...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Glen Grant 17 year old 1995 Duncan Taylor Dimensions, cask 85122

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

This is the most recently distilled Glen Grant in the whole group and the one that's most likely from the indirect steam still system being used today. Whiskybase lists 115 Glen Grants from 1992, 28 from 1993, 11 from 1994 and 133 from 1995, so perhaps the stills were replaced between 1993 and 1994?

The cluster's first two Glen Grants were quite different in style, though they shared some characteristics, like sharp citrus and minerals. I have no idea where this cask will fall.

The bottler, Duncan Taylor, is better known by older whisky geeks as having The Great Stash of Caperdonich. Today's whisky is, of course, not a 1972 Caperdonich, but I thought I'd add some sentences here to pad out the intro.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Brand: Dimensions
Age: 17 years (May 1995 - August 2012)
Maturation: either a bourbon barrel or hogshead
Cask #: 85122
Outturn: 226
Alcohol by Volume: 55.2%
(from a bottle split)

The clean but bold nose leads with apple skins, wort, tarragon, oregano and simple sencha. After about 20 minutes of air, new notes of brown sugar, cinnamon, puff pastry and a hint of jasmine blossoms appear in the mid- to background. Things get interesting once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Something fermented and fruity appears, like a yeasty peche or framboise lambic. The sencha note gets fainter, while the puff pastry drifts towards profiteroles. A little bit of toasted new oak spice shows up, but it stays mellow and in the background

The palate is tart, sweet and zippy like lime candy and ginger candy. Apples and barley. Cinnamon syrup and cherry bancha. It remains sweet and cheerful once diluted to 46%abv, still zesty but with new subtle floral notes. Then some raw ginger, praline pecans and cherry bancha.

It finishes with brown ale, tart apples and a squeeze of lemon juice. More citrus zests and flower blossoms arrive once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv.

Though the oak remains reserved throughout, this whisky is very different that Thursday's Glen Grant. While it's still youthful, this single cask reads sweet and pretty rather than lean and punchy. I really enjoyed the tea notes, since the whisky references gentle, savory cups rather than tannic beasts. This is the first of the Glen Grants I prefer with water, and it's the cuddliest one so far. The spirit seems lighter than the other two, and I wonder if the stills had switched from direct- to indirect-firing by this point. The result was certainly not a bad thing.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - near €50 back in 2008
Rating - 86

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Glen Grant 16 year old 1992 Cellar Reserve (OB)

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

While some single malt distilleries spew special releases at a regular clip, Glen Grant has attempted very few. In 2008 they rolled out a 16 year old Cellar Reserve for about 50euro. The whisky wasn't terribly limited, with its outturn of 13,542 bottles, but it received the NC/NCF/46%abv treatment. I don't think there's been a follow-up Cellar Reserve in the 13 years since, so perhaps they had a spare 40-50 cask parcel sitting around?

Thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample and the French Square. Yes, that is a naughty reference.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Age: 16 years (1992 - 2008)
Maturation: hogsheads?
Outturn: 13,542 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The nose begins with a clean and almost green barley note. Some fennel and tarragon mixed with a medicinal hint. Granny Smith apples, lemon zest and ground mustard seed. Once reduced to 43%abv, it picks up some more apples skins, then roots and carob, while holding onto those herbal notes.

The palate mixes a gentle sweetness with a peppery rumble. Hints of vanilla and shouts of acidic limes. It has more of a bite to it than I'd expected. It gets slightly papery after 30 minutes. The palate intensifies(!) when diluted to 43%abv. More pepper and acidic lemons. A rare example of good acidity in a whisky.

Quite some astringency in the finish, along with a blend of barley and minerals. No noticeable change occurs when diluted to 43%abv.

So, Glen Grant can be a fighter. This I did not know. It's not raw or undercooked; it's just, you know, whisky. One can appreciate a limited release that isn't an utter oak/sherry/peat creature. Like yesterday's Glen Grant, this one would probably work best in weather warmer than a Midwest winter. For additional takes, see MAO's review or Serge's or the whiskybase page. Our scores are pretty close on this one.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - near €50 back in 2008
Rating - 84

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Glen Grant 13 year old 1993 James MacArthur Old Masters, cask 121926

The Glen Grant cluster (see the series homepage here) begins with one of my bottles, purchased during quieter times. Distilled at the end of the distillery's direct-firing period, this single bourbon barrel of Glen Grant was released by the reliable independent bottler James MacArthur in their Old Masters series. The bottler had its heyday in the Nineties and early Aughts but has gone quiet over the past few years. Their website doesn't appear to have been updated since 2014, and Whiskybase shows 11 JM whiskies released between 2017 and 2019, zero in 2020. I hope they haven't closed down, but cask hoarding during the so-called boom may have hindered their business.

I opened this bottle two months ago as I began scheduling the 2021 reviews. This review pour comes from the top-third of the bottle.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Bottler: James MacArthur
Brand: Old Masters
Age: 13 years (1993 - 2007)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask #: 121926
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
(from my bottle)

Honey, mint leaves and orange oil appear first in the lovely nose. White nectarine flesh and lilac arise several minutes later. It gets louder and quirkier after 30 minutes with the arrival of watermelon Jolly Ranchers and low-rye American rye. It seems to drop to half its age when reduced to 46%abv. There's more barley, more yeast. Roses and toasted sesame seeds. New notes of blueberry pie filling and lime juice suddenly materialize at the end of the hour.

Citrus leads the full-strength palate, mostly limes. It has an oily texture and appearance. Plenty of malt and a light creaminess perch just above serrano pepper heat, clay and cashews. After about 30 minutes, the whisky gains notes of peaches and herbal bitterness. Diluted to 46%abv, it gets much sweeter. Fruity Kasugai and Haribo gummies sit on top, an acidic and mineral bite rest beneath.

The citrus and minerals are present in the full-strength finish. Cashews, walnuts and bitter lettuces mix with peaches in the distance. The finish calms down once reduced to 46%abv, calm and fruity with limes and nectarines.

I'm not sure one could ask for much more out of a 13 year old bourbon barrel Speysider. It has a bit of a punch from the ABV when sipped neatly, but that doesn't stop me from going back for a second pour every time, thanks to the mix of fruit and minerals. I'd like to think its thick texture is due to direct firing, but I'm not sure I can prove it. So I'll just enjoy it. If you have an unopened bottle of this at home, I recommend relieving the (probably broken) cork of its duties in the spring or summer.

Tomorrow, I'll review an age-stated bottling from the distillery itself...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $90 back in 2014
Rating - 88

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Glen Grant, a four-week cluster

Welcome to HQ for this four-week cluster of Glen Grant single malt reviews! I have a dozen (oops, I just found 13) of them lined up and ready to go, including one bottle from my own whisky cabinet. These whiskies will be tasted and reviewed by age, youngest to oldest, though I may throw curveball if needed.

First, a brief history of the distillery.

Photo By S8z11

Originally dubbed Drumbain by the Brothers Grant in 1840, Glen Grant distillery produced whisky sold as a single malt as far back as the 1870s. Such was its popularity that Major James Grant Jr. (proprietor for fifty-nine years) commissioned a second distillery to be built in the late 1890s. Glen Grant Number Two (actual name) ran for four whole years before it was converted to malting floors, kilns and storage. The original Glen Grant distillery remained solely in the Grant family until 1953 when it merged with Glenlivet Distillery's company, forming The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distillers Ltd.

By the 1960s, Glen Grant was selling hundreds of thousands of bottles of their five-year-old single malt in Italy as other single malt brands were just getting off the ground. Number Two was reopened in 1965, gaining an actual appellation, Caperdonich.

The business deals continued into the 1970s, as The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distillers Ltd. merged with Longmorn-Glenlivet Ltd. and Hill Thompson & Co., creating The Glenlivet Distillers. A few years later this company was swallowed up by the Seagram's behemoth. When Seagram's was split up in 2001, Pernod Ricard nabbed Glen Grant. Campari then bought the distillery in 2006, and has remained the owner ever since.

Back in 1861, Glen Grant was the first distillery to install electric lighting, powered by an on-site turbine. Floor malting continued at the distillery until 1962, after which its malt was externally sourced. The distillery's stills were direct fired by coal until the 1970s, then it was gas, then a mix of gas and coal and steam. They were all switched to indirect steam firing prior to 2000. Caperdonich was retired two years later and its site was bulldozed in 2011. Now on its own, Glen Grant is one of the rare large distilleries with its bottling hall on site.

Photo by S8z11

Okay, history lesson complete.

Hints about what I'm reviewing? I'm glad you asked. Without spoiling too much, I can say that all, or at least most, of these Glen Grants were distilled in direct-fired stills. Most of the whiskies have been matured in bourbon casks. But not all. The biggest question may be: "Will there be any floor-maltings-era old G&M Glen Grant?"

You bet your gorgeous ass there will be.

I'm emptying the stables. Drinking the......horses? But just be patient. We'll start in the 1990s tomorrow.

The Glen Grants:

1. Glen Grant 13 year old 1993 James MacArthur Old Masters, cask 121926 - "I'm not sure one could ask for much more out of a 13 year old bourbon barrel Speysider."
2. Glen Grant 16 year old 1992 Cellar Reserve (OB) - "So, Glen Grant can be a fighter."
3. Glen Grant 17 year old 1995 Duncan Taylor Dimensions, cask 85122 - "...the cuddliest one so far. The spirit seems lighter than the other two..."

--MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
--Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2021. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2020

Monday, January 11, 2021

2021 will be different......on the blog, I mean

Yeah, sorry, I can't make any promises about everything else in 2021, but Diving for Pearls will take a different route than in previous years. It's going to be a year made up almost entirely of deep dives. There won't be one-week themes, there will be two- to six-week themes, often focusing on a single distillery or brand. I've previously tested this out with Ben Nevis, Glenfiddich and Black & White. But this year the review clusters will be longer and often consecutive.

I recognize this may not be a popular approach, and I may lose some or many of my readers. It also doesn't follow the current system through which we all receive information, with new data being blasted constantly in our direction. And that's fine. Whisky reviews are disposable things, but I'd rather create something more interesting for me, something potentially more constructive for someone out there or right here.

By taking this approach I am not criticizing bloggers who post a half-dozen or more whisky reviews in one sitting. That's their approach, and they cover a hell of a lot more ground than I do. I just don't have the capacity, with my health or my time, to burn through whisky at that pace. And I wouldn't trust my senses after the third pour anyway. I'm not built like that.

2021 will not only mark my tenth full year of whisky reviews, but it may also bring my 1500th review. So I'm going to try to focus, slow things down and maybe learn something. Feel free to duck in and duck out as I go down this path. Each extensive series will have a HQ/Home post with links to each review, so hopefully folks can follow along. This blog doesn't work without its readers, but it's also worthless if the writer isn't fully engaged with his subject matter. We begin again tomorrow.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Killing Whisky History, Episode 35: Dewar's 12 year old Malt Whisky, bottled between 1963 and 1975

Called Pure Malt in Europe, this DCL-era Dewar's expression was labeled "Malt...a blend" in the US. I believe this one has a large portion of malt whisky from distilleries during their last decades of floor malting. And it ain't White Label.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Speyside Distillery 21 year old 1996 Old Particular, cask DL12019

Speyside Distillery produced some of the internet's least loved single malts of the past two decades — most notably Cu Dubh, Drumguish, Beinn Dubh The Black — before rebranding themselves as "Spey" and shipping a lot of bottles to China. The Spey brand has crept west, but due to the distillery's early sins I've been unmotivated to try the new stuff.

But recently there have been some independently bottled whisky from Speyside Distllery (not to be mistaken with A Speyside Distillery, which is usually Glenfarclas, and never confusing) that have received positive reviews online. So, since it's a new year......why not?

Ownership: Speyside Distillers Co.
Region: almost not in Speyside actually
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Particular
Age: 21 years old (Sept 1996 to Sept 2017)
Maturation: refill butt
Cask #: DL12019
Outturn: 362 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%
(from a bottle split)

Before continuing, I would like to direct your attention to a picture of this whisky in my Glencairn glass.

No filters or photo doctoring here. This whisky is redder than Idaho. I know that tint excites many people — which is why Macallan tried to steal everyone's money with Color — but my favorite whisky hue is five-beer-piss, so a whisky darker than a Manhattan cocktail doesn't inspire positive thoughts here. Sure it's a "refill" butt, but what did they do to that cask before refilling it?

The nose is much subtler than expected, more on nuts than dried fruits. Walnuts, pecans and almonds up front. Soil and metal in the back. Hints of roses and white peaches. A dollop of toffee pudding. The palate is......good. Very good. Roasted nuts, roasted grains, roasted game. Salt and earth. Truffle salt almonds. Essences of dried cherries and dried cranberries without the sweetness. It finishes with truffle salt, bitter chocolate, bitter coffee and a hint of copper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The truffle salt almond note now appears in the nose, along with mocha and dry soil. Hints of pipe tobacco and cranberry juice drift around the edges. Salt and blackest baking chocolate lead the palate. Very very dry sherry. Again the sugarless dried cherry and cranberry notes. It finishes dry AF and as bitter as my 🖤.

Speyside Distillery versus Octomore, who ya got?

Would you believe Speyside? Yes, the whisky is mostly cask. And though ultra-sherried whiskies don't always do it for me, and dry sherry can be a bit difficult for my palate, somehow this particular style really worked for me. Truffle salt + nuts + bitterness + earth + just a hint of fruit = 🙂. If only more sherry cask whiskies were like this! And affordable!

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, January 4, 2021

Octomore 12 year old 2007 Event Horizon, for Feis Ile 2019

Amidst all of Bruichladdich's words about this 2019 Feis Ile release, there isn't a single mention of the whole "Event Horizon" name, so I'm just going to assume they're referencing the craptacular "You can't leave, she won't let you" turdburger Sam Neill ham sandwich I enjoyed in the theater twenty-three (o.m.g.) years ago, rather than a black hole's gravitational sphere.

According to that same marketing blurb, this is the oldest Octomore release yet, and from 100% sherry casks. A big thank you to Doctor Weir Springbank for the sample!

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Octomore
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 12 years (2007-2019)
Maturation: four (oloroso and PX) sherry butts
Outturn: 2000 bottles
PPM: 162.2
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Yep, it stinks up the whole room. The nose has lots of everything, fruity and nutty sherries, hefty smoke and soot, orange and cherry jellos, pine needles and briny shellfish. The absurdly sweet palate mixes cinnamon syrup with moo shu plum sauce with apricot jam. Tart oranges and barbecue sauce. Charred beef and ham. Ashes from a grass fire. Barbecue chicken wings lead off the finish, followed by salt, sugar, black pepper and apricot jam under a blanket of smoke.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes mintier and more chocolatey, but with a simpler peat smoke. There's more rubber and plastic, and a blob of almond butter. More char and ash in the palate now. The moo shu plum sauce remains, now combined with smoked chipotles and woody bitterness. The sticky sweet finish is all berry jams and citrus marmalades and wood smoke.

With its outrageous peat levels and high abv, Octomore was designed to be loud. Three year olds can't easily find their inside voices, and it's understandable when five or six year olds struggle to do the same. But at 12 years? I need ear plugs. Thus when a spirit with a 162.2ppm peat level is left in hyperactive juicy casks for more than a decade, the resulting deafening volume is no accident.

That's not to say this whisky is bad, rather it's to illustrate that "depth" (the official wording) isn't gained from this sort of maturation, in fact almost all of the 5yo bourbon cask Octomores I've had were more complex than this. The Event Horizon works best as a pairing whisky, likely to work well with chocolate or vanilla desserts, even better with a cigar. And despite the above critique, I also encourage you to drink this at full power because dilution renders the whisky's third act just as messy at the film's.

An odd start to 2021.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - was £175 at Feis Ile, though it's a lot more now!
Rating - 84 neat only