Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: The MacPhail's Collection Tamdhu 8 year old Single Malt Scotch

In the past, the Tamdhu Distillery, in the town of Knockando, always produced what I found to be a gentle and pleasing introduction to single malt scotch.  A great starting point and for that matter, always enjoyable to return to every once in a while.

The house style if you will is invariably smooth and easy-going.  No over powering flavors and usually a rounded, soft mouth feel.   Unfortunately, this old Speyside distillery (founded in 1897) was closed by its owner, The Edrington Group, in April 2010.  Reasons are invariably vague.  The Edrington spokespeople blamed the weak economy at the time and the need to "rebalance its distillation capacity."  For further Orwellian double talk akin to a White House press secretary, more Edrington quotes are available in a news article on the closure of Tamdhu by clicking here.  The bottom line I figure is its all about saving dollars and cents (and sacking 30 hard working people).

When the Tamdhu distillery was in operation, its output was an ingredient whisky for a number of unremarkable entry level scotch blends like: Famous GrouseJ & B Rare and Cutty Sark.  The distillery cranked out a vast sea of 4 million gallons a year.  The majority went for blending, but the distillery did bottle some single malt, usually with no age statement, but later there was a ten year old.  Tamdhu was never a darling of the whisky critics.  Lacked the magic they required in their drams (or maybe their pocket books . . .).  But, for the average Joe, Sue and myself, it hit all the right notes.  Smooth, pleasing and friendly.

Today, you can probably find Tamdhu single malt scotch still on shelves, but it won't likely be distillery bottlings.   There are still some bottles kicking around (because so much was produced), but more than likely what is on the liquor store shelf comes from an independent bottler like Gordon & MacPhail.

Independent bottlers buy a 'new-make spirit' (unaged whisky) produced by a Scottish distillery and make decisions about how to age it.  Decisions concerning what casks (American or European Oak), first-fill sherry or ex-bourbon casks, second-fill, etc and of course aging.  "Wood management" is, in my opinion, just as important, and sometimes more important than the quality of the new-make whisky.  A good independent bottler like Gordon & MacPhail can take the unremarkable new-make whisky of a distillery like Tamdhu and make it into something special if they exercise good wood management.

Nose (undiluted)
Surprisingly soft mist of peat, rich sherry, lots of spices and vanilla.  Quite impressive for the price of this malt.

Palate (undiluted)
Sherry, some cranberry and raspberry.  Lots of other rich red fruits too.

Finish (undiluted)
Nice sherry again, red licorice and black coffee on the tail end.

General Impressions
I am really impressed with this single malt.  I mean really impressed.  For a malt that is made up of whiskies as young as eight years, it tastes like the majority of the spirit is much older.  Then again the nature of the new make whisky may mature much earlier (ie. 8-10yrs) than others.  In any case, this bottle is proof again that age statements do not necessarily denote quality.

Gordon & MacPhail have done an excellent job of wood management with the Tamdhu new-make whisky they received at least 8 years ago.  Excellent quality refill sherry casks were used to age the spirit.  I know this because I can taste it.  The refill sherry casks may have not necessarily been 1st refill, but rather 2nd or some combination of the two.  Whatever the case is, the master blender did a terrific job given the price of a bottle of this release.

Criticisms?  At this particular price point, not really.  Gordon & MacPhail deliver an easy drinking single malt with pleasant sherry and red fruit flavors that slightly dry on the finish.  Maybe not overly complex, but this is not meant to be a show stopper or one to drink while you ponder the meaning of life, you ol' soldier of the mind.  Hell no!  This is a malt for when you need to chill out in the backyard and watch the sunset.  This scotch will also work well when you and a buddy debate NFL stats and whether or not the Patriots will make it to the Super Bowl. 

Elizabeth Taylor (1932 -2011) in "A Place in the Sun"

I have always felt that Tamdhu never really had a place in the sun to borrow the title of the magnificent film starring the actress Elizabeth Taylor who sadly died today.

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.  The writer owns no copyright to the picture of Elizabeth Taylor as she appeared in the 1951 film, A Place in the Sun.  The film and still frames are the copyright of Paramount Pictures.  The picture from the film is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: Gordon & MacPhail 1991 Ardmore Highland Single Malt Scotch

If you have read some of my other reviews, you probably have noted that I am a big fan of the economy blended scotch, Teacher's Highland Cream.  It is ridiculously cheap to buy, but packs a nice punch of flavor.  Lots of bacon, smoked oyster and anise flavors.  Maybe on the nose kinda like sniffing diesel fuel, but when it hits the palate, it redeems itself.  I am not saying Teacher's is the greatest blend, but I am saying it is one of the greatest economy blends, that is at the price you pay.  More on price later in this post . . .

One of the core single malts making up Teacher's is Ardmore, an eastern Highland malt that is heavily peated.  The peaty nature of Ardmore is quite a departure from other eastern Highland malts (ie. GlenDronach) and frankly malts from the rest of the Highlands.  Big peat fires were used to dry the barley and it is readily apparent on the nose before you even sip.

Lush peat, lemony and the scent of a heavy summer rainfall as you sit by the window.  The aromas of this malt really are very expansive, but not overpowering.

Sweet peat, lush texture, oily and of course smokey.  The smoke is recognizable for anyone familiar with Teacher's.  Mid to late palate is greeted by a lot of ginger and some oak.

You are left with lingering flavors of salt, brine, more smoke and that ginger.

General Impressions
Tastes like ex-bourbon casks were used in the aging of this malt, though I cannot say for sure, as I have not been in contact with the distiller.  However, what I can say for sure is that there is a total absence of sherry flavors in this single malt.  In a nutshell, the flavor profile is peat, smoke and ginger.  A lot of ginger in the mid to late palate that moves onto the finish.  I find the ginger a little too much.

There are other flavors present like black licorice (think ouzo or arak).  This licorice flavor is echoed in the Teacher's bottling along with that signature Ardmore smoke.

Lesson in Economics
Drinking Gordon & MacPhail's 1991 Ardmore brings to mind a first year university economics class.  Specifically, the concept of opportunity cost.  You know the concept regardless of whether or not you ever studied economics.  Opportunity cost is the other choice you would have made instead of the one you did.  For example, you decide to invest $10,000 in the stock market.  Your opportunity cost would be what you would have done with the money if you had not plunked it in the market.  If you would have bought a bond paying 4% interest, then your opportunity cost for playing the market is the loss of 4% interest on that money.

My opportunity cost with respect to Gordon & MacPhail's Ardmore is what I might have done with the $70 if I had not bought this particular bottle, and that is what stings for me.  I could have had a bottle of Talisker 10 for $8 less!  Glenfiddich 15 yrs was $13 cheaper!  And the killer!  Glenlivet 18 yrs for $2 cheaper!

The price point of the Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Ardmore will vary depending on where you live of course.  But, in general, I suspect that it is higher than you should pay.  Ardmore distillery also has it's own releases that are more reasonably priced.  Check 'em out.

Ardmore is a pleasant enough single malt, but it is not stellar and therefore Gordon & MacPhail should  price it accordingly.  If you can buy Ardmore either from this independent bottler (Gordon & MacPhail) or from the distillery (they have a few bottlings) at say $35 US, then there is no problem.  The trouble with the bottle I picked up was the price.  Tamdhu and Aberfeldy 12 years are priced a lot lower, but of similar quality.  So, I guess what I am saying is you need to get Ardmore at the right price.  If so, then everything is ok.

I know I tend to obsess about the price of scotch, but hey, like you, I am paying for it out of my own pocket and I want value!  Not getting it here at $70 a bottle.  The 1991 Ardmore is smooth, inoffensive, pleasant enough, but lacking the complexity and wow factor to justify the price that Gordon & MacPhail demand.  For that reason, I cannot recommend this particular bottling at this high price.  Ardmore is a pleasant single malt, but you have to get it at the right price.  That did not happen here. 


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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: The Peat Monster Malt Scotch Whisky

The Compass Box Whisky Company is not a distiller of scotch whisky.  What they do is buy the scotch of other distilleries, barrel it, age it and blend the spirit to their own particular recipes.

The Peat Monster pictured above targets that segment of the scotch drinking market that prefers Islay to Speyside malts.  This particular bottling is a vatted malt meaning it is a blend of single malts only.  Which single malts?  Ardmore, Caol Ila and Laphroaig.  Note that only two of the three are Islay malts.  Ardmore is a highland malt and a peated one at that. 

I was given this bottle by a co-worker.  James explained that a friend of his wife picked up the bottle at the local liquor store.  Had a sip and was disgusted.  She considered it vile and amongst the worst stuff she ever had.  James tried it and considered it to be awful too.  So, here I am, with a bottle that two people consider to be terrible, a monster if you will, as the title of this blended malt suggests.  Let's just see how monstrous it is . . .

Nose (undiluted)
Smells like the rubber Steve McQueen was laying down in the movie Bullitt, but in a good way.  It's rubber, but not bad rubber if that makes any sense? 

The aromas offered up by this single malt include major smoke and peat action.  Like a massive seaside bonfire that's a little out of control and suddenly the wind changes direction, blowing in your face.  Yeah, a lungful of smoke.  As I poured this malt into my glass, the room was infused with massive smoke.  Wife annoying smoke!  Dog house smoke!  Watching old war movies in the basement smoke because your presence is not welcome elsewhere in the house!

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet peat and malt begin this number.  Smoke and seaweed appear like a Mac truck, with the high beams on, appearing in your rear view mirror at night.  While it is bottled at 46% abv, it is not nasty.  No awful bite here.  No bland alcohol flavor.  The flavors of the sea and air are well integrated.  It is not spicy.  Just a lumbering, rounded taste of smoke, peat, sea salt and sweet malt.

Finish (undiluted)
You have a long, slightly dry finish of smoke with menthol, peat and heavy sea salt.  Well done!

General Impressions
I am not a peat and smoke nut, but I must say this malt was a nice surprise.  I found that if I added water, it improved a bit more.  One has to be careful not to add too much water though.  You can easily ruin it if you are too liberal with the water.  I suggest a teaspoon of water to a double pour.

This malt is firmly in the Islay flavor camp if you will.  Very smokey, peat heavy, and maybe a little rubbery in the background, but again in a good way.  Since it is an Islay style malt, I think comparisons to other Islay malts is fair.  I place this squarely in the vicinity of Bowmore 12 years in terms of quality. 

Don't worry about the rubber.  It's there on the nose and on the palate, but only faintly and strangely works well with the overall flavor profile.

I suppose someome might complain the flavor profile is not overly complex.  There is some complexity.  What I mean is the flavors do weave together in an interesting fashion, but not overly intricate.  For that reason, this is below the great Islays like Lagavulin 16 years, Caol Ila and some others.  But, you have to remember, those are single malts and this is a blended or pure malt.  Of course, those single malts I referred to are also a lot more expensive.  It's hard to knock this bottle.

I think James and his wife's friends simply are not fans of smoke and peat dominated malts.  If you too are more a of Speyside honey and cinnamon fan, to the exclusion of smoke and peat, then this is not for you either.

For those of you who like Islay malts, The Peat Monster will not disappoint.  While not a true peat monster in the tradition of Ardbeg 10 years or Laphroaig Quarter Cask, it is nevertheless a wee peat monster that may not scare you, but will certainly amuse you.


Jason Debly

P.S.:  If you haven't seen Bullitt starring Steve McQueen, then do it!  Pictured above were frames from one of the most influential car chase scenes in the history of cinema.

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

Poster owns no copyright to images taken from the 1968 Warner Brothers film Bullitt, which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.