Tag Archives: Blended Scotch

…And you thought it was over

What’s this, two posts in one day?  I thought I’d share the rest of the evening’s festivities after the official Tullibardine tasting at The Brandy Library wound down.  There where quite a few people in attendance, including reps for Chivas and Famous Grouse (there were others too, I think).  Honorary Apostles Tamir and Shelline accompanied me as we drank deep the water of life.

Since Total Beverage Solution also handles Edradour and independent bottler Signatory, Adam (the TBS rep) let us sample the Signatory Isle of Jura and the Edradour Calendonia.

The Jura was quite interesting.  Like many other independent bottlers, Signatory does not purchase all their casks from the distillers.  Some of the casks come from overstock sold off by big blending houses (most likely Whyte & Mackay in this instance).  This Jura is one of those.  I’ve never been a fan of Jura.  I’ve always equated Jura’s taste profile to clinging to an innertube during a sea storm.  Something about this cask spending time off the island has tempered the salt.  The Signatory Isle of Jura is a little more balanced and subtle than the last distillery bottling I tried (admittedly some time ago).  The salt is certainly there.  There is a scent of the wilderness too, of animals and earth.  Quite delightful.

The Edradour Caledonia is a special 12 year old release hand picked by Scottish crooner Douglas Maclean and named for his song.  It’s got big, bold sherry notes and rich sugars (honey and brown sugar) without being cloying.  There are plenty of other things going on here so you don’t get bogged down in the sherry.  It reminds me of my favorite pipe tobacco quite a bit.

As mentioned earlier, a rep from Chivas happened to be on hand and poured us a dram of Chivas 18yo as we waxed philosophic on the importance of blends.  You already know my thoughts on Chivas 18yo.  Of course, The Brandy Library’s own Ethan Kelly had to get in on the action by turning us on to Old Parr 12yo.  Old Parr is a blend that has long interested me, solely because of the unique bottle shape.  Yet, I remained skeptical.  It’s an inexpensive blend in a funny bottle.  How good could it be?  Well, it’s quite nice.  If Johnnie Walker Black Label was softened to the point of being drinkable neat, it would taste something like this.  Smokey and sweet, this blend is more complex than expected, but smooth and balanced.  I’d say this a great buy.  After all, everyone should have at least one blended whisky in your bar no matter how much of a single malt snob you are.

Lastly, we had a dram of Glendronach 12yo.  The new Glendronachs are a huge improvement over the old ones.  The sherry is present without being overpowering.  The addition of Pedro Ximinez sherry casks really kicks up the palate.  This is very sophisticated for a 12yo.

Thanks to everyone:  Ethan at The Brandy Library, Anwar from Chivas, Adam from TBS, Shelline and Tamir.  Nights like this are what drinking whisky is about.  Sitting around enjoying a great dram with great conversation.  Slainte.

-Matt

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

Black Bull 12yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky

The good folks at Duncan Taylor were kind enough to send us this sample of Black Bull 12yo.  After trying the 30yo some time ago, Matt was especially eager to try this one.  Richard has not had the pleasure of either yet.  We’ll update the post with his notes soon.

Black Bull 12yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky
50% ABV/100 Proof
£32.99, Available Now In The UK & Soon In The US (we’ll update the price to US dollars when we have it)

What The Distillery Says:
This special blend is a marriage of the finest 12 year old single malt and single grain whiskies distilled in Scotland.  The selection of whiskies falls true to the Duncan Taylor ethic of unbridled quality, each whisky from each cask is nose and tasted before going into the Black Bull vatting.

Black Bull contains 50% malt whisky and 50% grain whisky and is non-chill filtered.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Without water, the nose is very “grainy.”  It’s quite a bit like a pot stilled rye with a few light notes of dark fruit.  With water, the nose opens up to beautiful florals and notes of citrus, orange blossom honey, and cacao nibs.
Palate: Again, the grain is dominant without water.  The palate is dry and spicy with a citrus tang.  Water makes the palate much more Scotch-like.  Flavors of dark fruits, caramel apples (green ones), and oak come out to play.
Finish: Without water, the finish is almost like whisky bitters.  The lingering flavors are oak, bitters, and orange zest.  Water brings out pears, pomegranate, and dark chocolate.
Comments: This is an interesting sensory experience.  I’ve never tasted a whisky that changed quite this much with water.  It might as well be straight grain whisky without water.  With water, Black Bull 12yo turns into a suitable entry-level whisky.  Strangely, the finish is much more bold and interesting than the palate; an about face compared to our Gateway Series Scotches.  A while back, I had the opportunity to sample the 30yo: a fine dram indeed.  While this does not come close to the 30yo (not that anyone expects a challenge), the Black Bull 12yo is fine blend and worthy of a tipple. The finish alone is worth a try.
Rating:  Average

What Richard Says:
Nose: Fruit and old unpolished wood with hints of candied orange slices.  It turns floral and grainy with water.
Palate: Very spicy with hints of apple peel.  With water it quickly mellows the spice and turns to floral notes with a minute sweetness.
Finish: Very dry and oaky.  Water smoothes out the finish nicley and adds lingering apple peel again but I don’t get the same dramatic changes that Matt does.
Comments: This is a very dry whisky.  More so than any I’ve had in recent memory.  It’s interesting for sure and definitely one to have with some water.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating:  Average.  Strongly consider adding water to this one.

Two New Drams From Preiss Imports

I just got back from a press event for Preiss Imports at Brandy Library in Tribeca.  It seems Whisk(e)y Apostle is becoming legit, oh my brothers.  I was hoping to run into Mark from WhiskyCast or Dr. Whisky, but they either did not come or came after I left.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  The news of the day was two new drams from Preiss.

The first dram was the new whiskey from Cambeltown’s first new distillery in 100 years.  Though distilled at Glengyle (right around the corner from Springbank), the new single malt is called Kilkerran.  This is the first global release from Kilkerran and represents the launch of the “Work in Progress” series.  As a bona fide whisky nerd, the idea of this series really tickles my fancy.  It’s like being in the distillery with the Master tasting the whisky at each age until you know it is ready.  This first release is five years old and they will be releasing limited quantities each year until the whiskey is 12 years old.

Kilkerran 5yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky
46% ABV, 92 Proof
SRP $59.99, Very Limited Availability (only 1,800 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Light, vanilla, bananas, some peat
Palate: Light but rough around the edges, cloves, vanilla, tropical fruits, touches of peat and licorice
Finish: Makes the mouth water, peat, banana skins, a lot of alcohol
Comments: I love the idea of this.  You can really taste where this whisky is going, but it is not quite there yet.  It’s got a little too much heat and alcohol.  A little more time in the barrel is going to make this a great whisky.  If you get a chance, you should try this.  It is great for your whiskey education.  I’m hoping they are holding back a few bottles of this each year so we can do side-by-side tastings when the 12yo drops seven years from now.
Rating:  Average/Must Try For Whisky Nerds

The next pour was Black Bull 30yo Blended Whisky.  This is a one off and once it’s gone, that’s it.  Unfortunately, there is not much of it either.  Other than it’s age, what really makes this whisky interesting is that it is blended, then aged for thirty years in sherry casks.  Most blends are made from aged whiskies and “married” for only a short time.  The result is quite remarkable.  It has the cohesiveness of a single malt, but the complexity of a blend.  This is a unique experience not to be missed.

Black Bull 30yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky
50% ABV, 100 Proof
Estimated Retail $199, Very Limited Availability (only 600 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Turkish coffee grounds, dark chocolate, ripe cherries
Palate: Heavily sherried but not overly so, chocolate, plums and cherries
Finish: Long and complex, cherry, cinnamon, cherry, chocolate egg cream
Comments: This is a very unique dram and very nice.  It is not like anything else.  If I had to compare it to something, I would compare it to Highland Park 30yo and Charbay’s Whiskey Release II.  It doesn’t really taste like either, but I am reminded of both as I sip.  I must say that I was surprised to find that its 100 proof.  Uncommonly smooth, you could hurt yourself drinking this.
Rating:  Hate to say this about a rare and expensive whiskey but… Must Buy

Thanks to the folks at Preiss Imports, especially Steve Fox, for setting this up and thanks to Ethan Kelley and Brandy Library for hosting us.

Drink well, drink responsibly.
-Matt