Posts tagged ‘Cask Strength’

The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured Single Malt Scotch Review

2016 Gary Anderson WDC

Congratulations to Scotsman Gary Anderson on defending his World Darts Championship Title to kick off 2016! Have a glass, Gary!

Happy New Year, everybody!  My first review of 2016 is a bit of a follow up to my final review of 2015.  In my last review, I mentioned that I have not yet found a better Aberlour than the A’Bunadh, but it is a bit out of my price range and hard to find here in Pennsylvania.  But, what if I found a cask strength, Oloroso-matured single malt that could operate as a substitute?  So, without further ado, here is my review of some Oloroso-matured whisky from The Glenlivet.

Traditionally, the Nàdurra lineup has been comprised of cask strength whiskies matured in (often first-fill, but occasionally refill) bourbon casks.  However, The Glenlivet has recently different takes on their Nàdurra lineup over the last few years, and I am reviewing one such batch today.  This review is of batch OL0614 (the final four digits are the bottling month/year), which is aged entirely in Oloroso casks and bottled without chill filtration.  There is no age statement on this whisky, and comes in at a lovely 121.4 proof (60.7% abv).

This is a rich, amber mahogany.  The nose smells of Oloroso sherry, with macerated grapes, blackberry jam, and a slight hint of ginger and allspice.  On the whole, it is a sweet, pleasing nose.  The palate is medium-bodied, perhaps a little lighter on the entry than I was expecting.  There are notes of sweet sherry, gingerbread, and drying oak present.  It is a pleasing palate, although not an especially complex one.  The finish is long and warming, with a wonderful puff of spiced pecans, along with sherry, mahogany, and gingerbread cookies.  Water brings out a more intense sherried nose, and a more jammy, sticky palate.  The finish doesn’t quite have the potency it does at cask strength, though.

Overall, this is a nice, simple sherried single malt. It doesn’t have the depth, complexity, or intensity of some other sherried whiskies, but it is a great inculcation of the style.  To be honest, there is just something missing here; I can’t put my finger on it, but this whisky just does not whisk me away to a magical land.  It is good, for sure, but it does not live up to the Aberlour A’Bunadh for me.  That said, if you’re looking for an introduction to a cask strength, sherried whisky, this is a very good start.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  For a whisky at this strength, this is a good value buy to keep around your cabinet this winter.

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Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Review

A few years back, Maker’s Mark made big bourbon headlines when they announced that there was not enough 6 year-old stock to go around, and Maker’s Mark’s flagship bourbon was going to be bottled at 84 proof instead of its traditional 90 proof.  Needless to say, there were not a lot of people happy about this announcement – especially since there were a lot of folks that already wanted to see Maker’s at something higher than 90 proof.  Not long after, Maker’s Mark had a change of heart (or supply), and brought back the standard 90 proof.  What ensued was even more mysterious – Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.  The particular bottle I have on hand is from Batch 15-03, and it is 111.4 proof (55.7% abv).  The general consensus among the whiskey-drinking public is that Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bottles are probably about the same age (6 years) as Maker’s Mark, but that does vary from batch to batch.

The nose is wonderful and warm, with sticky cinnamon buns, sugar vanilla frosting, blueberries, blackberry jam, fresh corn, and sawdust.  It is a hot nose at bottle strength, but there is a lot going on (although water opens the nose a little bit, it takes away some of the intensity of the flavor, so I prefer this one neat).  Every time I pour a glass of this bourbon, I enjoy sniffing it for quite a long while.  The palate is medium to full in its body, with some eucalyptus, mint, sawdust, corn, caramel, and brown sugar. This is definitely a soft, wheated profile, but with a lot of body, and a good amount of spice along with it.  The finish leaves toffee, walnuts, caramel, and a warming (slightly bitter) oak note across the palate, lingering for a good long while.  Overall, this is a very good bourbon with a lot going on, and a different side of Maker’s Mark.  There is more spice and oak influence here, but it does come through a bit tannic through the end of the bourbon.

This is a picture of a Reuben sandwich because everyone already knows what a Maker's Mark bottle looks like.

This is a picture of a Reuben sandwich because everyone already knows what a Maker’s Mark bottle looks like.

Maker’s Mark has definitely answered some prayers with this bourbon.  It is big, bold, and is just what you would expect.  It has all the traditional flavors of Maker’s Mark, just ramped up a lot.  Truth be told, this bourbon might be one of the best-smelling bourbons I have ever lifted up to my nose.  In my humble opinion, the palate didn’t quite live up to the nose’s billing, but this is still a fantastic whisky at a fantastic price for a cask strength bourbon.  My grade: B+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  There just aren’t a lot of bourbons at 111.4 proof that you can find on the market for under $70, which is what makes this bourbon an absolute winner.

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.

Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength Irish Whiskey Review

In my protest against the debauchery of St. Patrick’s Day, I waited until after March 17th had passed to review one of my favorite Irish drams – the Redbreast 12 year-old, bottled at its full cask strength.  I reviewed the standard Redbreast 12 year last year, and was left wanting more.  Having tried a few different batches of the Redbreast at its cask strength, I am quite satisfied.  This inculcation of the Redbreast’s single pot still whiskey is aged exclusively in ex-Sherry casks, and is non-chill filtered.  This particular review is of Batch B1/12, which comes in at 117.2 proof (58.6% abv).

On the nose, this whiskey is dense with barley, banana peels, dark chocolate, wood sealant, lemon-lime soda, fresh red apples, and some old driftwood.  The nose is a unique, funky blend of spirit and cask, only hinting at its lifetime in ex-Sherry wood.  The palate reveals the sherried character a little more.  It is an oily and full-bodied palate, with notes of red apples, Amontillado and Fino sherry, dark chocolate, white chocolate, raisins, and dried blackberries.  The finish is long and warming, with a wonderful combination of sherried character, mocha, vanilla, strawberry, and a soft, oaky woodiness.

Overall, this is a deep and powerful dram that opens up beautifully with a drop or two of water.  Not all Irish whiskey is soft and smooth; this one opens up with both barrels, and does not give up easy.  It is also delicious and intriguing from start to finish.  If sherry-aged Scotch is your thing, give the Redbreast Cask Strength a try, and let it ride.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  With this only being about $15 more than the standard Redbreast, I’ll go for this one every day of the week.

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!

Why Bottle Whiskey at Barrel Strength?

Recently, I have had a few folks inquire as to what is better about a barrel strength whiskey and why a distillery would consider bottling a whiskey without cutting it with water.  So, I thought I would provide the basics as to why distilleries might bottle their whiskey at barrel strength.

First, it is important to remember that “barrel strength” does not necessarily that a whiskey is a monstrous proof point.  Not all whiskeys are George T. Stagg at 140 proof.  Some old Scotches are bottled at barrel strength and are only 85 or so proof.  It all depends on the temperature and the humidity of the site where the whiskey is aged combined with the proof that the whiskey entered the barrel.  In Kentucky’s heat and humidity, a whiskey tends to increase proof in the barrel, whereas in Scotland’s damp, cool environment, a whisky tends to decrease proof in the barrel.

Secondly, not all high proof whiskey burns (I only mention this caveat because it is what some folks immediately think when they see a barrel strength whiskey on the shelves).  When a whiskey is in the barrel, whiskey escapes (the angel’s share) and air enters to soften the whiskey.  That reaction is part of what helps a whiskey mellow over time.  As a result, a whiskey at 80 proof right off the still is likely to be harsher than a barrel strength whiskey that is 15 years old.  There are many barrel strength whiskeys that I enjoy best at their full strength.

From an economic standpoint, bottling at barrel strength does not always seem like the best option because a barrel can go much further with water added before bottling.  This is precisely the reason Maker’s Mark threatened to decrease the proof of their bourbon.  They were running low on their stocks, and they wanted to get more bottled product out of each barrel.  This is also the reason that barrel strength whiskeys are more expensive; there is just less of it to go around.

Even with the economic and stocking disadvantages, there are still important reasons that distilleries choose to sell their whiskey at barrel strength.  Chief among these reasons is taste.  In many cases, barrel strength whiskeys are deeper and more complex because all of the fats and flavors are still left in the spirit.  When a whiskey is at its full strength, there are no tasting notes left out.  Furthermore, whoever is drinking the whiskey has the freedom to add water to his or her liking.  As water is added and the proof is lowered, the whiskey will evolve, giving more and more layers as the drinkers sits and sips.

Essentially, bottling a whiskey at barrel strength allows the full whiskey experience to shine through, allowing the consumer to choose what proof they would most like to enjoy the whiskey.  As an illustration, compare my review of Laphroaig 10 Year with my review of Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength.  The latter packs a level of depth that the former cannot hope to measure up to at a mere 80 proof.  In the bourbon world, a great example is W.L. Weller 12 year compared with William Larue Weller.  The W.L. Weller is a very good wheated bourbon, with soft, sweet flavors of maple sugars, vanilla, and butterscotch.  However, in William Larue Weller (bottled at barrel strength), those sweet flavors are compounded with plums, dark berry fruits, and a rich mahogany woodiness.  Of course, the rub is that both Laphroaig 10 year and W.L. Weller 12 year are very good value, whereas their barrel strength siblings are significantly more expensive and hard to find.  But, if you have ever been curious, take a shot and snag a bottle of your favorite whiskey at barrel strength and let it ride!

Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength (Batch 004) Scotch Review

Well, I got done my work earlier than expected this evening, so I am rewarding myself with a whisky review of one of my favorites.  I’ve had tried several bottles of this batch at my local watering hole, and I think I have done enough reviewing to preach the goodness of batch 004 of Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength.  This batch was distilled in 2002, bottled in January 2012, and it is non-chill filtered at 116.6 proof (58.3% abv).

Laphroaig 10 yr Cask StrengthThis Scotch whisky carries an interesting story with it.  During Prohibition in the United States, Laphroaig was still allowed to import their whisky at its cask strength as cough medicine because the United States government deemed the whisky too strong and medicinal to be consumed recreationally.  However, in the new whisky market, the consumer’s palate has shifted to stronger, powerfully flavored whiskies, and Laphroaig fits that bill perfectly.  (Note: This stuff is plenty strong enough to be used as cough medicine, even today.)

On the nose, this whisky is classic Laphroaig – salty, peaty, and smoky.  With a few drops of water, the nose turns to a delightful, sweet smoke, like sweet Italian sausage cooked over an open bonfire.  However, the palate is where this whisky is brilliant.  Drank neat, the whisky is peat and smoke, with some malty undertones all in perfect balance.  There is a wonderful peaches n’ cream note that works through the palate of this whisky that makes me unbelievably happy.  The finish is very long, with hints of oak shavings around a warming layer of sweet, wet peat.  Water brings the palate into a more drinkable balance, but I tend to lose that lovely sweetness on the palate at lower proof points, so I usually drink this one straight up.

Overall, this is brilliant whisky if you love peated Islay single malts.  Compared to other Islay bottlings at cask strength, this one is a great deal, and phenomenal value.  That said, if you are a Speyside drinker (light, fruity, floral), this one probably isn’t up your alley.  My grade: APrice: $60-70/750ml.  This one could also be an A/A-, but I am in a generous mood this evening.  Make no mistake, though.  This is one hell of a Scotch whisky.

For a review of the 2007 bottling, here is a link to William’s review at A Dram Good Time.