In so many ways, finding friends who share a passion for the exploration and enjoyment of good whiskies is wonderful. Sharing new bottles, dissecting, evaluating and discussing the pluses and minuses of certain whiskies, or comparing past batches with the most recent release, is a lot of fun. But…….there are certain pitfalls that go along with such camaraderie….. namely……. birthdays! What do I mean, you ask yourself in bewildered puzzlement? How can celebrating birthdays be a bad thing? What is wrong with the idea that you can get together with friends, have fun and celebrate a person’s milestone day. It’s a great plan….all’s good, right?
Well, yes, except if you have friends who are brazen, uncontrolled, semi-deranged, whisky fiends (all of the best kind, of course) who are always on the lookout for any moderately justifiable, tentatively acceptable, or totally random reason to share their newest acquisition, a bottle of something quirky, or a rare bottle that they’ve been holding for just the right occasion….like a birthday!
Such was the case this past Saturday, which happened to be the evening twenty of us got together in celebration of Pete’s birthday….with lots of whiskies, of course!
And I mean LOTS! This picture of the table doesn’t do the best job of illustrating my point, but it gives you at least some approximation of what was in store! In reality, there were something like 26 bottles of whisky on the table and today’s post will be a summary of the evening, one that I think will help you understand exactly what I am talking about! But before anyone gets their knickers in a twist over the number of whiskies, we taste these in very small pours. As you will see in the individual bottle photos, those are all “fresh” pours – usually less than 1/4 oz per sample, – and even then we frequently use a “dump bucket” for excess.
Anyway, let’s get started! And buckle up…..it’s going to be a long ride!
We convened at one of our usual haunts, Kabobi, a small BYOB Persian/Mediterranean restaurant in Richardson off 75 and Belt Line. Kabobi is a friendly, family run place with a great little buffet dinner that tolerates us sitting there for several hours!
As we usually do, partly to try a new beer or two (or three) and partly to set our palates, we started out the evening with a trio of beer tastings: Brooklyn Black Ops (Stout aged in Bourbon barrels, 11.6% abv), Community Barrel Aged Inspiration (Dark Specialty Ale, 10.2% abv, IBU 45) and a Duchess De Bourgogne Belgian Ale (a blend of 8 and 18 month barrel-aged ales, 6% abv).
And then things got serious!
Glen Moray 11-year-old: Single Cask Nation bottling, distilled May 2003, bottled January 2013, 61.2% abv. Cask No 2740, first-fill bourbon. 214 bottles.
Our first whisky was a Single Cask Nation bottling of Glen Moray (bottled by the Jewish Whisky Company). Single Cask Nation is a US-based, members-only Independent bottler who release, as their name implies, only single cask bottlings. Ben, who was one of the guests, is a founding member of Single Cask Nation and actually helped select this cask for release. His name is even on the back label!
Normally you’d refrain from starting out with such a high abv whisky, but surprisingly, this one didn’t overwhelm and several of us commented that this might be the best Glen Moray we’ve tried. The nose was softly sweet, subtly malty, with oak spice notes. But with water, this one really began to shine. Fresh, ripe red and green fruits, herbal and baking spices, creamy vanilla. The palate, neat, had a rather delicate arrival but was hot in the mid palate. Again, water raised this up. Rich, oily on the tongue, vibrant, sweet and fruity with beautiful baking spice notes. The finish was moderately long with just a lightly drying ending.
Bladnoch 22: Battlehill Scotch Whisky Co., (Duncan Taylor). 46% abv.
A Lowland whisky from the now-closed Bladnoch distillery, this is a multiple-cask release from Duncan Taylor under its Battlehill label – which can be found at Total Wines here in the Dallas area. This is a bottle that I also have and actually served at the April NWC meeting…and it is very good!
For all the comments about Lowland whiskies being “light” and “delicate” this one is surprisingly bold. The nose starts with a big fruit-basket full of red apples, cherries, berries and even some orange citrus before revealing some vanilla sweetness, and a soft floral/grassy note. And the richness of aromas carries through onto the palate which is deeply fruity, and sweet, but not saccharine. It is softly spiced, malty, with subtle hints of red liquorice. The finish is also moderately long and remains very fruity.
Westward, Small Batch Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey, 2-year-old, Batch No. 6, Bottle 346, 45% abv
This is one of the bottles that I brought to share. It was an impulse purchase because I knew very little about it beforehand – except that I was fairly sure no one in the group had tried it previously – a rarity! Westward is produced by House Spirits Distillery, Portland, OR and is a single malt made with barley grown in the Pacific Northwest and aged in new, lightly charred American oak barrels.
Tasting this one was an interesting experience. It was definitely young, but at the same time it showed itself to be a solid, well-made whiskey with potential. Initially, this was green, with big notes of the barley, some ginger, and soft vanilla bean sweetness. Adding a couple drops of water and giving it a few minutes really helped. The sweetness of the vanilla, some fruits and some baking spices came out, pushing the grain-forward notes to a more supporting, secondary role. The body on the tongue also improved after water. I look forward to trying this again after the bottle has some time to breathe a bit more.
Signatory Vintage Imperial 18 year old: Distilled 21.08.1995, bottled 04.08.2014, Specs Texas Exclusive, Matured in Hogshead Cask No. 50151, Bottle 102 of 228, 52.2% abv.
A bourbon cask whisky from this now closed and demolished Speyside distillery. I’ve now tried several Signatory releases of Imperial and they have been consistently good, and this was no exception.
A big vanilla and fruit basket nose, with a hint of white pepper, some cinnamon and cardamom, strawberry cream, and a sweet maltiness. The palate had a medium viscosity, with a sweet vanilla arrival with the spiced fruits in the mid-palate, before shifting to a spiced vanilla toward the back. The finish was very full, fruity and sweet, some hints of oak tannins toward the very end.
Gerston, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: The Lost Distillery Company, Whisky Series No. 3, Batch No 1.XI, Bottle No. 0256, 46% abv
This was a very interesting bottle, one that I’d had for quite a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to opening it. The back story on this one, as with all the whiskies released by The Lost Whisky Company, is that of the whisky from a long-lost distillery and their attempts to replicate the whisky that the particularly distillery produced. They are very forthright as to their intentions and, to a great degree, they explain they use to determine how a whisky from that distillery might have tasted when it was active and producing.
The Gerston distillery operated from 1796-1882 as a small-scale farmhouse distillery, closed and then was rebuilt in 1886, but as a large-scale, technologically advanced, industrial distillery with ten times the capacity of the original. This “second” Gerston distillery remained operational until the outbreak of WWI in 1914.
The color of this one is almost impossibly pale, nearly clear. The nose is very interesting: toffee, allspice and nutmeg, softly fruity, and with a delicate peaty/smoky covering. The palate is surprisingly rich and well-balanced. The peat and smoke are there but is only a component to the whisky, not the central element. As with the nose, there are sweet toffee and various baking spices, fruits and a slight mineral aspect. The finish continues the palate, ending with just a trace of the smoke. I had no idea what to expect with this one and found this to be exceptionally good. Serge, at Whiskyfun.com, review it here and rated it an 89!
Balvenie 16 yo Triple Cask: Bottled circa 2014, Matured in Oloroso Sherry first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels, and “traditional whisky casks”, 40% abv.
An expansion on the finishing/maturation process that Balvenie uses for their Double Wood releases – but this time with three types of barrels.
For me, Balvenie is a distillery that knows how to make quality whiskies. The whiskies in their range, excepting the single barrel releases, share some common traits: they are almost universally exceedingly well-balanced, have a beautiful mouthfeel, and offer rich flavors with an emphasis on warm toffee, sweet malt, honey, soft grains and delicate spices. And this one continues that tradition. Well-made, quality, a warm embrace from a long-lost friend of a whisky. If there is a “downside” to Balvenie, it is that their whiskies are so consistent that they can tend to blend into one another a bit. They are beautiful whiskies, but distinguishing this one from the Double Wood 12 or 17, and in some ways even the 21 year old Portwood, is difficult. All of these whiskies are very good, the kind of whisky you and a group of friends could polish off rather quickly, but they are just a bit “MOTR” as a tasting experience.
Chieftain’s Rosebank 20 year old: Distilled December 1990, Bottled July 2011, Matured in “Sherry Butt”, Cask No. 3617, 564 Bottles, 54% abv.
When I saw this on the table, I was really excited. Like Bladnoch, Rosebank is another “closed” Lowland distillery and one that is becoming more difficult to find on the shelves. My limited experience tasting whiskies from Rosebank, though, have been good to very good, and here we have a sherry butt matured single cask!
There has been no caramel e150a added to this whisky, so the beautiful mahogany color has come directly from the cask! In nosing this whisky, there is no question that this is a sherry-matured whisky. None. And boy, oh boy, is it a great sherry nose! Clove, aniseed, touches of white pepper, deep red fruits, dates, stewed plums, orange marmalade, dark chocolate, roasted nuts, and a delicate grassiness. Surprisingly, this one seemed to offer the nutty, slightly drying/tannic notes of a Fino cask yet also the richly sweet notes that I find in PX cask-matured whiskies. The label only identifies the cask “size” so we are left guessing as to what type of sherry was in the barrel, but I’d be very happy to sit with glass after glass of this one to conduct further “research”!
Signatory Vintage Longmorn 18 year old: Distilled 10.041992, Bottled 18.03.2011, Matured in Hogshead, Cask No. 48477, Bottle 271 of 381, 46% abv
Another sherry-matured whisky, but this one is lighter in color and was more on the drier, nuttier side than the Rosebank.
The nose brought some orange zest, chocolate, roasted grains like whole wheat toast and some softly fruity notes. Beautiful spice notes of allspice, nutmeg, and cloves are there, they are just “softer” compared to the nose of the Rosebank that preceded it. The arrival is sweeter than the nose leads you to expect, hard toffee candy, but it remains on the nuttier side of the sherry-flavor spectrum. A mix of raisins, dates, or maybe figs, along with some sweeter red fruits. The finish is quite nice, the toffee rises, then settles behind the nutty and spice notes that take you to the end.
Signatory Vintage Bruichladdich 23 year old: Distilled 26.09.1990, Bottled 31.07.2014, Matured in Refill Sherry Butt, Cask No. 178, Bottle No. 444 of 486, Handpicked by K&L Wine Merchants, 54.8% abv.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being a big Bruichladdich fan – the 16 year old is one of my favorite “every day” whiskies. As a side note, Bruichladdich is one of two Islay distilleries that produce un-peated whiskies – Bunnahabhain being the other.
Here we have a single cask Laddie matured in a sherry-butt – something relatively uncommon. Both Ben and I were very eager to try this one, and it was worth it. Definitely sherry-matured, but at the same time, it retains hints of its Islay-ness. There is this underlying saltiness, particularly on the palate, that reminds you that this whisky was made on an Island in a distillery that sits alongside the sea. While sherried, this is not a “sherry bomb” of a whisky, rather it is very subtle, but given that it was matured in a refill butt, that is not totally surprising. Softly spiced, delicately nutty, hints of chocolate, dried fruits, and orange marmalade, with just a hint of brine. Perhaps not the best of these three sherried whiskies, but really fun and a bit of a unique example of Bruichladdich!
Signatory Vintage Blair Athol 25 year old: Distilled 21.10.1988, Bottled 04.09.2014, Matured in Sherry Butt, Cask No. 6923, Bottle No. 177 of 376, Handpicked by K&L Wine Merchants, 61.2% abv.
This whisky was the first Blair Athol that I’ve tried in part because Blair Athol is not one that you see regularly in most retail stores since most of its whisky goes into the Bell’s blends.
This one was interesting, and a bit challenging. As a freshly opened bottle, the nose was very tight to start. And the high abv was very obvious on both the nose and the palate. Water, and some time, were definite benefits to this one, as it slowly opened up to reveal a rather enjoyable, moderately sweet sherry-matured profile. Raisins and stewed fruits, rich marmalade, soft clove and aniseed notes, plum syrup, and some oaky tannins. At the beginning, there was a slightly off, slightly funky note, but that did dissipate with time. I suspect that this one will continue to improve now that the bottle has been open and that some on-going oxidation will bring out the best aromas and flavors that were just hinted at during this tasting. With luck I will get to try it again to see if I was right!
Gordon & MacPhail Cask Strength Balblair 1993: 53.4% abv
Booyah! This one is a great, big sherry monster!
This bottle from Gordon & MacPhail’s Cask Strength range is a big, bold, fruity, sweet and spiced sherry-matured whisky of the first degree. On the nose I got big notes of ripe red fruits; plums, even some berries, red raisins, dates and figs, stewed prunes, plus dark chocolate, cloves, cardamom, aniseed, more chocolate. This had an almost rum-like fruitiness minus the sometimes sugariness that rums have. The palate was similarly bold and vibrantly flavored, showing great balance. Richly spiced dried fruits, fresh red fruits, the herbal spices, just touches of baked nuts, orange marmalade covered with chocolate, with a great heft and body on the tongue.
Most of the Balblairs that I’ve tried seemed to be much more Bourbon-barrel aged, presenting an entirely different profile. Certainly, this is the most sherried Balblair that I’ve tasted, and it was very impressive!
Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Clynelish 18 year old: Distilled 28/06/1996, Bottled 10/09/2014, Matured in Refill Sherry Butt, Cask No. 6510, Bottled 151 of 485, Specially Selected for Specs Texas, 55.2% abv
This was a really good single cask release of Clynelish. With a few drops of water this one became fruity, slightly salty and with the waxiness on the palate that is common to Clynelish.
Even though this was a refill sherry butt matured whisky, the wood influence in this one was very understated letting the core spirit show through. It was crisp, clean and well-defined with a mix of both dried fruits and fresh orchard fruits, even a touch of tropical fruits. There was an underlying vanilla sweetness along with a soft ginger, clove and white pepper adding a delicately sharp spicy edge. The body was medium viscosity, more oily than creamy. The finish was quite long, fruity sweet, softly spiced.
Liquorhound and Sefein, “Twisted and Immoral” XO Cognac Blend: Bottled 5/26/2015, 41.5% abv
Next up was a “one-of-a-kind” blended Cognac put together by Chris and Mark – our two resident blending experimentalists. I didn’t get a chance to ask too many questions about this one, but from what I remember, Chris and Mark combined three different Cognacs and let them rest before re-bottling the output.
The blend consisted of 50% XO 25 year old, 47% SB #79 10 year old, and 3% SB #521 15 year old.
I don’t have a lot of experience with Cognac, but this was quite nice. It was richly fruity – think orchard fruits, and full of spices – allspice, nutmeg, some clove, coriander, cardamom, a little vanilla, some orange zest, and some beautiful oaky tannins that provided a nice counterbalance to the fruity sweetness. It was “fresh”, despite the 50% ratio of the 25 year old component.
McGibbon’s Provenance Port Ellen 23 year old
This is another one that I was anxiously waiting to taste for a few reasons. One is that Port Ellen is a closed Islay distillery that has gotten an almost mystical reputation among aficionados and bottles of Port Ellen can achieve astronomical prices. Another reason is that this is a sherry-matured bottling of Port Ellen and I think that sherried peaters can be fantastic whiskies when they get it right (think Lagavulin 16, for example). And the other reason is that I have an unopened bottle of this whisky at home and have been very curious about whether it would be one of those sherried peated whiskies that I really enjoy.
And it was…..spot on, for my palate. Great depth and complexity, the balance between the spirit, the sherry-maturation notes, the “Islay-ness” and the peat smoke were spot on for me. Rich, deeply oily on the tongue, a surprisingly elegant, delicate smoke, vanilla toffee, herbal spices, chocolate peat, band aids – a slightly rubbery note that is often evident and actually nice, in this situation. The finish was long….quite long, and full-flavored, showing the same fruits, herbal spices, a hint of saltiness, and the delicate smoke. Definitely a highlight and one of the top three whiskies of the evening for me!
Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Jura 24 year old Heavily Peated: Distilled 17/12/1989, Bottled 16/01/2014, Matured in Bourbon Barrel, Cask No. 30744, Bottle No. 62 of 141, 57.1% abv
I’ve not tasted too many Jura whiskies so far, but most of the ones I have tasted had very little peat in them. Jura does produce both peated and unpeated whiskies within their core range, I just haven’t tasted many of their peated releases.
This particular release is labelled as Heavily Peated, and over the years they have put out a series of “Heavily Peated” releases of varying ages. When you first nose this whisky there is almost no peaty or smoky notes, rather it starts very much as a bourbon-matured whisky with vanilla, mint, ripe orchard fruits, even a little pineapple. As this whisky sits, though, some smokiness starts to make its presence known. But despite Jura’s proximity to Islay, this is not Islay peaty, rather, this is a delicate, wispy smokiness. The palate is creamy, sweet and fruity. Toffee, red apples, a bit of the pineapple, a splash of lemon juice, the mint. On the palate, the peat is more pronounced, although still restrained. Good body and fresh flavors make this a nice and enjoyable sipper. The finish is moderate length and follows the nose, ending on that soft smoke.
Springbank 12 year old Green: Bottled circa 2015, 46% abv.
The Springbank Green is a 12 year old whisky made with organic barley and matured in bourbon casks. The color is a pale amber-gold. The nose is unmistakably Springbank with its distinct earthy peatiness that, for me is a mixture of slightly vegetal and oily “machine shop” aromas…..maybe that doesn’t sound very good, but I love it! Along with those trademark notes there is a strong malty, creamy sweetness, ripe orchard fruits, canned apricots, a subtle saltiness, hints of ginger and some cinnamon, saltwater taffy. The palate was nicely oily. The arrival was fruity and semi-sweet, then the peat adds to the mix. Water brought out a bit of a sugary aspect, and in reality, water is not needed to enjoy this one.
Generally, this one got good reviews, but I have to admit it is not my favorite Springbank. It is good, but at the same time, this is almost too “soft and supple” when I am expecting a bit more of the rough-edge, oily peat and smoke that I look for with Springbank. That being said, this was another fresh bottle and some time open might offer more of those notes. I may have to pick up a bottle for my own research!
Scotch Malt Whisky Society 27.107 (Springbank): Distilled 31 May 1998, Aged 16 years, Matured in Refill Gorda ex-Sherry, 750 Bottles, 56% abv
Ben brought this one and was very interested in other people’s take on it. When he’d tasted it, he found it to be “funky” and very different from other Springbanks he’d tried.
With that information, when I nosed it, I found that this one had those trademark Springbank peat notes that trip my trigger. Earthy, slightly damp vegetal peat with oily smoke. Mmmm, I think I started drooling there for a minute! Behind the machine shop earthy peat this one had some grassiness, which I don’t always find in SB, and perhaps this was throwing Ben for a loop. There were soft herbal spices – hints of clove, nutmeg, white pepper, stewed fruits, and a hint of dark or semi-sweet chocolate. The palate was big, a bit hot until I added a couple drops of water. The fruits and barley flavors mingled with the earthy peat, the smoke was quite light, almost distant.
Despite Ben’s initial misgivings, I really enjoyed this one – I’d say it was in the Top 3 of the evening for me!
Kilchoman Port Cask Matured: Distilled 2011, Bottled 2014, 55% abv
Founded just 10 years ago, in 2005, Kilchoman has been doing some wonderful things in their short history and between their standard releases and the various single barrel bottlings, Kilchoman has earned quite a stellar reputation – all with some relatively young whiskies. This whisky is three years old and matured exclusively in ex Ruby Port casks. This was released in 2014 and only 6000 bottles were produced.
The color on this one is a nice reddish-amber, surprisingly dark given that it is only three years in cask. The nose is full of fresh peat, eucalyptus smoke, a good dose of lemon, barley, some honey, and bright red fruits. The arrival starts with a mix of citrus and sweetness with a growing smoky peat. Very vibrant and fresh, crisp through the mid-palate. The port influence, with its red fruits, some herbal spice notes is balanced nicely with the Kilchoman “fresh” peat and smoke. The finish is wonderfully long, smoky, fruity and with just a hint of the oak at the end. Just another reason I am a Kilchoman fan. I’ve tried 8 different iterations of Kilchoman, from the Loch Gorm and Machir Bay, to their sherry and bourbon-cask single barrels and have yet to find one I didn’t enjoy tremendously!
Longrow Single Cask 11 year old: Distilled December 1998, Bottled August 2010, Matured in Refill Sherry Hogshead, 281 bottles, 57.1% abv
Longrow is Springbanks more peated cousin and here we have a single barrel release from a refill sherry hogshead. The smaller barrel should have resulted in more wood interaction, but being refill, and not knowing if it is a first, second or even third refill, it’s a bit of a guess what this one will taste like.
Given the rather light color, this might have been a second fill barrel – the color is a soft gold with maybe just the slightest reddish cast to it. The nose is big peat – the Springbank peat on steroids. Gritty, smoky, earthy, oily, vegetal, wonderful! Hints of pine or eucalyptus, hints of clove, hints of dried fruits, all secondary to the peaty smokiness. The arrival is really aggressive and somewhat closed at first, but a few drops of water and a few minutes opens this up nicely. I got some honey, apricots, mint, white raisins, and a touch of chocolate, all bundled up by the swirling earthy smoke. This is the first single barrel Longrow for me, but is shows its family resemblance to the much-loved CV release that sadly is no longer available. Really good suff!
As you can see, it was quite a night. Over the four-plus hours that we were there we enjoyed some really good whiskies. Even though I just reviewed 18 different whiskies, plus one Cognac and three beers, there were a few other whiskies on the table that I didn’t taste: including the Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 3 and Batch 6, both of which I have tasted previously; the Port Charlotte PC 8 that I brought specifically because Pete has wanted to try it (and which I figured I would have time to try later) plus at least couple more Springbanks, including the 2015 release of Springbank 17 year old Sherry Cask, and a distillery release 19 year old Springbank Single Cask. It was disappointing to miss these two, as I love Springbank, but we simply ran out of time – the restaurant closes at 10 – and besides that, quite honestly, I was so full from dinner that I was ready to call it a night!
Anyway, our “celebration” of Pete’s birthday managed to turn into quite an exceptional event full of good friends, good food, and some great whiskies…the perfect recipe for a wonderful evening! My thanks to all for sharing your whiskies and glad you enjoyed the ones I brought!