Longmorn 12 year old

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail

One evening, well over a year ago, I was browsing the online catalogue of a major drinks retailer when I spotted a few whiskies in their ‘Clearance’ section. One of them happened to be this 12 year old Longmorn bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, so I picked it up for around the AU$50 mark and thought I’d give it a go.

Longmorn bottle

Aside from the official 16 year old (which is the only current official bottling), we don’t really see that many Longmorn expressions in Australia, not even indie bottles. The distillery itself has quite a high capacity (around 3.5 million litres per year) with most of it destined for Pernod Ricard blends, like the Chivas range. With a production capacity of that size, there seems to be plenty of whisky going to the independent bottlers out there and some of them are bottling expressions that are well worth trying! (I’ve tried some fantastic Longmorn in the past).

Longmorn 12

Not an awful lot of information on this one apart from the 12 year age statement and 40% ABV. I’m almost certain it’s been chill-filtered and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more than likely made up of refill bourbon casks with a smattering of refill sherry casks in there. I’d probably consider this to be somewhat of an entry level malt if you will.

Notes

On the nose I got all of those classic soft Speyside notes like green pears and apples, freshly cut grass, some light zesty notes and a mild honey sweetness. There’s also a hint of funky cardboard.

Very thin on the palate, with some mild baking spices up front, followed up green apples, some barley/cereal maltiness and a hint of marmalade. It finishes quite dry with some oaky spice and powdered ginger, whilst that cardboard note from the nose seems to work its way in there too. Overall I found it very mild and mellow with lots of soft pleasant notes, but also a couple of oddities that unbalanced it slightly.

Longmorn box

The bottom line

It’s not the most complex dram (but then again, I wasn’t expecting it to be), but it’s still quite an enjoyable, light, summertime whisky. I’d probably consider it as a pleasant alternative to the likes of the Glenmorangie 10 year old, or Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12 year olds, perhaps a tad less-refined though. Nice work Gordon & MacPhail, looking forward to trying more from your range in the near future!

Teeling Small Batch & Single Grain

Luck of the Irish? More like skill of the Irish.

A nice little care package (complete with a tweed peaked flat cap) recently arrived from the generous folks at the Teeling Whiskey Company.

Teeling Whiskey

Whilst the Teeling family name is steeped in Irish whiskey making tradition as far back as 1782, these whiskeys hail from the current generation of Teelings who are in the process of setting up their very own distillery. When they run their stills for the first time in the next week or two, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery will be the first new distillery to operate in Dublin in more than 125 years.

Teeling Small Batch

The first of the two whiskeys is the flagship Teeling Small Batch, a blend of malt and grain whiskies that are aged for a minimum of seven and four years respectively. Selected casks are then vatted together and finished for a further six months in Flor De Cana rum barrels to give the Small Batch an extra layer of complexity.

Teeling Small Batch

On the nose it’s unmistakably rummy (and Irish). Breaking that down, I got notes of sweet green apple, orange concentrate and a soft malty sweetness that reminded me of sponge cake in quality. The nose was soft, round, mellow and completely approachable.

I found the palate immediately oily and tongue coating, but not thick or cloying. The mouthfeel gives way to the lightest tingle of spice followed by a sweet malty biscuit quality (almost pastry like), with syrup and a hint of citrus. A vanilla-rum sweetness hangs around on the finish.

Teeling Single Grain

The second of the two is the new (to Australia) Teeling Single Grain whiskey, made from corn (maize) and distilled in column stills, as opposed to the traditional copper pot still. The interesting thing about this one is that it’s been fully matured in American Oak ex-Californian Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks for around five to six years, giving it that alluring coppery-red hue.

Teeling Single Grain

On the nose I found this fairly recognizable as a grain whiskey and initially a little thin and muted. Letting it open up for a few minutes though I found some lovely sweet jam notes, brown sugar, new fresh oak casks (the smell of walking into a winery cellar – perhaps suggestive of the cask influence on this one as well)

As with the Small Batch, the mouthfeel is oily and tongue coating, opening up with a burst of vanilla and berry jam. The fresh young oak taste translates as well and it finishes quite dry and short.

This one is super easy to get along with and given its price point (around the AU$65 mark), I can understand how this won World’s Best Grain at the World Whisky Awards last year.

Some other thoughts

Whilst carrying the ‘Teeling Whiskey’ name, both of these were actually distilled at the Cooley Distillery, which also happened to be established by the Teeling family back in 1987.

I find rather interesting that Teeling have played around with cask finishing on these two, something you see a lot with Scotch whisky, but not quite as much of in the Irish whiskey world. I think they’ve been really clever here and it’s helped them release some young, but super enjoyable and characterful whiskey.

Another thing that really works in their favour is that both of these are bottled at 46% ABV and they’re both non chill-filtered. If that doesn’t mean much to you, have a read of this. Essentially though, it helps give both of these whiskeys a lovely oily character that’s full of flavour and I can’t imagine anyone not getting along nicely with these two.

The Teeling Small Batch and Single Grain are both available in Australia for around the $55 and $65 mark respectively and later this year they will also be joined by the new Teeling Single Malt expression!

SMWS 127.37 Dinosaurs dancing to Stravinsky

A young refill sherry Port Charlotte

This peated powerhouse is one pour away from the bottle graveyard, so I thought I’d document a few notes here before it’s gone for good. What you’re looking at is actually the first ever SMWS bottle I purchased, a nine year old Port Charlotte that I picked up back in 2013.

SMWS 127.37

If you’re not overly familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and these unique bottlings, have a flick through this. In a nutshell though, all SMWS bottles are single cask, cask strength whiskies, bottled without chill-filtering and without the addition of colouring. It’s whisky at its purest.

The whisky

On the nose I get thick, sweet and creamy vanilla notes, Stroopwafel (those Dutch caramel waffle biscuits), smoked honey, a slight BBQ char note and hints of that trademark putty/rubber glove scent that I always associate with Port Charlotte. Despite the strength, the nose is round and whilst there’s a prickle, it doesn’t quite give away the immensity of this dram.

On the palate I get an immediate prickle and burst of salivation that gives way to a big, juicy and oily mouth feel. There’s coal fired vanilla desserts and white pepper. It’s sweet, thick and creamy with salted crème caramel and char. As you’d expect, the finish is long and warming, but there’s also a lingering and comforting sooty ash note.

SMWS tasting glass

In case you can’t quite see it on the label, this bottle weighs in at a heft 66.5% ABV. I know some purists out there would happily tackle this sans water (Andrew, I’m looking at you) and indeed I have on many an occasion. However, I actually really enjoyed this one with the smallest dash of water.

If the high ABV spirit is the dinosaur, then I guess that quality sherry cask is Stravinsky, taming a big ballsy whisky and making it dance. It’s lovely stuff.

Was it open for too long?

From start to finish, this bottle was open for a good 12 months or more. Like most diehard whisky fans, I’ve read plenty of articles about the dreaded ‘oxidization’ of spirits and started to get a little paranoid about the numerous open bottles I had, such as this one. I went and bought sample bottles to decant them and picked up various inert gas sprays used by the wine folk to displace oxygen in open bottles. Then I started to realise that it was all a bit annoying and couldn’t be bothered.

I’m kind of glad I did, as this bottle is just one example of how much whisky can actually open up and evolve with some airtime. I’m sure not every bottle will be enhanced by air, but I’m convinced that some of them will be, and it can be quite a fun learning experience revisiting them over time and seeing how they evolve.

Benromach 100° Proof

Tasted alongside its sibling, the Benromach 10 year old

Like many distilleries in Scotland, Benromach has a rather interesting history of ups and downs over the years. It was originally founded way back in 1898, but over the course of the next hundred years or so it was sold, closed and re-opened more times than I care to detail.

That was until independent bottler Gordon & Macphail decided to give it some loving and embarked on a project to refurbish Benromach and put it back into production. It officially came back to life in October 1998 and in 16 short years has managed to conjure up a pretty impressive portfolio of whisky that seems to just get better and better (have you tried their latest ‘peat smoke’!?)

Knowing that they’re making some pretty tasty drams these days, I was very keen to try their new 10 year old, bottled at 100° proof. So you can imagine how chuffed I was when this nicely presented set showed up courtesy of the folks at Alba Whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

Thanks to this generous set, I’d have the chance to be able to taste the new higher proof 10 year old side-by-side with the original. After all, they are supposedly constructed in exactly the same way, with the only difference being chill-filtering and a different alcohol percentage. Time to see what kind of difference this really makes.

Benromach 10 year old 43% ABV

First up was the widely available 10 year old expression. It’s comprised of 80% ex-bourbon cask matured whisky and 20% ex-sherry cask matured whisky. These parcels are then vatted together and left to rest for their final year in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask before being bottled. Talk about labour intensive.

Benromach 10 year old

I found the nose quite heavy (as in, laden with plenty of layers), but at the same time it seemed bright and active. Honey, malty sweetness, crushed biscuits, dried pineapple, tangy and buttery with a whiff of smoke.

The more I came back to it, the more it changed, so take the above with a grain of salt. One thing I can confidently say is that there seemed to be quite a lot going on for your average 10 year old!

A nice lightly oiled mouthfeel for a 43%er. Hints of spice up front, sweetness, apple skins and sultanas with a fair amount of damp vegetal smoke on the finish. Not overly warming, but well balanced with a lot of flavour left behind on the palate.

Benromach 10 year old 100° Proof (57% ABV)

Many of you (especially if you’re reading this from the U.S.) would be wondering how 100° Proof equates to 57% ABV. You’d probably expect it to translate to 50% ABV, right?

The key is in the ° symbol, indicating the old imperial measurement of ‘degrees proof’, whereby 100° equates to 57.15% ABV. There’s actually a neat story linking this back to rum, naval times and the flash point of gunpowder (you can read more here). Anyway, I digress. Back to the whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

It’s not just the photo, but as you’d notice from the first image, the 100° proof bottling is noticeably darker in colour.

It’s immediately richer on the nose. Perhaps not as ‘lively’ as the regular ten, but it’s depth could easily make you think it’s older than it is. Malty caramel sauce, creamy, hints of vanilla, some spice and the red fruits you’d associate with sherry maturation. That little whiff of smoke is hardly evident.

BenromachLegs

Quite hot and prickly up front on the palate, but this transitions into a thick and creamy mouth-feel. Sweet honey, malty biscuits, spice and jammy berries. A dash of water tames the heat and enhances the sweet, creamy richness, but I found it detracted from the lovely nose, so experiment carefully.

The verdict

Both come across to me as very well made whiskies. What do I mean by that exactly? It’s a little had to articulate I suppose. They’re not necessarily in your face or memorable for one particular note, rather they just leave you with a general impression that they’re very well balanced, well thought out and crafted with precision. I like to think that’s a hallmark of something that’s well made.

With all that being said, Benromach still fly under many people’s radars a little bit. A bit of a shame really, as they’re producing some pretty smart whisky indeed.

The new Benromach 10 year old 100° proof is now available in Australia through specialty whisky retailers at around the AU$150-160 mark. Thanks again to Alba Whisky for the generous (and photogenic) samples.

Best of the rest 2014

It’s that time of year again where some things start to ramp up and hit full-swing, whilst others take a bit of a breather and have slowed down slightly. Sadly (though thankfully for my wallet), whisky tastings and whisky events are one of the things that seem to taper off around this time of year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on some posts.

The tasting

In late December it was time for one last hoorah when the Oak Barrel in Sydney held their end-of-year ‘Best of the rest’ masterclass. I went along to one the year prior and they had some killer drams, including what was perhaps my whisky highlight of 2013, a Glendronach 1978 single cask.

Could they match that stellar line-up again this time ‘round? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that one. Here’s how the evening unfolded.

Mackmyra Brukswhisky

First up was a whisky from Swedish distillery, Mackmyra. Despite their young history, there are some truly fascinating facts and figures out there about Mackmyra. For example, did you know that most of their whisky is matured 50 metres underground in a dis-used mine? Nope, me neither. Pretty cool though, just like the Brukswhisky bottle.

Mackmyra

I found the Brukswhisky to be very light (and quite bright) on the nose. I got some hints of orange citrus, peppery juniper berries, crème caramel and vanilla. After some air-time, some notes of apple and pear.

The ‘light’ theme continued on the palate, with some vanilla notes toward the back of the palate and some lightly spiced, malty flavours giving way to a fairly tame – but warming – finish. Quite interesting and summery , but I thought it still had a bit of a banana new-make spirit note to it as well (certainly not off-putting, just an observation).

Adelphi Liddesdale Batch no. 5

This interesting offering comes from Adelphi, an independent bottler who purchase casks from distilleries then bottle and release the whisky when they feel it’s just right. Despite the name, there isn’t actually a Liddesdale distillery and the liquid in this bottle is from the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Five different refill sherry butts went into this one to be exact, each at least 21 years of age.

Adelphi Liddesdale

Notes of rich wine gums or gummy lollies on the nose. Some grimy workshop oils, rubber inner-tubes, damp vegetal smoke, a ginger dustiness and well integrated sherry notes. The ‘dense’ theme continued on the palate, with this being noticeably heavier and oilier than the Mackmyra (which could be credited to many factors, but mainly due to the Adelphi being non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% ABV). Some spice presents right up front on the tongue before clearing to a warming, sweet – yet spicy – salted dark chocolate finish.

I’ve tasted this on many an-occasion (I have a bottle) and I find that I get the most out of this by sitting with it over a longer period of time. Something of a contemplative dram if you will.

Adelphi Highland Park

The third dram of the night was also from Adelphi, but we were now moving into cask strength territory with this well-aged, 26 year old single cask offering from Highland Park.

Adelphi Highland Park

I’m quite familiar with what the standard, official bottlings of Highland Park smell and taste like..and I found this to be nothing like those!

Tropical coconut and woody notes presented first up on the nose. I found this to be quite restrained and delicate with a difficult to describe underlying ‘tropical’ note that presented in a number of different ways, like green grapes, desiccated coconut, bees wax and a light forest/vegetal note. The tropical theme continued on the rich and oily palate with overripe soured berries, grapefruit and hints of liquorice ending in a somewhat drying and tannic finish that became malty and cloying (not oaky and bitter). Confused a little? I think I was too.

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch no. 3

We stayed in the cask strength territory with this next one too. A no age statement marriage of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry cask Glendronach, bottled at 54.9% ABV. I liked batch no. 1 better than no. 2 so it was going to be interesting to see how this stacked up.

GlenDronach

So creamy, sweet, rich and full on the nose. There’s nothing shy, restrained or delicate about this at all. It’s not an all out sherry monster, but there’s loads of juicy raisins, honey, vanilla, dusty 70% dark chocolate and some estery varnish notes.

Immediately oily and hot up front on the palate, but it gives way to sweet rich sultanas and raisins, crisp red apples, vanilla pods, candied ginger and spice. A super solid and enjoyable Glendronach.

Laphroaig 1976 Scotia Royale 35 year old

Yes, that’s right, the little heading above isn’t a typo! One of 211 bottles, this 35 year old Laphroaig was bottled at cask strength of 43.3% ABV. Forget nearly everything you think of when you think of Laphroaig, the whisky pictured below was super unique.

Laphroaig

Straight away it became apparent that this had a very deep and layered nose. Fresh mint, herbal and vegetative with tropical notes of papaya and overripe mango (I generally get traces of these last two notes in the standard 18 year old expression as well). It mellowed the longer it was uncovered, revealing coconut oil and a yeasty trace, but never became overly woody which was interesting considering its age.

Despite the low ABV, the mouth feel of this was still oily and rich. The palate stayed pretty close to the nose with lots of tropical fruit and vegetal mossy flavours giving way to a faint iodine and spice finish.

An undeniably interesting dram, but I personally struggle to think of a time when I’d go ‘ah yes, I feel like that flavour profile tonight’. It would be a special occasion pour, that’s for sure.

Port Charlotte PC8

If you’ve ever had something from the PC series (or even a standard Port Charlotte), then you know full well why this was the last dram of the evening.

PC8

Before the glass comes within 12 inches of your nose you already get a face full of smoky, salty, charred ashes. There’s freshly laid tarmac, putty, latex gloves and vanilla rich desserts… that have been set on fire… This stuff is pretty exciting.

The palate and mouth feel of this whisky are just as big as the nose. It’s oily, instantly warming and loaded with the flavours of a spicy, smoky coastal barbeque. Charred, cured meats and sweet butterscotch eventually give way to an ashy and slightly floral finish that lasts for ages.

Group

Thanks to Dave and all the friendly guys at the Oak Barrel for for holding a number of a fantastic tastings throughout the year (such as this and this). Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in 2015.