BenRiach and GlenDronach Tasting

Another Trinity Hall tasting (I love these events) and this time it was hosted by Alistair Walker of the BenRiach and Glendronach distilleries.  Here’s the lineup with some notes:

  • BenRiach logoBenRiach 12 Year Old – $43
    Notes:  This one started out great, but got bitter after a while.  Initially, I was impressed with the notes of vanilla and honey, but this proved to be short-lived.
  • BenRiach 16 Year Old -$75
    Notes:  Nice sherry influence with hazelnut and oak notes.
  • Glendronach LogoGlenDronach 12 Year Old – $46
    Notes:  Much better than BenRiach 12 with more sherry influence.  Also, better than MacAllan 12 (from a recent tasting). This one spends 7 years in ex-bourbon casks, then 5-6 years in sherry casks. It’s blended from malts up to 16 years old (an artifact of the distillery closure from 96-’02), with the youngest being 12 years old.  I highly recommend this one for MacAllan 12 fans… it’s better and costs less.
  • GlenDronach 14 Year Old Virgin Oak – $70
    Notes:  Starts out in ex-bourbon casks, then finished for 18 months in American oak. Sweet and fruity.
  • GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival – $80
    Notes:  Milder nose, but really great taste. It’s aged in first-fill Oloroso Sherry casks for the entire 15 years.  Easily, the standout of the night.  I want some!
  • GlenDronach 18 Year Old Allardice- $100
    Notes:  Not as good as Revival… less dark fruit and more spice and wood.
  • BenRiach 17 Year Old Solstice 2
    Notes:  Finished in Tawny Port casks and heavily peated. Not available in USA. Spicy, hot, peaty and sweet. Very good!  I might have to search this one out on future European travels.

I’m now a big fan of the BenRiach and Glendronach distilleries.  This was a great lineup of whisky, providing great variety and interesting (even creative) combinations of aging.  I’ve got a bottle of Glendronach 21 Year Old Single Cask Oloroso Sherry Cask (1990) that is bottled at cask strength and is non-chill filtered at home that I can’t wait to try now.

An Unexpected Balvenie Tasting

Balvenie LineupWhile at Trinity Hall Irish Pub last night for the Highland Park tasting event, I met Jason Stein, the Balvenie Brand Ambassador.  When the event was concluded, the following pours were delivered to our table complements of Jason:

  • Balvenie 12 Year Old Double Wood – $44
  • Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask – $57
  • Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel – $70
  • Balvenie 17 Year Old Double Wood – $110
  • Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood – $200

It was a good move on his part because they were all very good.  The only Highland Park offering that was clearly better was the 30 Year Old.  I’ll be exploring more of the Balvenie line as a result of this surprise tasting.

Best of The Whisky Advent Calendar

I’m delinquent in summarizing my favorites from The Whiskey Advent Calendar. Here are my top 5:

  1. Master of Malt 50 Year Old Speyside (3rd Edition)
  2. Glenfarclas 1981 Family Cask Release V
  3. Glenfarclas 105
  4. Glenkinchie 20 Year Old (2010 Release)
  5. MacAllan 10 Year Fine Oak

The only affordable offering is the MacAllan, but I may spring for the Glenfarclas 105 at some point as well.

Master of Malt 50 Year Old Speyside (3rd Edition)

Speyside Single Malt, 50 Years, 43% ABV, $596

That is not a misprint! You read it right, “50 Year Old Speyside” whisky for just under $600! It’s the grande finale of The Advent Calendar from Master of Malt. Just a 30ml sample will set you back $33! I just hope that its the best of the bunch, which is a pretty tall order. Here I go!

The color is amber and the nose is lightly smokey, peaty and grassy. There’s definitely a new aroma here that I’m having trouble putting a label on. In the meantime, I sense toffee, honey and the most distinct grapefruit I’ve ever sniffed in a whisky. The other aroma is a feint menthol mixing with the smoke and peat. The last smell that I detect is old cigar box. It smells great!

The taste leads off with grapefruit and orange paired with vanilla and toffee. This transitions to wood, mild smoke and peat with a brief bold bitterness that fades into the aftertaste very nicely. During that bitter interlude, a note of ginger arrives and fades to mild white pepper. The aftertaste is mildly woody with a white pepper taste, but very little heat. It’s so soft and lingers a good while. During the transition to the finish, I detect that menthol like flavor for just an instant and its subtle, yet distinct. Wow! This is impressive stuff! I wish I could spend some more time with it, but it’ll be gone in very soon, only to live on in these tasting notes… at least for me. The truth is that I really didn’t want to like this whisky because it’s too far out of reach, but I’m glad I was able to sample something like this for future reference.

In their bottling notes, Master of Malt announces:

Here it is – the third edition of our astounding, palate seducing, sensation that is our fifty year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky! This bottling from our Secret Bottlings Series is packaged in a redesigned bottle and label. This is quite literally whisky heaven in a bottle – the flavour is intense with perfect structure and the finish is astonishingly long.

The MacAllan 10 Year Old Fine Oak

Speyside Single Malt, 10 Years, 40% ABV, $34

The nose is lightly peated toffee, grass, orange and ginger. The grass is feint and the ginger arrives last. After being allowed to breath, a mild smoke aroma appears. This is one of the easiest to pick out distinct aromas so far… very nice. The taste is immediately and consistently a balance of sweetness, bitterness and spice. Orange and ginger with apple and vanilla with mild oak and just a bit of peat. There’s also bitter honey and white pepper. The aftertaste is long wit the spicy pepper lingering long after the sweetness dissipates. In the end, there is only a mild oak, but without the leathery feel. Anyone looking for a heavy wood influence will be left unsatisfied. For me, this is a nice young Scotch whisky and only the second MacAllan I’ve had… both 10 year old and this is the better of the two.

According to the bottling notes:

This 10 year old from Macallan was matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.

Longmorn 1997 Cask 163310 (Berry Brothers and Rudd)

Speyside Single Malt, 14 Years, 56.7%, $73

This whisky is a pale yellow with an equally subtle nose of honey, corn, grassy peat and feint smoke; however, the alcohol is not so subtle on the nose. A couple of splashes of water reveal toffee and a hint of vanilla. The taste is peppery, tangy and woody. There are hints of vanilla and honey, but mostly the bitterness of wood and a peppery burn that remains as a bit of dull smoke arrive. There is a brief taste of ginger up front as well. I’m not impressed with this one.

Here are the bottling notes from BBR:

This was distilled in 1997 at Longmorn and aged in cask 163309 before bottling in 2011 by Berry Brothers and Rudd. This is a complex, full-bodied and aromatic whisky, with honeyed, malty flavour.

Glenfarclas 105

Speyside Single Malt, 10 Years, 60% ABV, $92

The first characteristic I notice is the color, which is dark amber. Its a richer color than any of the previous whiskys, excepting the bourbon. Even through the alcohol burn of the high proof, I can tell that the nose is rich with a sweet and mildly smoky aroma. I’m going for the water right away.

Now, that’s better! The nose is rich with smoke and peat, but its not strong. The toffee, honey and vanilla blend to add a sweetness that adds to the richness and a gentle ginger element completes the story. The taste is immediately fruity and tangy along with the candy sweetness. The ginger is in perfect balance with the sweetness, while the flavors of orange, vanilla, toffee and the bitter woods dance around in my mouth. This is fantastic stuff. A mild peppery and woody aftertaste is complemented by a slightly salty tanginess. I do believe that this is the best whisky I’ve had since the Glenfarclas Family Cask Release on the first night. I might have to get a bottle of this one.

Here are the Glenfarclas 105 bottling notes:

Glenfarclas 105 is a superb cask strength whisky, really bold and punchy. In 2004, the Malt Maniacs rated this the best “Bang for your buck” whisky.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Speyside Single Malt, 12 Years, 40% ABV, $32

The aroma mildly peated corn (might be barley, but it smells like roasted corn to me), caramel and honey. After a while, I detect a feint bit of smoke and citrus. This is great aroma for a $32 whisky. The taste is mildly salty and woody, with notes of citrus and ginger. The ginger builds with the peppery spice and fades away nicely to a mildly bitter wood finish with a bit of salt and peaty smoke. Sipping more reveals notes of vanilla and hazelnut. The sweetness and acidity take a back seat to the spice until the latter begins to fade. By the time it does, the sweetness is nearly gone. This is good stuff and a great value for sure.

The story behind this whisky is included below. Read more here.

Two centuries ago, the illicit whisky from the remote and wild region of Glenlivet was sought after for its smooth and characterful qualities. The defining fruity ‘pineapple’ note from the sma’ stills lives on to this day in George Smith’s definitive legacy of The Glenlivet. The Single Malt That Started It All.

BenRiach 16 Year Old

Speyside Single Malt, 16 Years, 40%, $59

Speyside Single Malt, 16 Years, 40% ABV, $60[/caption]

Grass, mild peat and toffee greet the nose along with just a whiff of smoke. The smell has a chewy sweetness to it that is quite nice. As it breathes, the aroma opens up with corn syrup, grapefruit and a touch of brine. The taste is initially salty and sweet with notes of grapefruit, vanilla and white pepper. The salt and pepper linger and give way to a woody aftertaste. The white pepper is the strongest flavor often the sweetness subsides and, unfortunately I’m not a big fan of this flavor. The salty heat is welcome, although a bit overdone without any other interesting spices. The initial flavor is quite good, but it degrades quickly from there to a grassy bitterness. The pepper doesn’t go away for minutes and I’m hesitant to dilute it with such muted flavors. Amazingly, a bit of water helps out greatly. The tangy vanilla up front improves and the pepper is quickly brought under control. Now it’s quite nice! I’m beginning to take a great interest in Speyside whisky.

According to Master of Malt:

A Gold Medal winner at the 2006 International Wine and Spirits Competition, this 16 year old BenRiach was also a 2006 Silver Medal winner at the International Spirits Challenge.

Longmorn 20 Year Old – Single Cask (Master of Malt)

Speyside Single Malt, 20 Year Old, 55.5% ABV, $102

My nose is greeted with a mild amount of peat and smoke, roasted corn, raw rustic honey,grass and honey. There’s definitely a lot going on here. My mouth is assaulted with bitter oak, grass, peppery ginger, toffee and lemon, but it doesn’t last long. All of this ends rather abruptly, leaving a mildly bitter taste of oak as the pepper builds and fades quickly. After the water brings the peppery alcohol burn under control, many of the interesting flavors fade along with it. The fruits and spices fade to the background and the flavor becomes less interesting. There’s still a bit of tartness, but the bitterness takes over and lingers more than before. I had high hopes for this one while nosing, but those hopes also faded as the whisky did.

Here are the Master of Malt bottling notes:

This is a single cask, twenty year old Longmorn. Longmorn has remained a popular whisky ever since the now legendary fifteen year old bottling. Pleasingly this bottling shows another side to this revered Speyside whisky. Naturally this single cask Longmorn is bottled at cask-strength, without colouring and we haven’t even chill-filtered it, not even a jot.