Posts from the ‘Scotch Reviews’ Category

Comparison Review: Monkey Shoulder vs. Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotches

Well, it has been a good long while since we’ve had a comparison review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today’s review is aimed at remedied that minor oversight.  Today, I am reviewing two blended malt Scotch whiskies – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Since I have not yet discussed blended malts on the blog, perhaps a brief word.  Simply, blended malts are Scotches that are derived from single malt whiskies from two or more different distilleries.  Blended malts differ from blended Scotches in that blended malts only contain single malt whiskies in their components, and blended Scotches may contain both single malts and other grain whiskies.

The two particular blends in question today are both blended malts – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt from William Grant & Sons, and the three distilleries that contribute to this whisky are all owned by Grant as well.  Single malt Scotch from The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie all find their way into Monkey Shoulder to make a fine Speyside blended malt.  Monkey Shoulder is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv) and this particular batch is Batch 27.  If you are wondering about the name, Monkey Shoulder is a slang term for the soreness in the shoulder that occurs when a malt man has been turning the germinating barley for a long period of time.

Sheep Dip is a blended malt made from 16 different single malts from all over Scotland, with the famed Richard Paterson as the head blender on the project.  Sheep Dip proudly proclaims that of the different Scotch regions have been included in the whisky.  Sheep Dip is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  As far as the name on this one, “Sheep Dip” was often how whisky makers would label their products to avoid their stock being confiscated by the authorities back in the days when such things were a more common occurrence.

Now, onto the tasting…

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time...

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time…

On the nose, Monkey Shoulder is floral and sweet, with honey, vanilla, and some rich orchard fruits.  This is a classic, bourbon-aged Speyside nose.  The palate is wonderfully creamy, with orchard fruits, berries, peaches, apples, and rich honey.  The finish is relatively short with oak, vanilla cream, and drying perfume notes.  My grade: B.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is a very good introduction to what an ex-bourbon cask might do to Speyside spirits, and it is priced perfectly.

For Sheep Dip, the arrival is a bit heavier.  The nose is a funky, sherried nose, reminiscent of Edradour.  It is sweet and nutty, with notes of pralines and candied pecans.  The palate is earthier, with those pralines there, along with dates, molasses, brown sugar, and wet moss.  The finish is sweet, dry, and very short.  My grade:  C+.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is in a nice price point just like the Monkey Shoulder, but the flavors seem disjointed in Sheep Dip, like there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip...

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip…

On the whole, I do like Monkey Shoulder better, but the greater point I want to make with this post is that blended malt Scotches are great alternatives to buying single malts.  Blended malts are often high quality whiskies with great taste profiles.  If you want to introduce someone to Scotch, save the money on a single malt, but give yourself a cleaner palate and a softer alternative to the blended Scotch route.  As always, let me know what you think, and let it ride!

Tomatin 12 Year-Old Scotch Review

I started this blog with the intent of reviewing whiskeys that were affordable, and here in the United States, the best way to drink good whiskey on a budget is to buy American.  However, every once in a while, a good deal on a whisky comes a wandering across our borders.  Tomatin 12 year-old is one such whisky – affordable and quite enjoyable (and it pairs wonderfully with a bit of darts while you’re enjoying the World Championships this weekend).

Tomatin is a distillery located in the Eastern part of the Scottish Highlands, and while not an especially common single malt here in Boston, it is certainly not impossible to find.  The 12 year-old is the standard single malt from the distillery, and it is aged in a combination of first-fill ex-bourbon casks, refill American hogsheads, and refill Sherry butts before being married for an additional period in ex-sherry casks.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose on this is pleasant and fruity (apple pie), with some honeyed notes, some meaty sherry, sweet bread pudding, and a whiff of floral pleasantries as well.  The palate is soft and seductive, with malt, some fino sherry, warm nuts, and a slight waft of some warm earthy smoke.  The finish is dry and surprisingly long with pears, peat, malt, and some candied nuts.

Overall, this is a very pleasant single malt, especially if you are looking for a dry presentation of a Highland single malt.  If you are looking for a good inculcation of a Highland whisky without breaking the bank, seek out a bottle of Tomatin 12.  My grade: B.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  At the price point, it is hard to beat this one for a single malt.

Chivas Regal 18 Year Blended Scotch Review

Makes you want a dram, doesn't it?

Makes you want a dram, doesn’t it?

Well, its holiday season for a lot of folks (and the first day of winter for half of us), and that means that folks are giving all manners of whisk(e)y gifts.  Most common in the Scotch-giving arena among such gifts are popular single malts like The Glenlivet and The Macallan and upscale blends like Chivas Regal 18 yr.  What?  I haven’t reviewed Chivas 18 yr. yet?  No worries, my friends.

Chivas is one of the best-selling Scotch brands in the world, which means that Chivas is often shunned in the blogosphere.  We hipster bloggers like to review what is new, cool, and not yet popular.  Well, Chivas is not new, it is only cool in some circles, and it is most certainly popular already.  However, that does not mean Chivas is bottling a bad product or that it does not make a great gift.  Chivas 18 year-old is reasonably priced for its age, and it is beautifully packaged, making it a great present to unwrap under the tree.  But, what of the liquid in the bottle (80 proof, 40% abv)?

On the nose, Chivas is pleasant and welcoming, yielding a lot of malty and citrusy components.  I get notes of orange marmalade, pineapples, potpourri, and a hint of wood smoke.  The palate is soft and seductive, with warming oranges, dry oak, white chocolate, and a hint of wood smoke.  The finish is medium in its length, with drying oak, wood spiciness, and a drying citrus note most reminiscent of grapefruit.

Overall, this is a good gift because most people will think you paid more for it than you actually did.  As for the whisky in the bottle, it is not bad at all, but there are definitely better single malts on the market at the same price point.  Then again, the simplicity and the silky seduction of Chivas 18 make it the perfect introduction to older Scotches without breaking the bank or getting too much complexity and body.  If you’ve got a whisky lover on your list that has expressed trying some older whiskies, this would probably be a very welcome gift under the tree.  My grade: B.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  There are definitely better drams for that money, but not many of them have 18 years under their belt.

Black Friday Blends: Thoughts on some Grand Macnish Drams

Happy Friday everybody!  It is my hope that despite all that requires change, some folks reading this found something to be thankful for yesterday.  As you might have guessed, I am thankful for whisky, in almost all of its forms.  So, what I am saying today is, don’t shop at Wal-Mart; drink good whisky with good people!  Today, I am reviewing two different blended Scotches, Grand Macnish 12 year-old and Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask.”

Grand Macnish was founded in 1863, and has been making quality blends since that time. Ever since 1991, with their buyout by MacDuff International, this blend has gotten even more global.  Since the importer for Grand Macnish is based in the Greater Boston Area, I see a lot of this blend floating around, and I have had a few folks ask my thoughts on it, so here we go.

Grand Macnish 12 year-old is a standard blend in the range, bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  On the nose, this smells of the Scottish Highlands, with light heather, honeysuckle, roses, grass, and lilacs.  The palate is light-bodied with a backbone of smoked heather or smoked grasses, almost peaty.  There are also honeyed sweet notes, and some fine ripe pears.  The finish is a bit peated, evolving to a very pleasant honey sweetness.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.

Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask” is also bottled at 80 proof (40% abv), and would seem to have some sherry cask influence, but what that means exactly is left a mystery.  My guess is that there is just a bit of extra sherry cask-matured whisky in the blend (as opposed to a sherried finish), but that is just a hunch.  On the nose, this one is lightly sherried, with a little booze, oak, dry grapes, and dry sherry.  The palate is medium-bodied, with some malt, oats, raisins, dry tannins, old wood, and some sizzling steak.  The finish is medium-long with a light puff of smoke, burning wood, and some fino sherry.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.

Overall, both of these blends are crowd-pleasers and wallet-pleasers.  Neither of them will blow you away with complexity or velvety elegance, but they are both very tolerable drams that won’t break the bank.  Between the two, I probably prefer the 12 year-old, but I wouldn’t turn down a dram of either (unless it was being contrasted with a Chivas 25 year-old or some other elderly blend).  Next time you are having some folks over, and you are looking to put a blend in the cabinet, give Grand Macnish a shot.  Even if you are horribly disappointed, and it turns out that your palate is nothing like mine, you’ll only be out a third of what a single malt would cost you!  Let it ride!

Auchentoshan Valinch Scotch Review

ValinchToday, I am wandering a bit of the beaten path for this whisky review to the Lowlands of Scotland and the Auchentoshan Distillery. This review is of Auchentoshan Valinch, a limited release cask-strength single malt aged predominantly in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. There is no age statement on the Valinch, but I suspect it is between 8-12 years old. In case you are wondering where the name “Valinch” comes from, it is the name of pipette used at the distillery to draw whisky from the casks for sampling prior to the barrel being dumped. Auchentoshan is a unique distillery in that it is the only distillery in Scotland to triple-distill all of their spirit, helping it to achieve its classic Lowland profile. This particular bottle I am reviewing is from Auchentoshan’s 2012 release of Valinch, and it weighs in at 114.4 proof (57.2% proof).

On the nose, this is soft, elegant stuff. There are notes of sautéed pears, oranges, and some lilacs. It is a pleasant nose, but not such a complex one. Water intensifies the nose, but the general character remains straightforward as before. The palate is quite nice, full-bodied, and creamy. There are notes of crème brulee, tangerines, big vanilla, honeysuckle, oak, and some light florals. The finish is medium-long, with some drying oak, fresh wood, pears, and oranges.

Overall, this is a good, young bottle of whisky. It is rather drinkable despite its proof, but still brings a nice complexity to the table. If you enjoy Irish whiskeys such as Bushmill’s single malt or Redbreast’s lineup, I suspect you will enjoy Auchentoshan Valinch very much. Here in Boston, this is a beautiful dram to have around the house as spring seeks to muscle in on the long winter. My grade: B/B+. Price: $50-60/750ml. This whisky won’t break the bank, and it caters to many different palates.

The Glenlivet Nàdurra 16 Year Scotch Review

Today’s review is of another well-priced cask strength whisky, The Glenlivet Nàdurra 16 year old.  This is the only cask strength whisky in The Glenlivet standard range, released in small batches on an annual basis.  The specific batch reviewed here is Batch 0113V, bottled in January 2013, and weighing in at 113.8 proof (56.9% abv).  Every batch of The Glenlivet Nàdurra (meaning “natural” in Gaelic) is aged exclusively in first-fill American oak casks, giving the whisky a lot of cask influence.

Over time, a barrel begins to lose its effectiveness as an aging vessel for whisky.  As a general rule, the more spirit a barrel holds, the less effective it is at aging spirit.  Therefore, for the most pronounced flavor profile with respect to the cask, first-fill casks are the most effective.  Many whisky companies reserve first-fill casks for their premium expressions, such as The Glenlivet does with the Nàdurra 16 year.  However, the opposite can also be true.  If a distillery would like to bottle an expression that showcases the raw spirit more than the cask, refill casks provide much of the same aging quality without influencing the flavor profile as much.  Talisker Storm is a good example of an expression that uses refill casks to allow the smokiness of the spirit to come through more.

In the glass, this whisky is a beautiful straw gold color.  On the nose, this is classic Glenlivet.  Golden delicious apples, vanilla, honeysuckle, and malted barley are all evident in the nose, although it is a slightly subdued nose (even with water added).  The palate is where this whisky really starts to shine, bringing a creamy mouthfeel and notes of green apples, honeysuckle, crème brulee, and vanilla.  As a whole, the palate is over-arched by the classic floral notes of Glenlivet whiskies.  The finish is medium to long, with drying floral, oaky, and perfumed notes, with twinges of vanilla and honey sweetness that have become more pronounced as I have gone through the bottle.  With water, the nose opens up a bit, and the palate sweetens a bit, but I really like this best at its full strength.

Overall, this is a very good expression of The Glenlivet, perhaps the truest expression of the distillery’s profile.  If you like The Glenlivet 12 year and you are looking to treat yourself, spend a few extra bucks and grab this whisky, you will not be disappointed.  This is a wonderfully warming whisky, with the straightforward simplicity of The Glenlivet’s range, coupled with the creaminess and body of a cask strength whisky.  My grade: B+.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  This is one of the best deals for a cask strength whisky, and one of the best introductions to cask strength presentations on the market today.  If you have been wondering what the cask strength craze is about, this is a great place to start letting it ride!

Aberlour A’Bunadh Scotch Review

Aberlour is one of my favorite distilleries in the Speyside region of Scotland because of their reasonably priced single malts and the sherried character of their finished spirit, and I thought it high time to review one of their fine whiskies.  The A’Bunadh (meaning “of the origin” in Gaelic) is an expression that Aberlour launched in 2000 to much critical acclaim.  A’Bunadh is produced in small batches, so it does vary from batch to batch, but there are all matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at cask strength without chill-filtration or coloring.  A’Bunadh never carries an age statement, which allows Aberlour to blend whiskies from all ages to get the deep myriad of sherried flavors found in A’Bunadh.  I have had several batches of this whisky (and they are all very good), but this specific review is of Batch 45, weighing in at a hefty 120.4 proof (60.2% abv).

The A’Bunadh is a dark, ruby hue (almost the color of Bargain Bourbon’s background) coming exclusively from the years in the European oak.  On the nose, the A’Bunadh is dark and spicy, with notes of dates, figs, wet oak, apples, and a bit of smoke.  The palate is really where this whisky takes off, though.  The palate is full-bodied with a lot of dense, deep, dark sweetness.  I taste dark chocolate, marzipan, pecans, mocha, sherry, plantains, and some citrus peels.  The finish is long, dry, and warming, with flavors of old wood, espresso, and Fig Newtons.  With water, this whisky gets a little sweeter, but balances the sweetness with spices like cinnamon and ginger.  It is just as delicious at cask strength as it is with a few drops of water.

Overall, I am a huge fan of Aberlour A’Bundadh, especially this batch.  It takes water beautifully, but is perfectly delicious at cask strength.  If you are seeking out a reasonably priced cask strength single malt, Aberlour A’Bunadh is a great place to start.  It is a complex whisky, well-balanced between sweet and spicy, but it is also a straightforward dram with the Oloroso sherry influence coming through in full force.  Connoisseurs and beginners alike will find something to love with a bottle of A’Bunadh.  My grade: A.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  In the price range, for the quality of this whisky, Aberlour A’Bunadh continues to be one of the best deals around.

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