Witches, Ghosties and Ghoulies
31st October 2019
Those are three things not featuring in this month’s column but Happy Hallowe’en anyway. Should we really say Happy Hallowe’en or, better, Spooky or Creepy? Whichever, there are plenty of whiskies with which to toast it and I’ve been tasting some this month.
Firstly, though, October’s been a good month for our wonderful female Master Blenders. Rachel Barrie from Brown-Forman was made a Keeper of the Quaich – the Keepers is a whisky trade body which honours people who have made Scotch Whisky the great global success that it is and you can become a member only by invitation. Stephanie Macleod of Dewar’s was voted Master Blender of the Year in the International Whisky Competition awards – the first woman to get the title and who also hosted a live streamed tasting on Amazon from Aberfeldy Distillery on 24th October. It featured Aberfeldy 12 Years Old, Aultmore 12 Years Old and Craigellachie 13 Years Old, all at 46% ABV. This was Amazon’s first live UK event and a first for Dewar’s too. Despite good intentions, unfortunately I couldn’t be around to view it.
Then we have Kirsteen Campbell of Edrington who has moved across in the company from Famous Grouse to take charge of the Macallan team as Master Whisky Maker so she’s now looking after the liquid that goes into bottles of their flagship brand. Great accolades for them all – brilliant women in their field.
On a different tack, Kirstie McCallum of Distell (Bunnahabhain, Tobermory, Deanston, Black Bottle and Scottish Leader) is moving as Head of Whisky Creation to oversee the Glen Moray single malt range, as well as other whiskies owned by parent company La Martiniquaise-Bardinet, such as Cutty Sark, Sir Edward’s and Label 5. An interesting move with lots of scope for her talents and I’m sure she’ll do a terrific job, just as she did at Distell.
Diageo launched their Special Releases for this year – an impressive range on paper – and held an event for whisky scribes and sellers in London. They seem to have given up on the Scottish launches they used to have for those of us based up here. However, their PR agency, bless them, has put together samples for me, so I hope to have those before the next column is due. My old colleagues at Laphroaig have intro’d two new expressions – a 16 year old exclusive for Amazon and a 25 year old Bessie Williamson Story edition to celebrate the woman who became the first female distillery owner/manager of the 20th century. She had many other achievements at Laphroaig too. The whisky has been aged in refill American oak hogsheads and refill barrels, bottled at 43% abv and is a travel retail exclusive. I’ll look for it in December when I travel to France but it’s out of my price range at around £400. This edition sits alongside The Ian Hunter Story, the previous owner as well as Bessie’s boss and the man who introuduced US ex-bourbon wood to the Laphroaig maturation process. It is a 30 year old (46.7% abv) matured in first-fill American white oak bourbon barrels and at least £700/bottle if you can still find one. I’m told it’s also an ongoing travel retail item. The Ian Hunter Story Book 2 is out next year.
So what have I been tasting this month? Well, there was a duo of Kilchomans, a quartet of Octomores, a trio of Glenmorangies and a soloist in the shape of Wemyss Malts Nectar Grove cask strength. Note that I wasn’t nosing and tasting all of these on the same day. This morning I also received a sample of the Douglas Laing & Co. Timorous Beastie 25 but there was no time to squeeze it into this month. That’s one to feature soon.
Nectar Grove Madeira Wine Cask Finish (54% abv), a blended malt from Wemyss Malts and 8,100 bottles available. I deliberately didn’t look at my notes of the original Nectar Grove as I didn’t want to be influenced by those. This version is at higher strength (they say “batch strength”) rather than the 46% of the original. It also had extra maturation time in bourbon wood as well as the madeira cask finishing.
Appearance: Not as “pink” as before. More old gold with orange and brass glints and some brownish tinges. Tears slow and fat and close at first then wider apart.
Nose: Melted demerara sugar, stewed apples, some soft oak; soft candy (Dolly Mixtures for UK readers); little bit of vanilla and waxy too. Some ripe vine fruits and almonds, coffee and coconut; even a tiny bit of honey and a wisp of pine woods.With wateer , it’s softer and more perfumed plus some sweet spices like cinnamon and mace.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel – slightly luscious; spices and bitter sweetness of burnt sugar; oak, almonds and some astringency.
Finish: Quite a long, spicy finish with some wood tannins and a little nut bitterness at the back.
Sadly I didn’t have any of the original left to try them side by side but worth a try if you do. Encourage your customers to do so too. This newer one is a very attractive dram and do try to track it down.
Then I moved on to Glenmorangie, preferring to leave the peaty whiskies for another day but Dr. Bill Lumsden has slipped a lightly peated expression into this group which is for travel retail. They were launched as a preview in Dubai this month and will go into Hong Kong International airport in November with a global travel retail presence from 2020 when they will also be available at the distillery shop.
The group comprises, The Accord, a 12 year old from ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks to illustrate cask marrying; The Elementa , a 14 year old finished in new charred oak for wood spice to show finishing effects and The Tribute, a 16 year old, aged in bourbon wood to celebrate the light peating that used to be used at Glenmorangie. All are at 43% abv. It would make things too long to include detailed tasting notes of all the whiskies I’ve tried this month so I’ll pick out some specific points. On The Tribute, I preferred it on the nose to the palate It’s very pleasantly toasty and smoky on the nose with an interesting note of tangerine fruit jelly and smoked cheese.
It was hard to decide a favourite amongst the three. I preferred The Accord on the nose for its vine fruits, ginger and sweet spices, a little vanilla and caramel; even some floral notes and coffee grounds. Quite a tangy and tongue-prickling sensation too. Best for flavour, in my view was The Elementa though I loved the nose on this as well with its vanilla custard, stewed fruits and a touch of warm peach skin. Also a little wisp of orange or tangerine oil. On the palate this was the fruitiest and the most elegant and subtle for me. I don’t know why as I don’t have a sample of it any more to compare with Elementa but the nose certainly triggered something akin to Milsean at the back of my mind. Pricing moves from The Accord up to The Tribute. A lovely showcase trio to sip and savour.
A nice surprise in the form of two Kilchomans – the 2010 Vintage and the 100% Islay 9th Edition (50% abv) popped up in the post. Both had an aroma of sweaty sock (a good thing!) but 2010 Vintage (48% abv , no chill-filtration and no added colour) has more of a sea air tang and freshness along with a hint of lime zest and something medicinal / disinfectant. With water there was more citrussy smokiness (sounds odd but it just was) plus a little cooked pineapple. 100% Islay 9th Edition nosed like cooling bonfire embers with some barley sweetness and sponge cake. Nosed from the bottle before pouring there are some lovely oak notes too. The 2010 Vintage is a vatting of 45 casks. It consists of 42 fresh bourbon barrels and 3 oloroso sherry butts. A total of 15,000 bottles is available worldwide. The 100% Islay 9th edition is 100% ex-bourbon barrel maturation and has been around since September but I got my sample after I’d loaded last month’s column. Distilled from 2007 and 2009 barley crops, the 9th edition is a vatting of 43 ex-bourbon barrels matured for over 9 years in Kilchoman’s on-site dunnage warehouses. Bottled at 50% abv, there is a total of 12,000 bottles. Both expressions have long, dry and smoky finishes. Definitely two for the chewy smoke fans and I know plenty of those, including me.
Last and most definitely not least is the new Octomore range from Bruichladdich. These just made my day. This is the Octomore 10 series with four different expressions and all are matured and bottled on Islay. Not all are available to consumers yet as 10.4 won’t be released until 2020. I didn’t have time to nose and taste them on different days and in different orders but if you do, then try it. I went through them from 1- 4 though they could have been nosed/tasted in order of strength or in order of parts per million of phenols or in terms of cask maturation. I do have enough of the samples left to try them again in these alternative orders to see if that makes a difference in how I perceive them. Despite the high peating levels not one of them has in-your-face smoke and no harshness. The subtlety and balance are a marvel.
Octomore 10.1 is from Scottish barley and matured in American oak (ex-bourbon). It’s only 5 years old and at 59.8% abv with 107ppm phenols. The smoke drifts in after the cereal notes and then there are soft stone fruits and candied melon and vanilla. All very warm and mellow. This manages to be both smoky and sweet together with almost a minty note at the back.
Octomore 10.2 is matured half of its life in in first fill American oak and the other half in third fill French oak former Sauternes casks. It’s a darker one and some might be misled down a sherry route but never judge by colour alone. This one is 8 years old, 56.9% abv and 96.9ppm of phenols. It’s available only in global travel retail shops. There’s some toffee/caramel and rich, luscious dried vine fruits; a little oil of clary sage. It’s very fresh, not cloying and softly inviting. The palate is therefore more of a surprise. The smokiness is more instant. Smoked fruits, if they exist, would taste just like this. It’s very rich, mellow and rounded.
Octomore 10.3 is a bit younger at 6 years old. Strength is 61.3% abv and is the highest in phenolics at 114ppm. It uses all Islay barley, is a “single field, single vintage” whisky and is matured only in American oak casks. This had the most unusual nose to start – oddly vegetal like the water that potatoes or beetroot are cooked in followed by a beautifully integrated peat smoke. Then a touch of marshmallowy sweetness, sweaty sock, yeasty fermentation notes and dried fruits. With water there’s a lovely vanilla ice cream or custard aroma as well as coconut. It’s sweet and enticing. The palate is initially very smoky and peaty. I thought 10.2 was like breathing in next to a bonfire till I tried this one. It’s a little more insistent than you’d expect from the nose. Chewy and astringent there’s also a bit of salted popcorn here.
We’re brought to a close with Octomore 10.4 and what a way to finish! This one is 63.5% abv and only 88ppm of phenols and so rounded and lovely yet it’s only…..wait for it, 3 years old. An astounding dram for its years and, for me, the real standout from an excellent selection. A smack on the nose for those believing that age is all-important. It’s matured in virgin oak from the Limousin forest in France. The 28 casks were given a high toast to counteract any bitter tannins from virgin oak. It’ll be available from January so make sure to find some. There was soft smoke and oakiness on the nose – subtle and nuanced, some dried and stewed fruit notes; with water came resin and raisin, and an enticing nose of cedar and spices. Maybe even a hint of sandalwood and wax. The palate has some youthful notes and freshness with some dried fruits but is also chewy and smoky, less fiery than might be expected and oh, so rounded and balanced. A long and smoky but not at all harsh finish with barley sugar sweetness rounds it all off and make the lips tingle in an intriguing way. Or maybe that’s because I went back and had another sip from 3 and 4 to check my notes. Certainly a few of these will have been distilled on Jim McEwan’s watch but they certainly chose well in Adam Hannett as his successor. His curation of this latest range is impressive.
So that’s all for this month. I’ll be back in November either with some more news, comment and tasting notes or a company interview. We’re having a bit of trouble getting a date sorted for an interview as October and November are travel months for those concerned. I’ll also have that Timorous Beastie 25 to cover either next month or in December, hopefully the Diageo Special Releases selection and, I hope a sample of the new Aberfeldy 15 from Dewar’s and which was recently launched in Bermuda. Yes, I wondered about location too but that’s where the corporate HQ resides.
Till then, happy dramming.