Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Recent Single Malt Scotch Tasting

My friend George called a couple of weeks ago and told me about a single malt scotch whisky tasting taking place at a local pub.  "Was I interested?"  A rhetorical question if there ever was one.  For $30 we would sample six single malts.  A deal if there ever was one.  Mind you, I can rationalize the price of any whisky tasting.

So, I turned up at the pub, the Lunar Rogue Pub, a tiny, noisy, little bar with beat up, dark stained wooden tables and chairs.  Don't get me wrong, I like the place.  They have about 240 different single malts  and blends by the glass to choose from.  Great way to taste at a reasonable price before pulling the trigger and picking up a bottle.  Here are some pictures to give you an idea of the place.

So, as you can see, not a fancy establishment, but that's fine with me.  You've got your mix of college students knocking back glasses of draft, full of excitement and dreams for the future that they anticipate (upon graduation), sitting next to weary, scotch sippin' civil servants and working stiffs like myself who have met the future and realized the dreams, well . . . they are just dreams.  While you sip your beer or scotch depending upon your stage of life, you can take in the framed pictures, beer ads embossed upon sheets of rusted tin, and other wall-mounted knick-knacks, harkening back to another time when jobs were plentiful, a guy had a regular job, but could afford a house and a two week vacation for his family, and his wife didn't have to work.  A time of lime green Ford sedans, white vinyl car seats and Peter Frampton blaring on the radio, in the hot summer heat. 

In any event, it was a rainy Tuesday night, a week ago,  when I arrived for this scotch tasting.  George was already there, no surprise, chatting with the owner, Frank.  Frank is a guy that stands about six feet tall, of considerable girth, and his knowledge of scotch is commensurate with his size.  I sit down and note there are only about ten other people in an event which hoped to have about thirty.  Clearly, a failure of attendance, which fortunately has no bearing on the tasting.  Bread and water was provided to restore one's palate in between samples.

Glen Scotia 12 year old

This Glen Scotia single malt we sampled was not impressive.  The nose was weak and seemed off.  The taste was not much better.  A medium bodied, oily malt that was creamy but little else.  Glen Scotia has been inconsistent in terms of quality and this was no stunner.  The distillery is located in Campbeltown, Scotland, which at one time had among the most distilleries.  What happened?  Greed.  Initially, Campbeltown single malts were used for blending and enjoyed great sales, but gradually, blenders preferred Speyside single malts and so sales started to dip for Campbeltown distillers.  Prohibition created bigger problems too.  Campbeltown distillers solution was to cut costs, age their scotch shorter periods of time and sell it in higher volume.  The result was a very poor product.  Harsh, strong, oily spirit that caused Americans (a major export market) to associate anything with the name "Campbeltown" with poor quality.  Campbeltown went from a place with the most distillers in Scotland to nearly the least.  Glen Scotia is one of the few remaining.  What I tasted was not harsh, but weak and instantly forgettable.

Auchentoshan 12 year old
As with all scotch tastings, Frank selected lightest to the most robust. Next up was Auchentoshan 12 year old.

I had  heard and read mixed reviews of Auchentoshan.  The serious whisky critics griped that the Auchentoshan distillery produced weak, plain white bread whisky having little to no complexity or substance of flavor.  I have a friend, James, who had purchased this bottle in the past and disliked it intensely.  So, I was not expecting much.  I was delightfully surprised.  The aromas were pleasing but that other than that I can't remember much else.  As for the taste, it was soft, mellow and malty with some lemon and sweet melon.  The finish was a little smokey and there was no peat to speak of.  This is a Lowland malt and probably a very good representation of that region.  There was marshallow, wagon wheel treat with lots of malty flavor that I really appreciated, as did others.  The price for a bottle is also very reasonable.  I am adding this one to my list of single malts to purchase in order to do a proper tasting note.

Dalmore 12 year old

The Dalmore 12 year old single malt scotch enjoys a good reputation and strong following among scotch fans.  Unlike Auchentoshan, everything I have heard or read has been positive in regards to The Dalmore. 

Lots of vanilla on the nose.  It had more weight in the mouth, which made it a logical next step in the tasting event.  Texture was sweet, smooth but drying too.  Taste was sweet fruits, vanilla and some oak, but a tad bitter towards the finish.  I recall there was a good clarity of the flavors.  What I mean it was not rounded as you typically note in a blended scotch whisky.  Actually, The Dalmore is the core single malt of a great economy blended scotch, Whyte & Mackay.  This blended scotch, has rounded, sweet flavors of gentle fruits like melon and peaches.

So, what was the overall impression of The Dalmore?  I found it a little bit of a let-down.  That bitterness I mentioned earlier really stuck with me and couldn't ignored.  However, in all fairness to this single malt, I need to acquire a bottle and taste it under more controlled circumstances, without a palate that had just sampled two previous single malts.  So, the jury is still out, but so far in this tasting, the Auchentoshan is the clear winner.

The Macallan 12 year old

This is very popular in the United States and has steady, dependable sales in Canada.  A lot of people enjoy this single malt.  In fact, it is one of the 'mainstream' malts.  I am not a huge fan.  It's not bad.  There are no flaws, but not much that fascinates me.  For me, this is of course, an over-the-top sherried dram with some orange peel, oak and some smoke.  One dram is fine but it is not one that rings my bell.  Let's move on.

Highland Park 18 year old

We are nearing the end of the scotch tasting.  The second to last single malt is the illustrious Highland Park 18 year old, a wondrous single malt that I always read and hear good things about, not that I need anyone's opinion on this one.  I have studied the magic of this one.  A honey, heather infused explosion upon the palate provides multi-layered flavors to ponder.  One of the longest, smokiest finishes available anywhere.  A previous, more detailed review is available on this blog in the archives (August 2009) or just use the search function in the top left hand corner. 

Lagavulin 16 year old

The final single malt of the evening served up by Frank was Lagavulin 16 year old.  An Islay single malt that needs no introduction.  I have reviewed this malt in detail elswhere on this blog, like the Highland Park, and again would refer you to it. 

At the tasting, I enjoyed the sweet peat and smoke as only Islay can do it.  It was wonderful as always.  For the others present, it was new to them and they were unsure what to make of it.  No one disliked it, but rather were quite fascinated by the peaty architecture of this spirit.
. . .
The favorite of all who attended that evening was the Highland Park.  For me, the big surprise was the Auchentoshan 12.  A very reasonably priced, Lowland single malt which is often over looked or dismissed by critics as a light-weight region because of its more subtle flavors, lacking soaring peat, smoke and pepper that seem to be key to so many highly rated scotches.  There is something to be said for subtlety.  I encourage you to give it a try!
. . .
Whyte & Mackay Special

After the tasting was officially over,  Frank treated George and I to two 50 ml of Whyte & Mackay 'Special' blended scotch whisky.  This is a great economy blend, as I mentioned previously.  Very smooth, rounded flavors, no bite (a prerequisite of most blend fans), packaged in honey, ripe red grapes, sherry and a little hint of smoke.  The finish is short, so short, that it commands another sip!  Dangerous stuff!  I like it a lot.  So, if you are ever looking for a change in a blended scotch whisky, please give consideration to this standard bottling of Whyte & Mackay.


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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera Reserve - Single Malt Scotch Review

William Grant & Sons Ltd. is the company that makes Grant's Family Reserve, a blended scotch whisky which I consider a very poor entry level blended scotch whisky.  It is weak in flavor, grainy and instantly forgettable.

William Grant & Sons Ltd. also make Glenfiddich single malt scotch at the distillery of the same name in Dufftown, Scotland.  The Glenfiddich brand is a good one.  The iconic triangular bottle that was introduced into the market place in the 1960's steadily grew in popularity until it appeared and continues to appear in virtually every bar in the world.  So, can something so common be any good?  Well, we know that Grant's Family Reserve is common, like chicken pox, but is not good.  Meanwhile, Glenfiddich single malt scotch, regardless of how common it may be, actually is good!

The Glenfiddich product line starts with the 12 year old single malt, a citrus, honey, oak dram that is rounded and pleasing.  Next up is the 15 year old, the subject of today's review.  The 18 and 21 year olds are special also but will have to wait for another day.  I gotta keep you coming back somehow! 

When I indulge in the 15 year old, I am immediately struck by how much distance there is in quality between it and the 12 year old.  While the 12 year old is a decent and pleasing introduction to Speyside single malts, it is the 15 year old that will reveal why single malts enjoy cult like affection from their admirers. 


Nose (undiluted)
The aromas drifting upwards from your glass are heaven sent.  Rich, fragrant spices with oak and a little peat swirl.  Rarely does a single malt have aromas that can be termed complex, but this is one.  A real treat to nose.  The only other scotch with a possibly superior aroma is Johnnie Walker Gold Label.  Is it better?  I am unsure.  They are both great.

Palate (undiluted)
The complexity promised by the aromas is fulfilled on the palate.  Take a sip and you will enjoy honeyed, coffee crisp candy bar center, with an intricate spiciness.  All of this takes place against a tapestry of oak and white chocolate.

Finish (undiluted)
Puckering dryness with intensifying spices moving eventually to mild peppercorns.

General Impressions
This is a light bodied single malt which showcases the best that Speyside has to offer.  It is smooth, yet interesting.  The honey and vanilla are there, coupled with oak and some toffee.  You will enjoy a concentrated flavor profile.  The honey flavors have a wild taste, some heather mixed in, making for a complex dram. 

Good price!  They could raise this price by $10 and it would not affect market share in my opinion. 

If you like Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Chivas Regal 18 year old and in general anything from Speyside, then Glenfiddich 15 year Solera Reserve will not disappoint!



Copyright © Jason Debly, 2012. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chivas Regal 12 years old - Review

My first encounter with Chivas Regal 12 year old blended scotch whisky was in law school.

One time following a Christmas time exam that finished at noon, I and a couple of classmates piled into a taxi and dropped by a local bar on the ground floor of a hotel, Sheraton, at that time. The dimly lit bar would be mostly empty except for the odd business types eating club sandwhiches and maybe cougars travelling in packs of two, who were feasting on salads. Myself, a mature student, who left a career as an insurance adjuster to return to school, Gordon, a failed businessman who thought law would lead to days of wine and roses, John, a top student suffering soul searching angst about whether he should go to med school instead (wish I had that problem) and Brian, not really a friend, but like a bad penny, we just couldn’t shake, would tumble into the bar and attract stares of consternation from the aforementioned patrons and bar staff. Brian, I might add, was cruelly nicknamed Barney after the character on the “Simpsons” because he was disheveled, smelled bad and looked like a drunk who just woke up on a park bench or under a bridge.

In any case, we would drop into red leather wingback chairs, dark burnished wood panel walls behind us and stare out the massive windows at the winter river that was mostly frozen. To warm ourselves up, and defrost our minds from the frantic study leading up to the exam, we would order Rusty Nails. This drink was composed of 60/40 mix of Drambuie and Chivas Regal 12 years old plus a couple of ice cubes. What a nice drink! The Drambuie and Chivas melded into an incredible drink.

In those days, I did not enjoy scotch neat, matter of fact, I had no appreciation of scotch whatsoever. Two weeks ago, I found myself in the liquor store scanning a wall of scotch, thinking what will I review next? Chivas Regal 12 years old appeared and I remembered I liked it as an active ingredient in a Rusty Nail, but would it work on its own?

Nose (undiluted)
Citrus, apples, maybe damp leaves.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth, sweet honey, applesauce and hazelnut. Mid-palate: creamy vanilla, ocean spray of sea salt and heather.

Finish (undiluted)
A little Oloroso sherry? I think so. Some peat/smoke, heather and sea salt linger nicely and dry across the palate in an expansive manner.

General Impressions
The taste starts out sweet but finishes dry. I am impressed!

Frankly, I had very low expectations. Anything so widely available can’t be that good I thought to myself. I was wrong. This blended scotch exhibits no bite, bitterness or rough edges. It is designed to be smooth and totally inoffensive. It succeeds in this aim.

I am also pleased by the lack of a certain graininess that is very common in many blended scotch whisky. By graininess, I mean an unadulterated alcohol/bitter flavor that I associated with cheap blends.

It is a 12 year old blended scotch whisky, and compared to other 12 year old blended scotches, it does very well. Matter of fact, it can hold its own against the gold standard of 12 year olds, Johnnie Walker Black Label. Chivas Regal 12 years is priced competitively too so you are getting good value for money. Unfortunately, when you upgrade to the 18 year old bottling of Chivas, you could buy many superior single malt blends for less.

The limitations to this scotch are if you compare it to single malt scotch whisky. Of course it will come up a bit short in such a comparison, but you are not making a fair comparison. General Motors manufactures Chevrolet and Cadillac, but comparisons are not helpful as you are not comparing apples to apples.

Nevertheless, I do prefer this to some single malts. Depending on my mood, I could enjoy this blend just as much as Glenfiddich 12yrs or Glenlivet 12 yrs. But, there are certainly single malts that are superior like Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie and others!

Chivas Regal 12 years old serves up a rich, smooth blended scotch that most certainly is dominated by Speyside single malts. At the core of this blend is Strathisla single malt. You probably never heard of Strathisla and that is due to the fact that the Chivas and Glenlivet Group (the corporate owners of Chivas Regal) do not promote the brand. The principal purpose of owning Strathisla is to cement a steady supply of the main single malt ingredient making up the Chivas Regal blends.

I am so impressed with Chivas Regal 12 years old that I will have to reconsider my review of the 18 year old bottling.  I truly think I prefer the 12 to the 18.  Here is my review of Chivas Regal 18 (click here). Too much money for a mediocre blended scotch whisky is what the 18 is.


Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2017. All rights reserved.