Tag Archives: Single Malt

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Sigel

On my recent trip to Zurich, I brought back a number of sample bottles of Swiss single malt whiskies to try. First up is Santis Malt Edition Sigel.

Switzerland likely doesn’t leap out to you as a major whisky producer – and that’s because whisky production has only been legal in Switzerland since July 1999. So by definition, much of what they have produced is still quite young. Note that like Scotland, Swiss law requires that a distillate made from malt has to be aged for at least three years in wood barrels before it can be called whisky.

Like with many new malt whisky producers across the world, Appenzeller Säntis Malt (“Swiss Alpine Whisky”) is an offshoot of a brewery (Brauerei Locher). In my travels, I was impressed with the quality of two US malt whisky distilleries that grew out of craft breweries (Copperworks and Westland), and slightly less so with a Belgian one (Gouden Carolus). So I was naturally curious to try these Santis malts.

A signature feature of Santis is their use of old beer barrels for aging, imparting a distinctive character to their malt whisky. Santis has been distilling since 1999, and they are currently one of the largest malt whisky producers in Switzerland. Since 2003, the distillery reports using only locally-sourced barley, grown in Switzerland’s mountain areas. They have won a number of awards, and Jim Murray declared their Edition Dreifaltigkeit his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010 (my review of that expression is coming soon).

There aren’t a lot of reviews of Swiss whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database, but here is what you will find right now:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.93 ± 0.87 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is how they compare to some other European malt whisky producers, outside of the UK. Note that most of these are fairly recent whisky producers as well.

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02 (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014 (Sweden): 8.94 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt (Belgium): 8.09 ± 0.17 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan) (Sweden): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden): 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol (Sweden): 8.14 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Midvinter (Sweden): 8.55 ± 0.52 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (Sweden): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.96 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask (Netherlands): 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Primör (Sweden): 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smögen Single Cask (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.15 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus (Sweden): 8.61 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star (Sweden): 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

As a general rule, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in this comparison. With the exception of the various premium wine cask-finished Alpstein expressions, the standard Santis expressions are getting relatively low average scores in my Meta-Critic Database, and higher than typical variance across reviewers.

Note that I had not included Santis in my database prior to sampling their whiskies, so I truly tasted these “blind.”

I have started this series of reviews with the Santis Edition Sigel, which is one of the base expressions available from this distiller. Sigel means “Sun” in old German, and is the likely root of the modern siegel (for seal). Edition Sigel is exclusively “matured in small oak beer casks” (with no finishing) and is bottled at 40% ABV. The 50 mL sample bottle from Zurich cost me ~$8.50 CAD.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light gold, but with a slightly brownish tint (reminding me of beer, naturally enough).

Nose: Light nose, no alcohol burn. Sweet and somewhat fruity, with red (stawberrry) licorice and candy apples – indeed, candied is the best descriptor. Some citrus. Oak with a bit of wood spice, maybe some anise. Tobacco. Almost earthy in a way – but seems oddly faint, almost as if watered-down. There is a strange effect of the beer cask aging, adding a slightly skunky note (like beer that has long since passed its expiration date, or where the bottle seal has failed). Certainly unique, it doesn’t quite seem like a malt whisky.

Palate: Not as fruity as the nose suggested – some pear, with a bit of red licorice. Tobacco. Very sour though. Motor oil? Seems very young, and oddly synthetic tasting.  Makes wonder if this is what “Synthehol” on Star Trek – The Next Generation would taste like. Some tongue tingle. That skunkiness from the nose comes back with a vengeance as you swallow – making you wish you hadn’t! This is frankly a bit of a mess, with some definite off-putting notes.

Finish: Short (fortunately). A strong Aspartame-like artificial note, mixed with pear and sour apple. Makes me want to rinse my mouth out with a better whisky immediately (which is exactly what I did, when I was done with this tasting).

I’ll be honest here – I couldn’t finish my standard 1.5 ounce pour of this one. I came back to the rest of the sample bottle a couple of nights later, to see if I had misjudged it. Nope, it was just as bad. And if anything, the nose was even weaker now (which was the best part of this whisky originally, if you could call it that). I’m sorry, but my advice to Santis on this one would be to re-distill it and age it longer, please. Also skip the beer casks, if that is what is producing the unique skunky notes.

Interestingly, I got a very similar candied nose on the Gouden Carolus malt – making me think this is also a consequence of the beer mash or beer cask aging. But that whisky lacked the off-notes present here, so I felt the Meta-Critic average score was justified. In contrast, I wouldn’t score Edition Sigel above the low 7s – putting this whisky in my bottom 5th percentile.

For additional reviews, Jim Murray and Patrick and RV of Quebec Whisky all give it an average score for their respective reviewing ranges. Andre of Quebec Whisky and Dominic of Whisky Advocate give it relatively low scores. The Reddit user cake_my_day gives it one of his lowest scores ever.

 

 

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Edition

I recently reviewed the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Distillery Edition, which features the standard Glenfiddich “house style” (i.e., like the standard 12 and 18 year-olds). But the Distillery Edition is not widely available – in most jurisdictions, the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Edition fills this niche instead. This is interesting, as the profile of the Solera Edition is quite distinct.

Glenfiddich uses a modified version of the classic solera system used by sherry makers, which was designed to ensure consistency in sherry. I am not an expert on the process, but the way it works in this case (put simply) is that whiskies are mixed in a giant solera vat. This vat contains whisky from previous batches, and is never emptied completely – as batches are drawn from the vat, more whisky is poured in. The profile of whiskies going into the vat is different from other Glenfiddichs, and includes sherry casks, ex-bourbon casks, and ex-bourbon hybrids casks (ones transferred into new oak cask for some period of time). Presumably, the use of the solera system helps “even out” the profile of the resulting final vattings, ensuring some similarity from batch to batch.

Sold for $80 CAD at the LCBO, the 15 Year Old Solera Edition is less expensive than the Distillery Edition ($95 CAD). It is also bottled at the minimum industry standard of 40% ABV, like the standard 12 and 18 year-olds (the Distillery Edition is a much higher 51% ABV).

Here is how the 15 Year Old Solera Edition compares to other whiskies in my Metacritic database, starting with other Glenfiddichs:

Glenfiddich 1963 Original Malt: 8.27 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition: 8.30 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.24 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Bourbon Barrel Reserve: 8.44 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.71 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.60 ± 0.25 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)

While not as highly ranked as the Distillery Edition, the 15 yo Solera Edition gets a similar overall score to the much more expensive Glenfiddich 18 yo (which is nearly twice the price here in Ontario).  Here’s how it compares to other whiskies in its age group:

Caol Ila 15yo Unpeated: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.69 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glencadam 15yo: 8.45 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Revival: 8.91 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 15yo: 8.48 ± 0.53 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.54 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)

The Solera Edition scores pretty well in the middle of the pack for this group.

I recently got to sample this one in a bar. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet sherried nose, with the typical sherry dark fruits (raisins, sultanas and figs) and a bit of citrus (lemon in particular). Lots of honey and vanilla, plus some caramel. A bit malty. No real off notes – a nice malt, more sherried than I expected.

Palate: Sweetness continues, with a few lighter fruits adding to the classic sherry notes above. Caramel/vanilla turn more into fudge now, plus some icing sugar. A bit of baking spice comes in (nutmeg), but not much. Mouthfeel is a bit watery for my tastes, in keeping with the 40% ABV.

Glenfiddich.15.SoleraFinish: Medium-short. Light fruit syrup is the main characteristic, with some bitterness coming in over time. Overall balance good, but a bit short.

I think the overall Metacritic score for this one is quite reasonable – I would peg it at about an average level of quality (which is currently somewhere around ~8.5-8.6 in my database). That said, I personally don’t think the Distillery Edition deserves much of a higher ranking – and I would put the 18 yo slightly above both of these 15 year-olds. As an aside, it’s a shame they don’t also bottle this one at a higher ABV, like the Distillery edition.

Among my Metacritic reviewers, Jim Murray, Savannah of the Whiskey Wash and Chip the Rumhowler are all very positive. Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance are also fairly positive, all giving this expression an above average score. I’m more in line with the average scores by Nathan the Scotch Noob, Dave of Whisky Advocate, Josh of the Whiskey Jug, and the guys at Quebec Whisky. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from Ruben of Whisky Notes.

Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old

While Singleton is not exactly a house-hold name, that may be changing. Owned by the large multinational drinks conglomerate Diageo (of Johnnie Walker fame), the Singleton brand is their attempt to do for single malts what they have long done for blends – raise brand awareness centered on an extended family.

While Diageo may be a top player in the single malt world, this isn’t immediately obvious to most casual drinkers since they don’t own the common entry-level malts (like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich), or the really big recognizable names (like Macallan). Instead, Diageo dominates by sheer volume across a range of price points. Singeton is their attempt to double-down on the entry-level, with a series of very well priced offerings.

Focusing on the Speyside region of Scotland, Diageo is currently highlighting three of their distilleries through this shared Singleton brand – Dufftown, Glen Ord and Glendullan. Rather than finding their output poured into the Diageo blending empire (as was presumably the case previously), these distilleries are now going head-to-head through the common Singleton label with the ubiquitous Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs.

Refreshingly, the main Singleton expressions all carry age statements (12, 15 and 18 years of age), and are all meant to showcase the classic Speyside “gentle” character (i.e., no fancy finishes or unusual cask blending). They are also all very reasonably priced for their ages.

To expand the market, Diageo has also released a number of no age statement (NAS) expressions for each distillery, many intended to attract a younger audience for mixed drinks (these are are similarly budget priced along with the 12 yo version). There are also a number of NAS duty-free retail expressions for the more well-healed traveler. Here is where you are more likely to find the wine cask finishes and the like – many of these are more expensive than the standard age range expressions, but still reasonably priced for their respective styles.

Let’s see how the various Singletons compare in my Metacritic Database, relative to their main competitors (note that not all the new expressions have enough reviews to be included in the public database yet).

Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.93 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Dufftown 18yo: 8.41 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Dufftown Spey Cascade: 7.53 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Tailfire: 8.17 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Unité: 8.13 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo: 8.46 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 18yo: 8.39 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord Signature: 7.92 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Glendullan 12yo: 8.04 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$)

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.59 ± 0.89 on 7 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.26 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.41 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.59 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.24 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.70 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.61 ± 0.21 on 21 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.94 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Lasanta: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban: 8.57 ± 0.48 on 21 reviews ($$$)

Those are a lot of numbers, but the general point is that the age-statement Singletons (broadly speaking) are getting similar or slightly lower reviewer scores compared to the more established brands. The budget-priced NAS Singleton offerings typically score lower than the base 12 yo age expression, consistent with the pattern for the more established brands.

I’ve started to see the entry-level age statement Singletons show up more often lately, in places where whisky is not a specialty. Case in point, I ran across this Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old in an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge during my travels. Normally all these lounges carry is an entry-level Glenlivet malt (12 or Founder’s Reserve, depending on local availability), Johnnie Walker Black, and Crown Royal – so this was an unexpected opportunity to finally give Singleton a shot.  It is bottled at 40% ABV, like much of the competition.

And now for what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light apple juice, with a bit of honey and vanilla, plus some caramel. Not much fruit (dried fruit, what little there is). Some light hay and grass notes. A bit of acetone comes up at the end, unfortunately. Pretty standard stuff.

Palate: Honey sweetness starts off, followed by an extreme caramel gooey-ness (this is almost like the inside of a Caramilk bar). Golden raisins join the light pear and apple fruits. Some light cinnamon. Not much else here. Grass still present, and maybe a slight nuttiness. Absolutely no burn, seems very light (even for 40% ABV).  A bit of citrus emerges eventually.

Finish‎: Medium length. Caramel creamy. Some fruit lingers, with a hint of wood spice. Slightly artificial sweetener aftertaste, unfortunately. Very mild and unoffensive (also rather forgettable).

This is a very inoffensive dram – it just isn’t very interesting. The Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old is probably a good option for those looking for something a little sweeter than the other entry level malts. Personally, I’ll be sticking with JW Black or Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve in the Maple Leaf lounge.

The most positive review I’ve seen for this whisky comes Oliver of Dramming. Personally, I fall more in line with the guys at Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun.  The most scathing review I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray – he’s definitely not a fan. Overall, I think the price reflects the value here.

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Distillery Edition

The Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Distillery Edition (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Distillers Edition) was first released a couple of years ago.  While considered a “special release”, in some jurisdictions it is available as a regular member of the standard age line-up, along with the 12 and 18 year-old expressions. Not generally available in the US, it can be found here at the LCBO for $95 CAD,and I often come across it in international airport duty-free shops in my travels (along with a lot of NAS travel retail-only bottlings of Glenfiddich).

Like the standard 12 and 18 year-old expressions, this 15 year old Distillery Edition it is meant to be an unvarnished expression of the distillery’s character. That is, these three expressions all come from an undisclosed a mix of mainly ex-bourbon barrels with some sherry casks, with no additional finishing. That said, I personally find the 18 yo typically has a more noticeable sherry component in the mix than either the 12 yo or this 15 yo bottling. The 15 year old Distillery Edition is bottled at a higher than usual 51.0% ABV.

Note that this edition is not to be confused with the more common Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Edition. That expression differs from the standard line by their use of a modified version of the sherry solera system.  I can say I’m an expert on the topic, but I understand that the way it works (simplified) is that whiskies from sherry, ex-bourbon, and ex-bourbon hybrids casks (i.e., ones transferred into new oak cask for some period of time) are mixed in a giant “solera” vat. This vat contains whisky from previous batches, and is never emptied completely – as batches are drawn from the vat, more whisky is poured in. The end result is a slightly different profile, compared to the standard age statement line of Glenfiddichs.

Here is how the 15 Year Old Distillery Edition compares to other whiskies in my Metacritic database, starting with other Glenfiddichs:

Glenfiddich 1963 Original Malt: 8.27 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition: 8.30 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.09 ± 0.24 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Bourbon Barrel Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)

As you can see, this is the highest ranking Glenfiddich among the entry-level NAS and younger age statement expressions. It also scores near the top of all similarly-priced unpeated 15 yo expressions in my database, as shown below for a representative sample.

Caol Ila 15yo Unpeated: 8.54 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.69 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glencadam 15yo: 8.45 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Revival: 8.91 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 15yo: 8.70 ± 0.24 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 15yo: 8.48 ± 0.54 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.54 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)

Given this level of support for the 15yo Distilery Edition, I had high hopes going into this tasting (sampled from a friend’s recently opened bottle). Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Classic Glenfiddich nose, with green apple and some pear (apple juice always comes to mind). Some citrus (orange) and banana. Caramel and vanilla sweetness. Floral notes, but nothing I can specifically identify. A bit nutty.  Even more caramel with water. Pleasant, like a more developed version of the standard 12 yo.

Palate: Sweet, same fruits as the nose. Some additional honey and butterscotch now. Also pepper and general wood spice. Indeed, palate is more “oaky” all the way around (i.e., both the sweet vanillins and bitter/spicey wood elements).  Silky texture to the mouthfeel, but a bit hot thanks to that higher 51% ABV.  Adding water lightens the texture, but it still remains surprisingly “ethanol” hot (i.e., has a kick to it).

Glenfiddich.15.DistilleryFinish: Medium. General sweetness lingers, but is overtaken by the oaky bitterness. Wood spice and pepper continues. A bit astringent (i.e., some mouth pucker).

Classic Glenfiddich character comes through, enhanced by the higher ABV.  I like the greater intensity over the standard 12 yo, but I find this one a touch too oaky for my tastes.  Personally, I prefer the slightly more interesting 18 yo expression. But I think this would make a good move for fans of the common 12 yo seeking more character and flavour, within a comparable profile.

The biggest fans of this whisky are Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, Jim Murray, Oliver of Dramming and Michael of Diving for Pearls. Personally, my own assessment is more in line with Serge of Whisky Fun and My Annoying Opinions, who both give it a below average score. The lowest scoring review I’ve seen is from Ralfy.

Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Cuvée 640 Eroica

Bruichladdich Cuvée 640 was the first of three whiskies released under the distillery’s Cuvée series, which are finished in a range of specialty casks. This edition 640 is entitled Eroica, and was aged primarily in American oak before being finished in Limousin oak brandy casks (i.e., French oak cognac casks).

The Cuvee series seems to be a little fanciful, given the unusual titles. Eroica (‘Heroic’ in english) is presumably a reference to Beethoven’s 3rd symphony (a great piece of music, by the way). This symphony was apparently intended as a tribute to Napolean – so I’m guessing this is the tenuous connection to the use of cognac casks here.

Bruichladdich has also provided subtitles to each release – in this case, ‘Oh mensch! Gieb acht! Was spricht die tiefe mitternacht?’, which is the opening line from a song in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which Google Translate renders as: ‘Oh man! Take care! What is the deep midnight?’). FYI, this influential philosophical novel addressed among other things the concept of ‘eternal return’ (i.e., that all existence is recurring). I suppose this could be a veiled reference to re-using specialty casks for finishing whisky – but if so, I find it an ironic one, given this series is a limited release. 😉

Although an Islay producer, many of Bruichladdich’s offerings are based on unpeated malt – including these Cuvee editions.  Bottled at 46% ABV, this release was originally available for ~$140 CAD, from what I understand.  My sample was provided by the Redditor xile_, as a mystery sample swap.

Here is how it compares to similar offerings, and Bruichladdich’s unpeated range:

Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 382 La Berenice: 8.57 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 407 PX: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 640 Eroica: 8.72 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Classic (Edition 01): 8.42 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.82 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten (Second Edition): 8.89 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Sixteen: 8.75 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Twenty Two: 8.85 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Rocks: 8.36 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Sherry Classic: 8.25 ± 0.86 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured: 8.71 ± 0.18 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Napoleon Cognac Finish: 8.70 ± 0.73 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.38 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.80 ± 0.55 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.52 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 25yo Fine Oak: 8.64 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.81 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.81 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.95 ± 0.67 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.28 ± 0.52 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)

The Cuvee series expressions are well ranked, as you might expect from their age and price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden amber, with a slight brownish tinge (suggesting the cask finishing).

Nose: Honey and vanilla sweetness, with apple, pear and peach fruit notes (peach marmalade/cobbler). Definitely has that unpeated Islay “funk” – it is hard to describe, but is distinctive. Grassy, and something that could be hay (wet hay, specifically). Chocolate, coffee and a touch of mint. Some faint anise. A bit of nose hair singe, more than I would expect for 46% ABV. Although there is no smoke, you can’t shake the impression that it is hiding in the background somewhere. A good nose for me.

Palate: Sweet apple initially (apple juice), then lots of honey, marshmallow, and vanilla. Same orchard fruits as the nose, plus apricot now. Spicy, with cinnamon and a good hit of pepper giving it some zing. Malty and grassy. Chocolate and coffee notes really pick up at the end. Slightly oily and chewy – good mouthfeel. A slight antiseptic note slips over the tongue at the end – and that Islay funk again (but still no smoke).

Finish: Medium finish.  Sweeter notes slowly fade, as some oaky bitterness creeps in over time. Pepper lasts the longest. Something a bit earthy/nutty comes up at the end (and that funk again).

With water, no new fruits appear, but it sweetens up in the mouth with pancake syrup and brown sugar. It also brings up the chocolate and cinnamon spice further.

To be honest, I would have expected more fruit from the cognac here. Instead, it is really the French oak wood character that comes through. As Serge of Whisky Fun also noted, “very little Cognac but maybe a few spicy notes that hint at French oak … so less fruits and more grass.” Definitely has a lot of spicy peppery zing to it.

This is an interesting pairing of the Bruichladdich core with French oak casks. I’ve been meaning to start trying more Bruichladdies, and this has just reinforced that idea. It could use a little more fruit character throughout, so I think the Meta-Critic average score is reasonable for this one (and if anything, is a bit high).

It gets very mixed reviews from the guys at Quebec Whisky, with Patrick and Martin as fans, but Andre and RV less impressed. Serge at Whisky Fun also gives it a middle-of-the-road review. Among the most favourable reviews on Reddit are from t8ke, unclimbability and xile_ – but my own quality assessment is closer to cjotto9.

 

Mortlach 18 Year Old

Mortlach is a storied named in malt whisky production.  It is one of the classic malt distilleries owned by Diageo – where it feeds their Scotch blend empire. It produces a very distinctive characteristic malt, with a high degree of “meatiness” (which as I describe here, is likely due to a relatively high presence of sulphur compounds in the whisky). This also makes the relatively rare independent bottlings of Mortlach highly popular and sought after.

So there was a lot of enthusiasm when Diageo announced in early 2014 that they were going to release a number of official bottlings under Mortlach’s own name. That enthusiasm quickly soured when enthusiasts saw the price lists, bottling strengths, and general lack of age statements. Mortlach 18 year old is one of the higher-end options.

Here is how they compare in my Meta-Critic Database, relative to a few independent bottlings:

Mortlach 15yo (Gordon & MacPhail): 8.67 ± 0.35 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach 16yo (F&F): 8.68 ± 0.29 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Mortlach 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Mortlach Rare Old: 8.42 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach Special Strength: 8.72 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)

This review is the last one from a group of malts that I sampled over multiple nights at the Dr Jekyll’s bar in Oslo, Norway. As the bottle was nearly empty, the bar had it in their heavily discounted section – it was 128 NOK for a standard 4 cl pour (1.35 oz). That works out to about $20 CAD, which seems pretty reasonable given that a full bottle currently goes for ~$400 CAD (it was originally $300 when the LCBO carried it).

I had previously reviewed the Mortlach Rare Old, which is still available in Ontario for the original $100 CAD price. So I was naturally curious to see how this defined age statement bottling compares.

Mortlach 18 yo is bottled at 43.4% ABV. The whisky was matured in a combination of Sherry and refill American oak casks. It also comes in a very fancy bottle, with metal framework at the base of the glass bottle.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Surprisingly subdued. Crisp green apples, some citrus (lemon) and maybe a bit of cherry (which I oddly get from Mortlach). Nutty. Classic baking spices, cinnamon in particular. Touch of dry glue, like old book bindings. A relatively closed nose, and water was of no help in opening it up.

Palate‎: A bit better than expected from the nose, but still rather light in flavours. Slightly sweet, with a simple syrup quality. Not very fruity – seems more like unripened fruit. That cinnamon note is quite prominent, and adds some much needed warmth. Some vanilla. The nutty notes from nose are still there, and merge into a more earthy characteristic now, with some tobacco and ginger. No ethanol burn. Seems too light in flavour, and could really have used a higher ABV in my view. Water adds more sweetness and cinnamon – might as well go for it, since not much else is going on here.

Finish: Fairly short. Baking spice kick lasts to the end, along with that simple syrup. But that’s about it really.

Mortlach.18Frankly, this was a let-down – it seems far too “closed” for its age and style. It is not bad by any means, just not very interesting. No amount of time in the glass (or water) helped in opening it up. Personally, I find that it doesn’t have any more character than the Rare Old I previously reviewed – and given that it costs between 3-4 times as much, I’d recommend you stick with Rare Old. I haven’t had the Special Strength edition yet, but I’m thinking that might be your best bet for some flavour (thanks the higher ABV).

I personally feel that the Meta-Critic average score for Rare Old is fair, and the 18 yo is overly generous. Personally, I would score then equally, at a slightly below average score (i.e., 8.4). I doubt there was any age/storage issue with my sample, as Dr Jekyll’s move through inventory quickly (and so, this wouldn’t have sat on the shelf for long).

Most reviewers who have tried both expressions have typically preferred the 18yo. Check out for example Dave of Whisky Advocate, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun for very positive reviews. Moderately positive reviews come from and Ruben of Whisky Notes and Andre of Quebec Whisky. My own assessment is more line with Oliver of Dramming – who, along with Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer – also ranked this expression lower than Rare Old. The most negative review I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who is quite scathing of this whole series).

Box Whisky – Festival 2016

The latest Festival bottling from Box distillery – a relatively young “craft” malt whisky distillery from Northern Sweden that I recently introduced in my Box 2nd Step Collection 02 review.  Check out that review for more information about this distillery, including their interesting approach to cask management.

Box has organized an annual whisky festival for the last ten years, with a distinctive festival-only bottling since 2014. As I understand it from their website, these bottlings are true limited editions that can only be acquired by actually visiting the festival. The Festival editions are meant to showcase the character and quality of the distillery – but at the same time, provide a unique bottling that stands out in some way. My sample of the most recent Festival bottling comes from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.

As usual, the Box website has a full breakdown of the cask and whisky mix that went into this 2016 Festival edition. Scroll down that page to see the 2016 specs (in Swedish only at the moment – it seems the English-language website version hasn’t caught up to this 2016 edition).  But to summarize, this is an unpeated 5 year old whisky. The total production run produced 1012 official 50 cL bottles, with an additional 385 “non-official” bottles used at the festival for tastings. Bottled at 53.9% ABV.

The most interesting thing to me is that it was initially matured in 200 L ex-bourbon barrels, then finished for 7 months in heavily charred 40 L virgin Swedish oak casks (having undergone medium toasting before charring). It’s not often one gets to sample something matured in Swedish oak around here (outside of a small proportion of Mackmyra’s malt whisky mix).

I don’t have enough reviews of this edition to include in my Meta-Critic Database, but here are how some other Swedish whiskies do:

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.92 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.95 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.43 ± 0.62 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol: 8.14 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 9.03 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.75 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.72 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.64 ± 0.37 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smögen Primör: 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Obviously this Festival-specific bottling is not something you will be able to obtain now, but I thought you might find my tasting notes interesting – as an example of what to expect from this distinctive Swedish oak finishing.

Colour: Reddish golden hue

Nose: Sweet red fruits – plums, currants, and cherries. Chocolate, cinnamon, and chilli peppers. Leather and toasted oak. Quite a sweet and spicy nose – I’m getting a lot of virgin wood notes, almost bourbon-like in fact (i.e., a medium-aged wheater). A confectionery note I can’t quite place – something you would eat on a fairground. No off notes really, despite the young age.

Palate: Holy cow, what a liquid confection – a melted caramilk bar!  Sweet, oily and rich. Tons of butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. Turns more malty towards the end (liquefied Malted Milk bar?). Cinnamon, pepper and dried chilli notes return after the initial blast of sweet nougat. I would not have guessed this was 53.9% ABV – surprisingly easy to drink neat.

Finish: Medium short.  The sweet notes dominate initially, but then some oaky bitterness creeps in. Also a bit astringent (drying) in the mouth. Cinnamon and chilli spiciness lasts until the end.

Not as much going on as the 2nd Step Collection 02 (i.e., not as complex) – but still a fabulous dessert whisky. Water doesn’t change much on the nose, but oddly seems to increase the heat in the mouth (?).

It is a wild ride – I don’t know if all this spiciness is coming the small cask Swedish oak, but it is not like anything I’ve had before. Probably the closest thing in my experience would be a mix of W.L. Weller 12 yo and some of the 66 Gilead products in Canada (like Crimson Rye, although with a lot more chocolate and less cinnamon here).

A hard one to score, I would probably give it a slightly above average rating for its distinctiveness (and surprising maturity, despite the young stated age). So, I would say an 8.6 on my typical Database scale of 10.

You aren’t going to find many reviews of this one online, but you can check out Thomas of Whisky Saga. Whiskybase also has a few scores.

Box Whisky – The 2nd Step Collection 02

BOX is a malt whisky distillery that I suspect relatively few of you know – but one I think you will want to. Located in Northern Sweden, Box destilleri has been producing whisky for the better part of a decade. A relatively small producer so far, they make a little over a hundred thousand liters of whisky per annum (so, I suppose you could consider them still a “craft” operation).

They are located in a relatively remote location (their website happily points out that the 63rd parallel goes straight through their property). Given their non-temperature controlled warehouse, this location means that they experience colder overall temperatures – and wider temperature variations – than just about anywhere else in the whisky-making world. This is something they point to as a relative advantage, as they feel the temperature variations “enhances the exchange of flavours between the whisky and the oak vat.”

They are also distinguished by their use of cask management.  Like many European producers, the casks they use for whisky maturation are mainly ex-bourbon, made from charred American Virgin Oak (typically 200 L size) and sherry casks (up to 700 L size), in this case previously holding Oloroso sherry.  But what is unusual is what they do with some of the barrels – they take first-fill 200 L ex-bourbon barrels and rebuild them into a traditional Swedish size they call “Ankare” (39.25 L).

These small casks have a much greater surface-area-to-volume ratio, thus producing an ‘accelerated aging’ of their spirit.  This explains how they are able to get a relatively young product on the market so quickly, given the low temperatures in Northern Sweden. As they say on their website, they “find that this size is ideal as it gives a relatively quick maturation period but isn’t so small that there is a risk the product matures so early that it can’t be called whisky.”

This second release in their The 2nd Step Collection (02) is one of their most recent products, released in Sweden about six months ago.  I am not sure if it has started branching out to wider markets, but I know Master of Malt carries it (currently in stock, at the time of this posting). My sample came from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.

As an aside, the Box distillery website has the most extensive information I’ve ever seen for each of their releases (right down to fermentation times, still cuts, proportion and age of the casks down to the week, etc, etc.).  I won’t repeat everything listed for this expression here, but some key points: This second release is a lightly peated mix of ex-bourbon (48.15%) and sherry casks (51.85%). The main barrels going into the mix include 4.72 year old first-fill sherry (115 L), followed by 4.91 year old sherry cask (250 L originally, later reduced to 55 L casks), 4.73 year old peated whisky (115 L) and 5.16 years old first-fill ex-bourbon (200 L casks). It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured, and bottled at a respectable 51.2% ABV.

There are few reviews of Box whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database at the moment, but here’s a how it compares to a few other Swedish whiskies:

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.92 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.95 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.43 ± 0.62 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol: 8.14 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 9.03 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.75 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.72 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.64 ± 0.37 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smögen Primör: 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Keep in mind these are a relatively low number of reviews, so you should treat the averages as very provisional.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden, with a slightly brown hue, suggesting some sherry casks in the mix

Nose: Apple juice sweetened with brown sugar. Sultanas and raisins (from the sherry casks), with caramel and vanilla (from the bourbon casks). There’s honey too, but more like dried honeycomb than fresh. A bit of cereal. Has an earthy quality, with a bit of old-sweat-sock funk (likely coming from the small amount of peated whisky in the mix). This actually complements the sweetness nicely. A more complex nose than I was expecting for the age, without most of the usual tell-tale signs of youth (I think the peat is helping obscure many of these). Water brings up the sweetness, but doesn’t add anything new. I suggest nosing it neat.

Palate:  Fresh pear and apple and dried darker fruits – again, a good mix of sherry and bourbon casks. Vanilla comes through strongly, mixed with that honey note. Quite spicy, with cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Some ethanol heat, as expected for the 51.2% ABV.  Slightly oily mouthfeel. A bit of smokiness appears at the end (which is nice). With water, the burn is tamed, and the brown sugar sweetness from the nose re-asserts itself.  If you like your whiskies sweet, definitely try adding a bit of water.

Finish: Longish and lingering, with that typical bourbon cask sweetness initially. The fruits turn to a lighter style (think Juicy Fruit gum). The earthiness turns more to peanuts now, with a pronounced nuttiness that persists throughout the finish – very distinctive (makes me wonder if they are using Jim Beam casks?). Some of the spices also linger a long time (surprisingly so, for such a youthful whisky).  This is much more of a finish that I would have expected for the age. Water adds a milk chocolate note.

Ok, I would never have guessed that the majority of casks going into this whisky were between 4.7 and 5.2 years old. The complexity on the nose and finish suggests a much longer aging. It seems their cask management and extreme temperature variation is having the desired effect. And I suspect the small amount of peated whisky in the mix is deliberate, to help balance out the flavours (and hide some of the signs of youth).

If I could get it locally or in my travels, I would happily pick up a bottle of this one.  My only recommendation to Box would be to increase the level of peated whisky in the mix further – I think it would benefit from a little more smoke. Apparently, the first release (01) was more heavily peated.

While there aren’t many reviews of this whisky online, I think the Meta-Critic average is reasonable (i.e., I personally give it an 8.8).   It is a very well done single malt. Check out Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Thomas at Whisky Saga for reviews included in the Meta-Critic.  For additional reviews or tasting notes, you can try Whisky Magazine, WhiskyBase and Master of Malt.

 

 

Bowmore Vault Edition First Release

Late last year, Bowmore announced a new Vault Edition limited series, which will explore what they consider to be the four classic characteristics of their distillery style.  To be released on an annual basis, the first of these is entitled Atlantic Sea Salt. The future yearly releases will examine peat smoke, vanilla, and citrus.

These all come from selected barrels in their infamous below-sea level No. 1 Vaults, hence the cute “Vault Edit1°n” labeling on the packaging. The Bowmore Vault Editions are all matured in ex-bourbon casks, and are bottled at high strength (ABV) – 51.4% in the case of the First Release, aka Atlantic Sea Salt.

This First Release is sometimes referred to as “Vault Edition No. 1” online, but I think they are intended to be labelled as First Release, Second Release, and so on. To further confuse matters, Bowmore has also announced a lower-strength 40% ABV “Bowmore No.1”, also coming from the No.1 Vaults. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to this first higher-strength Vault Edition as First Release throughout this review.

Currently available at the LCBO for $200 CAD.

Here is how First Release compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other malts from Bowmore, including some of their special releases and travel retail bottles :

Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo Enigma: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$)
Bowmore 15yo Darkest: 8.58 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Mariner: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo: 8.35 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo White Sands: 8.48 ± 0.56 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore Black Rock: 8.16 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Gold Reef: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.27 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Springtide: 9.07 ± 0.77 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore Vault Edition First Release: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews so far, but initial reports place First Release in the general range of scores for its price point for Bowmore (which are typically lower than other peaty whiskies).

I managed to snag a generous pour at a LCBO tasting bar. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: An unusual peated tar note, along with that classic Bowmore wood smoke.  Has a meaty aroma, which I like. Sweet, with classic vanilla and honey notes – I could easily pick out the ex-bourbon barrel aging without being told. Green apple and citrus (oranges and a touch of lemon). Some salt, but less than I expected given the title. No real off notes, very nice presentation.

Palate: The bourbon barrel character is even more prominent, with sweet vanilla and some toasted oak. Not as smokey, although the salt element definitely picks up now.  Apple and pear, with orange citrus again. Cinnamon and ginger. A touch oily, giving it a chewy mouth feel.  The sweet and salty mix makes it somewhat lip-smacking, but I wish the smokiness was stronger.

Finish: Medium long. ‎The smoke is back. There’s a salty sweetness that lingers, like bacon coated in maple syrup. Some astringency comes in at the end (i.e., a bit drying).

I really enjoyed this dram. As someone who has only sampled the entry-level core range of Bowmore official bottlings so far (i.e., Small Batch, 12yo, and 15yo Darkest), I can safely say this is the best Bowmore I’ve tried to date. It’s a nice easy sipper (even undiluted at 51.5% ABV), with no off-notes – a pleasant experience through and through. That said, it is not as complex as I would have liked for this price point.

The highest score I’ve seen so far comes from Ruud1983 of Reddit (which closely matches my own assessment). Ruben of Whisky Notes gives it a middle-of-the-road score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a slightly lower one.

Copperworks American Single Malt

While in Seattle recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a tasting at the new Copperworks distillery. Like Westland, this distillery is also focusing on an “American single malt”, although they are coming at it from a beer brewing perspective.

While its often said that whisky is just distilled beer, there are noticeable differences in production methods. While in both cases malted barley is the source of sugar for fermentation, brewers boil the wort to remove bacterial contaminants that can spoil the beer’s flavour. They also add hops – the bitter-tasting fruit of a vine plant – to balance out beer’s natural sweetness and to act as a natural preservative to stabilize the flavour. Neither step is necessary when distilling whisky, as you not drinking the base product – instead, for whisky you simply ferment the wort, take the resulting wash and distill it. This greatly increases the alcohol level in whisky (which naturally preserves it). Oak barrel aging is then done to balance the whisky’s flavour.

Typically, some brewers have gotten into whisky making by distilling their actual beer (which may require an extra round of distillation, to handle the extra contaminants). Indeed, the press release for the first batch of Copperworks whiskey stated that it was “made from a high-quality craft beer brewed from 100% pale malted barley” from Elysian Brewery.

I sampled Copperwork’s batch 003, which differs significantly from the first two batches. This new release uses a new “Five Malt” recipe consisting of 75% pale malt and 25% caramel malts. The distillery representative referred to this new recipe as their “scotch ale” malt. I note as well that the Elysian website currently says they produce a “sugary wash” (wort?) that Copperworks takes back for fermentation and distillation at their own facility, using Elysian’s house yeast. This suggests to me that Copperworks are now producing whisky directly using this custom five malt mashbill, without going through the full beer-making process (as they presumably were previously with the pale malt on the first two batches).

There aren’t many reviews online for Copperworks, and most of these would be for batch 001/002. But here is how it compares to other North American malt whiskies:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.45 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.64 ± 0.09 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.63 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.37 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Winter 2016: 8.5 ± 0.73 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

According to Copperworks, their American Single Malt is twice-distilled in their traditional-style copper pot stills. It is matured for 34 months in full-size, charred, new American Oak barrels, made from Virginia oak and coopered in Kentucky. It is bottled at a fairly high 52% ABV, and retails for $60 USD.  I sampled from bottle 195 of 1559 produced for batch 003. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: First impression is sweet fruit (with pear and plums especially), and a variety of tropical fruits (mango, papaya, and pineapple). Also citrus, and an herbal component that borders on eucalyptus. Spicy nose, with black pepper. Not much in the way of caramel or vanilla – apparently these were a lot more prominent on the earlier pale malt batches. Noticeable solvent off-notes, mainly acetone.

Palate:  Sweet, with similar plummy notes as the nose.  Unfortunately, that acetone from the nose turns into an artificial sweetener note here. Getting the caramel now, along with a charcoal note from the wood. Adding water brings up butterscotch, and enhances the caramely sweetness.

Copperworks.003Finish: Medium. The artificial sweetener turns into more natural molasses (which is actually a positive). A bit of sourness comes in at the end, but not offensive. Some mild baking spices show up now as well (touch of cinnamon).

It’s an interesting whisky – surprisingly fruity, with some bold flavours. Not really an everyday sort of dram, but a fun novelty when looking for something different. I would personally score it as on par with the standard Westland American Single Malt that I recently reviewed. It will be interesting to see how this product progresses.

For reviews of the earlier batch 001/002, check out Whisky Advocate, the Whiskey Wash and the Whiskey Reviewer.

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