NTSS Single Malt Scotch Whisky Tasting

The North Texas Spirits Society met for a tasting of Scotch Whisky and the lineup was pretty spectacular.  I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single poor that I would consider average – they were all very good.  The standouts for me were the Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask (see my review here), Linkwood-Glenlivet 23 Year and Lagavulin 12 Year 2014.

Whisky List:

  • MacAllan 14 Year 1990 (Provenance, 46%)
  • Bladnoch 25 Year 1990 (Exclusive Casks, 51.5%)
  • Coleburn 21 Year 1979 (Rare Malts, 59.4%)
  • Linkwood-Glinlevet 23 Year (Cadenhead, 55.3%)
  • Mortlach 21 Year (Cadenhead, 53.5%)
  • SHamamoto Custom Blend (58.8%)
    • 2 parts Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 45, 59.8%)
    • 1 part Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 30, 60.2%)
    • 2 parts Tamdhu Sherried Cask Strength (Batch 1, 58.8%)
    • 2 parts Glendronach Cask Strength (Batch 3, 54.9%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (58.6%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (59.0%)
    • 3 parts Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%)
  • Glenfarclas 24 Year 1990 (K&L Wine Merchants, 50%)
  • Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask Oloroso Sherry Butt 1990 (#2209, Spec’s Exclusive Selection, 53.8%)
  • Bowmore 25 Year (AD Rattray, 47.9%)
  • Two Brewers Peated Single Malt (43%)
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength (L7, 55.7%)
  • Lagavulin 12 Year 2014 (54.4%)
  • Ardbeg Supernova 2010

As is the custom of the group, there are bonus offerings from several members of the society that are revealed after the official lineup is completed.  I was really impressed with all 3 of the older offerings, particularly the Longmorn 15; however, the Buchanan Deluxe bears mentioning as the best blend I’ve ever tasted.  I wish that they still made them like this one!  I have the 2 Cairdeas offerings, so you should see them reviewed eventually.

Bonus Pours:

  • Springbank 15 Year (bottled pre-2006)
  • Longmorn 15 (bottled in 1980’s)
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016
  • Buchanan’s Deluxe 12 Year (bottled in 1960’s)

Private Tasting

GlenDronach Cask Strength, Batch 3Another whiskey tasting hosted by a fellow aficionado, which included (brace yourself):

Old Grand Dad 114° 1980 ($18) – Notes of cherry, vanilla, lemon, pear, tobacco, char, anise… somewhat tannic… very good!

Brenne Single Malt ($60) – dark red grape, bubble gum, strawberry, ice cream, black pepper, overripe banana… very interesting and a decent dram.

Linkwood 18 Year Old Sherry Butt 1988 (Cadenhead’s Cask Ends) – 58.7% ABV with notes of gunpowder, sulphur, ginger, cherry, white pepper, apple, grass… spicy and tangy with too much sulphur

Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask #4449 ($90) – bright fruits, ginger, lemon, woody finish, clove, bitter honey… sounds better than it is…. not impressed

Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask #4443 ($90) – milder nose than #4449… same notes, but sweeter with additional clove… better balance than #4449 and the winner of the two, but neither of these is as good as the now discontinued 15 Year Old Single Barrel (Bourbon Cask), which is excellent

Amrut Single Cask August 2012, Batch 10 ($74) – 61.8% ABV with notes of cardamom, clove, lemon, ginger, truffle, pear, honey, black pepper… distinct earthiness about this one… very good

Amrut Intermediate Sherry ($119) – 57.1% ABV and has a mild earthy sweet nose with a woody finish… notes of cinnamon and cherry… very good

Balvenie 42 Year Old 1971 Cask #5034 Sample #130613031 – We were quite fortunate to have 1 of only 3 bottles in the world present for this tasting tonight.  This is one of the components of Tun 1401, Batch #9… 52.4% ABV and mildly earthy with notes of truffles, straw, fresh cut grass, apple, pear, mild honey and white pepper with a mildly woody finish… it just got better and better as I let my pour linger for the rest of the evening… outstanding!

Bruichladdich 22 Year Old October 9, 1991 (Exclusive Casks) – 50.6% ABV with a briny, spicy sweetness of honey, ginger, white pepper, black pepper, vanilla and  cereal… very good stuff!

Probably Speyside’s Finest Distillery 22 Year Old June 1991 Single Cask Refill Hogshead ($120) – This was a Binny’s selection that is probably from Glenfarclas at 50% ABV… notes of honey, white pepper, ginger, apple and pear with a great mouth feel… excellent!

Yamazaki 18 Year Old ($200) – nice balance with great mouthfeel… notes of dark fruit, honey, pear, mild spice, mild wood… excellent!

Glendronach Cask Strength 2013, Batch #3 – 54.9% ABV with earthy notes as well as caramel, vanilla, tobacco, truffle, ginger and pear… outstanding!

Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch #45 ($70) – 60.2% ABV with notes of ginger, bright fruits and pepper… another very good batch.

MacAllan Cask Strength ($80) – 60.1% ABV from a sherry cask… notes of ginger, pepper, honey and cocoa… pretty good.

Brora 30 Year Old 2007 6th Edition – fantastic as when I had it before… farmy, earthy, fruity, spicy… outstanding!

Strathclyde 29 Year Old Single Grain 1980 (Duncan Taylor Cask #1497) ($180) – 56.7% ABV best Scotch grain whiskey I’ve tasted… fruity, mild spice… very nice.

JJ Neukomm Single Barrel Missouri Malt Whiskey – cherry wood, tannic, green apple, herbal, anise… not bad, but nothing great.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan L9 2009 – less peated than any Ardbeg I’ve had… fruity, sweet, slightly medicinal… typical Ardbeg and very good.

There were 4 others after this that I missed:  Ardbeg Auriverdes, Glen Mhor 26 Year Old 1978 (Scott’s Selection), KaVaLan Single Malt 2013, KaVaLan Single Malt Port Cask Finish 2012.  I was just too tired to continue at this point.  I did get a quick taste of Auriverdes in order to decide whether I wanted a bottle on hold for me… it was pretty good, but I passed at $82.

These private tastings have been the most rewarding and interesting, if not the most grueling.  For tonight, the highlight for me was the Glendronach Cask Strength, with the Balvenie 42 Year Old Cask Sample as a close second.  Of course, I was delighted to have another go at Brora 30, which is one of the best whiskies that I’ve tasted.  Honorable mentions go to Probably Speyside’s Finest Distillery 22 Year Old, Yamazaki 18 Year Old and Strathclyde 29 Year Old Single Grain.

Blind Whiskey Tasting

tastingTonight, I attended a different kind of tasting at Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas.  This one included 4 pairs of similarly styled whiskey, which had to be identified as either the named flagship offering or a specific premium offering.  Here was the lineup:

  • Bulleit Bourbon ($20) or Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon ($35) – The 10 Year is a new offering from Bulleit that was introduced in 2013 and I haven’t read any favorable reviews or received any favorable recommendations on it.  I had tasted their regular Bourbon almost 2 years ago and wasn’t impressed.  I approached the judging by expecting the flavor of the 10 year to reflect it’s age, but I was duped. The 10 Year is worse than the original and a definite waste of money.
  • Crown Royal ($18) or Crown Royal XO ($45) – I’ve not had many Canadian whiskeys, so this was new for me.  The cognac influence of the XO was subdued (as was the general flavor of both whiskies), but discernable. I didn’t find either one very interesting, so I would pass on both of these.
  • Bushmills Black Bush ($30) of Bushmills 1608 400th Anniversary ($100) – This was the most difficult to identify because both of these blends have sherry influence.  Black Bush is finished in sherry casks, while 1608 includes whiskies which have been aged in sherry casks.  For me, the 1608 had an added depth of flavor and richness that caught my attention more.  Both of these were good, but I prefer Jameson 12 Year ($39) or Jameson Gold Reserve ($63) over either of them.
  • MacAllan 10 Year Fine Oak ($38) or MacAllan 17 Year Fine Oak ($150)  – This was probably the easiest to identify even though both of these are good.  I had tasted both of them at a previous Trinity Hall event and this helped as well.  The 17 Year just had enhanced flavors and complexity over the 10 Year, but it’s still not worth the price difference.

If you’re keeping track, then you know that I correctly identified 3 out of 4.  I don’t know of anyone at the event who correctly identified them all (like I said, Bulleit duped everyone with their 10 Year Bourbon by making it worse than their original).  This was a good test of whether premium offerings really offer anything special and it was a fun event to attend.  In general, premium offerings need to be approached carefully.  There are those who will offer inferior products with a premium label (e.g. Bulleit), while others will price their premium offering far too high to make them worthwhile (e.g. MacAllan).  Still others, take mediocre products and enhance them to create mediocre premium products (e.g. Crown Royal).  What you’re looking for is the honest producer who will masterfully or cleverly work to create a superior product that is worthwhile.  The closest example of that tonight was Bushmills 1608… even though it’s not a whiskey that I would seek, the premium blend definitely demonstrated a richness, depth and complexity that I expect in a premium offering.

The MacAllan Tasting

The MacAllan LogoLast night I attended a tasting of single malts from The MacAllan at Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas.  Jerry Fonicello from The MacAllan was there to introduce each of the pours and was both informative and entertaining, if not a little “over the top.”  Marius Donelly (proprietor of Trinity Hall Irish Pub) did a great job of putting this together at a reasonable price (including food) and with a great selection.  Speaking of the selections, here’s the lineup that we tasted with our local prices for a bottle:

  1. The MacAllan 10 Year Old Fine Oak Single Malt – $36
  2. The MacAllan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt – $40
  3. The MacAllan 15 Year Old Fine Oak Single Malt – $70
  4. The MacAllan 17 Year Old Fine Oak Single Malt – $130
  5. The MacAllan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt – $146
  6. The MacAllan 21 Year Old Fine Oak Single Malt – $250
  7. The MacAllan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt – $640

The standout values for the night were the Fine Oak 10 and Sherry Oak 12, which were both good.  I would give a slight nod to the Sherry Oak 12, which had a more interesting flavor profile due to the sherry influence.  The standout of the night was the Sherry Oak 18, which I consider a very nice whisky, but overpriced.  Everything after that was severely overpriced, in my opinion.  The Fine Oak 21 was interesting, but not dramatically more so than the Fine Oak 17 and the Sherry Oak 25 was a disappointment when compared to the Sherry Oak 18, especially at more than 4 times the price!

I’m really glad that I was able to attend this event and get this experience at a price that would’ve matched that of a single pour of the Sherry Oak 25.  This helped solidify my previously unfounded belief that The MacAllan makes very good whisky at outrageous prices, while offering the masses some solid values at the same time.  Even in the lower price range, you can find better offerings, but you can always return to these for a reliably good and solid whisky.  If you’re interested in trying their best, then it might be worth it to spring for the Sherry Oak 18 before it disappears from shelves as The MacAllan introduces an entirely new range next year.  I don’t expect much change with the new line that would dissuade me from the evaluation that I came away with last tonight.  I might even try some of their new entry-level whisky when they’re available.

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.

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.