Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Cardhu 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

My first encounter with Cardhu was back in the mid-1980's.  College days. I had two friends, Keith and Jeff, who were huge fans of this malt.  While we played cards (hearts) on Saturday afternoons in Jeff's bright second floor apartment with buttery beams of sunlight pouring through huge windows of the old Victorian house, Soft Cell's rendition of Tainted Love, Def Leppard  and various Depeche Mode tunes (not my ideal choice) played accompaniment to my green bottles of Moosehead beer and the boys' tumblers of Cardhu.  In those days, I had absolutely no interest in scotch, and so never tried it.

Jeff was a very easygoing sort who imposed little on others, except at the card table: there was to be no discussion of  work.  He hated his job at a photo mat.  For a degree holder in history, working minimum wage developing photos all day was fairly soul sucking work.  Not that Keith and I were fulfilling our respective daseins.  I was trimming trees on a Christmas tree farm that summer while working towards a degree in philosophy that would make me uniquely qualified for academic life in the 18th century.  Keith was supposed to be doing a business degree, but he worked too many hours at his parent's Chinese restaurant and partied like it was 1999 every night.  Anyhow, so long as Keith and I adhered to Jeff's one little rule, we had a pretty good time.

Many years later, Keith still manages a Chinese restaurant, Jeff passed away in Halifax, and I (a swivel servant) found myself one bright and sunny day in a liquor store in New Hampshire staring at a bottle of Cardhu.

Nose (undiluted)
Fruity, apple blossoms, citrus and then some ashy peat with decaying leaves.

Palate (undiluted)
Initially gripping before transitioning to very sweet pears, apple, demerara sugar cubes, oak and vanilla.  Kinda like drinking the syrup of Delmonte's fruit cup with a flourish of spice and oak.

Finish (undiluted)
Peppered malt, a slightest of hints of anise, pomegranate, brazil nuts, and well . . . peppermints.

General Impressions
This is a light bodied Speyside malt that is rounded, fairly soft and not offensive. I find it too sweet for my tastes and rather one dimensional.  I can understand why Jeff and Keith enjoyed it. They were scotch whisky novices back in the day, and Cardhu was gentle, so gentle, it made young men think they could drink the stuff of old men.

Price Point
This is cheaply priced for a 12 year old single malt. Around $40 in Arizona, New Hampshire and other places. I suppose if you are buying a gift for someone who likes Cutty Sark or Glenfiddich 12, then this will do the trick. For the price you get what you pay for: a straight forward/stereotypical/flaccid presentation of uninspiring citrus, honey flavors of Speyside with a hint of smoke.

Frankly, I much rather drink Chivas 12 year old. That's right I would reach for that blend before this single malt.  In fact, I would go further and suggest that if there was ever a single malt that could, in a blind tasting, pass for a blend, this would be it.  I guess it comes as no surprise that this gentle malt finds itself heavily used as a core malt of various blended scotch whiskies of the Johnnie Walker brand.

While I have great respect for Keith and the late Jeff, I can't recommend Cardhu.  Nevertheless, Jeff, I toast you now, wherever you are in the great unknown, knowing full well that you are strenuously objecting, but in the most polite speech: "Debly you don't know what you are talking about."


Jason Debly

P.S.  I can't help but think that the master  blender of Cardhu was "phoning it in" with this weak effort in the 12 year old single malt market.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for photographs, as they are the intellectual property of the photographers, and may not be reproduced without their permission.  Photo credits:  (1) Photo of Cardhu and cookies taken by Dave Norfolk; (2) photo of Cardhu and tumbler by Mattie van Rijjen;  (3) Close up photo of bottle neck emblem by Flickr member Malt Whisky Trail.  Note: All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, 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.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: Caol Ila 18 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I received an email the other day from a whisky obsessed fellow, Mack McConnell.  Mack introduced himself and explained that a month ago he and some others launched a website: Taster's Club Whiskey of the Month

He wanted the opportunity to basically promote his business venture on this blog.  I checked out his site and basically the business concept is: in exchange for a fee, members get a different 10 - 15 year old single malt or American whisky every month.  I thought to myself, "nothing wrong with helping out an entrepreneur in the whisky field."  So, I suggested to Mack that he send me a review of a whisky of his choosing, and if I like it, I will publish it.  In that way he gets some business promotion.  He shot back a review of Caol Ila 18 and judging by his review, I would say the guy is a certified whisky nerd like moi.  Nevertheless, you be the judge:

. . .

First of all, get a load of this distillery:

It was built in 1846 and is situated in a picturesque cove on Islay, near Port Askaig.  Yes, this is the stuff postcard images are made of.  The distillery sources most of its water for production right there in its own front yard - Loch Nam Ban.  

Also check out this photo of a control booth inside the Caol Ila distillery:

The Star Wars movie fan in me found the distillery's control room strikingly similar to the weapons control room on the Death Star:  

 Okay, turning off sci-fi geekiness.  Whisky geekiness engage.

I recently came across a bottle of Caol Ila 18 year old as a gift.  It wasn't on my top five list of new whiskies to try, but this was a nice excuse to give it a go.  After all, I had heard quite a bit about it.  I knew it was heavily used in blends like Black Bottle and Johnnie Walker blends, but had never had it on its own.  I was excited to see how it held up as a solo act.  By the end, I was pretty glad this one fell into my lap because it became a new favorite of mine.

This Islay malt is not as coarse as many I have tried from this region, and it is also not peat-heavy either.  The nose is exciting and addictive.  The flavors don't deliver quite as much as the nose, but still very satisfying.

Pale, golden.

Warm rounded peat - again, not hitting you over the head, but has a strong presence.  Also distinct floral notes.  Then a bit of citrus - lemon - and some apricot.  An ashy camp bonfire.  A bit of salty burned meat, too?  Oak and herbal leafy notes seem to be all over the place.  Well balanced with the peat taking a bit more of the stage than the others.

The beginning is smooth and mellow.  A little bit sweet.  I also get a fair amount of acidity and a bit more salt.  Vanilla and peat start to creep in - a bit of the same ash camp bonfire as detected on the nose.  I noticed some almonds and cedar wood.  It's clear that the flavor is not as direct as the nose was hinting to me.

Warming.  That light smoke from before surrounds the end and really rides out the flavor.  A bit of the salty notes that I had before remain, still.  Also I notice a bit of sweet peat, similar to what the nose hinted at.

All in all, I'm glad I was able to get my hands on this bottle.  It's simply awesome.  For me the nose was the most interesting part.  It promises a bit more than the flavor delivers, but it's no disappointment.  The peat is there, but it's not a raunchy peat party like some, contributes to an overall well rounded Islay malt experience.

It was interesting to drink it with a friend of mine, who is very new to whisky.  He loved it equally.  I'm confident this is a good one for whisky aficionados and jedis, alike!

Mack McConnell

. . .

Well readers, I think Mack has written a scotch review from the heart of a sci-fi nut!  Let's show our appreciation and check out his new business:  Taster's Club Whisky of the Month


Jason Debly

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Dailuaine 1995

Johnnie Walker Black you devil!  What secrets lurk behind your slanted black label?  What makes men consult you, you amber oracle, in dim wood panelled bars and beside roaring fireplaces in order to spark conversations that glow long into the night?

And then there are your accolades . . . My personal favorite, as colourfully declared by the cantankerous author and journalist Christopher Hitchens:

"The best blended Scotch in the history of the world - which was also the favourite drink of the Iraqi Baath Party, as it still is of the Palestinian Authority and the Libyan dictatorship and large branches of the Saudi Arabian royal family - is Johnnie Walker Black. Breakfast of champions, accept no substitute." 

Mr. Hitchens' affection for Johnnie Black was enormous.  He drank it daily and in my opinion, that habit and his smoking killed him.  The BBC obituary of Mr. Hitchens' quoted him discussing his daily routine:

"At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No 'after-dinner drinks' - ​most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. 'Nightcaps' depend on how well the day went..."

Hitchens reminds me of another great contributor to western culture, from another era, whose fondness for scotch and cigarettes ended his life also by way of cancer of the esophagus:

Humphrey Bogart

This man (with a penchant for trench coats that seems to have been shared by Hitchens judging from the pic above) was credited with a memorable one liner: 

"The whole world is three drinks behind. If everybody in the world would take three drinks, we would have no trouble."

Not to be taken literally, but philosophically, there is some wisdom in Bogie's observation.

. . .

In any event, what makes Black Label so great?  The answer is in the single malts making up the blend.  One such malt is from the obscure distillery: Dailuaine

Bet you never heard of it.  You have no recognition of this distillery because 98% of its massive output (3.3 million litres per year) is used for blending.  A mere 2% is bottled as a single malt mostly by independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail.  

Dailuaine is a workhorse distillery.  There is no visitor centre.  Diageo has it in its portfolio of distilleries to produce enormous amounts of malt whisky for its blends.  Besides the Johnnie Walker blends, it also appears in J&B and Bell's.  So, is Dailuaine worth savouring on its own?

Nose (undiluted)
Orange Pekoe tea, black licorice, oily, seaweed and medicinal notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Oats, white birthday cake bread, zesty marmalade, tangerines astringent apricot and pears.  Great complexity of flavors.

Finish (undiluted)
Limes, pepper, oak and wisps of wood smoke.  Waxen dry with spices.  Wow!

General Impressions
I was really surprised by the nose of this malt.  Quite peaty, smoky and medicinal for a Speysider malt.  Interesting how those qualities didn't appear on the palate.  Maybe a twinge of disappointment.  I think this is the first malt whisky I have had that shouted smoke and peat on the nose, but made no such delivery when tasted.  Interesting.

Add Water?
I added water and found it did not improve much.  Matter of fact, it just took everything down a notch.  The H2o did make it creamier if that is something you like.  Water?  Generally not recommended with this malt.

You may get the impression from my tasting note that sherry plays no part in the flavor profile.  That would be a mistake.  Probably mine for not mentioning it, but I am mentioning it now.  Sherry is there in a light maraschino cherry style upon the palate.

Refill sherry hogsheads were used to make this whisky.  Don't know what a 'hogshead' is? Basically a 250 litre barrel that is considered ideal for the ageing of malt whisky.  Bottom line:  the sherry style of this scotch whisky is soft with a sprinkling of green fruit.  Think melon.  In any case it works!

Price Point
Some of Gordon & MacPhail's releases can be quite pricey.  This particular bottling was quite reasonable I thought for the quality of malt.  I paid around $60.  It is a 16 year old malt (distilled in 1995 & bottled in 2001) that punches slightly above its price point.  Good job!

Maybe Bogie was right.  If I and the rest of the world are three drinks behind, Gordon & Macphail's Connoiseurs Choice Dailuaine is a good place to start!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for the following photographs of Johnnie Walker Black Label, Humphrey Bogart and Christopher Hitchens. (1) The Johnnie Walker Black Label photograph appearing at the top of this post was taken by James Calvey and it is used here with his permission. No reproduction of his photograph is permitted without his consent. Mr. Calvey is the holder of all copyright to said photo. Check out more of his great work at his Flickr account.  (2) Photograph of Christopher Hitchens appears extensively in a Google images search, but no credit is given to the photographer. If you are the photographer or know the proper credit, let me know, and I will give credit and ask permission for its use in this blog. (3) See note 2 for photo of Humphrey Bogard in trench coat. (4) Final photograph of Humphrey Bogard was taken by Yusuf Karsh and the copyright expired in 1996. Accordingly, it is now in the public domain. (5) all those pics of bottles of Gordon & MacPhail Dailuane were taken by me and I hold the copyright. Ask me nicely and I may permit you to reproduce those images. Note: All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, 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. Oh yeah, one final disclaimer: Drink in moderation! I don't want you to share the fate of Bogie and Hitchens.