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.

G & MacP Tasting At Louis 649

Last night, I attended a tasting at Louis 649 in the East Village/Alphabet City.  The tasting was sponsored by Gordon & MacPhail.

I’ve been meaning to get to Louis for some time now.  My buddy Tristan is somewhat of a regular and speaks fondly of their whisk(e)y  selection.  A look behind the bar tells me why.  It’s not the largest selection in the city, but I have to respect a bar that stocks Sazerac, several Tuthilltown whiskeys and an interesting assortment of single malts.

As I sat down at the bar, I immediately felt like this was not going to be like any other tasting I’ve attended.  The other attendees were not your usual whisky tasting crowd.  From the folks I talked to, it seems that most of the crowd consisted of bartenders, alt.-writers/bloggers, cocktail crafters, and even one Absinthe distiller.  I have to say, it was very refreshing to see a room full of tattooed and pierced people and other eccentrics enjoying single malt whisky.  This is part of the crowd we apostles are hoping to reach.  Bringing whisky out of the realm of dimly lit, smoke-filled bars full of suits.  There were even a large number of women in attendance (close to half the audience)!  It made me smile quite broadly.  The fact that the crowd asked some really astute questions and got a little rowdy, made me smile even more.

The brand ambassador was an hour late to the event, but our host (Gianfranco Verga) started pouring anyway.  For me, this was nice.  I was able to give the first pour (five different drams) some real time and attention while we waited.  Here are my notes on the first five whiskies (all either bottled or distilled by Gordon & MacPhail):

Benromach Traditional (7-7 ½ yo)
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Light smoke, smells strongly of fresh green apples, honey
Palate:  Light, small smoke, green apples, cloves
Finish:  Dry, long, turns slightly bitter toward the end
Comments:  Benromach is G&MacP’s distillery.  It’s the smallest distillery in Speyside and this expression is an attempt to define what traditional Speyside whisky should be.  This whisky spends about 80% of it’s maturation in first-fill bourbon barrels and the remaining 20% in first-fill sherry casks.  From a cost and taste stand point, Benromach Traditional sits squarely among our Gateway Speysiders, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  I would definitely recommend this whisky.

Benromach Organic (7-7 ½ yo)
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Caramel, apple, sour (like bourbon mash), oak
Palate:  Viscous but light, green apple, toffee, vanilla and light spice
Finish:  A little burn, leaves the mouth wetter than the Traditional
Comments:  How can a whisky be organic you ask?    Well, the barley is organic and the virgin American oak in the barrels is organic.  That’s right, all virgin American oak (charred of course) just like the Glenmorangie Astar.  The Organic is much darker in color than the Traditional and woodier.  It may be a touch more balanced than Astar, but it is also a touch too light on flavor.  Not bad but, unless you have a tremendous amount of guilt about your SUV and beef habits, I think the Traditional is a better product.

Caol Ila (Connoisseurs Choice 1996), 8yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Peat and pear
Palate:  Light but not much to except peat and it’s associate flavors (leather, anise, damp earth)
Finish:  Short but the peat lingers
Comments:  Caol Ila is one of the primary malts in Johnnie Walker and a handful of other blends.  It’s a good base whisky, but this one is nothing special to my palate.

Miltonduff, 10yo
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Lady’s perfume, summer fruits and wild flowers
Palate:  Tastes exactly like it smells with an oily mouth feel
Finish:  The taste does not linger, but my tongue curls and cramps in aftershock
Comments:  If this is the key component of Ballentine’s, I might have to stay away from Ballentine’s.

Mortlach, 15yo
40%ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Green apples, nail polish remover and pipe tobacco
Palate:  Roasted nuts and cherry cough syrup
Finish:  Cherry cough syrup
Comments:  Mortlach is distilled 2 ½ times, aged in first fill sherry casks and “condensed” in worm tubs to create a more intense flavor profile.  Unfortunately, it is not a flavor profile that I enjoy in the least.  Though at least one attendee claimed it as her favorite.

After the first five, the tables were cleared and we were give four more drams.  We kind of rushed through them and both my tongue and nose were getting fatigued so my notes aren’t as good (especially on the last two):

Aberfeldy (Connoisseurs Choice 1989), 15yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Smells just like the perfume they use to scent baby diapers
Palate:  Light, smooth, spice, vanilla, and caramel
Finish:  Burns with sweet caramel
Comments:  Aberfeldy is the key component of Dewar’s.  Not a bad dram, but the nose really turns me off.

Glen Grant, 21yo
40%ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Green apples, peaches
Palate:  Sweet, fruity, a little brine somehow (maybe I was sweating into my cup)
Finish:  Long and lovely
Comments:  I’ve always been a sucker for a good Glen Grant and I’ve always thought that it wore age well.  Very good indeed.

Benromach, 21yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Sweet fruits and cereal
Palate:  viscous, soft, sherrywood, oak
Finish:  Long and luscious
Comments:  Fatigue setting in…

Macallan Speymalt 1972, 35yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Extreme fruit (citrus, tropical, and dark berries)
Palate:  Same fruit as the nose with a creamy note and Christmas spice
Finish:  Long and luxurious
Comments:  Is it as good as the distillery-bottled 30yo?  I don’t know.  I really like the 30yo.  This is a little fruitier and a whole lot cheaper.  So you decide.

Whew.  That’s it, nine whiskies.  I don’t want to complain about too much free whisky, but this was a little much for any real objective tasting, especially when there were no spit buckets.  If you were following my Twitter posts, you probably noticed that the whisky was served from plastic cups.  That was a minor disappointment, but I think it was the shape of the cups, more than the material, that was the bigger problem.  However, I did get some good tasting in, so why am I complaining?  🙂

Thanks to Gordon & MacPhail and Louis 649 for putting this together.

Drink well, drink responsibly.


New U.S. Releases

It appears that we’ve been a little derelict in out duties on noting the release of new whiskeys to the United States.  So far this month there are five promising additions that were annouced.  And it’s only August 13th!

Suntory Yamazaki 1984 Single Malt Whisky 
Timeframe: October 2009
ABV: 48%
Price: $550 – $650
More of the wonderful whisky being made in Japan come here is never a bad thing.  In addition to the Hibiki we announced last month we seem to be making headway with Japanese distribution.  Sadly this ones out of most of our price ranges.

Four Roses 2009 Mariage Collection Bourbon
Timeframe: September (around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival)
ABV: 57% – 59%
Price: ?
I have yet to try the 2008 Mariage.  Apparently I need to get on that and quick!

Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Timeframe: Late 2009
ABV: ? But most likely 40%
Price: $39.99
More Irish single malt!  This will be a welcome addition to Tullamore’s portfoilo of standard, 10 Year, and 12 Year blends.

Laphroaig 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Timeframe: September
ABV: ?
Price: $84.99
This is the new release that will replace Laphroaig’s current 15 Year Old bottling in their standard portfolio.  It promises to be good but if you’re in love with the 15 Year, get it while you can!

Evan Williams Honey Reserve
Timeframe: Soon
ABV: 35%
Price: $14.99
It seems like everyone is coming out with flavored bourbon or whiskey liqueurs.  Here’s Evan Williams’s entry into the category.

Did You Know #2: Beware the Burn

Did You Know…that you can burn your taste buds on higher proof whiskey?

Opinions vary about the preference for or against difference proof strengths of whiskey.  Some folks chide the 80 proof while rallying behind cask strength whiskeys and vice versa.  Regardless of your preference you should note that the higher the alcohol content the more likely you are to burn your taste buds.  It may seem really manly (or womanly if you’re so inclined) to drink all your whiskey straight all the time.  That’s all well and good when your bottles are in the 40% to 46% ABV range.  However, once you start knocking back glasses in the upper 50’s, 60’s, and heaven forbid 70’s without any water then you’re looking for a hurtin’.  I’m not talking about the level of inebriation but rather the effect the alcohol has on your tongue and it’s subsequent ability to taste.  All that alcohol “burns” or essentially numbs your taste buds to further experiences for some period of time there after.    If you are eating grandma’s okra and squash surprise (I’m from Georgia remember) then that may not be a bad thing.  But if you want to actually taste and enjoy your whiskey, not to mention subsequent whiskeys, then you need to be careful.  Sipping slow and adding a little water won’t call for an automatic revoking of your man-card.  I promise. 

On a related note, if you’re engaging in a tasting of multiple whiskies it is a generally good idea to go from lowest alcohol content to highest.

– Richard