Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Glen Garioch 12 years old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

A battle rages on the shelves of liquor stores in your community!  You can almost smell the cordite as you gaze upon the shrapnel of gaudy advertising in the form of life-size, cardboard, bearded Scotsmen, clad traditionally in tartan patterns, which are only slightly less jarring than a TV test pattern.  Of course, your Scotsman is wearing a kilt and has a big smile on his face as he plays the bagpipes, and at his feet lies a bottle of Glen Poison Malt on sale today for a very special price that is the same damn price everyday.

And what pray tell is this urban warfare for?

The contents of your whisky glass!  War is never about justice or right or wrong. It's about money and competing economic interests.  Similarly, the multinational spirits companies are at war with each other for your whisky buying dollars.  Who is winning?  Well, think about the most common single malts.  C'mon!  You know them.  Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12 and Macallan 12.  The fighting is particularly fierce for the entry level single malt segment of the market:  the 12 year old single malts.

I, of course, as unpredictable as a soldier gone AWOL, bought a malt that doesn't have a big chunk of market share in the 12 year old segment:  Glen Garioch 12 years.

Nose (undiluted)
Dandelion, hops, lager beer, a little spirited.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet porridge with brown sugar on top.  What starts out ordinary builds quickly on the palate to become quite a whopper of flavors.  The little train that could if you will.  What happens?  A massive railway car of flavors of golden wheat, ears of corn that have been freshly shucked, boiled to perfection and then drizzled with butter and salt!  Hmmm!  Wait, there is more.  Oak, barley sugar, hops and lager notes.

Finish (undiluted)
Big salt licks, stewed apples, dried apricots, burnt toast and a flourish of peat.  The salty tang hangs nicely.  The finish is quite grippy and mouth coating.  You'll be salivating like Pavlov's dogs!  This is due to the high ABV.

Recommendation - Add a little water!
In light of the ABV of 48%, it does taste a little hot on the finish.  The high ABV contributes to the big mid-palate and mouth tingling finish.  I prefer this malt with a little water.  Don't get me wrong.  It is very enjoyable neat, but the addition of water just takes it down ever so slightly such that it is more pleasurable, and maybe more complex.

At an ABV of 48%, it's a little overpowering for many.  Makes one's mouth literally water.  Pour a 1 1/2 oz (4.5cl) of this impressive malt and add 3/4 of a teaspoon of distilled, non-carbonated water.  Do that and you are tasting a Persian carpet of spiced honey bread with toasted rosemary that delivers a velvety texture that will divinely unroll on your palate.

Be careful with the addition of water because it is very easy to over-dilute this single malt.

General Impressions
I was surprised by how good this single malt turned out to be.  A few years ago, this brand was a symbol for a decent malt, with no surprises.  It was cheap, but decent.  Nevertheless, kinda in the doldrums.  However, recently the owners, Morrison Bowmore Distilleries, made the decision to re-make/relaunch this whisky on the 12 year old battlefield.  Specifically, they boosted the ABV from 43% to a whopping 48%, and it is non-chill filtered.   Subjectively, I think the quality of wood management has improved enormously.  I have no direct knowledge other than what I taste as I have no contact with the distillery.  But, this is my suspicion.  I think the spirit is aging in quality American bourbon casks followed by some time in Spanish sherry casks.  The result is a vast improvement.

Price Point - Ouch!
A few years ago, Glen Garioch was bottled at 10 years and could be had for the tidy sum of $20!  Not any more.  Non-chill filtered, higher ABV plus good wood management cost money.  Moreover, they have probably hired new staff too.  Maybe a master blender with better ideas.  S/he costs money too.

The price point is now in the vicinity of $60.  But, you know what?  I am happy to pay that price because this malt delivers!  But, there are a lot of guys who were accustomed to paying $22 for the 8 or 10 year old and are grumbling.

I recently reviewed Royal Salute 21 years and you know what?  Glen Garioch 12 reminds me a lot of what Royal Salute 21 years should taste like and what made it a great blend.  Besides that high end blend, if you like Glenfiddich 15 years Solera or Dalwhinnie 15 years, I think you will be a fan of Glen Garioch 12 years.

Where's the Smoke?
Not a lot of smoke or peat flavors in this single malt.  If you are a peat head, you may not want to invest in a bottle of Glen Garioch.  I do not think the lack of smoke and peat is a defect or detracts in any way from this well balanced malt.  Just giving you a heads-up in case that is an important flavor component to you.

Opposing Forces

The enemy or should I say the competition better watch out because Glen Garioch has big guns in the relaunched 12 year old that will fight hard to take space on liquor store shelves everywhere!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Bowmore 15 year old "Darkest"

Valentine's Day
What is love?  It's about fate.  You met.  You saw her from afar and became mesmerized.  You got closer without trying to look obvious.  Your eyes meet.  You quickly look away.  You look back, and damn!  She caught you!  It's ok because she grants you the slightest, I mean the slightest, of smiles.  That's how it started for me at a luncheon eight years ago in a restaurant.  She's my partner in life today.

It started a few years before that with another passion of my life:  whisky.  Oh, she can be a most cruel mistress.  I still see her regularly.  She can be mesmerizing too.  Sometimes she smiles and we have lots of fun, other times she is in a foul mood.  Her kisses can turn bitter and grainy on a whim.

Bowmore 15 years old "Darkest"
This lady of a malt is very dark in color. Very dark for a 15 year old malt.  Matter of fact, the darkest, think Claudia Cardinale smouldering in the 1966 spaghetti western The Professionals.

While Claudia is sexy, the Jim Morrison-esque gloom of this malt has me worried.

How did it get so dark for a malt that was 'finished' in Oloroso sherry casks?  Many whiskies are finished in them but don't go that dark.  After all the 'finishing' of whisky in such casks is typically one or two years.  Bowmore 15 years spent three years in Oloroso sherry casks.  The previous 12 years were in American bourbon casks.  Any caramel added?  I wonder.

Forget the subdued sultriness of Claudia Cardinale.  I am now fearing the darkness and unpredictability of Courtney Love, Liz Taylor or Judy Garland.  Tremendously beautiful and talented in their day, but lurking just below the surface of their smiles is something not quite right.  You knew they were trouble, but couldn't stay away.

Nose (undiluted)
Coal, lit barbecue briquettes, smoking North Atlantic seaside bonfire.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth to start.  An odd combination of Islay peat that is mingling with sherry flavors.  So, on the one hand, you taste the peat and iodine of Islay that meets the sherry flavors you normally identify with a Highland malt like Glenfarclas or Oban.  Think a sea surge of peat/smoke meeting crates of chocolate and raisins from a lorry that rolled over into the bay.  Sudden, accidental and unnatural.  It just doesn't work well.  Something seems a bit off.  I taste something close to flower scented soap.  Lilacs.

Finish (unfinished)
Lime slices in ice water with medicinal notes, sea salt and how can it be?  Ginger.

General Impressions
I was expecting a lot more from this Islay single malt.  I reviewed Bowmore 12 year old (click here) a while ago and was impressed.  Me, not being much of a peat and smoke head, did enjoy the Bowmore 12.  It was a gentle treatment of classic Islay flavors that was a great starter malt for those drinkers who want to put their pinkie toe in the Islay sea of malts in the marketplace.  Accordingly, I figured three extra years plus the last two in Oloroso sherry casks should deliver complexity and additional refinement over the 12 year old.  Not so!  I prefer Bowmore 12 years to the 15 any day of the week.

Caramel Added?
As you have probably surmised from my comments above, this malt is seriously dark.  I wonder if E150 caramel coloring has been added.  I am trying to ascertain the answer to that through some contacts I have in the industry, but that will take time.  When I know, you will know.

Now, you may be thinking, what's the big deal about caramel?  Some argue that the addition of caramel in tiny quantities is of no consequence, and just creates uniformity of color that assures the consumer there is no variability of quality.  The trick is not too add too much.  Too much and you may be affecting the flavor profile.  Possibly introducing bitterness.  Mind you others will debate the bitterness in whisky can come from the European wood and youthful whiskies.  Youth is not a factor here.  So maybe the wood management was not the greatest.  Who knows?

Update - - - - In Germany the words "mit farbstoff" appear on the labels of all Bowmores.  The German words basically translate as: colourant added

Non-Chill Filtered?
If Bowmore 15 was non-chill filtered I suspect they would have trumpeted that fact on the packaging.  Alas, no mention of non-chill filtered production.  Again, when a whisky is chill filtered an argument can be raised that the flavor profile is less than what it could be.

Price Point
This single malt was not cheap.  In general terms, it was priced reasonably for 15 year old single malts, but any reasonableness goes out the window when you taste it.  It tastes more like a 12 year old entry level malt.  Where is the complexity of flavors?  Just not happening.

The bloom on this rose is like my first affection for Bowmore 15.  Fading quickly.  Love can be fleeting!


Jason Debly

P.S.  Guys!  Remember texting is not an acceptable manner of delivery of a Valentine!  Nor is emailing an electronic card (an oxymoron if there ever was one!)  Get a card, write a thoughtful note and pick up some flowers.  Make it two dozen red roses!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Please note the photograph of the rose at the top of this post was taken by Waseem-79.  It appears on this blog with his permission.  All rights to the photo belong to Waseem-79.  The second photograph of the rose at the bottom of this post was taken by ..A.C.REB...  His photograph appears here with his permission.  All rights to the photo remain with the photographer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: "The World's Best Whiskies" by Dominic Roskrow

Lately, I am hearing the hushed tones of polished English accents quietly discussing romance, good table manners, and the scandal of poorly chosen cuff links against the background theme music of a very popular British TV series: Downton Abbey.  In the United States, the program is featured on the PBS Masterpiece series.  Need I say more . . .

The hired help at Downton Abbey

Every evening my wife watches this British period piece about how World War I forever changed the lives of servants and an aristocratic family.  I have to restrain myself from making snide remarks that will attract a stare colder than a crisp December morning in Moscow, and endure a plot with liberal helpings of unfulfilled destinies, servants with a sense of duty, and scandalous behavior with a host of good and devilish characters.

The Downton Abbey aristocratic family.

If it was up to me, I and my significantly more cultured other, would be watching Boss, a fantastic new show starring Kelsey Grammer about a corrupt, psychopath mayor of Chicago.  You wanna see serious political double-crossing, murderous larceny with some nice T&A, this, my friend, is the show for you!  Kelsey Grammer is brilliant in his role as Tom Kaine.  No wise-cracking jokes from the high brow duff-us Frasier character here.  Mayor Tom Kaine is coldly calculating the political crises he faces on a daily basis and uses a ruthlessness that is reminiscent of Attila the Hun.  Riveting, must watch!  To borrow an adage from the board game Monopoly, Do not pass 'Go'  Do not collect $200 either if you fail to watch Boss!
Kelsey Grammer in his role as 'Tom Kaine' on 'Boss.'

But, Downton Abbey is on the 'telly' as they say in the UK.  So, I must amuse myself.  And what precisely have I been doing?  Reading books on whisky in an effort to block out that syrupy music at the top of this post and the whispered conversations of children out of wedlock, lost loves, and general bad manners at the dinner table.

Whisky Books
Books on whisky suffer from one great malaise: they can be extremely boring.  I mean, do we really care how many millions of litres of spirit are produced by a given distillery?  Doesn't change anything in my life?  No, I think not.  Nor do we care to know the precise year that there was a terrible fire or that it started next to the boiler room.  What was the janitor keeping in his closet that was so flammable?  We don't need to hear about the monumental reconstruction effort that even employed the tiny tots of the town.  Out of the ashes rose a great distillery. . . . blah, blah, blah.

You and I really only care about what a given whisky tastes like and maybe some of the basics.  Accordingly, a clear writing style is a definite must (would be helpful if I made efforts to utilize one too!).  In any event, I find many books on whisky employ a sleepy literary style that is in the tradition of the latest scientific literature on physics or game theory.

The World's Best Whiskies by Dominic Roskrow

Whisky critic, Dominic Roskrow, doesn't make the mistake that so many authors contributing articles to scientific journals, that no one will ever read, do.  His writing style is fairly engaging, succinct and he recognizes that other whisky books can devote far too much space to legends, stories and other sleep inducing anecdotes that put the reader in a catatonic state very quickly.

Roskrow is keenly aware of the habit of many whisky critics to spend inordinate pages devoted to the 'history' of whisky.  He writes in the introduction:

". . . I have never been big on history, and right from a very young age I was up there painting the wagon with Lee Marvin looking forward to the next adventure."

Spare us the history lesson . . .
OK, I applaud this sentiment.  But what does he do two pages later?  He spends two full pages discussing the history of whisky.  Fortunately, he limits it to two pages, but Dominic, buddy, if you really have no use for regurgitating the history of whisky, why do so?  Skip it dude!  To hell with the publishing house suits that say it must be in the book.  Write a book with no damn history!  Break the mold!  Stick a finger in the eye of the whisky publishers!  That's what Lee Marvin would do!

Dominic!  Look into Lee's eyes!  See that intensity?  Does he look like a guy that's gonna say one thing and do another?  Maybe re-watch Point Blank (1967).

Dominic redeemed by his crystal clear writing style
While Dominic dropped the ball for the reader by doing the obligatory 'history' lesson on whisky, he does redeem himself elsewhere, and again it comes back to his concise writing style.  Consider his explanation of what "non chill-filtered" means that appears on page 25:

"Naturally produced whisky clouds when it is cold because the fats in the solution solidify at lower temperatures.  To prevent this and ensure clear whisky, makers have tended to chill the whisky and filter out the solidified fats.  But in recent years there has been a trend toward leaving these fats in because they also contain flavor.  So, 'non chill-filtered' is regarded as a statement of quality and reflects the fact that drinkers are becoming increasingly demanding and knowledgeable about their drinks."

The above passage is the best damn explanation of the phrase "non chill-filtered" that appears on so many bottles of scotch these days.  It's straight forward, accurate, to the point.

Don't know what "cask strength" means on the label of your most recent scotch whisky purchase?  Have no fear.  Dominic has a clear, understandable explanation:

"Simply that the whisky has been put into the bottle at the strength at which it came out of the cask."

Dominic is, of course, a renowned whisky critic.  Accordingly, it comes as no great surprise that the balance of the book comprises a great number of whisky tasting notes.  Approximately 700.

But, is he honest?
My measure of a whisky critic is honesty.  Will he call a spade a spade when it comes to bad whisky?  It is easy to praise the great examples of this type of spirit, but does the critic have the cojones to warn the reader of disappointing malts?

I am happy to report that Mr. Roskrow will advise the reader against certain malts.  Mind you, he writes more subtly than say I.  Where I would say a malt may induce projectile vomiting, he is more diplomatic.  Consider his review of Glengoyne Burnfoot which appears on page 93:

"Something of a victory for style over substance, although full marks to the owners for trying to do something genuinely different with the packaging and presentation.  Subtle, this isn't.  There is no age statement, and it tastes young and two-dimensional.  But in its favor, it is a clean and robust whisky, with some endearing sweet malt notes."  (emphasis added)

Or how about his review of Isle of Jura 10-year old appearing on page 108:

"A soft and unassertive malt, with a sweet and fruity backbone.  The abrasive tangy notes and 'baby sick' notes have gone, so if you were put off in the past, it might be time for a revisit.  That said, it continues to be quite two-dimensional and unexceptional, apart from the well-designed packaging."  (emphasis added)

He is not a Scotch dogmatist
Finally, Dominic devotes a section of his book to whiskies made outside of Scotland, America, Canada and Japan.  He recognizes and praises the efforts of whisky distilling going on in Australia, Europe, India, New Zealand and South Africa.

Mr. Roskrow draws the reader's attention to up and coming distilleries in France, Belgium and even Germany.  I particularly enjoyed his review of the Blaue Maus Distillery.  Roskrow has a wonderfully open mind when he approaches whiskies produced outside of Scotland, US, Canada and Japan.  He is willing to give them a chance.  He does not suffer from the dogmatism that all great whisky must hail from Scotland.

On page 252, he writes about a friend, another renowned whisky critic, who vehemently argues that central Europe will never produce any good whisky.  Dominic writes:  "I like my friend, but he is wrong."  Discussing the German whisky of the Blaue Maus distillery, he wrote:

"This is not Scottish single malt whisky and is not trying to be, nor is it bourbon or Irish whiskey - but that does not mean it cannot be great.  And Blaue Maus does make great whisky.  Adjust your taste buds, throw away your prejudices, and approach these whiskies as if they were a brand-new drinks category all of their own, and you may find yourself enjoying a roller-coaster ride."

Now that's the attitude to have when drinking any whisky!

Good job Dominic!


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for images above taken from the film "Point Blank" as they belong to MGM.    I do not own any rights to "Point Blank" which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.