Posts tagged ‘Speyside’

Aberlour Single Malt Scotch Comparison Review: The Standard Range

The holiday season is upon us, which usually means there is a bottle of Aberlour A’bunadh somewhere on my shelf.  However, I live in Pennsylvania now, and that particular single malt is a rather hard and expensive find nowadays (it has been replaced by another cask strength sherried dram).  So, in memory of the days long ago when this majestic single malt graced my cabinet, I’m reviewing some other Aberlour whiskies instead.  Today’s review will encompass the standard range (save the A’bunadh).

Santa Claus

Photo Courtesy: whiskydisks.com

Aberlour 12 year-old – This is the base malt at Aberlour, double-matured in both “traditional oak” and sherry casks.  I am not sure exactly what “traditional oak” means, but I suspect it means American oak hogsheads.  Aberlour 12 yr. is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose has turpentine, burning wood, sherry, potpourri, vanilla, and orange peels.  The palate brings a soft wood smoke overnote, with good oak, wood shavings, leather, sherry, and vanilla.  The finish is short and sweet with a little Fino sherry and orange peel.

Overall, this is a fine single malt, with a pleasant, inviting sherry influence.  However, there are some notes in this whisky that I find unpleasant, almost as if there was some wood used that was left out in the sun too long.  This is not a bad single malt; its just not my favorite of the range.  My grade: C+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  At the price point, there are other whiskies I would prefer to this one.

Aberlour 12 year-old (Non-Chill Filtered) – This whisky is also aged in two types of casks, but the difference here is the higher bottling proof and the lack of chill-filtration, preserving the oils and fats of the whisky.  It is bottled at 96 proof (48% abv).

The nose is lightly sherried with some nice spice, ginger and lemon zest.  The palate is quite delicious.  The sherry really comes through here, with some bitter dark chocolate, orange peel, ginger, and drying oak.  I find the palate drying in a good way; it makes me want more whisky.  The finish is also quite dry and medium-short.  There are some nice oak notes that linger, as well as some fine strawberries wrapped in dark chocolate (possibly chocolate covered raisins).

This is a definite step up from the standard Aberlour 12, with a lot more body and depth in it.  It’s a hard whisky to find, especially compared with the standard Aberlour 12 year-old, but it’s worth a try if you can grab a bottle.  My grade: B.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  Of the two whiskies, go with the non-chill filtered expression of Aberlour 12.

Aberlour 16 year-old – This whisky is double-matured in first-fill bourbon casks as well as ex-Sherry casks, all to the ripe age of sweet sixteen.  It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose does not yield big sherried notes like I was expecting, but it is still very pleasant, with some heather, malt, brown sugar, red berries, vanilla, and some raisins.  The palate is both malty and woody, but also presents florals, heather, and freshly cut hay.  It is a well-balanced palate, but a bit soft.  The finish is short, with some orange cream and heather honey.

Even after sixteen long years of aging, it’s hard for me to get into this whisky.  It is just a bit too soft, too placid for my tastes.  There are some good flavors present, but they are fleeting.  To me, it tastes younger than sixteen years old.  I would love to see this expression given the non-chill filtration treatment.  My grade: B-.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  Despite the reasonable price on this malt given its age, I don’t think this whisky is living up to its full potential.

Aberlour 18 year-old – This is the senior member of the Aberlour lineup, the oldest whisky in the standard range.  This whisky has steeped in both Bourbon and Oloroso casks for 18 long years, and come out on the other side with glowing qualities.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose is not nearly as sherried as you might expect, like the 16 year-old, but it does smell wonderful, presenting sweet orange cream, vanilla cream, peaches, apricots, potpourri, and plums.  This is a wonderful, full, creamy nose.  The palate is medium bodied, with toffee, vanilla cream, and dark honey.  The finish is medium-long, longer than I expected, with full oak, vanilla, orange cream, and fresh apricots.

On the whole, this is my favorite whisky in the standard range.  The texture in the mouth is creamy and mouth-coating, and the flavors of the aged Aberlour malt are present in full force.  This whisky is complex, deep, but accessible and delicious.  The double-maturation has brought the casks together in nearly perfect harmony in this expression.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $100-125/750ml.  This is the most expensive whisky in the standard range, but it is a brilliant 18 year-old Speyside whisky that will suit quite nicely for any special occasion.

The truth is that the Aberlour A’bunadh is still the top dog for me when it comes to Aberlour.  Unlike the whiskies I reviewed today, the A-Bunadh is aged exclusively in Oloroso casks and bottled at its cask strength.  I have tasted no better Aberlour to this point, including independently bottled single casks.  However, the 18 year-old is one hell of a whisky in its own right, striding through one’s cabinet in a smoking jacket of delicious flavor and character, but it does not come cheap.  For the money, if you can find the 12 year-old in its non-chill filtered version, it’s well worth the purchase.  Most importantly, have a happy and safe holiday season from Bargain Bourbon!  Let it ride!

 

 

 

 

Ardmore Traditional Cask Scotch Review

Ardmore Traditional CaskToday, I am continuing Scotchvember at Bargain Bourbon with a review of Ardmore Traditional Cask.  Ardmore is a unique distillery because it hardly fits the flavor profile of its region.  As I discussed in my review of some McClelland’s whiskies, each Scotch region tends towards a specific flavor profile.  Ardmore is usually considered to be within the Speyside region of Scotland (even though Ardmore considers itself a “Highland Single Malt”).  Speyside is the most popular Scotch region, known for soft, elegant, fruity, and malty whiskies.  Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland, and the three most popular single malts in the world (Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, and The Macallan) all hail from Speyside.  What sets Ardmore apart is that it is smoky and peaty, much more reminiscent of an Islay Scotch than it is of a Speysider.

Ardmore Traditional Cask is the standard entry-level offering from the distillery, and it is aged in ex-bourbon casks for about 6-8 years, and then finished in quarter casks (125 liters) for an extra period before aging.  There is no age statement on the bottle, but most of the whisky in the bottle will be about 8 years old.  If the process sounds similar to Laphroaig Quarter Cask, it is.  In fact, both distilleries are owned by the same parent company, Beam Global.  Ardmore Traditional Cask is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46 % abv).

On the nose, this whisky has a medium peat backbone (not quite the dense peat of Laphroaig, for example), with a nice rounded sweetness in the form of honey and vanilla.  The palate is medium-bodied and creamy with a lot of sweet flavors, like brown sugar, honey, and vanilla all wrapped up in a warming peat smoke.  The finish is medium-long and fairly drying.  There is a woody tannic bite that comes in on the finish, but those pleasant sweet flavors from the palate are still present.  There is definitely a lot influence from the bourbon casks in this one, which is allowed to shine through a more gentle peat than in Ardbeg or Laphroaig.

Overall, Ardmore is a lighter, softer take on a peated whisky.  It does drink a little young, but it is still a very pleasant pour.  Ardmore offers new drinkers a great introduction to peated whisky without knocking all the wind out of your palate, nor is it an especially deep whisky.  Despite its youth, Ardmore drinks well below its elevated proof point, making for a warming, yet delicate dram.  My grade: B.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  At the price point, Ardmore Traditional Cask is a fantastic value whisky, well worth letting it ride on this peated Speysider.

The Balvenie 12 yr DoubleWood Scotch Review

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 yearSorry for my hiatus folks, but I was busy becoming a Master of Theological Studies.  This, of course, means that I was drinking more and reviewing less, which I am hoping to remedy over the next few weeks (the reviewing, I mean).  Today’s review is of The Balvenie 12 year DoubleWood, a single malt Scotch from the Speyside valley.  The DoubleWood label refers to the fact that all the whisky has been aged primarily in American oak, and then transferred to first-fill Sherry casks before bottling.  The Balvenie has an extensive range of whiskies, many of them finished in various other barrels (the 21 year Portwood is my favorite of the editions I have tried), and The Balvenie has recently won a lot of accolades for their Tun 1401 collection.  However, like most distilleries, The Balvenie still makes their money off their flagship whisky, the 12 year old DoubleWood.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

On the nose, this whisky is mostly sweet.  There are notes of honey, sweet malt, rum raisins, spiced pecans, and toasted wood.  The palate is medium-bodied, smooth, and sweet.  There is a nice balance of malt, oak, and a wee bit of peat.  The finish leaves a bit of oaked spiciness, but it is a rather short finish.

Overall, I wish the finish would last longer, but this is a fine whisky.  It is a great example of what a little bit of sherry influence can do with a light Speyside malt.  It is a short, sweet, well-put together Scotch whisky.  My grade: B-.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is a good, solid single malt, but I do think there are better whiskies at lower prices, especially if you are looking for a simple, light Speysider.

Holiday Whiskey Comparison Review: Part 2 – 18 yr. Scotch Whisky

For part 2 of my comparison of 18 year-old whiskies, I am reviewing an 18 year-old Islay and an 18 year-old Speyside.  In my opinion, Islay whisky is bottled best at younger ages because the peat smoke stays lively and fresh.  On the contrary, Speyside whisky is bottled best at older ages because the light, floral, fruity new make benefits from the extra years in the oak to bring the complexity out in the whisky.  Of course, like my first comparison review, whenever you are buying an old and rare Scotch, do your research.  Not all whiskies are created the same, and not all whiskies age well.

Before getting to the reviews, I have to set forth a disclaimer.  I have not bought a bottle of either of these Scotches.  I have drank the Laphroaig 18 yr. on several occasions, but I have only tried The Glenlivet 18 yr. on one occasion.  Therefore, take my tasting notes with a bit more salt than usual.

Laphroaig 18 yr. is bottled at 96 proof, giving it a little more body.  On the nose, Laphroaig 18 yr. is classic Laphroaig.  There are notes of salted pork, peat, smoke, fresh barley, seaweed, and soft honey.  The palate has a solid backbone of toasted nuts, but the salt and peat of Laphroaig never leaves.  There are also notes of dark vanilla, honey, salted caramel, and some oak.  The palate lacks structure, but it is still big, full, and complex.  The finish is a wonderful, long Laphroaig finish, with some lingering sweet oak surrounded by the peat and smoke of a Laphroaig whisky.

Overall, this is fantastic whisky that intensifies a lot of the subtle flavors in other Laphroaig expressions.  However, it lacks structure, and it seems to wander as a whisky.  That is not a bad thing; it is just a difference between the 18 year and other expressions of Laphroaig.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  This is a very good whisky, but there are better expressions from Laphroaig that are available at better prices.

 

 The Glenlivet 18 year-old is a much different whisky.  It is bottled at 86 proof, slightly higher than the 12 and the 15 year-old expressions.  On the nose, there is some oloroso sherry, but is not overpowering.  There are notes of hazelnuts, walnuts, cereal grains, and agave nectar.  The palate is sheer brilliance.  It opens with sherried nuts, but it moves to a complex sweetness of cinnamon apples and spiced dark honey.  The finish is long, with a lot of oloroso sherry.  It is warming, with some drying oak and sweet vanilla.

Overall, this is an awesome whisky.  The palate is one of the best I have tried.  It takes the fruitiness of The Glenlivet spirit, and transforms it into a complex, warming dram perfect for all seasons.  My grade: A.  Price: $80-90/750ml.  This is an incredible dram, worth the money for the most special of occasions.

Between the two whiskies, I clearly prefer The Glenlivet 18.  However, they are both whiskies to be savored, and they should both be on your holiday gift list if such things are your flavor.  I believe The Glenlivet 18 is the best of the range, whereas I believe there are at least two Laphroaig whiskies (Quarter Cask and 10 year-old Cask Strength) that are much better value than the 18.  Of course, what you like is all up to you.  Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and let it ride!

 

The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Review

Today, I am reviewing The Black Grouse blended Scotch Whisky.  Up to this point on the website, the only Scotches that I have reviewed have been single malts.  The difference between a single malt Scotch and a Blended Scotch is that the former is comprised of whisky made from a single mash bill, whereas blended scotches are made up of multiple whiskies blended into one.  Typically, a bottler like The Famous Grouse (creators of the Black Grouse) gets its whisky from other distilleries, but occasionally one of the whiskies will be self-distilled.  Generally speaking, blended Scotches are cheaper than single malts, mostly because single malts receive better ratings at whisky tastings.  However, that is not to say that all single malts are better than all blended Scotches.  In an effort to showcase a fine blended Scotch, I present my review of The Black Grouse.

The Black Grouse is made by blending The Famous Grouse (another fine blended whisky) with peated single malts from Islay.  It creates a very nice balance between the smoke of an Islay whisky and the fruits and florals of a Speyside.

On the nose, The Black Grouse is spicy and smoky, with good notes of peat, but also balanced with dried fruits and light sherry.  The palate is light-bodied, but very enjoyable.  It is mostly peaty, but there are some subtle notes of dried apricots and orange peels that whisper in the background.  The finish is medium-long, and it moves from smoke and peat to sweet oak and some cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whisky is not as bold or as complex as a single malt Speyside (like The MaCallan) or a single malt Islay (like Bunnahabhain).  However, it blends the two Scotch regions together wonderfully, making it a great introduction to peated Scotch.   My grade: C+.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a nice blended whisky, worthy of having in the cabinet.

Comparison Review: The Glenlivet 12 year vs. The MaCallan 12 year Sherry Oak

I have had some requests recently for reviews of single-malt Scotches that weigh in a good value.  Of course, one of the reasons I drink mostly bourbon is because it is a domestic product, which makes it a better value buy than Scotch (which is made exclusively in Scotland).  However, if you are willing to spend a few more dollars, there are definitely some very good single-malt Scotches on the market today.  Scotch whisky is usually delineated by the region of Scotland that the whisky comes from.  Today, I am reviewing a pair of Speyside whiskies, The Glenlivet 12 year and The MaCallan 12 year Sherry Oak, both bottled at 80 proof.  While most whiskies in the Speyside region have similar flavor profiles, there are some significant differences from whisky to whisky and distillery to distillery.

The Glenlivet is one of the most famous distilleries in all of Scotland, and it is also one of the most popular single-malt Scotches.  I must give credit to The Glenlivet because it was one of the first whiskies that I ever had that I truly loved.  Over the years, it has slipped a bit on my list, but it is still one of my favorite Speyside Scotches.  The Glenlivet bottles many different expressions of whisky, but The Glenlivet 12 year is their most recognizable, available in almost every liquor store and bar in the United States.

On the nose, The Glenlivet 12 year is light, but rich.  Fresh fruits and fresh flowers dominate the air, with slight whispers of vanilla and citrus.  I once described smelling The Glenlivet to sitting next to a lilac bush while eating an orange.  On the palate, the sweet, citrus flavors of the fruits give way to a sweetness of honey and almond.  The citrus zest only wafts in the background.  The finish comes back to the nose, with citrus and floral notes.  It is light, yet moderately long.  My grade: B.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  This is a nice, light Speyside, perfect for a daily pour.  This is a great whisky to have around the house if you don’t mind the price tag.

The MaCallan is another very popular Speyside distillery, also providing many different expressions of their whisky.  Most of their standard offerings are aged in either Fine (a mix of Spanish and American) Oak, or Sherry Oak, which gives each expression a distinct flavor profile.  Although The MaCallan is not as well-known as The Glenlivet, it is still a very popular product.

On the nose, The MaCallan 12 year Sherry Oak is dark and rich.  There are notes of hazelnuts and almonds, mixed with dried fruits (plantains and raisins).  The palate is dense with dark chocolate and dark, dried fruits.  As the whisky moves towards the finish, the oak begins to emerge.  The finish is rich with oak, both sweet and smoky, followed by a hint of vanilla as the finish lingers for a long time.  My grade: B.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is a very nice pour, but there are usually whiskies I reach for over this one if I am looking to spend more than $50.

Overall, both these whiskies are very good; they are almost two different sides of the same coin.  If you were to see the two side by side, you would instantly notice a difference in color.  The Glenlivet is a soft gold, whereas The MaCallan is a rich, dark amber.  The Glenlivet presents the softer, more delicate side of Speyside whisky, and The MaCallan represents the darker, oakier side of Speyside Scotch.  They are both very good whiskies, and good introductions into the wonderful world of Scotch whisky.

Comparison Review: Scotch Styles, McClelland’s Speyside vs. McClelland’s Lowland

I have been asked by several people to begin posting reviews of non-bourbon whiskeys that also fit the mission of bargainbourbon.com.  In that vein, I am doing a comparison review of two great value Scotches that I am fond of.  But first, a few brief words about Scotch Whisky.

Like bourbon to America, Scotch Whisky is made in Scotland.  Unlike bourbon, Scotch is made primarily from barley, although some other cereal grains are occasionally added.  In addition, Scotch varies significantly depending on the region of Scotland that the whisky comes from.  Obviously, each distillery is a little different, but most regions have a distinct flavor profile embodied by the distilleries in that region.

McClelland’s is a Scotch distributor that sources and bottles whisky from different regions of Scotland.  As such, McClelland’s whisky is usually pretty cheap (between $20-$30), and it gives a good introduction to a region’s flavor profile before diving headlong into a Scotch that costs $50 a bottle.  McClelland’s makes single malt Scotches, which means that all of the whisky in the bottle is made from the same mash.  Blended Scotches like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar’s are made from blending different Scotches from different distilleries in order to get the desired product.  Generally speaking, single malts are crisper with a more distinct flavor profile, hence their appeal to whisky drinkers.  Now, on to the whisky…

The Speyside region of Scotland is the most well-known Scotch region, home to about half the distilleries in Scotland.  It is a relatively small region located in the Northeast of Scotland, where the Spey River enters the North Sea.  Distilleries such as The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glenrothes, The MaCallan, Aberlour, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie are all found in the Speyside region.  As a general flavor profile, most Speyside whiskies strike a balance between fruity and floral notes and richer flavors of vanilla and oak.

On the nose, McClelland’s Speyside reminds me of Andes Mint candy.  It is fresh and minty, with some whispers of dark chocolate and fresh cut pine evergreens.  On the palate, the whisky is sweet and nutty, with the most prominent notes being almonds and hazelnuts.  The finish is moderately long, starting with light, piney flavors, and moving towards smoky pine and smoked peat at the end.  Like most of McClelland’s products, the Speyside is not very complex, but it gives a crisp, clear introduction to Speyside whisky.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a great daily whisky.  It is a great anchor for any cabinet.

The Lowland region of Scotland is located in the south, and it is only home to a few active distilleries nowadays.  As a flavor profile, the Lowland Scotches are known for being very delicate and subtle.  They tend to be fresh and floral, with an almost silky or buttery texture.  Their popularity has died out a little bit in the past few decades as the whisky market has tended towards the massive flavor profiles of Islay Scotches and the Highland and Speyside regions.  However, Lowland Scotches are unique and fantastic whiskies.

On the nose, McClelland’s Lowland is mostly floral and citrusy.  There are notes of lemons and tangerines, coupled with dense floral notes of roses and lilacs.  This whisky is a pure joy to smell.  The palate is earthy and sweet, almost as if chewing on an orange or lemon peel.  The whisky is oily on the palate, feeling like melted butter in the mouth.  The finish is short and fairly weak.  It leaves a perfume-ish taste in the back of the mouth, but it is not very complex or powerful.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is great daily whisky, not as complex as the Speyside, but it anchors a cabinet just as well.

Overall, I prefer McClelland’s Speyside to McClelland’s Lowland.  However, if you are looking for a gateway whisky, a Lowland Scotch is a great place to start because of how easy the whisky is to drink neat.  These are both great introductions to Scotch, so give them a try and let it ride!