finish

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!

★★★

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Heartwood Convict Resurrection

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

In Scotland, independent bottling of whisky is commonplace. Companies such as Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Flora & Fauna – basically anything with an ‘&’ in it – run successful businesses and produce some fine drams. In Tassie, well, it’s a little rarer. While Trappers Hut and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers are coming along nicely, there’s one name leading the way: Heartwood.

Heartwood was created by Tasmania’s own mad scientist of whisky, Tim Duckett, whom I imagine spends his days bent over a steaming cauldron of luminous Tasmanian whisky, stirring it with a wooden oar and chanting “double double toil and trouble”.

If you’ve ever come across a bottle of Heartwood, you’ll attest that it was unquestionably a memorable drop. There’s certainly a lot to remember, from the wonderful designs on the labels to the distinctive names: ‘Vat Out of Hell’, ‘Release the beast’ and ‘Any Port in a Storm’ to name a few. However, the most memorable aspect of any Heartwood bottling – by far – is the strength. The ABV of all releases ranges from percentages in the mid 60s to percentages in the mid 70s. That’s right – mid 70s!!!

The bottle I decided to purchase sits at an eye watering 72% and is called the ‘Convict Resurrection’, part of a series of convict-inspired bottlings referring to Tasmania’s original function as a penal colony. The whisky comes from Sullivans Cove barrel HH0239, which was an American oak ex-port cask. And boy, is it something.

Every aspect of this whisky is massive. The nose hits you like a boxing glove wielded by Sugar Ray Leonard, teeming with creamy fruit flavours like plum jam spread on rich brie. As is to be expected, the palate also packs a punch – taking a sip is like wrestling a crocodile – and yet there are so many flavours to be found: raisins, nutmeg, pinecones and blackberries – perhaps with the thorns still attached!

The finish is the most surprising element of the whole dram as it is incredibly smooth. It seems to evaporate at the back of your throat, leaving the most glorious lingering warmth with notes of jam and honey.

If you ever see a nip of Heartwood available anywhere – don’t think – just buy it. Sure, it’ll be pricey, but only 200 or so of each bottle is made and once they’re gone, they’re actually gone. Heartwood fans don’t buy the stuff to leave it sitting on a shelf.

Seriously, try it if you can. I promise it will be memorable – in the best possible way.

★★★★★

Heartwood n Nick

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Arran Amarone Cask

Traditionally, the world of Scottish whisky is very – well – traditional. When popping champagne for Ardbeg’s two hundredth year, we somewhat neglected the rather less impressive twentieth birthday of the Arran Distillery. But distilleries are only as good as the products they are currently creating, and there is a lot to like about the bottles presently leaving the Isle of Arran.

As well as a range of age statement whiskies they have a variety of cask finish expressions, and the one I happened to get my grubby little mitts on was finished in Amarone barrels. For the uneducated, which I will freely admit to being one of before buying the bottle, Amarone is a dry Italian red wine made from grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Yup, me neither.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with wine-matured whiskies, though one aspect I universally love is their amazing colours. The Arran is no exception – this whisky is the coppery orange of traditional creaming soda. The nose is alluring, giving the impression of alcohol soaked fruits eaten at Christmas time. There are cherries and strawberries as well as honey and syrupy cola.

The palate is rich and spicy, aided immensely by the higher bottling strength of 50%. It is delightfully creamy with large dollops of toffee, oranges and Turkish delight. The finish is dry with notes of oak and dark chocolate, and is pleasingly long and warming.

While the Arran Malt does not boast the long history of many distilleries, this should not in any way be held against it. A glorious Scottish past does not always equal quality in the present. Just ask Rangers Football Club.

★★★★

Benromach Sassacaia Wood Finish

Reviewed by: Richard

Benromach Sassacaia Wood FinishThis one was recommended to me by a friend who knows my fondness for sweeter whiskies… So first up – a little bit about the distillery:

Benromach is a Speyside distillery founded by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman in 1898 and currently owned and run by Gordon and Macphail of Elgin. It is situated near Forres in Morayshire and is fed with spring water from the Chapelton Springs in the Romach Hills beside Forres.

And now – on with the review:

This has been matured in a Sassacaia barrel, so an introduction to the wood is in order!
Sassicaia is one of the most sought-after Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata – quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially Italian wine and cheese)
The Sassicaia estate is located at Bolgheri and lies in the Province of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy.

So, shut up, tell us about the whisky…

This is a 2006 distilled expression and bottled this year – there’s an older 2005 release, a 2004 release and a few older bottlings.
All I can find out is that it’s put in an ex bourbon barrel for around 7 years, and then put in a Sassacaia barrel for around 29 months – just over 2 years.
The colour is golden pink! Well lightly pink – if the sun hits it just right…

Nose: It’s got a real soft nose – dry toasted oak, vanilla, fruity, toffee, nutmeg, and that definitive wine note.
The nose is right up my alley – really sweet and bold, but not sickly…
Now to stick it in my mouth!

Palate: Cherries, raspberries & vanilla, spices, subtle smoke, malty toffee, and wine!
The palate is quite dry, which I find a lot with red wine finishes for some reason… tannic influence maybe? I find they make my mouth water a bit…

Finish: A medium-long finish with hints of fruit and another whiff of smoke.

This is a session whisky (if there’s such a thing) for sunny afternoon, sitting under a tree, in the shade, with some olives, sourdough, semidried tomatoes, cheese and some good friends…I’m amazed at the influence the wine has made, the light smoke and the fruit notes. I’ve tried the standard 10yo Benromach, which is one of my favourites – this is better, not by a lot, but still, better, and juicier…
A bloody fine whisky to add to any collection!

★★★

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.

★★★★

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

The Caribbean. What does it make you think of? Beaches? Palm trees? Sunshine? Johnny Depp movies?

The flavour of the Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask certainly shows the power of suggestion because I can’t help but noticing this whisky tastes rather… tropical!

Balvenie are one of the leaders in Scotland for maturing their spirit in multiple barrels, often, as is the case with the Caribbean cask, for only the final few months of the aging process. This imparts another layer of flavour on the whisky without removing characteristics that are already present. Often this ‘finishing’ process is conducted in sherry or even port casks. In the case of this Balvenie however, it spends its final few months of aging in ex-West Indian rum barrels, hence the moniker: Caribbean Cask.

The rum influence certainly adds a new dimension to the whisky. The overriding flavour in the nose is, would you believe it, bananas; and I’m not just saying this because of the Caribbean image in my head. Honestly! There are also the vanilla and honey notes expected of a Speyside whisky, however these couple with fresh floral scents. It’s sweet and light, but pleasingly complex.

On the palate the mouth feel is thick and syrupy with malty, biscuity notes present. However, these rapidly give way to fruits such as pineapple, passionfruit, mango and yet more banana. Tropical fruits! The finish is gentle and sweet, with more traditional honeycomb and toffee.

Whether or not I would have picked out these tasting notes if this whisky had been given a less suggestive name is an interesting point. However, as far as this dram is concerned, the marketing and the flavour go hand in hand. The image that ‘Caribbean Cask’ conjures in my head is now inseparable from the whisky itself and I can only describe it in one way: this is the tropical punch of whisky!

★★★