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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Three more new Chieftain's single malts: Braeval, Glen Grant, and Fettercairn

On Monday I reviewed the first three of the six Chieftain's bottlings poured at a recent Southern California Whiskey Club event.  To quote that post: "The Whiskey Jug and Bozzy were also in attendance, see the Jug's post here, and Bozzy's posts here and here.  As I am wont to do, I took my pours in sample bottles back home with me so that I could process these whiskies in my hermetically sealed whisky laboratory."  Today the three oldest (and most expensive) of the half dozen.  Let's get to it.

My pic this time! As I mentioned on Monday, I paid for these samples via the event.

Braeval 19 year old 1996-2015 Chieftain's
finished in a former red wine cask, bottled at 46%abv

Nose -- It starts off very nutty, think hazelnuts and cashews.  Underneath those nuts, a layer of milk chocolate and fresh cherries.  After 15 minutes or so, those notes dissolve into vanilla fudge.  With more time some notes of grass and clay arise.  With water, it gets a little grainier, dustier, and grassier.  The wine has been washed away aside from some berry candy.  A mild vanilla note develops as well.

Palate -- I know this sounds like nonsense, but there's a note that exists in the curious intersection of cotton candy and umami.  A slight plastic note.  Strawberry and peach candies.  Grows increasingly floral with time.  With water, it gets perfumy, tannic, and drying.  Notes of vanilla, plastic, sugar, and tart citrus arrive.

Finish -- Milk chocolate and dried berry notes make this feel like it was finished in an ex-sherry cask.  Secondary notes of honey and peaches show as well.  With water, there's floral perfume, cherries, and sugar.

The sherry-like finishing blankets over most of the great Braeval fruits that are often found in ex-bourbon cask versions.  While water makes the nose less winey, it moves the palate from floral blossoms to floral perfume.  Aside from that I found it to be a decent average Speysider.  ($110-$125)
Rating -- 82

Glen Grant 20 year old 1995-2015
first-fill bourbon cask finish (refill cask for its first maturation)
bottled at 55.1%abv

Nose -- Honey, limes, vanilla, and salted caramels arrive first.  Then silly putty, rose petals, and a hint of mint.  It gets more candied with time, and even picks up a big note of nougat.  With water, it picks up a big Cow Tales candy note which is balanced by a moderate earthy note.  Vanilla bean and a hint of roses.  A little bit of tropical fruit eeks out.

Palate -- Big.  Rich oak, lots of vanillins.  Lots of malt too.  Rich caramel, pepper, acidic citrus, and out of season peaches.  With water, now the citrus moves to the fore.  It's tart and peppery, lightly sweet.  Small notes of vanilla and caramel.

Finish -- Subtler than the palate.  Slight coffee bitterness.  Tart lemons, oak spice, caramel chews.  Pretty tannic.  With water, it's pretty drying.  A simple mix of pepper, vanilla, and sugar.

I wonder if this would have been better if it had been bottled at 46% (which is what I lowered it to when I added water).  The nose is the best part, then the palate.  The finish gets a bit difficult with its woody tannic assault.  I kept looking for the good Glen Grant fruits (as I did with the Braeval) but rarely found them.  So it's another good middle of the road Speyside, but it's quite expensive. ($145-$160)
Rating -- 84

Fettercairn 19 year old 1996-2015
ex-Oloroso sherry butt
bottled at 57.4%abv

Nose -- Insane.  Coming across as if it's almost peated, the nose also shows hints of floral soap, peppery sulphur, red Starburst candies, toffee pudding, caramel chews, and Loch Lomond-style industrial funk.  With water, there's a rumble of peat and sulphur.  Then dark chocolate, toffee, newspaper ink, and cheap cigars.  It smells old and musty.  The dirtiest sherry imaginable.
Important: Kristen's notes on the nose!  Smoke, marshmallows, and dried apricots.

Palate -- "Wow," says my notes.  Big chocolatey sherriness meets a bitter herbal liqueur.  Almond torte, stewed prunes, and hot pepper sauce.  A bit of an industrial edge makes the whole thing feel like Glendronach-meets-Springbank.  With water, it gets nuttier and more peppery, with no sweetness to be found.  Maybe some hints of dried cherries and prunes.  It's earthy and herbal as hell.

Finish -- Massive.  Some of the nose's dusty sulphur meets up with bitter dark chocolate, prunes, and toasted oak.  It's almost smoky.  With water, it gets a little drying and bitter.  Some dried fruits and dirt.  Gorgeous dirt.

Fettercairn!  Often this distillery's stuff leans close to a Loch Lomond-type mess, but sometimes, sometimes, it totally works.  But only if you're into the style.  In this case it's three parts sherried Springbank, two parts sherried Glendronach, and one part Loch Lomond.  It feels much smokier than it should be; I don't know if that's due to the spirit's sulphur or the cask's sulphur or some actual peat sneaking in somewhere, but it works very well.  It's the only one of the six whiskies that had The Wow Factor, so it gets the highest score.  Price-wise, yes $120 is expensive.  But consider that single cask 19yo sherried Springbank and sherried Glendronach are $200+, and one suddenly gets a different perspective. ($120-$135)
Rating -- 89  (Please read the tasting notes rather than just relying on the number. This whisky won't appeal to all palates.)

Of these six whiskies, my favorites come from the sexy sexy distilleries of Glenburgie and Fettercairn.  The Glenburgie highlights barley and fruit, keeping the oak tinkering to a minimum.  Meanwhile, the Fettercairn is big and rough and crazy, bringing in some brawny dirty sherry to a funky spirit.  There were no duds amongst the six as they all sit in the B- to B+ range.  And even though these were mostly Speysides, there's a good variety of experiences amongst the bunch.

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