Mar 23

Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Tasting with Dr Bill Lumsden

Trinity Hall Special Event:  A Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Tasting with Dr Bill Lumsden

Our good friend Marius Donnelly at Trinity Hall continues to spoil us with great events! This time Marius went all-in, hosting a fantastic whisky tasting of the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whiskies – and presented by two very special guests: Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and David Blackmore, the Glenmorangie Global Master Brand Ambassador!

As we entered the pub, we were greeted by tables filled with pre-poured whiskies and a small plate of cheeses, salamis, crackers and a lamb chop and we nibbled away while waiting for the festivities to start.

Finally, the hour arrived and Marius introduced the two guests, and from then on, it became a fun-filled couple of hours. Now I’d heard that Dr Bill would, on occasion, share some slightly NSFW humor, and that proved very accurate…..within the first two minutes he launching into a couple of off-color jokes – but he got the crowd laughing and we only stopped when we were sampling a whisky!

The Tasting

The premise of the presentation was a side-by-side “competition”, as Dr Bill described it, The Classic vs The Cult, with the attendees voting at the end to decide the “winner” for the evening. David represented the Glenmorangie range and Dr Bill carried the banner for Ardbeg; each would give a description of background of the whisky, highlight some of the key flavors, and talk a little about the development and maturation process.  

At our place-settings, we had three whiskies from each of the two distilleries. The format would have us compare them in pairings starting with the Glenmorangie “Original” 10 year old vs the Ardbeg 10 year old. The second contest was between the Glenmorangie Lasanta vs Ardbeg Uigeadail so that we could compare two whiskies with sherry maturation. And our final contest matched up two of the recent special releases, the Glenmorangie Bacalta and the Ardbeg Dark Cove.  This was definitely an interesting approach since the Glenmorangie range
tends to be on the delicate, fruity-floral side, while the Ardbeg whiskies are full-blooded Islay peated!

In the end, The Cult whisky, Ardbeg, was clearly the crowd favorite, but I think everybody knew that going in based on their initial reactions. 

 

The Conclusions

For me, there were some interesting – and surprising – results as we went through the samples.

WIth our first whisky, I was reminded just how good the Glenmorangie Original 10 yo is: delicate, fruity, softly floral, but very elegant and enjoyable. This is a great introductory whisky for new whisky drinkers, or even some bourbon drinkers, while still one an experienced whisky fan can appreciate. Honestly, this may have been my top-rated one for the evening!

The Ardbeg 10 yo, one which I honestly hadn’t visited in quite some time, brought out that big smoke and peat muscle, supplemented by underlying fruits and vanilla sweetness. Still good!

The Lasanta, a 12 year old whisky that starts with the Original 10 and then is finished for two years in Oloroso sherry casks, was distinctly sherried with its spices, dried fruits, and chocolate. This is another reliable whisky from the Glenmorangie core range, but, for me, the sweet sherry notes are a bit too loud.

The Uigeadail, and this was the most recent batch, btw, was a bit disappointing to me; that is a tough statement for me to make, because I’ve been a huge fan of Uigeadail for many years. However, in this batch, the sherry maturation and the peaty core seemed out of balance, the smoke and the sweet and spicy notes not dancing together. And the finish was very drying, almost mouth-puckering dry, certainly more than I remembered from past iterations.

When talking about the two Special Releases for this evening, Dr Bill describes how he takes the standard 10 yo malts and then tweaks them through wood (cask) influence or finishing experiments. For the Bacalta, this one seemed to continue a trend of these Glenmorangie special releases toward being overly sweet, and the sweetness here really came across as a little bit manufactured.

In talking about this afterwards, I began to wonder if the difficulty in avoiding this result lies in the fact that the Original 10 is so delicate, that the care needed to influence a different flavor profile without totally losing the core malt, pushes the whisky toward sweeter final products. Or, could it be that there is an intentional, marketing-driven force to produce something sweeter with an eye on the US market, to bring out a whisky that is an appealing crossover for bourbon drinkers?  

The Dark Cove, like Bacalta, started with the Ardbeg 10 yo, but was then finished in “dark sherry” casks. Forgive me if I fail to recall all of the details from Dr Bill’s description – I didn’t bother taking written notes – but dark sherry is effectively a sherry reduction. Through whatever process, the sherry is coaxed into an almost syrupy consistency, rich, very dark in color, and sweet. If I heard correctly, this dark sherry can be used as a coloring agent in other sherries – but, please, don’t quote me on that and, by all means, let me know if I got this part wrong. After all, it was the end of the evening and the room had started getting louder, so I may not have heard Dr Bill correctly.

Anyway, for the Dark Cove, Dr Bill takes casks that had held this dark sherry and finishes the Ardbeg 10 yo in them for an unspecified time. The desired result was to create a smoky, peaty whisky that had a broader, sweeter sherry note. For me, as with the Bacalta, the Dark Cove, which I’ve had a few other times, while good, still has something artificial and lacks some cohesiveness. 

Thanks!

All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a fantastic opportunity to hear firsthand from Dr Bill about how he create both the new releases as well as the standard bottlings for these two distilleries. Thanks to Dr Bill, David Blackmore, and to our favorite local Glenmorangie / Ardbeg rep, Dan Crowell, for taking the time to come to Dallas.

And, of course, thanks to Marius for putting this together and sharing his love of whisky with the world! 

 

Mar 22

Tomatin 18 yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Review: The Tomatin 18 year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

After a quick trip through Austin and then down to Houston, I’m back, and onwards goes the Clean Out Project! Today, we’re looking at one of those often overlooked single malt whiskies, the Tomatin 18 year old.

The Tomatin Distillery, located in the Monadliath Mountains, just 16 miles south of Inverness, is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland sitting at 315 metres above sea-level. It was also one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. At one point in the mid-1970’s, Tomatin had a total of 23 stills (12 wash and 11 spirit), seven spirit safes, and an annual production capacity of 12 million litres! Long a major producer of bulk whiskies for various blends like Chivas Regal, J&B, and even Johnnie Walker, as a single malt, the Tomatin 18 flies under the radar, which is a shame because this is a good bang for the buck single malt. 

 

Review: Tomatin 18 year old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Bottled 2013, L1318328 774, 46% abv

Color: Amber.

Nose: (N) Starts with hints of sherry and raisins, dried fruits, and honey, but then notes of baking spices, cinnamon, some grasses, and a soft saltiness shows up. After a few minutes, I get some old leather. Becomes a bit fruitier with green apples or pineapple, as well as citric notes of lemon. A bit of dusty, oaky and cereal notes with remaining hints of light fruits. There are some floral notes that come in and out, like a whiff of potpourri from a distant room. Is that just a hint of bonfire smoke? Something piney, menthol-ly, too. (W) Water brings out more vanilla to go along with the honey, and also a bit of oakiness. But after a moment or two, the sherry notes take over again, with richer, riper red fruits, like plums and currants, raisins, then some leather, and that hint of lemon. I get what might be just a very slight hint of sulphur, but it is a “good” sulphur. More honey, more baking spices, and, once more, a faint smoke in the distance.

Taste: (N)  Initial arrival is, surprisingly, sour lemon candy, becoming warm and spicy honey. The body is oily and a bit heavy, with a good mouth-coating richness. There are orchard fruits, with red apples and pears amidst the citrus influences. Again, just a very slight hint of smoke. With more time in the glass, more sherry influence in the heavy, ripe red fruits, leather, cinnamon and nutmeg. (W) With a small splash of water, still a lemon-infused arrival, but the nose quickly freshens with early spring fruits, some heather, oatmeal, and that omnipresent honey. Soon, the palate becomes richer with more of the sherry notes: a beautiful spiciness, an influx of dried fruits, and the slight saltiness. There are some subtle floral notes, much less of the honey sweetness, and delicate grassy notes. 

Finish: Quite a long, warm finish with lemon, orchard fruits early, dried fruits late, more of the barley in a malty dryness behind the fruits Honey and leather, and, again, a very delicate touch of smoke at the tail end. The finish is quite long and very nice!

Overall: I admit that this is my second bottle of the Tomatin 18 and, once more, I was reminded just how enjoyable this whisky is. The Tomatin 18 has a good body, a lively nose, and a well-balanced complexity. Also, this one continues to improve once the bottle has been open for a while. Finally, even though it has risen in price, this remains a very good deal for a quality 18 year old single malt. If you’ve not tried this one, yet, you should!

Rating 86

 

 

Details:

Region: Highlands

Distillery: The Tomatin Distillery

Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Age: 18 years

ABV: 46% (non chillfiltered)

Maturation: “traditional oak” casks, final maturation in Oloroso Sherry butts

Price: $68.38 (Specs – 2014); $80 (2017)

Availability: Readily available

Sample Source: My own bottle

 

 

 

Mar 19

Midleton Very Rare 2012 Release

Midleton Very Rare 2012 Release; a special blended Irish Whiskey

So I spent all day working on my taxes, and I actually got everything done that I needed to do, which means that I deserve something to celebrate! But what to have? Well, since it also happens to be St Patrick’s Day 2017, that something really ought to be an Irish Whiskey, right?!!! Lucky for me that I have an open bottle of the Midleton Very Rare 2012 Release in my closet! 

The Midleton Very Rare is an annual, limited release from the Jameson Distillery. First released in 1984, each bottle of the Midleton Very Rare is numbered and signed by the Master Distiller. For the 2012 release, the Master Distiller was the legendary Barry Crockett, who was born and raised on the distillery grounds. Mr Crockett retired in 2014, so bottlings of the 2014 and later releases now carry the signature of the current Master Distiller, Brian Nation.

The Midleton Very Rare is a blended Irish whiskey, meaning it contains both pot still whisky and grain whisky, but, again, there are no details available about the ratios between the two – at least that I could locate. This whiskey also follows Irish tradition and is triple distilled. While the 2012 Release is officially a No Age Stated bottling, there are reports circulating around that this contains whiskies aged between 12 and 25 years; however, as that is not published by the distillery anywhere, these are non-verified ages.

 

Review: Midleton Very Rare 2012 Release, Irish Blended Whiskey, Bottle No. 035320, 40% abv, L212531113 09:26

Color: Medium amber.

Nose: (N) Huge notes of vanilla, in a number of forms. Dense, sweet, and rich, the vanilla remains the central pillar of the nose. There is a strong undercurrent of malt, delicate hints of the oak, a soft floral aspect, warm honey on toasted bread, and some soft orchard fruit notes: I get mostly peaches and ripe apples. The nose is very enjoyable, with the malty vanilla and honey remaining front-and-center. (W) Given the low abv, I respectfully added just a couple drops of water to this one over concern that it would not handle water well. Happily, the tiny amount of water I added didn’t bring it down too much, but it did seem to bring out more influence from the ex-bourbon casks. I started to get coconut and a little mint on top of the remaining vanilla-centric notes. The orchard fruits also picked up a little more life. 

Taste: (N) Delicate, light-bodied, and with a softer vanilla, which does allow the other flavors to make themselves known. The maltiness is much more pronounced, the honey, too. The orchard fruits remain subtle, very much the supporting cast. There is a very nice oakiness, here, bringing just a softly bitter, sharp edge to complement the sweet vanilla and rich malty notes. (W) Here the addition of water did seem to alter this whisky. Already delicate and light-bodied, just the small amount of water I added thinned the body even more. Beyond that, the palate remained very consistent with the nose, loads of vanilla and honey sweetness on top of the malty-bready notes, soft fruits, with the addition of the coconut and mint that I also picked up on the nose.

Finish: Exactly as you’d suspect, the finish is very heavy on the vanilla and maltiness, some soft oak spices, ending with just a hint of the coconut. Reasonable length to the finish.

Overall: Well, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. The nose is a beautiful, vanilla-bomb nose, supported by the malt, fruits, and floral notes. After the vibrancy of that beautiful nose, though, the palate suffers a bit from the high expectations and can’t quite live up to the promise. The body of this whiskey is extremely delicate, extremely delicate, and just a tad too thin to hit the high standards set by the nose. Had the body been a bit fatter, the flavors would have made a greater impact and I’d have rated this higher. Despite the minor disappointment on the palate, though, this still is an elegant, well-crafted whiskey that stays true to the Irish traditions. But this is one to try before you splurge!  

Rating 85

 

 

Details:

Region: Ireland

Distillery: Jameson, Midleton, County Cork

Type: Irish blended whiskey

Age: No Age Statement (reported as being between 12 and 25 years)

ABV: 40%

Maturation: ex-bourbon casks

Price: $150 (2014) 

Availability: Secondary market

Sample Source: My own bottle

 

 

Mar 15

Blue Hanger 7th Edition – Blended Malt Whisky

The Blue Hanger 7th Edition – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

The Blue Hanger 7th Edition is a blended malt whisky from venerable Berry Bros & Rudd. The 7th Edition Release came out in 2013 and was a US-only release. As a blended malt, or what used to be called a vatted malt, the Blue Hanger 7th Edition only contains malt whiskies, but the malts come from different distilleries. In the case of the 7th Edition, this whisky is a blending of 1992 Bruichladdich (ex-bourbon hogshead – 1), 1990 Bunnahabhain (ex-sherry butt – 1), 1997 Miltonduff (ex-bourbon hogsheads – 4), and two ex-bourbon hogsheads of peated 2006 Bunnahabhain. With the inclusion of the young-ish Bunnahabhain, based on the SWA regulations, this whisky would be in the neighborhood of 6-7 years old as a 2013 bottling, if Berry Bros had elected to include an age-statement. 

 

Just a little background on the genesis of the Blue Hanger whiskies. From the Berry Bros website:

“Blue Hanger, a blended malt whisky (a category previously known as vatted malts), is named after William Hanger, the 3rd Lord Coleraine, a loyal customer of Berry Bros. & Rudd during the late 18th century. He was renowned for the striking blue clothes he wore and gained the soubriquet, “Blue Hanger”.

Each release of Blue Hanger is a labour of love. Our spirits buyer, Doug McIvor, noses and tastes his way through many samples to identify exceptional casks before working with them to produce the best possible results in terms of aroma, flavour and finish. Every release is unique although there is continuity in overall style to retain the rich, smooth, fruity complexity that makes this Whisky stand out from the crowd.”

 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way……

 

Blue Hanger 7th Edition Release, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, 2013 Release, 3,088 total bottles, 45.6% abv

 

Color: Medium gold

Nose: (N) A very nice nose, but with a surprisingly major young, earthy peat influence – I really didn’t expect that! There is a bit of new-make in the rubbery-ness of the peat. Behind the peat, there are some sweeter notes: saltwater taffy, a touch of vanilla; lemon grass, and some ripe red fruits, along with some delicate sherry traits – nutty and herbal aromas. I also get some dried hay. Throughout there seems to be a vein of oak – fresh shavings, white pepper, a touch of cinnamon. Always, there is a light campfire smoke and the earthiness of the peat that slightly dominates the fruits. 

 

Taste: (N) The body is resinous, fat, and creamy in the arrival. Lemon-vanilla, the earthiness from the peat. There is something which is a bit sharp (young?) that acts as a counterpoint to the earthiness. The soft smoke continues on the palate. There are notes of warm bread, cardamom, almonds, cinnamon, orange zest, milk chocolate, green apples. (W) Adding a little water does have an adverse impact on the richness of the body, but it also serves to open this up a bit, introducing a more lively fruitiness, more sherry notes with more herbal spice, sweet orange, and almonds. There is a note sweet lime (yes, contradictory, I know!), some cut grass, and the milk chocolate. 

 

Finish: The peaty, campfire smoke notes drives the finish, carrying the earthiness and smokiness throughout, although there are subtle fruit and vanilla notes, also a hint of the milk chocolate at the very end. 

 

Overall: To frame my process, I do my tasting notes before looking up the details of the various whiskies, so when I add a (?) that indicates an impression but one I am not entirely certain of at the time. Here, with the young (?) reference, it seems to bear out that the young peated whiskies from Bunnahabhain bring out this sharpness.

Getting back to the whisky, the Blue Hanger 7th Edition is very enjoyable. The nose is a lot of fun – as long as you like bold peat and smoke notes. The body, too, is very nice. The palate is perhaps the weak point in the whisky because the peat is a bit too dominant, keeping the fruitiness and sherry-maturation notes from being able to shine to their fullest. When you add in that slightly odd sharpness, the palate brings my rating down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I like this whisky, even if it is not the best value around.  

Rating 84

 

 

Details:

Bottler: Berry Bros & Rudd, London

Type: Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Distilleries: Bunnahabhain, Miltonduff, Bruichladdich

Bottled: 2013 Release

Age: NAS (roughly 6-7 years by SWA definitions, but contains older whiskies, too)

ABV: 45.6%

Maturation: 1992 Bruichladdich (ex-bourbon hogshead – 1), 1990 Bunnahabhain (ex-sherry butt – 1), 1997 Miltonduff (ex-bourbon hogsheads – 4), and two ex-bourbon hogsheads of peated 2006 Bunnahabhain.

Price: K&L Wines (Dec 2013) $108.99

Availability: If you look around, you may luck out and still find one or two on shelves

Sample Source: My own bottle

 

Mar 13

Whisky Review: the Ledaig 10 yo

On a blustery, chilly day like today, pouring a glass of peated whisky, closing your eyes and letting the imagination run wild, you can almost feel yourself on a remote part of some windswept island in the Hebrides. Well, you can if you have an overly vivid imagination and, perhaps, may have read one too many whisky marketing blurbs! Still, there is wee bit of truth to the idea that a peated whisky conjures up the images of the rugged, raw nature of a remote Scottish island and which further translates into a truly distinct nosing and tasting experience. And speaking of distinct, in this next step in my closet clean-out project, today we’re looking at the Ledaig 10 year old, a peated single malt whisky from the Tobermory Distillery. (How’s that for a segue!) 

 

Very quickly, a little about the distillery! The Tobermory Distillery, located on the picturesque Isle of Mull, has a long, albeit sporadic, history of whisky production, suffering long periods of inactivity, and even a decades long closure that saw most of the buildings dismantled and left to ruin. Thankfully, the distillery was reopened in 1989, and then purchased in 1991 by Burn Stewart Distillers who have expanded the availability of their malts. Tobermory produces regularly produces two distinct style of whiskies: Tobermory, which is their unpeated version, and Ledaig, a peated malt. 

 

Review: Ledaig 10 year old, Single Malt Scotch, Bottled 2015,  P029220 L5 08:46 1306,  46.3% abv

 

Color: Chardonnay gold.

Nose: (N) Ah, yes, bring on the funk! A dirty, grimy, earthy, oily, diesel-y, smoked fishy, rubbery peat smoke greets you from the start. There are no apologies in this nose, it is what it is! Big, audacious, abrupt, and, that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it, uh huh, uh huh! But it really is more than a one-trick pony.  Behind the peat there are notes of cut grass, a subtle vanilla, some herbal spices, tropical fruits, lime zest, and green apples. (W) With a couple drops of water, this changes fairly significantly, bringing out a more vanilla-focused profile. Sure, the peat and smoke are still there, but they are no longer so dominating.

Taste: (N) Vanilla is more evident on the palate, showing up early and staying late. Yet there is also a slight saltiness in this one. There are the tropical fruits – pineapple and banana; green apples and lime zest, a buttery/bready note (think flour tortilla), and a more subtle rubbery, earthy peat, with a drop of iodine and some smoked fish. (W) Water also brings out more vanilla, with the palate becoming quite a bit sweeter. But beyond the increase in vanilla, this remains fairly consistent. Lime and the tropical fruits; salty, delicate smoke, the saltiness, and a little more vanilla. 

Finish: As the peat sort of picks up late in the palate, it carries over into the finish where it is a prominent note. There is that soft saltiness, the smoke, lime and vanilla, ending with a sooty and dry aspect.

Overall:  Ledaig has this wonderfully odd quality that I really enjoy. Similar to some of the Port Charlotte, Springbank, and Ben Nevis, the peaty notes in the Ledaig 10 are quirky, grimy, weird, and probably not for the novice. But if you’re a fan of those traits, you’ll enjoy this one. Sure, this is not the most complex whisky out there, but it has a character that is fun, there is plenty of peat influence if you enjoy peat, and it also represents a fairly good value-to-quality ratio. 

 
Rating 83

 

Details:

Region: Island

Distillery: Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Type: Single Malt

Age: 10 years

ABV: 46.3% 

Maturation: Not disclosed, but likely prominently ex-bourbon casks

Price: $50 (Specs)

Availability: Usually available

Sample Source: My own bottle

 

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