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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Single Malt Report: Strathisla 14 year old 1997 Cask Strength Edition (distillery-only)

As much grief as I have given Diageo on this blog -- and I have given much -- about their single malt releases and the lack thereof, Pernod Ricard has the same issue.  Pernod owns a number of gorgeous malts, almost all of which are being dumped into their blending vats to make Chivas and Ballantine's (and Passport and 100 Pipers and on and on).  They have selected only two of their distilleries (Glenlivet and Aberlour) to highlight in the international single malt market via a wide bottling range.  They do single bottlings of a few of their other distilleries (including Scapa and Tormore), while the remaining majority are more easily found as independent releases or mixed into your bottle of Glen Campbell.  Pernod, like Diageo, is in the blended whisky business, which understandable considering Chivas and Ballantine's sell millions of cases every year.

I understand this from a business point of view, but from a hedonist's perspective it is saddening because Pernod owns some lovely malts like Longmorn and Strathisla.  When I see Chivas 18yr bottles sitting on the shelf (at a relatively cheap price here in CA), I wonder couldn't they have saved 3-5% of the malt within and bottle it on its own?  The answer is probably not, they have a lot of blended Scotch to sell.

Strathisla 12 year old single malt is a good straightforward drink with a little more body to it than many of the more widely-sold 12 years like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Tomatin.  My only issue with it is its price, about 2 Glenfiddichs.  But that's all we get from Pernod when it comes to Strathisla.  Otherwise we have to search far and wide for an increasingly rare indie release.

There is one exception to this run-on Pernod Ricard rant:  The Cask Strength Editions.  A number of the Pernod Ricard distilleries sell 500mL bottles of their cask strength malt.  These often include, when available: Glenburgie, Miltonduff, Scapa, Longmorn, and Strathisla.

Distillery: Strathisla
Brand: Cask Strength Editions
Ownership: Chivas Regal by way of Pernod Ricard
Age: 14 years (1997-2012)
Maturation: likely ex-bourbon American Oak casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 59.3%
Batch: SI14010

You know how I'd mentioned that I was going to match up whiskies each week with a purpose or commonality in mind?  Well, maybe not this week.

Here's the connection between this dram and the previous one:  While sipping the North Port-Brechin and remarking out loud to myself about its intense alcohol burn, I suddenly remembered a sample my buddy Whisky Josh OC had given to me a year ago.  (Thank you, Whisky Josh OC!)  I remembered he'd said that it was particularly hot stuff on the palate.  Nothing like a little more ethyl alcohol burn to clarify an evening.

Color - Bright gold
Nose - Big Oak. Tons of vanilla and corn syrup up front. There's a rotten cream note I've found in some other strong malt aged in American oak; luckily it's quite reserved here.  Then there's clover honey, moss, dried apricots, and nail varnish.  Finally there's a big whiff of honey butter in there.
Palate - Yeah, there's a wee ethyl sting to this one.  Underneath it there's chlorine, yeast, cinnamon, honey, and confectioner's sugar. There's a big bready note too, sort of like bread crusts dipped in honey.  After some time in the glass, the malt releases dried grass and bitter almond notes.
Finish - More of that honey, also marshmallows and yeast.  It's still grassy with a light bitterness, and minerally like licking rocks.  But then the long honeyed stretches stand out the most.

WITH WATER: (in the 43-46% ABV range)
Nose - For some reason the alcohol burn is more noticeable here.  But then there's tree bark, chlorine, peach-colored Smarties, fresh stone fruit, and flower blossoms.  The honey retreats.
Palate - Much less aggressive, but also much sweeter.  More vanilla too.  The dried grass note picks up as does the light but pleasant bitterness.
Finish - Still extensive, a little tangy, with a sugared sweetness.  It's almost a dessert whisky now.

This one is a stinger indeed.  First the alcohol jab, then the honey rushes in to soothe.  I prefer the 12 year old when comparing at similar ABVs.  Though this 14 year old has a number of different characteristics, I'm not sure it's more mature than the 12.  Though having it available at high power allows for more to play.

I'm aware that Strathisla is only 1/4th the size of Glenlivet, but it would be great to have a regular cask strength whisky in its range.  Yes, I know, it would also be great if a bottle of '72 Ardbeg showed up at my front door.  But, in my fantasy land, a young cask strengther would be less of a risk/investment than an 18 year in Strathisla's range.  Though an 18 year would be nice too...

Availability - At the distillery
Pricing - You'll need to inquire with the distillery
Rating - ★★★