BTC #4 and #5: Ballechin and Glenfiddich

Yesterday I didn’t get around to a write up of the Blind Tasting Competition’s fourth sample, so today you’re in for a double whammy. As always with this kind of thing, there’s not much to talk about since we’re going in blind!

Sample #4: Ballechin 2004-2016, 12yo, Manzanilla Cask, 55.6% – OB for Kirsch Whisky

141069-big

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
There’s a lot of sherry on the nose, but also a lot of peat and smoke. I am getting some hay and red fruit, and dates. Also, there’s quite some saltiness and I even think I get a whiff of kippers.

Sip:
The palate is sharp and intense. Quite young with grassy notes and oak. Coconut husks, dates and fish. Even the more harbor-like flavors of tar and rope and salt water. All in all, there’s a lot going on.

Swallow:
The finish is hot and dry, not too surprising with this kind of sherry cask. Really peated whisky, with the salty, ropy notes again.

I was convinced this must be some kind of Ardbeg. I’ve had some SMWS Ardbegs in the not-too-distant past and these were quite similar to this, with the grass, salt and sherry in a similar way. I was quite surprised to find out it was a Ballechin.

The surprise came from two reasons. A: There are Ballechin whiskies out there I like, apparently. B: This didn’t really give me any ‘highland whisky’ tells. Especially the salinity and brininess on the finish and palate made me think of Islay before anything else.

87/100


Sample #5: Glenfiddich 15yo, Batch 43, 55.6% – Handfilled at the Distillery

Sniff:
hertOn the nose I got vanilla at first, but not just vanilla. There’s oak, barley and chocolate as well. Slightly sweet with some caramel notes, quite a lot of oak and some spices. Refill sherry?

Sip:
The palate is quite gentle (guessing some 48-50%). Sweet caramel and some popcorn, and again some vanilla. Lots of oak with baking spices.

Swallow:
The finish is quite rich with the same flavors as before. Rather classical. Some wood spices and a light sweet caramel.

It’s a bit of a jumble, regarding the flavors I’m getting. One bit says American oak, while the baking spices make me go towards European oak. Maybe it’s a bit of an American oak sherry cask. Or at least, that was my thinking.

It turned out to be a Glenfiddich from some kind of Solera cask, which could still mean anything towards the wood used. I only got some points for being ‘only’ three years off in age, but that was it.

However, I was rather positively surprised by this whisky. It’s a bit of a jumble, but an interesting chaos, so to say. My guess was that this was a Hazelburn, by the way. It reminded me of the 12 year old (maybe erroneously, it’s been years).

88/100

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BTC #3: Benromach 2008-2017, 9yo, 59.5% – OB for Whiskysite.nl

After a very acceptable score yesterday, to my standards at least, we went in for a non-Highland whisky. Not much of an introduction, since we go in blind…

Sniff:
imageI got quite a lot of peat on the nose, but not Islay peat. More in a Highland style (remember that non-Highland thingy?). There’s some grass, dirt and clay too. Rather sharp with only a little bit of oak towards the end.

Sip:
The palate is very sharp and dry, and fresh barley ears. Oak too. There’s peat too, but I’m not getting smoke. It’s more the intensity of dry peat than smoke.

Swallow:
The finish is a bit lighter than the palate and the nose were, and slightly younger. More green, and focused on the barley with slightly less oaky notes. A tad grassy too.

I started thinking about peated Speyside whiskies early on. It couldn’t be a Highland one since the same region is never back to back in the competition. It wasn’t a Campbeltown, Islay or other Island whisky from my point of view. Islay is far more salty, Campbeltown is more funky or dirty. The other Island whiskies would be Jura, Arran, Talisker or Highland Park. They all make some peated whisky but it didn’t fit: Talisker is more peppery, Arran is more tannic, Jura is more Jura and it wasn’t complex enough for a Highland Park. Speyside it is.

Shame on me, but the only Speyside distillery that makes significant peated whisky that I could come up with was BenRiach, so I picked their peated cask strength. It turns out I was in the right region, and since the one I guessed is a NAS whisky, I just put in 10 years, which netted me another 30 points. Good for me.

Now, did I like the whisky? Not so much, to be honest. It’s not very complex and even though it’s not a middle of the road dram, it didn’t really grab my attention. It’s very sharp and young, and it kind of hides behind that. When it turned out to be a Benromach I wasn’t too surprised since it often is my conclusion with the single cask, young, bourbon cask matured ones. Their distillery only whiskies don’t do it for me either. Quite a shame, since their regular 10 year old and 10 year old 100 proof are among the most awesome drams out there.

84/100

Benromach 2008-2017, 9yo, Cask 347, 59.5%, OB for Whiskysite.nl. Available from Whiskysite.nl for 65 euros.

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BTC #2: Wolfburn 128, 3yo, 46%

The second day of the Blind Tasting Competition brought us another mystery dram. In more ways than just us not knowing what’s in the wee bottles. Yesterday I did score some points which is something I couldn’t say for most of the past BTCs, and I hope to continue getting at least some points in the coming days. As long as I don’t finish last, right?

Sniff:

157751-big

Image from Whiskybase

The nose starts slightly funky, with a creamy oak and barley scent. The funkiness is mostly a sort of moldiness, maybe mushrooms. There’s some vanilla that indicates the use of more active wood instead of the refill bourbon cask from yesterday. The style is rather heavy with a very gentle smokiness.

Sip:
The palate is slightly tingling and a bit drier than I expected. Heavy with some vanilla custard, black pepper and barley.

Swallow:
The finish is gentle and slightly dry again. The funkiness receded on the palate but is back now, the same moldiness. A hint of black pepper, but all in all not a very long finish.

I’m describing this whisky from a rather neutral perspective, and it is a fairly generic bourbon cask matured whisky. Except for that moldiness, the bit of funk throughout the dram. That last bit makes it a lot more interesting than ‘ye old generic single malt’ and lifts it right to another level.

Because of that funkiness and the slightly creamy vanilla, I opted for Ben Nevis, since I’ve had some drams over the last couple of years that were like that. If the creamy vanilla would have been a bit more rough, I’d have said Springbank. However, it turned out to be a Wolfburn! A whisky at just three years old, nonetheless.

I got points for the region, since Ben Nevis and Wolfburn are in the Highlands, and I went for 46%, so that’s another 20 points right there. Forty in total for yesterday’s dram, which is pretty decent, if I may think so…

88/100

Wolfburn 128, 3yo, Half Size 1st Fill Bourbon Barrels, 46%. Available from the Whiskybase Shop for 66.50

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BTC #1: Benrinnes 1997-2016, 50% – Whiskybroker

So, another December, another Blind Tasting Competition. Based on previous editions, I’m going in without hope of a decent finish. I know I suck at this kind of thing, this blind tasting of whisky. It’s not how I drink whisky, and I probably never will.

As I realized this summer, when doing the Blog Birthday Bash. In the blind BYO tasting someone recognized my Springbank Local Barley instantly. I am not even able to do that with my own whiskies, let alone with the total randomness that is the BTC. Apparently my scent and flavor memory is pretty shit, which is a curious thing to say when running a whisky blog in which I post tasting notes on a regular basis.

What I’m trying to say is not that I cannot recognize the flavor of bread, apple or raisins, but that my association for those scents does not link to spirits and distilleries. Contrary to some guys who keep winning the competition. Kudos to them.

Anyway, the first whisky…

Sniff:

Benrinnes

Image from WhiskyBase

Soft vanilla is the first scent I get from the glass, closely followed by fresh grass and hay. Some field flowers like poppies for a bit of aromatics, with a slightly waxy note. Some green notes in ferns and moss.

Sip:
The palate is slightly drier but keeps the grassy and hay like flavors. It’s not very sharp but it’s also not without a bit of bite. Quite light but the flavors are rather outspoken. I now get a bit of oak, but soft oak, freshly cut.

Swallow:
The finish is rich and smooth, with the same flavors of before, but the vanilla and grass is a bit more outspoken than the green, leafy notes or the oak.

The smoothness and the notes of grass and flowers made me think of Lowlands and Speyside. However, it was a bit too heavy on the nose for a Lowlands whisky for me.

The grassy notes and slightly sweet flowers made me think of Glen Elgin, which was my guess. Because it’s a bit of a green whisky I figured it wasn’t too old. I didn’t have a warm up dram so the slight sharpness I attributed to me being not warmed up and I guessed 46%.

It turned out to be a Benrinnes (20 points for the correct region) at 18 years old (0 points) and 50% ABV (0 points). A great start… Also, it indicates that Benrinnes is a very flexible spirit since I’ve had quite a few of them over the years and I find it hugely varying from dram to dram.

85/100

Benrinnes 1997-2016, 18 years old, Bourbon barrel 906, 50%, Whiskybroker. It used to cost about 70 euros. (link)

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abSintherklaas

Or, if we’d split up the words: Absinthe and Sinterklaas. Which is just clever wordplay if Sinterklaas means anything to you.

Anyway, I’ve been planning to do this post with the janky title for some years now, but there was always something that got in the way. Also, I’ve been wanting to get into Absinthe a bit. At least I want to try some more samples to see whether or not I like it.

The samples I’m about to review are pretty old. Not the absinthe, but the samples. I think I’ve had them for around five years in the booze queue, but the closures were still fine so I think I’m good.

A bit of history first:

When I visited San Francisco in 2009 I started liking cocktails, with a focus on Sazeracs. For that you need a tiny measure of absinthe, so I bought a bottle. It’s been sitting partially empty on my shelf for eight years now, since I’ve never gotten further in my cocktail making. I still do the occasional Sazerac (like once a year or so), but that’s it.

Then, in 2011 I found myself in San Francisco again, with a bit less on the schedule so there was a bit more time for having a proper dinner, which we did at an awesome place called Absinthe. Of course, I had a proper absinthe there as well and was quite enamoured by it.

We also visited St. George Distillery in Alameida, which also makes a pretty great absinthe. Enough reasons to investigate further.

So, samples were bought but never tasted. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overspend without getting a proper bearing first. The St. George and a bottle of Jade Absinthe were purchased on top of the Pernod I already had.

I did NOT open these bottles for this comparative tasting, mostly since I still have more than enough booze to get through before opening more non-whisky bottles. With the speed I’m drinking that stuff now, I might even get around to them before I’m 200 years old.

I’m not going to give you a run down of what Absinthe actually is, since I don’t really feel like rewriting what others have done much better. You can find information quite easily.

Let’s try some, shall we?

absinthe-verte-bottle-2014

Absinthe Verte, Adnams, 66%

Neat: On the nose it’s quite wintry with fennel, lemon and some snowy crispness. Quite ‘green’ too, as in, herbaceous. The palate is tingling with a lot of boozy sharpness, with a gentle flavor. Roasted fennel, sweet citrus and some licorice. The finish is suddenly a tad chemical with lots of bitter herbs. It has the same flavors, but it just turned ‘not good’.

With about 50% ice water: A lot more aniseed and a lot more gentle. Still tingling with sweeter citrus and a slight bitterness.

610298a2Absinthe Rouge, Adnams, 66%

Neat: This slightly less traditional one is slightly less crisp and warmer. A slightly unorthodox absinthe to start with, since it’s not green but red. That’s done with hibiscus flowers, by the way. More licorice, fennel and a lot of red cinnamon, that spicy kind. The palate is insanely dry and sharp with cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and a certain herbaceous woodiness (the worm wood?). The finish is mostly fennel and cinnamon before it mellows.

With about 50% ice water: This one becomes sweeter too but stays on the fennel and cinnamon route. A lot less dry and less sharp, with aniseed in the finish.

francois-guy-absinthe

Francois Guy Absinthe, 45%

Neat: This one is an aniseed bomb, with just a tiny bit of fennel on the nose. The palate is thick and syrupy, with a sugary sweetness. Also a lot of aniseed, not unlike ‘gestampte muisjes‘ (powedered aniseed and sugar, something to eat on sandwiches). There’s no depth, and the finish doesn’t change that.

With about 50% ice water: It mellows a bit and the sweetness is a bit more diluted. Because of that there’s a bit more room for a touch of herbs.

la-fee-parisienne-absintheLa Fee Parisienne, 68%

This one is so green it makes me doubt my choice to buy it. It’s a color that doesn’t occur in nature, I think.

Neat: The biggest difference between this and the previous one is the ABV. There’s more licorice root, but still it’s mostly aniseed. Maybe some bayleaf too? The palate is sweeter than the nose made me expect, slightly syrupy with aniseed and licorice root. The combination of aniseed and an ABV this high makes me think of mouthwash more than anything else.

With about 50% of ice water: Is this absenthe? As in, there being no wormwood or so? It doesn’t go cloudy with ice cold water, which the others did at some point. Otherwise, nothing really changes, apart from the ABV.

cold-distilled-absintheCold Distilled Absinthe, Master of Malt, 91.2%

The ABV is NOT a typo. I consider this more of a gimmick than anything else, since I don’t really see a reason to make anything that strong.

Neat: It’s herbaceous with aniseed, fennel and some heavier notes in the background. What mostly stands out is that the ‘snowy crispness’ I found on the nose of the green Adnams is turning to a blistering cold here. This is quintessential crispness. The palate a bit bipolar without water. The crispness is there, but the heavier tones of licorice and sweet citrus are combatting it. I almost get a chai like heaviness. It’s bone dry, by the way. The finish is mostly fennel, aniseed and dry twigs.

With about 50% of ice water: With 50% water it’s still pretty strong, and the flavors are slight less intense, but very similar. It’s a bit sweeter too.

Conclusion

My main conclusion is that I either:

A) Don’t like absinthe as much as I thought I did, or

B) Bought the wrong samples

The Cold Distilled one and the Adnams were the best of the bunch, with the Adnams Absinthe Rouge being the more interesting of the bunch. The extremely green Fee Parisienne and the rather bland Francois Guy are too simple with not enough depth to really get into.

So, in the end I didn’t drink any of the samples completely, and in a way I’m a bit in doubt as to what to do with my remaining closed bottles. Either see if I like these better, like I did half a decade ago when I bought them, or try to get some of my money back by selling them (if that would work out).

In general, I’m glad I didn’t buy more. I liked trying them, but I was quick to grab a whisky afterwards, to drink something that I actually, really like…

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Bowmore 2001, 15yo, 55.6% – Signatory for The Whisky Exchange

This Bowmore did get a bit of talking about in a bottle share group I’m in. Mostly because it clocks in at 160 quid per bottle, which seems like a lot for a 15 year old Bowmore. This was extra surprising since it’s been bottled by Signatory, a bottler normally known and appreciated for having quite acceptable prices for their single casks.

However, with the popularity of anything Islay, and especially slightly older whiskies from that island, it’s also not very surprising. Keep in mind that there are vast amounts of seven to ten year old Islay whiskies out there, but the older ones are much more rare.

So, a fifteen year old Bowmore from a bourbon cask, bottled at cask strength. I guess you can’t really go wrong there. It’s just a matter of seeing how good it is, instead of seeing whether or not it’s good.

Sniff:
bowsig2001v2On nosing this Bowmore, I immediately get a bit of a mezcal like smokiness. Slightly diesely, some fruity acidity with hints of citrus. A bit dirty, all in all. Lemon and lime pith with hints of bitterness.

Sip:
The palate is more smooth than I expected, but quite rich and intense. Dry with herbs, wood and twigs. Newly shaved oak with bitter lemon and lime rind.

Swallow:
The finish is long and gently warming. Some herbs and lemon and lime again. Oak and cedar (pencil shavings).

After typing up my tasting notes I checked Ruben’s notes on this whisky and it looks like we had two different whiskies. Now I know he is more versed in fruit flavors and scents, but I’m very surprised by the difference in notes.

Anyway, it’s all very personal of course. In this case it does mean that I’m not as huge a fan of this as he is. It’s a good dram, don’t get me wrong, but I find it not overly complex and fairly straight forward. The lemon and lime keep coming around and I’m missing a bit of balancing sweetness. Of course there’s a hint of smoke woven through the entire dram, and since it’s a Bowmore that’s not overly punchy.

Again, a very good dram but not a stellar one.

88/100

Bowmore 2001-2017, 15yo, Hogshead 20117, 55.6%, Signatory for The Whisky Exchange. Available there for £160.

A big thank you to The Whisky Exchange for sending the sample!

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Highland Park 1995-2017, 22yo, 53.2% – Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange

So, yet another sample sent to me from The Whisky Exchange. It’s the same as with everything in London: I should visit it sometime. Somehow, London seems elusive to me. It’s been on my wishlist for years, but it’s never become a reality yet. Maybe because traveling on my own is not something that happens on a regular basis (as in, just once, ever) and my wife would like to visit London in a slightly different way than I envision when think ing about all the whisky and beer (and their respective communities) I’d like to see and visit…

Anyway, another sample. A 22 year old Highland Park is quite a promising thing. An independent bottling, since it would otherwise have cost about 400 euros or so, and now it’s only (“only”) 150 pounds. Honestly, with the way things are going, quite a fair price.

I don’t try many Highland Park whiskies nowadays. Most of the original bottlings are coming out in all kinds of weird series with vast wooden cases or scaffolds or whatever. I generally try to stay clear of whiskies like that since I don’t really like the idea of paying a lump sum for packaging. Also, for a lot of releases the whisky doesn’t justify the price.

I’m not trying to give the Orkney distillery a lot of flack, since the quality of their regular releases is insanely high, and I know they make a lot of awesome whisky. It’s just that my preference is different to what is popular nowadays.

Aaaaaand I just realize I sounds like I’m 80 years old.

Let’s taste some whisky instead.

Sniff:
hlpgm1995It’s quite robust on the nose, with a slight salty edge. Some minerals, oak and barley. Some pastry and pear for sweeter notes. Star fruit, chalk and a very light whiff of smoke. A little bit coarse, and this combination of scents makes me think of rocky cliffs and wind and such. You know, Orkney.

Sip:
More thick and creamy in texture than the nose made me expect. Also slightly sweeter. Soy milk, and dry oak. Yellow fruits and barley. Star fruit, apple, pear skin. It’s getting dryer as you let it swim. There is some staleness, as dusty attics can be, with a whiff of smoke. A complex dram, this.

Swallow:
The finish is very dry again, with a focus on barley and oak at first. Quite heavy and wintry. More minerals and marram grass.

If you think the above sounds lovely in a whisky, I agree with you. This is a cracking dram, with a lot of depth and flavor. The palate is slightly different from the nose, but still rather balanced. And what helps is that this is the exact style of whisky that I enjoy. A lot of flavors, of which a lot are distillate driven. Some cask influence and the dram itself tasting rather mature. All good things.

Regarding the score, I was on the fence between 89 and 90 points, but I slightly prefer the Cadenhead’s one that I reviewed a while ago, so this one can only be 89 points… Maybe I should have given that 91.

But it sure is good, and the 150 quid price tag is rather justifiable.

89/100

Highland Park 1995-2017, 22yo, Cask 1498, 53.2%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange. Available only at The Whisky Exchange at £150

Thanks for the sample, TWE!

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