...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Glen Garioch 16 year old 1998, cask 987 for Binny's

Monday's sherry cask Glen Garioch and today's bourbon cask Glen Garioch were excellent sparring partners, both fascinating while different in every possible way.

Like last Friday's Glenfarclas, this Glen Garioch was an official bourbon cask selected by a popular American retailer. But these two whiskies also occupied nearly opposite ends of the whisky spectrum.

 Glen Garioch
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Eastern Highlands
Age: 16 years old (March 1998 to 28 April 2014)
Maturation: "North American Oak Cask" (Saskatchewan is that you?)
Cask: 987
Outturn: 201 bottles
Exclusive to: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
(Thank yous go out to My Annoying Opinions for the sample)

Toasted grains, honey and almond butter lead off the nose, with hot cereal and hot bricks in the midground. It's young and spicy, with cinnamon red hots and green peppercorns in the background. The palate begins sweet and lemony up front, slowly revealing loads of barley and almonds. Then wee highlights of tart tropical fruits and pickled ginger. It finishes long, tangy and crisp. Almond butter and lots of tart citrus.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or > ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose delivers a lovely combination of barley, pears, apples and raw manuka honey. The palate leans even closer to wort than before. It also holds chile oil, herbal bitterness and cinnamon red hots. There might be a hint of soap in the background, though. The finish is all roots and herbal bitterness.

While the Astor Wines Glenfarclas seemed to target a contemporary American palate with all its oak and sugar, this Binny's pick couldn't give less of a shit about that audience. The whisky reads about half its age, but in a good clean way that will appeal to those of us who miss the spirit-forward stuff. MAO found very similar notes in his review, down to the (good) apples and ginger, as well as the (odd) diluted soap thingy. As he does, I prefer it neat. I'd take this "North American Oak Cask" whisky over the 1999 Sherry Cask Matured Garioch any day.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, October 26, 2020

Glen Garioch 1999 Sherry Cask Matured, batch 30

Time to drive east across the Highlands to another Glen, that of Garioch, a distillery composing its goodness in the town of Oldmeldrum. I like Glen Garioch's stuff from its peated years as well as its current unpeated period. Thirteen years ago, their retired 15 was one of my regular pours, but I'm now enjoying the contemporary 12 year old even more. This week there'll be three four GGs, sherry to bourbon to sherry to bourbon casks, all from the 1990s, all full powered.

Leading off is a single malt fashioned from a small(?) batch of oloroso sherry casks in the 13-14 year range. I've seen plenty of reviews saying sulfur is at play here, though the whisky has rarely been panned. Sulfur has strata, some of which I don't mind, a few of which I do mind. I just wish I hadn't read those reviews because now that word is out there. Sulfur. Cheers?

Distillery: Glen Garioch
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Eastern Highlands
Age: 13-14 years old (1999-2013)
Maturation: Oloroso sherry casks
Batch: 30
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
(from a purchased sample)

Lots of cask action on the nose. Dark chocolate, black currant jam, hazelnuts and (yes) moderate meaty sulfur. It's also slightly smoky, which may be related to the sulfur. Hints of mineral and ocean notes in the background. A curious combo of thyme and charred marshmallows. On the palate, the sulfur registers as just a hint of gunpowder. Berries, chocolate and mild tobacco read much louder. The balances of sweet and tart tilts towards tart with time, then salt and flowers appear. The long sweet finish centers around chocolate and grapefruits.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Brown sugar syrup, toasted oak spice and nuts on the nose. Smoky toffee pudding and a hint of gunpowder. Dried berries and toasted nuts lead off a palate that gets tarter and bitterer with time. It finishes tartly with moments of burnt paper.

Though I have no issues with it being a characterful dirty sherry cask whisky, this Glen Garioch could be from many other Highland or Speyside distilleries, such was the influence of its oak vessels. I'm fine with the sulfur (your mileage may vary); water calms it in the nose but brings out some less pleasant oak stuff in the palate. Despite these gripes, it's a very entertaining single malt. You will certainly want to try it before you buy it.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - was around $90-$110 until it became scarce
Rating - 84 (note: sulfur)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Glenfarclas 1989 Family Cask for Astor Wines

While it seems like there are over a thousand US liquor stores that get their own exclusive bourbon casks, there are a less than a dozen shops that are still receiving supplies of exclusive single malt scotch casks. Astor Wines in NYC is one of those lucky stores. They got their mitts one of the so-called Family Casks, Glenfarclas's ultra-premium priced official honey casks. 

I don't think I would have ever reviewed one of these famed Family Casks had MAO not sent me a sample of this bourbon cask GF FC, sold exclusively through Astor Wines six years ago.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: around 24 years (1989 - 20 November 2013)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Cask #: 7299
Outturn: 236 bottles
Exclusive to: Astor Wines
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

Wow, bourbony. There's butter, caramel, almond extract and vanilla extract on the nose, with vanilla porter and orange peels in the background. The palate starts off like a corny wheated bourbon, then takes a quirky turn with notes of band-aids and mesquite. One also finds milky chocolate, crystalized ginger and lemons scattered about. It finishes with vanilla, sugar, lemons and heat.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose reads similarly, though it tilts more towards caramel candy and almond extract. Some new minor fabric and burlap notes, as well as a whiff of wood smoke. The palate becomes very sweet. Lots of vanilla. More tannins. Slightly mossy. The finish is similar to the palate, but with hints of oranges and wood smoke.

Son, I am disappoint. While it's not a mess like last month's Bourbon Nevis, this whisky is all American Oak all the time. And while there is very little single malt left in the mix, the oak never dives into bitter realms. It also smells like liquid candy. Adding water sends the palate to tooth-rotting territory as well. Again, this isn't a whiskyfail, but the baby Faultline Casks won the battle by a good measure.

There were two good-to-very-good Glenfarclases this week and two relative disappointments. This doesn't move my Glenfarclas meter because these results could happen to nearly any distillery. Though I don't think I've ever been WOWed by something from these folks, next time I review Glenfarclases (in 2021?) the whiskies themselves will be much much older. So, someday...?

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Glenfarclas Faultline Casks for K&L Wine Merchants

Officially, this K&L Wine Merchants exclusive has no age statement and is not a single cask. Unofficially, it's a from a trio of (1st fill sherry) casks approximately nine years of age. It's exactly 57%abv, so it might be cask strength. I think the price started at $100 and was later lowered to $85, so it was ultimately in line with the US price of the regular NAS 105 bottling. It sold out 3 or 4 years ago and there aren't many reviews of it online.

Those are just bits of info that don't actually add up to anything. I must drink this now.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: approximately 9 years old
Maturation: three first-fill sherry casks
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thank you to Saint Brett for the sample!)

Lots of dense dried fruits from the sherry cask meet up with saline, brine and mushrooms in the whisky's nose. Anise, almond butter, pound cake and newspaper print notes follow. Lots of cask action on the palate as well. Spicy cigars, dried cherries and salty toffee. Tart limes, mild sweetness and a tannic hint rest in the background. A simple balance of tart berry sweetness and lemon tartness continues lingers through the finish, as does the salty toffee note.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
It's a different whisky now. There are roasted nuts and grains in the nose, as well as charred marshmallows and graham crackers (almost s'mores!), a pinch of wood spice and a dunnage whiff. Marshmallows, toffee, lime juice, dried cranberries and baking chocolate in the palate. It finishes tart and peppery with a little bit of sweetness.

If only Glenfarclas could massively upscale this recipe, it would be a great replacement for the NAS 105. It's good young sherry cask stuff. I enjoyed the nose's darker notes, and found the palate to be very easy drinkin' both neat and diluted. It's nice to have a positive surprise once in a while. Tomorrow we'll see how this youngling fared next to one of Glenfarclas's Family Casks.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $85-$100
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Glenfarclas 25 year old

I don't know if I've ever tried Glenfarclas 25. Certainly haven't reviewed it. In a previous life I considered buying it blindly because it was the most affordable 25 year old sherry cask single malt on the market. But advanced age and sherry casks (and Glenfarclas) don't always guarantee excellent whisky. So after all these years I settled on a bottle split.

The 43% abv is better than 40%, but have they ever explained why it's not 46%? Increase the alcohol content by 7% and raise the price 14%. It's the cool thing to do.

On Monday I enjoyed the 22yo 105, and now it will spar with the regular 25.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

Fruitier than expected, the nose delivers pears, apple skins, honeydew and dried currants. It also has buttery butterscotch and flowers, as well as hints of yeast and cloves. With time it develops a 🙂 Nutella note and a 🙁 cardboard note. The palate has a watery texture and needs some time to wake up. It's mildly sweet with toffee and generic citrus. Almonds, vanilla extract and mocha. It gets more tannins and caramel with time. More vanilla and pepper in the finish, with hints of dried apricots and copper.

This is what fuels my Glenfarclas ambivalence. While it's a fairly acceptable drink, the 25 feels like mass-produced whisky along the lines of Glenfiddich (picture their standard 15yo). I'm suspicious of claims that these 25s aren't chillfiltered because this is extremely thin in the mouth, and that winds up being its biggest flaw. TRIGGER WARNING, I put the second half of the sample on a big ice cube and it was very drinkable. It stood no chance next to the 22yo 105, though that one was at its worst at the 43%abv marker too. No matter what the price tag may be, I have no need to buy a bottle of the 25.

Availability - both hemispheres
Pricing - $120 to $180 (Europe and Japan), $150 to $200 (USA), 
Rating - 83

Monday, October 19, 2020

Glenfarclas 22 year old 105

I am ambivalent about Glenfarclas.

Did I lose you? Did I lose everyone?

I used to adore the standard Glenfarclas 105 in my early single malt years, then I bought a liter of the stuff in 2016 and really did not like it. The 15yo was my favorite from their range, then I bought a bottle of it in 2016 and found it......fine. The 10 and 12 are also fine, probably better than current Macallan at the same age, but that's not saying a whole lot. I appreciate that they're still a family-run business and wee George Grant was really nice when I met him a zillion years ago. But I don't see the point to the enforced anonymity of their independent bottlings; it doesn't seem to improve their brand, wouldn't outing their name wouldn't hurt a thing.

BUT recently I've been appreciating well-balanced sherry cask whiskies more than I used to. That could be either good or bad timing for this four-part Glenfarclas Week, depending on the whiskies I've chosen. All four whiskies are official releases, one from the standard range, two exclusives to the US market and one curio I've been waiting to try since I'd first heard about it. I'll begin with the curio.

To celebrate Glenfarclas 105's 50th birthday, the Grants plopped 3600 bottles of a 22 year old 105 onto the European market. Oddly, it's still available on the primary market, two years later. I almost bought it blind last year, then a voice in my head said "Dude." So I didn't. But I did take part in a bottle split to grab a few ounces this year.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 22 years
Maturation: sherry casks
Bottling year: 2018
Outturn: 3600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with stones and roses, almonds and wool. Citronella, amaretto and Luxardo cherries. Smaller notes of pine, peach skins and brown sugar in the background. There's a lot of heat and noise in the palate at first. Orange candy, Luxardo cherries, peaches and dried cranberries appear once the heat clears out. There are minor notes of figs, pine and plantains. It has a good fruity sweetness overall. Dried berries, figs, metals and rock salt in the simple finish.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gains focus and earthiness. Citronella and lemons meet wool, palo santo and an organic peat moss-ish note. The palate has a good bitterness mixed with creme de cassis, young armagnac and a hint of wood smoke. Then figs, lemons, dried cherries and carob arrive after a few minutes. It finishes in a similar fashion with more metals and smoke, and a little less fruit.

That worked well. How about a little more water to lower the ABV to the Glenfarclas standard?

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 2½ tsp of water per original 30mL whisky
Ah, things start falling apart at this level. The nose has generic sherry notes, something vaguely farty, bits of moss, cloves and pears. Sugar, eau de vie, vanilla, pepper and tart citrus in the palate. Caramel, metal and tart citrus in the finish.

This is the best Glenfarclas I've had in a while — though I haven't had any Glenfarcli in a while — but one must be gentle with the water. Though it was quite good at full power, I liked it best at the 50%abv mark, buyer beware at levels lower than that. But it's a good start to the week! Figs! I shall see how this stands up next to the standard 25-year-old on Wednesday.

Availability - Continental Europe
Pricing - €200 to €300
Rating - 88

Friday, October 16, 2020

Springbank 12 year old black label, bottled ca. 1990

Yes, there are some dusty-ish Springbanks in the sample stash, and I probably should consume them sooner than later. Today's whisky came from a bottle that looks something like this:

pic from whiskybase

The actual split bottle was the 46%abv version released in the USA. The black label preceded Springbank's red thistle label, and was used throughout the 1980s and apparently into the '90s. I say "apparently" because the owner of the bottle and I both thought it was from the '80s. But the bottle's label showed milliliters and ABV, which brings us to The Nineties. Distillation at Springbank took an eight year break starting in 1979, so the bottle's contents were distilled in The Seventies.

Finding the whisky's sparring partner seemed difficult at first, but for some unknown reason I had saved four(!) ounces of the 10 year 100 US proof from 2004-2006. Its apothecary bottle hadn't been opened for more than seven years but I soon discovered that its contents still kicked ass.

The sampling could then begin.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: ???
Bottling Date: around 1990
Bottled for: US market
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with a waft of rye-like spice notes like cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, but then comes the wool, coal smoke, wet dog and dusty books of Campbeltown. Small notes of mint candy and pineapple linger in the background, as does a clear note of well-caramelized fried plantains. The palate is "romantically unromantic" (per my notes). There's very little sweetness, though there are some dates rolling around in the midground. Up front there are stones, wool, burlap, chile oil, baking chocolate, anise and tart lemons. A bitter herbal bite shows up after some times, and the stony mineral side expands. It finishes with salt, stones, coal smoke, bitter herbs and a hint of cherry candy. The salt and minerals last the longest.

It's an autumn evening in a fishing village at a latitude north of here. And damn, a drinker could really get used to this stuff. The whisky is different than the current excellent Springbank 10 year old, leaner (I've already used "austere" once this month), darker, slightly rawer. They're probably near equals in quality and I probably should have matched those two up in my tasting. But I didn't. And the beige label 10yo 100proof was fantastic, I dare say superior to this old 12yo. *ducks seventy thrown pans* Both were spirit-forward and both immediately inspired the shorthand "old school" descriptor.

I'm not sure what this black label 12yo goes for in European auctions, but I'm going to assume the price would burn my eyeballs. But I can understand the chase. It marks history and it drinks very well.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - ???, research it if you dare!
Rating - 89