Last year my friend JPH and I bought a set of samples from Jon Beach, of Fiddler’s in Drumnadrochit. A massive splurge, but a series of great whiskies being surpassed by even better ones. This year, with Brexit being a reality, buying samples in the United Kingdom wasn’t really an option, so we looked elsewhere.
There are some advent calendars with booze available in Europe, but most of them were, in a word, shit. They’re too expensive for what’s included, and most of them contain entry level whiskies that I didn’t really want to sit down for anyway.
Around the time this was happening, I was on holiday with my in-laws in Luxemburg and saw the The Nectar Tasting Box sitting on a shelf. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to it, but when I was browsing the thousand-something whiskies there, I saw an awful lot of bottlings for The Nectar’s 15th anniversary.
So, a few weeks later, with still no viable alternative found, we opted to go for the box by The Nectar. There isn’t much information on the box, or in the shops where we could order them, so we lived under the impression that most of the samples were of said celebratory bottlings.
Now, after having gone through the samples a while ago, I’m writing a single post of reviews. I doubted long and hard whether or not to do this, which already gives you an idea about my feelings towards what I find about the drinks.
The box of 24 samples of 2cl set me back € 85 (+ shipping). Of course, there’s no viable calculation to do whether or not you’d be getting your money’s worth, since the box itself is quite well made, with individual boxes for the samples, a tasting glass, so of course, compared to the half liter of booze you’re getting, the price will be a bit on the higher side.
Also, I tend to like what The Nectar puts out. I’ve had quite some bottlings done by and for them over the years and over all, they’ve been at least good, mostly better than just ‘good’. So, yeah, I tend to like The Nectar. For proof, this, this, this, this and this.
I was rather surprised that all samples in the box were of what The Nectar normally imports into Belgium. None of the samples were of their 15th anniversary bottlings. There was one bottling done especially for The Nectar (Compass Box ‘Great King Street Marrying Cask’), and one exclusive bottling for Belgium (Waterford Mortarstown 1.1).
All the other samples were of regular bottlings. Almost all of the other samples were of entry level bottlings for each respective brand. Paul John Nirvana, Armorik Classic, Amrut Fusion and so on.
Taking this into consideration, with most (if not all) of these bottlings costing between € 30 and € 50, the price of the sample kit suddenly seems a lot less on point.
Of course, this entire post is introduction to a flaming review of how dissatisfied I am with my purchase. That’s not all there is to it, though. There are some pretty decent bottlings in the box. As a whisky fanatic you tend to skip other kinds of distillates, and with there being 8 non-whiskies in the set, you get to browser other categories for a bit too.
Sniff: Roasted barley, some caramel and a whiff of smoke. Not earthy, but just some roasty, smoky oak, charred oak maybe. Some tropical fruits like apricots, peaches.
Sip: The palate isn’t as rich as I hoped, and takes a step back. It feels a bit thin, although there is some barley and sawdust dryness. Roasted grains, toasted with butter, apricot jam. Some black pepper, and a minor smoky note. Not necessarily peaty, again, but smoky.
Swallow: The finish focuses more on the oak and toast. Surprisingly rich after the rather thin palate. Very tantalizing and makes you want to go back for another sip.
BenRiach Smoke Season 52.8%
Sniff: Wet hay, a bit of rot too. A bit of smoke, but not a lot. Quite barley forward, but there are some hints of apple peel and grass. Wood gets more intense after a few sniffs.
Sip: The palate is both surprisingly dry and surprisingly sweet, although the sweetness diminishes quickly. Apple peels, hay and grass. A bit of barley and some oak shavings. Black pepper, and a hint of vanilla. The smoke is present, but kept to a minimum.
Swallow: The finish is rather light too, with more smoke and a bit of peppermint towards the end. Some black pepper, barley and quite a lot of fresh oak.
Nardini Grappa Riserva Classic, 50%
Sniff: I wasn’t sure what I expected, but not this. It’s spicy and herbaceous, with some grapes that have no sweetness left. Oregano, thyme, dried basil. A hint of tea and dried orange blossom. A whiff of oak too, and myrtle.
Sip: The palate is dry, but not without a bit of sweetness. It still is very focused on dried leaves of various kinds. Herbs, tea, myrtle, oregano, basil. But there’s a honeyed sweetness too.
Swallow: The finish brings a bit of a bite which combines nicely with the honey sweetness and the herbs. It’s less herbaceous than before, but those notes aren’t completely gone. A little bit of white pepper too.
The most interesting of the batch, and the one I want to keep returning to.
Compass Box Great King Street Marrying Cask #25
Sniff: A strangely acidic style, with a lot of dryness. The acidity of passion fruit. Quite some oak, and a bit of a funky, yeasty note too. Highly complex, with a bit of an austere approach, apples, iron and slate.
Sip: The palate is similar to the nose, but arrives a bit more intensly than I expected. More oak, some peppery heat, still some bourbon cask vanilla and sweetness behind it all. Passion fruit, orange peel, baked apple. That funky note becomes a note of hessian. The austerity is gone.
Swallow: The finish has a nice, lingering and warming dryness. Pepper, passion fruit with a bit more sweetness. Dried pineapple, later on.
The finish is very good.
Apart from there being several interesting drams, there were a few that were utter shit. Of course, it’s two guys’ opinions, but holy hell I’ve been cured of being interested in some stuff now.
I don’t have any experience with spiced or botanical rum, but after tasting BrewDog’s ‘Five Hundred Cuts’ I sure as hell am not trying any more.
The problem with most of these samples being entry level bottlings is that they don’t stand a chance to what I’ve tried over the last couple of years. However, in some cases, going back to the roots of where these whiskies ‘begin’ and where I’ve begun can be quite interesting. Trying the original Glenfiddichs again last year was quite fun. Getting to know Kilchoman’s Machir Bay several years ago was a positive surprise too.
Trying Paul John’s Nirvana, Jura’s French Oak, Fettercairns 12 years old, Teeling Blackpitts was quite different though. Most of these drams were boring, some of them were very thin, and a few others were poured down the sink.
Plantation Barbados XO, 40%
Sniff: Lots of baking spices, speculoos biscuits and cinnamon. Some baked apple, but that might be because of the cinnamon. A raisin like sweetness, with a whiff of glue and oak in the background.
Sip: Again, very sweet, but with a slight bitter edge of fresh oak. Some burnt caramel with spiced biscuits. Lots of baking spices, and slightly thin because it’s only 40%. A shame, it’s richness would be nicer with a bit more (or any) oomph.
Swallow: The nose and palate were on the brink of spiced rum levels of spiciness. The finish crosses that line. It makes it all taste rather artificial, and very watery because of its low ABV.
BrewDog, Five Hundred Cuts, Botanical Rum, 40%
Sniff: It’s like sticking your nose into a bakery making all kinds of biscuits. The complete spice cabinet went into the bottle, and completely evaporated the rum itself. Lots of Speculoos, pumpkin spice, carrot cake. More like flavored vodka than anything else.
Sip: It does have the sweetness of white rum, but other than that it’s just spices, spices, spices. The entire list is “Tonka Bean, Clove, Lavender, Cardamom, Orange Peel, Mace, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, All Spice, Ginger” and I guess they all show up in the parade.
Swallow: Sticky sweet, and spices. See above.
Why is this called rum? Ok, I don’t know anything about spiced rum, I don’t think I ever had it. But if this is what spiced rum is, I’ll be staying a long way away from the category.
Paul John Nirvana
Sniff: If this is more than three years old, it would surprise me very much. It’s aroma is that of a nondescript new make with a little dollop of oak added to it. There’s some fruit and a hint of copper or something like that. However, non of it is appealing.
Sip: The palate is thin as well. Not ‘oh it’s only 40%’ thin, but there’s been virtually no flavor that’s developed during maturation. There’s some orangy-pith note, a whiff of oak.
Swallow: The finish is watery, with a bit more barley, although it still has that fruit syrup flavor of new make. There’s a bit more oak and it does save it some points. Some raisins maybe, a bit of toast.
Fettercairn 12, 40%
Sniff: Steeped barley with honey sweetness and porridge. Apples and orange, but we’re not comparing them. Sultana biscuits.
Sip: The palate is, unfortunately, very watery. There’s some oak, a bit of a funky bitterness, like wet hay and hessian bags left in a shed. Rotting leaves, a bitter note towards the end.
Swallow: The finish carries the bitter note longest, but there’s not much else. Old apples, and some oak.
Funky in all the wrong ways, and way too thin.
The problem with this set is in expectation management. With there being only very little information on the box, you don’t really have an idea what you’re getting. On the outside it only has brand labels, and it’s not specific to the actual drinks. There’s more information on the inside of the lid, but that’s not overly helpful when buying something online.
When you’re celebrating a 15th anniversary, and you release quite a whopping amount of amazing and very interesting bottlings, most of which are very well priced too, it’s not too weird to somehow expect said bottlings to make it to the accompanying celebratory box set. Especially if you want people to be more interested, diverge from the well known into slightly more obscure drinks that you’re importing, you have some convincing to do. This doesn’t do that.
The only thing I’m interested in buying after having had these twenty-four drinks is the Nardini Riserva Classic, a grappa.
So, in the end, I just don’t understand what the idea is behind the box. Inviting people new to distillates won’t happen with something setting you back € 85 and no further info or marketing. Showcasing what kind of cool stuff you’re doing won’t happen with these drinks, and celebrating a milestone anniversary with entry level drams won’t happen for people who know the brand’s bottlings…