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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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Bring on the Blends

John Glaser has inspired me. The wonders of Asyla, Double Single et al have added their impeccably balanced encouragement to a slightly older inkling of mine that time spent investigating blended whisky is not in any way shape or form wasted.

My inaugural encounters with the whisky flavour spectrum were afforded by blends: a sip every so often of whatever my Mother may have been drinking – heavily watered-down, of course. Unfortunately, it was not until my first visit to the Aberfeldy Distillery and Dewar’s World of Whisky that I appreciated the role blends could play for the obsessed single malt drinker courtesy of a Connoisseur Tour ticket and measures of Dewar’s White Label, 12yo, 18yo and Signature. The 18yo in particular blew my proverbial socks off.Hankey Bannister 40yo

Then, a couple of months ago, a jiffy bag arrived with three samples of the Hankey Bannister blended range and Lukasz Dynowiak’s best wishes inside it. The Compass Box talk has prompted me to unearth my tasting notes for this trio, and to compare them with that 18yo Dewar’s Founder’s Reserve I love so much.

Hankey Bannister has been around a long time – Messrs B. Hankey and H. Bannister founding the company in 1757. The core range is the Original, 12yo, 21yo and a 40yo comprised of whiskies from throughout Scotland, but particularly Balblair and Balmenach. Grain spirit is that produced at North British and Port Dundas.

Hankey Bannister Original 40% abv. £16

Very firm and lively on the nose with lots of cereals. Ice cream sandwiches with lashings of thick caramel toffee follow while apple bubble gum flavours lend an idea of a spirity and elastic whisky. Metallic notes and marmalade with a little water maintain vibrancy.

The palate is intense and medium-dry with banana-like fruitiness and spice. Water brings out some oak, cereal sweetness and heather. Fruit and Nut chocolate appears on the finish with orange juice. It is very quick, however, and water only accelerates its exit.

Hankey Bannister 12yo 40% abv. £25

This expression is cleaner than the Original with extra richness. Green apple and sweet pear emerge together with a grassy note and some oak. It is somewhat flat, however, and water unfortunately pulls out earthy vegetal notes. Light honey and vanilla are there, too, but this, to me, is not yet what whisky is about.

The palate is dominated by caramel for both its flavour and texture with a hint of oak and maltiness. Water reveals a smidgen more fruitiness. The finish is drying and quite spicy with that heather note seen in the Original. Citrus peel is accentuated after a splash of water.

Hankey Bannister 40yo 43.3% abv. £357

Legend has it that master blender, Stuart Harvey, discovered casks stuffed with various old whiskies in a corner of the warehouse and checking back through the records revealed that some were from long-silent distilleries such as Glen Flagler and Killyloch. The whiskies were bottled to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Hankey Bannister’s establishment, and the numerous illustrious folk, such as Winston Churchill, King George V and Evelyn Waugh, who have claimed a partiality to it. This has just won the title of ‘World’s Best Blended Whisky’ at the 2011 World Whisky Awards.

Nose – Waves of crepuscular darkness with rich, though dust-covered, dried fruits of prune and date. Vanilla, oily orange and crystallised peel. Dark chocolate and rich honeycomb. Velvety maltiness. Tropical fruits emerge with ripe banana, mango and passion fruit. Butterscotch and cinnamon are in there, too, and just latterly sweet leather and a hint of fragrant smoke.

      Water helps to combine the sweet malt and oak. Rich strawberry jam appears. Full, deep and clean amontillado sherry notes are just divine. Flavours of spiced pecans, dried rosemary and lemon are in there, too, alongside the gorgeous oak notes.

Palate - Deep, oaky and dusty with plenty of spice and rich fruit. Chocolate.

      Water accentuates the stewed fried fruits adding a clean and sweet floral quality.

Finish - A lovely, involving leafy/mulchy dark battle wages beneath lighter oak and barley sugar flavours. Dark treacle toffee. Tea tree and lime. Rich and very smooth.

      Water evokes the empty casks this ancient whisky once lay in with vanilla and moist biscuitiness. Orchard fruits and bark chippings emerge and whilst it is still fecund, it loses a little power.

*     *     *     *     *

Dewar's 18yoIt is very difficult to directly compare these whiskies for, as Dave Broom says, ‘blends are about the right flavours at the right time.’ I couldn’t see the point of the 12yo alongside the Original and 40yo but I should imagine that, on a summer afternoon, a few measures of it with water and ice would make for a rather pleasant experience. Unfortunately for me, my whisky moments are made more for the likes of the 40yo which is somewhat problematic for me since there is no way I can afford a bottle.

Enter, then, the Dewar’s 18yo. At Aberfeldy I was struck by its heather honey, apple and vanilla notes but I have since discovered a very gentle fragrant smokiness. Orange and some dried fruits are also quite charming with the palate and finish a blend of spice, sweetness and dark chocolate. At £61 it is rather expensive for a blend, but then I nabbed mine from World Duty Free in Edinburgh so it cost me less than £40. Lovely!

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