World Whisky Awards

Here’s the 2009 winners, posted over at the Scotch Malt Whisky forum:

That Highland Park 21, winner of best single malt, I’m pretty sure is only available at World Duty Free, so stay on the look out, travellers.


Sherry Monster: Mortlach 17 Year (malt trust)

As party of my recent bachelor party, Dodgydrammer picked up a bottle of Mortlach 17 year bottled by Malt Trust. It’s been collecting dust for a few months now and I thought it was well past time to pull it out for a proper tasting (we were all much to drunk, with shot palettes from some tasty Laphroaig 15 year – my favorite single malt – to make good tasting judgments when we first cracked the bottle).

Here’s what I got recently in a second go-round:

Mortlach 17 Year

Mortlach 17 Year

Mortlach 17 Year bottled by Malt Trust
Single Barrel, Natural Cask Strength
Cask #4718, Bottle Number 380
Distilled November 1988, Bottled March 2006.

Nose: All sherry. Not quite as smooth as The Macallan, more attacking. At 59.6% ABV, you can’t get your nose in too close or the alcohol kills you. Other tasters suggest spice and a hint of fruit, and the official notes say spice and coffee, but I’m not getting them.
Color: Amber/Bronze
Taste: Hugely sherried – it’s the only taste that can overcome the hotness of the ABV.
Palate: syrup, substantial and very hot
Finish: Long, slow fade on the sherry, very prickly from the high ABV. Almost distractingly so.

With a dash of water added:

Nose: It’s still a sherry monster, but a few coffee notes have crept in as the alcoholic edge takes a back seat.
Taste: Sherry continues to dominate, but it is quickly followed by warm spicyness. Rather than attacking, the dram is now warm and inviting.
Finish: Not quite as long with the sherry and spices fading to a light caramel before disappearing altogether. With just a tiny amount of water, the pricklyness is also gone.

The ABV on this bottle is a little prohibitive to enjoying a glass neat, but it opened up nicely with a little water. Still, it’s not a hugely complex scotch as the sherry continues to dominate the nose, taste and finish.

youth to power, or too powerful?

Here’s an article we liked about the new prevalence of younger whiskies among distillery expressions:
Four Year Old Whisky Comes of Age.

I think this is a great trend. Laphroaig is on top of it with the genius of the Quatercask bottling (a vatting of whiskies 5-9 years of age). These younger, (sometimes) cheaper bottles balance out the trend toward rising prices in general.

But I think it is indicative of several things:

    1. whisky is more popular overall, and since the response-time of the industry to trends is considerable (eg, Laphroaig just now released its response to the ca. 1990 popularity of the Macallan 18), having a ready supply of whisky is critical while the whisky boom lasts.
    2. more people are more familiar with whisky and whisky appreciation; whereas folks used to judge a whisky by its age (due to lack of understanding, often), now the informed whisky consumer knows that age is not the determining factor of a whisky’s quality.
    3. And yes, more care is being put into younger whiskies than might have been a long time ago (again, see Quatercask, Ardmore Traditional Cask, etc). Wood has been much more carefully considered over the past half-century, enough that distilleries are realizing that just a few years is enough to round out the spirit in the right kind of cask.

I’m a fan, but what about those high-priced, premium young whiskies (the Supernovas, Port Charlottes, and Octomores)? Gimmickry, or simply the high-end of the young-whisky market and worth the cash?

Comment request: your favorite whiskies 9 years old and younger.

Also, stay tuned for a review of some young Laphroaigs later in the week.

Two Indie Highland Park 13 years

During my run of HP tastings, I decided to indulge in a couple of independent bottlings of the stuff. The first is from Signatory’s Un-chillfiltered series. The second is by an excellent bar in Chicago, Delilah’s, done specially for their 13th anniversary (and, thusly, only available to you if you visit the Windy City’s northside).

Highland Park Signatory Un-chillfiltered 13 year (dist. 1993)
Bottle no. 34/339, matured in a Hogshead
Alv/vol: 46%
Color: very pale gold, like a white wine
Legs: medium beads, pretty slow drop
Nose: floral, rose petals, sea salt and brine, alcohol, cold biscuits, honey and cranberries developing with time
Palette: warm honey up front, lots of rotted wood, a smokey note buried in there (what I imagine used charcoal tastes like), some apple turning to apple cider, then to vinegar.
Body: medium-full bodied, slightly metallic feeling
Finish: medium-long finish, woody
Overall: I remember liking this one more… maybe it went bad in the bottle (but after just one year opened?) Still, good nose.
Score: 5.75/10

Highland Park 13 year old, special Delilah’s bottling from a 2nd fill sherry butt
Proof: 115.4
Color: deep cherry red
Legs: sm. beads, med. drip
Nose: cherries, marshmellows, orange creamsickles, alcohol
Palatte: lots of berries, honey, malt, and a light smokeyness with definite hints of bacon; the sherry fruitiness is balanced nicely by the honey to create a deep berry flavor, rather than just light fruit.
Body: full with a slightly rounded mouthfeel despite the alcohol
Finish: nice, long, leaves the stain of cherries, strawberries, and other berries, along with some charred oak just behind the tongue.
Overall: Great. Much more enjoyable than the Signatory. Complete opposite, straight away from the color on down. So much sherry, what with the straight bottling from a 2nd-fill cask and all. But, the HP flavor profile (deep and intense) was able to handle all that sherry quite nicely, providing a very berried but yet balanced treat. So if you’re ever in Chicago…
Score: 8.6/10

Highland Park 12, 18, and 25

There had been some debate between friends at the Whisky Party whether Highland Park, the northern-most distillery in Scotland, produced scotch that is good, great, or (imagine this), average. I am personally an HP apologist, and I sat down over the last week to taste a handful of their Orkney-born products. One thing that became even more apparent than usual is that HP is anything but usual. With the softest water in Scotland, peated maltings, Orcadian sea breezes, sherry casks, and loads of heather in the stream beds, even their affordable and accessible 12-year is a whisky unto itself.

Highland Park 12 (new packaging)

Alc/vol: 43%
Color: deep golden (amber, I think they call it)
Legs: med.-large beads, medium-slow drip
Nose: big heather, sweet flowers, touch of grass, hints of some subtle fruit
Palate: malty, honeyed, and smokey, with movement toward soft milk chocolate and berries
Body: oily and pleasant; medium bodied
Finish: subtle but long, very enjoyable without being very intense; a grass-fire smokey ending
Overall: a very nice, complex, balanced, and relaxing drop. not challenging, but it never stops offering flavor. So good.

Score: 8.75/10

Highland Park 18 (older packaging)

Alc/vol: 43%
Color: copper
Nose: Lemon zest, saltiness, oak, a touch floral, becoming creamy vanilla with maybe an old blueberry after time in the open air.
Palette: toffee, smokey oak, almonds, pine nuts, salt.
Body: firm and just a tad buttery, with flavor happening all over.
Finish: still going… touch of smoke turns to intense mocha that just lasts forever.
Overall: There’s so much to this; one of the most complex and pleasurable drams around, for my taste.

Score: 9.25/10

Highland Park 25 (older packaging)

Proof: 101.4
Color: crimson gold
Legs: sm.-med. beads, deathly slow Nose: butterscotch, plums, nuttiness, banannas & fudge, all ensconsed in raw honey
Palette: cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, fudge, bananna-nut bread, fresh coffee beans, and more
Body: Medium-full; spicy and hot mouthfeel.
Finish: Honey into different nuts, oak, etc, that keeps moving while it lasts and lasts.
Overall: Wonderous, but tending away from the playful honey and smoke of the 12 and developing the nuttier, earthier flavors present in the 18. Definitely similar to the 18, but with even more complexity (if that is possible) and a depth of flavor all its own. The nose was ridiculous, and I didn’t even have a decent glass for nosing. If I had, it might have been sensory overload.

Score: 9.4/10

Next up: two 13-year single-barrell independent bottlings of Highland Park.

Ardbeg Supernova Teaser

Ardbeg is one of my favorite whiskies – Airigh Nam Beist is just one of the all around outsanding scotches out there if you are a peat lover, and the 10 year is just one of the best bottles, if not the best bottle, under $50 (New Yorkers can pick it up for $47 at Warehouse Wines and Spirits on Broadway).

There has been a lot of hype around the Supernova – Ardbegs super-peated new release. I’m still waiting for local liquor stores to get it here in New York, but word on the street is that it will run about $140 per bottle, slightly higher than the Beist ($100 – $120) and the Uigeadail ($90 – $100). As we’re all waiting eagerly for Supernova to hit the shelves, I thought I’d share this video of an official Ardbeg tasting of Supernova in Munich. Lots of good tasting notes (and a very, very hard sell to the audience) about the quality of Supernova.

Those looking for a more objective judgment should check out this Whiskey Exchange post comparing Supernova and a few other Ardbegs to Bruichladdich’s super-peated expression The Octomore.

If you are an Ardbeg fan, I would also recommend checking out is this video interview of Rachel Barrie, Ardbeg’s Master Blender, with Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. The two are discussing Ardbeg Uigeadail, voted whisky of the year in 2009:

35 Japanese Malts and a Visit to Parliament

If you don’t read the WhiskyFun or Cask Strength blogs, you should be. Both have new tastings up today that are worth checking out.

Over at WhiskyFun, they are reviewing 35 Japanese Malts. This isn’t something I’ve ever explored yet, so this is a bang-up introduction to the topic. Here’s a quick taste, but go read all 35 reviews:

Nikka Taketsuru 12 yo (40%, OB, pure malt, +/-2008) A pure malt named in honour of Nikka’s founder. We already tried the 17 (80) and the 21, that we liked quite a lot (85). Colour: gold. Nose: this is very floral and fruity and really reminds me of the Balvenie 10yo. Apple pie, plum jam, dandelions, nectar, vanilla crème and cappuccino. Very good presence and a very clean profile, with very soft tannins in the background. Mouth: very, very sweet attack on, well, sweetened apple juice and nutmeg, with more malty notes and cereals after that. Gets then more on roasted nuts and butterscotch, with an amusing salty touch. Not really big nor complex but highly sippable. Finish: medium-long, all on vanilla cookies and apple pie topped with a few grains of salt. Comments: warning, this is good and highly drinkable. Remember, no refills! SGP:621 – 80 points.

WhiskyFun also tells us that ground zero for reviews on Japanese malts in the blogosphere is Nonjatta. We’ll have to check that out and add them to the sidebar.

Over at Cask Strength, one of my personal favorite whisky blogs, they are reviewing bottlings by the House of Lords and House of Commons. Pretty interesting stuff – who knew that the House of Commons rocked out their own bottling of the Macallan 10.

Great reviews and great blogs all. Go give them a read.