task at hand. A tasting note if you will:

Suggested Serving
In a nice crystal tumbler with some heft to it, mix yourself a double rum and coke. You might not be accustomed to mixing doubles (so do let me introduce you) as this rum is so smooth that you can luxuriate in the flavors without any and I mean any "bite" that you would normally associate with a double rum. So, indulge me on this point. You will thank me later.

Nose
Normally, rum is not known for being particularly friendly to the nose. Usually one has a fear of acetone inhallation. This rum does smell of alcohol, but beyond that there is some pleasing fragrance to be had. Some vanilla on the nose is what I detect.

Palate
Take in a generous mouthful, hold it for a sec, and you will experience very smooth and sweet vanilla flavors complimenting the classic rum notes of this wonderful drink. You will detect some oak, molasses and sugar cane.

Finish
And now for the grand finale, you swallow. Your brain tells you that you made a double and now you must brace yourself for the "bite" of the alcohol. Though you may brace yourself, the "bite" never comes. In its' place will be silky waves of more sweet vanilla/oak tinged rum that is swallowed. You will be emotionally transported back to that all-inclusive resort where you last tasted a rum and coke this wonderful.Having downed the drink, there is no accompanying burn or heat, just the faintest embers of warmth (like the camp fire on the sandy beach), and the flavor is gone, leaving you with the enviable task of considering when to take another drink.

General Impressions
When I drink this rum, I am impressed by how smooth and totally inoffensive this rum is. Words like "silk", "refined" and "polished" seem most appropriate. You can pour your drinks very strong yet, they are smooth and still no bite. That is how smooth it is.It was only two weekends ago that I introduced my friend to this rum at the barbecue and a week later he sheepishly told me he picked up a bottle until his wife piped up and said "I had to go in and buy it. He made me. Next time he can buy it and I will take a marker and change the "G" in Gay to a "B" so that his buddies will think he is drinking 'Mount Bay". In that way his manhood remains intact."

Bottom Line
Buy this rum. You will not be disappointed. I normally do not like rum, but I make an exception for this one. Buy it!


Cheers!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

Woodford Reserve - A Great American Bourbon!


Bourbon - A less than stellar reputation
A lot of people shudder at the thought of having a drink of bourbon. This is understandable because a lot of what is available on the market tastes like rubbing alcohol distilled by some unclean mountain boys out of The Deliverance for the sole purpose of intoxication. Sipping some bourbons involves submitting to a burn down the throat, headed to the stomach and immediately you have to fight the urge for it to bounce back up from whence it came.In general, Woodford Reserve departs from such negative experiences. I say "in general" because it is a distillery which has been plagued with chronic quality control problems. Specifically, one hand crafted batch (each batch is numbered) can be divine, while the next belongs with its bretheren in the previous paragraph. Please understand that not every other bottle is flawed. I am just highlighting past issues with quality of production. I believe the distillery is keenly aware of this issue and is addressing it. So, bearing that in mind, if you sample this bourbon and you find it flawed, then consider taking it back to the store and exchanging it for another.This bourbon we can drink today has a long history (don't they all) that starts back in Versailles, Kentucky in 1812. Bourbon is an uniquely American invention and Kentucky is the state that put it on the map. In fact, the Woodford Reserve distillery is one of nine of the oldest in Kentucky and the US for that matter. It hasn't always operated under the name of Woodford Reserve, that is a recent development of 2003.Anyway, lets move to the most important topic, the taste!

Nose
Vanilla and charcoal

Palate
Lots of vanilla! More charcoal, spice and ginger accompanies, sweetness (but not too sweet) that flows towards a floral finish. There is a "burn", slight, not too bad, but rather characteristic of bourbon. If this is an aspect that bothers you, the solution is ice, couple of cubes takes the burn away. A complex arrangement of flavors that can appropriately be described as sophisticated and rich. I initially tried this bourbon at a whisky tasting and days later, I was still thinking about. So, I bought a bottle and enjoyed a very refined drink of complexity I never imagined was possible from bourbon.

Finish
Oak and rye linger on the palate in a highly refined manner.  Please note that when you first open the bottle, there may be a unpleasant burn lingering in the throat but this should become less of an issue after a couple of weeks open.

Impressions
I have had Woodford Reserve on several occasions. What I have noticed is that the quality can vary depending on the "batch." Each bottle is numbered. Some batchs are very good while a flawed bottle can be a little off or even dreadful. I have tasted perfection in one bottle and poison in another. It is not just me making this observation, reviewers on other sites like Whiskey Magazine's website have threads that note quality variation issues. Of several bottles purchased, only one was flawed. I would not allow this quality assurance issue dissuade you from purchasing it.When its good, it is great. When its bad, it can range from tolerably flawed to an impossibly metallic, copper burn of a dram.My suggestion is that if you buy this bourbon, make sure that you can return it if it turns out to be flawed. You are probably wondering why I would recommend this bourbon in light of the above comments about quality consistency issues. Well, the simple reason is I believe the distiller is tackling the problem and the risk/reward ration makes it worth it if you can return a flawed bottle. How will you know if it is flawed? It will taste metallic like it sat in a copper vat too long with an awful burn across the palate and down the throat upon swallowing. When its a good bottle, it is something to behold.  Another drawback is the price. It is a little high compared to others. I think there is a value for money problem.  Competitors like Knob Creek and Maker's Mark are the same price but better over all.  So, in conclusion, if you like bourbon or know somebody who does, this might be an interesting alternative to the traditional mainstream bottles you or your friend usually go to. It also happens to be the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby!


Cheers!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

P.S.  I have an updated review available at this link.

Old Pulteney 12 yr old - Single Malt Scotch Review



Much Public Acclaim
I bought a bottle of Old Pulteney 12 yr single malt Scotch tonight because I had read a lot of positive comments about it on a couple of whiskey website forums that I participate on. Moreover, Jim Murray, whisky authority, wrote that this whisky is "unashamedly excellent and deserves so much more recognition around the world." I had to decide for myself whether or not this single malt scotch is deserving of such praise.

Nose (undiluted)
Briny maritime air, restrained sweetness, rainfall, damp evening lakeside air, soft wood smoke, smooth peat.

Palate (undiluted)
Salty taste of the foaming sea, lemon rind, rosewood, a hint of Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail, faint oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Short but interesting. Notes of bacon, mackerel, kippers but rhubarb too, ginger and lemon again.

General Impressions
The lasting impression of drinking this is that of sea water. Just not very interesting. Simple in a word. It may be somewhat intriguing for some in terms of this sea salt based flavor profile which finishes with some lemon and a cleansing saline zest.  Not what I would call a complex single malt. This whisky is decent and reminds me of what comes out of Scapa.   Frequently on sale and that is when you want to grab it.

In terms of the praise for this scotch, it is not deserved, and I think Mr. Murray was given to a little hyperbole when he described this whisky as "unashamedly excellent." It's 'good' but not 'excellent.'  The flavors offered up are different than what is encountered in most other single malts, but, as I said above, the problem is that it is not complex and at times one thinks they are just drinking salt water out of the bottom of a beached boat.

P.S.  While I am not a huge fan of this single malt, one of my regular readers is.  Adam's positive review is available by clicking here


© Jason Debly, 2009-Present. All rights reserved.

Ballantines Finest - Blended Scotch Whisky


A Little History
Ballantines Finest is the oldest in the product line of this Scottish blender of whisky. It all started back in 1827, where an enterprising gentleman, George Ballantine, opened up a grocery store and started selling some whisky (not his creation). Eventually, he let his son take over while he set up an establishment in Glasgow that did feature his own blends. Within his lifetime he was supplying the Royal Family. Ballantines Finest that you can drink today is based on a blending recipe from those days.Today, Ballantines is very popular in Europe and Asia. In addition, Ballantines Finest has won some awards. In the International Spirits Challenge: 2006 Gold; 2005 Silver; and in the International Wine and Spirit Competition: 2006 Silver; 2005 Bronze. That said, generally, serious connosieurs of scotch do not like this blend because they consider it rather uninteresting, boring, bland. More about such observations later.

Suggested Serving
This blended whisky is so gentle and sweet that the addition of ice, in order to mellow out any roughness or burn that is common with cheaply priced whiskies, is not necessary. However, if you like a little ice, I would suggest a single ice cube.

Nose (undiluted)
Cheap and malty. No peat whatsoever.

Palate (undiluted)
Very sweet like a bowl full of Splenda or NutraSweet mixed with grain alcohol.  Terribly grainy.     

Finish (undiluted)
Smooth. No rough edges here. No burn or excess heat. Just horribly sweet, with bad malty flavors that fortunately disappear from the palate quickly but not quick enough from one's memory.

Add Water!
Tasted neat, this blended scotch whisky is too sweet and grainy.  Add a teaspoon of water and it will greatly reduce that grainy character and add a nice malty note to the flavor profile.  How much water?  Try a teaspoon to a 1 and half ounce shot.

General Impressions
On a hot summer day, this will work very well as a key ingredient in a mixed drink.  Alternatively, over ice it will prove to be barely tolerable.

This is bottom shelf blended scotch.  In that price range Ballantines Finest is a step above the likes of Whyte & Mackay, J&B or Jameson (no age statement). But that's not saying much.  This is nowhere near the best economy blend.  In the category of blended scotch (no age statement) Teacher's Highland Cream and Johnnie Walker Red are better buys. 

The chief defect that prevent this blend from being a decent one is due to a flavour profile that is far too sweet to the point of being like corn syrup and overall the flavour profile (very grainy at times), while interesting initially, soon can become boring for someone seeking intriguing flavours. For those who like a lot of peat notes in their scotch, Ballantines Finest will disappoint.  What it does offer is an inoffensive, very sweet/grainy dram that will serve as a gateway to great blended scotch.  If you are new to scotch, this may be pleasing to you.  Drink it, make notes and then move on to better stuff.  When you progress to superior blends (ie.  Teacher's, White Horse, Chivas 12, etc.) refer to your notes and you will soon realize how dreadful Ballantines Finest is.
Cheers!


© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

Bushmills Original - Irish Whisky



Irish whisky can be distinguished from scotch due to the total absence of peat flavours. And for that reason, Irish whisky is always a nice diversion from scotch (Scottish whisky).


I first read about Bushmills in old adventure novels written by Jack Higgins, the author of "The Eagle Has Landed." Invariably, his novels had an Irish character whose choice drink was Bushmills. So, it has always been on my "list" (not a written one, but rather one occupying part of a scarce brain cell) to try. This year I stumbled upon it in the nearby liquor store and soon it found a new home in mine.

Suggested Serving
There are a number of ways to try this. First, by itself or "neat" as those trendy people dress in black turtlenecks in coffee shops would say. A drop or two of distilled water added can bring out some interesting flavours. Finally, an ice cube works too.

Nose
Hot chocolate.

Palate
A nutty flavour chased by maple syrup flavoured porridge, which plateaus into lightly sugared short bread cookie.

Finish
A little zing of dark chocolate and malt (think "cereal") that lingers ever so briefly.

Impressions
I like this and I can't imagine how anyone would not on some level. It is not strong, burning or medicinal like inexpensive whisky can be. The body is light, not complex, but nevertheless, enjoyable. This whisky is triple distilled which produces a very smooth dram. I keep thinking about the nutty flavour. This is great to serve after a heavy meal for those dinner guests who want to sip something pleasant but different. A great gift that will surprise the casual scotch/whisky or bourbon drinker.

If I were to voice a common criticism of this blended whisky, it would be the rather simple flavor profile. Not a lot of complex flavors going on here. This particular Bushmills offering is the "White Label" which is their most basic, entry level offering. Accordingly, it has mass appeal and offends no one. Great as an ingredient in mixed drinks or for the novice scotch/whisky drinker looking to put his/her toe in the great pond of the spirits universe. Finally, I just got this gut feeling that this is one the ladies would like too.

Cheers!

P.S.  I prefer Bushmills White label to Jameson's standard bottling any day.

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

Crown Royal - Canadian Whisky


I know that my blog is focused on scotch reviews, but I am making an exception to review this great Canadian whisky.

Introducing a Fine Canadian Whisky
Crown Royal is enormously popular in the US, as well as elsewhere in the world. The reason for the popularity comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with this spirit. Crown Royal is pleasant, easy-drinking, refined yet versatile. It is versatile in the sense that there are a number of ways to enjoy it. Neat, on the rocks, mixed with ginger ale, coke, or as an ingredient in mixed drinks.

Crown Royal is comprised exclusively of Canadian whiskies.  Distillation of the whiskies comprising Crown Royal is carried out at an enormous group of buildings in Gimli, Manitoba.  This whisky achieves its' unique and complex flavor by way of the distillation of several different grains, namely: barley, corn, rye and wheat. These grains are then aged in both new oak casks and also used ones that previously housed wine.  The combination of varying ages and storage casks produce the whisky, which of course is blended.  In this standard Crown Royal bottling, the majority of composite whiskies are young, though there are a few older ones added.  Of course, as you progress into the more expensive product offerings like the Limited Edition, Special Reserve and Crown Royal XR, the whiskies used are more aged imparting terrific complexity.

Serving Suggestion
I enjoy Crown Royal in a crystal tumbler neat but also from time to time with two ice cubes.

Nose
Faint notes of vanilla and fresh out-of-the-oven lemon bread. No scent of alcohol here, which is nice.

Palate
A sip of this will introduce the taster to gentle vanilla and honey. "Delicate" in a word is a way of describing how these flavors intermingle. You will also note faint oak in the background, which no doubt was contributed to by the time spent aging in barrels of all the whiskies composing this spirit.

Finish
Light, balanced and almost instantly the flavor is gone, prompting the taster to sip once more (a potentially intoxicating endeavour).

Final Thoughts
This is certainly an enjoyable drinking experience. Crown Royal is more sophisticated and smoother than other Canadian whiskies like Canadian Club or Royal Reserve. While the smooth character of this whisky is pleasing and a source of pleasure, it is also a source of disappointment for the whisky connoisseur seeking a thought provoking flavor profile.  The connoisseur who wants to sit with a tumbler of this whisky and plumb the fathoms of its flavor will be disappointed quickly because the flavour while delicate and smooth will quickly bore such an individual who is looking for "complexity" of flavor.

Another source of disappointment for the serious whisky afficianado is the short finish. There is virtually no lingering of flavor. Its gone as quickly as you swallow it. It should be noted there is no "burn" when swallowed. Its that smooth!  I like Crown Royal for what it is: an easy drinking whisky to be enjoyed with friends while socializing. When I am in the mood to sit in my lazy boy and treat myself to a complex whisky, I would not choose this whisky, but rather would opt for a single malt Scotch.

Cheers!

Jason Debly

P.S.  Are you looking for a review of Crown Royal Black?  If so, click here.

© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.

Highland Park 12 year old - Single Malt Scotch Review


I am going to out on a limb here, but I gotta say it. Hell, declare it! Highland Park 12 yr, is the best 12 year old single malt out there. You can be in Glasgow, Tokyo, New York, Munich, Dubai, I don't care. None of the whisky purveyors will be able to point to a better 12 year old single malt. None! and if they do, you will know they are a liar having read this review.

Having gotten the above off my chest, let's move to this wonderful dram that I just happen to be holding and coincidentally beholding in a whisky tumbler. This is fabulous stuff! When Puff Daddy, P Diddy, Sean John, or whatever his latest moniker is, is not out pimping some lame vodka, this is the stuff he is serving at his parties where you get turned away in Cannes for not being cool enough at the door.

This is not the stuff for the pimply/pizza faced college kid with Cheezies encrusted fingers playing Guitar Hero by himself, in his parent's basement, sealing his fate to remain without a girlfriend for yet another weekend, and therefore involuntarily celibate.

This is the stuff for you! If you are new to whisky and scotch, and heck don't even know the difference. You just want something to drink at a high end/art deco bar when you have to make an appearance at a work function where the advertising guys all wear black turtlenecks, black jeans, listen to Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy on their Ipods, and seem to be more interested in the wait staff than the clients that were the reason they were there in the first place. You gotta down a drink, nod at the pleasantries and think, how the &*%@#!! do I get out of here before the 40yr old middle managers, sloshed on the open bar get slapped with a harrassment suit from that hot temp in photocopying quicker than a lawyer's pulse races at the whiny sound of an ambulance in the distance. Well, the drink is Highland Park 12 yr. Ladies, you're invited too. Highland Park has legions of fans on both sides of the gender fence and for good reason. Let's take a drink and see why . . .

Nose (undiluted)
Bring the tumbler's edge to your nose and gently inhale (using your nose, this is not meditation or some downward facing dog position). Yes, it's nice. Now remember, gently take another sniff, you are not Keith Richards and this is not a line of cocaine on some chubby groupies' breast. Restrain yourself! Ok, let's try again. You're picking up tendrils of sweet cereals! Healthy stuff.

What else is your olfactory system sending to your cerebral cortex? Yes! Yes! Oh! Yes! No, I'm not doing a Meg Ryan imitation, but I am excited because you've noticed a spiciness or spice-like character, not pepper, but something else, maybe cloves. Maybe, just maybe the scent of this fine spirit hints at what awaits the palate.

Palate (undiluted)
You're gazing at this amber liquid in your tumbler, now you're drinking this "neat" (a fancy word to use around the VP that let's him know you know a thing or two about whisky, even if you don't), so remember to take a little sip. This is not Gatorade. Take that sip . . . now! Ok, ok, well . . . Yes! That's right! smokey brown sugar, (no we are not talking politically incorrect Rolling Stone hits), marzipan (look it up on Wikipedia, ok!, I'll do it for you, "a confection of sugar and almond meal - nice Italian treat!), what else are you tasting? Subtle caramel moving to heather and finishing with a spicness, which might be characterized as a gentle dance of weak chili peppers upon your tongue.

Finish (undiluted)
Butterscotch/cinnamon flavors evaporate in a puff of smoke across the palate with a little tingle on the tip of your tongue, followed by the feeling that you just enjoyed a fine cigar. The smoky flavor remains more than a minute after you swallowed the last of it. What length? A scotch of John Holmes proportions.

Be Careful
At an alcohol/volume level of 43%, you have to take it easy, otherwise, the advertising guys will be eyeing you guys like a hyena waits for the lone gazelle calf to collapse on the savannah . . . and ladies, the VP seems distracted from his current conversation, as he keeps looking over at you, even though your conversation with him ended sometime after you used the word "neat." I said Neat not neet. Needless to say, Highland Park 12 yr old packs a wallop that will send you sprawling after two modestly poured drinks.



















General Impressions
Aromatic, aristocratic, smooth with some spiciness on the finish. Nothing offends in this dram. It is very textured in flavor and while smooth, if you are a novice Scotch enthusiast the addition of water or ice is understandable. If you are new to whisky and want to try the much praised single malts, then this is the dram. The chief failing of single malt scotch whisky is that it tends to have some variance of flavors between different bottlings.  Some bottles I have enjoyed seem more sherried than others.  Nevertheless, Highland Park 12 year old demonstrates how single malts do have a legitimate claim to a higher ground in your mind and palate. It provides no discordant mixture of flavors, no burn, no alcohol, just a glow on a summer's evening like a firefly. Fleeting but worth the trouble.

Price
You can pay anywhere between roughly $35 to $91 a bottle. Is it worth it? Yes, up to about $60. After $60 you can probably find 18yr old single malts that are better. But for a 12 yr old single malt, there is no match to this scotch whisky. Bottom line: Good value!

Suggested Serving
If you are new to scotch and want to try a single malt, this is an excellent one to start with. For you newbies, try it with one large or two small ice cubes. For you scotch fans, neat is the way to go.

Bottom Line
An excellent 12 year old single malt, reasonably priced, not much peat flavor, but rather a smokey smooth, honey sweet dram with some spice on the finish that is sure to delight men and women alike.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Photo credits: (1) Photo of Highland Park 12 bottle by Flickr member magerleauges who has graciously permitted its reproduction pursuant to a creative commons license. (2) Frame shot from the film When Harry Met Sally....  Copyright held by the film company or artist but used here for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  (3)    Another photo of Highland Park 12 (copyright © 2012 Livefire Photography/Curt McAdams). Used in this post with the permission of Curt McAdams. No reproduction is permitted without the express consent of Curt McAdams. Check out his blog for more great photography and musings on scotch whisky: here. Final Nore:  All images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description
© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.

Highland Park 18 yr old - Single Malt Scotch Review


I like whiskies of all kinds. Scotch, Canadian and American. I like bourbon too. But, of all the whiskies I have tried, Highland Park 18 year old is my all-time favorite. It presents a truly special whisky drinking experience that is best appreciated by someone who has spent plenty of time drinking other whiskies before happening upon this one.

The distillery producing this very fine spirit has been doing so for more than 200 hundred years in Orkney, Scotland. I will not recount the history of the distillery here. Go to the Highland Park website for a full history. After all, the purpose of my review is to describe what this whisky tastes like. So, lets move to the task at hand.

Suggested Serving
This is a fine whisky that should not have ice added to it. Ice will dilute the flavours and the complexity. If you drink all your scotch with ice, then limit the quantity to one or two cubes at the very most. You will still enjoy the complexity of flavors but will naturally be experienced a somewhat watered down version. Mind you, some people need the ice to ease any burn the whisky presents when swallowing. If you are a serious scotch drinker, serve this to yourself with a drop or two of distilled water in order to open up the flavours and scents.

Nose
An awe inspiring bouquet of peat, smoke, and flowers. You can take several sniffs and keep wondering what wonderful dram awaits your palate.

Palate
Rich, luxurious honey/toffee flavors interwoven with nuts, spicy cinnamon, pretzel salt and the perfect hint of peat fill the palate. A chewy dram drying towards the finish. No sharp edges here. No bite, bitterness or burn here. Peat is present but not overwhelming or dominating. It compliments the flavor profile only.

Finish
A big, rounded finish of lingering smoke, spices verging on peppercorns you would associate with a flavored rib eye steak, and more toffee. This lingers for a long time in the mouth long after the dram has been swallowed.

Final Impressions
You know that you are in the presence of greatness when drinking this very fine single malt scotch. It has won countless awards as the best scotch of this year or that. Now, you understand why. Share this with your best friend, your father, your mentor, during a fireside chat about what life means. Not to be served during happy hour or for the Super Bowl.

This is not cheap to purchase. You are looking at paying around $80 a bottle (750ml). But, remember that you are buying a very high end single malt scotch. In that realm, $80 is actually not that expensive. For example The Macallan 18 year old single malt scotch is substantially more and simply not as good. Johnnie Walker Blue (a premium blend) is nearly double in price, but again not as good. Glenfiddich 18yr old single malt is more in price and not better. So, you get the picture. This would be a wonderful gift to the man or woman who loves single malt scotch. If they have never had it before, it will be a treat that they will forever after be grateful. If they have had it before, they will recognize the time and thought you put into choosing this gift for them. Do not buy this for the casual hard liquor consumer. They will not appreciate it.

There is nothing negative to report about this single malt scotch. I would however caution readers that this is 43% alcohol and so drinking this should not be followed by any driving. One can get quickly intoxicated without the intention. It happened to me one night. I kept taking sips and before I knew it, I was certifiably smashed.

Cheers!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

The Macallan 18 yr old Sherry version - Single Malt Scotch Review


The Macallan Distillery is located in the Speyside region of Scotland. Established in the 19th century, needless to say, this is another distiller with a long track record and tradition of producing fine single malt scotch.This distillery is well known for producing a scotch which is aged in Spanisk oak casks that had previously held sherry for a couple of years. As I mentioned in my review of the 12 year old, the sherry soaked Spanish wood imparts its flavor into the Macallan spirit that is aged in these casks for many years. The result is a very sherried scotch. If you do not drink sherry and therefore unsure what is meant by this term (sherry), try this whisky and you will come face to face with the flavor of sherry as found in whisky.The Macallan Distillery has what it calls Sherry Oak Series which is comprised of several different scotches that differ in terms of aging. They are: 7, 10, 12, 18, 25, & 30 years old. And guess what? The price adjusts upwards as they progress in age. It will come as no surprise that the quality is commensurate with age too.

Suggested Setting
The Macallan 18yr. old is not intended for barbecues or throwing darts with the guys out in the garage. This is a single malt that should be carefully sampled in the quiet of one's home when all the distractions of life are at bay. Maybe by the fireplace (if you've got one), on a cold winter's night, watching the snowfall cloud the street lights. Having set up the scene, lets move to the actual serving.

Suggested Serving
In a whisky glass or a tumbler pour a small amount and swirl. This is drinking "neat" or "straight up" as others might put it. If your preference is to add water then I recommend distilled water, but only a drop or two. This will open up some flavours and aromas. I would recommend against adding ice. Ice dilutes the scotch and a lot of its complexity and the many nuances of flavours available. If you are a casual drinker of scotch and always add lots of ice or even a cube, there are a lot of cheaper single malts and blends that will meet your requirements. To add ice to this scotch is an expensive proposition because within ten minutes you will have diluted it such that its really distored in terms of what you will taste. If you like the watered down taste, again choose something cheaper like "Famous Grouse", the #1 selling scotch blend in Scotland. By the way, its key ingredients are the Macallan and Highland Park. Add all the ice of water you want to a tumbler of "Famous Grouse" as it only costs around $20 a bottle.

Nose
Sherry and brandy. A fine bouquet that tells you a treat awaits. Nosing this can go on for quite a while. You will not detect much if any peat scents wafting upward.

Palate
Take a little sip and hold it in your mouth for a second. You will note thick, rich sun beams of sherry, concentrated sweet berries like a big Napa cabernet sauvignon (think Caymus or Cakebread) building towards a crescendo of oak. This is a scotch of great complexity, body and above all, concentration of dark fruit flavors.

Finish
The 'finish' is a term referring to how long the flavor lingers and how it concludes before leaving the palate entirely. In this case, the Macallan 18yr old provides the dry yet sweet taste of oak, ginger and smoke lingering long after you have swallowed that tiny sip. The finish is excellent.

General Impressions
This is a high quality single malt scotch. If you are familiar with the 12 year old Macallan, then you can think of the 18yr old as simply having all the attributes the 12 yr old lacks. The 12 has the flavour of sherry and smoke but lacks the sophistication, refinement and dark berry fruit. The 18 delivers what the palate of the 12 yr old promises but can't come good for. If I were to sum up the 18 in a word, it would be "concentration." Concentration of sherry/smoke and berry flavours in an intriguing fashion.

Cheers!


Jason Debly
© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

The Macallan 15 yr old Fine Oak - Single Malt Scotch Review


Background
The Macallan distillery, the producer of a world famous single malt scotch is located in the Speyside region of Scotland. Although this distillery has a long history in Scotland, as far back as 1824 (and probably before that on an illegal basis), the single malt scotch was not available outside of Scotland until 1980.

Before 1980, the spirit was sold in the country as a single malt and the vast majority of the spirit was sold to other companies that would blend the Macallan with other single malts and grain whisky in order to produce a scotch blend. A notable example is the Famous Grouse Scotch blend. The Macallan is a key single malt in that blend and quite noticeable.  In 1980, the owners of the brand started exporting the malt.  Macallan was instantly popular. 

This is due to the unique flavor profile, one that is dominated by sherry. Production of this spirit involves storing it in oak casks that previously held Spanish sherry. In 2004 a new product line was introduced entitled "Fine Oak." This spirit is stored in European (Spain) sherry oak casks, but then it is transferred to American oak sherry casks and finally to American oak casks that previously held bourbon. This triple cask maturation of the spirit produces the 15 yr old Fine Oak.

Suggested Serving
This is an expensive single malt, so it goes without saying that is definitely not appropriate to use this in mixed drinks of any kind. If you want 'Rob Roy' or add soda, use Johnnie Walker Red. That said, how one enjoys their single malt scotch is up to the individual's personal taste. 

Neat (nothing added) is certainly appropriate. Take a little sip, let it roll on the tongue before swallowing. 

A little water, by little, I mean a drop or two of distilled or artesian water is certainly acceptable.  

Ice? A rather expensive proposition to dilute this malt, but many consumers like ice.  In any event, as it melts after about two minutes, a sip deliver a much softened flavor. If you choose ice, one cube only, no more than that because the drink will be overly diluted (some would argue a single cube does irreparable damage to the flavor profile).

Nose (undiluted)
Lots of vanilla and mango notes.

Palate (undiluted)
It goes without saying that sherry and oak are major adornments of the flavor profile. This oak is similar to a Californian red wine like Silver Oak. Unlike most scotch, there is a wine like flavor and texture to this that initially is very pleasing but unfortunately becomes prune-like the longer it is lolled around on one's tongue. There are fruit flavors at play also, but not of the citrus variety, but rather raisin, cooked apple and bruised tangerine. The flavors are delicately held together.

Finish (undiluted)
The cooked fruit, or warm fruit cup continues into the finish with a little spice and then disappears. The flavor does not remain long. Not a short finish, but I was expecting something longer lingering on the palate after it is downed.

General Impressions
This is basically a sherried scotch with lots of toasted oak flavor that moves towards an assortment of cooked fruits. There is a wine-like, prune oriented end to the tasting experience that I do not particularly enjoy.  As I drink this, I think to myself that the standard sherried 12 year old Macallan is better and cheaper to boot.

You will not offend anyone by serving it to them. They will enjoy a good quality single malt, but it will be on your dime. From a purely taste perspective, this is flavorful, distinguished, but ultimately a little flawed with respect to the cooked dark fruit notes. The reason I cannot recommend this single malt is because the price makes it unreasonable. It is too expensive for what it provides. The 12 yr, sherried version is cheaper and in my humble opinion, better.  Glendronach 12 or 15 would better choices for those seeking sherried Scotch whiskies.  

If you are seeking a show-stopper of a single malt, then pass this one by and go directly to the Macallan 18yr old sherry oak (not the fine oak).  The 18 yr old sherried bottling provides the quintessential Macallan experience. Please note there is a 18yr old Fine Oak, and I have not tried it, and therefore can't recommend it.The bottom line is I would not buy this one again because of the price and the unpleasant cooked fruit notes on the finish.

I revisited this malt a few years later and you can read that review here.

Cheers!



Jason Debly




© Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.

Glenfiddich 12 year old - Single Malt Scotch Review


Motivation for Writing this Review
I receive a lot of email from people who read my reviews wanting advice on a good “starter” or “entry level” single malt scotch to try. I also have gotten more than one gripe from people who complain I tend to review very expensive, high end spirits. So, in response to those emails, here is a review that is dedicated to the casual consumer of scotch who wants to try a good, middle of the road single malt scotch that will not break the bank.

Iconic Symbol of Scotch for the everyday person?  There are two images conjured up by the mind of Joe Q Public when he hears the words “scotch.” He will first think of the trademark symbol of the “striding man” of Johnnie Walker advertisements followed closely by the image of a green, triangular Glenfiddich bottle that you invariably see on the shelves behind most bars around the world.

Nose (undiluted)
Delicate, subtle scented tendrils of white chocolate and maraschino cherry drift upwards in a most pleasing manner. You have to pay close attention to detect this bouquet.

Palate (undiluted)
Initially sweet, honey like taste, moving to heather, tarragon, then vanilla and oak.

This is a viscous (think oily texture) dram such that the scotch rolls thickly all over the palate and in that manner not as refined as more expensive single malts (ie. Highland Park 18 yr old) and even some blends (ie. Johnnie Walker Black). I am using the word “refined” in a certain manner. What I mean is with scotch whiskies that are refined, the various flavors are very well defined, such that you can pick them all out like the colored feathers of a peacock. Conversely, Glenfiddich 12 year old serves up a flavor profile where the various flavors are all rolled together in a non-distinct manner kind of like a television set out of focus or a LCD TV viewing an analog channel. While I would describe the flavor profile as unrefined, do not interpret this as a flaw. I am just attempting to describe the style or ambience of this scotch. One final point about the flavor profile that is worthy of note. There is very little if any peat

Finish
A salty ocean spray finish with some more heather. No burn here just a pleasing warming sensation as it goes down. Totally inoffensive. If you ever wanted to try drinking a dram of scotch “neat” (meaning without the addition of ice or water, just straight) this is the one.

I started out drinking scotch with lots of ice, as I did not enjoy the burn or warmth delivered by scotch, but over time my tastes evolved such that I required less ice until the present situation, where I drink scotch neat, mind you in little or tiny sips.

The “length” of this scotch, meaning how long the flavors linger in the mouth is very brief. What lingers though is a distinctly malty taste that is enjoyable with a little mint or lemon peel flavor accompaniment. Very nice.

Ice?
What happens if served with ice? Drink this with ice and the scotch becomes much more fruity. Flavors of grapefruit and pear come into play. Makes for a very refreshing beverage that goes down very easily on a hot summer’s day.

Conclusion
Glenfiddich 12 year old offers up an entry level single malt scotch that is reasonably priced and delivers an inoffensive and enjoyable tasting experience. If you are seeking to impress guests this would not be a suitable dram. While decent, inoffensive and pleasing, it is not complex, luxurious or interesting to the serious scotch aficionado. I recently had this when I walked off the golf course on a cold and blustery day and it warmed me and my spirit as I casually chatted with some golfers in the clubhouse. Perfect in that sort of setting.



Cheers!


Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.

Review: Lagavulin 16 yr Old - The Best Islay Single Malt!


Islay whisky is made only on the island of Islay, Scotland. It is characterized by a strong or dominant peat flavor profile. Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig are the three most famous single malts distilleries from this Island. There are a few others, but in any event, I am of the opinion that Lagavulin is the finest of them all. When I first started drinking scotch I did not like anything peaty. I prefered sugary sweet or honeyed scotches like Famous Grouse. However, over time my tastes have matured and now I have grown to appreciate the peat component of scotch whisky to the point that I actually am a fan of an Islay single malt scotch, namely Lagavulin.

This love affair with Lagavulin started this evening. While I had started to enjoy more peat flavors in my blended scotch, I had not found a single malt that I could say I enjoyed. Well, all that changed this evening. I am currently in Prince Edward Island for some meetings. So, I drove four hours, had a little dinner and went to a very lame social mixer. Left that promptly with a couple of friends in tow and headed to the club house bar (the resort has three golf courses!). So, we are sitting at the bar and I am surveying the collection of liquor bottles in pyramid formation against a mirrored wall, and not seeing much in the way of scotch except for three bottles, Glenfiddich 12 year old, a bottle of Cragganmore and Lagavulin. Well, I had the Glenfiddich a million times in the past, and as for the Cragganmore, I was seriously considering it when I started thinking about the Lagavulin.

Lagavulin is one of those single malt scotches that I read about on whisky blogs that scotch aficionados go on about. Basically people who know their scotch, really praise this one. So, having that brain wave wash over my strong body, but weak in spirit, I pointed to the Lagavulin and told the bartender to pour me a double. (A single is simply not enough needed in order to formulate a tasting note, which by the way, I feverishly scratched out between snorts of this heavenly stuff).

Nose
I nosed it at first and was surprised at how sophisticated and refined the smoke, peat and spice (I'm thinking nutmeg). Nosing this, I knew immediately that I was in for a treat. Nothing on the nose threw off a scent of cheap alcohol. Lots of smoke even while I sat. If you walked into the room, you would be searching for the roaring fire of tree branches and peat ("an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter" - according to Wikipedia) producing billowing smoke. Well, there is no fire, just my glass, so why don't you sit down at the bar next to me and my friends and let us go on a wonderful journey.

Palate
With some trepidation I take a sip, expecting to be disappointed, as I have been with another famous Islay scotch, Laphroaig. However, there is no disappointment. I take my sip, hold it, rolling it around, the bartender stares at me pensively (probably wondering how much i will tip him) and contemplate a most wondrous scotch tasting experience. On the palate, a silken liquid of considerable viscosity bathes my palate in a gently sweet wood smoke, moving to mint, peppermint and cool menthol. The liquid is warming. There is no heat, burn or roughness of any kind. Have no fear, you can drink this "neat" (no water or ice need apply to this job!). I also detect some green olive with the red pimento in the centre coming through. Oh, this is glorious stuff. The stuff that dreams are made of. I ask the bartender, tarbender for a napkin and a pen. I have to capture this moment without delay. My friends shake their head. The bartender looks on fearing maybe I am writing a note of complaint to his manager, but oh no, I am writing this very tasting note, documenting what I am picking up on the nose, the palate and of course, the finish!

Finish
More smoke baby! This palate of mine is smoking like a Motley Crue stage or Studio 59 at midnight with all the dry ice. Yeah, I am tasting wood smoke, peat, like a nice menthol cigarette, and that sweetness like that first kiss! oh yeah! Follow that with brine and sea salt and I know I have just downed the best damn scotch I have had in a very long time. It lingers too. The finish lingers for quite a while after I down it. This is no cheap two buck chuck finish.

General Impressions
I did not like peated scotch very much prior to tasting this. I associated Islay with heavy peat married with rubbing alcohol. I now stand corrected. Islay scotch can be very enjoyable. I am shocked and in a state of wonderment as to how good this scotch is.

There are so many web reviews of this scotch and I do not think any are negative. So much praise comes for good reason. It is expensive but an incredible treat well worth it. My double Lagavulin cost me $17! Well, ahh that was the first one. . . As for the tip, the barman was relieved when he found out I was writing notes for this review on the napkin he supplied.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.

Review: Teacher's Highland Cream




















I had heard about Teacher's Highland Cream as being an excellent blended scotch for years. Websites devoted to scotch had many threads with extensive discussions of this blended scotch. Personally, I was always skeptical mainly for two reasons. First, the price. It's not expensive at all. Secondly, its a blend. I would think to myself, "how can a blend be very good?"  So, I bought a bottle. And what a bottle it was.

Serving
Single large ice cube (also very enjoyable with a drop or two of distilled water).

Nose
Scent of dulse, seaweed and salt air wafting up. Impressive!  I visualize standing at a cliff face on a windy, overcast day in Scotland.

Palate
The taste is sea salt, smoke, very faint peat and iodine with a bacon/malt backbone.  This is a heavy scotch in the mouth, and many enjoy rolling it around a bit before swallowing.  Anise, black licorice and lots of malt round this blend out.

Finish
Lingering sea salt, dulse, malt and a faint echo of peat.  Teachers is a complex dram that offers a lot of different flavours to consider.  It will really grow on you as you become more acquainted with it.  If you are new to scotch drinking and enjoy a dram and wanting to avoid peat monsters, well try drinking this with an ice cube or two.  As the ice melts, it mellows out the drink and by the time you finish you will be very satisfied.  Teachers has been around for over 100 yrs and is in the top five best selling blends in the world. I can see why.


Teachers can be distinguished from other scotches because of its unusually high single malt content that runs a minimum of 45% of the content. Scotch blends are a combination of grain and malt whisky.  The latter contributes flavour while the former softens a flavour that otherwise would be very rough and biting on the palate. Accordingly, more flavour if you have more malt content.

Teachers has a rich flavour and grain whiskeys that soften it sufficiently such that it doesnt have the cheap bite that some whiskeys often have.

Great Price Point!
Another great point to consider is price.  I have drank many more expensive blends and single malts that cannot hold a candle to a tumbler of Teachers. So, don't be put off by the low price.  Part of the reason the price is reasonable is because the whisky's core is comprised of two single malts (Ardmore and Glendronach) that by themselves are not particularly popular on their own, (hence most production is for this blend) but when blended in this bottling produce a very popular flavour profile at an affordable price point.


Sometimes, a blend is comprised of expensive single malts and that causes the price of the malt naturally to be expensive. Johnnie Walker Black Label is an example, as one of its key ingredients is Talisker that enjoys high prices and wide spread popularity as a single malt. (If you like some peat and plenty of smoke balanced out with some caramel notes then try Black Label).

Looking for a gift for your father, brother, son, this is the ticket! They wont be disappointed.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

Note:  Since writing this review, the corporate ownership of Teacher's has changed, which has resulted in changes to one of the core single malts used.  I wrote about it here.  Accordingly, the review before you provides tasting notes for Teachers in 2009-2010.  If you can get an old bottle grab it!

© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2014. All rights reserved.

The Macallan 12 yr old - Single Malt Scotch Review


A Little History
The Macallan 12 year old is a classic Speyside single malt scotch that has a history that can be traced back to 1824. Alexander Reid obtained a licence to distill whisky and that was the beginning. In those days, farmers like Reid used to distil whisky on their own, without licence (which was just a form of taxation) from barley they grew with water from the river Spey.Over subsequent years, the Macallan distillery would change hands many times, initially between farmers, and later between corporations dedicated to distributing scotch. Presently, it is owned by a company, the Edrington Group, who make sure quality is very line.
The Macallan 12 yr old Sherry Oak has won numerous awards over the years and is one of the most highly regarded single malts by the conossieurs. The public has chimed in its support too by paying a higher than average price and seemingly doing so willingly, as it is a beverage enjoying strong sales.
Nose
Sherry and oak, which is not surprising as the scotch acquired its sherry scent and flavour profile by way of being aged in oak casks from Jerez, Spain which previously stored sherry.
Palate
A mouth filling, full-bodied scotch that is rich and luxurious. The dominany flavour is sherry, which is accented with oak and some smoke. Not detecting any peat or heather notes in this dram. The sherry flavour is also complimented by orange rind, spicy cinamon and even some cream.
Finish
Spicy sherry enveloped in smoke and tobacco round out the tasting experience which lingers nicely.ImpressionsThis is a high quality single malt scotch. It is not to be gulped down at a party or when one's mind is distracted with perfunctory chit-chat at a social engagement. This is to be reserved for the fireside chat with someone you respect who might, if you are lucky impart some wisdom between pensive sips of this wonderful dram.Some may not like this if they are seeking a lot of peat and heather in their scotch. Not to be found here. Instead, if you love the taste of sherry in scotch, this is for you. If you are unsure what sherry tastes like in the context of scotch, this is the definitive "sherry bomb" to sip and study.While I enjoy this single malt, it is not something that I can drink several nights in a row because it can get to be a bit one dimensional. Its great, but drink too much of it, and it will lose its mystery a little to quickly.


Cheers!


Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Johnnie Walker Blue Label



Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the most expensive and presumably finest of the Johnnie Walker blended scotch product line offered by the multinational company Diageo plc.


The price is high. For the same price, you could choose from a wide variety of 18 year old single malts at half the price. Moreover, at the price of a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, you could have a 25 year old single malt like Highland Park. All of this leads up to the question of: "Is it worth it?" Not an easy question to answer. I will return to it at the end of this post.

Marketing/Packaging
The marketing folks at Diageo plc are geniuses. The packaging of Blue Label is impressive and no expense is spared. The blue/green glass bottle rests in a satin lined box complete with a booklet about the scotch. The booklet advises that this scotch was blended with the aim of recreating the flavor profile typical of the 19th century blends old Mr. Johnnie Walker would have created. The bottom line is the presentation is impressive.

No Age Stated
The marketing genius of Diageo is exemplified by their ability to command such a high price for a blended scotch that makes no age statement. The website (johnniewalker.com) and the packaging advises that the rarest of the whiskies owned by Diageo go into this blend. So rare and old that some whiskies used in the blend come from distilleries that are no longer in existence. The implication is clear that some of the whiskies in this blend are more than 18 years old. I have not read on the Walker website, but elsewhere I have read that the ingredient whiskies include malt whiskies that are upwards of 40 yrs old. Certainly a claim that I would like to verify at some point. In any case, for blended scotch whisky to have no age statement means the distiller is free from the constraints of only working with whiskies of a particular age. Aged whiskies are better than young ones but only up to a point, in my opinion.

Serving Suggestion
This scotch is so smooth that there is no need to add ice or water to soften any rough edges. There are no rough edges. Even if you always drink your whisky with ice or water, I encourage you to at least try this neat. Pour a double into a whisky glass or crystal tumbler and take a small sip. A tiny sip. Once swallowed and the taste no longer lingers, have a sip of water to clean your palate.

Nose
Pull the cork stopper on this bottle, have a pour and nose your glass. You will enjoy scents of perfume, peat, smoke and fresh bread. Very nice. I compare this to the Gold Label and to my surprise, the Gold Label is considerably nicer on the nose. Mind you, in my opinion, the Gold Label has the finest nose of any scotch I have ever tried.

Setting
Your taste experience can be affected by what you ate at your last meal and how long ago that meal took place. My recommendation is that you try this scotch three or four hours after dinner, in a quiet place with a fireplace, a nice window to look out and consider the flavors offered up by this dram. I would not recommend eating anything with this fine scotch as the flavors of the food may conflict or dull the palate from the full flavor range offered by this wonderful dram. All you need is a quiet place, some privacy, a tall glass of cold water and a tumbler or whisky glass of this whisky.

Palate (undiluted)
I take a little sip and am surprised by how weighty this scotch is in the mouth. A medium to full body that rolls on the tongue while it is being savored. The initial flavor is very soft peat. I am surprised how much peat the flavor profile delivers. Smooth, rich, corona cigar smoke, a spice box with ginger follows against a malty background.

Finish (undiluted)
The sign of a great scotch is how long it lingers upon the palate once it is gone. Blue Label does not disappoint. Flavors of smoke, very restrained peat, malt, fresh chopped mint leaves, and faint peppercorns linger. Maybe a little echo of English Stilton cheese at the very end. The length of flavor is moderate.

What happens if we add a splash of water?
Add water and you will enjoy more complexity of flavors. Having sampled this both undiluted and with a little water, my preference will depend on my mood. The water (a little! like a teaspoon at the most to a shot) livens the flavors. You will taste more peat, carmelized onion and pepper. On the downside, the water takes away some sophistication. I know the last sentence borders on the meaningless, but that's the best I can do.

General Impressions
It's a decent scotch whisky that will not offend. 'Smooth' and 'rich,'  are words that come to mind when I think about it. No flavors are too strong, bitter or burn, even when consumed neat. I enjoyed this spirit, but have to say that I am not obsessed with it or its biggest fan. A word of caution here. I prefer scotch that is more honey, caramel, chocolate, nutty in flavor. In a word, I am a fan of the stereotypical Speyside scotches (Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, etc.). I am by nature, not an Ardbeg fanatic. For those of you who do not know Ardbeg, it's a peat bomb. Johnnie Walker Blue has an Islay component that dominates the Speyside whiskies that are also a present, but the domination is done in the most elegant way possible.

Is It Worth the Price?
In order to answer this question you have to first determine what it is being compared to? Ultra premium blended scotch whisky or single malt?

Compared to other very high end blended scotch whisky, 'no,' it is not worth the price. The peer group for ultra-premium blends includes: Royal Salute, Ballantines 17 yr old and Chivas Regal 18yrs and 25 yrs. Johnnie Walker Blue is a weak player in this group, probably the weakest.  Chivas 18yrs and Royal Salute are both priced lower but offer up superior, more fragrant flavors than the Blue Label. At this level of likes and dislikes it's fairly subjective. If you like peat and smoke to dominate the flavor profile, Blue Label might be your choice, as it is stronger than the others. However, if you like the classic Speyside flavors of honey, cinammon and caramel, you should opt for Chivas 18, 25 and Royal Salute.

If you compare Blue Label to single malt scotch, it is definitely not worth the money.  There are several single malts which present greater complexity of flavors at half the price! Which ones? Lagavulin 16 yrs, Glenlivet 18 yrs (add a little water), Cragganmore 12 yrs (add a little water), Dalwhinnie and Highland Park 15 or 18 yrs (great neat or with the addition of a splash of water) to name just a few. All of the aforementioned single malts are at a minimum 50% cheaper and offer a more intricate and pleasing flavor profile. If you visit the Johnnie Walker website, Blue Label is promoted on the basis of the "layers and layers of flavor . . ." (at the time of writing this post this was in the website. However, Diaego is constantly updating the site and so this comment about 'layers' may disappear in the future.) And this is where it fails when compared to the previously mentioned single malts. The single malts weave a tapestry of flavor that Blue Label cannot hold a candle to.

But if it fails the value for money test when compared to ultra-premium blended scotch whisky and single malts (which is kind of like comparing apples to oranges) then why does it enjoy such great success in terms of sales? Marketing.  Masterful marketing.  I think for many people, purchasing Johnnie Walker Blue Label is about making a statement:

"I am rich!"

"I spent a lot of money on your gift."

"I have a fat wallet and a very limited knowledge of scotch."

I have no understanding of the phrase 'value for money.'"

Conclusion
Price and value for money considerations aside, if you are looking for a smooth, inoffensive ultra-premium scotch, Johnnie Walker Blue Label will not disappoint, but it will not impress much either.


Cheers!

PS:  An updated review on Johnnie Blue is available by clicking here.

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label - An 18 yr old Premium Scotch Blend

Note:  The Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 year age statement has been discontinued by Diageo (owner of the Johnnie Walker brand).  The 18 year age statement has been dropped and now the label of its replacement reads "Gold Label Reserve."  The following review pertains to the 18 year age statement bottling that has been discontinued.  If you find this discontinued bottling, buy it, as the replacement falls far short.  My Gold Label Reserve review can be accessed by clicking here.

Product Line Overview
The Johnnie Walker product line is easy to understand. Certain labels denote the level of quality of the relevant blended whisky. Red Label is the entry level offering, drunk by itself is a pleasant endeavour, and so, very suitable for adding soda or making mixed drinks. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Blue Label, a blend of scotch whiskies up to 40 yrs of age, sourcing single malts of distilleries that are no longer in operation. In between these two extremes are: Black, Green and Gold labels. As you can see, the Gold Label falls just before the zenith of scotch blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label. So, the question that arises: Is Gold Label that good? And the answer is . . . yes, it is. Very good indeed.
It was introduced into the market place in 1995. Little advertising on TV and in magazines in the US. Advertising is considerable in the Far East where Johnnie Walker enjoys a huge following. China, Japan, Singapore, Thailand are filled with ads of this scotch.
In North America, the price of Gold Label, I think causes consumers to opt for single malt over it. In any case, despite the lack of profile and advertising in North America, it is well worth discovering.

Gold Label Composition
The Gold Label is made up of a combination of grain and single malt whiskies having a minimum age of 18yrs in casks, prior to actual bottling. Remember scotch, unlike wine, does not improve with age once bottled. At the core of this blend are a number of single malts that are purported to be quite scarce. Specifically, Clynelish which is distilled from spring water that supposedly runs through veins of gold. I am frankly a little sceptical, and do not think that water passing by or through veins of gold will actually impart a distinctive flavor. Anyway, the bottom line is tha this blend is made up of high quality and obscure single malts. Diageo (the company that owns Johnnie Walker) is very guarded as to the contents of this blend. In my humble opinon, there are two reasons: first, they want to minimize competition; and secondly, there may be more grain whisky than people would expect, that if divulged might negatively impact sales.

Nose
I could nose this scotch for hours. There is so much there and you just know they spent a bloody fortune trying to get the scents just right. I am a guy who is not particularly concerned with interior decor or the color of my socks in relation to my suit, but this scotch, I am fascinated by the scents it gives. Its like sniffing a rose, and coming back over and over. Even my wife sniffed it and was shocked it was scotch. There is a lot going on, specifically, the scent of fresh bread, roses, and other flowers that frankly smell nice, but don't have a clue to identify. If this is a gift, your recipient will be impressed upon nosing this blend.

Suggested Serving
This is not to be drank with anything more than a drop or two of distilled water or a single ice cube. If you consult the Johnnie Walker US website, you will be advised to try the Gold Label by freezing a shot in a glass in your freezer for 24 hours. Dont worry, due to the alcohol content, it doesnt freeze, but it does thicken. A sip of this scotch that has been subjected to your freezer for 24 hrs results is a scotch that upon sipping, in a chilled tumbler, provides a concentrated dram of honey and heather. I tried freezing a shot in a tumbler and then sipping and must say I was impressed. I chased a sip with some milk chocolate and was in awe. It transforms from a scotch to a dessert liqueur almost.

Palate
This is a gentle, soft introduction to a sophisticated honeyed dram. The honey is presented libereally on the palate, but mixed in with notes of heather, rich cream, spicy cinnamon, zing of candy cane, faint reverberations of peat and whisps of smoke. A wrapping of flavors that can be truly called complex. There is no burn or roughness here. You know upon your first sip that you are experiencing a high quality blend of spice, honey, smoke and peat in a flavor wrapping like no other.

Finish
If you tried it after being in the freezer for 24hrs, the flavors will linger much longer than if served neat at room temperature. Frozen, you will swallow, and minutes later you will still be able to taste the honey, heather, peat and smoke in that unique envelope of single malts and blends. The warming affect of your mouth upon the chilled scotch is truly very pleasing and unique.
Served neat, the flavor remains upon being swallowed, but does not linger as long as when served frozen and in a chilled tumbler. I realize that it is outrageous to serve scotch after having been in a freezer for 24 hours but it does work in this case.

General Impressions
Johnnie Walker Gold Label is to be served on special occasions for people who will appreciate a complex, honeyed, refined and very smooth dram. If you graduate from university and your parents choosing to serve this, they are on the mark. If you are in the bar at 2 am and contemplating taking a leak in the dumpster outside with your college buddies, you have missed the mark by a wide margin.'Smooth' and 'honey' in a complex wrapping of flavor is what I think of when considering this scotch. The only negative comment I have is with respect to the tail end of the tasting or finish. I pick up some heather or mint that is a little off. It annoys me a bit, but I am being very fussy and only a couple of my connosieur friends agree with me on this point.

Cheers!

Jason Debly

P.S. A frequent question I get is what is the difference between Gold Label Reserve that is replacing Gold Label 18 year age statement bottling?

Here is an explanation from Diageo's Nick Morgan:

"The existing Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18-year-old and Johnnie Walker Green Label will begin to be phased out in the U.S. market during the summer of next year (the phase-outs will begin this summer in most other global markets). In their place, Diageo will introduce two new labels that have tested successfully in Asia—Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve (selling for around $63 a 750-ml.) and Johnnie Walker Platinum 18-year-old (around $110).

Diageo’s head of whisky outreach Nick Morgan told Shanken News Daily the revamp was meant to spread out the Johnnie Walker portfolio’s pricing in order to better motivate consumers to move up the brand ladder. “As we reviewed the brand offering, we found that the range wasn’t meeting consumer needs and providing the best consumer journey through the range as far as taste profiles and price points,” Morgan said. “Another reason for this change is to try and have, as far as is possible, a consistent range of prices and options for consumers wherever they go in the world—which, to be honest, we haven’t had heretofore.”

The new Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is based on the same Clynelish single malt as Gold Label 18-year-old, but it has a less peaty profile and will sell for around $20 less. Removing the age statement from the Gold offering also enables Diageo greater flexibility in crafting the blend. Platinum 18-year-old, meanwhile, has a more intense, peaty Speyside character. The two new variants will sit between Black Label (around $40) and Blue Label (around $210) in the portfolio. “You can see how the ladder then stretches out,” Morgan said
."


© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2012. All rights reserved.