Category Archives: Taste of the…

Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie Astar
57.1% ABV, 114.2 Proof
Around $75, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
From the tall peaks of Missouri ‘Ozarks’ to the sweeping grandeur of the Highlands of Scotland, Astar (in Gaelic it means “journey”) is the story of our quest to ‘design’ the very best oak casks that will deliver perfection in the final spirit; the result is a deep, rich, silky and creamy malt that embodies Glenmorangie’s art of whisky creation.

What Richard Says:
Nose: The high bottling strength makes for a trying nose.  The alcohol tends to get in the way.  It’s very delicate and clean.  Crisp apples. With water there is a hint of peat and more of a nutty character.  Also more apple and under ripe fruit.
Palate: Very tart opening with a mild vegetal quality but soon the alcohol bulldozes everything out of the way.  Not a dram to be had without water.  The flavor is too delicate for bottle strength.  With water a honey sweetness develops and is followed by grassy notes.
Finish: Straight, the finish is all alcohol burn.  Once water is added you get a tart finish bookending the tart opening.
Comments: Astar is the “heart” of the new Glenmorangie Original and it shares many characteristics from nose through to the finish.  I would like to maybe see this bottled down around 46% ABV.  Heresy to some but that’s just my opinion.  This flavor profile is much too delicate for so much alcohol.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Without water the alcohol is dominant, but there is a strong scent of bread dough.  With water, the nose opens to a cornucopia of aromas.  Green apples (the meaty bit, not the skin), vanilla, honeysuckle, oak, and spice all dance together to a sensuous melody.
Palate: There is a lot of oak and spice here.  With water the fruit and sweetness is revealed.  Green apples, cinnamon, ginger, mint, vanilla, and a creamy sweetness like sweetened condensed milk.
Finish: Neat, there is enough burn for a bonfire.  With water, there is tartness (like green apple skins).
Comments: As with anything from Glenmorangie, I carry a slight sentimental bias.  I don’t think this is a dram for a novice, but I would recommend it for a seasoned whisky drinker.  I’m not sure the high proof is necessary.  The best bits of this whisky don’t come out until you add water.  However, that means that this bottle will last me about twice as long (which makes for better value).
Rating:  Stands Out

Overall Rating:  Average.  Not for the novice or the faint of heart.

Laphroaig 10yo

Laphroaig 10yo Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Around $35, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
Laphroaig, pronounced “La-froyg”, is an all-malt Scotch whisky from the remote island of Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland.  Laphroaig is a Gaelic word, and means “the beautiful hollow by the broad bay”.
In the making of Laphroaig, malted barley is dried over a peat fire.  The smoke from this peat, found only on the island of Islay, gives Laphroaig its particularly rich flavour.
Laphroaig is best savoured neat, or with a little cool water.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Vegetal and peaty in a way that’s second only to Ardbeg.  I also get vanilla, wood chips, and fresh pine straw.  With water the peat fades and it becomes very nutty with hints of leather.
Palate: Creamier on the palate than Ardbeg, but after an initial settling the peat begins to dominate.  Seaweed with a mild brine but not overly salty. Water opens a light honey note but kills everything else.
Finish: On the finish the salty brine kicks it up a notch.  Very little burn.  The wood and peat dominate the finish but not really in a pleasant way.
Comments: For peaty Islays I like Laphroaig better than Ardbeg but not as much as Lagavulin.  I feel that Laphroaig is a whisky that ages well but tends to need that aging.  It goes really well with seafood or cigars.  The 15 Year or the Quarter Cask are better but this isn’t a bad entry to Islay.  Oddly enough the profile of this dram changes over the course of the time spent with it.  On my initial tasting it is good but not overwhelmingly appealing.  However, as you take more sips the dram seems to open up and become a more comforting dram.  A nice quiet even by the fire drink.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Peat (of course), roasted nuts, orange pith, iodine and oak are strong on the nose.  With water, the peat fades, pulling the citrus and nut notes forward.  A little more water takes the nose to orange essential oils.
Palate: Peat (of course), brine, vanilla, orange juice and buttermilk.  A little water brings out some milk chocolate and honey (like a Toblerone).
Finish: Long on the peat with a touch of seawater and very little burn.
Comments: This is a sturdy whisky (i.e. it holds up to water).  Laphroaig is what a lot of people reach for when they first try an Islay malt.  I think that is not a bad thing.  It’s definitely a good entrance to Islay (but a little burly for the Gateway Series).  There is a creaminess and complexity that Arbeg 10yo lacks and the price point is much more agreeable than the Lagavulin 16yo (which Richard and I agree is the best of the three).
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average, a great entry into Islay whiskies.

Charbay Tequila Blanco

A word from Matt:  Let me start by saying that I am not a tequila drinker. I have not had tequila in probably eight years (apart from the very rare margarita). I have danced with Jose and Pepe and a myriad others and I always come away with a black eye, a wicked headache, and other maladies I’d rather not discuss. No matter the price or the quality, tequila has always brought the hurt. So when Charbay said they had a new tequila and they wanted me to try it, I was a little afraid to say the least. I have an open mind though. I am always a supporter of craft distilling. After all, rums are doing it, whiskies are doing it, even educated fleas are doing it. And I’ll try anything once. I was more than surprised by my findings…

Charbay Tequila Blanco
40%ABV, 80 Proof
SRP $49, Limited Availability

What the distillery says:
This is fragrant, true to the source, clean tequila. From all of the world’s distilled spirit classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging. We combined to traditional methods of classic tequila distillery in the Arandas area (Mexico) with our proprietary Charbay distilling methods that have developed for 13 generations. The mutual trust, respect and camaraderie with our host distillers will last a lifetime. This has been a real learning experience. (Miles Karakasevic)

During the final distillation at 142 Proof, our Tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 Proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 Proof, the flavors were herbaceous, rich agave, with a pepper spice finish. We captured all these flavors… (Marko Karakasevic)

What Matt says:
Nose: Agave nectar, vegetal (cactus?), cucumber, juniper, lime
Palate: Viscous, white pepper, herbal, whole lime that translates from lime meat to zest and back, a little burn around the edges
Finish: Short and sharp. Powerful lime zest and a side-of-the-tongue burn.
Comments: I can honestly say that this is the first tequila I’ve had in a long while that did not make me gag. As you may have guessed, I drink mostly whisk(e)y and the occasional gin. I think what I like most about this is that it is very much like a gin and not much like a tequila (from my experience with tequila). To me, that is very much a good thing. If you are a hardcore tequila drinker, this may leave you wanting. You will enjoy it, but it may not serve that craving (do people crave tequila?). I think most people use tequila as a mixer. Charbay Tequila Blanco is part of the craft movement that hopes to elevate tequila to something worthy of sipping. On that front, this is very successful. If I decide to stock tequila in my home bar, this will be the one. I always say that you should never stock a mixer that you can’t drink neat and Charbay’s Tequila Blanco fits the bill.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: This definitely smells better than any tequila I’ve ever smelled.  The agave is still there but without the dirty jockstrap notes of other widely available tequilas.
Palate: Admittedly, I don’t drink much tequila anymore, especially straight.  That said, this doesn’t taste like any tequila I’ve ever tasted.  Fruity notes flow throughout and it is a very pleasant experience.
Finish: The flavors clear the mouth very quickly and leave only a clean crisp hint that the drink was there.  Top notch!
Comments: I was at first hesitant to review this offering from Charbay.  If I categorically don’t like a particular spirit then I don’t feel that it is my place to offer opinions on the quality.  However, I was intrigued by what Charbay might do and I can honestly say that I never knew tequila could be like this.  I’m still not going to be a regular tequila drinker but this is in a league of it’s own.
Rating: Must Try

Overall Rating: Must Try

Gateway Series #10: The Three Glens

For this week’s entry in the Gateway Series we decided to do something a little different.  Last week Matt was down in Atlanta and we got to sit down together and do some tasting.  We decided that a head-to-head-to-head tasting of the Three Glens would be a nice twist on our usual reviews.  There was some discussion if single malt scotches should even be included as a “gateway” drink given their tendency toward higher prices and a more refined palate.  That said, if you are venturing into single malts for the first time you’re likely to cross paths with one of these three.  Here are the results of our tasting of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, and Glenmorangie The Original.  Enjoy!

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
Darn near everywhere

What the Distillery Says:

Glenlivet 12 Year Old shows a perfectly balanced display of fruity and floral flavours.  Oak is present but in the distance.  This Classic Speyside conveys beautiful images of a fertile orchard, blossoming at springtime and laden with juicy ripe fruit at summertime.  Nose and palate offer a warm experience of Speyside fresh and fragrant air.  The single malt to choose for a relaxing moment, enjoyed on its own or with a fruit pudding (plum or apricot pie, Belgian waffle with stewed apples, marzipan biscuits).

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Light grass with sweet fruit notes pushing through. No note of earthiness (peat, smoke, etc.) which is a little surprising.  Water tends to fade the nose without continued agitation.
Palate: Apples, grass (like sitting in a meadow), and sweet cream (pre-whipped sweetened heavy cream).  Water mutes the more delicate notes.
Finish:  Short and fleeting.  Not much but it leaves you with notes of apple skin.
Comments: Full sweetness through the palate as opposed to a typical fore tongue sweetness.  Overall it was better than expected.  I’ve had this a thousand times and I’ll have it a thousand more.  It’s a great entry scotch but not necessarily typical of like scotches.  Good for fans of a fruiter white wine.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Crisp green apples, caramel, candy apple coating.  This is a very fruity and accessible nose for the neophyte but not very “Scotch-y.”  No smoke and no earth.
Palate:  The green apple is still present, but the sweeter notes move from caramel to sweet cream.  There is something I can’t quite grasp that Richard calls grassy.  I suppose I could call it saw grass, but it is very vague and faint.
Finish:  Short and tart.  The skin of a Granny Smith apple.
Comments:  This is a pleasant dram with lots of crisp fruit.  It is a great introduction for folks with a fondness for fruity drinks.  Don’t bother adding water or using this as a mixer.  Mixing kills the flavor.  Among single malts, this is decidedly average (that’s why it is so popular).  However, this stands out among gateway whiskies.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Special Reserve
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
The bestselling single malt in the world

What the Distillery Says:

The pioneer of the prestigious single malt Scotch whisky category, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is today enjoyed by more people around the world than any other single malt whisky.

Our original, signature single malt Scotch whisky has matured for at least 12 years in American and European oak casks. The quality of these casks is exceptional as all are individually tended by our experienced team of coopers, ensuring our whisky develops complex, elegantly rounded flavours with notes of fresh pear and subtle oak.

Distinctively fresh and fruity with a hint of pear. Beautifully crafted single malt with a delicately balanced fragrance.

Characteristic sweet, fruity notes. Develops into elements of butterscotch, cream, malt and subtle oak flavour.

Long, smooth and mellow.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Honey/honeysuckle with butter but it’s more like a brown butter sauce or clarified butter.  Not to sound too snotty but it has a really nice bouquet.  More of a green/under ripened note develops with water.
Palate: Initially not very much on the palate.  Upon further investigation this is a more peppered honey on the palate compared to the nose.  It has a creamier mouth feel.
Finish:  Leave the mouth feeling…chewy.  A slight vegetal note as the sweetness clears the throat.  More pepper is left behind.
Comments: There’s a reason this is sold more widely than any other single malt.  It’s a very pleasant dram.  A solid go-to malt.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Honey butter and those little toast bites you can buy at Ikea (like heavily toasted mini baguettes).
Palate:  Buttery, toasty, viscous, clove, slightly burnt toast bites.  The palate gives an interesting sensation.  The whisky forms a meniscus then bursts on the center of the tongue.  Water opens the nose to some green apple, but kills the palate.
Finish:  Short finish with a slight burn.  Glenfiddich makes my mouth water and my cheeks feel full (almost swollen).
Comments:  Of the Glens, Glenfiddich is the one that I would suggest to anyone interested in getting into Single Malts.  It is not overly complex or overly simple and has a very accessible flavor profile.  Like the Glenlivet, this stands out only compared to other gateway drams.  This is my favorite gateway dram despite the fact that I prefer Glenmorangie (see notes below).

Glenmorangie Original
43% ABV, 86 Proof
About $40

What the Distillery Says:

Glenmorangie Original is an inviting single malt whisky, acclaimed and appreciated by luxury spirit drinkers around the world.
The original expression of Glenmorangie’s elegant, floral spirit that is renowned the world over for exquisite finesse and alluring complexity, The Original is the intriguing marriage of delicate spirit and long, slow maturation.

The taste characteristics from the first-fill bourbon casks that permeates the majority of the ages spirit, coupled with the increased proportion of our ‘designer casks’ (made from slow-growth, air-dried American oak from the Ozark Mountains of Missouri), results in a delicious spirit that enhances the relaxed and convivial mood of the group by igniting the senses.

The Original is, quite simply, the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls and tart apples.  For only 3% more alcohol than the other two Glens it makes a big difference on the nose.  Much more alcohol.  Water cuts down the alcohol but all else remains the same.
Palate: Viscous mouth feel with a bit of sweetness but more tart.  Almost like Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  Water mutes the flavor.
Finish:  There’s like a viscous hold on the finish and then it releases from the mouth like a dam break.
Comments: Glenmorangie seems to move away from a gateway malt to be more of a defined palate that needs to be sought out as opposed to embracing your.  Their reformulation over the old 10 Year is quite noticeable.  Would I call it “the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world”? No.  But it is quite good.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls, tart apples and a lot of alcohol. 
Palate:  Birch beer, herbal, faint notes of licorice.  Water draws out some caramel sweetness but creates an odd sensation of a crystalline caramel shell with nothing inside.
Finish:  Short and slightly numbing
Comments:  I find it odd that Glenmorangie is so often mentioned in the same breath as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  Both ‘fiddich and ‘livet are Speyside malts while Glenmorangie comes from the Highland region.  Furthermore, the taste profiles are very different.  Glenmorangie is herbal and slightly medicinal compared to the fruitiness of the other two.  The extra alcohol content is small, but prominent.  This dram is for a decidedly different palate.  While this suits my palate best of the three, I cannot recommend it over the Glenfiddich as a gateway dram.

Rating:  This was a very interesting experience.  It brought up a lot of questions about the nature of ratings and whether they should be a definitive scale or a relative scale.  Definitively we rated all three as average because while good, they are far overshadowed by world of single malts.  On a relative scale all three standout from everything we’ve tried in the gateway series.  So if you want an overall rating they would each be Average/Stands Out.  Personally, Matt and I both picked Glenfiddich from the group.  No matter which one you pick up I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Charbay Tequila?

Tequila!?!  WTF, I thought this was a whisk(e)y blog.  Indeed it is.  However, we are dedicated to bringing you a little something else every know and again.  Now tequila is something I’ve never been able to get my head around, but our friends at Charbay have produced a tequila and they want you to know about it.  Here’s the press release.

SUBJECT: Charbay Father & Son Team Are First American Distillers to Distill 100% Blue Agave Tequila in Mexico

(St. Helena, CA) June 2009 – Charbay 100% Blue Agave Tequila Blanco is the first personally hand distilled tequila by American distillers in Mexico. Its bright and spicy agave flavors are elegant & smooth for sipping neat, over ice or in your favorite cocktail.

The adventure started when a highly acclaimed Tequila Distiller in Arandas Mexico offered to share his facility with Charbay’s father & son team to see what kind of tequila they could distill if given total freedom.  Miles & Marko Karakasevic jumped at the challenge. The 12th & 13th generation distillers are passionate about distilling fresh ingredients & always eager to distill something new.

Charbay’s goal: accent the natural agave flavors in a spicy, clean tequila. “Of all the world’s distilled spirits classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging,” says Miles Karakasevic, Master Distiller & the father of this distilling duo. “To capture brighter Tequila flavors of spicy agave freshness, we combined the traditional methods of classic tequila distilling with proprietary Charbay fermenting & distilling methods. They shared, we shared… everyone learned & enjoyed.”

Miles & Marko were given free reign to distill Charbay Tequila at the Los Altos Family Distillery, allowing them to be completely hands on during the entire process. They were 100% involved with harvesting the Agave, baking, fermenting, and hand distilling in traditional 90-250 gallon Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills.

Agave to tequila equals grapes to wine – altitude, climate and soil are flavor specific to the finished spirit. Charbay Blue Agaves were grown at the altitude of +7,120 in the superior, intensely red volcanic soils in the foothills of St. Augustine Mountain. When Miles designed the label, he put the GPS coordinates on each label to show exactly where the plantation is located.

With the Jimadores (agave masters), they hand selected the estate grown 8 year old Blue Agaves which were transported to the distillery. The pinas were then halved or quartered by hand and stacked into the old brick ovens (small ovens – not large steel autoclaves). The agave is baked slowly for four days and then crushed to extract the sweet agave juice (“Mosto”) for fermentation.

Only a selected fraction of freshly baked, sweet agave juice was pumped into small fermenters, allowing the fermentation to be cool and slow  to preserves the fresh, delicate agave flavors. Once the Mosto fermented into dry distilling material called “Mosto Muerte” it was ready to distill.

Marko points out: “During the final distillation at 142 proof, our tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 proof, the flavors were of herbaceous, rich agave – with a peppery finish. We captured all of these flavors, even after cutting to 80 proof!”

The first release of 1,700 cases will be available in California & Nevada early August and will then roll out to Colorado, Missouri, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Florida and New York. Suggested retail is $49.00.

For more information: Charbay Tequila

I think we’re getting a sample here at Whisk(e)y Apostle, so stay tuned.  Until then, drink well, drink responsibly.