Tag Archives: scotch

Scapa Glansa

The Scapa distillery sub-titles itself as “The Orcadian” and markets its claim to being the second most northerly distillery in the world, due to being only a short drive south from its Orkney Island roommate, Highland Park. Well, if you read this blog, you’re probably well aware of my appreciation for Highland Park whiskies, so I was quite excited to see if proximity would lead to the concoction of similar magic. 

Scapa Glansa is an NAS offering that, apparently, is the first peated offering from a whisky maker that usually goes to lengths in order to keep peat out of the profile. However, the peated character of this whisky is achieved not by peat-smoking or through the use of peat-infused water source, instead, Scapa Glansa is finished in oak casks that were previous seasoned with peated whisky. Since this distillery does not manufacture any other of their own peated expressions, I am left to wonder from where these peat-seasoned casks might have been sourced… Scapa Glansa is bottled at 40% abv and it cost me roughly $75 CDN. 


To the Eye

 I don’t usually bother commenting on bottle presentation since it ultimately has zero impact on the quality of my dram but this is one of the rare occasions when I feel compelled to acknowledge a top-notch presentation. Scapa Glansa comes in a rather elegant, yet masculine bottle, housed in a striking blue and brown carton that instantly makes me think of a coastal location. I also appreciate the distillery information and the profile notes that are provided. For what it’s worth, I think it looks terrific. 

As for the whisky, I see a nice golden honey-coloured liquid in my glass that produces skinny legs that fall rapidly down my glass after the customary tilt and swirl. It looks good!

In the Nose

Okay, so where is that peat? Right out of the gate, I get a sweet waft of pears and honey. There is vanilla and maaaaybeee just the faintest wisp of smoke, but that’s about it. Seriously, though, no peat?!

On the Tongue

There it is! It seems strange to have a whisky offer such little indication of peat on the nose but still smack me with a mouthful of the stuff on my first sip. This is also where I seem to find a hint of Scapa’s Orcadian heritage since it’s a very floral, heathery type of peat flavour that reminds me very much of Highland Park. (Hmmm… Since this whisky only becomes peated through the use of ex-peated casks, is it possible that Scapa’s peat-seasoned casks are simply rolled down the road from their neighbours on the island?) Other flavours include pepper, a sweet, vaguely banana flavour and a bitter, burnt sugar note on the end. Underlying it all however, is an alcohol astringency and a sense of a very young, underdeveloped whisky. (Hmmm… Could THAT be the real reason for the peat-cask finishing?) The shortish finish delivers a nutty note, with more bitter alcohol. 

Final Thoughts

I feel like maybe I am being unnecessarily harsh so the Scapa Glansa but, when it comes down to it, I feel like this whisky is a disappointment. It’s not undrinkable but, from the price tag to the snappy bottle presentation, I expected much more. Highland Park 12, for example, despite seeing a recent increase in price in my locale, can still be had for about $10 less than the Scapa Glansa and is, in my opinion, a much better dram. 

Auchentoshan 2000 Single Cask #1757 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)

So, I was just up to the city for yet another of my son’s spring hockey games and, on the way home, we happened to stop for a bite right beside a big new bottle shop… What a coincidence! Well, with yet another graduate course recently put in the rear view, I figured I deserved to whip in and see if there were any treasures to be uncovered. I’m not sure if it’s a treasure or not, but I did find an independent bottling of Auchentoshan, a distillery I quite enjoy. This whisky was bottled in 2014 by Berry Bros. & Rudd, from Auchentoshan cask #1757, which was laid down in the year 2000, making it a 13 yr old expression. There was no carton for this bottle but the rear label explains that this bottling was produced exclusively for the North American market. This whisky is 53.6% abv and costs about $95 CDN. 

To the Eye

Pale, straw-gold in colour. A twist of my Glencairn builds a crest that reluctantly releases fat, exceedingly stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

Apples, which are always front and centre for me, when nosing an Auchentoshan. But, on this dram, these apples seem decidedly more crisp and tart, more like a green Granny Smith than the usual sweet, ripe reds I tend to pick up from this distillery. Werther’s Original caramels, vanilla and cotton candy are also quite assertive. With time, more subtle aromas also join the party: malt, leather and a dry grassy note. 

On the Tongue

Whoa! This whisky is much richer and more potent than the typical core expressions from Auchentoshan – I guess an extra 13-14% abv will help with that! The mouthfeel is much thicker and creamier, as well. Flavours of juicy fruits, particularly stone fruit preserves jump out at me, along with Cuban honey (if you’ve had it, you understand the difference), sweet malted grain and real black licorice flavour. There is herbal, citrusy note that arrives toward the end… not exactly understated but a bit more like a lime-basil than like the actual citrus fruit. Either way, the tang is a welcome counterpoint to the sweet flavours at the onset. There is a satisfying alcohol burn in this dram, which creates a tingling, effervescent finish of medium length, full with pineapple, more licorice and a hint of barrel wood… this may sound unusual, but the finish is a little reminiscent of drinking a nice Chardonnay. 

Final Thoughts

I’m impressed! I’ve long appreciated Auchentoshan whiskies and this is a very good one. I have not gotten in to many independent bottlings but this single cask offering by Berry Bros. & Rudd has me thinking I’ve ignored this category of whisky for long enough. It’s rich, sophisticated and well-composed! Complex, yet smooth, but still providing a nice burn. Delicious and highly recommended – if this was a more readily available dram, I would consider labelling it as a new favourite!

Strathisla 12 Yr Old

After a rather lengthy hiatus from my blog, it’s time to get back in the saddle. My graduate courses, coaching a Pee Wee AA hockey team (To a league championship and a provincial bronze medal, mind you!), not mention the job that actually pays the bills and family responsibilities… Let’s just say that something had to give for a while and it was my whisky blog that took a backseat.  

This does not mean, however, that I haven’t been making time to drink whisky! I’ve been keeping notes and I will try to get personal reviews complete for a few drams I’ve been sitting on. Today, I’m celebrating the start of the Easter break with one of those drops, the Strathisla 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 

This is the first Strathisla I have purchased. According to the carton notes, it is the oldest working distillery in the highlands of Scotland, but all I really want to know is if it’s any damned good?  This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and cost me about $45 CDN. 

 

To the Eye

This whisky is a beautiful golden colour and a swirl of my glass produces thick, moderately stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

Not quite the quintessential Speyside nose, maybe a bit more interesting, actually. There’s fruit, yes, but it’s slightly more citrusy than the typical orchard fruits of a Speyside. There is also a herbal note but, instead of the usual grassiness, the Strathisla 12 offers a more floral character. Vanilla, cardamom and sweet, toasted malt round out the main aromas. 

On the Tongue

Malty, that’s the first thought the crosses my mind. And the thick, creamy mouthfeel is the second. There is a raisiny sherried note, along with some baking spices and a hint of apple sauce. (I guess that counts as some of those orchard fruits I was expecting.) a bit of caramel but the main thing I notice on the back is a bitter astringency. It’s not altogether unpleasant but it’s not altogether delicious either. That bitterness lingers into the otherwise short finish, although a meaty umami quality does develop.

Final Thoughts

The Strathisla 12 is a whisky that kind of leaves me feeling like I got what I paid for… which is rarely a good thing. The nose had me intrigued every time I poured a dram but that buildup as never fulfilled by the rest of the experience, which was disappointing. For me, this is a rather single-note single malt, with too much bitterness for the limited flavour it has to offer. For only about $10 more, there are several far superior whiskies to enjoy. 

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 malt, 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, I’ll have had words with my friend about the spelling error on her selection menu, 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!

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 might 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!