Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch "The Quinta Ruban" 12 years

Nose (undiluted)
Orange peel, dark chocolate, faint hospital bandages with medicinal ointment, and freshly turned over, early morning, damp earth, as you hunt for worms for that fishing trip.

Palate (undiluted)
Rich, velvety, mouth filling body of loganberry, blackberries, raspberries.  Think Christmas fruitcake with lots of chunks of dark plum, raisins and dark cake bread.

Finish (undiluted)
Fantastic finish.  What started initially as sweet quickly became mouth watering, and then dry and by the time you swallow, you are left with dusty apricot and port wine notes.

General Impressions
A few months ago, I wrote about my frustration with encountering mediocre after mediocre malt.  Had a real slump in my reviews.  I was in search of a new discovery.  Well, I have made a new discovery in the Glenmorangie 12 year old Quinta Ruban.

This 12 year old malt tastes much older than it is.  I feel like it is a 15 or 18 year old because of the vibrant flavors and sophistication of the overall integration of this malt.  There is no young whisky here that is unruly.  We are talking serious refinement.

The powerful flavors comes in part from the 46% ABV.

The unique velvety texture comes from being aged in the port pipes for 2 years.

The port is a nice change from the Oloroso sherry casks that are so frequently used in the single malt production carried out at so many distilleries.  How come we don't see more port finishes or the use of such casks in the ageing of single malt spirit?  The answer lies in the fact that master blenders find the port cask a fickle creature.  The reaction between port casks and the distillery spirit is not always predictable, which can lead to disappointing results.  Another problem is supply.  Good port casks are not as widely available as say Olorso sherry casks.

The Quinta Ruban is a poor man's Balvenie 21 year old Portwood
This single malt reminds me of The Balvenie 21 year old Portwood finish.  Another stunner!  The Balvenie is superior to Glenmorangie, but one must remember that the former is one of the greatest single malts I have ever tasted.  The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban at a third of the price is still in the same neighbourhood!

This single malt is also non-chill filtered.

So, let's put it all together:  higher than average ABV, port finish, non-chill filtered, plus obviously great wood (ex-bourbon casks) to start and you have a dream of a dram here.  If you like sherried malts, you're gonna love this one.  Fans of Oban 14, Clynelish 14, The Glenlivet 18, GlenDronach 15 and higher end Glenfarclas are going to really appreciate the Glenmorangie 12 year old Quinta Ruban matured in Port Casks.  This malt puts to shame a lot of 12 year old competitors like The Macallan 12 years (a truly overrated dram if there ever was one!).

Highly recommended!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2016. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2011 Canadian Whisky Awards

In general, whisky awards can be a bit confusing and cause the onlooker to be overwhelmed with information because there are so many categories, classes, levels of medals, etc.  In an effort made by the organizers to be comprehensive and fair, these events can contribute to information overload for the whisky enthusiast.

The 2011 Canadian Whisky Awards was celebrated on January 19th, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada.  I was one of the judges (it's wholly independent, with no compensation flowing to the judges, by the way).  The results are in, and guess what?  There are several categories like:

  • Domestic Market Winners
  • Export Market Winners
  • Multiple Market Winners
  • Overall Winners and Awards of Excellence
The last category is further divided into various classes of medalists (gold, silver and bronze).  Click here for all the results.

That's a lot of info eh?  Don't worry if your head starts to spin.  I am here to dumb it down, as I am so uniquely qualified to do.

There are two whiskies that emerged for me to be truly noteworthy that I would like you to consider at some point.

Forty Creek John's Private Cask No. 1 (suggested retail $69.95)
Forty Creek John's Private Cask No. 1 won in the category of Canadian Whisky of the Year.  I agree.

This whisky is best enjoyed neat.  It delivers a rich, full palate of toffee, caramel and spiced ginger, that textures but never offends the tasting experience.  This spirit provides plenty of nip to the taste buds, as it is anything but smooth.  Recommended for the serious whisky fan.

Canadian Mist Black Diamond (suggested retail $14.95)
This is a real gem.

There were five judges plus our chairperson, Davin de Kergommeaux, weighing a great many whiskies.

Canadian Mist Black Diamond was ranked as a silver medalist overall by the other judges, but not by me.  If ever there was a gold medalist, I thought this was the one.  Priced around $15, this is a steal!  What's it taste like?

Big, towering tastes of caramel stung by cinnamon and citrus flavors.  Lots of brown sugar and then followed by more citrus elements too.  Not what I would call a gentle whisky.  Lots, I mean lots of flavor.  I enjoyed it neat, but could see it as a great mixer, especially at the modest price point.  A detailed review can be found here.  Canadian Mist Black Diamond represents great value at a price point of $20 or less.

. . .

So, if you have been wondering about Canadian whisky, the above are two splendid places to start.  One at the high end, and the other at the entry level.  For more information on these and other Canadian whiskies, please click here.


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for photograph of gold medals.  Photograph of medals belongs to Melissa Lao, who holds all copyright to it.  It is used in this post with her permission.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Speyburn 10 years Single Malt

When a regular reader, Yochanan, offered to send me a review of one of his recent purchases, I knew, just knew, I would want to post it here. 

Why?  Two reasons: (1) it's a good, honest assessment; (2) it's a reflection of what college students, on a budget, are buying.  Read on:

One Cheap Single Price, That is.
 I've heard, implied on more than one occasion, from those who swear by single malt scotch whisky that any remotely decent malt can't come cheap. These types are usually also the kind to proudly stick their noses up towards blends. 

While I acknowledge that the best single malts will always out-do the best blends, I know some blends can also beat some single malts (for one example, I'd take a dram of Teacher's Highland Cream or Black Bottle over any Mclelland's offering any day of the week. Conversely, I'd bet Any single malt is superior to Clan Macgregor). That is perhaps an entry at a later time.

I'm a history major (alright, get the arbitrary "What are you gonna do with THAT!?" out of the way), and earlier this afternoon just completed my last final for the semester. Looking to unwind, I stopped by a local liquor store on my way home and picked up a bottle of this single malt which I hear much about, but have never tried myself. At $19.99 before tax, it was literally the cheapest malt in the store. While I had to take a big gulp and wipe some beads of sweat from my brow prior to making the final decision to purchase (trust me, I didn't walk in, grab the thing, and go to check-out...I was doing some serious deliberating in that store. Probably looked like a real shifty fella there), I couldn't help but revel in the simple fact I could purchase a single malt for such a price. Even by blend standards, the price is still in the entry-level range of the spectrum. I came home, ate my dinner of reheated fine deep-dish Chicago pizza, chilled for a few hours, and finally...came those fateful moments.

Nose (undiluted)
Yes, Some vague, soft red fruits and...prunes?  Citrus waves at you after a few minutes of airing out. Quite a very restrained nose, but very pleasing to my senses, none the less.  Hints of vanilla behind all of the fruity, honeyed goodness. Speyside to a "T".

Palate (undiluted)
The notes on the box are accurate for a change, this is fairly honeyed. A light bodied offering of vanilla, pretty sweet initially (don't worry, not like a cloying low-quality blend or anything like that), lots of caramel, does some decent drying with a bit of oak, a small puff of smoke, very shy peat, and maybe some white pepper, if that's not my imagination.  This isn't the least subtle of malts.
Finish (undiluted)
A pretty small puff of smoke and faint, dank wood. It lingers long enough that I do not call it a low-quality affair that ends just about abruptly, but it is on the short side for a malt.

Palate (diluted/ as in- nothing more than a couple drops of water)
Slightly less sweet than neat, but loses a bit of complexity. Fruits are a bit drier. Hmm.

Finish (diluted)
A difference of a bit more smoke and the introduction of some mild spice. I'd say I prefer this with a bit of water, even if it does lose a little complexity. The reason for this is that the drying is more thorough with the addition of a bit of water. For a whisky to start fairly sweet at this does, the drying needs to be more than slight.

A classic Speyside flavor profile that is not very complex, but has at least some complexity comparable to a solid blend. At about $20, I'd say this is on par with some pretty good blends out there. I'd say that this is on a borderline even keel to Teacher's Highland Cream, but alas, is a couple dollars more expensive by me and slightly less interesting than that blend. Thus, I'd pick Teacher's up more times than this, but would not mind having more of this malt by any stretch of the imagination.

. . .

Yochanan, thank you for the review!  

Next week:  A review of Glenmorangie "The Quinta Ruban" 12 year old Highland Single Malt, extra matured in Port Casks.


Jason Debly

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Royal Salute 21 years

When I first started drinking scotch whisky, I was all about the blends.  I loved blends.  Why?  As a newbie, I put a premium on smooth character.  Single malts overwhelmed my palate.  I'd try a single malt and couldn't figure out what the big deal was about them.  They tasted, to my untrained palate, rough, strong, just too much.  I used to wonder: "if single malt's are so great, how come they are not as smooth and sweet as blends?"  And then, there was the peat in single malts.  Again, too much I thought.

So, for a couple of years, I drank nothing, but blends.  First there was Famous Grouse.  I loved that sweet malt.  It was sweet, a little nip on the tongue.  I never liked Ballantine's Finest Finest or J & B Rare.  It's one thing to be sweet, but not cloyingly so.

Eventually, after a couple of years, I wanted more out of my whisky.  Being smooth and sweet was not enough.  It got boring.  I enjoyed smoke and sea salt and even a little peat!  Hence, I progressed to Teacher's Highland Cream, Chivas Regal 12 years and Johnnie Walker Black Label.  When I started to appreciate Black Label, I decided to try single malts again, and this time I started to slowly develop an appreciation for them.  You see, Black Label really is the crossroads or intersection where blended scotch and single malt enthusiasts meet.  It offers something to both camps that is very satisfying.

Judging from the above, you can see how I have a soft spot for blended scotch.  It was the first love, where it all began.  Once people start to appreciate single malts, their memory and fondness for blended scotch wanes.  I try not to be like that.  Besides being a sentimentalist, I still enjoy blends.  I still regularly buy Teacher's, Black Bottle and Johnnie Black.

Today's post is about Royal Salute 21 years (bottled Oct. 28, 2010).  It is Chivas Brothers ultra premium blended scotch with a 21 year age statement.   I expect a lot for the high price, and the impressive age of grain and malt whiskies making up this blend being not less than 21 years.

Upon opening, it tasted like this:

Nose (undiluted)
Dandelion, honey, a wee peat and ocean air laden with salt.  Not a show stopper.  Pleasant but that's about it.

Palate (undiluted)
Dollops of wild honey on crunchy toast, zinging with tarragon, dill and other exotic spices.  Snuff box from the Orient.  Cardamom.  Some complexity mid-palate.

Finish (undiluted)
Big malty notes, mint chocolate, heavy oak and sweet grains with good shakes of freshly ground black pepper.  But, none of these flavors last very long.  The finish to this whisky is not nearly long enough as it should be for the price.

Adding water did nothing to enhance this whisky.  Not recommended.

In subsequent tastings, the whisky became much tamer.  Oxygen is not a friend of this scotch.  Some whiskies seem almost impervious to oxidation.  The flavor remains the same after opening.  Johnnie Walker Blue Label is such a whisky and in this sense is clearly superior to Royal Salute.

Other whiskies can actually improve following opening.  Clynelish 14 years is one.  Clynelish 14 can be a bit wild, untame, the sherry is too pronounced.  Return to the bottle a week later, and the wildness that was a tad unpleasant has left, leaving in its wake a fantastic whisky.  You knew it was good when you opened it, and now, a couple of days later, you are assured.  Not so with Royal Salute.

A week later, Royal Salute becomes more oakey, sweet, smooth, while losing the spiciness and complexity that was initially impressive upon opening.

Value for Money?
Chivas' Royal Salute 21 year old blended scotch whisky is more expensive than many 18 year old single malts.  Is it worth the money?


I would not spend $125 or in that range for this whisky.  It is simply not worth it.  Why?  This whisky, a week or so later, is simply sweet, smooth, oaked and not much else.  It really tastes like your typical blended scotch.  Middle of the road, Speyside honeyed dram.  Not much going on, and for the price there should be tiny dancers doing The Nutcracker on my palate or at least the very least the three go-go dancers from Russ Meyer's 1968 classic sexploitation film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! doing a little dance!

The Age Statement Illusion
Drinking Royal Salute brings to mind the age statement illusion.  Whisky companies want you to think that older whisky is better whisky.  Not necessarily so.  Royal Salute is living proof of that.

You think that since you are paying more money for this older whisky it must be better, but guess what?  It's not better.  It's boring.  It cloyingly sweet, yep, it is.  There isn't much complexity, virtually no peat whatsoever and hardly any smoke.  Was that smoke I tasted or red candle wax?  I'm not sure.

Take a look at some of the sporting events sponsored by Royal Salute:

- Sentebale Polo Cup 2011 (Ascot, England)

- Foundation Challenge Cup 2011 (California, USA)

- Royal Salute China Open Polo Tournament (Beijing, China)

- Royal Salute Tang Polo Cup (Beijing, China)

- The Royal Salute Maharaja of Jodhpur Golden Jubilee Cup (Jodhur, India)

- The Royal Salute Nations Cup (Dubai, UAE)

- Triplice Coroa Tournament (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

- Copa Ouro (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

- Sydney Gold Cup (Sydney, Australia)

Obviously, this whisky is pitched to the establishment rich and the nouveau-riche who like the idea of liking scotch whisky, but have no idea what good scotch is.  There are plenty of knowledgeable scotch fans in India, China, Brazil, and other parts of the world.  However, there are also plenty of people in those countries enjoying first-time, new found affluence, and so they are unsure as to what is a good whisky.  These people are the target audience of Chivas Brothers.  Whisky consumption in these countries is growing at a much greater rate than say more stagnant or mature markets like North America and the UK.

I receive email every once in a while from guys in Hong Kong and India looking for scotch recommendations for their bosses or on the occasion of closing a big deal.  I usually suggest single malts and they invariably ask: "what about Johnnie Walker Blue and Royal Salute?"  When I explain there is better, they agree personally, but say the gift is more about prestige and how expensive it is.  Well, if that is the criteria of spirits selection, then I guess high end blends have the edge.

Peer Review
I mean, seriously, Glenfiddich 15 years Solera is a fraction of the cost and is far better, far more complex and interesting than Royal Salute will ever be.  Royal Salute is clearly a whisky that is trying to achieve mass appeal (well for those masses called the rich who can afford this pancake syrup).  Easy drinking, smooth, sweet and wonderfully packaged in a velvet bag.

If you want a gentle blended whisky that is not offensive, yet interesting, there are alternatives:  Chivas Regal 12 (yeah, it's better), Hibiki 17 (a Japanese blended whisky) and Johnnie Walker Gold Label.  If you want to compare this whisky to blended malts, there are many more better choices like: Famous Grouse 18, Famous Grouse 30 years (often overlooked, but truly incredible) and Johnnie Walker Green.  Some people might think it is not a fair comparison to place a bottle in a head-up Pepsi challenge where one is blended scotch and the other is a blended malt.  I say nonsense.  If they both occupy the same price point, they get comparisons.

The Thrill is Gone!
In past years, I really enjoyed this luxury blend.  What happened?  I dunno.  We always have to remember that scotch whisky is after all an organic substance that can vary from batch to batch.  Five years ago, I enjoyed this blended scotch tremendously.  It was very good.  Complexity that remained after opening of the bottle with wonderful punch of flavors, crisp honey, peanut brittle and caramel.  It's no longer great.  Something happened.  Maybe the master blender has tinkered with the ingredient whiskies, changing the proportion or maybe adding in a few different ones.  Maybe there has been a change in wood management do to a problem sourcing a certain type of cask?  Who knows?  What I do know is that the current bottling (October 28, 2010) is a shadow of its former self.  Maybe in a few years it will regain its former glory, but for this October 10th, 2010 release (2010 / 10 / 28 LKSC3675 006008) I would stay away.

Hip Hop Music and Great Blended Whisky
Chivas Brothers would do well to recognize that great blended whisky is a lot like great hip hop (rap) songs.  A lot of excellent rap music involves digital sampling.  Sampling is where a musician takes one sound or melody from another song and uses it in a new one.

Great blends work the same way.  Take a little peat from Islay, some sweet fruit from Speyside, add in some smoke and toffee from the islands, mix it all together with other regions of Scotland to produce something great.

That's musically what 50 Cent and Jayceon Taylor (also known as 'The Game') did with an old 1970's song called Rubber Band by The Trammps.  About two and half minutes into 'Rubber Band' there is an interesting musical melody that doesn't last long, but 50 Cent and Mr. Taylor picked up on it, and astutely sampled it below to produce an amazingly melancholic song, "Hate it or Love it" (which kinda sums up my thoughts on Royal Salute).  Chivas Bros!  Listen up and try to do for high end blended scotch what 50 Cent and Mr. Taylor did for hip-hop!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission, except for the song, Hate it or Love it, which is posted purely for educational purposes.  All rights to that song vest with the composers.