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Glenrothes Vintage Reserve and Craigellachie 13YO

As I mentioned yesterday, my reviewing days on the Scotch Odyssey Blog are, for the time being, numbered. As a whisky brand ambassador, you’re only really supposed to talk up your own brands but, after some very supportive agencies and distillers sent me some liquid last year, I felt I’d take the opportunity to record a few independent views on some new releases.

Glenrothes Vintage Reserve 40% £TBA

This whisky contains malts from three decades, the oldest vintage being 1989. The majority of the product was distilled in 1998. It will be released in Taiwan first before going global this year.

Colour – brown gold.

Nose – at first I get rich, sourish fruits and bold pistachio biscuit. Underneath is a sturdy phenolic quality. Nose fully in the glass now, seashells and a warm sandiness show themselves but soon clear to the draffy maltiness typical of Glenrothes and egg custard with plenty of nutmeg. A little sharp citric note then glace cherries – a bakewell tart in general. With a bit of time pure lemon steps out along with juicy yellow fruit and pistachio/praline again.

Palate – weighty with lots of fudge, malt and a vaguely sulphury backbone – but it works. A tartness but abundantly sweet.

Finish – milk chocolate and golden delicious apples. Medium-bodied.

Adding water turned the nose even lighter, revealing icing sugar, lemon rind and a tickle of peppery spice. The palate became very smooth indeed with papaya, a slight saltiness and a rich clotted cream texture. I found the finish to be lighter but still palate-coating. Not terribly exciting, however.
Craigellachie 13YO 46% GBP 41.95

Natural colour and non chill-filtered, I believe.

Colour – bright gold.

Nose – chopped salad leaves on first nosing: green and sweet. There follows thick butter, vanilla wafer and a phenolic maltiness. Incredibly muscular and focused at first: bruising malt and mulchy green fruit packed in to a keg of golden oak. Kiwi, pear, a touch of salty metallic tequila. With time, pure confectionary green apple. Biscuit and a very subtle peat. A whole load of textures.

Palate – full and tongue-coating. Dry rich biscuit, a draffy note, lemon pith. Then spice and a hoppy bitterness develops. Reminds me of Innes and Gunn Blonde!

Finish – shortcrust pastry, green plum. Sweet but with a heavy tartness. A coppery flavour/texture appears.

With water, the nose became cleaner with a Granny Smith apple note. Cooked pastry, rather mead-like with that phenolic weight going nowhere. The palate was rounder with egg custard and the green apple from the nose. A touch of herbalness then, as you swallow, in comes a huge old log you might find in the woods in winter: leafy, fungal. A bit of cheese rind. Incredible! It finishes in similarly idiosyncratic fashion: gala melon, apple, dry autumn leaves and an earthiness.

So…?      I mislaid the press release for the Glenrothes, meaning I could taste it completely blind. I only discovered the multi-vintage genesis in a Drinks Report article today. Its price point in Taiwan is GBP 25 which is very good indeed. It’s a very impressive little performer with pleasing depths. Steer clear of water and you have a very drinkable malt indeed.

I always tell myself that I should favour malts like Craigellachie: worm tubs, a once-hidden blender’s favourite – an interesting single malt, in short. This 13YO opened a very exciting new chapter in the John Dewar & Sons malt portfolio and there may well prove some truth in the tagline for the series of whiskies to be released as ‘The Last Great Malts’. Aberfeldy may have been fairly easily-obtainable, but Aultmore, Royal Brackla and Macduff will be revelations when they fully emerge. And will all carry age statements which these days is chicly retro.

There is a 17YO, a 19YO in duty free, and a 23YO to complete the Craigellachie range and they promise a great deal. The leafy, phenolic weight found here in the 13YO should build oak into itself, growing in power and majesty. I doubt I’ll get to try the others any time soon. To be honest, as interesting as I found this dram, it wasn’t entirely for me. The palate was the fascinating star, and without a doubt it has character, but rather Jekyll and Hyde for me.

Many thanks indeed to Quercus for both samples.

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The Macallan

A special place in most important respects.

A special place in most important respects.

Easter Elchies, Craigellachie, Morayshire, AB38 9RX, 01340 872280. Edrington Group. www.themacallan.com

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      This is just a stunning place to put a distillery: at the top of a cliff on one of the inner banks of a Spey meander, looking out towards Benrinnes and other less venerable and whisky-significant mountains.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Experience Tour’: £8. See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Precious Tour’: £20. The essential tour of the distillery is exactly the same as for the £8 Experience tour. However, at the end you are taken in to the nosing room where you are given a presentation on nosing and tasting, followed by a chance to do the real thing with some new make, two Sherry Oak expressions and two Fine Oak expressions. These will vary according to the tastes of the participants but range from 12 to 30 years of age.

NB: Tours are restricted to 10 (for both the Experience and Precious tours) and booking is “advisable, if not essential.”

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Not only a distillery-exclusive, but you must have participated on a tour in order to purchase it. A single cask Sherry butt from 1997 (52.3% ABV), £120.

My Tour – 22/04/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      In a similar way to The Glenlivet, this tour is like an iceberg: most of the rest of the production and its equipment is out of sight. The stills are gorgeous, two spirit to one wash. There are about 20 more elsewhere on the site. This I whispered to one man who casually pondered how they could produce 8 million litres a year from six stills. They have retained – and even made new – wooden washbacks because The Macallan understands the aesthetics of it all. There are very modern, interactive displays, such as a turn-your-own barley mill, scale models and nifty photography at the start and pipework out of which you pull bungs and can nose new make spirit. All good touches, and show a real concern for the education and enjoyment of the visitor. The treatment of the maturation process I don’t think was bettered in any of my other tours.

GENEROSITY:      (1 dram)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      *

SCORE:      5/10 *s

COMMENT:      A fine tour, with a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide in Jennie. The distillery has only just finished an expansion project and we toured what was called the “dormant” side at the time. The modern entrance to the production site is very clean and effective with good photographs on a loop over several screens to illustrate the process. As romantically as possible. This is a serious lifestyle brand, after all. There are models to provide a more hands-on educational opportunity: especially the grind-your-own hand-turned barley mill. The expansion has seen further washbacks installed made of stainless steel. The ones we saw were brand new wooden ones. Again, the aesthetic is important and they did look very smart. The stillhouse is glorious with the dumpy, squat spirit stills. The Macallan works on a two wash stills to one spirit still ratio and has the finest spirit cut in the industry at just 16% of the second distillation cycle. Glen Garioch’s is the same percentage but I only found that out at Glen Garioch! The warehouse was where things picked up in a big way: a big woody way. The dunnage warehouse was, as always, a delicious atmosphere to inhale. There were five empty casks for us to sniff, too, however: an American barrel, a hogshead, an American oak butt seasoned with Sherry, a Spanish oak butt seasoned with Sherry and a Spanish oak butt, seasoned with Sherry and then filled with Macallan for 12 years. It was fascinating to note the differences, because they were quite marked. The American oak with the Sherry seasoning was the most strikingly magnificent: rich, fruity, but sweet and toffeed. Lurvely. Just the one dram to savour at the end, but it was the standard 10-year-old, which I feel is one of the best young malts on the market. The new warehouses, by the by, won’t win any architectural awards.

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