Tag Archives: speyside

Balvenie Peated Cask Review

Distiller: Balvenie. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 17 years. Price: $100-150/auction.

One of the stronger entrants in the “lovable oddball” category: the Balvenie 17-Year-Old Peated Cask.

Used to getting your smokey prickle from the good old peated barley in the grain bill? The other way is to mature unpeated malt whisky in barrels that previously held peated (most often Islay) whisky. Glenlivet takes this approach in their Nadurra Peated Cask, which I liked quite a bit. Balvenie does the same here.

I should say “did,” actually. This one was a limited edition, and it’s a big rarity now. I was stunned to find it in a corner store a few months back. I splurged on the bottle, hoping it would offer more than just novelty appeal.

Does it ever. The nose has strong dark vanilla from the partial virgin oak maturation. Dried fig. Some tropical fruit. Grilled pineapple. Raisin bars. The peat cask influence comes through as a little barbecue char.

The palate highlights the sherry-matured component first. Then the peat comes through, toasty rather than briny, and much much milder than in the Glenlivent Nadurra Peated Cask. The tropical notes come back late on. The finish has poached pear in syrup, molasses, gingerbread, and graham crackers.

Some people grumble at these peated cask experiments, saying peat should be left to the experts in Islay. I say: when the experiments work this well, bring them on.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Benromach 35 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 35 years. Price: $500-700.

There’s a bit of a dilemma when you’ve got the chance to sample something truly special. On one hand, you’re itching to pour the day it arrives. On the other, you’re keep telling yourself you need to wait for the Perfect Moment™.

After a few weeks of staring longingly at the sample of Benromach 35 on the counter, I decided my perfect moment was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and all.

Benromach has been doing wonderful things at its small, deliberately old-fashioned, far northern Speyside distillery since Gordon & MacPhail purchased and revitalized it in the 1990s. Their oldest standard release is a (very good) 15-year-old. This 35-year-old release, like a few 1970s vintage releases, comes from the old stocks that predate the revival.

The 35 is an all-first-fill-sherry blast from the past. Bewitching nose. Beautiful bourbon-soaked stone fruits–stewed cherries and prunes. Mature oak, chocolatey mahogany. Sweet old library must. Raspberry syrup. Wet cedar.

Palate has a subtle sourness behind the rich stewed fruits. Just the right bite. Mulled wine with heavy cinnamon and clove. Burnt apple pie. Beguiling finish with lighter fruit notes: lychee and fresh coconut.

Lesson learned: you can wait for the perfect moment, or you can make one by pouring something this good.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Benromach graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Craigellachie 31 Review

Distiller: Craigellachie. Region: Speyside. ABV: 52.2%. Age: 31 years. Price:  $800-1,000+

Hot damn. The Craigellachie 31 is in pretty rarefied territory. As Axis readers know, I’ve tried–and hugely enjoyed–every other distillery bottling: the 13 (one of the best buys in stores), the 17 (a welcome step up), the 19 (one of my favorites of 2016, sadly Duty Free-only), and the 23 (challengingly sulphuric, and damn pricey).

The 31, though, I doubted I’d get to try–at least any time soon. But there it was on offer at the end of the brilliant Dewars single malt dinner at Ink LA recently. I took full advantage.

Craigellachie is not for beginners, and they’re proud of it. The 31 is intense. Many other distillers release their oldest malts watered down, but this bottling is 52.2% ABV. It starts with a massive leathery note on the nose the younger Craigellachies don’t have. Dense strawberry and pineapple. Peppery vanilla bean. A little water, and the dram bursts open.

The palate explodes with spice-infused fruit: cinnamon, dried ginger, nutmeg. Bitter chocolate truffles. That characteristic Craigellachie meatiness. Toasted almonds. Old leather-bound library volumes. White smoke. Constant evolution in the glass, and a finish that goes on forever.

One of the more extraordinary drams I’ve tasted. The jury of Whisky Magazine’s World Whisky Awards seems to agree: they named the Craigellachie 31 the best single malt in the world for 2017.

Here’s to the grails, whether we’re drinking them or dreaming of them. Slàinte, friends! – BO

Chieftan’s Choice Single Malt Reviews

There comes a time in every whisky-lover’s education when independent bottlers are key. Maybe you’ve exhausted a favorite distillery’s official bottlings and want to dig in further. Maybe you want to see how different a given distillery’s spirit can be when it’s in someone else’s hands (and barrels). Maybe you just love the oddballs.

Independent bottlers take a range of approaches. Some buy odd barrels of mature whiskies that happen to be up for grabs, bottle them, market them, and that’s that. Some add their own finishes. Gordon & MacPhail, of which I’m quite fond, acquires new-make spirit, then matures and finishes in their own barrels, allowing a broader look at what a distillery can do than a brand’s own bottlings can. Some add a teaspoon of cask debris to each bottle for extra authenticity–looking at you, Blackadder.

The Chieftan’s Choice line from Ian MacCleod (owner of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many blended whisky brands) focuses on rarities, including little-known or closed distilleries. They’ve been showing up more and more in my neck of the woods these days, and I’m happy to share a look at some recent releases, because I’ve been more than happy to try them.

Chieftan’s Bowmore 2002. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. Age: 13 years.

Bowmore’s official distillery bottlings have been devilishly inconsistent in recent years–which makes it particularly enjoyable to see the Islay brand in fine form here.

Nose of lime taffy. Toasty pie crust. Watermelon. Just a hint of brine. The watermelon shades into cantaloupe on the palate. The peat is sooty, but with some hickory savor. It intensifies on the finish–long and salty. A squeeze of fresh lemon over hot coals at the end.

Chieftan’s Linkwood 1991. Region: Speyside. ABV: 46%. Age: 24 years.

Diageo pours much of Linkwood’s output into the Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends, so with the exception of an occasional official bottling, Linkwood is most often seen in independent bottlings like these.

Brilliant nose on this one. Bright raspberry. Honey. Cotton candy. Baked pear in Chardonnay. Orange sherbet. Fragrant oak. Lots going on. The palate is rich and lively, with the same constant evolution: fresh nuances of fruit and spice around a core of berry compote and bitter orange. Just enough tannic backbone. The tannins are stronger leading into the finish. It’s earthy and spicy, but with a final touch of sweetness: stewed strawberries on a buttery baguette. Lovely.

Chieftan’s Glenturret 1990. Region: Highlands. ABV: 49.7%. Age: 25 years.

Here come the big guns. The highest-proof of the bunch, and packing a big PX punch. If you haven’t had Edrington-owned Glenturret as a single malt, you may have had it in the Famous Grouse blend. On its own, at the ripe old age of 25, and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, it’s quite a different animal.

Explosive butter bomb of a nose from the PX. Wow. Dense and intense. Bundt cake with blackberries. Cinnamon bark. Sea salt. French toast drizzled with blackberry brandy. Old parchment. Palate is no less intense. Musty blackberries with the vine and the leaves thrown in for good measure. Fresh sweet tobacco soaked in cognac. After all this, the finish is surprisingly elegant, like the end of a cocktail with Dolin rouge and singed orange rind.

Excellent stuff from Chieftan’s. Their other current releases include a 19-year-old Glen Grant PX Finish, a 19-year-old Glenrothes PX Finish, and a 23-year-old Glen Keith. I can’t speak for those three, but this trio was a delight.

A Chieftan’s representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Benromach Imperial Proof

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 57%. Age: 10 years. Price: $100.

I’ve liked everything I’ve tried from Benromach, a small-scale Speyside distillery owned by the great independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail. That includes their 10-year-old standard bearer, several wine cask finishes, a 15-year-old, an all-organic release, and a heavily peated bottling. But the 57% ABV Imperial Proof may be my favorite yet.

The concept behind Benromach was to recreate a “pre-1960s” Speyside style, meaning lightly peated, on a deliberately small scale. It’s Speyside’s lowest-production distillery, run by just three staff, and the facility is not only computer-free, it doesn’t even have pressure gauges. Maturation is done exclusively in first-fill bourbon and sherry casks–a rarity, and a sign they don’t cut corners.

The Imperial Proof ups the ante on everything I like about the standard 10-year-old, but it doesn’t stop there. The nose is salty and pungent, with a little wet barn/boathouse funk. Organic. Alive. There’s sweetness here too, particularly with a few drops of water: Werther’s coffee-flavored caramels.

All these notes explode on the palate–with very little heat at full strength–along with the tarry smoke I love in other Benromachs. Takes water well. Chocolate syrup and bourbon fruits on the finish.

Even a taste of this is memorable. Now I’ve got to find myself a full bottle. Cheers, friends! – BO

A Benromach representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Feature photo from Benromach via whiskey__in_the_jar.

Glen Grant 18 Review

Distillery: Glen Grant. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 18 years. Price: $150.

After having tasted the wonderful new Glen Grant 12-year-old a few weeks ago, I was eager to try the distillery’s newly launched 18-year-old. These two bottlings, together with a separate non-chill-filtered 12-year-old expression, are replacing the previous Glen Grant 10- and 16-year-old in the U.S., complete with a welcome packaging update.

And now that Jim Murray has named the 18-year-old his 2017 Scotch Whisky of the Year and the second-best whisky in the world, it’s bound to get a lot more attention.

Like the new 12-year-old, the 18 has an aroma of delicate orchard fruits, but there are also deeper notes of sweet vanilla, caramel and oak here too. The creamy palate is layered with lighter vanilla and lemon citrus notes mixed with darker fruit–think raisins–and oaky spice. The spice and sweetness lingers on the long, crisp finish.

I really enjoyed the multiple layers of the Glen Grant 18. It’s approachable and light, but it also allows you to explore deeper and darker notes than the 12-year-old. The price tag of $150 is steep for an 18-year-old, but I’d recommend trying this new Speyside, especially in a side-by-side tasting with the 12.

Cheers! – JTR

Buy Glen Grant whisky online at Mash + Grape

Glen Grant kindly provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Feature photo from instagram.com/fireangel80