Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Glenmorangie "Nectar D'Or" 12 year old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Hi Jason,

I'm currently working on a men's magazine in Ontario that is distributed through two independent men's fashion boutiques. I'm looking to buy temporary second rights for previously published reviews on European whiskeys. Would you be willing to chat with me about this? I can call you tomorrow. What would be the best time and number for me to reach out to you. Let me know.



. . . 

I receive a lot of unsolicited email.  Most of it is from:  (1) readers;  (2) Nigerian bankers who want to pay me $1 million if I give my banking info;  (3) male enhancement pill vendors, and; (4) some really odd stuff that I am not sure if the person is serious or not.  The above fell into that last category.

When I first breezed through the email, I was not reading it too closely, and all I could think of was someone wanted me to contribute to a men's magazine, which immediately conjured up images of Swank, Oui and Mayfair magazine covers.  I instantly thought no way! and how much? pretty much simultaneously.  Re-reading it a second time, it dawned on me that this person may be serious.  So, I googled her name (I have omitted her surname to avoid a lawsuit) and found out she was an editor of a women's fashion magazine, as well as a regular contributor to another that seemed to deal with makeup and the plight of the single woman in the dating world.  In a word, she appeared legit, so I gave her a number and a time, and didn't she call right on the button.  What follows is some of our conversation . . .

"Jason, I am looking for positive reviews," she cheerfully intoned.  I felt sunlight pouring out of my telephone receiver.

"What do you mean positive?"  I responded defensively, doing my best to fend off the kaleidoscope of happiness coming from her bright dandelion and butterfly voice.

"Well, your Lauder's blended Scotch review references some 'Dow Chemical action' in the tasting note and you follow it up with a very poorly written haiku that you say is as poorly written as the whisky tastes.  That's kinda negative," Lisa demurred.  "You ever listen to The Doors?"

"You mean Jim Morrison?  Yeah sure, when I was 15."

"Okay!  I am looking for the Soft Parade.  Remember that album?"

"You can't be serious!  That was a terrible album with the brass and string instrument arrangements.  You want soft, but that is flaccid . . . well at least till Jim got to Miami."   

"Jason, readers like writing that is uplifting," she said with more cereal sweetness than a bowl of Lucky Charms could ever deliver.

"Well, I prefer the album Absolutely Live.  I am thinking When the Music's Over.  Jim begins that song with some sort of primal scream or groan.  That's kinda how I think of my reviews."

"Just send me some reviews that are uplifting and soft."

"How about semi-erect?"

"Just send me some reviews like the Balvenie Doublewood one where you quote a Thomas Hardy poem."

WTF?  Is that the scent of lilacs coming up through the phone?  Who is this super upbeat, cloud nine chick?  I am not talking to a freelance editor trying to pull together content for a men's clothing store magazine, but rather Mother Earth herself.

. . . 

So, I sent her stuff, and she told me she had the right to edit anything I submitted, and between her clear blue sky voice and my overall desire to be a nice guy, for once, I agreed.

Reading my heavily edited reviews, I knew what a dog felt like after a 'family planning' session with the veterinarian or what it felt like to be the sole guy in an Ellen DeGeneres TV studio audience.  But, I thought, I do have a tendency to wantonly distribute my seeds of negativity in whisky reviews and in my outlook on life in general.  So, I thought I would challenge myself to think of a single malt Scotch whisky that I could truly describe in purely positive, teddy bear terms.  A whisky that is all rainbows, unicorns and hammered dulcimers (which I want you to listen to as you read the following review!).  And the one that comes to mind is Glenmorangie "Nectar D'Or" 12 years.

46% and non-chill filtered.

Nose (undiluted)
Honey, peaches, lightly peated, navel oranges and a little scent of dulse.

Palate (undiluted)
Creamy, honeyed, pancakes and maple syrup, crushed pistachio, phyllo dough, baklava.

Finish (undiluted)
Drying, salted white chocolate, tangerine, malty notes, brazil nuts and somehow lemony with tart citrus, herbal flavors.  You are left with a delightful effervescence too.

Nectar D'Or is bottled at 46% ABV, but it sure does not taste like it.  Served neat, it is deceptively smooth, silky with some effervescence and flavor complexity mid-palate and on the finish.  Really amazing how smooth this high proof dram is.  However, adding water, a few drops to start, can really bring out different characteristics that are not present when enjoyed neat.  Water accentuates creamy, vanilla and oak notes, and certainly softens the overall profile.  Very little water is needed though.  It is very easy to add too much and overly dilute this malt.  You will have to experiment.  For me, I really like it neat.

General Impressions
Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or is a luxuriant single malt exhibiting the quintessential sweetness of honey, light maple syrup with lemon meringue, exotic spices and ingredients like  pistachio and phyllo dough found in baklava.  Matter of fact, the perfect food pairing for this single malt is baklava.  But, get the good stuff.  Go to a Syrian or Lebanese bakery that makes it fresh.  Take a bite of this sweet pastry and chase with this single malt that is a dessert whisky, if there ever was one.

The back story of this single malt is that it spent 10 years in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to Sauternes casks (casks that formerly held a deliciously sweet French white wine from Bordeaux).  The result is a whisky that is light to start with and given a sweetness that is quite unique.  The sweetness is remarkably balanced by some dry qualities upon the palate.

This single malt is all rainbows, unicorns, cotton candy and sunshine that would even cause a scowling Jim Morrison to lose his signature sullen look and grant us an uncharacteristic smile!

So, if you want to light my fire, yours or someone else's, pour a dram of Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or.


Jason Debly  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Highland Park 10 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Will you do me a really big favor?  I want you to click on the above link and just listen while you read the rest of this post.

What do you hear?

A strong, toe tapping, knee slapping, R&B song with powerfully suggestive guttural vocals, simple, but effective horn work, coupled with torso grinding drums, bass, and an irrepressible guitar?  Me too!

No matter how much the vocals try to dominate, the singer is outshined by the guitarist.  In fact, the vocals on this track are not the original.  This original recording was made in 1966 and before the song was released (sometime after 1970), a decision was made to overdub the original singer with the one you hear today: Billy Lamont.  Why would they do that?  The artist and producer who released this recording felt the original vocals were too weak.

In spite of the well done vocals overdub, when I listen to this track, I can't help but fixate and groove on the guitar work.  For me, the singer is just another background instrument.  The guitarist's talent is undeniable and can't be ignored.  There is genius beneath the off-handed style of play that serves up those rough hewn, raw, bluesy chords and staccato notes.  This genius and magical talent is not fully mature, but holds great promise for the future.

Listening to Sweet Thang brought to mind my recent tasting of Highland Park, aged 10 years.


Nose (undiluted)
Salty sea air, peaty, and some muted sherry.  Very pleasant.

Palate (undiluted)
Light, thin taste of green grapes, wide planks of American oak, Granny Smith green apples, very muted sherry notes, salted honey, and then the faint unmistakable aromatic peat and heather that are the signature taste of Highland Park.  The unique taste of the distillery is here, but it is faint, or more aptly put: weak and immature.

Finish (undiluted)
Minty, malty, wee red licorice, pencil shavings, oak, all enveloped in the mildest of pleasant cigar smoke.  Think White Owl or Century Sam.  $1 cigars that are your guilty pleasure.  And, then comes some stale oak and wasabi that leaves you disappointed.

General Impressions
What do Sweet Thang and Highland Park 10 have in common?  Why does listening to one harken the other?  There is undeniable and riveting genius in both.  In the former there is fascinating guitar playing that was unheard of anywhere else in 1966.  In the latter there is that signature aromatic peat and heather that makes nearly all offerings from Highland Park magical.  The guitarist has near total mastery of his stringed instrument and similarly there is unquestionable magnificence and beauty lurking beneath the surface of Highland Park 10.  The problem for both is that their respective brilliance is youthful and in need of further development.  The guitarist and the malt need to age a little more.  In the case of Highland Park 10, two more years in the cask is what is needed to unleash the malt splendor that lurks in the form of the great Highland Park 12.  With respect to the guitarist, he would only need one more year of musical journeyman maturation before erupting upon the world music scene at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.

Jimi Hendrix performing in 1967 at Monterey 

Highland Park make beautiful whiskies.  In the past I have enjoyed them all.  It was and remains one of my favorite Scotch distilleries.  That said, Highland Park 10 years disappoints.  It is thin in taste (40% ABV!) and falls far short of the usual high standards that all whisky offerings from this distillery typically exhibit.  It hints at greatness that it fails to deliver.  You taste some great sherry notes, but they are faint and out of focus.  There is nothing offensive in drinking this single malt, as there is nothing particularly flavorful.  It suffers from mediocrity.  Dare I say Highland Park has truly gone mainstream with this new release?  It seems to be an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  This malt only reaches for the low hanging fruit.

I am unsure why they would launch a ten year old having such a great stable of landmark single malts like the 12 and the 18.  Maybe they are trying to provide a very gentle introduction for whisky newbies to the distillery.  If so, I would hardly call the price point "entry level."  In Canada, it is $60.  For an entry level single malt of this quality, it should be priced at $40.

There is a disturbing trend lately among single malt and blended Scotch whisky producers to lower or even drop age statements entirely.  Macallan has done so and on the blended side of the business, Johnnie Walker brand no longer carries an age statement for the Gold label.  Some industry observers chock this development up to scarcity of wood, casks and giant demand outstripping the ability to supply.  I suspect that those are factors coupled with the desire to enhance profits too.  I will never know what caused the owners of the Highland Park brand to launch a 10 year old this year, but what I do know is that it does not deserve the hard won reputation of other releases from this great distillery.


Jason Debly

P.S.  A word about the recording at the top of this post.  Like most musicians, Jimi Hendrix spent his early career playing as a guitarist in backing bands of well known and some not so well known R&B artists like:  Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Picket, Curtis Knight, Chuck Berry and many others.  A complete list is here.

There is some debate as to whether or not the above studio recording was a Curtis Knight or Lonnie Youngblood composition and release.  One site claims the recording was done in a studio in 1966 in NYC.  Lonnie Youngblood is identified as the composer and playing the horns and the artist in charge of the recording.  Hendrix was at that time playing with anyone whether as a studio session guitarist or otherwise.  I have no doubt that it is him playing guitar.  After Hendrix died (1970) the recording was released by Youngblood and his producer who decided to overdub the vocals with those of Billy Lamont.

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This post may contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my artistic, social commentary, educational and entertainment efforts. I know that my use of any such copyrighted material constitutes a 'fair use' as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this post is made without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2014. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission with the exception of the photograph of Jimi Hendrix or the Sweet Thang composition appearing at the beginning of this post. I do not know own the rights to the photograph or song and unfortunately do not know who is the photographer or the rights holder of Sweet Thang. The photograph and song is used here purely for entertainment and educational purposes. No attempt is made to profit from it.