Speyside

Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

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The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet master distillers reserve

The Glenlivet is one of the grand old boys of Scottish whisky. A distillery whom Whisky Waffle considered reliable, safe and go-to. Of course, all this changed when they replaced their 12 Year Old with the Founders Reserve. Sigh. What were they thinking?

But, never fear fellow Wafflers! If, like us, you have lamented the lack of 12 Year Old in bottle shops near you, then we have your solution: The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, named for Alan Winchester, Glenlivet’s own master distiller since 2008. Now, this bottle was once upon a time only available to frequent flyers buried in duty free, however many online liqueur stores <cough> perhaps one that shares a name with this reviewer <cough> have procured stock and let me tell you, it’s well worth it.

It’s not a complex dram: it’s only 40% and has been triple matured in American oak, ex-sherry casks and ‘traditional oak casks’ (whatever that means). On the nose are apples and pears, but also creamy notes, like particularly milky tea. The palate isn’t smooth per se, but it’s easy to drink. There are flavours of vanilla, oranges and choc chip biscuits. The finish is nutty and pleasantly long and, again, particularly creamy.

I’m not claiming the Master Distiller’s Reserve is a masterpiece – simply that it is interesting, reliable and nice to drink – everything the Founders Reserve is not. This is NAS whisky done well.

★★★

 

The Glenrothes Alba, 2001 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

glenrothes-trio-2

Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!

Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).

The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.

Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.

The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?

glenrothes-whisky-waffle

And it was produced here: Glenrothes Distillery

On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.

On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.

Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.

Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?

Select Reserve ★★★

Alba Reserve ★★

2001 vintage ★★★

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★

The Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

macallan-fine-oak-12-year-old

I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…

The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.

I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.

Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.

The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!

★★★

Glen Moray Port Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray Port Cask

As an out and proud fan of Glen Moray distillery and a waffler known to be partial to a little port matured whisky, the Glen Moray Port Cask Finish sounded like the perfect dram for me. Combining the sweet elegant Speyside flavour with a rich wine-infused layer – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out: quite a lot.

Upon its arrival at my door, I eagerly whipped the bottle out of its box and was greeted with the most peculiarly coloured whisky I had ever seen. I’ve observed variations of the (hilariously unintentionally poetic) “burnt crimson” theme before, but this whisky was – and there’s no more accurate description – orange. It was the kind of radioactive-peach hue normally reserved for fake tan. Alarm bells were ringing – but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of judging a book by its colour. There was only one thing to it – I had to try some.

After the first sniff it was clear that I was not trying a regular Speysider here. There was a lot of fruit – by which I mean a veritable orchard’s worth – and it was overripe, perhaps on the turn and ready for the compost heap. There were some bitter dark chocolate notes as well as equally bitter notes of wet grass. All in all, it was… shall we say memorable.

Surely the palate would be an improvement. And it was, albeit slightly. It was sweet and sticky with strong winey notes combining to form something reminiscent of strawberry jam. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some strawberry jam. Just this particular fruit spread was more Woolworths brand rather than homemade by my Grandma. The sweetness was more of a sugar syrup than a caramel and the vanilla more essence than extract. The finish started strongly with some nice blackberry flavours but descended into a rough spicy alcohol burn, surely a product of its youthful non-age statement nature.

Wow.

I did not love this whisky nearly as much as I expected. All things considered it was more than a little, well, rubbish. However, I can’t say I’m unhappy that I bought it. Scotland is hugely diverse in its drams and this is as far removed from an elegant Speyside drop as an Islay peat monster. Unfortunately in this case – the differences are not for the better.

William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years

Reviewed by: Ted

William Cadenheads 40 YO

The art of independent bottling is a fascinating one, taking the product of a distillery and aging it oneself in a new and interesting way. If performed successfully, the end product should hark back to it’s origins and yet metamorphose into something beguiling and delightful. A whisky butterfly if you will.

WM Cadenhead Ltd is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, established in 1842. As such, they have had some time to perfect the art and their releases tend to command considerable respect.

The William Cadenhead Single Speyside Scotch Whisky that I was fortunate enough to try was a mere 40 years old! While the bottle did not reveal the origin of the spirit, I have been told that it allegedly contains spirit from Glenfarclas, a family-owned distillery steeped in tradition.

On the nose the William Cadenhead 40yo is like timber polished to the smoothness of glass using the finest vanilla and caramel scented beeswax.

In the mouth the spirit is what I imagine drinking satin would be like, rippling folds of cool smoothness sliding over the tongue and susurrating down the throat. The flavour is the lightest touch of honey, tree spices and dried fruits.

If you are ever fortunate enough to come across the William Cadenhead 40yo I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to try it. This is independent bottling at its most elegant.

★★★★★

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Founders Reserve n waffle

In 2015 we farewelled a Whisky Waffle favourite son, the Glenlivet 12. It was there to share the laughs when we held cards nights, to comfort us when we’d had a rough day at work and raised high when we rung in the New Year. Sadly Glenlivet, in their ultimate wisdom, have retired the 12 for the foreseeable future. But fear not – they have introduced a direct(ish) replacement! It comes in shiny blue packaging so it must be good, mustn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Glenlivet Founders Reserve.

It would be so easy to do a straight comparison of the two whiskies, but I decided to sample the new kid on the block on its own to see how it stood up. It turns out ‘stood up’ was possibly the wrong analogy. Sat down maybe? Perhaps slouched…

On the nose, I found the Founders Reserve has plenty of caramel and some dry malty notes. An acceptable, if not auspicious start. So I took a sip. This turned out to be an error. There’s an unpleasant sweetness in there – a sugary, treacly flavour lacking in any complexity. It’s not bad per se, but there is a distinct manufactured, home-brand quality about it which is hard to enjoy. The finish is warm and spicy, almost tangy on the back of the tongue. Finally there is the merest hint of raisins, a cameo appearance that leaves you wishing there was more to be found.

I cannot say that the Founders Reserve is particularly offensive in its flavour. But I can (and do) claim that it is all a bit bland and inconsequential, bordering on boring, which disappoints me greatly. Glenlivet are truly great makers of Scottish whisky and it saddens me to think that a generation of whisky drinkers will discover the distillery via this disappointing bottle.

★★

Nick and the Glenlivet Founders Reserve

How it compares:

Without doubt there are similarities in flavour between the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old – they are both obvious Speysiders full of caramel and honey. But the 12 Year Old has so much more going on than the NAS bottle. There are subtle complexities to be found throughout the 12 which the Founders lacks. The Founders Reserve is the Coke Zero to the 12’s Coca-Cola.

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Summer is a time for barbeques and dreams; it is a time for long evenings spent irreverently with friends. And, of course, it is a time for summer romances.

I met the Cragganmore 12 Year Old shortly before Christmas and knew, without being able to define why, that this was to be my summertime dram. It glistened, a deep gold on the shelf, almost calling to me with promises of what was to come. How could I resist?

The following weeks I enjoyed the gloriously sunny evenings with the Cragganmore by my side. We were thick as thieves, spending time at post-Christmas drinks, New Years Eve – even on the annual camping trip. All my whisky-drinking friends approved. There was no doubt, the Cragganmore was a worthy addition to our summer festivities. And the flavours? Extraordinary.

The nose of honey and butterscotch. The palate of vanilla and lemons. And the finish… Oh that delicate and yet spicy linger I feel I will never truly forget.

Inevitably, the sun began to set on a glorious January, and the contents of the Cragganmore dwindled. As with all summer flings, it ended all too suddenly. It was time to say farewell to this golden bottle. While it was a friendship only recently acquired, it seemed the bonds we had formed would last a lifetime. As we said our goodbyes, I thanked it for its companionship over such a memorable time. I can now only leave it in the hands of fate as to whether we meet again on another, seemingly endless, summer afternoon.

★★★

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 18

The banks of the river Spey in Scotland’s north east are fertile ground indeed. Nearly half of the country’s distilleries are located in this region which has come to be known, rather appropriately, as ‘Speyside’. Upon my criminally short drive through the area my head continuously moved side to side reading road signs pointing towards yet another famous distillery. It must have looked like I was watching a grand-slam final between Nadal and Djokovic! This abundance of whisky excellence could be found nowhere else on earth.

Speyside whiskies are known for being the smoothest, the richest, and the most elegant drams that Scotland has to offer, a reputation well deserved. Perhaps the best example of a Speyside malt is the Glenlivet 18 Year Old. It is one of the classiest single malts going around – and at a price that practically every other 18 year old whisky cannot come close to.

The whisky’s colour alone is enticing: a golden amber which glints in the sunlight. The nose is better: full of caramel, vanilla and orchard fruits. It is a pleasantly balanced aroma, not favouring one flavour over another. The palate is rich – full of flavour without being heavy. There is honey, oranges and malty biscuits, along with the faintest hint of sherry. The finish is light and not as sweet as the initial flavours suggest, with plenty of oak imparted from its 18 years in barrels.

There are literally thousands of whiskies made within a few miles of the river Spey. But if you were only able to try just one – then you could make a pretty strong case for this one.

★★★★