Don’t worry, I’m not going to write this as one long stream-of-consciousness manuscript, Jack Kerouac style, with barely (I keep typing barley) any paragraph breaks – which is now tempting now I’ve said it; and maybe I can try a late-era Hemingway while I’m at it, writing simple, but very long sentences until you can’t go on reading. Good lord, that’s really all I’ve got as an introduction. But the point is, this is simply a review dump, with nothing at all connecting the whiskies in question. Why?
I‘ve built up far too many reviews as tasting notes, but haven’t got much to say by way of introduction – which is ridiculous as many of these deserve more of an introduction. But being the old man of Malt, wheeled out for random occasions (I promise to write more in 2021), I have said far too much about the production and where flavour comes from elsewhere; what’s more my tastes have become recalibrated by Waterford, which literally altered what I like taste-wise. Luckily there are many new distilleries whose lively distillates tickle my fancy, so that might be my leaning in future.
Particularly this is the case with distilleries in Europe. One thing I’ve noticed from judging the World Whiskies Award, especially this year, as well as being behind the wheel of a brand that has navigated the winding roads of feedback in the continent, is that there feels to me to be a broader church of flavour references to be found on the continent, and more appreciation for deviations from the norm. Is this because there’s a more varied approach to drinking? Certinaly in France it is rare to find just a spirits reviewer, but rather wines and spirits reviewers; whereas in the UK general appreciation tends to be more narrow and focussed? Perhaps that’s a slight Brexity metaphor, but the long and short of it is: there are more creatively different spirit offerings overseas, so I’d continue encourage anyone to explore beyond one’s comfort zone.
So, some whiskies. With no context! A random, mixed bag of bin ends, for your skimming pleasure. So much to drink of late, so much to write about, but where among the piles of samples, is something curious enough? A few diamonds have been glistening through the dirt, however, and whilst I cannot quite find the angle to make something gloriously entertaining for each of these, which is what I usually aim for and fall some way short, they are deserving of a mention. Some airtime, for some pleasing things (I’ve not bothered writing about the really bad ones, because who needs more negativity in 2021?).
Which is a rather rambling way of saying: here are some sketches from the notebook.
One final point: this will possibly (maybe) be the last time I use the scoring bands for any reviews. It’s not as though I feel righteous now, or have some moral superiority (not on this subject anyway). Rather, I have resorted to my old ways, for those of you with very long memories: I find placing scores to whiskies a bit like placing numbers to emotions. It no longer makes sense to me. Fine if you are doing long review lists, or go by the Robert Parker method, but I’ve always been a words man rather than a numbers man, and would rather the emphasis be on that.
Langatun Cigar Malt – 45.6% ABV
I don’t smoke cigars – I figure I should at least give my body a fighting chance of survival given I’m currently around 15% alcohol at any given moment – but I don’t judge and everyone is free to carve their own particular path in life. I will note that the kind of ‘cigar malt’ – a Dalmore thing – very much for me seems to pigeonhole whisky as a category. It has the whiff of yesteryear, a drink for old men. This is available from Master of Malt for £81.95.
On the nose: a maple syrup sweetness to begin, with some huge – yet most elegant – sherried style notes. Textbook dried fruits that you’d love to shove this in a Macallan blind tasting and see what people make of it: sultanas and raisins, with dried oranges, creamy Tiramisu. Stewed tea in the pot. Golden syrup sponge cake.
In the mouth: gorgeously thick Langatun texture, a real trademark of this distillery’s spirit. Yet the flavours feel a little tamer than usual. (A deliberate thing to aim to cigar puffers?) Blackcurrants, tannins, black tea, slightly astringent and woody and, in fact, something very much about red wine about the whole thing. It falls flat on the finish: oily, but lacking depth, just lacking that something special one usually finds with Langatun. This would be the kind of thing Dalmore would want to release if their spirit was more robust, though I must admit my least favourite Langatun, which is a distillery I like very much. A decent offering, but do try what else this firecracker of a Swiss distiller has to offer.
High Coast Quercus IV Mongolia – 50.9% ABV
Colour: oloroso sherry.
On the nose: very floral indeed, old roses and then lashings of vanilla. Fresh peaches, dried apricots, sandalwood and coconut. Milk chocolate (Bounty bar!) with lychees and baked apple pie. A freshness fades revealing some old school vanilla
In the mouth: Vanilla-led, perhaps as expected, but the coconut and chocolate come through still with quince jelly, green apples and some hints of brandy, hazelnut praline. A medium to heavy texture, wonderful active maturation on display here: a robust spirit carrying full flavours. Good balance and sufficient complexity. Perhaps just a bit too lively at times, if I had a quibble; but I’d take a whisky that’s alive and kicking over something that’s lived in those zombie barrels that infest the industry. Very interesting.
High Coast Dalvve Sherry Influence
On the nose: quite a lovely mixture of aromas here indeed; a gentle smoke, toasty more than anything else, like a heavy char, with some bright jammy notes. Then it’s tart redcurrants, barbeque meat, but a lot of high-end notes, rather than heading into, say, a more robust Smogen territory. Stewed apples. Dried oranges. Sultanas. Dried apricots. A hint of fennel. Floral notes too. Toasted almonds.
In the mouth: echoes the nose perfectly. The texture is silky, but not really full, which is unusual; almost like Pot Still mixed mash whiskies can be a bit restrained compared to the fullness of a single malt. It doesn’t coat the mouth fully, doesn’t really offer itself up; and yet I wouldn’t exactly call it thin. The flavours are absolutely spot on though, a classic range of dried fruits, raisins and sultanas, with heather honey, toffee, ginger; walnuts, olive oil. That smoke is a light touch; smoked ham, slightly umami. Yet the combination is tremendous. I’m reminded of some of the best of the Irish Redbreast brand, funnily enough. Very elegant stuff, full of flavour. I always felt the original Dalvve just lacked a little extra dimension, and these oloroso sherry casks have certainly brought that. This is a very good whisky indeed. Go for it.
Millstone 6 Year Old – That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Colour: russet. Some good wood for 6 years of age (imagine if other distilleries used good wood all the time).
On the nose: a curious note, something almost brandy-like, which gives way to an insanely-herbal note: cardamom, cumin, crushed parsley. Heather honey. Stewed apples. Cinnamon. Sultanas – perhaps fruit cake. Orange marmalade. But then it’s herb-tastic again. Honestly, it’s madness.
In the mouth: gorgeous, rounded texture – something I appreciate greatly – then we’re into the stewed apple territory first, a drizzle of golden syrup and cinnamon. Quite autumnal. Sundried tomatoes and olives, flashes of umami, moving back and forth with the sweeter dried fruits. Parsley, roasted peppers. After a while, some of that madness fades; toasted nuts, Malted Milk biscuits and a touch of cranberry sauce. A slight savoury-herb wildness, but otherwise another superbly made whisky from the folks at Millstone. Do not drink this expecting some bog-standard bland vanilla-centric whisky. Here we have character.
Bruichladdich Octomore X4+10
Now a lot of you won’t be used to 70% ABV – as it happens, we taste rather a lot of this at Waterford as it comes off the stills and goes into the casks at somewhere between 71-72% ABV (of course, being so slowly distilled and with heaps of flavour in there beforehand, you don’t really notice the strength – which is dangerous – end of plug). But I went straight in at 70% for this monstrous quadruple-distilled version of that very peated, massively peated, Octomore from Bruichladdich. Strap yourselves in.
Colour: old gold.
On the nose: initially very unassuming, although there is a note that makes you think all is not normal. A slightly industrial rather than smokey note, but trapped; I get that contained note sometimes from a grain whisky or even pot still Irish. A faint hint of grain silos, unmalted barley, dormant. Baked apples, slightly fruity – which water naturally brings out. Now the curious thing here is that the peat seems very much removed and becomes slightly dirty, with coal dust. Metallic hints, nail polish remover.
In the mouth: very sharp at 70% ABV – this isn’t approachable by any means, but that first sip is always going to be surprising. However, once acclimatised, it’s immensely sweet and spicy. Deeply intense vanilla notes, custard creams, but at times as if raw sugar on the tongue. The peat is there, but behind glass somewhat; distant, disconnected. Water is vital and yet kind of takes away the flavour intensity. Clearly an experiment, clearly to challenge, but clearly not complex nor really about nuance. I didn’t like it too much – I don’t think this is exactly something with which you’d relax – though your mileage may vary. It is, though, a rather interesting specimen and well done to Bruichladdich for actually putting something different out there. You know I love you really.
The Three Drinkers Scotch Whisky 17 Year Old – Cask Selection No. 1
A release from last year, from the folks who created the jolly Amazon Prime TV series, The Three Drinkers. A very fine show indeed. Disclaimers ahoy – I had rather boozy lunch in London (remember boozy lunches?) with presenter Colin Hampden-White when he slipped me a bottle of this. In fact, it was such a fine lunch that our post-grub tasting included some outrageously old Cognac, the name of which escapes me, and some outrageously old whiskies, but it is his TV tie-in bottling that I am talking about today, a blended malt of 17 years, bottled at 45% ABV.
On the nose: lovely stem ginger note, dried apricots. Sultanas, pear drops, tinned fruit in syrup. Lots of really attractive perfumed notes: a little jasmine, cedarwood, amber, in fact you might want to wear it. Certainly makes spilling it less of a problem. Just a touch too many pencil shavings.
In the mouth: effortlessly silky. Coffee notes, with orange marmalade. Not quite tirimasu, but ball-park, with a savoury, slightly woody, dusty note that reels it in from being too sweet. Husky after a while. Cinnamon and a twist of black pepper warmth. Just a touch short on the finish, and I’d wonder just what this might be like with a slightly denser spirit. It’s the price – which was £40 on Master of Malt – that mades this one particularly silly. Good lord, it’s like the old days. You may wish to grab one of these at auction if any appear.
Golan Heights: Golani vino – 225l ex-Cabernet oak #59, 60.7% single cask
On the nose: Very fresh and creamy, almost natural yoghurt. Candle wax, slightly oily (olive oil). Strawberry jam, blackberries, slight elderberry note. Woody, fresh pencil shavings. Cedarwood. With time, slightly perfumed.
In the mouth: full of flavour, quite prickly, with blackcurrant notes, quite tannic and aggressive. But with a dash of water really becomes a delight. Berry-led: blackberry, raspberry, damsons, a little hoisin sauce; balsamic. Cinnamon, chilli pepper heat. Not much to balance it out; very much sits neatly in that quadrant of the tasting wheel.
Golan Heights: Single cask distilled 1115, bottled 0219, 225l chardonnay cask, 2nd fill, 57%
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: most interesting, very aromatic. Ripe fruit, peaches, apricots, with golden syrup, pouring honey, touch of green tea. Very vanilla with water, along with green leaves – green tomatoes. Fades to a little linseed oil, but the complexity isn’t quite here.
In the mouth: exceptionally sweet, and dangerously approachable for the ABV. Pears in syrup, muscovado sugar. Heather honey now, slightly richer. Sponge cake. Dried apricots and sultanas. With water, it shaves away much of the layers, leaving some grassiness and vanilla.
Golan Heights: Single cask distilled 1014, bottled 1018, 225l port-style, 1st fill cask, 62.1%
Colour: henna again, very dark.
On the nose: funky! Sulphur here, with huge plum portiness – blackberries, elderberries. Cranberries, glacé cherries. Candyfloss. Water really rips away a lot of the fruitiness, taming back to strawberry jam, dried oranges, raisins, but not much else.
In the mouth: that bonkersness continues, too aggressive at the ABV, the funk loitering in the glass: sickly sweet and woody, like treacle; dense elderberry, plum jam, but it’s impossible to pick apart. Water again seems to strip away the initial (quite blunt) flavours, to leave cranberries, olive oil, slight vegetative quality, roast peppers and… well not a lot else. It’s an aggresive single cask; the wood either hides or causes a flaw or two, it’s very hard to say. But the core remains sound.
St. George 2 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rye Company) – Review
This is available via Amazon for £82.90.
Still with me?
Colour: tawny, with a slightly pink hue.
On the nose: plummy, juicy, very forthcoming. Very expressive. Quite warming: tomato chutney, slightly tart, peppery, with balsamic vinegar. Hints of the greenhouse, come to think of it, and the tomatoes – green tomatoes – is a curiously dominant note. Cranberries linger, with some toasted notes, a slight nuttiness (toasted pine nuts). Minty. Rosemary. Sharp, bracing.
In the mouth: oof, what a texture. Thick and voluptuous stuff, delivering plenty of tartness and sweetness, and toastiness, in perfect harmony. A lovely herbal, savoury bitterness keeps that sweetness in check here though. Blood oranges. Tomatoes again, sweet, end of the season; damsons sauce, even Hoisin sauce, with fennel, mint and a touch of syrup. Very good indeed. Not quite there with Kyro, but this is a delicious whisky.
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