...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Glenfarclas 22 year old 105

I am ambivalent about Glenfarclas.

Did I lose you? Did I lose everyone?

I used to adore the standard Glenfarclas 105 in my early single malt years, then I bought a liter of the stuff in 2016 and really did not like it. The 15yo was my favorite from their range, then I bought a bottle of it in 2016 and found it......fine. The 10 and 12 are also fine, probably better than current Macallan at the same age, but that's not saying a whole lot. I appreciate that they're still a family-run business and wee George Grant was really nice when I met him a zillion years ago. But I don't see the point to the enforced anonymity of their independent bottlings; it doesn't seem to improve their brand, wouldn't outing their name wouldn't hurt a thing.

BUT recently I've been appreciating well-balanced sherry cask whiskies more than I used to. That could be either good or bad timing for this four-part Glenfarclas Week, depending on the whiskies I've chosen. All four whiskies are official releases, one from the standard range, two exclusives to the US market and one curio I've been waiting to try since I'd first heard about it. I'll begin with the curio.

To celebrate Glenfarclas 105's 50th birthday, the Grants plopped 3600 bottles of a 22 year old 105 onto the European market. Oddly, it's still available on the primary market, two years later. I almost bought it blind last year, then a voice in my head said "Dude." So I didn't. But I did take part in a bottle split to grab a few ounces this year.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 22 years
Maturation: sherry casks
Bottling year: 2018
Outturn: 3600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 60%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose begins with stones and roses, almonds and wool. Citronella, amaretto and Luxardo cherries. Smaller notes of pine, peach skins and brown sugar in the background. There's a lot of heat and noise in the palate at first. Orange candy, Luxardo cherries, peaches and dried cranberries appear once the heat clears out. There are minor notes of figs, pine and plantains. It has a good fruity sweetness overall. Dried berries, figs, metals and rock salt in the simple finish.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gains focus and earthiness. Citronella and lemons meet wool, palo santo and an organic peat moss-ish note. The palate has a good bitterness mixed with creme de cassis, young armagnac and a hint of wood smoke. Then figs, lemons, dried cherries and carob arrive after a few minutes. It finishes in a similar fashion with more metals and smoke, and a little less fruit.

That worked well. How about a little more water to lower the ABV to the Glenfarclas standard?

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 2½ tsp of water per original 30mL whisky
Ah, things start falling apart at this level. The nose has generic sherry notes, something vaguely farty, bits of moss, cloves and pears. Sugar, eau de vie, vanilla, pepper and tart citrus in the palate. Caramel, metal and tart citrus in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This is the best Glenfarclas I've had in a while — though I haven't had any Glenfarcli in a while — but one must be gentle with the water. Though it was quite good at full power, I liked it best at the 50%abv mark, buyer beware at levels lower than that. But it's a good start to the week! Figs! I shall see how this stands up next to the standard 25-year-old on Wednesday.

Availability - Continental Europe
Pricing - €200 to €300
Rating - 88

Friday, October 16, 2020

Springbank 12 year old black label, bottled ca. 1990

Yes, there are some dusty-ish Springbanks in the sample stash, and I probably should consume them sooner than later. Today's whisky came from a bottle that looks something like this:

pic from whiskybase

The actual split bottle was the 46%abv version released in the USA. The black label preceded Springbank's red thistle label, and was used throughout the 1980s and apparently into the '90s. I say "apparently" because the owner of the bottle and I both thought it was from the '80s. But the bottle's label showed milliliters and ABV, which brings us to The Nineties. Distillation at Springbank took an eight year break starting in 1979, so the bottle's contents were distilled in The Seventies.

Finding the whisky's sparring partner seemed difficult at first, but for some unknown reason I had saved four(!) ounces of the 10 year 100 US proof from 2004-2006. Its apothecary bottle hadn't been opened for more than seven years but I soon discovered that its contents still kicked ass.

The sampling could then begin.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: ???
Bottling Date: around 1990
Bottled for: US market
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with a waft of rye-like spice notes like cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, but then comes the wool, coal smoke, wet dog and dusty books of Campbeltown. Small notes of mint candy and pineapple linger in the background, as does a clear note of well-caramelized fried plantains. The palate is "romantically unromantic" (per my notes). There's very little sweetness, though there are some dates rolling around in the midground. Up front there are stones, wool, burlap, chile oil, baking chocolate, anise and tart lemons. A bitter herbal bite shows up after some times, and the stony mineral side expands. It finishes with salt, stones, coal smoke, bitter herbs and a hint of cherry candy. The salt and minerals last the longest.

It's an autumn evening in a fishing village at a latitude north of here. And damn, a drinker could really get used to this stuff. The whisky is different than the current excellent Springbank 10 year old, leaner (I've already used "austere" once this month), darker, slightly rawer. They're probably near equals in quality and I probably should have matched those two up in my tasting. But I didn't. And the beige label 10yo 100proof was fantastic, I dare say superior to this old 12yo. *ducks seventy thrown pans* Both were spirit-forward and both immediately inspired the shorthand "old school" descriptor.

I'm not sure what this black label 12yo goes for in European auctions, but I'm going to assume the price would burn my eyeballs. But I can understand the chase. It marks history and it drinks very well.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - ???, research it if you dare!
Rating - 89

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Springbank 19 year old 1997 (57%abv, for US market)

What was I saying about bourbon cask Springbanks? I forgot. Well, here's a single sherry cask Springbank that actually came to The US of A. Remember what I've been saying about magical whisky vintages? Well, don't ever buy a Springbank sherry cask from May 1997. I have had a few and they're all terrible terrible horrible you shouldn't buy them give them to me.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 19 years (May 1997 - October 2016)
Maturation: re-charred sherry cask
Outturn: 438 bottles
Bottled for: US market
Alcohol by Volume: 57.0%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(thank you to Dr. Springbank for the sample!)

NEAT
The nose leads with mild bonfire smoke, seaweed and anise. Then Kit Kats (original-style), canned peaches, farmy hints, mild cigars and almond brittle. It gets peatier with time. The palate's tobacco leans more towards pipes. Roasted almonds, limes, kiwis and lychee juice floats in the midground. With time it gets more oceanic/seaweedy, then some industrial greasiness slips in. Equal parts salt/tart/sweet throughout. Lots of limes and kiwis in the long finish, as well as roasted salted almonds, earth and wood smoke.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Just those few drops of water pulls everything in the nose together in a big dirty hug (The Fedora's favorite kind). Some new notes of butterscotch and lime juice appear. The smoke, tangy citrus and sweetness expands in the palate. Some soil and rocks plop in, and then the whole package gets more industrial with time. As does the finish, which also piles on the soil, stones and fruits.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Two thoughts about this excellent official Springbank single sherry cask. Firstly, three years ago many of us balked when these 19 and 20 year old single casks arrived in the US bearing $300+ price tags. And these bottles could still be easily tracked down at the beginning of 2020. But the market caught up, possibly influenced by this year's cognitive assault, and now these bottles have made their way to the secondary market. Secondly, this whisky succeeds because the cask has only a moderate influence on the spirit it had held. The fluid is dark, conjuring images of oak stuff and raisins, but instead earth and juicy fruits hold their ground.

Availability - Probably sold out in the primary market
Pricing - around $300 in the primary market, higher in the secondary
Rating - 90

Monday, October 12, 2020

Springbank 27 year old 1993 Whiskybroker for IAAS

I've been hoping to get my overall mean (MEAN) score to drop, but then I do big blocks of Ben Nevis and Springbank which shoots that plan all to hell. So yes, this is a Springbank week, and probably a good one since I'm still celebrating Beatrice's completion of three zany human years.

First up is a single bourbon cask — am I the only one who misses plain ol' bourbon cask Springbank? — bottled by Whiskybroker for the Facebook group, It's All About Springbank. It's the third oldest Springbank I've reviewed here, and will probably still be the third oldest Springbank I will have reviewed here when the twenty-second century begins. Sorry to disappoint those of you who think I have a bottle of 32-year-old Springbank hiding in the cabinet. More to the point, I reviewed the first(?) IAAS bottling last year and didn't like it, but that one was wine-soaked. This one had a more straightforward maturation.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown, on Well Close, just off of Longrow
Bottler: Whiskybroker.uk
Age: 27 years (23 April 1993 - 14 May 2020)
Maturation: refill bourbon hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 51.3%abv
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
BIG fruits on the nose. Mango juice, freshly squoozen orange juice, grapefruit and Ecto Cooler. There's also plenty of hot dirty hay, soot, fresh herbs, Good & Plenty and rose blossoms. But the fruits, man. At first the palate is all black walnuts, lemons and cigarettes. Then something like smoked apples and smoked grapefruits. Fresh herbs and arugula. Hints of acidity, salt and sweet limes. It finishes with layers of citrus and soot, black walnuts and soil, smoky residue and cherry juice.

Just a teeny bit of water:

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or ⅛ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Broken rocks, broken bricks, herbs, black walnuts and dunnage on the nose. I'm loving all the black walnuts, which also show up on the palate, along with clay, chalk, oranges and limes. The finish matches the palate, though perhaps a little sweeter.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Richly sherried Springbanks are all the rage, but there ain't much on this whisky planet that tops a proper bourbon cask Springbank. This whisky is that and more so. (Hell, do 27-year-old bourbon cask Springers even exist anymore? Or will they in the future?) I'm not alone in fawning over this cask. Mr. Embrocations himself gave it a 92. Though its price may seem steep at first, it's actually half as much as the multi-cask (and less impressive) official 25 year olds. I'm very thankful to have gotten in on this bottle split.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €320, or $400 to get it to The States
Rating - 91

Friday, October 9, 2020

Ben Nevis 26 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 2377 (my bottle)

I'm so used to Ben Nevis's quirky industrial funk notes, that I've been caught off-guard by their near absence in these 16 whiskies. There has been just a little bit of the peated note I often find in BN's single malts, though it has tilted toward the earth and farm part of the spectrum rather than smoke. On the other hand, the sherry casks have been very very fruity and that makes me very very happy. Only one big sherry bomb. And, overall, only one outright turd. I deem this a successful depletion of my whisky deposits.

But I'm also trying to figure out whether this process was exhausting or was it the surrounding non-whisky life that left me fatigued. This sort of whisky journey may work better over one or two crazy nights for some folks. My system can no longer take that level of punishment which is why I do these month-long explorations. Joys and weariness aside, I say you shouldn't expect to see any Ben Nevis reviews here for the next 8-10 months. I have been Ben Nevissed.

To conclude:

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 26 years (5 July 1991 to 30 Nov 2017)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 599
Cask: 2377
Alcohol by Volume: 57.3%
(from my bottle)

The nose begins with industrial funk and peat smoke (of course it does), followed by peach skins, dried apricots and molasses. The loudest longest notes are those of almonds, lemon peels and ocean water. It gets earthier with time. Once reduced to 46%abv, the whisky shifts to wood smoke, molasses chews, oregano and fresh cut grass. Still some lemon peels and toasted almonds in the background.

The palate takes some time to appear. Once it does it reveals a mix of stones, salt and well-aged calvados. Then lemons, dried apricots and a hint of pastry dough. It gets sweeter and figgier with time. Though I'd expected the palate to open up further with the whisky diluted to 46%abv, it doesn't really do so. It gets drier, more tannic. Bits of dried apples and apricots, limes and roses.

It finishes mildly sweet, earthy and mineral. Apricots, soot and lemonade. More citrus appears once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, especially on limes. A few roses. Not much else.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This was the austere one of the bunch. It's probably technically sterling, but stirs up little in the way of excitement. I've sipped it twice more since this sitting, and it makes for a great casual drink. Perhaps it would have garnered more raves had it been part of a lesser tasting but, aye, there's the burden in being a Ben Nevis sherry butt. So it goes. Maybe one more pour.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - around €170-180 in late 2018
Rating - 87 (neat)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Ben Nevis 25 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 2915

Down to the final two Ben Nevisseses reviews, one from a bottle split, one from my bottle. This one spent a quarter century in a sherry butt yet still weighs in at 58.4%abv. I loved its sibling cask, 2914, and I'm running out of intro words. This has been an honor and a romance and a burden to my liver. Cheers.


Distillery:
 Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 25 years (16 August 1991 to 13 September 2016)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 573
Cask: 2915
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose on this one is very earthy, occasionally piney, with blasts of coal smoke and youthful peat. After 30 minutes, notes of limes, plum wine and dunnage arise. The palate begins with an intense combination of metals and yellow stone fruits. It's tangy, salty and mineral(ly) with bits of walnuts, black walnuts, pecans and limes. It has the most metallic finish I've ever encountered. It's also very salty, slightly tangy with a hint of tart plums.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
It's a different whisky now. The nose holds oranges, limes and mango ("yeah" per my notes). There's a dense nuttiness to it, along with a whiff of musty old sherry cask. Then some hints of dusty dead leaves and flower blossoms. The palate keeps its mineral and tart fruit notes, releasing the metals and picking up some umami. The finish is also much less metallic. It's tangier and sweeter, with a little bit of umami.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Each of these Signatory sherry butts is its own creature. This one was trending towards Mechagodzilla, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. My take on metallic notes isn't, um, ironclad. I can appreciate that type of characteristic as part of a larger complex whole, but here the metals were way up front. Had they been lighter the rest of the whisky's characteristics could shine and/or balance. Adding water certainly helped. It seemed to mature the whisky. The umami edge was nice and the nose proved excellent. And there was less metal. It's very good whisky, but it's in the shadows of the three previous sherry butts.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - somewhere around €175-€200 back when it was available
Rating - 85 (with water)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Ben Nevis 24 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 3834 (my bottle)

The sherry cask single malts continue to dominate this series, and three (including this one) remain. Proceeding through the 1991 Signatory sequence, I offer up this 24 year old Ben Nevis from my stash. Its sibling cask #3833 was dynamite. I hope this streak continues...


Distillery:
 Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 24 years (29 October 1991 to 18 July 2016)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 585
Cask: 3834
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
(from my bottle)

The nose begins with a combination of dried leaves, yuzu, citronella and carob. After 20 minutes it picks up notes of leather, honey and white peaches, as well as a medicinal peaty note and smoked salmon. Once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, the peaches move to the forefront, with brine, moss, grass, lime juice and yuzu behind it.

The crazy wonderful palate has deeply funky juicy tropical fruit, asian citrus (yuzu and kabosu), loquats and watermelon juice. Honey (manuka?), a cocoa-loaded mole sauce and a bright fermented note. With the whisky diluted to 46%abv, the palate becomes milder, sweeter and slightly smokier. All the sweetness comes from the citrus and honey, then a nice bitter belt rolls in.

The finish matches the palate. Thank goodness. With the whisky diluted to 46%abv, it finishes honied and creamy with a balance of citrus, tropical fruits and herbal bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I adore this whisky's strange palate, though I'm not sure it's for everyone. That doesn't make me a better person (it does) but I am glad to have a lot more of this whisky waiting for me. Not only does it have all the fun fruit, but it also brings the most distinct peat notes of the three Signatories so far, resulting in a unique single malt that could only have started its existence at the Ben Nevis distillery.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - somewhere around €150 back in 2017
Rating - 91

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 2914

Beatrice turns three years old today. I thought I knew the The Terrible Twos. I did not know the Terrible Twos. Though her comedic cuddly side emerges from the Destructo-Bot wrath for a moment as if to say, "Don't worry, I'm still in here!" I do wish it we'd see it more. Our duets before bedtime — sometimes we sing What a Wonderful World in a loop, slipping into a trance so the words almost sound believable — are the most fulfilling moments of my day. Each night her voice lifts mine. But being a parent navigating her emotions and those of her older sister, who's struggling even more than her parents in the time of COVID, has been a lot. Just a lot. No one's having as much as they used to.

To honor this experience I am going to drink a lot reviewing five Ben Nevises this week from Signatory's extensive 1991 parcel of BN sherry butts. Three of the reviews are from my own bottles, starting with yesterday's excellent 22 year old. Here's a 23 year old from a bottle split.


Distillery:
 Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 23 years (16 August 1991 to 16 January 2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 571
Cask: 2914
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
On the nose there are guava and mango purees, dusty library shelves, citron peels, damp moss, ocean air and a dense funky veg note I've never come across before. The silky mouthfeel gives way to a palate loaded with mangoes and kabosu (tart!), black walnuts and fresh mushrooms, then minerals, citrus and almonds. It finishes with an even bigger mineral note that goes well with the tropical fruits, as well as some soil, mushrooms and black walnuts.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose picks up more farm and dunnage notes, followed by peaches, butterscotch and cinnamon, then almond extract and damp moss. The palate gets fruitier somehow. Plums, melons, limes and peaches. Yet it's not too sweet, as its tartness and saltiness bring balance. The fruit gets tangier in the finish, while hints of cigar smoke and black walnuts appear.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
We already entering a whole 'nother plane with these 1991s. I'm doing everything I can to not drop F-bombs to illustrate my enthusiasm for this one. Add water, don't add water, whatever, man. This is a gem. I'm so glad I got to review this on Sweet Bea's birthday!

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - somewhere around €200 in 2015
Rating - 91

Monday, October 5, 2020

Ben Nevis 22 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 2382 (my bottle)

I am reviewing FIVE Ben Nevises this week, five very specific Ben Nevii. I'll explain why tomorrow. Let's just get this started.

You've clearly heard enough about the 1996 vintage. How about Signatory's 1991 goldmine? I'm going to review 22yo, 23yo, 24yo, 25yo and 26yo sherry butts from that parcel, three of which are from my own bottles, including today's 22.


Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 22 years (5 July 1991 to 2 July 2014, three days short of 23 years)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 633
Cask: 2382
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
(from my bottle)

The nose changes with every sniff. Nuts, then tar, then dried berries, then moss, then honey and roses. Hints of marzipan and cherry juice appear frequently. After 30 minutes it takes a cool funky turn, reading like a combination of dates, toffee and a super dusty (pre-war?) scotch. When the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, the nose shifts to orange peels, lemon peels, smoked dates (if that's a thing), old newspapers and dunnage.

The palate is full of citrus and salt, figs and manure, dark chocolate and dried raspberries. It gets very sooty and earthy with time, without ever losing the citrus and figs. When the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, it gains the neat nose's dusty whisky funk, full of musty basements and dunnages. It's also very tangy, loaded with pepper oils and tart oranges.

It finishes with loads of citrus and a vibrant tartness. The figs and salt hang on, as does a hint of dark chocolate. It gets earthier and bitterer with time. When the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, the finish mirrors the palate, making it feel like something that's been sitting in a bottle for the better part of a century.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Two elements elevate this whisky.

1. I'm a sucker for whiskies with either citrus or fig notes, this one has gorgeous combination of both.
2. This whisky has an old fusty musty dusty note that I've experienced in a few other Ben Nevises. I can't explain it — something to do with the Brewer's Yeast, perhaps? — but goodness, I love it.

A great start!

Availability - I bought this bottle at Edradour distillery in 2016, so it's probably sold out
Pricing - around $140 at the time
Rating - 90

Friday, October 2, 2020

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1996 Single Malts of Scotland, cask 1479

The sherry casks are killing it, with the first three easily topping the seven Ben Nevises that preceded them. The last of the 1996s from this five-week run, this whisky was released in the United States *gasp*  this year *double gasp*. Elixir Distillers seems to have quite the cask stash of '96 Nevises, with at least 15 bottled so far. And I just realized I've already reviewed three of them, scores ranging from 87 to 91, with this Whisky Trail Birds bottling placing Best in Show. Time for another!


Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Elixir Distillers
Range: Single Malts of Scotland
Age: 23 years old (21 October 1996 - 1 November 2019)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 1479
Outturn: 405 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.7%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose leads off with fudge, ocean and barrel char(!). Then peach liqueur, flower blossoms and lychee candy. Smaller notes of old books, eucalyptus, mint extract and saline drift in and out. The palate is very tannic, yet also very fruity. Woody bitterness and pu-erh tea. Yellow nectarines and peach juice. Almond cookies and amaretto. It gets saltier with time. The finish is enormously tannic, full of green woody bitterness with smaller notes of peaches, roses, hops and sea salt in the background.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets fruitier and more floral. The oak shifts towards toasted notes. And there's a quirky OBE-like note in the back. The bitter tannins shift to creamy vanilla in the super dessert-y palate. Some dried apricots, canned peaches and ink. The bitterness returns, mildly, in the finish, with the palate's vanilla, apricots and ink remaining.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I'm not sure if the cask was heavily-charred or re-charred or revamped or reactivated or rehabilitated. In any case it has produced a very oaky whisky, which is a shame because there are some good fruit notes that are almost hidden beneath the wood. Dilution lifts up the better notes and calms the oak. Still, when compared with the previous three sherry cask Nevises, it falls short of their balance, depth and distinctiveness. Yet Angus and Ruben each gave it a 90, and whiskybase weighs in at 89.33 as of today, so this style is clearly loved by others.

Availability - Several US specialty retailers
Pricing - $230-$260
Rating - 84 (with water, closer to 80 when neat)