Glendronach 12 Year Old

A birthday gift from a friend, I was rather excited to receive this bottle… a new whisky that I hadn’t previously tried!

I can’t claim to know much about the Glendronach whiskies but their website indicates that the distillery was founded in 1826, changed ownership several times before ceasing production in 1996, but was back in full production by 2002. This is a malt that I have seen in local liquor stores but, seeing as I didn’t purchase it for myself, I’m not completely sure of it’s price tag. The Glendronach 12 Year Old whisky is bottled at 43% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky is quite striking, almost disarming, in it’s unusually rich colour. In the bottle, it has a unique deep brown appearance and in the glass, it still appears much darker in colour than most whiskies. A dram of Glendronach 12 is a deep gold with flashes of red that immediately have me expecting a heavy sherry influence.

In the Nose
Sherry, certainly… But also plums and sweet cherries. The tasting notes on the sleeve suggest ginger and vanilla, which I’m not sure I’m picking up. I do sense a zesty character, but it’s more like orange zest than ginger in my opinion. It’s a pleasant nose, but not all that complex.

On the Tongue
Aggressive oak and sherry dominate the fist sip. It’s quite smooth and further tastes reveal black pepper and some burnt sugar. Partway into the dram, that heavy oak has become rather bitter – not in a horrible way, but not in a great way, either. It’s a lot like a slightly bitter walnut. Again, not overly complex. The finish is short, although the dry, bitter oak tannins stick around a bit longer than I want them to.

Final Thoughts
I’ve had a few drams from this bottle now and I have to admit that it’s not really growing on me. In my mind, it has a similar character to a Glenrothes and I have a similar opinion of it – okay, but it’s not threatening my top 10 (or 20) anytime soon.

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Just a Thought… Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

JD and I have one of those on-again, off-again relationships…

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Jack Daniel’s was probably the first whiskey that I started to enjoy on the rocks and, eventually, neat. There was something about the unique, subtly smokey flavour that I liked it better straight-up, rather than mixed. But, as my palate developed and I began to appreciate scotch and other more-premium spirits, I started to find JD a little bitter and lacking flavour.

That said, I think I’ll always have a bottle of Jack in my cupboard. It’s my old flame that still, every once in a while, I can’t help but think back fondly on… and find myself calling upon.

And, on those occasions when I can’t help myself, JD’s always there to satisfy. Sure, the rough edges and all those other elements that pushed me away are still there but so are the things that I found so appealing in my youth. There’s still the smooth carmel-corn sweetness, so nicely balanced with that wisp of smoke and that lingering charcoal exit… Yeah, as long as we don’t pretend it’s something more, every once and a while there’s nothing like a quick fling with an old flame like JD.

Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a single malt snob when it comes to my Scotch. Sure, I’ve found a few blends that I don’t mind, and a couple that I genuinely enjoy but, I’ve always found more hits and fewer misses in the single malt category.

For this reason, I was somewhat reserved when my brother-in-law brought over a bottle of Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old, but I was mildly intrigued since it was a whisky I’d never even seen, let alone tried, and I was cautiously optimistic since this blend acted a little bit like a single malt with its corked stopper and classy labelling. I was about to discover that a pure malt whisky is a very different style of whisky from other blends.

Most blends, in addition to malt, contain a percentage of grain whisky, from unfermented barley, resulting in a drier, less flavourful spirit – at least in my opinion. A pure malt, on the other hand is composed entirely from malt whiskies, so the character of the dram seems a lot more like a single malt.

Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% abv and is available in Alberta for less than $40 per bottle.

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To The Eye
This is a bright golden dram that reminds me of Glenmorangie. The most striking thing about its appearance is how reluctant the legs are to return to the glass… I haven’t yet noticed another whisky do that.

In The Nose
Okay, now I’m convinced that Glenmorangie must make up a significant portion of this blend since I’m immediately reminded of it’s aroma. Ripe pears are front and centre, along with a honey-like character that I’ll call beeswax, since it’s not as sweet smelling as honey. Oak and peat are also very evident.

On The Tongue
This is a smooth, pleasant dram that displays plenty of oak on the palate, along with pepper, peat and maybe a hint of licorice. It’s not overly complex but it’s certainly easy to drink. This pure malt blend has none of that dry, puckering, alcohol-without-flavour quality that I usually find in grain whisky blends. The finish is medium, leaving me with a sense of oaky sawdust.

Final Thoughts
I won’t try to convince anyone that Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is a spectacular whisky but it’s not a poor one either. Any time I find a bottle of Scotch for less than $40 that’s half decent, well, I’m kind of impressed! It’s not a connoisseurs dram but, if your looking for an affordable bottle that can do double duty as a sipper or a mixer, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. In addition, this bottle has opened my eyes to another type of whisky – pure malt – that I might have otherwise ignored because of my bias towards blends.

Aberlour 12 Year Old

I first encountered Aberlour a little more than a year ago, when I had a sudden dram-craving while on a camping trip. Not wanting to shell out too much for a bottle that was destined to be enjoyed alongside potato chips, s’mores, etc, I was looking for something inexpensive. What I found in that particular store was the Aberlour 10, and I soon discovered that age statements and price-points don’t always tell you much about the quality of the spirit inside the bottle – it was quite delicious! That experience led me to reach for the Aberlour 12 Year Old the next time I was snooping around one of my hometown liquor stores. After all, a couple more years in the wood should only improve the whisky, right? In any case, for less than $45 per bottle, I figured it was worth the risk! Aberlour 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky is immediately identifiable as a well-sherried offering as it displays obvious red hues while still in the bottle. But, once poured into my Glencairn, it loses that redness and instead appears somewhere between deep gold and copper. A tilt of the glass leaves clinging, stubborn legs .

In the Nose
At first, the aroma of this dram is somewhat curious. My first notion is of an air freshener… but not the overpoweringly artificial sort. My first few sniffs make me think of a fresh, toned-down fragrance… has anyone ever described a whisky’s nose as “Cool Breeze” or “Crisp Linen”? All I know is that it’s gentle and inviting.

As the nose further develops, I can definitely pick out an obvious sherry note, along with ripe red apples. With even more time, I can begin to sense toasted marshmallows, a little bit of sawdust and maybe even a hint of cinnamon. I have to admit, gentleness aside, I’m surprised by the nuances in the aroma of this whisky!

On the Tongue
Unsurprisingly, sherry is one of the first tastes I pick up, but not as strongly as I expected. This is definitely not a sherry-bomb and, in fact, oak is a more dominant early flavour. As I continue enjoying my dram, I also taste orchard fruits and, eventually, a toasted cereal character that, in combination, makes me think of apple pie. Maybe it’s that thought influencing my taste buds, but I’m sure I can also taste those flavours of cinnamon that I smelled earlier. The finish is a medium exit with a very smooth, gentle warming and that malty, fruity apple-pie character lingers for a bit.

Final Thought
I don’t expect a massive barrage of flavour from an 80-proof whisky and I find Aberlour 12 Year Old almost as gentle on my palate as it was on my sniffer. I’m not saying it’s lacking flavour, quite the opposite, actually, I just wonder what else it might deliver at an abv somewhat closer to cask strength.

This is a whisky that is easy-going enough for beginners but complex enough to be enjoyed by experienced drammers as well. I find Aberlour 12 to be a terrific all-around whisky that will be a staple every-dayer in my cabinet.

Port Charlotte – The Peat Project

The Port Charlotte brand is part of the Bruichladdich distillery’s family of single malts. I’m not yet overly familiar with the Bruichladdich lineup, but I do know they are Islay whiskies and I assume they’re a bit different from their brethren, since they’ve chosen to use a completely different branding for their more peated expressions… my curiosity was peaked by the canister statement, Port Charlotte: The Heavily Peated Bruichladdich? To that point, I had thought that all Islays were big, snarling peat monsters!

I don’t usually consider presentation all that much but I have to admit I was also partially drawn to this particular whisky by the cool factor of Port Charlotte’s distinct packaging – its bold, modern looking tin definitely sets it apart from most other scotch presentations. The Peat Project is available in my market for about $55 and is bottled at 46% abv.

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To the Eye
The first thing that strikes me about The Peat Project is how unusually pale it is. I’m not sure if this is evidence of a young whisky that’s spent very little time in the cask, or if it speaks to the degree of artificial colouring used in other brands. This malt is a very pale straw colour and a swirl of the glass reveals very skinny legs. As with the packaging, this leaves me thinking that this dram will at least be different, if not special.

In the Nose
Okay, now I’m suspecting different but not special. The Peat Project has a very straightforward nose – I get a grassy peat aroma along with a little bit of ripe pears. As the glass decants, I can also sense a little bit of smoke and some sweet maltiness along with a hint of iodine. It’s balanced but, for me, a little subdued and lacking complexity.

On the Tongue
Again, pretty simple… one-dimensional, actually. I can taste oak, which is a little surprising again considering how pale the colouring is. There’s definitely peat as well, but less than I expected from a whisky that proclaims to be “heavily peated”. At first, I taste a pleasant spiciness but it rapidly turns into a bitter astringency. This bitterness catches me a little off guard because I didn’t pick it up in the aroma. The finish is very short, leaving me only with that bitterness lingering.

Final Thoughts
The first few times I sampled this whisky, I thought that I really liked it. Even now, there are moments when I think it’s actually pretty good. There are elements to The Peat Project that appeal to me – I like that it seems to be completely naturally coloured and I do appreciate how its peatiness does not overwhelm the whisky. Unfortunately that bitter exit is just too dominant for my taste, especially considering that there aren’t a great deal of other flavours to balance it out. I do wonder if this malt might be something more impressive if the edges were knocked off by a longer maturation but, as it is, I think I’ll take a pass on buying another bottle.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

By way of introduction, I need to tell you that their are two kinds of friend that every whisky drinker should have:
One is the kind of good buddy who does not have the same good sense as most of us, who just might surprise you with a bottle of whisky that you’d never buy for yourself. (Such as the friend who bought me the bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that inspired my very first review blog!)
The other is the kindred-spirit sort of friend whose love for whisky at least rivals your own – the person you get together with to enjoy a dram or two. This is the guy (or gal, of course) who you call to sample a new-to-you malt and with whom your spouse will most often notice you transforming into a full-blown whisky nerd.

I have a great friend, Rick, who definitely falls into the latter category. After being college acquaintances, years went by without much contact but circumstances – kids of similar-ages, employment, etc. – created the perfect storm for us to reconnect and become the best of friends… and this friendship has developed, at least in part, because of whisky.

I remember an early visit where Rick’s curiosity towards my drink of choice was obvious and soon enough, on subsequent get-togethers, he was suggesting, “Let’s try a scotch.” Initially, I struggled to watch my precious malts get bastardized with ice and too much water but soon enough, just ice and, eventually, straight up… before either of us knew it, we were in aficionado territory and our discussions about work or our kids’ latest sports exploits had to make some room so we could also talk about the complexities of the dram we were sharing.

This friendship has absolutely critical to my own growth as a drammer as well but the student officially surpassed the teacher last summer, when I enviously wished Rick farewell as he left for a two-week trip with his father to their ancestral homeland – Scotland. Objective number one: sample as many whiskies as possible right at their source! Fortunately for me, Rick’s good fortune was to my advantage as well, as he returned with gifts – my first Glencairn glass, and several new whiskies for me to sample. Among them, was a malt I couldn’t pronounce or spell – Ardbeg Uigeadail!

Up to the point of sampling that, my first Ardbeg, my palate had been developing to where I was adventuring away from the safeness of my preferred Speyside malts and occasionally into the more robust flavours of the Islay distilleries. I was in no way prepared for the Uigeadail’s attack on my senses but, wow, I was smitten from the get-go!

That first straight-from-Scotland dram of the Uigeadail made an immediate impression. So I was more than a little excited a couple of months later when I saw it had arrived in a local liquor store, for a little under $80. The Ardbeg Uigeadail is bottled at a nearly cask-strength 54.2% abv.

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To the Eye
Apparently this whisky is named after Loch Uigeadail, which supplies the Ardbeg distillery with its water. Uigeadail (pronounced Oog-a-dal) is Gaelic for dark and mysterious. I wouldn’t say that it looks all that dark or mysterious in my glass but its rich golden colour and thick viscosity certainly suggest that it is something more than some of the other malts in my cabinet.

In the Nose
Right!… So this is one beast of a whisky! The aromas above my glass are incredibly rich and complex. Of course, as an Islay malt, there’s an assertive dose of smoke and peat but there’s so much more as well. There’s a fresh, maritime character and I also smell a biscuity, malty sweetness. As the glass breaths, There is a pine-like aroma, kind of like a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and I also get a nutty, chocolately, coffee-like smell along with an occasional whiff of something like diesel fuel. I’m sure there are far more eloquent ways to describe what I’m smelling but all I know is that it’s amazing – I could sit and nose this glass for a long time!

On the Tongue
Once again, the richness of this whiskey blows me away! The full 54.2% delivers an absolute barrage of flavour that is smooth and incredibly balanced. Sweet, bitter, spicy, and even a little bit salty all at once… I taste smoke, like an excellent cigar but also a little like the charred crust on a creme brûlée, as well as peat and a strong malty character that is accompanied by a subtle honey sweetness. Everything is very balanced and integrated. Am I gushing a little bit? I love this whisky!

The finish is incredibly long. Immediately after a sip, I can almost imagine exhaling that nice cigar but the smoke subsides to leave me with that mocha-like flavour that I picked up in the nose, as well as some dried fruits that just go on lingering.

Final Thoughts
Wow! This is a monster of a whisky, but in the best way imaginable. I know that I have still only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as the whiskies I’ve sampled, and my palate is far from an expert’s, but I’m not sure I can imagine a dram getting much better! I don’t really know how to sum it up other than to say its complex, sophisticated and just brilliant! That said, this may not be the dram for you if you are a beginning scotch drinker – the flavours are very rich and intense. But, if you are starting to explore more robust flavours, stop waiting and grab a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail!

Highland Park 10 Year Old

Some things are difficult to judge purely on their own merit…

We can have this problem when it comes to sequels to movies and books, listening to a new album by a favourite band, hell it can even happen when we consider a relationship. But let’s stick to a sports analogy – Take Bobby Orr’s 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal, for example. Was it really all that miraculous? It’s consistently ranked among the top hockey goals ever, but I tend to think that it’s been a tad over-hyped because of the circumstances around it, because it was scored by an all-time great player, but especially because most people actually believe it was scored while #4 was soaring through the air, as the iconic image suggests.

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I think that judging the goal for what it really is reveals a decent, but rather pedestrian, give-and-go , ending with a 5-hole goal that Glen Hall probably would have liked to have back.

So what does all of this have to do with a whisky review? Well, I’m having a similarly tough time deciding what I really think of Highland Park’s 10 Year Old single malt because I’m very familiar with – and very fond of – the 12 year old expression.

My father-in-law picked this bottle up for us to try during his most recent visit from Saskatchewan for Easter and to watch some of my son’s spring hockey action. HP-10 can be had for about $41 in my local liquor store, and it’s bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
Looks good but nothing really stands out about this whisky. A golden, honey coloured dram that leaves moderate legs on the inside of my glass.

In the Nose
Anyone who is familiar with Highland Park will immediately recognize this nose. Right away I pick up aromas of vanilla and peat. Letting the glass breathe a little brings forward a toffee-like note and I think I can also sense a bit of sherry. Of course, there are the traditional Highland Park smells: a wisp of smoke (but only ever so slight) and a somewhat vegetal, floral character that I believe is the Scottish plant, heather. What strikes me while nosing the glass is that everything about it seems so familiar… just less impressive than the 12 Year.

On the Tongue
After my first swallow, I immediately notice how smooth this whiskey is, considering it’s relative youthfulness. But I’m not sure that it’s a great thing that this is my initial reaction – I like flavour and there isn’t a whole lot of that jumping out at me. There’s sweetness, but it’s not overtly so, which I like. As I continue sipping, I do taste that very subtle sherry note that was suggested in the aroma. There is also a hint of peat and smokiness but not a whole lot more. The finish is rather short and weak, with a slight astringency/drying of the mouth, which I expect from a young whiskey – definitely not a rough bite, though, as it remains quite smooth.

Final Thoughts
While writing this review, I hesitated to label the Highland Park 10 Year Old Single Malt as “Recommended” but I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d pass on it. There is nothing wrong with this expression, I just have trouble judging it on it’s own, without comparing it to the HP-12. It really is amazing what only two more years of maturation does to develop the character of this malt and, for only a few dollars more, I would personally choose the 12 every time.

With that said, however, I still like the HP-10 and I would definitely accept a dram of it, if offered. I suspect that this whisky is aimed at fledgling drammers who aren’t yet ready for richer, more robust flavours in their whiskies. Is it great? Not quite, but the HP-10 is certainly a gentle introduction to the Highland Park profile and hints at the excellence that this distillery has to offer.