20 Year Old

Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

Tormore sig 2

So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

Tormore sig deets 2

The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

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Linkwood 20 Year Old Côte-Rôtie Finish

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Linkwood Cote Rotie

There are a lot of distilleries out there many people have never tried because all their wonderful product is being snapped up by the blenders. This is a remnant of a bygone era where single malt – especially single cask – was rough and dirty. Blenders swooped in to save the day by watering down the volatiles and mixing young and mature scotches together to smooth it all out. However single malt and single cask only taste bad if the distiller doesn’t know or care about what is going into the bottles at the end of the process. If it’s all about getting drunk, why would anyone go the extra distance for a fine product.

Fortunately, people are changing and the market is changing. Single malt is here to stay, and single cask releases are the bastion of exclusivity and discernibility. This has allowed some of the bigger whisky families to experiment every now and again with small amounts of their product and sometimes that creates a pretty special drop. The Linkwood Côte-Rôtie fits this bill for two reasons. First, it is a distillery owned by the global secret council of big whisky owners and is predominantly used in blends, including as a nice addition to Johnnie Walker’s vatted malt, which means there are specific flavours that are not usually separated and given their own podium. Second, it has been bottled independently by Gordon & MacPhail, so the final product has been selected by people whose primary expertise with whisky is casks and maturation. There is going to be something unique coming from that combination.

This one has also been finished in a very specific type of red wine cask giving it a rich and fruity smell with something very special coming from the grape influence. There are caramels and sugary honey but dominated by the smell of wine and vine mixed in with the actual wood itself, which I assume is European Oak unless the spice of the fruit is engaged in deception and subterfuge.

On drinking this whisky for the first time I thought this will be the one I tell everyone to try. And while I still will tell everyone to try it, on reflection I’m sure it’s not for everyone. Which brings me nicely to the point regarding the cask. The more whisky someone drinks, one of two things happens; either the person will get closer and closer to deciding the one whisky they want to drink at the expense of all the others – what I like to call “the wrong thing” – or they get more and more adventurous and inquisitive about different types and flavours. A batch of a well-known favourite finished in an unusual cask is a great way to see how important aging really is.

This one has spent two and a half years in its finishing cask, which is quite a long time in absolute terms. It is also well matured in general and you would expect a higher level of wood as a result. On the palate, the Côte-Rôtie has a lot of wood. I think that’s a good thing and that it really works for this particular drop. Those who like the simpler and sweeter whiskies will probably think this one has too much tannin, which is often the result of red wine finishes and long oak maturations. Surprisingly though it has not lost some of that underlying sweet complexity. The honey and caramel transfers through with some tart apple and cinnamon/nutmeg in the background.

A vino bomb is not for the immovable whisky drinker who has found the one flavour they want and doesn’t like anything else but, for the intrepid explorer who wants to backpack through the Rhone Valley and pop the bung on a nice red every couple of hours, sit back and quaff with a woody wonder.

★★★★

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Pappy Van Winkle 20YO

Its pretty common for distillers to lay down Scotch for long periods of time, with age statements in the range of 18-25 years in relative abundance. Bourbons on the other hand are a whole different kettle of fish. Warmer storage temperatures and the use of virgin oak casks means that bourbon reaches maturity and develops character far more quickly than its Scottish counterparts. Therefore, if you come across a bourbon that says it’s 20 years old, you know you’re looking at something pretty special.

The Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old is an experience unto itself, a man amongst the boys. Now into its 4th generation, the dynasty began in the 1870s when Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle entered into the proud Kentuckian tradition of bourbon making. These days the Van Winkles make their spirit at the Buffalo Trace distillery, but they have not lost their dedication to crafting spirit of an exceptionally high standard.

Apart from the age, what makes Van Winkle bourbon special is that they use corn, barley and wheat instead of the more usual corn, barley and rye in their mash bill. They claim that the use of wheat creates a much softer, smoother spirit and helps with the aging process.

Compared to your standard ‘ol bourbon, the PvW Family Reserve 20yo is a far more delicate creature. You can still tell it’s bourbon when you take a sniff, but it doesn’t wave the fact in your face. Instead it gently strokes your nostrils with vanilla, ginger and Grand Marnier.

As you would expect for a spirit this age, it is superbly smooth with no alcoholic kick at all, which is interesting as it is still bottled at 45.2%. It feels very light and silky in the mouth, and if you draw some air through it goes all tingly, sending shivers down your tongue. Floral notes, particularly rose, mingle with sweet white grapes, maraschino cherries and alcohol-soaked cake. The finish is quite short and as smooth as a baby’s proverbial.

The PvW Family Reserve is the thinking man’s bourbon; gulping it down is simply not an option as it needs some time to respond in the mouth. At first glance it seems deceptively simple, however with some gentle probing it reveals more and more character. There are definitely interesting things going on, but you have to chase them down, work for the full flavour. The dedicated and thoughtful approach is worth it in the end though, as the reward is a spirit of epically elegant proportions.

★★★★