Talisker Distillers Edition

talisker-distillers-editionTalisker Distillers Edition (Distilled 2000, bottled 2011)

Talisker whiskey is created beside Loch Harport, in the “…jagged shadow of the Cullin range, on the Isle of Skye.” (from the Talisker website). The Distillers Edition is finished in Amoroso sherry Casks.

Colour: Chestnut brown

ABV: 45.8%

Nose: a strong sultana/Demerara-sugar sweetness, with a subtle smokiness and sea-salt

Palate: Rich, complex, and smooth; peat smoke, mellow sea-salt, sweet sherry notes, malt, honeyed-heather. Viscous, but not creamy.

Finish: wonderfully long; Turkish coffee, vanilla. Dry, a suggestion of sea breeze, and the delightful nip of Talisker pepper.

Final notes: Adding a few drops of water opened up the whisky’s flavor profile, setting free the aroma of Turkish coffee, but I prefer to drink it neat.  This is a magnificently full-bodied whisky; unfortunately, it was a special purchase by the B.C. Liquor Stores, and it will be difficult to find a bottle. A must try: the sherry finish is nicely married to the sea-salt tang and creates depths that roll in waves of flavour on the palate. I don’t see the sense in comparing this (favourably/unfavourably) to the 10 YO; rather, I think both expressions should be enjoyed as excellent offerings.

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The Whisky Regions of Scotland

Single malt Scotches have numerous personalities; for example, they can be aggressive, sophisticated, gentle, fascinating, and even mystical. Much of a Scotch’s character is a result of the area in which it was distilled. There are four whisky regions in Scotland, and they all produce whiskies with distinctive characteristics.

The Highlands:

The Highlands is by far the largest region, and includes the Northern, Western and Eastern Highlands, as well as the Islands (Mull, Jura, Skye, Mull, and the Orkneys), Speyside, and the Midlands. The highest number of producers is in the Speyside area, which is home to more than fifty-percent of Scotland’s distilleries.

The expanse of the Highlands region leads to a varied personality of whiskies, but they all tend to have a dry finish. Speyside single malts are inclined to be the sweetest, with a smooth, subtle smokiness. Western Highland whiskies often start sweet, finish dry, and have a slight smokiness. The Northern Highlands products are light-bodied, with spicy, honey-heather characteristics. The Eastern Highlands and the Midlands produce fruity whiskies.

The Lowlands:

The southern section of Scotland — from the Clyde Estuary to the River Tay — is home to the Lowland distilleries, which produce light-bodied, malty, grassy, somewhat floral whiskies (traditionally known as the Lowland Ladies).

Campbeltown:

Cambeltown, on the Mull of Kyntyre, was, at one time, the home of nearly thirty distilleries, but only two have survived (Glen Scotia, and Springbank). Campbeltown whiskies have a briny-peat personality.

Islay:

There are eight distilleries on Islay (eye-luh), a small island in the Inner Hebrides. Harsh weather, copious rain, open exposure to the sea, and peaty soil all conspire to create some of the most aggressive single malt whiskies in the world. The single malts from Islay are strong, salty, and smoky. Some varieties are referred to as peat monsters.

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By sampling the single malts of Scotland, I feel I’ve travelled vicariously through the great land by absorbing the distinctive characteristics of each region; I’m savouring each area, enjoying the unique flavours and personalities that are captured in the dram.

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Glenfiddich 15 YO Solera Reserve

As a rule, I’m a bit of a Glenfiddich basher: I’ve never liked their 12 YO; it is relatively inexpensive, but lacks depth of character. Glenfiddich 15 YOI’ve been an acknowledged snob regarding the Glenfiddich brand, casting the distillery as a slight villain, suggesting that their products are a mass-produced caricature of single malt Scotch (I’m an equal opportunity snob: I’ve cast Glenlivet in the same mould). But a recent reality check (in the form of an argument from a Glenfiddich aficionado) caused me to re-think my opinion: I’ve never sampled the distillery’s more mature expressions, so I decided to give the 15 YO Solera a try. And I was pleasantly surprised: the 15 YO is a remarkable upgrade in complexity from the 12 YO expression.

Color: Amber

Nose: Spices, vanilla-oak, citrus, and a restrained peat.

Palate: Clover-honey, raisins, spice, vanilla, citrus (some lime notes), and faint wisps of smoke.

Finish: Medium. Christmas cake, lightly peppered spice, and oak.

Overall impressions: Diluting with a few drops of water opened up the flavour profile slightly, bringing out subtle tones of toffee, but I prefer it neat (the ABV is low to begin with (40 %); I’d love to sample a cask-strength sample or a dram with a slightly higher ABV). If you want a break from salt and smoke, this expression provides a warm, peaceful, affordable dram. It has slightly more body than a typical Speysider, and offers a pleasant personality. In my local store it is priced higher than the Glendronach 12 YO, and below the Balvenie 12 YO DoubleWood, which is about where it belongs.

Interestingly, the Solera expression is a constant work in progress and each bottling offers unique characteristics, as described on the Glenfiddich website:

The richly layered Glenfiddich 15 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky is innovatively matured in three types of oak cask: sherry, bourbon and new oak, before being married in our unique, handcrafted Oregon pine Solera vat. Year on year, this Solera vat is never emptied but is always kept at least half full creating a deliciously harmonious and intense whisky which gets more complex and intriguing every year.

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Sláinte!

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A conversation between Spirit and Oak

A single malt scotch owes much of its flavour and personality to the oak casks it is matured in. Historically, different woods were used, but it is now law that the casks must be oak, a robust wood that can be heated and bent without splitting, has a tight grain that inhibits leakage, and has a natural porosity that enables air to pass freely in and out.

The wood used for whisky casks is heated to bend planks for assembly, and the casks are then ‘toasted,’ a flaming process that activates the wood: this activation promotes ‘communication’ between wood and spirit during the maturation of the whisky (toasting caramelizes the wood sugars and an array of flavours are added to the spirit: vanillins (phenolic aldehydes), lactones (esters), spice characters, and tannins). The sherry and wine casks used by the scotch whiskey industry are constructed with European oak, which is generally acknowledged to impart more flavour into the spirit; however, American bourbon casks are charred on the inside, and the charing further opens the communication. Charing forms a charcoal layer, which is also an efficient filter and removes sulphur compounds and harsh elements from the maturing spirit.

Casks are usually used for only two or three fillings, but can also be de-charred/re-charred: a machine scrapes the inside of the cask to expose the fresh wood beneath the whisky’s penetration depth, and the cask is re-burned.

Each distillery adds their own personality to the product: a whisky’s characteristics depend on the location of the distillery, ingredients used (e.g.: water-source, peat/no peat), size and shape of the stills, process control, etcetera, but the type of oak used for maturation is a major factor in the final character of the whisky.

Two main varieties of oak are used in the maturation process: Continue reading

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Glenmorangie: three expressions

Glenmorangie (rhymes with orangey; glen-MORANG-ie) is a Highlands distillery in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, and the distillery’s mineral-rich waters are supplied by the Tarlogie Springs; which, according to Glenmorangie’s website, imparts unique flavours to the product. I’ve heard that Glenmorangie is the most popular single malt whisky in Scotland.

Glenmorangie’s original expression (matured for 10 years in “slow-grown, air dried designer casks from Missouri”)  was the whisky that I was enjoying when I first began to fall in love with single malt scotch. I was alone, reading a good book, enjoying a generous dram; I was nosing and tasting, slow and mellow, and the subtle aromas separated and re-coalesced. It was an epiphany!

Shortly thereafter, my Mom gave me a bottle of  Quinta Ruban for my birthday: it has a much more more complex nose than the ‘original’ expression, and I was hooked. Recently, I sampled the Nectar D’ Or expression (my favourite of the three) at the HopScotch Grand Tasting Hall event in Vancouver.

The following are my tasting notes for the three expressions: Continue reading

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The Balvenie 50

Just to get this Blog started, I thought I’d post about a whisky I’ll never have the opportunity to taste.

I’ve sampled many drams of Balvenie 12 YO Double Wood, which is first aged in bourbon casks. Some of the barrels are transferred to sherry butts for about nine months; and, finally, the sherry butts are married with the remaining barrels. The Balvenie Double Wood’s sherry notes are subtle, allowing the layers of honeyed-vanilla, nuts, and peppered ginger — communicated from the bourbon oak barrels — to surface.

But this post isn’t about the Double Wood, it’s about a bottle of 50 YO Balvenie that found its way to a Vancouver liquor store about a week ago. It is one of only eighty-eight bottles world-wide and is on sale for the bargain basement price of $33,500 CDN.

The Balvenie 50 was distilled in 1962 and matured in a European oak sherry hogshead.

According to the distillery:

The particularly long maturation has created a wonderful fragrant and floral whisky, which is velvety sweet with a beautifully balanced combination of sweet citrus notes and gentle hints of honey, spice and oak. With an ABV of 44.1 per cent, the nose is fragrant and floral with fruit and oak lusciously intermingled. The finish is velvety smooth with a delicious citrus sweetness.

Perhaps I could take out a second mortgage on our home…

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Slàinte

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