...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Single Malt Report #100: Glencadam 20 year old 1989 Cask Strength (Signatory)

Occasionally I reference the pivotal moments in my whisky fandom.  One of my favorites occurred in May 2011.

Kristen and I were on holiday in London, loving life.  Because we're museum geeks, I made sure that we went to the British Museum on our next to last day.  But before we were to enter that grand display of human creation and achievement, I wanted to go to a whisky store.  Just around the corner from the museum, in Bloomsbury, there's a shop that I remembered very vividly window-gawking during my previous London visit three years earlier.  It's called Royal Mile Whiskies.  And I didn't even need a map to find the shop that morning last May.  I remembered that window that well.

Once inside, I was all OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!  Quietly though, it's Britain and all.  Somewhere in the universe there's a picture that my wife (sitting in the corner, as I have when she's gone clothes shopping) took of me, my hands clasped behind my back as I studied the shelves.  Any level of calm I displayed was a success.

I spent most of my time eyeing the Signatory whiskies, as they were the only indie bottlers I knew of at that moment.  The gent who worked at the shop was very helpful and very patient as I made dumbass comments about how f***ing ugly the Connoisseur's Choice labels were.

I tend to say stupid sh*t when I'm happy.

I first chose the Bowmore 16yr Signatory UCF 1994 which turned out to be one of my favorite all time whiskies.  Then I went back and forth and back and forth over the Cask Strength bottlings.  Should I have chosen the Clynelish?  Probably.  Should I have forked over 10-15GBP more for the Highland Park?  Yes.  But I went with the Glencadam.

Why?  I have no idea.  I had never heard of Glencadam before.  Maybe I thought that was a good thing; you know, like something definitely unavailable in The States.  Maybe I was intrigued by the idea that it was matured in a refill sherry butt -- which, I had no idea, has been a prevalent practice throughout whisky history.

But I went with it.  It was my first cask strength bottle.  And the only single cask-er I've ever had ...... so far.  Royal Mile shipped the parcel very quickly and safely to our LA apartment.  I opened the Bowmore that June.  SOMEHOW, I waited until September 2nd to open the Glencadam.

Distillery: Glencadam
Owner: Angus Dundee Plc
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 20 years (September 1989 - April 2010)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Type: Single Malt
Region: Eastern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
Cask: 6019
Bottle #: 283 of 508
Chill filtration? No
Artificial colorant? No

When finished it two weeks ago, it had been a joy for all of its eleven months open.  Sort of a special occasion booze.  I decided early on that I'd do three sets of notes on the whisky as time and oxygen had their way with it.  Beginning, middle, end.

After writing each set of notes, I never looked back on what I'd written, maintaining an uninfluenced study the best I could.  I started this one week before my first Single Malt Report, so its open life stretched the length of time that I reported on the 99 other whiskies.

One question remains in my mind.  Did the whisky change or did I?

Here are the three sets of notes with my comments at the time of the tasting.

#1 - Beginning
29 September 2011 (27 days old)
Color - Golden, goes cloudy with water, brings out the yellows
Nose - Floral, tiny bit of leather
Palate - Light peat, then some cream sherry, oak, hot apples or applesauce
Finish - Starts out quiet then fades up, tapioca, nilla wafers

Comments - Even with 4 teaspoons of water it's still sticky and thick on the glass

* * * * *

#2 - Middle
1 February 2012 (5 months old)
Color - Light apple juice
Nose - Surprisingly bourbony, spicy zing, apple juice, sultanas?, vanilla, gingerbread cookies for a brief moment
Palate - Cigars, smooth texture, sweet, alcohol hot, toffee and caramel sauce
Finish - Excellent length, cigar smoke, tiny bit of sweetness, vanilla

WITH WATER (approx 37% ABV)
Color - Gets very cloudy!
Nose - expectedly everything has mellowed, very dry wine, a little vanilla, oak, sugars
Palate - Creamier, some sweet sherry, much sweeter now almost like candy, sweet cream, nutty at the start, then some spices
Finish - Medium length, chocolate followed by vanilla ice cream

Comments - must have been a much-used refill sherry cask, very little color from the oak

* * * * *

#3 - End
27 July 2012 (almost 11 months old)
Color - Bold gold
Nose - fruity (prunes, dried apricots, apples, very ripe peaches), something vaguely gaseous but not off-putting though this grows with time
Palate - pecan pie (nuts, pastry, and brown sugar), almonds, almond extract, still packing some alcohol heat, sweet, tannin drying, barley sugar
Finish - Tannin drying, lovely heat, a little sherry, nutty and sweet

WITH WATER (approx 37% ABV)
Nose - perfumy, tropical fruit, very light, Juicy Fruit gum, a little oak
Palate - very mild, but fuller texture, mineraly, light sugar, some bitterness
Finish - mostly bitterness remaining, mingling with light sweetness

Comments - still VERY cloudy with water, sediment at the bottom of the glass

Firstly, peat???  Wut?  According to Charlie Maclean's Whiskypedia, Glencadam uses unpeated malt.  But my peat sensors were very sensitive last year, as I was still trying to warm up to phenolics.  I remember saying, "Great, I bought two peated whiskies."  Perhaps it had something to do with a newly opened cask strength bottle because that peat element was gone within a couple of months.  Something cigar-ish remained in its place for a while.  By the end, the smoke was gone entirely, possibly replaced by dry tannins.

Next, the bourbon notes?  Per Whiskypedia, Glencadam itself ages their whiskies in ex-bourbon barrels.  Could it have been re-casked from ex-bourbon to ex-sherry when sent to Signatory?

At the start, the nose and flavor were a bit muted.  Or I was still new to the process.  But about midway through the bottle it had gotten sugary sweet, especially with water.  By the end, the fruits jumped out and the sweetness had tamed.

To answer the question: Did the whisky change or did I?

The answer is, yes.  :)

I actually liked it best at the end.  It was only 20% full for the last four months so some sort of oxidation had happened, but it didn't kill the whisky.  It didn't take to water very well any more, but was very pleasant when neat.

And my nosing/tasting notes seem to have gained detail, clarity, and focus throughout time.  By the end I was able to pinpoint the fruits and the nuts, which something I'm getting better at with my notes in general.

What will replace this in the Whisky Closet?  I don't know, but it had better be good for a long time.

Availability - Unknown, all of the major UK shops appear to be sold out
Pricing - Was in the 45-50GBP range (w/o VAT, before shipping)
Rating - 88