Friday, October 21, 2016

Maltbarn Clandestine Very Old Blended Malt

Another blended malt with a Cognac-style (no) age designation from another German bottler. The last one I looked at from Whisky-Fässle was very good, and I have had good experience with Maltbarn so am hoping this is a good 'un too.

Maltbarn Clandestine "Very Old" Blended Malt, 45.8% 

Nose: Very reticent. Something musty, but quite faint. Some whiffs of oak. After five minutes it begins to open up, some mead-like maltiness emerging. Water releases some old wood aromas, as well as faint traces of dried orchard fruit. After much more time something more fresh and citrussy emerges.

Palate: Quite closed here at first too. Soon, though, there's leather, cigars, old wood, yeast, overripe oranges, honey. Water opens it right up. Old sherry warmth and spice. Szechuan pepper, cloves, stewed fruit. The balance is excellent.

Finish: Long. The oranges turn a bit sour as the finish becomes slightly acrid. Water broadens things considerably, ramping up the spices and adding some sweeter (fresher?) fruit to balance out the acridity. The oak is still prominent but not overly so, and it's of good quality.

This series of "very old" blended malts coming out of Germany is producing some excellent drinking whisky. This one is very good for the price (around 100 Euro) in the current climate, and in my opinion highly recommended.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Springbank 1998 (PSI Cask)

I'm not exactly sure if this is a ten or eleven year old Springbank, but it's a 1998 vintage released in 2009 for the Australian market and matured in a selection of small casks (sherry mainly I'd think) before presumably being dumped into cask 08/2631- the cask number detailed on the bottle.

An experimental precursor then, perhaps, to the excellent Rundlets & Kilderkins release that arrived world-wide a few years later.

Springbank 1998 (For Premium Scotch Importers Pty Ltd, Australia) 53.3% (2009 Release)

Look at the colour!

Nose:  Sweet sherry, spices, cola. Dark chocolate. Some freshness too. Engine oil lurking beneath the sweeter stuff. Time and water see something a little meaty emerge.

Palate: Pretty huge. Sherry, leather, chilli, cloves and mild peat. Dark fruits and spices. The addition of water levels out the spices, balancing out the palate. More fruit. Some dark – raisins, plums - but now some lighter, fresher, stuff too. Overripe yellow fruit. Peaches and treacle.

Finish: Long. Warming and sweet. Spices build again in the next wave. Cola, dark plums, dried fruit. Finishes salty, spicy and sweet, a hint of gunpowder - just right. Huge finish.

Look, this is going to sound like a pretty hot take but I think this is the best sherried Springbank I’ve yet had. Clean as a whistle, it doesn’t suffer from an overdose of sulphur like some sherried Springers can (particularly single casks). The smaller casks have matured this release wonderfully.

It's still available here and there but will set you back a few hundred (AU) bucks. Probably worth it though.

An awesome whisky.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Heartwood The Toddler

A whisky from Tasmanian independent bottler Heartwood who, in my somewhat limited experience, have a very good track record with their bottlings. I tried a wee sip of this amongst some other Heartwoods at a tasting the other day but, knowing that I had a sample waiting at home, I thought I'd wait until I had a proper chance to taste before writing up notes. My impressions are largely the same, though, I think.

This is a 4 year old heavily peated whisky from Lark, distilled in 2012 and matured in a sherry barrel.

Heartwood The Toddler 63.1%

Nose: Heat, peanuts, peanut skins, vanilla. Something spicy lurking behind the vanilla too – clove maybe? After a little while some white peach emerges too. Nice. Water seems to draw out the faintest hint of sweet cigar smoke.

Palate: Sweet almost medicinal arrival. Viscous and thick on entry with red fruits and herbal cough syrup before the alcohol burn turns up to shut things down a little. The addition of water allows that herbal element to further emerge – licorice, thyme and gum leaf.

Finish: Very long. Red fruits, syrup and watermelon. Water broadens the finish – it’s now less sweet with the aniseed and spice more dominant.

Awesome young whisky. Complex and extremely well balanced, with that nutty Lark peat holding things together but never domnating.

Thanks to Jamie for the sample!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Whisky-Fassle Blended Malt "Very Old"

A blended malt (that's vatted malt to those of you reading this ten years ago) from German bottler Whisky-Fässle. No details as to the distilleries involved, and the age information is limited to the label's simple "very old".

I'm not particularly fazed by the lack of age statement on blends like this, although the move to cognac-style labelling like this (and more blatantly this) is an interesting development. Archives certainly didn't feel the need to do it with their (fantastic) blended malt from last year, which carried a vintage despite being comprised of older malts as well. (Admittedly, the exact ages of the older malts in the Archives release were, I believe, unknown).

Whisky-Fässle Blended Malt “very old”, 45.2%

Nose: Reticent at first. After a while, the faint whiffs of sherry and oak are joined by lighter notes of fruit and spices which are drawn out a little further with the addition of water.

Palate: Starts with sweet old spiced sherry – cloves, oranges, leather and a hint of chocolate – but then brighter top notes emerge showing yellow fruits, honey and a touch of salt. Is that a faint suggestion of heathery peat? Water brings the two parts closer together while simultaneously expanding the whole. 

Finish: The sweet/salt combo continues through the medium finish. Water extends the finish slightly, broadening the yellow fruit in combination with the spices, but also releasing some slightly astringent tannins right at the death. (Careful with the water.)

A lovely blended malt. While not particularly complex, it is very enjoyable and drinkable indeed. 
Very old? I dunno. I certainly found some notes indicative of some older stuff, but what do I know.
One man's "very" is another's "quite" anyway, I suppose.
Still available I think and definitely recommended.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Whisky Adventure

As an international man of leisure now that my family are on holiday back home in Cornwall (please come back soon!), I attended a “whisky event” here in Melbourne yesterday.

I don’t normally go to these type of things, not just due to family commitments and priorities though. It’s simply not really my thing, I guess. Blokes, cologne, more blokes, all getting in between me and the whisky. Because theoretically I should of course love these events – lots of whisky, some of it really good, and a chance to talk to those who make it (or, more often, work for those that do, but that’s cool, more often than not they know their stuff).

But there’s just so much bloke. And cologne. And beard.

Anyway, I went (on a bus!) to this thing which was a showcase of independent bottlers of whisky – predominantly Scotch, but also some Irish, Australian, and whatever we’re classifying Couvreur’s as these days.

Three years ago, this event could have been held in a large phone booth (a small glassed-in room in the middle of the street where you put actual coins into a huge, non-functioning metal phone – ah fuck it, google it), so few indie bottlers were there to be found in Australia. But did you know there was a whisky boom?

So previously where for years we saw primarily just Gordon & Macphail, Adelphi, SMWS (if you’re a member) and Cadenhead (all of whom were represented at this tasting except, disappointingly and curiously, Cadenhead), we’re now increasingly seeing more and more of the UK and Europe’s independent bottlers being imported directly into the country. Signatory (only very recently), Berry’s, Hyde, Rest & Be Thankful, Couvreur, La Maison du Whisky (including the Artist Series and The Ten) are all now in the country officially. These were all represented at this tasting.

This is a good thing. Of course it is, the more indie whisky the better. The problem, for me, is the normalisation of seemingly ridiculous pricing. Now, I’m not one to bang on about pricing too much, although of course I’ve done my fair share. I buy expensive (to me) malts from time to time, largely from Europe. I don’t collect a lot of whisky (my supplies are considerably smaller (I imagine) than many other whisky obsessives), but I try to buy what I like.

[Whisky is still very much a drink for me. I can’t drink wine or beer anymore (due to complicated, boring intolerance issues) so when I want a drink, eight times out of ten it’s whisky (the other occasions it’ll be gin or, if i'm desperate, vodka). Sure, of course I love to geek out on whisky, sit down with it and explore, enjoy and discover. But I also just like to drink it. So I go through a bottle a little faster (I imagine) than many others.]

Some of the prices on these indie imports are beginning to seem pretty speculative though, both in comparison to their prices in the EU and UK, and just within the wider Australian context. Sure, we’re used to seeing some big numbers from SMWS and Adelphi, but often these are reasonably equivalent to their prices in other markets – with the additional impost and duties they attract when they land here.

But a quick scan through EU and UK stores shows some glaring mark-ups (again, yes, still factoring in the aggressive tax and duty regime here) on some of these new arrivals mentioned above. Something interesting is going on with some of the new batch of Adelphis too. (Signatory and their distributors here should be applauded, though, for they seem to have kept their prices at a reasonable level).

“It’s the market, idiot.” Yes, I know. But if people start buying at these bloated prices, it casts a signal to the rest of the market, ie. distilleries and their official bottlings. Anyway, we’ll wait to see if they move – it’s still early days.

Anyway, the whisky. Any good ones? Yes. Some not so good ones too.

No real notes (and the photos were all crap so I've just dropped the least shitty one in), but here’s a few of the whiskies I tried (I've listed some prices, others I'm too lazy to look for or just aren't yet available):

SMWS C1 – Cognac! This was a surprise. Lovely exotic spices carry from the nose through to the rich palate. Quite nice. 

SMWS 71.41 Curious and intriguing 57.2% - Sherried Glenburgie. Sweet, then rubber, sulphur and dirt, and mint and dried fruits. Pretty polarising. I liked it though.

Heartwood 2 of 3, Vatted Tasmanian Malt (Tasmanian Distillery and Lark), 68.1% - Outstanding vatting. Peat, Sherry and Port casks. Balance is impeccable. Probably long gone, but this was great (around $300 probably). It's a blend of one 16 YO Tasmanian Distillery cask and two Lark casks (8 and 6 YO).

Berry Bros. Clynelish 1996, 18 YO, 46% - Very waxy, archetypal Clynelish. No faults.

Berry Bros. Auchroisk 1998, 15 YO, 46% - This was awful. Metallic and musty.

Adelphi Highland Park 1989, 26 YO, 47% - Amazing. Bourbon cask HP delivering spicy fruit on nose and waves of tropical fruit on palate with tannins for structure on finish. Pity it’s so expensive ($515). Fantastic though.

Adelphi Clynelish 1993, 15 YO, 60.1% - One of the older bottlings that Adelphi have brought over this time. Solid bourbon cask Clynelish. Absolutely ridiculous price ($375). It was bottled in 2008, I get it, but the prices on this and the 11 YO Ben Nevis ($345) are insulting.

Signatory Glenlossie 1992, 22 YO, 57.1% - Nice fruity Speysider. Mouth coating, long and spicy ($200).

LMdW Artist #5 Ledaig 2004, 11 YO, 60.4% - Beautiful sherry cask. Sherry fruits, tobacco, salt, caramel, peat. Fantastic finish on this. This was great. But again, pricey ($265).

Rest & Be Thankful Octomore 2009, 6 YO, 66.9% (Lafite Cask) – Admittedly, this was never going to be my kind of thing, but this was so unbalanced, a mess of peat and hot red (wine) fruits. ($500!)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Glenmorangie Astar

In a previous Glenmorangie review I noted my partiality to the house style, in particular to the reliable 10 year old throughout the heat of summer. While we're still a couple of months away from summer here, somebody forgot to tell The Weather this little fact and we're enjoying the hottest October on record (so far) in these parts (but as it is most certainly cold somewhere in the world, we can be certain that climate change is definitely not happening. No way.) So, time to revisit an old favourite.

I really enjoyed this when first released, so when I saw it again at my local recently (at pretty much the original price, too, actually) I felt compelled to jump on it.

Astar. Virgin oak. Cask strength. NAS.
Peak Glenmo.

Glenmorangie Astar, 57.1%

Nose: Oak, natch. Sweet vanilla and coconut. Lots of all that. Some of the more aggressive wood characteristics blow off a little after some time in the glass. Water perhaps adds the faintest hint of ripe peach.

Palate: Heavy wood up top, sweet coconut and vanilla underneath. A bit of heat too. Quite noticeable layering here. The oak is pretty aggressive and easily the dominant layer. Water adds a hint of honeyed fruit.

Finish: Drying oak spice continues for quite a while, becoming increasingly metallic on the tongue, as the vanilla fades. Water sees the sweetness continue a fraction longer maybe.

Well, it's certainly more woody than I remember, but accusing Glenmorangie - this Glenmorangie - of being oak driven would seem to be a pretty futile exercise.

In any case, it hasn't given me as much fruity pleasure at it once did. Yet on these unseasonably hot nights I have found that the oak can be partially tamed by drinking it over some ice, and so that's how I've enjoyed the bulk of this bottle. Refreshing and thirst-quenching.

But I can of course also get that anytime, quickly and cheaply, from the 10 year old, too.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Springbank 2000, 13 Year Old, SMWS 27.106 "A boiler suit in ballet shoes"

A Springbank from what must be the most active refill bourbon cask in the history of history. And casks.

Springbank 2000, 13 Year Old, SMWS 27.106 "A boiler suit in ballet shoes", 50%

Nose: Quince jam, peat smoke and a touch of ash, too, perhaps. Hint of something herbal in the background.

Palate: Luscious, thick and oily texture. Sweet red fruit and figs. A hint of cabbage-y sulphur too, actually, which I haven't noticed on previous tastes to be honest. Salt and maybe a touch of aged balsamic.

Finish: Peat on the initial swallow, and this lingers through the sweet, thick and rather long finish as the salt becomes increasingly licorice-like.

Well, the label says refill bourbon so I guess it is, but it really is presenting a lot like an ex-sherry.
Anyway, nice "drinking" whisky. Not very complex, but it does have a lovely texture and mouthfeel.