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Friday, April 19, 2013

Whisky with Florin - Part Four: The Glenphroaig

(continued from Part Three, here)


FV: Here are the tasting notes. Let me remind you that this uses a different bottle of the Glenlivet Nadurra than your sample (that was batch 0112R, b 01/12, 55.0%) - but I'm happy to send you the new version too! [Ed.: Received, sampled, and noted below!]

GlenPhroaig 10yo Double Malt, 55.5% (batch #2)
--2/3 Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo batch 0410J b. 04/10, 54.3%
--1/3 Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength batch 1 b. 02/09, 57.8%.

Color: light amber.

Nose: warm and inviting, Belgian chocolate bakery, confectioner's sugar, freshly cooked bitter orange marmalade. Some nutmeg and cardamom. Much spicier than my earlier batch that used the 01/12 Glenlivet Nadurra! The smoke is well integrated, no peat reek here!

Body: supple but firm and mouth coating - elegant. (For some reason the body is important to me, it really makes or breaks a whisky.) This is so good at cask strength I don't want to add water!

Taste: the spicy bitter orange chocolate theme continues on the palate. More peat, but well coated in salty, mouthwatering sweet malt. This is peat candy, the high street version of salt water taffy.

Finish: lingers on forever, satisfying; continues to evoke the peat and bitter orange from the nose and palate.

With water: why would I want to do that?!?

Comments: wow, this is good! The blend retains all the high points of the Laphroaig CS, but with its aggro side polished off. No licking ashtrays here! This is the Chopin of whisky, cannons hidden beneath flowers and all that. I would have never thought of calling a Laphroaig-based whisky "elegant", yet that's the word that comes to mind. Surprisingly, it's really well balanced! The other intriguing aspect is how different this blend is from my first batch using a different bottle of the Glenlivet Nadurra, the 01/12. I really liked that one too, but it did not have the spice and bitter orange notes of this version. In Compass Box terms, if that was the Oak Cross, this is the Spice Tree. Unfortunately it's long gone, so I rely on memory here…

MK: It's funny you mentioned peat candy, I caught a hint of a peated whisky cocktail (with simple syrup and bitters) in the nose. As opposed to the bitter oranges in your batch, I caught lemons and apples (fully peat-infused)...but that was just Batch 1...

Ah, let's just get to the full notes:

Color: light amber with yellow and green highlights

(I've spotted this same tint in official Laphroaigs)

Nose: Peated whisky cocktail (malt, simple syrup, bitters), brine, nougat, bourbon(?), vanilla, peated apples, white oak infused with peat smoke. Complete peat integration.

Palate: Ashes then flowers. Cannons beneath flowers indeed! Maple syrup, then lemon lime soda. Cayenne pepper and peat moss. Very rich but not a bruiser. 

Finish: Lemony peat (or peaty lemons?), sooty fire place, and brown sugar. Those peated apples again. The strength of the Laphroaig CS carries the day. 

Color: Light gold with those green highlights

Nose: Candied and toasty peat, orange rind, bran muffins, apples and lemons, a little band-aid TCP note, a floral hint, and cinnamon custard.

Palate: Wood smoke floats above apple juice and fresh lemonade.  Brown sugar in front, malt in the middle, peated tropical fruits at the end.

Finish: Substantial again! Barbecue-smoked ripe apples, peated pineapple. Lemon sour candies infused with peppery spice.

Both batches are stellar stuff.  These vattings create a new single whisky from two very different elements.  I think someone needs to start up his own blending establishment. :)  How long do you let the elements marry? Do you give it a little shake once in a while or just let it settle? I'm taking notes here...

FV: I'm never too rigorous or serious about the blending. The result might improve over a few days, but I never have that much patience. I might try something new in sample bottles or in the glass, and if I like it I will ramp it up to a regular size bottle. At that level the bottle does indeed last longer and therefore it blends better in time. Shaking occurs naturally every time I pour. :) But once again, no lab coats here, this is just for fun. And I've never said "ooh, I really like this whisky, I wonder how it would taste mixed in with some Highland Park!", it was always about fixing or rescuing something I wasn't totally happy with.

MK: Do you have any home blends in mind for the future? Or do you think your next one will be born out of necessity like the GlenPhroaig?

FV: Here are a couple nice blends that I blundered into recently. I added some Laphroaig to a bottle of Springbank 10yo which was heavy on sherry and overly sweet for my taste. That made it much more interesting, a home-made Longrow of sorts. It certainly did not last long, in a few days it was gone!

By now you are probably thinking that I just add Laphroaig to everything, which is probably not a great general strategy. But here is an interesting combination: the other night I was drinking a 19yo Glendronach, single cask, cask strength. One of their sherry bombs, with the texture of balsamic vinegar, and tasting like pure dark chocolate. It feels more like an ingredient really, rather than a finished whisky you want to drink! So I poured some over a glass of Speyburn 10yo. The Speyburn tamed the attack of the Glendronach, without diluting the strength. The result was much more balanced and enjoyable, and it reminded me of the Glenfarclas 105, one of the best ex-sherry whiskies out there.

MK: I remember trying that Springbank 10yr and wondering why they were sweetening up their great malt.  The Laphroaig addition sounds like a good fix.  Do you have any advice for those of us floundering with our own blend experiments? Some Dos and Don'ts perhaps?

FV: Blending whisky is like cooking. Once you get a feel for it you don’t really need recipes, the ingredients speak to you and tell you what they need. Peated whiskies like Laphroaig seem to be good additions, especially in small quantities, but the base whisky needs to have a good backbone – medium/thick body, or a lot of personality, or at least high strength. I would not mix bad whiskies hoping to get something good, the original ingredients must have at least something going for them. You need to have a few open bottles to work with, you need enough colors on your palette if you want. And the best ingredients to work with are those that are not too processed already. You want prime colors: all-out peaty whiskies, like Laphroaig; all-bourbon cask whisky, like most 10yo and 12yo out there, or of course, single casks. The older distillery bottlings often already have a proportion of sherry casks blended in, in order to taste more expensive, so I wouldn’t use these, unless I want to fix them. But what do I know? Go out there, play with your whiskies, and let us all know what you found!

I just want to add here that I’m grateful for your very engaging and entertaining blog, and I’ve enjoyed very much this dialogue! Thank you Michael!

MK: Thank you, Florin. I'm indebted to you and all the great generous whisky folks out there who have shared, educated, traded with, and drank with me. Without you all I would still be sipping vodka on the rocks. Okay maybe that's a little severe.  But you all have helped enrich my life with all things related to the sensory splendor of aged distilled spirits. And to my readers, I can't thank you all enough!  You inspire me to raise my standards every day.  Happy Friday!