A Wee Dram… Actually, Three Wee Drams!

I recently attended a local Burns Night, once again put on at a local establishment that is managed by a friend. And, once again, the event did not disappoint… especially considering that it was taking place in my small hometown of Camrose, Alberta. 

Because of my son’s basketball tournament, I was not able to make it until the event was well underway. Fortunately, there aren’t too many scotch fanatics in Camrose so I was confident, so long as my dramming pal Richard and his father hadn’t cleaned the place out, that I’d still be able to sample some terrific whiskies. 


Once again, the selection was better than expected and the prices were favourable!  I sampled three whiskies: The Highland Park 18, the Lagavulin Double Matured and the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Reserva.  Here are some brief thoughts on all three, in the order that I tasted them. 

Highland Park 18

I have had the HP18 before but it has been a while. Anyone who has spent much time on this blog (especially early on) probably knows how much I adore Highland Park whiskies, so seeing the HP18 on the list made it a no-brainer for my first dram of the evening.  Golden in colour and with the classic subtle smoke and honeycombe Highland Park nose. On the palate, flavours toffee, toasted mal, vanilla and baking spices predominate, along with some orange zest and maybe a hint of dark chocolate. That familiar HP floral, heathery peatiness is certainly on display, which is especially evident in the lengthy honey-drenched finish. There is not a rough edge to be found on this whisky, it’s almost dangerously smooth. Great whisky… but I think I still slightly prefer the 12!

Lagavulin Double Matured

I love Islay whiskies, so I was very pleased to see a Lagavulin on the menu. (And yes, Imhave had words with my friend about the spelling error, lol!) I had previously only enjoyed the Lag8 and Lag16, so I was excited to take this PX “finished” version for a spin. Rich, bunt amber in my glass, this whisky visually hints to the strong aromas and flavours it will reveal. Peat and smoke, obviously, are on the nose, along with rubber bands, iodine, that maritime sea-weediness, and something vaguely like bananas. On the tongue, it’s all Islay, with more smoke and peat, malty sweetness and a bit more of the medicine cabinet as a menthol-eucalyptus note arrives.  The PX casks are evident in a lingering chewy-grape sweetness, as well. The finish is long and earthy as the smoky-peatiness fades to sponge toffee and s’mores. 

Glenfiddich 21 Year Reserva Rum Cask Finish

Having arrived late, I was quite content with the two drams I had selected. But, when the manager comes to offer a free-pour of the most expensive whisky on the list, it would be rude to say no, right! The healthy dram displayed dark coppery-gold in my glass and gave off fairly typical Speyside aromas of vanilla, fruit and a grassy note… There was a definite oakiness as well as an “older” note of leather. The rum did not jump out of the glass at me on the nose. The flavours were rich and delicious – maybe the knowledge of the rum finish influenced my palate, but molasses certainly came to mind, along with caramel and more vanilla. I know it doesn’t sound overly interesting, but it was a rich, well composed palate. The finish was medium in length and delivered a raisin-like quality that I only then realized had been there all along, in the nose and on the palate, as well. 

Once again, my local Burns Night delivered. Good friends and good conversation are really what make it so, but good whisky never hurts, either!

A Wee Dram… Oban 14 Yr Old

It is my extremely good fortune to have married into a fantastic family! My wife’s parents have always treated me like one of their own and they are the best grandparents I could wish for my kids. My brother-in-law and I also hit it off right away, playing senior hockey together, fishing and finding other ways to cause trouble… Although he teases about being the brother he never wanted, I’m glad to call him family and consider him one of my best friends! 

Ok, enough of the sappy stuff… What’s really important here is that my brother-in-law also continues to improve with age, just like a fine spirit! Increasingly, he has been more interested in scotch whisky and, at our most recent family get together, he surprised us by breaking out a bottle of Oban 14.  I was sure I’ve tried this whisky before but couldn’t recall where or when.  Nevertheless, I was more than happy to sample it anew!

The nose was rather soft and understated, with obvious vanilla and caramel as well hints of smoke and orange zest. I was longing for my Glencairn since I was sure this dram had more to offer than I could tease out with a tumbler! The first sip surprised me with a very full-bodied mouthfeel. The palate included vanilla and a sweet malt graininess front and centre, with burnt sugar and a herbal, floral honey. There was also a wisp of smoke but it was more like campfire than peat, in my opinion. This whisky finished medium-long, with salted caramels and lingering licorice.

All in all, I thought this was a delicious whisky!  At 43%abv, Oban 14 was smooth and easy drinking but it was also nuanced and interesting… I may have to get myself a bottle!

Just a Thought… The Norlan Whisky Glass

This past Christmas (I know, I know… And I have no good excuses for my delay to post), my ever-thoughtful sister gifted a beautiful pair of glasses to me.  I can only imagine how her search for my gift actually went but, to hear her tell the story, it involved wonder about what to get a “whisky nerd” who apparently has everything already, while also feeling a little unsure about an outright display of support for my dramming habit by giving me an actual bottle of booze, not to mention completely ignorant toward how to choose a bottle I was sure enjoy… I don’t think you need to know my sister personally to pick up on all of the not-so-subtle jabs she was taking at me.

Nevertheless, I was quite thrilled to open my gift and see a carton of two Norlan glasses. I have been interested in this technology since reading about it on other blogs but my satisfaction with traditional Glencairns as well as the unavailability of Norlan glasses in stores (online orders only, I believe) had so-far kept me from getting my own.

 

For my comparison, I sampled some nice Classic Laddie in both the new Norlan and my usual Glencairn. Here’s what I thought:


Glencairn Nose

Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla. The Glencairn also delivers a clear malty-cereal character as well as some citrusy goodness on the nose. 

Norlan Nose

Noticeably less pronounced nose compared to the Glencairn. Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla… Those aromas are all still there, I just had to work a bit harder to find them. The malty character is pretty much absent but there is now a distinct herbal quality in its place – minty, eucalyptus. 

Glencairn Palate 

Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality.  The Glencairn delivers my sip directly to the tip of the tongue, which helps to highlight the sweet honey and bourbony elements of the whisky. The finish is medium, maybe medium-long, with pencil shavings, caramel and a nutty sensation. 

Norlan Palate

Very similar. Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality are all in the mix once again. The Norlan glass seems to bring a sip of whisky a bit further back on the palate, which makes for a slightly more bitter and peppery profile. The finish is again medium with flavours of oak and minerals, sweet caramel and nuts. 

Verdict

The Norlan Glass is a beautiful piece of glassware. I like how it feels in my hand and, if I’m drinking with friends who mix their drinks in tumblers, maybe I won’t feel quite as pretentious with the Norlan as with a Glencairn.  Maybe, but probably not… I have no qualms about matching my glass to whatever I’m drinking, so I may just stick with my trust Glencairn or, perhaps, my Canadian Glencairn. 

I should probably do more side-by-side comparisons, in the name of science of course, but I’m not yet sure that I can say the Norlan glass is better or worse, in terms of an overall drinking experience. The nose is decidedly subdued, compared to a Glencairn, and there seems to also be a slightly different taste experience, due to how the whiskey is delivered to the tongue. However, some aromas and flavours did also seem to be enhanced by the Norlan, so maybe it’s a trade-off in the end. I, for one, love to nose my whisky so I find the subdued nosing experience of the Norlan to be a strike against it. That said, however, I’m sure my new Norlan glasses will see plenty of use, especially when I can show them off when a buddy drops by come over for a dram. 

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

You know, the more I drink bourbon, the more I like bourbon…

How’s that for a philosophical opening statement?  It’s funny though, because I can remember a time, not so long ago, when I thought bourbon was really inferior stuff. No longer, however! I now find myself perusing the American whiskey aisles in my local bottle shops as often as I visit the scotch sections. And, while it’s kind of a chicken-egg thing, I have realized that I prefer bourbon-barrelled scotch whiskies over other finishing regimes. The thing I am enjoying the most about my growing infatuation with bourbon, though, is that it has opened an entire new category of taste experiences for me to enjoy. 

This brings me to my most recent purchase: a bottle of Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This dram is aged for 9 years before being bottled at 100 proof (50% abv). This whiskey cost me $50 CDN. 


To the Eye

I’ve said it before, I love the colour of a proper bourbon! Deep amber, almost coppery-orange with flashes of brighter gold. Very appealing… A swirl of my Glencairn reveals a crest that eventually releases extreeeeeeemely stubborn, thick legs!

In the Nose

Brown sugar, burnt sugars and cinnamon are the first aromas to greet me. What really strikes me is an absence of alcohol burn. Some rye spiciness, more distinct cinnamon and some oak soon join the party.  Time in the glass eventually allows a ginger-bread quality to develop, along with a pine note and maybe a touch of marshmallow. 

On the Tongue

Nicely balanced. Caramel popcorn and oak form the backbone of this dram but there is also a fruitiness about it… apricot jam continually comes to mind. The are more subtle qualities woven amongst the more dominant flavours too: that rye spice is lurking in the background, along with a charred flavour that is not quite smoky, but more like something off the grill – barbequed corn-on-the-cob?  It’s not as sweet as I fear I’m making it sound. A little bit of cocoa powder and some vanilla are also evident. 

The finish is long. Actually, what’s longer than long? Seriously, the flavours linger on and on, several minutes after each sip. Oak for sure, but those sweet, ripe apricots return as well and almost gain strength before fading to something cherry-like (more like cherry wood than the actual fruit) and a smack of hazelnut at the end.

Final Thoughts

Delicious stuff! I still don’t know if I know enough about bourbon to make a statement like this, but Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon just seems to be an honest, well-crafted whiskey. It tastes like good bourbon! I have had whiskies that knocked my socks off more than this dram… Yet, those apricots! But for my money, this bottle is a very good value. I’m sure it won’t be a one-off in my cabinet!

A Wee Dram… Glenfarclas 15 and 25

Last night, I had the pleasure of a night out with my buddy Richard and our wives at a craft-beer event hosted by a local watering hole that is managed by one of our friends. Well, it’s certainly good to know people in high places… Our friend knows that I love a good whisky and, soon enough, generous drams of Glenfarclas 15 were sent over to our table. Shortly thereafter, we were also surprised with a second whisky to sample, the Glenfarclas 25, which gave me the perfect opportunity to compare the two whiskies side-by-side.  So this is actually two wee drams!


Glenfarclas 15

A soon as my glass was placed in front of me, I received a nose full of sherry. Grapey, wine-soaked oak, along with some nice citrus notes that eventually made way for vanilla. On the palate, I was surprised by how dominant the wood notes were but this was balanced quite nicely by a toasty malt-sweetness and a thread of smoke. The finish was medium, with a return of jammy berries from the sherry casks, more oak and a herbal-mint flourish at the end. Very nice, but maybe a little young-tasting compared to what I was expecting. This whisky is bottled at 46%abv. (Richard preferred this dram over the 25, stating that he loved the bold sherry and heavy oak character of this whisky.)

Glenfarclas 25

This whisky was a slightly lower 43% abv which was certainly enough to deliver an abundance of aroma and flavour. The nose was similar to the 15 but, in my opinion, more well-rounded with the addition of a floral, heathery quality. On the palate, the 25 restrains the wood notes better than the younger expression, allowing that floral character to come through as an interesting, almost-willowy note. There is also a sense of mint-chocolate, coupled with that same toasted malt-sweetness that mig have a touch of honey about it this time. The 25 has a slightly longer finish, with the same big, sherried flavours and dry oakiness. This whisky, however, left me with lingering sensations of rose water and marmalade that I didn’t detect on the 15. (Obviously, I preferred the balance and nuance of 25 but both were fine whiskies!)

The Glenrothes 1995 (Review 2.0)

Okay, Review 2.0 is not exactly a fair statement… My earlier review of the Glenrothes 1995 Vintage was of the 2015 bottling. This review is of the same vintage, but the 2016 bottling – a year longer in the wood and a 21 year old whisky, overall!

As It was not that terribly long ago that I reviewed the 2015 bottling, I won’t dally on the backstory and all the little details. Rather, I’ll get right into the review, with a focus on any differences that I can discern between the two. 

The Glenrothes 1995 Vintage, bottled in 2016, is once again a 43% abv whiskey. This time the price was closer to $80 CDN. 



To the Eye

An extra year in the casks has not added much to the visual presentation of the whisky, at least as far as I can tell. It remains a brilliantly clear, honey-coloured dram. The skinny legs are back too, although not as reluctant as I thought they were last year. 

In the Nose

I still find the sweet, malty aromas that I enjoyed previously although I am getting less toasted coconut and far more of the juicy red fruits. There is a definite sweet, toasty quality about this nose but, today, it carries more cinnamon and baking spices. The aromas are all classic bourbon-seasoned Speyside, a delicious combination of orchard fruits and caramel-vanilla goodness. I still can’t shake the idea of apple crisp!

On the Tongue

Again classic Spey flavours are delivered, with all the juicy pear and ripe red apples you can handle. There is also something interestingly complex going on in the background… Floral, herbaceous, delicious!  It is sweet but not overly so. There might be a touch more oak than I remember in the 20yr version and there is less pepper heat – today it’s a bit more like chilli-flavoured dark chocolate. The finish is longish, with more of a mineral character that combines with the oak to create a strong sensation of pencil shavings, which is joined by citrus pith and a bit of licoricey anise seed or fennel seed, I can’t quite decide!

Final Thoughts

I don’t know that there should be much difference between a 20yr and 21yr bottling of the same vintage whisky. And, to be honest, I don’t know whether I have found much difference between the two. My tasting notes for this bottle don’t quite match those from last year’s younger bottling but I can’t decide whether the differences are legitimate or just due to timing and circumstance. But let me tell you what matters here – The Glenrothes 1995, 21 yr old is an insanely good whiskey and a ridiculously good value! I hope there will be a 2017 bottling out next year!

Bruichladdich – The Classic Laddie (Scottish Barley)

I can’t claim to be overly familiar with Bruichladdich malts but I can tell you that, from what I have tried, I have been fairly well impressed. Although I was initially a little underwhelmed with the Port Charlotte Peat Project, I have enjoyed some fine drams from this distillery, with the Octomore being downright fantastic!

Bruichladdich, however, intrigues me more and more these days. As I have grown to love the robust, peated Islay and West Coast styles of whiskies, the idea of completely unpeated Islay drams seem to be an interestingly dichotomous idea. The Classic Laddie is a NAS whisky bottled at 50% abv and costs about $60 in my local liquor stores. 


To the Eye

This is as good a time as any to sing the praises of Bruichladdich’s bottle presentations – I have yet to see one of this distillery’s offerings that I have not appreciated. From modern-looking cool factor to downright sexy looking, Bruichladdich is, in my opinion, at the top of the presentation game. This particular bottle is no different, with a squat, powder-blue bottle that stands out in a crowd. 

As for the whisky itself, this dram is un-chill filtered and colouring free, which are both plus factors, in my book. Slightly hazy straw-gold, with thick, extremely stubborn legs – this is, for me, an enticing looking dram

In the Nose

I will hesitate to call the aromas above my glass complex, but there seems to be a subtle sophistication about what I am experiencing. Floral heather blossoms, a soft smokiness and an interesting, slate-like mineral quality are the first characteristics that I notice. The smokiness surprises me since this is an unpeated whisky, and I assume it must come from the char in the casks. With time, dusty cereal grains become more prominent, along with a bit of honey and vanillins join the party. It is a gentle but balanced and well-composed nose!

On the Tongue

Most of the aromas are also present on the palate… Oak tannins, subtle smoke, along with a bit of bourbony caramel and vanilla are most  prominent. That floral-mineral character is also very noticeable, along with some cinnamon and cardamom. In and amongst these identifiable flavours, there is also an underlying malty graininess as well. It is quite delicious!

The finish at first seems a little on the short side but I eventually realize that this assessment is because of my impatient tendency to reach for another sip too soon. I would actually characterize the finish of The Classic Laddie as medium-long. An oaky, mineral, pencil shaving flavour arrives first but quickly makes way for a warm, peppery herbal-like sensation that reminds me of arugula. If you can exercise enough patience, this fades into a nutty, peppery, honey-drenched flourish. 

Final Thoughts

I think the highest compliment I can pay this whisky is that “NAS” didn’t cross my mind once during any of my tasting sessions. There really was nothing young about this whisky. It’s not harsh, it’s not hot, and there’s way more going on than I expected. This is not to claim Bruichladdich’s The Classic Laddie to be a very complex dram, because it’s not. But this whisky is exceedingly well-composed and very delicious. The Classic Laddie reminds me, more than a little, of Highland Park 12, which is high praise, in my opinion. This whisky is drinkable and inviting but also interesting enough to be appreciated by those with more sophisticated palates.