I honestly didn’t know if I would survive Whisky Week: six days of thoughtful tasting, hearty eating, and outright shameless boozing. But with a little bit of restraint I was able to navigate through the myriad of scotch sessions, whiskey dinners, and partying all the way to Friday’s Whisky Fest. And then beyond to the Ardbeg Committee meeting on Saturday (Alligator!). And was it ever worth it. I’ll be writing a series of posts covering the various angles of the main event and the week that led up to it, but here I’ll start with a basic review of some of the more interesting tables at Whisky Fest. For those who care not for elaboration, let me say now that it was awesome. Let me also thank Ms. Joan McGinley at Malt Advocate for providing a press pass (no, I didn’t pay to go, but now that I know how cool it was, I honestly would have had I the extra cash and been without such… esteemed press credentials).
I’ll begin at the chronological beginning, when I waltzed in for the VIP hour. Since the line for Simon’s Laphroaig (and Ardmore) table was already of significant length and girth, I decided to steer toward more open waters (of life). …Where I found some of my favourite whiskies of the nite. While I did my best to remain coherent (yes, un/fortunately I did some spitting), some of my tasting notes were definitely of the dubious variety and I’ll be quoting here from my notepad to ensure proper reporting of the WF experience, nonsense and all.
After enjoying talking with John Glaser about Compass Box and especially their aged grain whisky, Hedonism, which I certainly recommend to anyone as an educational experiment, I found the Old Potrero Rye (think Anchor Brewing) table.
The Old Potrero 18th Century expression uses both new and used toasted oak barrels; I found the nose nice and jammy, the mouth complex with butterscotch laid over an array of spices, and the finish excellent with rye bread and caraway seed. A real treat, and highly recommended.
The BenRiach 1995 Single Cask, peated and finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry butt, was a rare bottle that went quickly. Subtle smoke on an oddly muted nose was easily upstaged by “grilled cherries” (what?), creamy vanilla, and a touch of smoke on the palate. The 1995 Glendronach PX was perhaps a better vehicle for the sticky sherry finishing, sporting a waxy nose with crayons and “something from my youth” (yikes) plus a jammy palate with sticky sweets.
During the VIP hour I was able to try both of the new Octomore releases—v. 2.0 and the Orpheus v. 2.2. At 140 ppm phenol content, the v. 2.0, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, tasted of burnt, buttered biscuits with a “real rubber fire” on the nose. The Orpheus, however, is aged in those same barrels but finished in Chateau Petrus casks. And wow: a smokey, fleshy, fruity, and briney nose plus viney, winey, and sutbly fruity flavours that build on the palate toward an intense rush of smoke that takes over on a wave of anticipation. Great stuff. Too bad it’s such a limited release, but that’s why we go to Whisky Fest, afterall.
The Wemyss offerings were all fairly interesting, including the “Speyflower” 21, distilled at Tormore (grassy, lemony nose; chocolate and toffee on the palate; light yet rich somehow), and the “Smoke Bluff” 12, distilled at Caol Ila (salty and fruity nose with a hint of bbq; a nuttier, phenolic palate). Good people.
And then at some point in the evening I took a reprieve and enjoyed the relatively lavish feasting options, including pulled pork, carved butt of beef, various fancy salads, other fancy stuff, and a whopper of a chocolate bar (cake, fudge, other types of chocolate, different chocolate things, etc.).
Well, although some of the best bits of the night are yet to come, I’ve gotten to a good stopping point both chronologically and thematically. And so that will do it for the first installation of my Whisky Fest coverage… but in about a week I’ll be revisiting some of the best, rarest, and most unreleasedest whiskies of the nite. Up next: the mustaches of Whisky Fest (and the hot women who could care less)!
In times of triumph an industry will tend to diversify and become as proliferate as possible, and whisky has seen a resurgence over the last few decades that has led to wild experimentation, brand expansion, and global extension. It is in this context that I tend to think about all of the finishings and other bizarre experiments (e.g., Octomore) now prevalent within the Scotch whisky industry. But another approach is to wonder if the more standard ex-sherry and ex-bourbon aging are just happenstances of history, and that the success of whisky sales is starting to correct these contingencies.
As Dalmore’s Mackenzie expression, named after the clan that once held ownership over the distillery, is aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon barrels and then another six years in Port pipes (a beverage that I’ve enjoyed since I was too young to legally talk about drinking it), I’ve taken this opportunity to muse about whether interesting agings and finishes are a welcome extension of the basic scotch repetoir or a money grab that defies the tradition and integrity of the whisky industry. But, like any good scotch drinker, at the moment of sipping all of these intellectual wanderings become moot and I realize that it just comes down to the whisky— everytime. I’m happy to have the opportunity to review this rare (and not cheap) offering by Dalmore; thank you to Laura Baddish and the Baddish Group for providing samples.
Color: when held up to the light there’s a purplish tint to this intruiging dram.
Legs: nice viscous droplets, but not so many of them.
Nose: fruity but weighty; loads of bramble, haws, clementines, blueberries, and well-oiled leather couches. Water brings out a comforting wine-cellar mustiness and fleshy stone fruits.
Palate: warm spices, cocoa, and drier fruits at first, with a touch of smoke, and then sweet fruit leather, and a warm, viscous cherry-pie filling. With water it is more chocolatey, with oranges slices up front, and still with a hint of cherries as it moves along.
Finish: spicey and oaky, but also resiny with marmalade; good length.
Overall: a fair question: does the extra Port aging add complexity or mask it, and can we tell whether it was intended to add depth to the spirit or to just add a big, exagerated flavour? Here it seems to complement the rich fruitiness of the Dalmore style, and it also lets the drier fruit and spices shine through. Nevertheless, it is quite Port-y and lively. But really, it tastes much like you’d expect a Dalmore to—a combination of rich, juicy, and dried fruit with spices and oranges—and the Port aging seems to give it an extra bit of a juiciness. It’s an expensive, limited edition bottling (only 200 bottles here in the US), and at $150-200 it’s more for the lux crowd than the budget-conscious drinker, but still worth the price of a dram in a bar or for a special occaison perhaps.
Other Opinions: all the usual suspects get all the usual suspects, plus some ginger notes and richness. There’s a lot of reviews out there, but here’s a handful of them:
- Ruben at WhiskyNotes had some similar thoughts as myself (citrus, spices, fruit), but also noted ginger, etc., giving it an 86/100.
- John Hansell gives it a 91, getting toffee, molasses, caramelized nuts, pancake batter, fig cake, and chocolate-covered citrus, with ginger, orange marmalade, and a polished oak and tobacco finish.
- Scotch Hobbyist likes the versatility and the extra kick compared to other Dalmores; finds oak, spices, and cherries on the finish and gives it a 90.
- Richard at Whisk(e)y Apostle says it’s a “must try,” noting the orchard fruits, ginger, smoke, sweet fruit, and chocolate.