Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

43% ABV/86 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $45 to $50

What the distillery says:

Subtly sophisticated Lowland is a superb pre-dinner drink; try it taken straight from teh freezer.  Pale gold in appearance.  It has a light sweet nose with barley-malt, green grass and wispos of autumn smoke.  The body is firm and light.  The palate is slightly sweet yet fresh, late summer fruits and harvest fields, young wood and malted barley.  A suprising dry finish with a smoky spiciness.

What Matt says:

Nose: Light, sweet (cereal and honey), fresh cut grass, with a trace of smoke.
Palate: Very floral, citrus, honey, over-ripe fruit
Finish: A little spice, some alcohol and sweetness.
Comments: More complex and interesting than your average lowland malt, this is an everyday kind of malt. While none of the flavors are terribly bold, this is a good dram. A great intro into single malt Scotch.
Rating: Stands Out (among Lowlands)

What Richard says:

Nose: Grassy with light hints of fruity sweetness.
Palate: Mellowed and muted flavor.  Slight hint of iodine on the rear of the palate.  As the flavor begins to clear it leave a malted barley after taste that’s very beer like.  Almost like an IPA.
Finish: Smooth, mellow, little about the finish stands out.
Comments: Glenkinchie is a lowland malt.  As such you expect the category to be mellowed with a less drastic flavor profile than malts from other areas of Scotland.  Glenkinchie holds true to this.  Nothing really stands out.  When you’re done with the dram it’s almost like it was never there.  Nothing offensive in this whisky but nothing to write home about either.  That being said, the 12 Year Old is Diageo’s replacement to the 10 Year Old in the Classic Malts range and I do note improvement from the additional years.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

Boston Whisky Party

The Whisky Guild is hosting a booze cruise on May 13th for whisk(e)y lovers in good old Bean Town. They held a similar event in NYC last fall. It was really great. The whisk(e)y list is quite respectable and focuses mainly on Scottish single malts. I encourage you to try the new offerings from Bruichladdich, the Highland Park 30yo, Glenmorangie’s the Signet, and the Suntory whiskeys if you have not had the opportunity. So, if you are in the Boston area, check it out. Go here for more info. Drink responsibly. Drinking on the water is a little different than drinking on dry land.

Oh, the neglect…

Sorry folks, I know it’s been a while . We missed letting you know about Whisky Magazine’s Whisky LIve New York and WhiskyFest Chicago. It’s still Whisky Week in Chi-town though. Check out www.maltadvocate.com for events.

This week we’ll have a review of the Glenkinchie 12yo which is the replacement for their 10yo (and better). Also, I’ve got a follow-up to the “Wind That Shakes The Barley” blog where I will be talking about beers aged in whisk(e)y casks. First, I’ve got to pick up some Black Ops from Brooklyn Brewery on my way home. I will be discussing the Black Ops, Old Whiskey Red (from Twisted Pines Brewery in Boulder, CO), Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, and Harviestoun Brewery’s Ola Dubh line. Stay tuned!

-Matt

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

46% ABV/92 Proof Non Chill-Filtered
Available in the United States and Europe – $65 to $70

What the distillery says:
Ardbeg Ten Years Old is a very special bottling for the Ardbeg distillery as it is the first non-chill filtered whisky in the Ardbeg range. Chill filtering isn`t a bad thing, in fact it created real consistency of product when the whisky industry was a little more `hap-hazard` than it is today. Ardbeg Ten Years Old is whisky with none of the goodness taken out and as good as straight from the cask (a little misleading – straight from the cask would be closer to 120 proof – Matt).

What Richard says:
Nose: Peat, burning driftwood, garden compost, hints of vanilla and a slight floral undertone. Heather maybe? With water the nose loses the more delicate floral and vanilla hints and turns much spicier.
Palate: Seaweed caresses the tongue and moves back leaving a heavy brine. The lightest trace of sweetness is quickly ran out of town by the salty sea.
Finish: Very smooth on the throat but the lingering brine is so strong it leaves your tongue feeling thoroughly salted. More trace hints of vanilla as the whisky clears the palate.
Comments:Definitely one of the heavier dives into Islay. This Ardbeg is a peaty briney firestorm and it’s only the 10 Year! Ardbeg is a dram of the elements.
Rating: Stands out

What Matt says:
Nose: Peat, leather, caramelized plums, brine and a hint of sweet bourbon (think Basil Hayden’s more than Maker’s Mark)
Palate:Lightly peated compared to some other Islays, this whiskey lets the malted barley shine through. As with other peated whiskies, there are definite notes of licorice and iodine.
Finish:Despite it’s astringent mouth feel, the taste of peat and iodine stick around long after you swallow this one. A long finish is one of the trademarks of Islay malts, but this was surprising.
Comments:This whisky provides a good introduction to peated single malts. It is not overly peated and offers some of the cereal notes and sweetness you get from lightly or unpeated whiskies. I expected a little bit more complexity from an unfiltered whisky though. The astringent quality and pale color are both odd for Islay whiskies. Whiskies from the Islay region tend toward a darker color and more oily mouth feel. This one is good for someone just getting into Islay malts, but I would recommend Laphroaig, Lagavulin, or Talisker (technically from Skye, not Islay, but similar taste profile) over this one.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

The Beating of the Blend: Artist vs. Craftsman

I generally try to be diplomatic about whiskey on Whisk(e)y Apostle. I think that if you have a website providing something resembling educational or informational content then it’s only good form to be as nonpartisan as possible and clearly state that something is your opinion when it is so and not speak in absolutes.

Today I’m going to break ranks with that and say the typical American single malt drinker is (notice the definitive verb there) a snobbish idiot. There…I said it. I’ve been thinking it for a long time. I just couldn’t keep it bottled up inside any longer. “But aren’t you an American single malt drinker?” you may ask. Yes I am. And I went through a phase of this a number of years back. It was when I was trying cigars, drinking more single malt, and generally thinking I was more sophisticated than I really was. In short, I was an idiot.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, it’s something that’s been on my mind for some time. What finally sent me over the edge was a post I saw on a forum that I’m a member of. This question was posted:

“Do you guys ever drink single malt scotch on the rocks or do you consider the very idea an affront to all that is good, decent, and proper about whisky?”

Granted that’s a loaded question but there are gentlemen on that forum with good taste in liquid libations so I was curious to see the responses. What followed were general answers like this:

“Single Malts on the rocks is indeed a waste of money. If you want to drink it on the rocks, save money and buy Blended.”

“Honestly, you’re just throwing money away….And as much as that sounds like liquor-snob posturing and “look how macho I am, drinking my whisky straight from the bottle,” I’m really not trying to be. There are some fine blended whiskeys out there that go well on the rocks, and I drink them too.”

These responses annoyed me on two fronts. First, as we say here over and over again, drink it how you like. No one else’s opinion (and it is an opinion, not some mandate from God) matters. I understand the points made in the prior example. Yes chilling the whisky numbs out some of the flavors. But so does not adding water. As long as the water is room temperature it will open up flavors and aromas that you can’t fully appreciate at bottle strength. Do I like mine with water? No. I don’t like it with ice either but we’re not talking about my drink. We’re talking about yours. You’re buying it. You’re drinking it. You get to have it however you want.

But what really bothered me was the left handed slight toward blended scotch. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people rattling on about the superiority of single malts versus blends. “Oh blends are where you start. Once you’re ready to really appreciate scotch try single malts.” “Blends just don’t have the flavor or complexity of good single malt.” And on and on and on. It’s a pile a crap. Just because YOU don’t like blends doesn’t make them inferior. You just don’t like them. That’s your opinion not a fact.

Are there crappy blends out there? Sure, but there are just as many crappy single malts too. It’s not like I’m measuring Dewar’s Signature against Big Al MacLeod’s discount malt. There are plenty of single malts out there far inferior to regular blends like Johnnie Walker Black.

Truth be told it takes as much if not more skill to make quality blends than it does to make good single malt. It may take different skills maybe but not fewer skills. You have be able to source and pull together dozens of different single malt and grain whiskies into a solid uniform piece, balancing and marrying flavors into cohesion. Is it hard to play the trumpet? Yes. Is it less impressive to pull together an entire symphony? I don’t think so.

I think of it like this: The master distiller is the true craftsman, but the master blender is the true artist. Are either the artist or craftsman lacking in skill, talent, or focus? Of course not, they just create differently. The blender is the symphony conductor pulling together all the pieces and parts into what you hold in your hand. They are taking all the different instruments and making something greater than the sum of its parts. Think about that the next you try a blended scotch.

Slainte,
Richard