Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Amrut Spectrum

Amrut Spectrum is a unique whisky science experiment.

Whisky is aged in wood containers (typically called barrels, casks, or butts), usually made from some type of oak. As I explain in my Source of Whisky Flavour, the complex interaction with wood over time imparts a lot of the main characteristics to the final product.

But there is more than just time involved. The barrels can be made of different types of oak, which affects the final flavour. And they may be virgin wood (with the internal surface potentially charred to varying levels), or used barrels having previously contained other spirits (e.g. various types of fortified wine, other whiskies, etc.). The whisky can be transferred from one type of cask into another during aging, to introduce additional flavours (referred to as “finishing”). In the end, it can be bottled from a single cask – but more commonly, it is from a vatting of multiple casks (often including different cask styles).

Amrut Spectrum is something unique – a true single cask, yet reflecting multiple sources of wood. The base spirit spent 3 years in traditional ex-Bourbon oak barrels before being transferred into a single custom barrel for another 3.5 years.  This unique custom barrel was built using the staves of 5 different kinds of barrels: new American Oak with moderate charring, new French Oak with light toasting, new Spanish Oak with light toasting, ex-Oloroso Sherry staves, and ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry staves.

In case you are wondering about the young age, the hot and humid climate of India results in accelerated aging compared to cool climes (at least for many of the characteristics of wood aging). See my Amrut Fusion review for a discussion.

Diluted to 50% ABV, only 1000 bottles of Amrut Spectrum were produced from this single barrel. I managed to pick one of these up in my travels.

Here is how it compares to other Amruts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.75 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels: 9.29 ± 0.30 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.93 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.61 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.99 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.80 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, Spectrum gets the second highest score for an Amrut whisky, second only to Greedy Angels.

Here is how it compares to some other single malts in flavour cluster C (i.e., complex whiskies that are not heavily winey or peaty):

Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 17yo Doublewood: 8.72 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.26 ± 0.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glengoyne 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.41 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo: 8.86 ± 0.19 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Companta: 8.85 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki 18yo: 9.16 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)

Spectrum is holding pretty close to the Highland Park 18 yo and Yamazaki 18 yo, which are among the top whiskies in this class.

Let’s see what I found in the glass. To start, the colour is more rosewood than the typical mahogany of sherry cask-aged tropical whiskies.

Nose: Incredibly complex, and a study in contrasts – dry at times, yet also juicy, with a lot going on. On the fruit side, mainly plums, figs, raisins and oranges (plus a few mixed berries, including strawberry). Milk chocolate and cocoa powder. Earthy, with dry tobacco and fresh leather. Woody without being “oaky” – more like polished hardwood. Soft wood spice, coffee and bit of pepper. A faint hint of glue (but this is not objectionable).

Palate: Getting it all here. The sweet sherried fruitness of the nose kicks in first (plus some apple and pear now), but then quickly transitions to a more dry oaky mix. The oak definitely seems more prominent on the palate than the nose. Some sweet tropical fruits show up. Cinnamon sticks and nutmeg add to the spice and cocoa powder. Then on to moist earth and a bit of anise. Finally, and some mixed nuts – and that classic fortified wine rancio taste. What a ride! Thick and rich mouthfeel – luxurious, you just want to hold it in your mouth. No bitterness, but a slight sourness comes in at the end.

Finish: Long and lingering.  A good mix of dried fruit and wood spice, with a bit of chocolate orange. More sourness than bitterness. Slightly drying. A touch of cola comes up at the end. Very nice.

amrut-spectrumThis is genuinely hard to describe – so much is going on here. The closest comparison I can think of is a blend of the various Kavalan Solist single casks – but the Spectrum isn’t as drying, and is a bit sweeter than most. I suppose you could also think of it as a cross between an aged single cask Glendronach and one of their cask-strength vattings (but less sherried overall).

In essence, what you are getting here is the quality of a top-pick single cask AND the wide variety of flavours that can come from multiple types of wood finishing or selected vatting. In my experience, vattings of multiple wood finishes tend to lose some distinctiveness. But the Spectrum keeps each of these individual components, in good measure. The flavours truly come in waves, making this a unique and quality experience.

But don’t take my word for it. Thomas of Whisky Saga and Serge of Whisky Fun are both very positive for this whisky.  There are a couple of good reviews on Reddit, by Devoz and shane_il.  A bit more tempered (but still very positive) are Jason of In Search of Elegance and Oliver of Dramming/PourMeAnotherOne. Hopefully Amrut repeats this experiment so that more can try a bottle.

 

Old Weller Antique Original 107 Bourbon

The Weller line of wheated bourbons are extremely popular these days, thanks in part to their close relation to the infamous Van Winkle family of bourbons.

Bourbon is mandated by law to be at least 51% corn in the mashbill. Rye grain is the most common secondary ingredient in most bourbons, for flavouring. But Weller and the Van Winkles are examples of “wheaters”, where wheat is used as the main flavouring component. This tends to bring in a softer, more creamy sweetness and fruitness, compared to the “spicier” rye flavours.

Both the Weller and Van Winkle brands were originally owned by Stitzel-Weller, and both are currently owned Sazerac (produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery). There are four varieties of Weller: Special Reserve, Antique 107, 12 Year Old, and William Larue Weller. I’ll talk more about the Van Winkles in an upcoming review, but I thought I would start off this series with a review of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof.

Old Weller Antique (OWA) is essentially the same thing as their entry-level Special Reserve – except that it is bottled at a higher proof (107, or 53.5% ABV). Both of these bourbons used to carry an age statement – they no longer do, but they are still believed to be ~6-7 years old. OWA is not quite as widely available as Special Reserve, but it is not as hard to find as the rest of the line (a discussion for another review).

While on the topic, OWA should be pretty comparable in style to the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo. The only difference is the age and barrel selection – otherwise, it is the same mashbill, distilled and aged in the same manner (and location), and cut to the same 107 proof. I’ll be reviewing that Van Winkle in an upcoming review.

Let’s see how OWA compares to other Wellers (and younger Van Winkles) in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.49 0.36 10 reviews ($)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.04 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.16 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)

It gets a respectable score for this family, intermediate to the Weller Special Reserve and 12 yo, as you might expect.

Now, let’s see how OWA compares to other entry-level bourbons:

Ancient Age: 7.64 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.15 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam White Label: 7.62 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
Rebel Yell: 7.44 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
Very Old Barton: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 81: 8.12 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.74 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)

OWA gets one of the best scores for its price class. If you can find it at the standard price, it would seem to be an excellent choice.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, like vanilla icing on a caramel cake.  Light honey with hints of marzipan and whipped cream. Cherry. A bit of nutmeg. Unfortunately, it also has a general solvent smell which detracts for me. This likely reflects its young age.

Palate: Caramel comes first, followed by an extreme honey sweetness, which then fades back to that caramel after a few seconds. Fruits come next, mainly dark berries and some prunes and plums. Oak is in the background here. Has a silky texture (I’d say almost velvety). This is a hot one (ethanol heat), consistent with its 53.5% ABV – although it can still be drunk neat easily enough.

Finish: Medium. Oak comes through now, as well as some slow, lingering fruit. Brown sugar sweetness shows up now too.

owa-107Consistent with its reported 6-7 years, this is not a particularly complex bourbon. You are not getting a lot of oak here (beyond the usual caramel/vanilla), nor are you getting much in the way of the typical rye baking spices (as expected).

But for a fairly standard profile, it is done well. I often find wheaters a bit too sweet for me, with an almost artificial tinge. But there is at least none of that here – the sweetness is like all-natural honey, sprinkled with brown sugar.

It seems like an excellent value for the price. And given the higher proof, would likely be great in mixed drinks. For me personally, the solvent aromas bring it down a peg, and so I would score it just a bit lower than the Meta-Critic average.

For reviews of this bourbon, Josh of the Whiskey Jug is a big fan, as is Jim Murray. Most of the bourbon reviewers on the Reddit Whisky Network are similarly very positive (see for example Texacer and LetThereBeR0ck). There is also Eric of Breaking Bourbon. You don’t come across many negative reviews of this bourbon, but guys at Quebec Whisky are bit more moderate than those above.

Suntory Toki

Suntory Toki is an unusual release. With the overwhelming demand for Japanese whisky in recent years, all the major Japanese distillers have moved the bulk of their core lines to new no-age-statement (NAS) expressions. As a result, it is rare to see classic age-statement expressions outside of Asia. See for example my review of Hibiki Harmony from late last year.

But Toki is something a bit different. Rather than a NAS of an established line, this is a brand new entry-level blended whisky – and one that is specific for the North American market.

As usual, this blend contains whiskies from Suntory’s two malt distilleries – Hakushu and Yamazaki – and its “heavy grain” Chita distillery. While most blends have historically been weighed toward Yamazaki malt, Suntory confirms that Hakushu malt (aged in American white oak) is the first “pillar” supporting this whisky. The second is grain whisky from Chita.  Yamazaki malt is only a minor component, and is coming from both American white oak and Spanish oak. So, no classic Japanese Mizunara oak is in here.

As expected from that sort of mix, this is a light-tasting whisky, suitable for drinking neat and for those who enjoy highballs or scotch-and-sodas. It is interesting to me that they have chosen to release a highball-style light whisky exclusively to North America – although all is welcomed, given how Japanese whisky has gotten exceedingly scarce here.

Here is how it compares to some other entry-level Japanese blends and grain whiskies:

Hibiki Harmony: 8.40 ± 0.61 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Kakubin (Suntory Whisky): 8.14 ± 0.86 on 4 reviews ($$)
Kirin 50% Blend (Fuji Gotemba): 8.35 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.57 ± 0.50 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Gold & Gold: 8.16 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Super: 7.98 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Old Whisky: 8.29 ± 0.32 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.24 ± 0.63 on 5 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 8.01 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$)

Given its restricted geography, there are not a lot of reviews for this whisky yet. But as you can see from above, the current 8.24 on 5 reviews puts it about typical for this class of blended Japanese whisky. But it shows higher than usual variance, suggesting a wide range of reviewer opinions on Toki.

Now available at the LCBO for $60 CAD, Suntory Toki is lightly coloured, and bottled at 43% ABV. It comes in an unusual brick-shaped glass bottle (with screw cap).

Nose: Honey is the predominant characteristic, followed by green grapes, green apples and a touch of coconut. Gummy bears. Slightly floral, with fresh hay and a bit of oaky vanilla. A slight hint of old sweat socks detracts, but it is very mild. No alcohol burn.

Palate: Similar fruits to the above, but some added pear and lychee fruit. Definite ginger now. A bit perfumy, but with a good oaky core. Has a classic blended whisky mouthfeel, with the grain whisky spreading over the tongue. Also a bit of tongue tingle, which is unusual. Feels like a predominantly grain blend (but a quality one).

suntory-tokiFinish: Short to medium. Some lingering sweetness, like slightly flat ginger ale. A bit citrusy. No bitterness or off-putting after-tastes, crisp and clean.

As usual, I only checked the official notes and production history for this whisky after compiling my own tasting notes above. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a close concordance (and this is the first time I’ve ever detected green grapes :). I would also have predicted largely Hakushu malt and Chita grain as the principle components of this whisky, consistent with what Suntory reports.

While not as complex as other Suntory offerings, it has some interesting notes and is pretty flawless for this type of blended scotch-style whisky. I would consider it a mid-range blend, similar to some of the Compass Box offerings (and higher quality than the current Meta-Critic score indicates). Certainly an easy recommendation for a “light” whisky at this price point at the LCBO. But do try the Hibiki Harmony if you are interested in a more typical Japanese blended profile, with more flavour.

Nathan the ScotchNoob has a positive review of Suntory Toki.  André and Patrick at Quebec Whisky are both negative on this whisky.  While waiting for further reviews, you could check out some of the ones on the Reddit whisky review network – I recommend the ones posted by Tarquin_Underspoon and Lasidar.  Again, early reviews are very variable on this whisky.  I’m sure there will be more to come.

 

Amrut Intermediate Sherry

Amrut Intermediate Sherry is not particularly well-known – which is a shame, given the quality of this distinctive single malt.

Amrut Distilleries is the first Indian single malt whisky-maker.  A number of their recent expressions have won major International awards. As a result – and like Japan and Taiwan before them – they have now become quite popular with Scotch malt whisky aficionados.

I have previously reviewed one of their more entry level malts, the lightly-peated Amrut Fusion. Please see that review for more background information on Amrut, and on the challenges of maturing whisky in a hot and humid environment.

For Amrut Intermediate Sherry, the distilled spirit starts off in a mix of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks. It then gets transferred into sherry casks before going back into bourbon casks to complete its final maturation (hence the “intermediate sherry” name). Note that while there is not a lot of information about this distinctive process online, the product label inside my box specifically states that the whisky is transferred into “Spanish ex-Oloroso sherry butts” for one year. I will come back to this point later at the end of my review.

Amrut Intermediate Sherry is bottled at cask-strength, 57.1% ABV in this case. It is obviously not chill-filtered, and I believe no artificial colouring is used. My bottle is from batch 20 (2015).

Here is how it compares to other similar cask-strength single malts in my Meta-Critic Database:

Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.93 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.99 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.85 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.91 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 5): 8.87 ± 0.11 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.59 ± 0.55 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 9.02 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.14 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.97 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.89 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Yamazaki Sherry Cask (all vintages): 9.07 ± 0.30 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

Here is what I find in the glass:

Color: Rich golden/orangey brown. You can see the effect of ex-bourbon and sherry cask aging.

Nose: Rich nose, bringing in both moist earth and dried tobacco. Very sweet, with heavy raisin and grape overtones, along with blueberries and tropical fruits like banana and kiwis. Chocolate fudge and vanilla cake. This is not your typical Oloroso sherry-finished single malt. Surprisingly, not much ethanol singe despite the high ABV.

Palate: The berry notes from the nose are accentuated, with blackberry and red currants joining the strong blueberry presence. I get a definite impression of blueberry-banana pancakes with maple syrup! Surprising kick of rye spices, particularly cinnamon and all-spice, plus a bit of anise (black licorice) and pepper. Very spicy overall – I’m guessing most of this must be coming from the oak casks. Creamy mouthfeel, but with a drying effect over time. This moist earth/syrupy/astringent combo reminds me of some of the Kavalan fortified wine-finished casks. Water brings up the sweeter port-like grape flavours.

Finish:  Medium long. Sweet wood notes, like hickory (but not as smokey). Lingering fruit, like left-over blueberry pie crust. There is a drying astringency, and a bit of bitterness creeps in over time (but it is not excessive, and water helps here too). A touch of that classic nutty rancio aroma from fortified wines shines through.

amrut-intermediate-sherryThe blueberry experience is really wild here – I can’t say I’ve ever come across this much of it before. But this is definitely not your typical dry Oloroso sherry-finished expression.  Indeed, I’d say it tastes more like a mix of various fortified wines – including both sherry and port – went into finishing this one.

Trusting my taste buds, I decided to look into its background a little further. I eventually found this Business Standard article where the Amrut VP of production specified that they used “400-litre sherry ‘butts’ imported from Spain and Portugal” (emphasis mine).  If this quote is accurate, it would suggest that they mean “sherry” in only a very loose sense – and are in fact incorporating some port casks in the intermediate step.  That would certainly help to explain the classic Portuguese port-like flavours that I am getting here, along with the classic Oloroso sherry and ex-bourbon cask finishing.

Personally, I slightly prefer the Amrut Intermediate Sherry over the Amrut Portonova – which is a classic cask-strength, pure port-finished single malt (and one that I plan to review soon). The Intermediate Sherry probably handles water a bit better as well – it helps bring out some additional flavours, without taking anything away.

For other reviews, Serge of Whisky Fun and Jim Murray both really loved this one (how often does that happen?), as did Thomas of Whisky Saga. Ruben of Whisky Notes, John of Whisky Advocate and Nathan the ScotchNoob both gave moderately positive reviews. The boys of Quebec Whisky were very variable on this one, with Patrick giving it quite a low score.

 

Writers Tears Irish Pot Still Whiskey

Writerṣ Tears is an unusual Irish whiskey.  Classically, the Irish method is to triple-distill malted and unmalted barley together, in a single copper pot still. This is known as a Single Pot Still whiskey. But most entry-level Irish whiskey is actually a blend of single pot still whiskey and cheaper-to-produce grain whiskey (i.e., much like a blended Scotch whisky, except with single pot instead of single malt).

Writers Tears is priced similarly to some entry-level Irish blends, but is actually a vatting of 60% malt whiskey and 40% single pot still whiskey, all distilled in copper pots. This is an unusual pairing, and is likely to be more flavourful than a typical Irish blended whiskey.

The name reflects a fanciful association of this style of malt/pot still Irish whiskey and writers’ inspiration. It has been said that they enjoyed it so much, that when they cried, their tears were of whiskey. 😉

Writers Tears is sourced from a “Cork distillery” (read: Midleton). It is aged in American Oak bourbon casks, and bottled at 40% ABV. It is currently $50 CAD at the LCBO.

Here is how it compares to some typical Irish blends at this price point:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.69 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.37 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$)
Green Spot: 8.46 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.81 ± 0.55 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.32 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$)
Jameson Signature Reserve: 8.40 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.60 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.88 ± 0.48 on 10 reviews ($$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch: 8.24 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.75 ± 0.39 on 15 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.48 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.77 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Writers Tears is clearly one of the best values for the price in this class (i.e., has the highest score for the $$ price class of Irish whiskeys).  This is particularly impressive, given that it is close to the overall average rating across my entire Whisky Database (~8.54).

I recently sampled this from a friend’s bottle, newly opened for the evening.

Nose: Crisp orchard fruit, with green apples, pears, and plums.  Light honey sweetness. Fragrant camphor/eucalyptus aroma, which is distinctive. Unfortunately, there is also a fairly strong organic solvent smell, mainly acetone (i.e., nail polish remover). If not for the latter, this would be a lovely nose. May fade once the bottle has been opened for awhile.

Palate: Same fruits as the nose, along with a touch of green banana now. Not really floral, but I am getting a dried hay note. Vanilla, butterscotch and a touch of baking spice (mild – maybe nutmeg). Still with the eucalyptus, moving more into sweet menthol. Unfortunately, this still brings with it echoes of that solvent – it seems like the two are somewhat inseparable. No real burn from the ethanol, easy to sip.

writers-tearsFinish: Medium. I suppose you could describe it as gently warming. Slightly sweet up front, dries to a more astringent effect.

I haven’t come across this much eucalyptus since the Swedish malt whisky, Mackmyra First Edition. Unfortunately, I can’t really separate it from the solvent aroma, which drags down Writers Tears to a below average score from me personally (although still close to the Meta-Critic average). This is an easy to sip whisky, more flavourful than your typical Irish budget blend.

I think it makes a very good introduction to the lighter Irish pot still style, as it still has a decent amount of flavour. I don’t have a lot of experience of this malt/pot still class, but Writers Tears strikes me as very Midleton-like in its profile (not surprisingly).

For reviews of this whisky, Jim Murray, Tone of Whisky Saga, and Serge of Whisky Fun are all very positive.  Ralfy is also generally supportive (and has an amusing backstory for his review).  Somewhat less positive reviews include Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer and the guys at Quebec Whisky.

Glengoyne Cask Strength – Batch 4

Glengoyne is a Scottish distillery that straddles the traditional border between Highland and Lowland regions. Technically, I believe their stills are located north of the imaginary line, and their maturing facilities are to the south. They don’t use any peat for drying their barley, and are thus probably closer stylistically to the typical lowland producers.

They are also known for their reliance on sherry casks for maturation.  That is not to say all their expressions are “sherry bombs”, but you can typically detect a consistent sherry flavour motif running across their lines.

They used to produce a 12 year old cask strength single malt, but this was replaced a few years ago with a no-age-statement version, prepared in defined batches. As with the GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 4/5 recently reviewed, you can expect some variability from batch to batch. For this review, I have a sample from a recently acquired batch 4 bottle – brought back from the distillery by a colleague of mine.

Glengoyne reports that the composition of this whisky is 20% first-fill European oak sherry casks, 10% first-fill American oak sherry casks, and 70% oak refill casks. It is not chill-filtered, no colouring is added, and is bottled at cask strength (58.8% ABV in the case of batch 4).

Here is how it compares to other Glengoynes, and similar cask-strength whiskies in the Meta-Critic Database:

Glengoyne Cask Strength (batch 1): 8.74 ± 0.47 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (batch 2): 8.69 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (batch 3): 8.49 ± 0.81 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.58 ± 0.15 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.61 ± 0.48 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.22 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 12yo Cask Strength: 8.57 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 12yo: 8.50 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 15yo: 8.47 ± 0.54 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 17yo: 8.44 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)

Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.85 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.09 ± 0.12 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 1): 9.06 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 2): 9.05 ± 0.09 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 3): 9.02 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.91 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 5): 8.87 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.14 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.89 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.02 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

There is an unusually high variance in scores across most batches of the Glengoyne Cask Strength. The number of reviews are low across batches, but it seems like there are higher differences of opinion than usual. There also seems to be a trend toward lower scores over subsequent batches, but that is hard to tell for certain – the numbers are low, and I have few examples of repeated batch testing by individual reviewers.

Here is what I find in the glass, for batch 4:

Nose: Intense dark brown sugar, almost Demerara level.  Maple sugar too – so sweet, I can imagine the crunchy sugar crystals. A bit of cream thrown in. Mixed berry compote, with a pastry note (berry crumble). Figs and raisins, but not very pronounced. Oat cakes. A bit of alcohol singe (which water oddly doesn’t help). A nose for baked fruit lovers!

Palate: More fruit shows up now – apple, pear, and peaches – none of which I detected on the nose. And even more raisins and sultanas, very ripe and juicy. Cinnamon toast. Peppery kick. Rich mouthfeel, somewhat buttery. You can feel the higher ABV, but it doesn’t need much water to tame it – I recommend just a few drops.

glengoyne-caskstrengthFinish:  Medium long. The buttery oak flavours linger a good while, along with cinnamon and a stronger white pepper presence. Pancake syrup sweetness initially, but bitterness comes in over time, and builds over sips, which detracts for me personally.

A real dessert dram, with all its sweet fruit, brown sugar, and baked-goods notes. As an aside, I checked the producer’s tasting notes after finishing my own above, and was pleasantly surprised to find such a close concurrence. Didn’t notice any banana initially, but I can kind of see that too.

I initially thought I would rank this one higher than some of the equivalent age-statement Glengoynes, as the Cask Strength benefits from the higher ABV. But I don’t like the lingering bitterness in the finish, which increasingly detracts for me as I sip it. In the end, I think the Meta-Critic average score for batch 4 (and all batches overall) is fair.

But I can see why reviews of this whisky would be so variable – while some might like the punch it packs, it is likely going to be too sweet for others. Nathan the Scotch Noob has just posted a review of batch 4. Although of the previous batch 3, André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky neatly encapsulate the widely differing opinions of this whisky. Otherwise, Serge of Whisky Fun was very enthusiastic for batch 1, and only slightly less so for batch 2. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives a typical score for batch 2. Redditor xile_ gives a low-normal score for batch 4.

 

Gouden Carolus – Belgian Single Malt

On a recent trip to Belgium, I had the opportunity to sample an unusual offering – a new single malt whisky from a respected local beer producer: the Gouden Carolus single malt.

Gouden Carolus is a beer brand made by the Het Anker brewery in Mechelen, Belgium.  The Gouden Carolus Classic is actually one my favourite Belgian “brown” beers, although this new single malt whisky is distilled from the mash of Gouden Carolus Tripel, a pale malt beer. Belgian tripel beers use three times the typical amount of malt, combined with high fermentation (so they pack quite a kick).

The pure Tripel beer mash (without the hops and extra aromatics) is distilled in copper pot stills at the brewery. It is initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with some further finishing in custom-made Het Anker casks. There is no age statement for the final whisky, but it is believed to be 3 years old. Refreshingly, it is not chill-filtered, no colouring is added, and it is bottled at a respectable 46% ABV.

There are not a lot of reviews for this whisky, as it is not commonly available outside of Belgium (yet). The 500mL bottle retails for 40, or $60 CAD, in local shops.

Here is how it compares in my database to some other young malt whiskies from outside of Scotland:

Amrut Single Malt (India): 8.37 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Balcones Texas Single Malt (USA): 8.72 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
FEW Single Malt (USA): 8.45 ± 0.51 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Gouden Carolus (Belgium): 8.00 ± 0.21 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo (Canada): 8.05 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt (Taiwan): 8.41 ± 0.52 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt (Ireland): 7.97 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Sweden): 8.66 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.89 ± 0.72 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Legend (Wales): 7.46 ± 0.93 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Aur Cymru (Wales): 7.69 ± 0.61 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
St George’s Chapter 6 (England): 8.23 ± 0.48 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Malt (Ireland): 8.46 ± 0.36 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt (Ireland): 8.13 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$)

I was lucky enough to get a generous free sample of this single malt at The Bottle Shop liquor store in Bruges, on street just off of the Grote Markt. Here is what I found in the glass:

Colour:  “Gouden” apparently means golden in Dutch, and I can believe it. Hard to believe no colourant was added, as this is exactly the shade most distillers try to make their whisky.

Nose: Incredibly fruity nose, but heavily candied (i.e., fruit gummies). Really took me by surprise, and brought me back to my childhood. Otherwise, cherries, peaches, and a touch of green apple – there is a slight sourness that balances out the candied sweetness. Malty, with Scottish oat cakes and Arrowroot biscuits. Vanilla and some anise (black licorice). A touch of acetone and definite ethanol burn (consistent with the young age), but not as bad as I was expecting for a 3 yo. Pleasantly surprised.

Palate: The same fruity candy and malty biscuits notes as the nose, without much else coming through I’m afraid. Maybe a bit of caramel now, to complement the vanilla.  Otherwise, seems rather thin – and very grain alcohol hot.  The young age is really showing through here, with typical roughness. Water may help, but I didn’t have any to add.

goudencarolusFinish: Medium length. It actually lasts longer than I would have expected, given the youthful grain alcohol sensation in the mouth. The fruity character disappears quickly, and you are left mainly with the oak-driven caramels and vanilla. A touch peppery too, which I like.

This one really impressed me on the nose, but then turned into the expected youthful disappointment in the mouth.  Still, very respectful quality for the young age.  If Het Anker can give this a few more years in quality barrels, they are likely to have a nice sipper on their hands.

Although based on few reviews, I think the current Meta-Critic score is fair.  For some online reviews of this whisky, I recommend you check out Ruben of Whisky Notes, Jonny of Whisky Advocate, and Joel and Annibel of Whisky Magazine.

 

BenRiach 15 Year Old Tawny Port

BenRiach has recently announced a new 21 year old Tawny Port expression, apparently to replace the current 15 yo Tawny port-finished single malt in their core line-up.  As such, I figured it was about time I write up my review of this one, before it disappears off the shelves for good.

Port is a Portugeuse fortified wine, and comes in sweet, dry and semi-dry forms. I’ve even had white port, which is distinctive. I am typically a fan of port finishes for malt whisky, as I find it adds slightly sweet grape notes to the basic malt profile. Tawny port in particular is typically sweet (or medium dry), and often somewhat “nutty”.

As I mentioned in my 12 Year Old Matured in Sherry Wood review, BenRiach typically has a fairly gentle base spirit. This makes it well suited to fortified wine barrel finishing, in my view.  Here are how some of the typical BenRiach expressions compare:

BenRiach 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.69 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 15yo Sauternes Finish: 8.11 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.51 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Septendecim Peated: 8.51 ± 0.57 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port: 8.90 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

And now some other port-finished whiskies:

Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.54 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.32 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Port Cask: 8.64 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.57 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

BenRiach 15 Tawny Port is certainly within the typical range of other port-finished expressions (although at the low end of them).

I had a glass of the BenRiach 15 Year Old Tawny Port from a recently opened bottle at a bar here in Ontario.  It was my only drink that night, so I took my time with it.  Here’s what I found in the glass.

Nose: Sweet, as I would expect for a tawny port. Main fruits are raisins and grapes (doh!), with some subtler lighter fruits like apple. Net effect is sort of like a grape jam. Milk chocolate. I also get dry, musty woody notes, like sawdust. No off-putting solvent notes or alcohol singe (surprisingly mild, in fact).

Palate: Fruit jammy, but with less distinct fruits now. Milk chocolate again, and even more musty oak. Pepper, producing some tongue tingle. Chewy mouthfeel, even a bit syrupy. It’s a great malt to hold in your mouth – you don’t want to swallow.  Somewhat tannic and tart once you do, though. Fairly simple in composition, without much influence from the base spirit it seems.

Finish: Medium finish. Oaky bitterness present throughout, as it has been all along.  Surprisingly astringent. Nothing really unpleasant though, just a simple and gentle fade-out. Reminds me a lot of Kavalan Concertmaster.

Benriach.15.TawnyThe BenRiach 15 Tawny Port Wood Finish is an easy-drinking whisky, in much same the category as of the Kavalan Concertmaster. It has less character on the nose though, earning it a lower score in my books (although it does about the same or better with many reviewers). There’s nothing to particularly recommend BenRiach 15 Tawny Port over other port-finishes, but not much to complain about either.  I’m curious to see if the extra aging in the new 21 year old version brings up anything new.

Some of the highest scores that I’ve seen for this 15 yo expression come from the folks at Quebec Whisky (André and Patrick in particular).  Personally, I’m somewhat closer to Martin and Eli (Elisabeth) in my rating. Richard at the Whiskey Reviewer is similarly moderately positive, as is Jim Murray. End of the day, this is a decent dram, but nothing to get too excited about in my view.

Kavalan Sherry Oak

I’ve covered a few Kavalan single malts now, including one of their higher-end single cask offerings, the Solist Sherry Cask.

Kavalan also offers both the Solist Bourbon Cask and Solist Sherry Cask in a vatted format, known as the Kavalan Ex-Bourbon Oak and Sherry Oak, respectively.  Interestingly, these batch versions are available at both cask-strength (typically ~54-59%, like the single casks Solists) and at a reduced 46% ABV.

Supposedly, these two “oak” brands are vatted from the exact same type of casks used for the Solist series. But it stands to reason that they probably cherry-pick the best casks for the single cask offerings, and vat the rest. Note that all the “oak” series variants are hard to come by outside of Asia.

Here is how the various Kavalan bottlings compare in my Whisky Database.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.14 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 9.08 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.72 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.32 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.42 ± 0.54 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.39 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

The single cask offerings consistently outperform the vatted malts. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough reviews of the ex-Bourbon Oak to compare here. But to give you an idea for the sherried malts, here are how some of the GlenDronach single casks compare to vatted bottlings:

GlenDronach vintage 20yo Single Cask: 9.05 ± 0.44 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach vintage 19yo Single Cask: 8.97 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Allardice: 8.70 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 21yo Parliament: 8.68 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.92 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 5): 8.88 ± 0.11 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

You can see a similar pattern, whereby the single cask offerings typically out-perform the vatted age expressions, or NAS cask-strength batches.

For this review, I have a 50mL sample bottle of the 46% Kavalan Sherry Oak that I picked up during my travels. Bottling code is 2015.01.31 15:50. The bottle came in a cardboard box, and so was protected from light.

In terms of appearance, the Sherry Oak is not as dark as my Solist Sherry Cask (as you might expect due the additional water). But it still has a rich reddish gold colour.

Nose: Typical sweet sherry bomb opening, with classic figs, raisins, prunes, and a few red fruits (including strawberry). Also shows more pronounced tropical fruit notes than I usually get from Kavalan (like kiwis and papayas). Cocoa powder and black licorice. The vegetal notes – present on many Kavalan whiskies – are pronounced here. There is a distinct solvent smell that detracts for me personally. A touch of alcohol singe as well (oddly, more than I detected on my cask-strength Sherry Solist).

Palate: Oily, but not as thick as the almost resinous Solist. Definitely fruity, with the tropical notes being most prominent (which I like). A fair amount of vanilla now, as well as the classic pancake syrup noted in my previous review. The vegetal notes run more toward autumn leaves on the ground than the moist earth I detected on the Solist. Sweet cinnamon. A bit of bitterness comes in at the end.

Finish: Medium length. The sweetness continues the longest, but there is a slight artificial tinge to it. Some cinnamon still. The bitterness from the end of the palate also continues as well (not uncommon on many sherry bombs).  Decent, but disappointing compared to my Solist cask.

Kavalan.Sherry.OakThis whisky tastes like I would expect – a slightly watered-down version of the Solist Sherry Cask (and likely from an inferior selection of casks).  That is not to say it is bad. Indeed, this strikes me as a fairly “typical” sherry bomb in many ways. If I had a sample at cask-strength, I would probably put it on par with the Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 4/5 that I reviewed recently. If you have the option between the two, I recommend picking up the Sherry Oak at cask-strength (typically only available in Asia, though).

While this is a good introduction to the Kavalan sherry character, you may want to jump right to the Solist if you can find it at a reasonable price.  When you have sampled outstanding single cask expressions from Glendronach or Kavalan, the vatted whiskies don’t quite compare.

Reviews of this whisky are hard to come by, but do check out Dominic at Whisky Advocate, and Serge of Whisky Fun. Serge in particular seems to have lucked out with a particularly excellent batch.

 

Amrut Fusion

Amrut is a very popular single malt whisky maker from India.  Yes, you heard that last part right. As discussed in my earlier Kavalan (Taiwan) reviews, you can actually make excellent malt whisky in hot and humid tropical environments.

Wood barrel aging is a complex thing, with many different processes occurring simultaneously (see my Source of Whisky’s Flavour article for more info). A lot of these can be accelerated by temperature – although not all, and not uniformly. One key difference is that hot and humid environments increase both water and alcohol evaporation (respectively), leading to a greater combined “angel’s share” over time. This differs from traditional malt whisky matured in relatively cold and damp Scotland (which preferentially favours the loss of alcohol over water, and more slowly over time).

The end result is that barrel aging is largely accelerated in hot and humid climates, and thus Indian whiskys (like Taiwanese ones) are typically bottled very young. As such, don’t expect to see age statements on any Amrut malt whisky – it would be very misleading, relative to our typical Scottish age “calibration.”

Fusion is one of Amrut’s most popular entry-level single malts.  Unusually, it is a mixture of 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% unpeated Indian malt (both distilled independently). The combined product was then matured in a combination of new and used American oak barrels at the Amrut distillery in Bangalore. As a result, you can expect a lightly-peated malt whisky – but one with many of the “tropical” fruit flavours common to Indian whisky.

As an aside, my initial exposure to Amrut was their basic Indian Single Malt expression – which is pure Indian barley, matured in a mix of new and old American oak. Personally, I am not a fan of that one – I find it too sweet, almost like a banana liqueur. Let’s see how the Fusion does instead. I obtained a sample through a swap with 89Justin on Reddit.

First, the Meta-Critic scores:

Amrut 100 Peated: 8.91 ± 0.37 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.66 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Single Malt: 8.37 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$$)

Ardmore Traditional Cask: 8.51 ± 0.23 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.36 ± 0.23 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.65 ± 0.22 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.01 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Ledaig 10yo: 8.21 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.81 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.92 ± 0.19 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

I’ve focused on many of the classic lightly-peated (flavour cluster I) whiskies from my database above. As you can see from the mean scores, Amrut Fusion is extensively reviewed, and does very well in comparison. It’s also typically a good value (~$80-$85 CAD at the LCBO in Ontario, or SAQ in Quebec)

And now my tasting notes:

Nose: Red-skinned fruits, especially currants and plum, followed by tropical banana, pineapple, and guava. Definite smoke, but more campfire-style than peaty. Vanilla and brown sugar. Malty, with a faint yeasty smell.  Also a touch of glue, unfortunately.  Definitely complex and distinctive, a nice mix of aromas.

Palate: Red fruits again, and some citrus now (orange). The caramel and vanilla picks up, as do the classic rye baking spices (especially all spice). Some tongue tingle and a bit of burn (likely due to the 50% ABV). Smoke is still there, and complimented by some dry peat. Slightly oily mouthfeel, with a good substantial weight.

Amrut.FusionFinish: Fairly long. Lingering orange and berry sweetness, plus some artificial sweetness (banana candies?). Otherwise, lots of extinguished smoke on the way out, which makes for a nice finish.

This was a pleasant surprise after the basic Amrut Indian Single Malt.  While I get the same tropical fruit notes here (especially banana), they are not as overwhelming. Given that Fusion is typically only typically ~$10 more, I strongly recommend you skip right over to this one.

In some ways, Fusion reminds me of a tropical fruit version of Highland Park – lightly peated, with loads of fruit flavour. It is probably a bit sweeter up front, and the character of the peat is bit different, but I expect fans of the classic HP style would appreciate this Indian malt as well.

Amrut Fusion is an extensively reviewed whisky, with a fairly consistent above-average ranking from most reviewers.  At the lower end (but still positive) are Serge of Whisky Fun, Oliver of Pour Me Another One, and Ruben of Whisky Notes.  At the high end are Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jim Murray (96 score), and Josh the The Whiskey Jug. More typical are Nathan the Scotch Noob, and the boys at Quebec Whisky.

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