Blind Tasting Competition 15: Bladnoch 21yo, 1992-2004, 54.9% – Cadenhead Small Batch

And so the free call commences again.

Bladnoch 21. Image from Whiskybase

Bladnoch 21. Image from Whiskybase

This starts with grassy and floral notes, in a way that makes me think of Islay more than the Lowlands. Quite light and watery, but that might also be volatility. I’ve been known to mistake those two (and everything else, my score tells me). A light cheesy note, with some skin milk too. Slowly, more alcohol is being released with its typically sweet scent. Maybe some grappa like scents?

The palate is beyond sharp. Really hot with alcohol. Very light and thin behind it and slightly earthy tones. A bit like dried mud and sand. Also, ‘muddy’ tracks, with grass and moss and old leaves. But still in a light and slightly grassy way. Wild flowers like poppies. There is a hint of vanilla but it’s not overpowering the spirit. A very spirit driven dram, I think.

The finish quickly mellows, which brings me back to that volatility. It does warm the innards nicely though. A slightly challenging dram, but in a good way. Warming, floral and grassy.

If one thing comes to mind when I taste this is Caol Ila Unpeated. I’ll be comparing this in a second, but that is something that I remember tasting like this. I quite like it, I have to say. The earthy notes indicate some peated water being used. I think I am also getting a light hint of salt and sand, and the initial milky notes all point me in the direction of the Port Askaig distillery.

The dram itself, I quite like it. It’ll never be world changing, but a nice enough diversion from the regular blast of peat they produce. The ABV is ridiculously high, based on flavor and the fact that the legs in the glass don’t move at all. The beads last very long too, so all indicators that I am at least slightly correct.

Of course, you’ll see that this is some weird Bladnoch bottling that I didn’t see coming, but what the heck…

About that comparison. My bottle is only one of the editions of course and I am discounting the European Oak cask right off the bat. I have the 10 year old and it does smell rather similar. Some minor differences but it strengthens my belief in this dram. Luckily yesterday wasn’t an Islay dram because I would have had no idea today.

I should, of course, have gone with the Bladnoch. That was my only viable second guess, and it turned out to be true. In a way, that means I’ve been closer to getting some points than I’ve been for a long time. On the other hand, that doesn’t get my anywhere.

This does teach me a few things though. The first is that I shouldn’t buy expensive old Bladnochs, since for about 70% of the money you can get a whisky that tastes more or less exactly the same. I even compared this day’s dram with my bottle of Unpeated Caol Ila and was more convinced that I was in the right direction.

Again, bummer. Although bummer doesn’t cover the disappointment I’m feeling with my tasting capabilities right now.

Bladnoch 21yo, 1992-2004, 54.9%, Cadenhead Small Batch. Available in Germany for € 95

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Blind Tasting Competition 14: Glen Scotia 13yo, 1999-2013, 61.4% – SMWS (93.55)

Well, at least I’m not a complete free fall anymore after this dram. Yesterday netted me no points again but I’m getting a couple of measly points every second day. Unfortunately, I’m still dropping in the rankings since I only get somewhere between 9 and 20 points of the possible daily 100.

Note: The following was written before the reveal of dram #13, since I’m at the office’s Christmas party during the night.

We’re in peaty territory here again. Peat in the way of the musty kind that I think is from Bunnahabhain, based on the first impression. Or Laphroaig. A second sniff brings some lemon to the initial mustiness. Dusty barley, hayloft, fresh lemon. Going the Laphroaig way here.

The palate shows quite some alcohol, but not overpowering. There’s a minor tinge of salt, with grass and light flowers. There’s vanilla in the background and some white oak too. Some licorice root, and lemon peel. Not as fresh as the nose. Quite some peat here in a slightly medicinal way. Iodine and bandaids. Hessian.

The finish starts of with a slightly more syrupy feel than I expected. Some vanilla and quite a lot of smoke. Slightly salty and a bit more heavy than I expected too. The lemon is almost gone now. Hessian and other musty flavors take over.

I’m doubting between Laphroaig and Bunnahabhain. My guess is this is some 10 years old, maybe 12 and the ABV would be some 52 to 53 %, I think. Again, I’m not going for a specific bottling since the lists are vast, and it has never done anything for me. Let’s just average everything out and go for 52.5% and 11 years old. As a distillery I’m picking Laphroaig since I generally dislike peated Bunnahabhain more than this one. Which I actually quite like.

Well, 20 points for not being too far off on the age department. I would never in a million years have guessed this ABV which is almost 10% higher than I thought it was. Also, I never knew Glen Scotia to be this peated! It’s a weird one, but I shouldn’t expect anything different from Ewald. Still, kind of a bummer since Scotia did cross my mind, if not for the peat. And Longrow is much more clean than this.

On the other hand, we hadn’t had Campbeltown yet and all regions are represented in the competition so the chance was increasing for that to happen. I just thought it would be a bit later, again, because of the peat.

It’s a nice dram, but barely any points. Bummer.

Glen Scotia 13yo, 1999-2013, 61.4%, SMWS (93.55)

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Blind Tasting Competition 13: GlenDronach 1993-2013, 20yo, 59.1%, cask #33 – Abbey Whisky

The last third of the competition commences now. We’ve had 12 drams so far with a possible 1200 points to score. I am slightly ashamed that I’ve not even managed to get 300 points, I’m at 292 at the moment (before this one, although that might not matter). Currently I’m at the 26th position, but a good score (or a bad one) can swing this competition around massively. The guy at pole position right now has 631 points, and is apparently a lot more capable than I am. He also writes quite a cool blog here.

Yesterday was another massive screw up and I hope to get back to actually scoring some points every now and then. And preferably not by statistically guessing Speyside and Highlands day after day.

The color betrays this one not being a bourbon cask.

GlenDronach 1993 for Abbey Whisky. Image from Whiskybase

GlenDronach 1993 for Abbey Whisky. Image from Whiskybase

Massive sherry on the nose. It’s pungent and fruity with spices too. All aspects of sherry are covered here. Red fruits, slight bitterness, oak, baking spices with clove and baked cinnamon. Quite intense so, based on the nose I’d guess for a reasonably high ABV. Really intense with really huge sherry notes.

If you’re into sherry matured whisky, this might be a safe pick! The alcohol also makes me doubt between that, alcohol, and salted caramel. I’m hesitant to add water because that also might trick me, especially since I generally don’t do that.

The palate is similarly, ridiculously fierce as the nose is. It’s also thick and syrupy with a slightly burning alcohol sensation. The baking spices, dark bread crust and dried fruits are here. Some fresh red fruits too. I’d guess PX sherry.

This is where the dram becomes somewhat less fierce, although you’ll feel this going down. Nice and warming, Christmassy with candied fruits, baking spices some herbs like thyme too.

For some reason I can’t get my head around this one. There is so much sherry going on that I’m not getting much distillery character. I’ve picked a Springbank partially because we haven’t had Campbeltown yet, and because it reminds me of some heavy sherry ones I’ve tried over the years. This time I’ve not gone around to select a specific bottle since that is rather time consuming and hasn’t helped me one bit so far.

I went for some 14 years old, although that is as random as it gets. Mostly because the sherry and oak are very influential on the palate and that makes for some tough picking. A very active cask can do this in 6 years. A not so active one can reach the same intensity if you leave it long enough and these flavors turn out to be European oak instead of sherry. What the heck. 14 years old Springbank at 58%. Not a clue.

Right. So it is a GlenDronach. The Abbey Whisky that was released earlier this year / late last year. I tried this before and thought it was gorgeous, but this time I thought it was a bit harsh and almost over sherried.

I’m a bit confused by it all, because I thought this was one of my favorite drams of the year earlier. It’s still not bad, but it’s not as good as I remembered. Bummer. But then again, I didn’t spend any money on it (although I almost did).

But anyway, I did get some points for the ABV since that wasn’t too far off. On the other hand, I still dropped in the rankings to 29th.

GlenDronach 1993-2013, 20yo, 59.1%, cask #33, Abbey Whisky. It used to be some £ 90 but it’s long gone now.

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Blind Tasting Competition 12: Glen Keith 20yo, 1992-2013, 49.2% – The Perfect Dram

So, trying again today. Hopefully I remember to actually save my post manually before closing my browser.

I got 20 points for region yesterday. I hope I get some more today. Not likely, but it would be nice. Somehow I knew it would be a highlands distillery, I just had no idea which one and by elimination I came to the wrong conclusion, although I eliminated a lot of correct ones.

With time the nose gets somewhat smoother even. Fudge and toffee.

Glen Keith 20. Image from Whiskybase

Glen Keith 20. Image from Whiskybase

The nose is massive with much more sherry than I expected by the color of it. Some minerals too, and slate. There’s also raisins behind it all, and their twigs for some bitterness. Dates too, and oak. It’s all rather bitter, but I love that. There is some alcohol in this, but it’s not overpowering. Some candied fruit and Christmas cake.

Half an hour in or so, I’m getting some salted caramel on the palate too.

The palate is a lot sharper than I expected. I’m still flushing some flavors from dinner, but the sherry is huge in an oaky, bitter way. Some dried fruits. All rather classic and Christmassy. Figs, dates, some date stones too. Plums, raisins. A lote more sherry notes than I’d have guessed initially.

The finish is more gentle than the palate made me expect, but the sherry is still big. The oak too, with an almost bourbon like flavor to it. The sweetness that hides behind the bitterness comes out as corn syrup here. Interesting. And good.

This is absolutely gorgeous and instantly fills the top three together with the Devil’s Casks and the SMWS Balmenach. Quite different again, but just as lovely. The finish isn’t overly long but the flavors are delicious. So much going on but all oak and sherry driven.

I’m considering Arran because of the slate on the nose and I have the idea there is something metallic on the palate. In a good way that is. I wasn’t sure about the age but I didn’t think it’d be very old. So the 12 year old Cask Strength fit, in my opinion.

Of course, I could not have been more wrong. Another zero-pointer. It turned out to be a Speyside Glen Keith, at 20 years old and my ABV was far off too. I’m starting to make an ass of myself here!

Fun thing is that I now know I should not spend a hundred bucks on a 20 year old Glen Keith but just buy the 45 euro Arran CS batches!

But still. Crap. I also have no clue on how to improve in this competition and blind tasting stuff. I try to be more analytical. Let myself be guided by my palate, but it’s not working out. On the other hand, I’ve already had 12 interesting drams of which some 6 were really good too. There have been worse weeks in my life than this!

Glen Keith 20yo, 1992-2013, 49.2%, The Perfect Dram.

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Teeling Single Malt Whiskey, 46%

Last week there was a Twitter Tasting of the new Single Malt whiskey from Teeling Distillery in Ireland. They’re in the process of building a distillery but this was from their current releases in which they buy and blend mature stock from the few Irish distilleries that are available. Since it is a SINGLE malt, it must be either a Bushmills or Cooley. Not a clue which, of course.

This whiskey was released a short while ago and at a surprisingly affordable price, of about € 50 in The Netherlands.

Regarding that Twitter Tasting. When I applied I had of course forgotten that this would be in the first week of the Blind Tasting competition, so there would be enough whisky action anyway, so I had to fit this in before the other dram. Luckily, with the tasting consisting of only the Single Malt, this turned out to not be a problem.

The whiskey consists of drams up to 23 years old (this doesn’t help in pinning down which distillery it is), and was matured in wine casks, sherry, port, Madeira white Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. One more cask type and you’d be on Dalmore’s King Alexander level!

The nose is quite rich, with some vanilla and banana at first. Off to a sweet start! There’s some toffee after that, with pastry cream and ripe pears. After a little while longer there’s some minor hints of cracked black pepper and cookie dough. If you search hard, which is what happens in the rather suggestive Twitter Tastings you might find cloves and blackberries, and cantaloupe melons.

With the pastry cream this might work well with Apfel Strudel.

The palate is slightly more spicy than the nose. The vanilla is still here but now I get some rather ‘present’ notes of saffron. I don’t think I ever had that before. Very smooth, but quite sweet. Cantaloupe, pear drops, mango. The casks show themselves and I get a jumble of fortified wines and a touch of pepper. The Madeira shows stronger than the sherry does. Quite nutty. Also, Apfel strudel, ginger and lemon curd.

On the finish the ginger gets stronger and for some reason this also makes some dried fruits pop up. The nuts of the Madeira are slightly stronger too.

At first I was a bit apprehensive, mostly because of the huge variety of casks used. This makes for a bit of a jumble and would explain the massive amount of different notes. I’m not entirely sure the white and red wines added all that much since I contribute most of the flavors to the other casks. But then again, what do I know?

While I didn’t state it all that much, most flavors I got are sweet. This makes for a pretty sweet whisky, flavorwise (not the subjective ‘sweet’). Even though there are increasing notes of ginger up to a level of ginger snaps (which I really craved after the tasting). So there are some spices, mostly ginger that grows as you let it sit, and a touch of pepper. Apart from that there’s vanilla and all kinds of sweet fruity notes.

I think, to my palate it is a little bit too sweet, although the increased complexity would put this just above, say, Redbreast 12.

So, an interesting whisky, but not one for my wishlist. It’s just slightly too sweet for me. If you like sweet whiskeys, get this.

Teeling Single Malt Whiskey, 46%, available at DH17 for € 48.50

Full Disclosure: I got this sample for free from Teeling Whiskey and The Whisky Wire for participating in their Twitter Tasting. My own opinions though.

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Blind Tasting Competition 11: Balblair 23, 1990-2013, 46%

Well this sucks. I had the entire post lined up yesterday. WordPress usually saves everything you do, resulting in way too many fake drafts and this time it just decided to not do that. So I lost my post, and more importantly, I lost my tasting notes.

What follows below is from the top of my head. Notes I remember in my struggle for points.

I’m kind of bummed out and don’t really understand what happened, since I did everything exactly the same as the other days on which I posted in the morning. Way to go for this new WordPress admin environment.

Sniff / Sip / Swallow:
The nose was fairly light at first, with some (highland?) beefy notes in the background. Some gentle notes of oak and some spices like gari (pickled ginger) without the vinegar taste. There are some notes of fruit but apart from peach I don’t remember them.

The whisky goes down like water so I’m expecting 43% or 46% here, and because of the beefy sherry notes I got. The beefy notes were accompanied by some hints of charcoal (mind: no smoke or so).

I didn’t really, really like this whisky. For some reason it came across as being a bit dull. The 46% felt weaker than it actually is and all flavors and scents are rather subdued. Regarding the wood notes, I didn’t think this whisky too old since there was some oak but not overly much. It was all rather timid so I went for a mid teens dram.

In the end I picked Glengoyne. I couldn’t really decide and actually knew this would not be it. But with the other well knows sherried brands from the Highlands I didn’t have a good feeling either. GlenDronach wasn’t it since this was too light. Dalmore is too weak in ABV. Ben Nevis is more rugged, and so I had more.

I never even considered Balblair mostly because I didn’t think they had any sherry bottlings out except for the really old ones and the TWE one which was much darker. And they are known for the really good bourbon casks (to me at least). Also, I generally like Balblair much than I did this time.

Of course, that was it. I was also way off in age, and enough off in ABV to not get any points there, so in the end it all came down to getting some region points again. The parachute has unfolded after three days of free falling from 4th to 18th place. Let’s hope today I can actually go up again.

Balblair 23, 1990-2013, 46%.

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Blind Tasting Competition 10: Balmenach 8yo, 2003-2012, 62.7% – SMWS

Another 0-pointer based on a weird Blair Athol. I don’t think I’ve ever had more than one or two Blair Athols ever. So, even more so than with the Littlemill, I wouldn’t have ever recognized it.

More so, I didn’t really enjoy that dram with a very strange and, to me, unpredictable wood influence. I would have sworn that it was a wine cask based on the nose, but the palate and finish steered me towards a port cask and something middle of the road, which BenRiach can be (in a generally very good way).

Balmenach 8yo. Image from Whiskybase

Balmenach 8yo. Image from Whiskybase

Vanilla and salt. Quite some vanilla, but also a touch of pepper. Quite highland-y, but that is not possible due to yesterday’s Blair Athol. Some bitter chocolate and espresso. I’m not getting any fruit so far, except dried lemon slices. Some coconut carpet, if that means a thing in English.

The palate is not overly sharp but more intense than 46%. I’d guess a 50-52% cask strength of some kind. Dried lemon again, with some vanilla. Less vanilla than on the nose though. The salt and pepper are rather sharp and there could be a small hint of peat in the background. Some oak too, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Some pineapple in there maybe?

The finish definitely has lemon, pineapple and salt. Some pepper, but more salt. The oak is very restrained. It might not be that old, which I thought based solely on the nose. The vanilla remains longest, with a touch of the fruit.

After a second sip I’m upping the ABV expectation to some 54-56%. It’s quite fierce on the palate, which I missed on the nose.

This is a pretty tasty dram. I’ll really have to start digging to what it might be, but my mind is wandering to maybe a Springbank, or Highland Park. Arran maybe. There’s so many options. But I’m sure liking this dram!

I’m discontinuing the Arran thought because of the salt. I think Springbank is more musty, generally. I can’t ‘feel’ any of the Islays in here (that would mean Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain in this lack-of-peat).

Based on the fact that this has to be a bourbon cask, or it’s even a weirder sherry cask than before and I might just quit this competition now (I won’t), and it’s strong or at least tastes strong, I’m going for a Highland Park from some indie bottler. With its high ABV, I automatically am drawn to the SMWS bottlings and I picked one from them at 14 years old and 58.5%. Points given. Entry done. An hour and 10 minutes left before reveal. Not sure if I’ll be awake then, but by the looks of it, it’s going to be interesting.

Oh, this just keeps getting better. After an hour or so I’m getting huge chocolate and praline notes. Nice stuff! The palate stays rather similar, which is far from bad either. Maybe a tad more pepper. Great, great dram. I’m staying up and shopping at 11pm… (If affordable, of course).

Of course, I could not be more wrong. It turns out to be a Balmenach that NOBODY guessed right. The ranking is getting slaughtered, but it doesn’t matter all that much since almost everybody got almost no points. This is one delicious dram though. Unfortunately it’s from two years ago and therefore no longer available. I wish I had gotten myself one of those, but that would have been a major gamble. Great stuff, maybe my favorite so far.

Ha, at least I got the bottler right! Shame there’s no points for that.

Balmenach 8yo, 2003-2012, 62.7%, SMWS (48.35, Let the summer arrive!)

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