Water Of Life Society Tasting 14/2 – Types of Whisky / More than Malt (15/09/2014)

WOLS 14-2

Water Of Life Society Tasting 14/2

Types of Whisky / More than Malt

(15/09/2014)

The focus of our second tasting was an exploration through the different types of whisky produced in Scotland. Famous for its single malt whisky, Scotland produces much more than this.

WOLS 14-2

Single Grain Whisky

All whisky is made from cereal grains. The contain a good store of sugars, packaged as complex carbohydrates (starch). This starch can be broken down into simple sugars that the yeast can then metabolise into alcohol. To break down the starch easily some grains such as barley come packaged with their own enzymes such as maltase, this can be activated by tricking the grains into growth by adding water and heat (simulating spring). Once the shoots appear the growth of the barley is halted by drying in a kiln (sometimes using peat) and the grains can be milled (crushed) to aid release of the sugars. Single Malt Whisky is produced entirely from malted barley, however single grain can be made from any cereal grain. To assist sugar extraction the mashbill (make-up of cereal grains) may contain a little malted barley, however mashbills of entire Maize or Rye are not uncommon. Apart from the utilage of numerous cereal grains, Grain Whisky is also distilled continuously. Column stills or continuous stills are descendents of the Coffey (or Patent) still (named after its inventor Aeneas Coffey, originally an Irish Exciseman, Coffey invented the continuous distillation method to increase efficiency of production over the traditional batch distillation in copper pot stills). New make from column stills typically reaches ~ 94% abv, which is reasonably pure alcohol and leaving minimal grain influence. This can be watered down and flavoured as Gin or Vodka or interred into oak casks and matured as grain whisky like the following:

1. North British 17 Years Old 1997 – Single Grain Collection ~ 43% (Signatory)

North British 1997 Signatory

Blended Scotch Whisky

Blended Scotch Whisky contains both Single Malt Whisky and Single Grain Whisky, usually with a high percentage (60-95%) of the cheaper Single Grain. Blended Scotch Whisky accounts for around 90% of the whisky output of Scotland and is both famous and popular worldwide. Originally constructed to use the cheaper sweeter grain whisky and harsher/spicier (often undrinkable) single malt whisky to produce a balanced highly drinkable, uniform and reproducible whisky product that could be marketed and shipped around the world. Blended Scotch grew to prominence at the end of the 19th Century in the latter two decades following the introduction of continuous distillation of grain whisky.

2. Spirit of Freedom 30 Years Old Blended Whisky ~ 46% (Springbank)

Spirit of Freedom Blend

Blended Malt Whisky

Blended Malt, previously Vatted Malt or All-Malt Blends, is the relatively new term (since 2009) for Whisky that contains a mixture of single malts distilled at two or more separate distilleries. The term Blended was resisted at first due to it’s association with the inclusion of cheaper Grain whisky (as above) but is now accepted as industry standard (at least by the producers). Consumer confusion still abounds however though more products are coming to market that are Blended Malts (see the blending company Compass Box for example). Again the Blender’s skill is employed to select individual whiskies with beneficial characteristics and mix them together to create a whole that is superior to its parts. Monkey Shoulder from William Grant & Sons, contains Single Malt Whisky from each of their 3 distilleries: Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and the lesser known Kininvie, batch mixed to create just the right flavour profile. Mixture of different Single Grain Whisky also gives rise to the Blended Grain Whisky category.

3. Monkey Shoulder ~ 40% (William Grant & Sons Ltd.)

monkey-shoulder

Originally reviewed (Batch 27) 7th October 2013

Single Malt Whisky

Possibly the most highly acclaimed category by Whisky Afficionado’s, Single Malt Whisky is (perhaps wrongfully) considered the pinnacle of scotch whisky production. Single Malt Whisky is produced from 100% malted barley and is batch distilled in traditional copper pot stills. After this however things take a turn for the sinister. Batch produced new make is often collected over a period of a week or so to even out production variation. This new make is then interred into 100’s to 1000’s of oak casks of various types and styles. Ultimately the Single Malt Whisky is then constructed by vatting together a huge number of these casks to generate the specific flavour profile of the standard signature whisky from that single distillery (e.g. Glenmorangie 10, or Glenfiddich 12, etc.). In so doing the distillery can then deliver a reproducible/uniform product to the marketplace, whilst hoodwinking the lesser informed into thinking this is a hand-crafted, unique product. That said, flavour profiles from some distilleries have shifted noticeably over time with uniformity of production methods (especially the mechanization and computer-controlling many of the steps along the way) such that there are no longer good (or equally bad) still runs anymore just perfectly average uniform production all the way.

4. Tomatin 15 Years Old ~ 43% (Tomatin Distillery)

Tomatin 15YO

Originally reviewed 23rd August 2013 as part of Tomatin tasting Masterclass

Single Cask Whisky

Single Cask (Single Malt or Single Grain) Whisky is perhaps now growing to the forefront of whisky appreciation. Single Cask and Cask Strength Whiskies have certainly grown in availability and popularity over the last few decades. Single Malt production is now at the stage where most whisky produced is pretty drinkable on its own (without vatting), however once in a while a combination of spirit and cask get together and produce something truly unique and wonderful. Delivered by independent bottlers and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the main, some Distilleries will offer Single Cask expressions and even occasionally release them to general sale. The problem is small batch sizes, especially from older casks. During maturation, evaporation (the Angel’s Share) takes its toll on the cask contents and the volume and abv both drop with time. The older the cask the less return, or number of bottles, and usually the relative increase in cost per bottle. Single Cask Whisky is unique and non-reproducible, so enjoy its unique-ness and if you come across one you like – buy as many bottles as you can as once it’s gone, it’s gone!

5. Glendronach 23 Years Old 1990 – Authentic Collection ~ 53.9% (Wm Cadenhead)

 Glendronach 23yo 1990 Cadenhead

Glendronach 23 Years Old 1990 – Authentic Collection ~ 53.9% (Wm Cadenhead)

Glendronach 23yo 1990 Cadenhead

Glendronach 23 Years Old 1990 – Authentic Collection ~ 53.9% (Wm Cadenhead)

53.9% ABV, ~£80 for 70cl

Score: 84/100

Glendronach 23yo 1990 Cadenhead

What they say:

Single malt whisky from the Highlands of Scotland (Labelled as Speyside on the bottle). Distilled at Glendronach Distillery in 1990 and bottled at 23 years old in August 2013. This was from a single bourbon hogshead and produced an outturn of 162 bottles at cask strength of 53.9% abv.

What I say:

Dram #5 from WOLS 14/2 Types of Whisky, this 23 year old Glendronach represents Single Cask whisky. Unusually for a Glendronach expression this was matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead by Cadenhead’s, so none of the super-sherried character Glendronach’s are famous for.

Colour:

Full gold

Nose:

Oaky wood, herbal, tobacco, heather honey, butterscotch toffee, vanilla, coconut, acrid/ascerbic woody notes

Taste:

Bubblegum, oak wood, creamy butterscotch toffees, vanilla, crème brulee, slightly herbal

Finish:

Long, ascerbic wood and toffee pervades (sweet and sour)

Would I buy it:

Sadly no longer available. A really interesting ‘older’ single cask Bourbon Glendronach. Worth it for the experience but doesn’t show off the best of Glendronach or old wood/bourbon maturation perhaps to their best. Still hugely informative as a single cask sample and appeared to go down very well with WOLS members.

 

Spirit of Freedom 30 Years Old Blended Whisky ~ 46% (Springbank)

Spirit of Freedom Blend

Spirit of Freedom 30 Years Old Blended Whisky ~ 46% (Springbank)

46% ABV, £75 for 70cl

Score: 84/100

Spirit of Freedom Blend

What they say:

30 year old blended Scotch whisky, crafted by Springbank’s owners, J & A Mitchell. This fantastic expression was produced to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, so this one’s for you, Robert the Bruce!

The Spirit of Freedom 30 Year Old blend consists of 75% malt whisky and 25% grain, taken from all over Scotland. This is a release of 2,014 bottles.

Official Tasting Notes
Nose:
Initially fresh with floral aromas, followed with a lovely, creamy sweetness. Honey, nougat and strawberries ‘n’ cream were also identified.
Palate: Sweet, creamy and buttery, as well as sugared pears, honey, nuts and malt. Oak and biscuit notes follow.
Finish: The sweetness is balanced with white spicy pepper. A lovely long smooth finish, another dram please.

What I say:

Dram #2 from WOLS 14/2 Types of Whisky was this Blended Scotch from J & A Mitchell’s at Springbank. Celebrating 700 years of Bannockburn, this is a high malt % blend (75%) and contains at least 5 different single malts covering all regions of Scotland

Colour:

Full gold/dark amber

Nose:

Sweet honey, vanilla, malty cereal barley, floral/perfumed

Taste:

Warming and spicy with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, malty cereal barley,sour old oak wood and cigar boxes

Finish:

Long woody oak

Would I buy it:

Actually this is a rather good blended malt, perhaps leans a little too heavily on its Campbeltown roots as there was a distinct Springbank familiarity, drinking this blind I would be surprised if people correctly identified this as a blended whisky, perfectly balanced and delicious in all the right places.

North British 17 Years Old 1997 – Single Grain Collection ~ 43% (Signatory)

North British 1997 Signatory

North British 17 Years Old 1997 – Single Grain Collection ~ 43% (Signatory)

43% ABV, £28 for 70cl

Score: 72/100

North British 1997 Signatory

What they say:

Distilled in 1997 at Lothian Distillers Edinburgh-based North British Distillery and bottled 2014 by Signatory Vintage as part of their Single Grain Collection

What I say:

Dram #1 from WOLS 14/2 Types of Whisky. This 17 tear old from the North British grain distillery here in Edinburgh representing the Single Grain category.

Colour:

Pale gold

Nose:

Vanilla, esters (ripe bananas), oak wood, sweet honey, linseed oil

Taste:

Masses of vanilla, Madagascan vanilla pods, vanilla custard, crème brulee, coconut, banana, grain (maize/corn?), dry white oak, freshly sawn lumber

Finish:

Short, sweet oak

Would I buy it:

Most likely matured in American white oak/1st fill ex-bourbon casks, this single grain whisky is full of vanilla character and a little oaky wood, a little chemical nature of the grain whisky still comes through in the finish.

The Glenlivet XXV ~ 43% (Pernod Ricard)

Glenlivet XXV FLAVOURS_25

The Glenlivet XXV ~ 43% (Pernod Ricard)

43% ABV, £190 for 70cl

Score: 90/100

Glenlivet XXV FLAVOURS_25

What they say:

Character: The intense and opulent one
Colour: Rich amber with ripe gold hues
Nose: Dark chocolate with scents of dried sultanas
Palate: Silky, sweet and caressing with cinnamon notes
Finish: Incredibly long, rich and balanced

Craft facts
The XXV is a batch-produced whisky finished in individually selected ex-sherry butts.

The Oloroso-soaked oak imparts a nutty spiciness and enriches the flavour of the expression.

Each cask is individually monitored in the finishing process to ensure only the subtlest sherry tones are added to this intense, silky and elegant whisky.

THE_GLENLIVET_25_YO_700ML

What I say:

Every now and again I come across a Malt that really surprises me. The Glenlivet XXV was one of those. I have a healthy respect for the whisky output from Glenlivet but was slightly disappointed with a recent purchase of the 18 Years Old (The Glenlivet 18 Years Old ~ 43% (Pernod Ricard) ) which didn’t live up to my expectations. Asking around I found several of my friends and fellow whiskyphiles of a similar opinion. Surprisingly then I targeted the XXV as one of my must have drams at the 2014 Whisky Fringe. After tasting a ripple of support for this dram grew by word of mouth and soon we were all espousing the joy at what a wonderful dram it was and how we were all surprised! So the XXV turned out to be one of my top picks from the Whisky Fringe and deserving of a more thorough sampling and analysis:

Colour:

Dark Copper Gold

Nose:

Fruit-cake mix/batter, deep sugary and syrupy molasses, fruity – like morello cherries soaked in brandy, baked apples with cinnamon and ginger, creamy butterscotch toffee

Taste:

Smooth and quite light on the tongue, muscovado sugar sweetness, nutty walnut and praline, dark chocolate, dried fruits; figs, dates and sultana, tangy orange zest or peel (candied), brandy butter

Finish:

Long, nutty, wood polish and mulling (wine) spices persist

Would I buy it:

Due to the cost, no – but I would highly recommend this whisky for the price bracket. This is a complex and delicious dram redolent with Christmas spices but lovingly wrapped in a walnut cabinet that keeps everything restrained and beautifully in balance. If you are a Glenlivet fan then this will blow you away, and if not then I suspect you soon will be after trying this!

Balblair 23 Years Old 1990 Small Batch Sherrywood ~ 51.7% (Wm Cadenhead’s)

IMG_0605[1]

Balblair 23 Years Old 1990 Small Batch Sherrywood ~ 51.7% (Wm Cadenhead’s)

51.7% ABV, £76.60 for 70 cl available here

Score: 88/100

Balb23-cr-400x600

What they say:

The swing tags say bourbon barrels but after checking just one more time i am now assured that this malt is Sherrywood cask matured.

Nose: Dried oranges; peaches; vanilla pods and strawberry yoghourt. Ripe summer fruits and sunny highland meadow tones.
Palate: Mandarins; apricots; toffee and candied ginger.slide along the palate as a more soft fruit tone opens across the middle palate.
Watermelon; raisins; honeycomb and traditional lemonade give this dram that final flourish that leaves you wanting just a little more.

London Tasting Room Favourite!

Region: North Highland

IMG_0605[1]

What I say:

Dram # 3 from the Jolly Toper P/O/U/R/S tasting held on 11th September 2014

Colour:

Full gold

Nose:

Acetone/nail polish remover, Slightly peppery/tabasco?, heather honey, golden syrup, vanilla custard, crème brulee

Taste:

Sweet golden syrup, toffee, butterscotch, fruity, mandarin, blackcurrant and apple, some spice/white pepper, with water (takes water very well); more of the vanilla and fruity flavours

Finish:

Long sweet oaky wood

Would I buy it:

Tempted, this was an excellent expression from the Balblair distillery – I can understand the confusion regarding the cask-maturation. This did not strike me as particularly sherried though it was quite fruity.

Alechemy – Panacea – Whisky Cask Aged ~ 7.5% (Alechemy)

IMG_0665[1]

Panacea – Whisky Cask Aged ~ 7.5% (Alechemy)

7.5% ABV, £3.50 for 330ml

Score: 98/100

Panacea%20Whisky%202

What they say:

*Limited Edition*
Panacea Whisky Cask Aged Stout 7.5%
Colour: Black
Bitterness: 35 IBU

A rich stout made with a Belgian yeast strain and aged in a Speyside whisky cask for four months.

IMG_0665[1]

What I say:

Produced from our local brewery at Alechemy Brewing, this is something I had been really looking forward to trying. A dark stout at 35 IBU (International Bittering Units), this has spent 4 months in a Speyside whisky cask. Part of their Freestyle Friday Series of beers.

Colour:

Like a black dog on a moonless night

Nose:

Rich deep malty marmite, caramel and butterscotch, treacle toffees, chocolate and a hint of nuttiness

Taste:

Thick, very thick, malty, rich dark chocolate (70+% cocoa solids) but creamy not bitter, toffee and oak feature strongly in almost whisky-like finish.

Would I buy it again:

Yes – I hope I get the chance to get more of these, I couldn’t drink a lot of it as each mouthful is like a spoonful of rich molten chocolate – so like all good stout it is both a meal and a drink in the same glass. This one requires time to be spent supping it. The balance of heavy malted stout and almost creamy whisky influence is just sublime.

The Balvenie launch new Tun1509 series

The-Balvenie-Tun-1509

MmDS

As discussed  with us by The Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart at the Meet The Blenders Event on the 14th May 2014, The Balvenie are discontinuing their highly popular Tun1401 series opting for an even bigger marrying Tun (Tun 1509) to produce larger batches to meet demand. Previous batches of the Tun1401 expression had been targeted to specific regions (UK/Europe, US and Asian markets) much to the chagrin of collectors and ardent supporters alike. The use of the new Tun1509 vessel allows bigger batches to be produced and allows a uniformity of distribution across world markets.

Malt Master David Stewart is one of the most respected experts when it comes to marrying whisky casks. Following on from his highly regarded Tun 1401, comes Tun 1509. Larger than its predecessor, Tun 1509 allows David to select a wider range of component casks; 42, in fact, resulting in a remarkably complex expression.

Of the 42 selected casks, 35 are traditional American oak barrels and seven are European oak sherry butts – all from the distillery’s precious aged stocks. Among these casks are some of the finest The Balvenie has to offer. And all have been allowed to marry together and sit for several months in Warehouse 24 before bottling.

The result is an expression that is deep and rich on the nose with floral notes and clear hints of sweet vanilla and orange peel. It is velvety smooth to taste with distinct tangy citrus, mellow cinnamon spice and blossom honey overtones. In short, this is a truly exceptional expression.

t1509d

Each bottle comes with a series of graphics representing the flavour profile of each cask.

Tun1509 Batch #1

The-Balvenie-Tun-1509

Tasting Notes

Deep and rich on the nose, with floral notes, sweet vanilla and orange peel. Velvety smooth to taste with tangy citrus, mellow cinnamon spice and blossom honey.

 

Asyla ~ 40% (Compass Box)

asyla_bottle_box

Asyla ~ 40% (Compass Box)

40% ABV, £36 for 70cl

Score: 79/100

asyla_bottle_box

What they say:

A blend of soft, fruity malt whiskies on a bed of rich, sweet grain whiskies. All whiskies aged in first-fill American oak casks to yield the trademark Compass Box style: soft, rich, vanilla-tinged, delicious. See why this, the lightest of our whiskies, wins the most awards!

The ultimate “everyday,” “before dinner” or “Sunday afternoon” Scotch whisky. With just a splash of chilled water, this blend of soft, sweet grain whiskies and elegant, refined malt whiskies epitomises “deliciousness” in the world of  Scotch whisky.

The Secret is in the Oak

The secret to making Asyla is the quality of the casks. We use only whiskies aged in first-fill American oak casks because these yield whiskies with more vanilla character, more richness and more sweetness than refill casks. Asyla is made with 50% malt whisky. There are few blended Scotches that use as high a malt content as we do at Compass Box. The result is a carefully crafted, elegant blended Scotch whisky that makes the perfect aperitif.

The Signature Range from Compass Box

Asyla is part of the Signature Range from Compass Box. The five Scotch whiskies in this range cover the entire spectrum of Scotch whisky styles, from the delicate, sweet character of Asyla, to the subtle vanilla, clove and fruity characteristics of Oak Cross, the rich and spice notes of The Spice Tree, the peaty- smoky character of The Peat Monster and the elegant flavours of vanilla cream, toffee and coconut in Hedonism. Each is made from the highest quality casks, to create more complexity. The whiskies are combined according to each recipe and returned to casks for marrying up to 24 months before bottling. Steps like these enhance complexity, flavour integration and soft mouthfeel. Extra steps, but we think they’re worth it.

Flavour Descriptors Sweet, delicate and very smooth on the palate, with flavours of vanilla-cream, cereals and a subtle apple- like fruit character.
Recommendations Ideal as an aperitif served in a white wine or similar glass with chilled water to taste. Try before a meal with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Distillery Sourcing  Single malts from the towns of Alness and Longmorn; single grain whisky from Fife.
Wood 100% first-fill American oak ex-Bourbon.
Bottling Details  Bottled at 40%. Not chill filtered. Natural colour.

What I say:

Asyla is the only grain/malt blend in the Compass Box Signature Range, this contains a high percentage of Grain whisky and Linkwood single malt. This particular expression was constructed using the “style equation” of drinker + occasion = whisky type. Asyla is designed as a “party” whisky perhaps for use in long drinks and cocktails to which it lends itself particularly well. Sadly after the Peat Monster 10th I was unlikely to rate this one too highly as I was blown away by the last!

Colour:

Gold

Nose:

Sweet apples and vanilla

Taste:

Malty cereal, vanilla custard, ‘grain’ whisky

Finish:

Ethereal and light

Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Park Avenue Edition Cask Strength ~54.7% (Compass Box)

PeatMonster10th-Bottle

Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Park Avenue Edition Cask Strength ~54.7% (Compass Box)

54.7% ABV, $80-120 for 75cl

Score: 88/100

PeatMonster10th-Bottle

What they say:

We can’t quite believe it but it is ten years since we created a bespoke blend of very peaty single malts for the owners of the Park Avenue Liquor Shop in New York. It sold so well that when this “Monster” became endangered we decided to share the idea with the rest of the world. It has gone on to become our best-selling Compass Box whisky. In 2013, we have created this special Limited Edition bottling of The Peat Monster with intense aromas of peat-reek, smoke, seaside character and burnt ropes and a subtle apple-fruitiness in the background. This unique recipe is a fitting tribute to such a full, round and tremendously complex whisky.

Ten years ago we created a bespoke blend of very peaty single malts for the owners of the Park Avenue Liquor Shop in New York.
We named it “Monster” and for the label graphics we used a 19th century illustration of a bizarre and strangely beautiful creature that appeared to us to capture the idea of the whisky.
It sold so well that when it became endangered we decided to share the idea with the rest of the world. We appended “The Peat” to the  front of “Monster” and breathed fresh life into the beautiful beast. It has gone on to become our best-selling Compass Box whisky.
In 2013, let’s celebrate ten years of sharing the joys of the craft blender’s art, of inspiring others in the industry and of enjoying the balanced, peaty charms of this creation. Heavy peat and smoke, combined with notes of malty richness.
For this special bottling, we have produced a special recipe of The Peat Monster, maintaining the smoky, heavy-peated intensity of the classic bottling and adding a bit more malty richness through the use of some very special, quite odd casks of peaty Highland single malt.

Availability Limited Release of approx 5,700 bottles. Bottled in September 2013.
Flavour Descriptors Intense aromas of peet-reek, smoke, seaside character and burnt ropes, with a subtle apple-fruitiness in the background. The palate is full, round and tremendously complex. Water brings out a spice- laden, sweet vanilla character, as well.
Recommendations A fantastic late-night digestif malt whisky.
Distillery Sourcing Islay single malts distilled on the south shore of the island and in the village of Port Askaig. Balanced with a rich, smoky Highland single malt and a fruity oily malt from the village of Brora.
Wood Primarily a mix of first-fill and refill American oak, plus approximately 2% new French oak for finishing.
Bottling Details Bottled at 48.9%. Not chill filtered. Natural colour.

What I say:

This 10th Anniversary edition of the Peat Monster was produced for Park Avenue Liqours in New York. This blend is made up from ~44% 10 year old Benrinnes – matured in sherry casks, 28% Cameronbridge Grain, ~2% Laphroaig, a little Teaninch 1st fill Bourbon cask matured and the remainder 7-8 year old Caol Ila similar to that used in the Eleuthera blend. The result is a more complex blend and slightly older overall composite compared to the standard Peat Monster expression.

Colour:

Full Gold

Nose:

Peat smoke, apples, seaspray

Taste:

Refined and mature, gentle peat, fruity apples, some vanilla and a little cereal malt balance this out with a little old oak wood

Finish:

Long earthy peat smoke

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