Category Archives: Taste of the…

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.


Highland Park 30 Year Old

Highland Park 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
48.1% ABV, 96.2 Proof
About $350 to $475
Limited Worldwide Availability

What the Distillery Says:

The flagship variant of the Highland Park range was first released in April 2005. By its very nature, this whisky is only available in limited quantities. It is, however, worth seeking out as the ultimate expression of the distillery’s character.

Tasting notes
Colour: Rich, Coppery amber
Bouquet: Spicy, aromatic, nutmeg and darkest chocolate
Palate: Force 9 Flavour, toffee, dark chocolate orange and Hobbister Hill peat
Finish: Rich, long, smokey and surprisingly sweet

Highland Park 30 Year Old merits time and attention. It has spent 30 years maturing so treat it with respect; you’ll discover the characteristic fudge sweetness together with complex aromatic spices and dark chocolate orange. It has a drying finish, leaving a gentle smokey flavour and a mildly salty aftertaste – the result of 30 years aging in the Orkney sea spray.

What Richard Says:

Nose: Luxurious. Layers of complexity not easily stripped apart. Candied fruit, chocolate, and a cherry sweetness.
Palate: The sweetness from the sherry blasts you in the face but in a very good way. It warms the mouth with light peat and hints of the sea. Seaweed. Gorgeous mouth feel with a kick from the added proof. A monster of flavor that dances on air. The Muhammad Ali of Malt!
Finish: The burn from the alcohol is like a flash fire…there and gone. No linger to the alcohol at all. As it clears the mouth it leaves a little more peat but overall it finishes leaving you with the same characteristics of the palate.
Comments: This is a magnificent experience. You want everyone to try it but don’t want to share.
Rating: Must Buy

What Matt Says:

Nose: Luxury, chocolate covered cherries, peat, hippy cigars (Acid brand Liquid cigars to be precise)
Palate: Robust and delicate at the same time, balanced, sweet, dark chocolate, ripe berries, sherry, peat and brine.
Finish: Like a muted version of the palate with a hint more peat. The burn is a flash that disappears almost before you feel it.
Comment: I have no words to express my love for this whiskey. This is why we drink whisky. If you can afford to spend $350 on a bottle of whisky, buy this one.
Rating: Must Buy

I feel the need to add a little more commentary on this bottle. First, Matt and I both agreed that the layers of flavor were too amazing for us to adequately describe. What you see above is our meager attempt at describing a wonderful drinking experience. Also, it’s hard to rate something that costs several hundred dollars a bottle as a Must Buy. We realize that it’s a lot of money for the average person, especially in these trying economic times. That said, if you have the means definitely pick up a bottle. You will not be sorry.

Overall Rating: Must Buy

Gateway Series #9: Johnnie Walker Black

Johnnie Walker Black Label Old Scotch Whisky (12yo)
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $35-40
Available pretty much everywhere

What The Distillery Says:
An acclaimed masterpiece of blending craftsmanship, the rich and smooth Johnnie Walker Black Label is an award-winning blend.

With a depth and complexity drawn from over 40 select whiskies, including the fresh fruitiness of Glendullan, the opulent Mortlach, the earthy Talisker and the creamy, vanillan Cameron Brig, Black Label…it is at once powerful, intriguing and unassailably elegant.  Small wonder it was Sir Winston Churchill’s whisky of choice.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Fresh cut wood, vanilla (extract not bean) and citrus notes that seemed to be a muted orange fragrance.  With water the peat that was so absent without water goes to the forefront.  The water actually disperses the unique notes and makes it smell like generic scotch.
Palate: Salty and smoky with hints of pepper peeking around the edges.  It leaves the mouth feeling brined.  Water opens up the palate a little and adds floral sweetness.
Finish: Smooth on the throat and a mixture of salt and smoke in the mouth.
Comments: I wish some of the more delicate notes on the nose came through on the palate.  It seems odd to me that adding water destroys the nose and opens the palate.  Usually for whiskeys bottled at 40 to 43% ABV the opposite occurs.  That said, Johnnie Walker Black isn’t bad and it’s always consistent.  I could drink this straight but I’d still probably prefer not to.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Earthy, roasted nuts, citrus, and vegetal.
Palate: Peat, spice, grain, citrus, are the strongest flavors.  With water, some sweetness that I can’t place comes out.  It’s not really honey or sugar (or even burnt sugar).
Finish: Long finish.  Sweetness, smoke, vegetal, brine.
Comments: Not one of the best blends on the market, but a good starter.  Black Label is rounder and better developed than Red Label and more complex than Dewar’s White Label.  I don’t mind this neat, but I think it really shines in a simple cocktail or just with some soda.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average.  A good gateway blend.

Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

To celebrate America’s independence from British rule, we are reviewing Rowan’s Creek.  I mean, what better way to celebrate than with a dram of America’s native hooch?

Rowan’s Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
(Batch QBC No o9-21)
50.05% ABV, 100.1 Proof
Around $35

What the Distillery Says:
Rowan’s Creek is stored in charred oak barrels. It is hand bottled at 50.05% alc./vol. (100.1 proof).

Rowan’s Creek is made and bottled by hand, in small lots, one batch at a time.

This Bourbon takes its namesake from the creek that still runs through our distillery. Back in the late 1700’s when John Rowan first settled around Bardstown , whiskey makin’ was the order of the day. John went on and made a name for himself as a well respected judge and statesmen. The judge is long since gone, but the creek that still bears his name is still carrying the best limestone spring water there ever was for making good Bourbon, so you know the whiskey makin’ is still going on. Try a sip of it, straight up in a snifter, or add a dab of branch water if you like. Either way, it’s the very best there is. (Rowan’s Creek is distilled and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.)

-This is a small batch bourbon therefore your bottle of Rowan’s Creek may taste slightly different depending on bottling year. – Matt

What Richard Says:
Nose: This nose is sweetly floral but hard to get at due to the alcohol strength.  With water fruity notes come out.  Citrus and apricot I believe.  It’s kind of odd but I get absolutely no wood or grain on the nose.
Palate: Not nearly as sweet on the palate as the nose.  Pepper and spice and oh so nice.  This isn’t really a smooth bourbon. Not one for the Basil Hayden fans.  But what is does have is mountains of flavor.  A very robust experience.  It’s like candied Mexican chilies.  With water the pepper is tamed and a lovely honeysuckle flavor develops.
Finish: For such a fiery palate it doesn’t go down to rough…as long as you take it slow.  Lot’s of pepper left on the palate.  The sides of the tongue are almost left numb.  This finish with water is smooth, mellow, but not bland.
Comments: A real man’s bourbon!  I’m not trying to sound sexist or imply that women shouldn’t drink it. I just mean that Rowan’s Creek is one fierce hombre.  It has the classic bourbon character but it wears it better than most.
Rating: Stands Out

What Matt Says:
Nose: Burnt sugar (like dark rum), caramel, vanilla, cereal notes (corn).  With water, it opens up to bold floral and honey suckle notes that remind me of my childhood.
Palate: Oak, char, smoke, caramel, karo syrup, cereal notes (this time malted barley and rye).  Enough body to withstand copious amounts of water.  Sweet but not cloying, spicy but not overly so, Rowan’s Creek is vaguely reminiscent of tamarind candy.
Finish: The finish goes on for a bit.  The malt and rye notes hang around with a little spice.  Just when I think it’s over and I’m ready for another sip, I get hit with flavors of evergreen and mint.
Comments: This is one of my new favorites.  It’s full-bodied and complex at a reasonable price point.  It also makes the best Mint Julep ever.  Knocking down the proof with some cool spring water makes this a perfect summer dram while drinking it straight will warm you to your toes in the dead of winter.  Rowan’s Creek is great anytime of the year.  Between my personal love for this whiskey and the price, I’m going to have to go with a “Must Buy” rating.  However, Richard makes an excellent point.  This whiskey is not for everyone.  If you are a beginner or looking for something simple to enjoy casually, this is probably not the dram for you.  The high proof alone makes it less approachable to a novice.
Rating:  Must Buy

Overall Rating:  Must Try.

Stands out among other bourbons (especially at this price), but may not be the best dram to start your whiskey education.  Not for the faint of heart.