Tag Archives: speyside

Benromach 50 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 44.6%. Age: 50 years. Price: $10,000.

Eagle-eyed Axis readers may notice that one of our trio has been missing for some time. As in the better part of a year. That’s me, Baldo.

Why? Life…family…work…the usual…but also, to be honest, I think I’d burnt out on whisky a bit. After a good four years of near-daily postings, reviews, photo sessions, tastings, interviews, club events, etc., I realized I’d hit something of a wall.

I went on a long wander through a forest of German beer. Then Belgian. Then Italian wines. Then orange wines. Still wandering, in many ways.

But something serendipitous happened last week when Thane alerted me to an offer from Benromach to try an unspecified new bottling.

An old fondness for the old-fashioned Speyside distillery, one of my favorites, stirred in me. I’d be happy to try, I said.

As fate would have it, the new bottling turned out to be a 50-year-old. I’d actually had the opportunity to try the stunning Benromach 35 a while back, and was quite sure it was the oldest Benromach I’d ever have.

Not so, not so. Quite an occasion for a comeback, I’d say.

The 50, unsurprisingly, is quite a limited item. 125 decanters available worldwide, at a jaw-dropping $10,000 apiece. Non chill-filtered (phew).

I gave this one lots of time in the glass–there’s a rule of thumb out there that a single malt should be given roughly 10 minutes to breathe for every decade of age, in order for all its nuances to emerge.

Said nuances, it will come as little surprise to hear, were quite special.

The nose had that particular unmistakable density–even at 44.6% ABV–that’s characteristic of well aged single malts. It’s sweet. Strong sherry influence after half a century in an ex-sherry hogshead. Dark. Raspberry jam. Turkish delight. Stewed prunes. Intensely rich, in that nuanced way that only comes from a good long time in good oak–a world away from the punch in the nose you get from the young, brash sherry bombs of today.

Palate sings like a great baritone. Dark but juicy. Drier than the nose. Comes alive with a drop of water. Peat, which has always been mild at Benromach, is barely a whisper, registering as texture rather than smoke. Blackberry compote. The oak strong but admirably contained, without a hint of bitterness. Faint hint of peanut brittle.

Finish is medium-long, with that lovely darkness again. Molasses. Baking cocoa. Dark sweets. Brown butter. Morello cherry. A touch more sweetness than on the palate.

What can one say in sum about such a bottling? It’s a stunner, but one only a few dozen people will ever get the chance to try.

Those that do will be awfully glad they did.

It’s good to be back, friends. Cheers! – BO

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

Glen Moray 10 Chardonnay Cask Review

Glen Moray 10 Chardonnay Cask – Distiller: Glen Moray. Region: Speyside. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $25-28.

If there’s a better deal in single malt than the Glen Moray 10 Chardonnay Cask, I haven’t found it.

Glen Moray is a Speyside distillery that’s quietly bottling some of the best values in the game, together with Tomatin and anCnoc. This sub-$30 GM 10-year-old Chardonnay Cask is a fine example. (Another is Glen Moray’s no-age-statement Port Cask Finish, which Thane reviewed here.) The distillery’s reputation does seem to be rising these days, and rightly so. It helps that Glen Moray Master Distiller Graham Coull has become a visible and high-spirited presence on Twitter.

On to the tasting. The Glen Moray 10 Chardonnay Cask starts with a nose of white grape, white peach, and pear stewed in white wine. Sweet golden malt. Caramel, toasty lemon danish.

The palate hews closely to the nose at first, with a lovely, lively mouthfeel. Then some wildflower honey. Sweetness, spice, and tannins in an elegant dance. Wine barrel. Vanilla fudge.

The finish is medium-long, with tannins nicely rounding out the baked fruit profile.

The only minus here is the 40% ABV, but there’s plenty of substance and flavor to it all the same. And at the price, it can’t be beat.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Glen Moray whisky online at Mash + Grape

Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend Review

Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend – Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: Cameronbridge, Clynelish, Linkwood, undisclosed Highland malt. Regions: Speyside & Highlands. ABV: 43%. No age statement.Blend: 54% malt, 46% grain. Price: $30-35.

The Great King Street Artist’s Blend was my first Compass Box whisky a few years back, and it opened my eyes to how good a blend can be. Founder and master blender John Glaser calls it “blended Scotch for whisky geeks,” which is just about the perfect description.

In line with Compass Box’s usual eye for quality, the Great King Street Artist’s Blend is over 50% malt (an unusually high proportion), and matured in first-fill bourbon, sherry, and new heavily toasted French oak casks. It’s 43% ABV, not chill filtered, and priced at an exceedingly reasonable $30-35. (Further details on the exact components are available on the Compass Box website, happily.)

The Artist’s Blend has a gorgeous nose with strong wild honey. Sweet oak, new leather, vanilla tobacco, dried apple. The honey leads the palate too, but is beautifully integrated with the grain whisky backbone–sufficiently mature to add weight and heft. Canned peaches and pears. Surprisingly long finish with sweet leather and tobacco predominant.

A whisky geek’s blended Scotch, a blended Scotch skeptic’s blended Scotch…this one can win over just about anybody. And don’t overlook the companion to the Artist’s Blend in the Great King Street range: the rich and peaty Glasgow Blend.

Three cheers for Compass Box! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

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