Sunday, February 21, 2010

Scotch Whisky Review: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12

The Balvenie PortWood 21 is one of my absolute favorite scotch whiskies, so I had high hopes for this much less expensive bottling. Unfortunately it did not live up to them; it's certainly not bad, but it just doesn't have a lot of virtues. I noted some cigar magazines and blogs that reviewed it favorably and pointed out that it would go very well with certain cigars. I don't doubt that, but on its own it just isn't exciting.

This whisky is aged in the usual ex-bourbon cask. I couldn't find details on The Balvenie site, but some reviews I came across claim that it spends ten years in the ex-bourbon cask and then another two years in a Oloroso sherry casks. In the glass, it has a slightly dark maple syrup or burnt orange hue. It clings well, with short legs.

To evaluate the nose, I tried for some minutes to snort up anything really complex or subtle, but there wasn't a lot there. There is some oak, possibly a hint of cedar chest, the usual malt and vanilla, a little bit of tobacco smoke, and maybe a very faint lemon peel or fresh fruit note; I was reminded just a little bit, oddly, of blueberries.

In the mouth, there is a big wave of sherry flavors; it is reminiscent of maple, and of tawny port. It's quite sweet, with a long, warm, drying finish. I prefer this one with a little water; it takes down some of the sweetness. But on the whole, this one just isn't impressive enough to really savor. I'm sure I could find a really blockbuster tawny port for the same price that would be much more complex and flavorful. So, this one only gets a 7.0, not because it has any particular vices, but because it lacks virtues.

Skimming some online reviews, I seem to be out of the mainstream in my rating of this one; other reviewers mention "walnuts" and "honeysuckle" which I could be convinced of, various flowers and spices (which I can't find at all). It's enough to make me wonder if we're really tasting the same whisky!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Scotch Whisky Review: McCelland's Single Malt Speyside

So, tonight I'm tasting a single malt scotch that differs considerably from most of the single malts I've recently tasted. McClelland's apparently bottles a range of single malts representing regions: Lowland, Islay, Highland, and Speyside. It is also unusual in that it has no age statement, and goes here in Michigan for under $25 a bottle. That makes it a phenomenal deal in a field of beverages where the more famous bottlings usually go for more than twice that.

When I first took a taste of this, I could have sworn I was drinking an Irish whisky -- it's that different. The color in the glass is a pale, grassy gold, but with a slightly darker tinge, almost reddish. It makes me wonder if it was aged in a sherry cask. It clings to the glass like an Irish whisky, with a texture that is oily, thick, and almost resinous.

On the nose, there is a nice nice vanilla and maltiness, with a little bit of the oat flavor that I think Jim Murray calls "grist," but toasted, not raw as in some of the Irish whiskies. I detect some very light peat smoke. It has those "creamy" Irish notes: banana, and a dried fruit note: raisins, figs, and possibly dried cherry. Again, I suspect a possible sherry influence, but it would be brief.

In the mouth, there is a glutinous feel, a light burn in the back of the throat, and a custard-like creaminess that is very satisfying. Add a little water to this malt, which I recommend, and some of the drier flavors come forward. There is definitely a pronounced peppermint note, and also a medicinal menthol note; that might be part of what I'm imagining is a hint of peat. It's almost like a menthol cigarette without the tobacco. That makes it sound unpleasant, but the mint and menthol are actually quite enjoyable, like a mint julep or the mint leaves in a Mojito cocktail.

McClelland's web page suggests that the nose has "mint, menthol and freshly cut pine. Traces of fine dark chocolate and a lingering sweet malt aroma." I think that's fair. Pine? Maybe... but that makes me think of Pine-Sol cleaner, not this mild and refreshing whisky. The chocolate note is faint, not like it is in the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, but present. They describe the palate as having "nougat" -- sure, that's malty and sweet and nutty -- and "brazil and hazelnut." My palate is not quite trained enough to have picked those out of thin air, but yes, those oily tree nut notes really are there, both of them. They also call it "floral," which is also accurate -- maybe just a touch of carnation or rose, but not lavender?

If I've made it sound like this whisky has big robust flavors, I'm doing it a disservice -- the flavors and aromas are actually rather mild and delicate, and reward careful sipping.

I'm going to call this one 8.5. That places it neck and neck with the Tyrconnell, beating Knappogue Castle at 8.0. I'd say it is actually slightly more refined than the Tyrconnell, which has that unusual cheesy umami note, but I'm not giving out quarter-points. It is free of unpleasant notes and has quite a few intriguing flavors. This light and sweet style is not for everyone, but if you like Irish whisky, or you prefer the lighter Scotch whiskies, I'm guessing you'll enjoy this one quite a bit. I will be keeping an eye out for McClelland's other offerings.

Update: I've seen a lot of speculation online about the actual source of this whisky. Could it possibly be an 8-year-old Macallan? I'd have to do a direct comparison. Clearly, more research is called for!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Whisky as Old as I Am

So, I have this very special bottle of scotch whisky -- a Bunnahabhain 36-year-old, distilled in 1967. That's the year I was born.

Technically, whisky is only considered as old as the time it spent aging in casks, not after it was bottled. So the whisky does not really continue to age. I wish the same could be said of people!

I got this from an online seller in Florida, through a family friend who shipped it to me. The plan is to taste it at my tenth wedding anniversary in 2011. I don't know whether this will be an excellent Bunna, or over-aged. I've read tasting notes on some bottlings from around the same time and they are mixed. Whisky can spend too long in the cask; the alcohol content starts to go down, and some of the flavors may become faded. This was, I think, aged in a sherry cask, and I'm not a huge fan of what sherry casks do for some of the Glenmorangie whiskies, but... we shall see!

Old Bunnahabhain is apparently not quite as expensive as old Highland Park. For my wife, I'm looking for a bottle of Highland Park from her birth year, which is 1973.