Tag Archives: Sherry

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.

Springbank 18 Year Old

As mentioned in my recent review of the entry-level Springbank 10 year old, this Campbeltown distiller still performs the entire production process – from malting through to bottling – on site. They release lightly-peated offerings under the Springbank label, and also produce heavily-peated malt whisky (as Longrow), and peat-free malt whisky (as Hazelburn).

The Springbank 18 year old is a popular expression among enthusiasts, having a garnered a number of awards. My sample is from the second batch, and is courtesy of the redditor xile_. It has a bit of everything in it – the classic briny Springbank character, a bit of smoke, and a bit of sherry.  Bottled at a refreshing 46% ABV, Springbank doesn’t use coloring (or chill-filtering).

Here is how it compares to the other Springbank single malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.39 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of similar age and style (although most below are more heavily peated):

Ardbeg 17yo: 9.04 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Lagavulin 16yo: 9.23 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 18yo: 9.03 ± 0.27 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.20 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Springbank 18 yo gets a very respectable score for a lightly-peated whisky (recall that heavily-peated whiskies invariably score higher in my database).

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet fruit compote, with tons of berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry), plums, rhubarb, raisins, and even some banana oddly enough.  Vanilla and toffee. Much less peat than the 10 yo, but still a bit of smoke.  Has the classic briny Springbank character, with a bit of pepper now. Rich, like creamed wheat. Very nice.

Palate:  Vanilla and toffee dominate, with fruits taking a back seat (although some red currants coming through now). Salty. Good peppery kick, with black licorice (anise) and some extra chilli spices thrown in. Cereal notes coming up now too. Very oily mouthfeel, rich and decadent.  A bit of tongue tingle builds. Faintest hint of smoke.

Springbank.18Finish: Long.  Salty, briny sea air with new notes of sweet chocolate showing up now. None of the bitterness or artificial sweetener I noticed on the 10 yo. Lingering spice. Just the right mix for my palate.

I tend to think of this Scotch as a slightly saltier and smokier version of my favourite Bunnahabhain 18 yo. Not quite as overtly sherried perhaps, but still a relatively sweet dessert dram.

While the Springbank 18 shows a relatively low standard deviation, opinions on this whisky can still vary. A particular point to keep in mind is that individuals differ in their ability to detect trace amounts of sulphur and other (typically) averse aromas and flavours. I discussed the genetics of this briefly in my Mortlach Rare Old review. For further discussion related to this particular sample, check out my comments in xile_’s review of the same bottle on the reddit whisky network.

As a general rule, if you are someone who is sensitive to bitter/sulphur notes, try a splash of water – that typically helps.

The highest praise I’ve seen for this whisky is from the Reddit whisky network, followed by the guys at Quebec Whisky, Oliver of Pour Me Another One, Ralfy, and Michael of Diving for Pearls. Although I have yet to see a truly negative review, more moderately positive examples come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, John of Whisky Advocate, and Jim Murray.

 

 

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 4 and Batch 5

GlenDronach traditionally used sherry casks to mature its malts, and has thus long been known as “sherry bomb” maker.  As discussed in my commentary of their 12 year old expression, the distillery was shut down between 1996 and early 2002. When production re-started with new owners, the focus was on aging in more typical ex-bourbon casks.

Over time though, GlenDronach re-discovered its sherry mojo, and now emphasizes this aspect in most of their new releases.  As an aside, I find some of their vintage single casks expressions to be among the best heavily-sherried single malts that I have tried.

For those on more of a budget, a good option to consider are the batch releases of the GlenDronach Cask Strength.  Lacking an age statement, these releases (now up to five) combine whiskies aged in different sherry barrels, bottled at cask-strength. They are also reasonably well priced (although this has been going up on recent batches).

I haven’t had the pleasure of trying the early ones, but I do have on hand a sample of Batch 4 from Redditor xile_, and a recent bottle of Batch 5 that I purchased at the SAQ in Quebec (regularly $150 CAD, got it on sale for $128).

Here is how they compare in the Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to other Glendronachs, and to other cask-strength sherry-bombs.

GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 1): 9.06 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 2): 9.05 ± 0.09 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 3): 9.05 ± 0.33 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.92 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 5): 8.92 ± 0.08 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.57 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews ($$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Revival: 8.91 ± 0.29 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Allardice: 8.70 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 21yo Parliament: 8.68 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach vintage 20yo Single Cask (all vintages): 9.05 ± 0.44 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach vintage 19yo Single Cask (all vintages): 8.96 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 8.97 ± 0.20 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.78 ± 0.37 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.14 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.89 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)

And now my tasting notes:


Batch 4

Batch 4 consists of 17,806 bottles released in early-mid 2014, bottled at 54.7% ABV. The whisky was drawn from a mix of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks.  While you would normally expect a dark sherry appearance, I note the colour is more of a light golden brown (suggesting a sweeter and fruitier ride is in store). Note that GlenDronach does not artificially alter the colour of these whiskies.

Nose: Syrupy, like stewed fruits. Main fruit notes are pear, peaches, plums and some raisins. Baking spices, like cinnamon. Very sweet overall, makes me think of rum-raisin ice cream on top of a moist dessert cake. Some nose hair singe due to the high ABV. Water brings up the cereal/cakey notes more.

Palate: Thick, luxurious mouthfeel – like a good cask-strength sherried whisky should be. Very fruity, getting more of the classic prunes, raisins and plums now from the sherry. Cereal again. The rum-like flavours only intensify on the palate. A touch of bitterness creeps in too over time. Water really brings up the baking spices, cinnamon and nutmeg especially.  Doesn’t need much to tame the burn.

Finish: Sweetness dies down a little, reminding me more of dried fruits now (still raisins and prunes mainly). Pretty good balance of sweet and bitter (although perhaps a bit too much of both, if that is possible?).

I don’t know the exact mix of sherry casks that went into this, but I’m going to guess it is biased toward the sweeter PX.  Indeed, it is so sweet that it actually reminds of some rum-finished malts, like the Glenfiddich 21 year old Gran Reserva.  Certainly a decent malt, but the sticky sweetness seems a bit out of character for GlenDronach.


Batch 5

Batch 5 is again from a mix of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks, bottled at 55.3%. Released at the end of 2015, this batch has just shown up here in Canada. Colour is quite a bit darker now, more of the expected medium red gold.

Nose: Less fragrant than Batch 4. Definitely dryer, not as overtly sweet (think dried fruits instead of stewed ones). Lighter fruits dominate again, mainly pear, apple and apricot this time, and a bit of orange. Also getting some cocoa now, and a slightly nutty aroma (almonds?). No real nose hair singe, but a touch of glue is present unfortunately. Time in the glass helps with the solvent note (as does water, which also brings up the sweetness). I recommend adding a few drops of water, for the improved effect.

Palate: Rich, with dark berries join the other fruits now. Citrus picks up further, with some lemon. Silky and syrupy in texture, without being overly sweet – very nice. Milder baking spices, like nutmeg, mixed with some brown sugar. Not bitter, and the glue note from the nose turns into a dry cardboard sensation in the mouth. Malty.  Surprisingly drinkable at this ABV. Water lightens the mouthfeel slightly, and raises the sweet fruit factor.  Enjoyable either way, frankly.

Finish: Medium long finish. The lingering fruit notes are mainly raisins and sultanas (but not too sweet). Some oak comes in at the end – but this is again more drying than bitter.

Personally, I find this to be closer to the Glendronach core style than Batch 4 (although perhaps somewhat fruitier here).  It seems like a good selection of the drier Oloroso sherry casks went into this.  If it weren’t for the glue note, this would get an unreservedly high score in my books.


Glendronach.Cask.5Ranking these two whiskies is difficult. On initial tasting, I was inclined to give Batch 5 a higher score – but that was mainly because the sweeter Batch 4 wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  On re-tasting the next day, I’ve revised my opinion, and would give Batch 4 a very slight edge. It is interesting that the current Meta-Critic has the same average score for the two of them.

In the end, it really comes down to how much sweetness you like.  If you are a fan of Pedro Ximenez, I suggest you try to hunt down an old bottle of the Batch 4. Drier Oloroso fans should stick with the new Batch 5.

For reviews of Batch 4, I recommend you check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, Serge of Whisky Fun, and Ruben of Whisky Notes. For Batch 5, I suggest you check out Thomas of Whisky Saga, along again with Serge of Whisky Fun and Ruben of Whisky Notes.

 

Royal Brackla 16 Year Old

Royal Brackla is one of five Scotch whisky distilleries controlled by John Dewar & Sons, a Bacardi subsidiary. Brackla – located in the Scottish Highlands – has been in operation for a long time, with a few brief periods of shuttered production (like many other Scottish distilleries over the centuries). It is one of only a handful of distilleries to ever earn a Royal Warrant from the King/Queen, thus allowing it to use the official “Royal” prefix.

Its current capacity is fairly large, but it is not well known among enthusiasts, as the vast majority of its production has typically found its way into Dewar’s blended products. Official bottlings have been rare over the years, and even independent bottlings are not common (usually small batches developed for specific events or groups).

Late in 2015, as part of their “last great malts” campaign, Bacardi announced they were diverting significant Brackla production into a new range of official bottlings – 12, 16 and 21 years old. Along with their recent Deveron re-branding, I suspect they are trying to capitalize on their successes with the dedicated Aultmore, Aberfeldy and Craigellachie OBs.

Initially, these Royal Brackla offerings are only being offered in established Scotch whisky markets – specifically, the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and Taiwan. But they are also available through Global Travel Retail, which is how I managed to pick up a bottle of the Royal Brackla 16 year old earlier this year, while passing through an European duty-free. They have just recently arrived at the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada.

According to Dewar & Sons promotional material, Brackla whiskies produce above-average complexity and fruitiness, due to extended fermentation and distillation time. I could see how this would appeal to the blend-making Dewars.

The new OBs are bottled at the (unfortunately) minimum standard of 40% ABV. I don’t normally comment on colour, but my 16 yo looks slightly unnatural, making me think caramel colorant has been added (i.e., a little too medium gold). The bottles have an old-fashioned appearance (very “regal”, especially the labels), and come with an unusually large punt.

There are not a lot of reviews out there yet, but here is how they compare to each other, and some similar Scotch whiskies:

Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Aberfeldy 18yo: 8.60 ± 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Aberfeldy 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.22 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
AnCnoc 18yo: 8.61 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
AnCnoc 22yo: 8.73 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 18yo: 8.44 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.25 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Aultmore 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Aultmore 25yo: 8.91 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.37 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 14yo: 8.30 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Craigellachie 17yo: 8.61 ± 0.32 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Royal Brackla 12yo: 8.24 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Royal Brackla 16yo: 8.85 ± 0.17 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Royal Brackla 21yo: 8.82 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

Again, take the numbers on the 16 and 21 yo expressions with a grain of doubt, as there are relatively few reviews so far.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with obvious sherry influence (although more along the lines of light berries and sultanas than the typical dark, earthy fruits). Very fruity overall, with lots of apple, pear, and apricot. Pronounced vanilla. It’s a bit spicy too, with some cinnamon. Strong herbal component, but again mingled with sweetness (more woody and grassy than floral). No off notes. Surprisingly complex, but in a subtle way – actually a bit elusive. Well done, it is a pleasure to come back to the nose between sips, trying to tease out additional notes.

Palate: Very soft body, sweet, with confectionery sugar, vanilla and caramel. Less fruity than the nose, although I’m getting some citrus now (especially orange). The baking spices – cinnamon and nutmeg – are more prominent, especially after a few sips. I’m getting milled grains coming through. Reminds me of some sort of light dessert cake (orange-glazed sponge cake?). Some light chocolate shavings too. Consistent with the low ABV, there is not much burn. Relatively light, even a bit watery – I wish they had bottled this at higher proof. Adding further water lightens the body, and brings up even more sweetness – don’t do it.

Royal.Brackla.16Finish: Medium length, although longer than I expected honestly, given the light body. Lingers, with a somewhat indistinct, light sweet dessert cake taste. A bit like the younger An Cnocs, nothing specific really leaps out here. Certainly inoffensive, with no bitterness. Cinnamon continues to the end, which I like.

The nose is the most impressive thing about this dram – it displays great subtlety, and it is fun to try and tease out all the components. The mouthfeel is understandably light, given the 40% ABV, but with more baking/confectionery notes than I expected.  In the end, this really seems to me like the classic dessert whisky – something to be savoured and gently contemplated at the end of a satisfying meal.

There are not a lot of reviews for this relatively new expression yet. For consistently positive ones, I suggest you check out Serge of Whisky Fun and Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Gavin of Whisky Advocate.

Highland Park 18 Year Old

Located on the Orkney islands, Highland Park is distinctive for being the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. But what truly makes it stand out is the taste – all Highland Park expressions show an unusual combination of native peat and sherry cask aging.

Referring back to my modern Flavour Map page, you will see that the highly complex whiskies (“rich” tasting” bifurcate into either heavily “winey” or heavily “smokey” flavours.  Highland Park is distinctive as it is actually somewhat in the middle of the winey-smokey scale, but still with a rich range of flavours (i.e., top of cluster C on the chart).

Support for this distillery among Scotch single malt drinkers is very high. When asked what would you choose if you could only have one bottle of Scotch, I have heard a couple of people answer immediately: Highland Park 18. One enthusiast even told me she married her husband because this was the one scotch he stocked in his liquor cabinet (presumably this wasn’t the only reason). 😉

It is not exactly cheap, mind you – the standard 750mL, 43% ABV bottle goes for $200 CAD at the LCBO.  Here is how it compares to some similarly aged expressions in my Meta-Critic whisky database:

Bowmore 18yo: 8.51 ± 0.54 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 9.01 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Lagavulin 16yo: 9.25 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.20 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

A very respectable ranking, coming in just below the smokier Longrow 18, Talisker 18 and Lagavulin 16.

Here is how it compares to some of the other common HP expressions:

Highland Park 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 17yo Ice: 8.87 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 25yo: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.40 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park Dark Origins 8.49: ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

The HP 18 gets the second highest score I’ve seen for this distillery – despite being a lot less expensive than the higher-end line of Highland Parks.

I have had this scotch on a number of occasions. For this review, I sampled it from my brother’s bottle. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Moist earthy peat. A fair amount of fruit, with lighter summer fruits like peaches and plums plus the typical sherry raisins and figs. Citrusy, with definite lemon. A touch of brine. Doughy bread being baked on a campfire. Very nice.

Palate: The smoke asserts itself now, but the sherried sweetness still takes you home. Same lighter fruits as the nose, but also sweet sultanas now. Some darker berries too, like raspberry and blackberry. Salted caramel, with brown sugar and a touch of nutmeg. Sweet black licorice. Has a decent mouthfeel for a 43% ABV scotch (I would normally find this strength to be watery). Great experience – none of the bitterness I noticed on the 12yo.

Finish: Very long, and smokey to the end. Pleasant light sweetness initially, but not very fruity. Has a clarity about it, with great balance. Leaves you with some mouth puckering astringency.

Highland.Park.18

I can understand why some would see this as the quintessential scotch for your liquor cabinet – there is something for everyone here.  There’s really no negative that I can find, it all just works well together. That said, I can see why some would prefer more of the extremes (i.e., a sherry bomb or a smoke monster). But for those wanting to walk the line in-between, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Among the highest ratings I’ve seen for this whisky are Gavin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of Whisky Won, Oliver of Dramming, and Ralfy. Also quite positive (but more typical of the average score) are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, and Nathan the Scotchnoob. What can I say, it is very highly recommend by all.

 

 

Aberlour 12 Year Old – Double Cask Matured

While not necessarily a house-hold name, Aberlour is widely perceived among scotch enthusiasts as a consistently good choice – and one of the best value plays among highland/speyside single malts. Indeed, I have sometimes seen Aberlour referred to as the poor man’s Macallan, due to the similar composition and flavour profile for many of their expressions.

The double cask matured version of the Aberlour 12 year old is made from a mix of traditional oak and sherry casks, and is bottled at the standard 40% ABV. It retails for $65 CAD at LCBO, making it one of the most affordable single malts available here.  Note that there is a separate non-chillfiltered (NCF) version of the 12yo, but that is not available in Ontario.

The Aberlour 12yo Double Cask has recently garnered a fair bit of publicity in Canada, as it was recently selected by the Speaker of the House of Commons as his “selection scotch” for use at official functions. Many in the Canadian whisky community complained that a scotch whisky was selected over a Canadian whisky for this official role.

Here is what the Meta-Critic database has to say for this whisky, relative to others of similar style.

Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured: 8.38 ± 0.15 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Aberlour 12yo Non-Chill-Filtered: 8.80 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.26 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.34 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.68 ± 0.23 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.57 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.45 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.58 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenfarclas 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition: 8.38 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Lasanta: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 12yo Fine Oak: 8.47 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Although towards the lower end of the range of average Meta-Critic scores, it is also the cheapest of all the above whiskies – and so does seem to represent good value for money.

I was given a bottle of this malt for Father’s Day recently, so I thought I would share my tasting experiences here.

Nose: Sweet pear apple (red delicious) and lighter sherry fruits, like plums and maybe a touch of raisins. Has a mouthwatering “juicy fruit” aroma. Light body otherwise, and not as malty as I expected (more cake-like, if anything). Very slight nose hair burning sensation if you inhale too deeply.

Palate: Same fruits as the nose, but they seem a bit diluted here. A faint touch of spice coming in now (mainly cloves). Still getting the cake and fruit sensation throughout. Light body overall, with a somewhat watery mouthfeel. Would probably have benefited by a higher ABV, as there isn’t all that much going on at this low proof. A touch of bitterness creeps in at the very end. Certainly on the delicate side for sherry matured.

Finish: Medium length. Not overly sweet – reminds me of exhausted juicy fruit gum once the sweetness has given out (and you are left with just the subtle, spent fruitiness). A touch of cloves persists to the end.

Aberlour.12.DoubleThe Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured reminds me a bit of Auchentoshan Three Wood or the BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood – in all these cases, there is a fairly gentle underlying base spirit. If anything, I suspect the Aberlour 12 spent less time in sherry casks than the others, but it is still a good introduction to the Aberlour house style.  A good place to start, and something of the opposite extreme from the “sherry bomb” A’bunadh.

Reviews of this whisky are very consistent, as indicated by the low standard deviation above.  Probably the most positive review I’ve seen is from Serge of Whisky Fun, and the least positive from Michael of Diving for Pearls. Otherwise, you can check out Whisky Advocate, the guys at Quebec Whisky, or Richard at the Whiskey Reviewer for typical rankings.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask

Kavalan is an internationally-renowned whisky distillery operating in Taiwan.  It makes a number of relatively entry-level single malts (like Kavalan Single Malt and the Concertmaster reviewed previously). But they also produce higher-end single cask whiskies under the Solist label. For this review, I have a bottle of the popular Solist Sherry Cask, which I brought back from my travels there last year.

Identifying Kavalan expressions can be tricky. In addition to the Solist Sherry Cask, there is the separate Solist Fino Sherry Cask available, plus the Solist Vihno Barrique and Solist Ex-Bourbon.  Note that if you are in the United States, Kavalan doesn’t use the “Solist” brand name (likely for a trademark issue). The whiskies there simply drop that word from the labels, which otherwise looks identical to Solist labels every where else (the front label on my bottle shown above). As you can see, these labels provide a lot of information on the specific cask and bottling: my bottle is from cask S090123071 (58.6% ABV), and is bottle 434 of 514 (I will come back to this point in a minute).

FYI, If you have traveled in Asia, you may also have noticed the Kavalan “Sherry Oak” expression, sold at 46% ABV with a plan label not identifying a specific cask or bottle. While generally believed to be diluted versions of the Solist Sherry Cask, I have also seen at least miniature bottles of “Sherry Oak Cask Strength” (58% ABV) that again do not identify a specific cask. So, it thus seems like Kavalan produces distinct single cask sherry-aged expressions under the “Solist” brand (word dropped in the US), and a more general “Sherry Oak” expression sold at both regular and cask strength in Asia. I have a sample on hand of the regular-strength Sherry Oak that I plan to review shortly.

As previously mentioned in my other reviews, Taiwan has a marine tropical climate – which means that their whiskies will mature more quickly in the barrel compared to more temperate northerly climes like Scotland and Ireland. As such, don’t expect to see age statements here – they are all quite young whiskies, and tend to be heavily influenced by the types of casks they were matured in. Since production only began in 2006, all of their whiskies are currently younger than 10 years old.

Actually, you can pin it down a lot more specifically with these single cask expressions: the specific cask numbers define the type of whisky and its distillation date. For the S090123071 cask here, S for Sherry, 09 is distilling year (2009), 01 is January, 23 is the 23rd of the month, and 071 is the 71st barrel of that day.  On the back is a sticker with the specific bottling date and hour (in this case, 2015.08.17 13:34). That means this cask was bottled at about six and a half years of age.

It’s great that they provide this much info, but don’t get hung up on trying to compare this to a standard Scottish single malt – the effect of accelerated aging in the tropics is immense.

Here are how some of the major Kavalan expressions compare in my database, to some other well known cask-strength “sherry bombs”.

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 9.00 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 19yo Single Cask (all vintages): 8.97 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 20yo Single Cask (all vintages): 9.05 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 9.04 ± 0.17 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.77 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.22 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.98 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak (46% ABV): 9.09 ± 0.47 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.39 ± 0.48 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.80 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Interestingly, the Solist Sherry Cask is currently the highest-ranked Kavalan expression in my database (although many who have tried both typically prefer the Fino Sherry Cask).

While the LCBO used to carry the regular Kavalan Single Malt and Concertmaster, there are no whiskies from this distiller currently listed on the online site. However, I have recently seen bottles of the Solist Sherry Cask at one of the downtown Toronto flagship locations (Queens Quay) for ~$350 CAN.

I don’t normally comment on whisky colour (since it can be artificially manipulated), but I have to note that my Solist Sherry Cask has the darkest colour I’ve even seen in a whisky – it looks like dark mahogany wood!

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet rich flavours, showing the sherry cask selection. I get raisins and cocoa powder mainly, with additional marzipan, nuts and black licorice (i.e., anice spice). Not as overtly fruity as some sherry bombs, you do get a variety of dark fruits below the surface. There are some vegetal notes here too, evoking the tropical environment (i.e, a humid jungle, for those who have been in one). Very complex. Surprisingly for a cask-strength whisky, there is not much alcohol burn here (i.e., little nose tingle). Water lightens the nose, and doesn’t seem to bring out anything new – I recommend nosing it neat.

Palate: Thick and creamy, with an almost resinous quality. The fruits show up now, with cherry, raisins, plums and papaya. The cocoa on the nose turns to rich dark chocolate, and the spices turn to sweet cinnamon. Some pancake syrup. There is a moist earthy quality that adds character. I also get something that brings to mind tree bark, in a good way (not that I can ever recall actually trying it!). A bit of tongue tingle, but still surprisingly easy to drink neat (more so than other sherry bombs I’ve tried). Very complex, even by sherry bomb standards. With a bit of water, it becomes even sweeter up front, with more cherry/raspberry – and a new milk chocolate pudding texture and taste. If you keep adding more water though, it eventually loses complexity.

Kavalan.Sherry.CaskFinish: Long. The sweetness continues for a good long while, and there is no hint of the bitterness that often accompanies sherry bombs on the way out. Water doesn’t change much here, for good or ill.  You’ll be enjoying the after-glow of this whisky long after you’ve finished the glass. 😉

I typically prefer some water in my cask-strength sherry bombs, but this is one where I don’t think it is necessary.  If you do choose to water it down, I recommend no more than a few drops.  But since there is bound to be variability between individual casks, you will want to experiment to see what works best for you and your bottle.

I think I’ve lucked out here – this particular cask is one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tried. It is certainly my new favourite sherry bomb.

While every cask is different, here are some reviews that I think capture the gamut well.  The boys at Quebec Whisky all give their single cask among their highest personal scores. Oliver of Dramming really liked his sample, as did Ruben of Whisky Notes for his two samples (here and here). My Annoying Opinions has had some variable experiences (i.e., very positive here and here, less-so more recently here). Thomas of Whisky Saga gave his one sample a middle-of-the-road score. Serge of Whisky Fun has reported on six separate bottlings of Solist Sherry Cask to date, with diverse scores ranging from his 7th percentile right up to his 98th (!), with most doing fairly well.

 

Te Bheag Blended Whisky

Té Bheag Nan Eiliean Gaelic Whisky is a distinctive blended whisky – and not just for its hard to pronounce name (“CHEY-vek”). Té Bheag uses a relatively high proportion of malt whisky (40%) – with some peated malt at that.

Produced by the Pràban na Linne company on the Isle of Skye, it is not going too much out on a limb to suspect that some Talisker peated malt may have found its way into this blend. 😉 In addition to explicit Island malt, there is supposedly malt from the classic Islay, Highland and Speyside regions. Also distinctive is the use of ex-sherry casks for some of these malts, thus imparting both winey and smokey flavours to the final blend. The age of the malt component is reportedly in the 8–11 year range.

Also impressive for a blend, Té Bheag is not chill-filtered – although it is bottled at the common 40% ABV. Combined with the above malt sources, you can expect an above-average range of flavours in this inexpensive blend.

Here is how Te Bheag compares to other scotch whisky blends in the Meta-Critic Database, for the same lower mid-range price category (in alphabetical order):

Bushmills Black Bush: 8.36 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews ($$)
Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve: 8.61 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Black Label: 8.36 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Double Black: 8.51 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$)
Té Bheag: 8.54 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$)

Te Bheag is actually one of the cheapest whiskies in the “$$” category, making it one of the best value buys. It is significantly cheaper than Johnnie Walker Black or Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend – two of the other top scoring mid-range blends. Famous Grouse Gold Reserve is the only blend that scores higher, for about the same price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sharp aromas, with definite peaty/smokey notes and some sherry influence. A medicinal iodine effect is present, as well as a distinctive glue aroma (the latter is not particularly appealing, personally). The sherry influence is unmistakable, although relatively light with just a bit of raisin and chocolate. There is also a dusty and dry aspect – which, when combined with the glue, gives the impression of old book bindings.  Smells sort of like Johnny Walker Black finished in a sherry cask for a period of time. Distinctive aroma for a blend, you could easily mistake this for a Scottish Island malt whisky.

Palate: Very Highland Park-like in its initial approach, with a peaty/smokey note tamed by sherried sweetness (plus some salty caramel here). A little tongue tingle, with a bit of leather (in a good way) and some mixed nuts. This initial profile could almost be described as succulent, promising something juicy to come (which never really arrives, though). A bit of bitterness soon creeps in (similar to HP 12yo), and there is a dry astringency effect that builds over time.

Finish: Medium length. Fortunately, the bitterness disappears quickly, and there is a lingering sweetness that carries you through to the end. There is no real resurgence of any of the original flavours though, and the peat/smoke disappears fairly quickly (unlike most peated single malts, where they linger longer). There’s nothing offensive here, but ultimately, like most blends, this one does fizzle out a little bit for me.

Te.BheagTé Bheag is a great value for what it is – a decent Scotch blend at an excellent price. It has noticeable traces of peated barley and sherry cask finishing – an uncommon combination in an inexpensive blend. Despite the Isle of Skye origin, I could see this as the poor man’s Highland Park. 🙂  Indeed, while it is challenging to equate blend scores with single malts, I am also struck by how well Te Bheag matches the more-expensive entry level HPs, as shown below:

Té Bheag: 8.54 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$)
Highland Park Dark Origins: 8.49 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.53 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (2014 onward): 8.39 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (all reviews): 8.68 ± 0.23 on 19 reviews ($$$)

Something to consider if you are a fan of the lightly peated and sherried style, but are on more of a budget.

At the end of the day, I think the overall Meta-Critic score here is reasonable. There is definitely more going on in this blended whisky than in the more expensive Johnnie Walker Black label. But there are also a few rougher edges here that some drinkers of simpler blends may not be used to.  I do think it is fair to say that Te Bheag is closer to an entry level single malt than a typical blend.

Nathan the Scotch Noob and Jason of In Search of Elegance both rank this whisky similarly (and match my own view). Dominic of the Whisky Advocate is even more positive, and Ralfy gives it probably the most enthusiastic review I’ve seen.

Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries

Welcome to my second Ichiro’s Malt review, the Double Distilleries.

As mentioned in my Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) review, Ichiro’s malts are vatted malts from two distilleries: the closed Hanyu distillery, and the currently operating Chichibu distillery. Both distilleries were controlled by the Akuto family, currently led by Ichiro Akuto.

In this case, the “double distilleries” label refers specifically to old Hanyu stock matured in ex-Sherry casks, and new-make Chichibu matured in new Japanese Mizunara oak casks. I’ve seen suggestions online that old Hanyu Puncheon casks may also have been used in the vattings. The exact proportion is unknown, although I expect it is weighed more towards the new make (from both an economic perspective, and from my tasting notes below).

Here are some scores for the various Ichiro’s Malts in the Meta-Critic database (from Hi to Low):

Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.29 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: 8.85 ± 0.41 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.68 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.23 ± 0.56 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is what I find in the glass for the Double Distilleries:

Nose: I can definitely smell the sherry cask influence – despite the light colour, I get rich chocolate notes. Apple and pear are the main fruits, not really getting the typical sherry figs or raisins. There is also a lot of honey sweetness here, similar to the Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR). A bit of allspice comes in as well, like in a nice rye blend (not over-powering). And the perfumy/incense wood notes from the MWR are also present throughout. Nice.

Palate: Definite spicy kick up front, just like the MWR. The sweet fruity notes come in next, along with the honey and chocolate. Not as much sherry influence as I was expecting from the nose – getting more general oakiness now. Taste of Graham crackers. A bit malty. Also some bitterness, but greatly attenuated compared to the MWR (which was overwhelming). The baking spices – allspice, nutmeg – linger nicely. Nice mouth feel, not too watery.

Finish: The sweet honey and Graham cracker notes are the most prominent. That MWR bitterness is present, but greatly subdued. The baking spices really help here, and linger for a nice long while. I even get a touch of apple at times. Not overly complex, but pleasant and fairly long-lasting.

Ichiro-DoubleDistilleriesI suggested in my MWR review that blending with additional casks would help that whisky out – and that is exactly what you get here. You can still detect the fragrant incense characteristics of the MWR, balanced by a more general sweetness. A clever blending of different flavour components – and a better way to glimpse the effect of younger whiskies from Mizunara wood, in my view.

This is certainly a nice, easy-drinking dram, with no real flaws. In contrast to the MWR, it goes down easier the more you sip. That said, the Double Distilleries could probably have benefited from a bit more sherry cask influence.

For some additional reviews of this whisky, you could check out Ruben of WhiskyNotes, Brian (Dramtastic) of JapaneseWhiskyReview, Michio of JapanWhiskyReviews, and Tone’s review on WhiskySaga.

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