Thursday, 23 January 2020

Auchentoshan Classic Review

Hi everyone,

I have only reviewed four Auchentoshan’s in the past. The triple distilled, impossible to pronounce first time distillery is likely the most well known of the few lowland distilleries.
Once again, I am trying to complete my 101 Whiskies to Try before You Die and this Classic was one of the more difficult ones to find as Auchentoshan discontinued this is favour of the ‘American Oak.’
This makes 85/101, so I’m well on my way!
 
Auchentoshan Classic 40%
Colour: Light Gold (Though probably coloured)
Body: Light
Nose: Ah, an interesting mix of yeasty rising bread and rubbery garbage... Rotting banana, some green apple, lemon that's been left out too long, cardboard.
Taste: Soft arrival, fresh fruit with green apple and a little lemon, then the Jura-esque yeast comes in and ruins everything, rubbery, feinty and gross.
Finish: Short/Medium length. Cardboard.
From Bourbon barrels apparently. I don't seem to like Auchentoshan very much. One of the worst whiskies I have ever had the pleasure to taste.
44/100

Thanks for reading!

Scotch Review #837
Whisky Network Review #1002

Network Average: 75.2
Best Score: 94
Worst Score: 12
0-49 Terrible
50-59 Bad
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
70-74 Good
75-79 Very Good
80-84 Excellent
85-89 Superb
90+ Magnificent

Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as the Global Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and I am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and I am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Let's Talk Recharring: STR Casks

Hi everyone,

We are back! New year with plenty of exciting and innovative stuff going on.
I haven’t done any of these Let’s Talk pieces for a while (the last was 2 years ago now!) and I’m really interested to see what you guys and gals think.
Once again, I am not a chemist or biologist and could very well be full of crap.

Anyway, the topic I’d like to discuss today is the phenomenon known as STR.
Now, you may be thinking; ‘what kind of hideous new sexual transmitted disease is that?!’

In fact STR stands for ‘scraped, toasted & recharred’ and has started being used at certain connected distilleries; Kilchoman, Kingsbarns, Nc’nean, Cotswolds, Penderyn, Kavalan and Gouden Carolus as well as plenty of others that don’t use them for specific releases.
The connection? Dr Jim Swan.
 
The rejuvenation of casks is not a new thing. People have been recharring casks for a long time now. These have been Bourbon barrels, hogsheads and some Sherry casks. This was essentially to get a few more uses out of the wood.
Though, there was (a now banned practice) of recharring the wood and then quickly dousing it with Paxarette Sherry, which would of course seal quickly into the pores of the wood.

What changed?
Jim Swan (or at least he is usually credited) came up with the brilliant idea of using old red wine barrels, that, when recharred, gave a new flavour that had not really been seen before. It wasn’t too intense or restrained, and, very importantly, it gave young, immature whisky a more mature flavour at a young age.
This was exactly what he needed, as the distilleries that he was involved with were generally newer distilleries and new builds that didn’t have a lot of time on their hands before needing to get product out on the market.
In addition to this, Sherry casks and other fortified wine barrels were becoming much more expensive, while Bourbon barrels don’t necessarily give you the punchy, fast maturation that they were looking for.
Their question to Jim was; ‘is it possible to create a mature, smooth, nice whisky at 3 years old?’
He could pretty much smile and say; ‘yes… I invented it.’
(Though I feel I should point out that Glenmorangie also used recharred wine casks for their Milsean release, though these weren’t referred to as STR casks.)

So, let’s talk a bit about STR casks and what they mean for the flavour of the whiskies using them.
I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more and more of them…

First, let’s have a lot at what people were doing before; recharring casks, but not wine barrels.
I have been lucky enough to visit Loch Lomond distillery and actually see a cask being recharred and it was a great education.
This is usually a process reserved for older barrels that have been used a few times and lost a lot of their flavour. When this happens, the recharring can be used to rejuvenate the cask and bring a lot (though not all) of the flavour back to the barrel.
The barrel has the cask ends taken off and a machine will go around the inside of the cask with a wire brush or mechanical shaver. It is then transferred to a charring machine with a large gas flame and the charring is pretty much the same as any other charring that you can read any number of other articles about online.
I was surprised how long this charring went on for at Loch Lomond though. My expectation was maybe 30 or 40 seconds of charring but this went on for minutes. About 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
My understanding is that this process cannot be repeated over and over though, because the wood is thinned by each scraping and the barrels would then leak.
 
Anyway, as I said, this has been done for a long time. Talisker Dark Storm being a good example.
The recharring should caramelise the sugars in the untouched wood underneath the penetrated layer, giving more classic oaky flavours like caramel, toffee and vanilla. However, these will not be quite as intense as a virgin oak cask because there are some flavour chemicals that do not rejuvenate.
In particular, it looks like the Oak Lactones do not rejuvenate in the recharring of a cask, leaving you with less spicy and coconut flavours (Thanks again Whisky Science). In addition, I’ve found that there can be lower levels of tannin in recharred casks.

Some recharred Sherry casks have also been popping up, particularly from Springbank and Kilkerran.
Weirdly though, these whiskies are usually dark in colour and look very similar to whiskies that have spent time in 1st fill Sherry casks. Having tasted the new Kilkerran 8yo Cask Strength, I would say that this also fits with the flavour profile created. Blind, I am not sure I would be able to tell the difference between something matured in a recharred Sherry cask and a 1st fill Sherry cask.
This could be to do with wood thickness. A Sherry cask’s staves are much thicker than a normal barrel and Springbank could be recharring these casks only lightly. A combination that would encourage the Sherry that has penetrated deeper into the wood to be more assessable to the whisky that then goes into these casks.
I asked a friend of mine who works for them and he said that the casks are lightly recharred, which seems to agree with what I suspected.
&nsbp;
Okay, cool. So that’s what has already been going on. But what about this new thing? Why use ex-red wine barrels to rechar?

Well, people disagree on this next bit.
Some say that the recharring penetrates only so far into the wood, leaving some of the wine in a layer that is still accessible to the whisky.
Others disagree and say that the recharring destroys the wine in its entirety, but the caramelisation of that wine does give a different flavour.

Unfortunately, I do not have exact measurements of where the wine can penetrate into the wood compared to whisky but we know that wine is more viscous and dense than whisky and therefore not penetrate quite as far into wood that is originally toasted rather than charred.
However, the main evidence for myself is flavour and colour.
If there truly was wine untouched in these STR casks, then the whiskies matured in these casks should taste (even slightly) winey with red fruit notes. This is not something that I have found in whiskies matured in STR casks. Though I would be interested to know if anyone else has? The colour of the wine would also be expected to come out into the whisky, giving it a slightly redish hue. Again, I have not seen this in the whiskies that have used these casks.
Instead, what I have seen and tasted, is whiskies with more oaky flavours and a dark bronze-y colour similar to Bourbon.
As you can tell, I firmly believe that the wine caramelises and is destroyed inside the wood during the recharring and THAT is the difference in flavour from traditionally recharred casks.

Though this does depend on what the distillery that is buying the casks has asked for. These STR casks are being made by cooperages and they can make them to order. If you want something more or less heavily recharred or toasted or scraped, they can do that.
This gives the option for huge variation in these casks and is exactly what these distilleries want.

So there are two good reasons that new distilleries are using these casks;
Firstly, for the good amount of ADDITIVE flavour coming from the oak and the caramelising of the wood sugars and red wine, giving caramel, toffee, vanilla with fresh fruity hints like peaches and apricot.
Second, the excellent SUBTRACTIVE maturation of these casks from the new and active layer of charcoal in the barrel. This helps the cask to take away harsher flavours and off notes from the new make that is put into them. Of course, for whisky that you want to taste good in only a few years, this is a big bonus.

The red wine being used here is mostly Portuguese and Spanish red wine with some French in the mix. However, because the wine is caramelised in the recharring, it matters very little what type of red wine that this would be in my opinion.
The oak type tends to be exclusively American Oak, though I am sure some have experimented with European. The use of American Oak may be just because it is cheaper and easier to hold of, or also because European Oak is generally more porous and would leak after being scraped to the same level.
These barrels are Barriques, which means that they should be about 225-230L.

Well, that’s how they are made and what flavours you might get with STR casks but the other thing I would like to talk about is whether using these casks is a good thing or not.

Different cask types are being looked at all the time and the SWA’s decision to allow a bunch of new types I think was very positive and forward thinking. Bourbon, Sherry and Hogsheads are very much the old guard and consumers are looking for whiskies that are different, new and interesting.
STR casks fit into this modern whisky scene very well. They give a different take on the classic flavours of a distillery you might know well.
What worries me is this… If all of these new distilleries are using these STR casks, won’t they all taste a bit the same? Is this starting to be a case of lazy whisky maturation?
With Bourbon whiskey, they have to use virgin oak casks. It’s the law. But it does make things a bit dull in my opinion and Bourbon has had to adapt to give consumers new things (long ageing, weird finishes, sending the whiskey out to sea, etc). These STR barrels have the same kind of flavours, just not quite as harsh or spicy. By using these, yes, you get a 3 year old whisky that tastes fully matured but you also aren’t truly engaging with the character of the spirit that you are trying to make. Instead, you’re just covering it up.
But then, when you don’t use them, your whisky can taste harsh and unmatured.
Really, there’s no right answer.
Apart from, I guess, leaving your whisky to mature for a decent amount of time before releasing it… but then, you’d likely be bankrupt by then!
Remember that we live in an age where distilleries are struggling to keep up with demand and are discontinuing traditional age statements in favour of younger whiskies. STR casks are a tempting option for distilleries that are looking to make their younger malts taste more mature, essentially tricking us all into thinking that they are older than they are.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is done carefully, and with quality in mind.

Anyway, I hope that this has been useful to you!!
What do you think? Have you tasted an STR matured whisky and been disappointed or surprised? Have you had your mind blown by a recharred Sherry Springbank? Or are you worried that STR casks will take over the maturation of young whisky? Let me know!

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

The Epicurean Glasgow Ed. Review

Hi everyone,

Happy new year! Hope everyone has had a great time over the holidays.
Today I’ve got a whisky that I was given 2/3 of a bottle of at the end of a festival. But immediately gave to a friend because I thought they might enjoy it more than me.
This is one of Douglas Laing’s blended malts that they have done focussing on different regions, this one on the Lowlands. Which puts it in the interesting position of not having that many distilleries to source whisky from. Glenkinchie, Bladnoch and Auchentoshan seem like the only likely options.

The Epicurean Glasgow Edition 58.6%
Colour: Straw
Body: Medium
Nose: Umm, milky at first nosing. Like sour milk, which is weird. Some lemon, green apple and also, well, cheese. Malt is there, very light touch of oak but remains pretty lactic. Really not a fan of the nose.
Water: Green apple and milk in a blender, throw in a pack of bubblegum too. And some yeast. You know, because why not?
Taste: Soft with a nice mouthfeel to start, fresh and zesty with green apple and zingy lemon citrus, then a little darker with the malt and a bit of white pepper spice making an appearance. There is more of a lactic thing coming out nearer the end into the finish.
Water: Again, nice arrival but the development goes astray with spiced cardboard and a bit of plastic.
Finish: Medium length. Malt and some milk chocolate, doesn't quite go into the lactic territory again but there's something harsher going on with the spice.
The lactic and milky notes on this were totally unexpected to me and I don’t think I’ve had anything like this in a whisky before, even from Bruichladdich. It isn’t even that unpleasant, but it’s kind of unsettling and weird.
61/100

Thanks for reading!

Scotch Review #836
Whisky Network Review #1001

Network Average: 75.2
Best Score: 94
Worst Score: 12
0-49 Terrible
50-59 Bad
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
70-74 Good
75-79 Very Good
80-84 Excellent
85-89 Superb
90+ Magnificent

Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as the Global Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and I am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and I am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Clynelish 1974 Signatory Dumpy [Review #1000!]

Hi everyone,

Here we are, the big four digits at last!
It has been a long road but I can’t say it’s been a hard one. I still love tasting whisky, making notes and sharing my thoughts. What is there more to say than that?
 
This was the other whisky I tasted in Feathers Pub in Toronto. I knew to taste this because u/TOModera had done notes on this one and said that he thought it was a Brora. I planned to taste the Lord of the Isles Ardbeg after this but decided not to. I’d found what I was looking for.

Clynelish 1974 Signatory Dumpy 55.7%
Colour: Gold
Body: Full
Nose: Immediately stunning. A shit tonne of amazing complexity, balance and power! Oils for days, waxy with pine smoke, Lapsang Souchong, burnt wood, lemon sherbet, a little BBQ pit. Liquorice and an incredibly good medicinal edge that cuts through, white pepper, bandages, nice chilli heat, some white florals coming in now with minerality. More calpol and earthy notes coming through after a bit. Could literally just sit here and smell it for hours.
Water: Darker, brooding and more earthy, burnt florals, singed heather, leather and dark chocolate.
Taste: Clean arrival, pure lemon, some oak, white pepper then kicks up several notches into transendant territory with big medicinal peat perfectly balanced by the clean lemon and minerals. So damn good. Ridiculously oily and satisfying. Super drinkable.
Water: Softer and rounder and darker. More malty, more oily and waxy, so balanced it almost hurts!, incredible mouthfeel, not as dry, heather. Still powerful. Pine smoke.
Finish: Long length. Arrrgh! Fucking hell its amazing! Really makes the dram. Quite dry with white pepper and minerality, late earthy note but clean finish. Earthy leather and some malt.
Bottled 2001 at 27yo. No WAY this was distilled at Clynelish! A freight train of a whisky with everything I look for. Really sings!
My scoring has been brought up again and again by folks that don’t quite understand my harsher lower scores. But when you come across really, really good whisky you just know it, you can’t help it. Truly exceptional whisky hits you in the face and goes to something right at the core of you.
93/100

A big thank you to everyone that reads these reviews! I started on Reddit and I still love the amazing community that we’ve created here. Being in the whisky industry has allowed my to try some amazing stuff and, though it sometimes comes with complications, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I still remember a time, not long ago at all, when I was little more than tour guide that enjoyed whisky and wanted to try more. I would never have dreamed that I would taste 1000 whiskies, let alone the ones that I have. I feel extremely lucky every single day.
Cheers!

Thanks for reading!

Scotch Review #835
Whisky Network Review #1000

Network Average: 75.2
Best Score: 94
Worst Score: 12
0-49 Terrible
50-59 Bad
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
70-74 Good
75-79 Very Good
80-84 Excellent
85-89 Superb
90+ Magnificent

Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as the Global Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and I am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and I am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Brora 1972 Cask Sample [Road to #1000, Review #999]

Hi everyone,

Today I would like to explore something that we must all deal with when reviewing and assessing whisky; rarity.
A few reviews ago I gave the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye an 78/100. The 15yo Pappy got 75/100. To be clear, these are good scores. They class these whiskies as ‘Very Good.’ Some people seemed upset that I had given such ‘low’ scores to such rare and expensive whiskies.
But are rare and expensive whiskies worth such huge costs?
In my opinion, no. The most I would ever pay for a whisky is £200 and I have not gone over this amount for a 70cl bottle. The reason for this is that I don’t have loads of money to drop on whiskies that could be good or are rare. I have also found that the value for money goes down rapidly after the £50-£60 mark.
Really, after £200, I have found that whisky does not get better, only more rare.
And we must deal with another question; are rarer and more expensive whiskies deserving of higher scores?
The obvious answer to this is that, no, just because a whisky is rare and/or expensive it should not get a higher score. However, it isn’t as simple as all that. It is easy to start believing the hype before you’ve even tasted a whisky. You can easily convince yourself that the whisky truly is wonderful, it must be, because people pay so much for it.
 
With that in mind, this is the rarest, most ridiculous sample I have ever managed to get my hands on. Brora is rare enough in and of itself but the 1972 vintage is the one that is hyped and people rave about because Brora was the most heavily peated then. This is a cask sample of a still maturing whisky from a single cask that will likely never be bottled. It is old at 47 years in the cask, perhaps the oldest Brora ever tasted. Only a few people will ever taste this whisky, ever.

Brora 1972 Cask Sample 40.1%
Colour: Gold
Body: Medium
Nose: Stupidly complex, oils and fruits and wax galore, the best strawberry fruit pastilles ever made, faint smoke, crushed seashells, very Clynelish actually, gorgeous honey, Oolong tea, green tea. More woody and spicy as it opens up- black pepper, complex chocolate notes, then more fruity with fragrant orange peel.
Taste: Soft and lacking power at first, builds though with an emotionality, smoky, wood and oak, tired wood, black tea, leather and old books, very very dry, some black pepper and very light salt, dried orange peel, then the oils and waxes I was looking for. Good mouthfeel for the strength.
Finish: Short length. More smoky here with malty, oils, some fruit and loads of chocolate.
47yo cask sample for the Brora masterclass at the 2019 Whisky Exchange Show. The nose is stellar but the taste and finish are too dry and tired as well as lacking power from the low strength. A shame that this wasn't bottled 20 years ago! A massive, massive thank you to the legend Colin Dunn for letting me try this!! Oh, and thank you to Jason for the photo because I forgot to take one.
As with the 1964 Longmorn, I can give this a score but truly it was more of an experience.
82/100

Thanks for reading!

Scotch Review #834
Whisky Network Review #999

Network Average: 75.2
Best Score: 94
Worst Score: 12
0-49 Terrible
50-59 Bad
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
70-74 Good
75-79 Very Good
80-84 Excellent
85-89 Superb
90+ Magnificent

Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as the Global Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and I am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and I am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Hibiki 30 & Yamazaki 25 [Road to #1000, Reviews #997-#998]

Hi everyone,

Today I have two very special whiskies that I tasted last year.
I have mentioned before that I am attempting to complete my edition of Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die and one of the hardest to get hold of and most expensive in there was the Hibiki 30yo.
And I’ve always wanted to try the Yamazaki 25.
Though, to perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy these whiskies quite as much as I did. I was really expecting to be saying that these are over-oaked, over-Sherried and under-proofed. I wanted to say that the hype is all noise and you can live out your lives in the contentment of knowing that you’ll never have to hunt these down to try them.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case…

Hibiki 30 43%
Colour: Dark Gold
Body: Medium
Nose: Ridiculously complex. Standing in a carpenter's workshop with loads of different types of wood being worked on, polished oak, pine, as well as loads of others that I couldn't begin to guess at, Acacia honey, leather and cigar box, complex oils, dry forest floor. Menthol and complex herbs and subtle spice, spearmint, freshly crushed mint, chocolate powder too. The balance here is insanely good.
Taste: Dry arrival, incredible balance and silky texture, then more powerful with leather and chilli and ginger spices and old honey, delicate oils, evolves through endless layers. Dried leaves, there is some smoke in there too but its interwoven into the fabric of everything else, dried apple. Slightly sweeter into the finish with very old brandy.
Finish: Long length. Softer, more delicate, very subtle earthy flavours then the most incredibly delicate oak you can imagine. Moving.
Blended? Really, with what? 5% grain whisky? Seriously, this stuff is kinda magical. The heft, weight and poise of this is exquisite for a blended whisky.
92/100
 
Yamazaki 25 43%
Colour: Dark Amber
Body: Medium/Full
Nose: Complex herbal and Sherried nose, wood sap and marker pens, pine forest aromas, sweet orange, orange peel, something light and ethereal yet also heavy with burnt thyme, pine smoked ham?, Lapsang Souchong and Ginseng tea, honey comb, some forest floor, something medicinal perhaps? Even more complex as it opens up.
Taste: Full on from the off (despite the 43%) with a great balance of sweet and dry, pine and sap, orange and oak, cherry and cough sweets, very oily mouthfeel- chewy, very old Sherry, dry dark chocolate, raisin and prune, something perfumed then some very slight rubber into the finish.
Finish: Long length. A long slow bleed of sweet and dry, some oak and Sherry, tobacco and all sorts of chocolates. Stunning finish.
Not quite the equal of the also stunning Hibiki 30 but damn close. I really wanted to believe that this would be a little tired and over Sherried like the 18yo but no, alas not.
If the 2013 Sherry Cask is something like this then I can see why Jim Murray would have given his whisky of the year to it.
91/100


Japanese Reviews #25-#26
Whisky Network Reviews #997-#998

Network Average: 75.2
Best Score: 94
Worst Score: 12
0-49 Terrible
50-59 Bad
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
70-74 Good
75-79 Very Good
80-84 Excellent
85-89 Superb
90+ Magnificent

Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as the Global Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and I am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and I am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.

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