...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Glen Grant 36 year old 1967 Sherry Wood from Scott's Selection

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

It's time for this cluster's first deeply sherried Glen Grant (probably). I've seen only a few Scott's Selections with the Sherry Wood label, and this is the first I've reviewed here.

I've scootched forward to a distillation date more than a decade after yesterday's whisky, but by gum this is a 36 year old sherry cask, so you'll just have to forgive me for reversing the time travel schedule. Though the distillery's floor malting ended several years before this whisky was distilled, 1967 is within the direct-fired still era. I've wanted to try this damned thing since My Annoying Opinions reviewed it forty-eight years ago, so I'm very thankful to have been able to get in on a bottle split last year.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Bottler: the late Scott's Selection

Age: 36-ish years (1967-2003)
Maturation: Sherry Wood
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
(from a bottle split)

The nose leads with musty dunnage, dusty old books and ultra-nutty sherry, followed by cocoa powder and Manuka honey. A swirl of guava and yuzu juices starts in the background gradually easing to the front over time. Hints of toffee ice cream and sandalwood drift around the edges. It gets mustier and dustier once reduced to 46%abv, with a lovely oak note, as if the cask itself was much older than whisky's 36 years, and filled with walnuts, toffee and fruity cinnamon. And maybe a yuzu or two.

The big, bold palate packs in almonds, bitter walnuts, tart fruits and sea salt. Then gentle oak spice and that ancient oak note. The fruit appears quietly 45 minutes in, mostly mango and peach juices. Tingly tart limes take over the fruit juices once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv. A big salty nip gives it one additional dimension, and another arrives with a well-aged Yamazaki note.

The finish highlights the tart fruits (lemon, yuzu and nectarine), as well as dunnage and wood smoke. Diluted to 46%abv, the finish happily matches the palate.

For a point of reference, I tasted this whisky side-by-side with Monday's 25-year-old single refill sherry butt, which likely resulted in that whisky's crummy score. The difference wasn't due to a different spirit style, but rather the vessels that held the two single malts. If you haven't gathered, I do complain about casks, a lot. But, goodness, there's a point when an old cask hits that zone when one feels as if he can smell and taste the years that have passed, making that drinker all mushy and romantic about the brown liquid in his glass. This whisky's got That Thing. The fruit notes don't hurt either, but I wanted more. This is me complaining about a 90-point 36-year-old whisky. 

Next week, older whiskies.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Glen Grant 25 year old Royal Wedding Reserve, bottled in 1981

Glen Grant released this 25-year-old single malt to commemorate the Anglo-Saxon Marriage of the Century between The Prince of Wales and the daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer in 1981. That coupling and the offspring it issued forth will get no further digital ink here. But I will note that Prince Charles enjoyed Laphroaig, specifically the old 15-year-old. Meanwhile his brother Andrew preferred 17 year olds.

Wocka wocka!

Of more relevance is that this whisky was distilled in 1956 or earlier. Its dilution to 40%abv is of some concern, but yesterday's Glen Grant glory was 43%, so......???

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Age: at least 25 years
Distillation date: 1956 or earlier
Bottling date: 1981
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Thank you to the very generous Cobo for the sample!)

It noses of peaches and roses wrapped in adhesive bandages. Poor things. Dried cherries and dried apricots in a damp basement. Orange candy and menthol notes push to the fore after 30 minutes.

The palate balances prettier notes of flowers and toffee with darker elements of earth and mothballs. It has a bitter side that goes well with the toffee, though it reads a bit oaky. A cayenne pepper rumble drifts through the background.

It finishes with bitterness and ash on top, grapefruit and Campari on the bottom, getting sweeter with successive sips.

This whisky hit a steadfast ceiling, probably due to the bottling strength, and came very close to getting too woody. Detecting distinct distillery characteristics is probably a fool's errand with this one. Still, it would make a very pleasant summer malt. Subtle and comfy, it's the sort of whisky I could picture drinking way too much of while grilling in the evening. But it's now nearing $400 in auctions and twice(!) that at retailers, so I'll just stick to a pilsner and Malort.

Availability - See above
Pricing - See above
Rating - 84

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Glen Grant 12 year old, bottled in the 1970s

The contemporary portion of this Glen Grant series is now over, having ended on a bitter note. The cluster now leaps back to the distillation days before Seagram's took over, but after the Grants merged with Glenlivet Distillers. All the stills were direct-fired with coal back in these days. Hundreds of thousands of cases of five year old Glen Grant were being sold in Italy, and the Gordon & MacPhail company was filling sherry casks with the Rothes spirit for their own warehouses.

In fact, G&M and the distillery were using the same label design for their Glen Grant bottlings during this period. So I'll be honest, I don't know who bottled today's whisky.

The official 5yo used this same design, as did G&M's 15. And both companies used the blue-gray oval on their 12 year olds.

But I do know this mini was bottled in 1977 or earlier due to "U.S. Internal Rev." appearing on the American tax stamp. AND I know this is Glen Grant. So, Salute!

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: ???
Bottling date: 1977 or earlier
Exported to: U.S.A.
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Oh. From the nose one could think this was well over 50%abv. It's enormous. Orange peels, peaches and lychees in a dunnage. Grapefruit and floral junmai sake. Wet wool, weed smoke, dried sage and spent motor oil. No, I did not dilute this.

A toffee sweetness meets bitter herbal liqueurs in the palate. Pumpernickel, yellow nectarines, soot, wasabi. Just a hint of metallic OBE. After 30 minutes, pears and grapefruits roll in. Maybe a touch of Cracker Jack.

Cigarettes, soil, wasabi and yellow nectarines linger and linger and linger in the finish.

I was unprepared for this. I mean, I had hoped it would be good. But the quality here, at this age, at this strength, is remarkable and baffling. My tasting notes are bit short here because I was so consumed by the whisky.

What have we lost?

Of course one could expand that question far beyond Glen Grant and whisky in general. But for this moment, I'm going to focus on single malt. Perhaps Springbank, Benromach or Ben Nevis could approach this style today. But at this age? I don't know. At this strength? Absolutely not. Beyond those three distilleries (or maybe even including them), single malt producers have changed barley sources, yeast strains, still-firing methods, filtration, cask management and cask storage in the past several decades. Is whisky even the same fluid it once was? I'm not saying all old whisky is better than current whisky. But there's nothing like this at 12 years and 43%abv anymore.

The old Glen Grant portion of this series starts strong.

Availability - Actually, this era's minis can still be found in auctions
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Monday, January 25, 2021

Glen Grant 25 year old 1988 SMWS 9.84

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

Of course there has to be an SMWS sample in the bunch! For a bottler I criticize so consistently, SMWS sure does have a considerable presence in my sample collection.

The first six Glen Grant cluster whiskies were distilled during the 1990s, when the distillery transitioned fully to indirect steam heated stills. But in 1988, when today's whisky was distilled, the wash stills were still being coal fired.

This is the cluster's second sherry cask whisky. The first one's cask was a bit, well, dead. Let's see if there's more action in this one.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 20 years (18 April 1988 - 2014)
Maturation: refill ex-sherry butt
Cask#: 9.84
Outturn: 534 bottles
Cask "name": Playing ‘Sea Battle’ in the garden
Alcohol by Volume: 55.6%
(thank you to Brett for the sample!)

The floppy, messy nose begins with peanut dust and sawdust. Old Spice aftershave, cucumber skin and a hint of kelp. It's very floral, almost like perfume. More peanuts, burnt peanuts appear once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. The floral notes become gentler, while lettuces replace the cucumber notes. A bit of fudge in there too. Reducing it to 40%abv tones down the burnt peanuts while emboldening the flower and veg notes, with peppercorns, green apples and orange pixy stix in the background

The palate is all peanut dust and bitter oak at first. Lots of pepper. Cardboard sprinkled with kelp granules. Notes of lemon and almond butter arrive, eventually. Some potpourri too. Diluting it to 46%abv sweetens it up, but it remains tannic and bitter. There's a strong synthetic fibrous note and a vague hint of sour fruit. Diluting it further to 40%abv brings out a lot of vanilla and caramel, as well as hints of lime and black pepper. The sweetness remains, as does a little bit of the bitter oak.

All that bitter oak carries over to the finish. Metal and pepper in the midground. Sour citrus and marzipan in the back. Reducing it 46%abv doesn't help matters. It's all burnt peanuts and mushy peas. It gets sweeter at 40%abv, but can't let go of the palate's bitter oak and black pepper.

I considered dumping this whisky out. The burnt peanut note, man. Ugh. Then bitter staves, cardboard and perfume. It just kept checking off all the wrong boxes. Though I wouldn't exactly call it "good" at 40%abv, that was the point where it clawed its way out of the depths into something drinkable. Perhaps it could improve with additional water. Or not.

The term "refill ex-sherry butt" has lost its meaning. Each year independently-bottled single casks hit the market that are dark chocolate-colored and winey or pinto grigio-tinted and raw, yet both have the "refill ex-sherry butt" designation on the label. So who knows what happened with this cask, but I couldn't find any Glen Grant within.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 74 (with lots of dilution, 5-8 points lower when neat)

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Assessing the Glen Grant cluster at the halfway point

With the intent to make this series more than just a string of reviews, I am pausing at the halfway point of this Glen Grant cluster to assess the whiskies thus far. One more contemporary Glen Grant will follow this post, and then we're off to a different era of this Rothes distillery.

Three of the first six bottlings were very spirit-forward, two had minor oak influence and one, the first, had a vibrant but well-balanced cask. Though one of the whiskies came from an ex-sherry butt, it was an inactive cask, so the six whiskies were mostly on the same general playing level.

So far...

Here are nose notes that appeared in more than two reviews:

Apples - 4
Barley - 4
Citrus (Orange x2, lemon, lime) - 4
Florals - 3
Stone fruit - 3
Yeast/wort - 3

As expected there were a lot of barley spirit-based notes, nothing very oaky. No dried fruit, no vanilla.

Here are palate notes that appeared in more than two reviews:

Citrus - 5 (Limes x4, lemons)
Bitterness - 4
Pepper - 4
Apples - 3
Mineral - 3
Nuts - 3
Sweetness - 3

Lots of citrus and apples again, but also some edgier characteristics.

Here are finish notes that appeared in more than one review:

Citrus - 4
Bitterness - 4
Mineral - 3
Apples - 2

Not much in the way of repetition here. Most of the finishes were limited in complexity and length, which (I think) demonstrates the limits of multi-refill casks and limited maturation time.

Looking at these notes. a few things come to mind. Either these results are a confirmation that these were consistently reserved casks, or these are the sort of notes my senses tend to find first and frequently. (I could spout my whisky CV right now in order to convince you of some level of sensory depth I may possess, but you've made it this far with me, so what the hell, let's keep going.) These are not baby whiskies. The youngest is 13 years old, though a 16 or 20 year old may read the most youthful. So, I believe I lucked into mostly refill casks which have brought me closer to a citrusy, apple-y spirit with mild mineral and bitter herb notes.

It took a lightly-peaty cask to shake the selection up a bit, and I'm thankful for it. Perhaps that 22 year old isn't representative of 1990s Glen Grant, but that variant highlighted the styles of the previous five.

Next week, I'll begin with a Glen Grant distilled in the late 1980s for one last look at a contemporary whisky, and then we're going back in time.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Glen Grant 22 year old 1992 Single Malts of Scotland, cask 35936

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

The first two 1992 Glen Grants from this week demonstrated both the benefits and limits of refill cask maturation. Today's '92 was aged in a smaller vessel, a barrel, for two more years. I tried the three of these single malts side-by-side, and in the game of "Which One of These Doesn't Belong" this 22yo would be the choice. In a good way.

Like the other two samples this week, this whisky arrived at my house courtesy of a certain Renaissance blogger. Thank you again, sir.

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Bottler: Specialty Drinks Ltd (now Elixir Distillers)
Series: Single Malts of Scotland
Age: 22 years (13 March 1992 - 25 March 2014)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask #: 35936
Outturn: 222 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.8%
(thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

Not only is the nose bigger and bolder than the other two '92s, but it's......earthy, earthy to the point wherein it reads like one's romantic vision of old school Highland malt. There's some yeasty wort and savory broth. A good dose of peach juice, with a hint of dunnage. Diluting it down to 46%abv brings out more hay and soil. Some hot metal and hints of pears in the background.

The palate also has more oomph, showing off minerals, citrus oils and an assortment of roasted nuts. The nose's earthiness tilts more towards a mix of soil and ash here. It seems to gain a creamier mouthfeel with time, while also gaining a good herbal bitterness. Reduced to 46%abv, the palate gets sweeter and ashier, while also feeling more pulled together, making it difficult for me to suss out separate parts.

It finishes with cracked pepper, minerals and a little bit of smoke. More limes and bitter herbs with time. Once diluted to 46%abv the finish loses its smoke but gains more tangy citrus.

This is, at minimum, tied for my favorite Glen Grant of the cluster so far. The smoky, earthy element brings a complexity missing from almost all of the other five GGs. The source of that note remains a mystery. MAO certainly found it, Whisky Magazine reviewers found it, a couple of the Whiskybase members found it, but Serge did not. Though Caperdonich distillery made peated runs, Glen Grant probably has not done so since it started sourcing malt in 1962. So perhaps the smokiness comes from the barrel's previous contents. Whatever it is, it works.

And on a totally obnoxious note, the Whiskybase community, Serge, MAO and I all gave this whisky the same score.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Glen Grant 20 year old 1992 Maltbarn, Release 12

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

The saucy labels continue. Monday's whisky had a naked duck on its label. Today's had a purple flower. Purple, get it? Purple rhymes with curple (thank you, Robbie Burns), and curple is a horse's buttocks. Who knew this was going on among the German bottlers? I did!

Like yesterday's Glen Grant, this one is a 20 year old single cask distilled in 1992, but this one spent its maturation time in a sherry butt, a cask I assume Maltbarn split with someone else due to the tiny outturn.


Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Bottler: Maltbarn
Age: 20 years (1992 - 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask/Release: 12
Outturn: 109 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%
(thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

The nose is mostly grass, honeydew, sour apple candy and the almond butter note, again. After 20 minutes it picks up caramel corn and toasted pecans. After 30 minutes, some plum skins sneak in. Diluting it to 46%abv brings out oranges, honey and toasted grains.

The palate delivers a good tart wallop, while mixing in sweet apples, and a pepper oil bite similar to the Whisky-Fässle 20yo. It does get raw and bitter at times, almost too much for this grumpy taster. A hint of Luxardo cherries saves it sometimes. It gets sharper, harsher when diluted to 46%abv. It's bitterer and tarter, with some mineral notes.

The finish is similar to the palate, but with some fabric and sweet citrus. Once reduced to 46%abv, it's sweeter than the palate, though there's a big horseradish bite mixed in.

The sherry and oak are nearly absent, which can be a great thing, but in this instance the cask seems almost neutral/inactive. The whisky's nose is very charming, and the finish mostly works, but the palate feels a bit half-baked. Dilution does not improve matters. One wonders what happened to the other 70-80% of the sherry butt.

MAO appears to have liked this Glen Grant a little more, while Serge held it in even higher esteem. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this whisky more under other circumstances, but it had some tough competition with Monday's and (especially) Friday's whiskies.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Monday, January 18, 2021

Glen Grant 20 year old 1992 Whisky-Fässle

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

Years before other independent companies were splashing images of naked women on their whisky bottles, Whisky-Fässle was printing, get this, pictures of nude ducks on their labels. I'm not here to judge or anything, but ARREST THEM.

In less important news, the Glen Grant cluster has progressed to 20+ year old whiskies this week! Three Glen Grants from three different cask types. All were distilled in 1992, and all arrived in my stash thanks to one man with Opinions.

The first of these comes from the aforementioned Eros Anatidae series. I cannot include a picture of the label because riots have begun over lesser things, so here's a picture of the chaste sample:

Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagram's
Bottler: Whisky-Fässle
Series: Ducks
Age: 20 years (1992 - 2013)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 50.4%
(thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

The nose says we've got a spirity one here. Lychee, limes, green apples and barley dominate at the start. After a few minutes almond butter moves to the fore and stays there forever more. Hints of butterscotch, blueberries, ocean and rose petals drift through the background. It gets yeastier once reduced to 46%abv, and a bit cheesy. The fruit has retreated and only a hint of the almond butter remains.

The very easygoing palate begins with limes, apples, brown sugar and burlap. Some mild pepper oils bring balance, as does a tanginess that grows with time. Ocean and floral notes appear after about 30 minutes. It reads a bit leaner once it's diluted to 46%abv. Gentle fruit and sugar notes, bits of bitterness and florals.

I get a Pepto Bismol note in the surprisingly lengthy finish, and I can't quite explain that. There's also apple candy, tart citrus and a moderate metallic note. When diluted to 46%abv it becomes bitter and tart and slightly earthy.

This lands plop in the middle of the B grade range for me. It's fruity but balanced, quite drinkable. No weird oak notes. I do prefer it neat, which didn't surprise me since the ABV sits in a good spot for my palate. Yet there's nothing that would make me want to rush out and buy a bottle (had it not sold out 7 years ago). MAO and Serge gave it slightly higher scores, though our assessments are similar.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - around €90 in 2013, I think
Rating - 85

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..."
4. Glen Grant 20 year old 1992 Whisky-Fässle - "...fruity but balanced, quite drinkable. No weird oak notes."
5. Glen Grant 20 year old 1992 Maltbarn, Release 12 - "The sherry and oak are nearly absent, which can be a great thing, but in this instance the cask seems almost neutral/inactive."
6. Glen Grant 22 year old 1992 Single Malts of Scotland, cask 35936 - "The smoky, earthy element brings a complexity missing from almost all of the other five GGs."

Assessing the Glen Grant cluster at the halfway point

7. Glen Grant 25 year old 1988 SMWS 9.84 - "...who knows what happened with this cask, but I couldn't find any Glen Grant within."
8. Glen Grant 12 year old, bottled in the 1970s - "...the quality here, at this age, at this strength, is remarkable and baffling."
9. Glen Grant 25 year old Royal Wedding Reserve, bottled in 1981 - "Subtle and comfy, it's the sort of whisky I could picture drinking way too much of while grilling in the evening."
10. Glen Grant 36 year old 1967 Sherry Wood from Scott's Selection - "...musty dunnage, dusty old books and ultra-nutty sherry......[A] swirl of guava and yuzu juices..."
11. Caperdonich 38 year old 1972 Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, cask 7460 - "Mmmmmmmango on the nose......ginger candy, cardamom, blood oranges and candied yuzu peel."
12. Glen Grant 50 year old 1958 Gordon & MacPhail - "This whisky was a thrill, and I was happy to set it free."
13. Glen Grant 56 year old 1955 Gordon & MacPhail - "...reads like an excellent sherried whisky half its age but with just a bit more bite..."

Concluding the cluster 

--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