Now that these reports have moved from Islay (Ardbeg and Port Ellen) to Speyside (Benriach), let's stay there in Single Malt Central for the last two reviews. With the previous three whiskies seeming to be from primarily ex-bourbon American oak casks, I'm going with a whisky from a pair of ex-sherry European oak casks.
Between 2000 and 2003, Glenfarclas had a series they named "Old Stock Reserve". And it was indeed old stock that they bottled for that label, ranging from 1967 to 1970 distillate. Some were in squat dumpies, while others were in classic tall bottles. They all had the nice simple labels seen below:
Though Glenfarclas continued to bottle old vintages, they ended the Old Stock Reserve series name pretty quickly, replacing it with a number of different names until settling upon the current super expensive "Family Casks". Many thank yous go out (again) to Cobo who sent me a sample of the 1968 OSR from his own bottle.
Ownership: J. & G. Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 34 years (February 7, 1968 - January 8, 2003)
Maturation: two ex-sherry casks
Cask #: 686 & 687
Bottle count: 341
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%
Tasted alongside yesterday's 35 year old Benriach.
Its color is a very dark crimson brown. The nose is enormous. Damp attic, oloroso, hot fudge, blackberry syrup, and old cognac. Then cloves, clementines, leather, and carob. After 30 minutes, it picks up more old wood character. After 45 minutes, the fruit comes in; think mango and apples in honey. A fresh cilantro note lingers in the midground. Lots of baking spices in the palate. Cloves, nutmeg, black peppercorns, chili oil. Then baking chocolate, cherry juice, and a sandalwood note reminiscent of mizunara casks. Plenty of tannins and salt with a mild woody bitterness that actually works for me. A hint of fired caps and apples. The actual sherry wallop hits later on, after 30+ minutes of air, and then carries through to the lengthy finish. Prunes and pipe tobacco. Macintosh apples and a hint of fresh peach. Toffee and clover honey. A sharp tart bite meets an increasingly sweet dessert wine.
To say this is oak-heavy would be an understatement. Normally that doesn't work for me, but that's usually with American oak. Here (with what I believe is European oak) one can actually feel the time in the cask, the toasted staves gradually giving into the spirit, the hardy stuff left behind after decades of evaporation. It's not punishing like the 1970 single cask bottled for K&L a few years back. It won't pucker your cheeks and dry out your tongue. Instead it's the aromatic spices and tobacco and chocolate which stand up front, slowly mixing with the spirit's and wine's fruits. Yes, it is oak dominant, probably to the point where it may be slightly out of balance towards the tannins. But it provides a more dynamic experience than the cleaner 35yo Benriach.
Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - $??? - $????
Rating - 90