tropical

Glenfiddich Experimental Series #04: Fire & Cane 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

While it may hold the title of best selling single malt in the world, Glenfiddich can also be pretty divisive. I think that people tend to fall into one of five broad camps:

  1. People who don’t know any better and for whom single malt = Glenfiddich (this is what they get if they want to be posh and step up from the Johnnie Walker). Products of William Grant & Sons’ decades of advertising or ‘Mad Men’ fans, they will definitely ask for it served on the rocks.
  2. Fence sitters who don’t really care one way or the other. Would probably drink with coke if you let them (Philistines).
  3. Mad haters who loathe Glenfid because it’s ‘big whisky’ and ‘such a cliche’. Probably wears a moustache and likes single origin American ryes that you’ve never heard of or underground independent release.
  4. Tourists, because when in Scotland, the UK… (“Waidammit, hey honey, is Scotland in the Ewe-naa’ded Kingdom?” “Ah honestly don’t know Earl, is that the same as Enga-land?” Scots: “Not for long if we can help it!” #brexit #bullshit #freedom!)
  5. People who genuinely like Glenfiddich and recognise that while they might be a cliche, they actually make some pretty decent drams. Are probably fans of the 18yo, have eyed off an Age of Discovery in duty free and will half-heartedly defend the 12yo against the haters.

I definitely fall into the latter category and in addition to the above, I also like to keep an eye on what’s going on outside of the core range. In recent years Glenfid have been releasing what they have dubbed their ‘Experimental Series’, which they claim to be ‘game changing’ and ‘ground breaking’ (as mentioned previously, they’re also quite good with the marketing guff).

Once you get past the superlatives, the Experimental Series is all about interesting finishes, barrel combinations and playfulness. Brain child of Master Malter Brian Kinsman, past alumni include the IPA Experiment (of which I own a bottle and really must get around to reviewing), Project XX v1&2 and Winter Storm. The most recent release, #4, is called Fire & Cane and it’s a dram that is blatantly provocative.

Why? Because it says it right there on the bottle: “Fire & Cane – the whisky that will divide you”. Glenfid claims the reason for this is the two warring flavour profiles in the spirit, which splits people into two distinct camps, much like the great blue/gold dress debate of 2015 (just so you know, it was definitely blue, so there).

Team Fire: unusually for a Glenfid, the Fire & Cane is smoky (a fact you probably guessed from the name), a vatting of peated whisky and malts aged in ex-bourbon casks. Glenfid uses Highland peat in this, giving it a softer, friendlier profile than the medicinal/elemental Island peats.

Team Cane: What do you make out of cane? Wicker chairs of course! Oh, and rum. To give the release a big, sweet and spicy kick, Mr Kinsman used a variety of rum casks sourced from across South America to finish off the spirit for three months, thus creating the coal-ramel slice that is the Fire & Cane.

Glenfiddich are so conviced that people either taste the smoke or the sweet that they actually provide two sets of tasting notes with the bottle, offering you a choice depending on which side you fall. So where do I fall?

The nose is a suprisingly complex melange of tropical fruits like pineapple, guava, feijoa, papaya and banana, as well as caramel, straw and hot metal. That Highland peat is not really present as smokiness (“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not on Islay anymore”), but more of a savoury note that sits underneath the fruit. It’s kind of like a fresh fruit salsa on some smoky BBQ Caribbean jerk meat.

The peat is much more obvious on the palate, starting off as a tingly, ashy layer with pepper and cured meats before giving way to sharp and sour notes of mead, lemon, and underripe plums. The finish is bright and fairly dry, with a burnt-herb linger and a tickle of orange at the end.

Rather than falling squarely into one camp or the other and staying there like the Glenfid marketing team wants me to, I kind of feel like Harvey Dent/Two-Face flipping his coin. Sometimes I go one way and sometimes I go the other, getting smoky or sweet notes on different tries (whereas if I was Rozencrantz or Guildenstern, I’d be wondering why I kept getting the same flavour every time #obscuremoviereferences).

The Fire & Cane is a really good demonstration of how you can mess around with one of the best known whisky flavour profiles in the world to create something interesting and new. Traditionalists will probably turn their noses up, but for me, I like it. It’s zesty and fresh with a smoky twist and puts me in mind of camping at the beach in the tropics. If you can find a bottle, take a crack and see which side of the fence you fall on.

***

Let us know if you’re #TeamFire or #TeamCane

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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.

★★★★

Whisky and Chocolate: why has it taken me so long?

Posted by: Nick. Photos courtesy of Craig Johnstone

Whisky. Chocolate. Two undoubtedly magnificent creations. Why, then, has it taken me so long to realise that combining the two is the best idea hit upon since a particular Bill Lark fishing trip?

Enter Ian Reed, organiser of tenuous themes for Whisky Business, who decided the night’s proximity to Easter was as good an excuse as any to bring along chocolate bunnies to the next gathering.

While the selection of whiskies was sure to be excitingly varied, the selection of chocolate turned out to be less so, although this was through no fault of mine or Craig’s, who both brought some excellent blocks (disclaimer: mine was slightly more excellent). Ian gathered everyone together. It was time to begin.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 1

Whisky number one, it transpired was the Scapa 16 Year Old, a lovely and easy drinking Orcadian drop. However tonight I couldn’t help but notice an intriguingly pleasant bitterness about it, so selected an equally bitter 70% dark chocolate to accompany it. My results were as follows:

Bitter + bitter = not bitter!

Strangely enough, together the two bitter flavours cancelled each other out and left smooth and sweet strawberry and melon notes I hadn’t noticed before. A win for the paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 2

Whisky number two was immediately picked by Craig as a rum barrel finish, which was either a lucky guess or proof that he knows his stuff. The whisky was a 15 Year Old BenRiach, which had indeed been finished in rum barrels. I selected a Lindt Salted Caramel to accompany it.

Rum barrel + salted caramel = tropical punch!

Apparently the secret to unlocking the fruit flavours in the rum finish was a block of salted caramel chocolate! Two out of two for the chocolate paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 3

Whisky number three had been matured in sherry casks, this much I could tell. I quickly ruled out Glenfarclas and took a stab at another famously sherried whisky: Glendronach. Imagine my pleasure (read: smugness) when it turned out to be the Glendronach 18 Year Old (Big Sam) Allardice. One sip gave away the Olorosso maturation. It was dry. As in really dry. And I loved it. I went for the strong stuff. 90% dark chocolate. No messing around here.

Dry whisky + dry chocolate = the Sahara desert.

I suspected that one ingredient may make the other sweeter in comparison. I was wrong. This combination could not even be crossed upon a camel. And I loved it. Three out of three.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 4

After a short break filled with science jokes from Bish, and vaguely Easter-themed jokes from Rosie, we moved onto whisky number four: the clue from Ian being that its name was Gaelic for ‘natural’. Because I speak fluent Gaelic (or because I’ve read it on the internet) I immediately realised we were trying the cask strength Glenlivet: the Nadurra. I needed a feisty chocolate to compete with this, so selected my own contribution: a fancy and fully-flavoured Anvers salted caramel chocolate.

Strong whisky + strong chocolate = Pirates of the Caribbean!

Ok, yes, by this stage of the night my pairing notes were starting to get, shall we say, ‘creative’, but hear me out. I mean this in a way that these two flavours did not go together. At all. In fact they clashed. In fact, they clashed entertainingly, one might even say ‘swashbucklingly’ (if one could pronounce such a word at this end of the evening). Hence: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 5

Whisky number five, the final dram of the evening, was wonderful. There was subtle peat on the nose, mild sweet spices on the palate, and a warm lingering finish. It had to be Laphroaig, and as it turned out, it was the 18 Year Old. It was a wonderful dram and I paired it with the 70% dark chocolate. At this point of the night, the equation was simple:

Whisky + Chocolate = awesome.

I don’t think I really need to explain this one.

Five out of five.

 

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!

★★★