All posts by Richard

Founding Apostle

Gateway Series #13: Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old Premium Scotch Whiskey
40% ABV/80 Proof
$20 -$25
Widely Available

What the Distillery Says:
Chivas Regal 12 year old is an expression of a unique tradition that has continued unbroken since the Chivas Brothers first introduced the world to the rich, smooth Scotch whisky of Chivas Regal.
Colour: Radiant, warm amber.
Nose: An aromatic infusion of wild herbs, heather, honey, and orchard fruits.
Taste: Round and creamy on the palate, Chivas 12 bursts with the rich taste or ripe, honeyed apples, and notes of vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch.
Finish: Enjoy the lingering finish.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Floral notes of fresh cut flowers and orange blossoms with a sweetness of honeysuckle. It’s very buttery with only very light traces of wood.
Palate: The palate isn’t quite as impressive as the nose. The citrusy sweetneess of the nose is nonexistent on the palate. Hints of vanilla and wood. Not necessarily oak but still woody.
Finish: Very smooth finish. It leaves the mouth very woody but with more oak now. The mouth is left almost peppery before the finish is done.
Comments: Chivas is another staple of blended scotch. It’s readily available and offers a nice alternative to Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Shortbread cookies, vanilla, citrus, floral, creme brulee and traces of dark chocolate and overripe berries.
Palate: Pretty straight forward; oak, caramel, and citrus
Finish: Burny and citrusy (not real words I know).
Comments: Nothing terribly offensive here, but nothing special.  I’m not sure this counts as a Gateway dram.  I would definitely choose this over Johnnie Walker Red or Black.  Probably my favorite of the Gateway blends (although a recent encounter with Dewar’s White Label may be converting me).
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average

Chivas v. Johnnie

The Apostles got an interesting Christmas present this year. Pernod Ricard asked us to review their Chivas Regal 18 year old blend up against Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label and they sent us samples of each. In this age of global economic crisis, the good folks at Pernod are trying to offer an alternative to the “super premium” options this holiday season. They believe that Chivas Regal 18 is on par with the much more expensive Johnnie Walker Blue Label (maybe not as super premium as Bowmore Gold, but still out of our usual price range) and should be considered when you head out to buy your holiday dram. In the interest of full disclosure we must point out that Matt has always believed Blue Label overpriced and a product of good marketing more than good blending. He’s more a fan of the Gold Label. Richard is a fan of both even before putting them head to head. Now, let’s see how this goes.
(We are foregoing the usual “Comments” sections for a comparative conclusion)

Chivas Regal Gold Signature Scotch Whisky, Aged 18 Years
40% ABV/80 Proof
$55 – $70
Widely Available

What the Distillery Says:
From Master Blender Colin Scott – A welcoming, rewarding whisky. Exceptional richness with multi-layered aromas of buttery toffee, dark chocolate and dried fruits. Hints of spices and smoke. The voluptuous, velvety palate develops into an extremely long, warm finish.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Slightly vegetal with malty notes. Buttery with hints of orange.
Palate: Develops slowly in the mouth, like a lovely lady slowly undressing. Just a hint of sweetness and a palate that’s smokier than the nose would let on. Spice laden oak.
Finish: The finish is very clean. It’s like the same lady who was seducing you on the palate has left in the middle of the night and leaves you wanting.
Rating: Must Buy

What Matt Says:
Nose: Enchanting. Tart green apple, brown sugar, streusel, hints of pipe tobacco, dark chocolate and berries.
Palate: Dark chocolate, toffee, pipe smoke and dark fruits. Basically, all the notes from the nose are present in the palate. This dram has round and velvety mouth feel.
Finish: Long and luscious. Tastes like an apple tart with blackberries and chocolate.
Rating: Must Buy

Johnnie Walker Blue Label
40% ABV/ 80 Proof
$150 – $200
Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch whisky has been created by our master blender in the style pioneered by John and Alexander Walker to evoke the authentic, powerful character and flavour of a traditional 19th Century blend. It is an exclusive, hand crafted masterpiece that uses only the rarest and finest of our huge reserves of aged whisky. Produced in strictly limited quantities, it represents our greatest achievement in blending excellence.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Peatier and smokier than most blends. You can really smell the Islay in here. Fresh cut wood and non-orange citrus. Limes maybe?
Palate: An initial sweetness quickly shoved aside for a rich smokiness that settles to brine notes of the sea. Rich, complicated, and ever changing on the palate.
Finish: A very slow and long finish. It leaves you with a mellow smokiness more subtle than the robust smoke on the palate.
Rating: Must Try

What Matt Says:
Nose: Peat, chocolate, honey suckle and other sweet florals. Quite lovely.
Palate: Very smooth, but a little one-dimensional. There are some very light hints of peat, but mostly sweet and fruity.
Finish: Peaty and dry.
Rating: Stands Out

The Results

Richard’s Conclusions:
I find it very interesting that Pernod is putting up their 18 year old blend against Diago’s most premium product. I would have expected their 25 year old but their confidence is respectable. I have no predisposed grudge against JW Blue but knowing Matt I know where he’s coming from. JW Blue is a big robust blend possibly best suited to those who like big whiskies. If you grab a Lagavulin more often than a Glenrothes then this may be a blend for you. Both whiskies were exceptional in their own ways. I found JW Blue to be more interesting and with a little more depth but it didn’t get as high of a rating because of the price. The Chivas is more approachable and easy drinking. I think both are great and worth experiencing. They each offer something different. I’m calling this one a draw and will leave it up to you to decide. That said, I see Pernod’s point. If you can have one of two spectacular blends and one is a third the price of the other then that’s a very attractive value proposition.
Winner: Tie

Matt’s Conclusions:
As stated above, I have some prejudice with this one. To combat that prejudice, I also pulled out my bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label for comparison. The results were the same though. I prefer the Chivas (followed by the Gold Label). Chivas Regal 18 manages to be well balanced, smooth and complex. JW Blue has more alcoholic bite on the finish and less complexity. Ultimately, it is about personal preference with ingredients. Johnnie Walker tends to have Caol Ila at its core and the Blue Label is composed of very old whiskies. The Caol Ila imparts a peaty character, while the venerable whiskies provide an incredibly smooth base. Strathisla (a Highland malt) lies at the heart of Chivas. For this reason, Chivas offers less smoke and more fruit. While I have recently gained an appreciation for peat smoke, I still tend toward the fruitier whiskies. I like a complex dram too. When I can get peat smoke AND fruit, that really gets me going. For my money, I’d go with Chivas 18 for this holiday season. If you have some sort of brand loyalty to Johnnie Walker or Diageo, save some money and go for the Gold Label.
Winner: Chivas

Gateway Series #12: Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon
45% ABV/90 Proof
$20-25, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
The distillery doesn’t say much about the whiskey (even on the website). At least they lack some sort of pithy statement of purpose. What we can tell you is that this is the most widely available wheated bourbon on the market. That means the folks at Maker’s Mark use wheat instead of rye in the mash. Maker’s also lacks an age statement. The bourbon spends at least six years in barrels, but is not bottled until everyone agrees that it has reached maturity. So what does that mean? Read on.

What Richard Says:
Nose: The Maker’s nose is a very pleasant olfactory experience. It’s a lightly sweet nose with very understated alcoholic notes. At the back of the nose is a damp woody note that reminds me of an old log cabin.
Palate: Lightly sweet, grassy, and mellow. Classic wheated bourbon. As it moves through the mouth the oak jumps forward.
Finish: The higher proof shows as a slow warmth down the esophagus. The oak remains but begins to turn slightly nutty and sweet. Maybe this is what acorns taste like?
Comments: Maker’s is a consistenly enjoyable dram. I’m always more than content to drink this neat. I’m not sure if it fits in the Gateway Series. It’s really more of a transitional bourbon moving away from the standard and toward the premium. This is the same issue I had with the Three Glens when we reviewed them.
Rating: Across the bourbon spectrum it falls mind center. Among the Gateway Series it stands out.

What Matt Says:
Nose: There is that damp cold feeling I’ve mentioned before. It’s almost like a wet tea bag of English breakfast tea left on the counter too long. There are also some citrus, caramel and floral notes. Despite being higher in proof than the rest of the Gateway Series, the nose is not very sharp or alcoholic.
Palate: Oak, wheat berries, English breakfast tea.
Finish: Cherry lollipops with very little burn and a touch of oak.
Comments: I’ve never given Maker’s Mark much thought. I’ve mostly experienced it in really sub-par cocktails. That is not a statement on the whiskey itself, but on the cocktail crafters. Maker’s is the only American whiskey within the Gateway Series that I would consider drinking neat. It is not as bold or complex as some of the harder to find or more expensive brands, but it is quite enjoyable and easy to drink.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

New U.S. Releases – November ’09

After being inundated with new releases the last few month, especially in the bourbon category, November was pretty sad. Really the only news I have was the announcement that Glen Grant will be shipping to the U.S. beginning in January 2010. I don’t have the details on which bottlings or suggested prices but the current range consists of a single malt with no age statement, a 10 year old, and a 15 year old so hopefully we will see all of those in the new year. What I’ve heard so far is that initially they will be focusing on New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and California.

If anyone has heard about anything that I may have missed then let me know.

Drink wisely my friends,

Richard

New U.S. Releases – October ‘09

I’m a couple of days late this month. Sorry about that. Here’s our monthly round up of new releases.

Ballechin The Discovery Series #4: The Oloroso Sherry Casks
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
This is the fourth in a series of heavily peated releases from Edradour. Those guys are always doing interesting stuff. I haven’t tried any of the Ballechin releases but I’m intrigued.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection: Seasoned Oak
Timeframe: November
ABV: 50.2%
Price: $89.99
This year’s release from Woodford is finished in barrels that are made of staves left out to season for several years. These releases have been kind of hit or miss recently but I’m anxious to try it.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 43.3%
Price: $25.99
It’s that time of year again for this annual release. Between this and Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon there’s always a new bourbon or two to try every year.

Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection 23 year Old
Timeframe: Late November
ABV: 57%
Price: $350
Not a bourbon for the light of wallet. This special release comes in a Glencairn decanter with two special glasses to match.

Wild Turkey Tradition
Timeframe: November
ABV: 50.5%
Price: $100
This is a 14 year old limited edition coming from Wild Turkey. Previous limited editions included Tribute (which I didn’t get to try) in 2004 and American Spirit in 2007.

Sheep Dip Old Hebridean 1990 Vintage
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 40%
Price: $70
I met the guys behind Sheep Dip back in 2007. I was pleasantly surprised by their offerings and I’m looking forward to this one too.

Isle of Jura Prophecy
Timeframe: TBD
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
Not much information on this one yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Glengoyne 12 Year Old
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 43%
Price: $56
Glengoyne already has a cask strength 12 year old on the market but if you’re not a fan of cask strength bottlings then here’s something for you too.

That’s it for October!