Next in our Scottish regions tour was a whisky from Speyside… a region that takes its name from the river Spey. While technically also in the Highland region, with a cluster of over 100 distilleries, it is now considered an official region.
In terms of single malts, over 60% of Scotland’s single malt production comes from the Speyside region. Some better known distilleries include Aberlour, Balvenie, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas, Glenglassaugh, Glenfiddich, Speyburn, The Macallan, The Glenlivet, and The Glenrothes.
Classic Speyside whiskies tend to be lighter, honeyed and easy to drink – think Glenlivet, Glenfiddich. Yet equally, there is another side to Speyside whiskies that favour maturing in Sherry casks, producing robust rich berry bombs – think Aberlour, The Glenrothes, The Macallan.
And Cardhu? Here’s what our Whisky Ladies found…
Cardhu 12 year 40%
- Nose – Sweet syrupy, almost cloyingly sweet, some fruit like peaches, apricots and nectarines, a little red or white peppercorns, then cooked pineapple and a dash of nutmeg…
- Palate – Sweet, slightly sour, maybe some maraschino cherry, hint of chocolate but frankly, flat… a kind of watery unsatisfying whisky, lacking in oomph and depth.
- Finish – Almost vegetal with some orange and pepper
In short, it just wasn’t what most Cardhu fans remembered. We began to admit we were practically forcing ourselves to find different elements and once one voiced a concern it was simply ‘flat’ others – including the owner of the bottle – were relieved they were not alone in being disappointed.
Dawning realization that as we had opted for an open bottle, we were witnessing the way oxidation had taken its toll.
It simply wasn’t working for us.
Now… we just so happened to have an unopened bottle of Cardhu 12 year with us. I mean doesn’t everyone have a spare whisky bottle rattling around?
Should we? Shouldn’t we?
The temptation to compare the new bottle warred with the risk that the bottle’s owner would have their Cardhu ruined by sitting too long oxidating and falling prey to the tragedy of the bottle we just sampled…
Ah heck! The new bottle was cracked open and two glasses made their rounds of the room – the previously opened Cardhu vs the newly opened Cardhu.
What a difference!!
In the newly opened bottle we found a robust whisky, some slightly salty briney woodsy elements completely absent in the previously opened one. It was far more intense on the nose, much more fulsome with sweet spices, nutty with fruits. On the palate the instant reaction was “Yum!” – a jolt of deliciousness that then mellowed into sweet citrus rinds with cinnamon.
As we continued to compare the two, there was a sense of pity for the poor previously opened Cardhu bottle. It simply did not pass the ‘test’ and had gone from perky to floppy with no way to revive its limpness. The only consolation was the nose wasn’t completely gone and if someone doesn’t mind a mild sweet innocuous dram, it would still suffice. If you didn’t know what a ‘real’ Cardhu tastes like!
Here’s what the folks over at Cardhu have to say:
- Nose – At full strength, heady, nose prickle, pear drops and tightly integrated heather, resin and sweet honey-nut notes. Enticing. Intriguing. With a little water, still harmonious but less pronounced, allowing some malt cereal, soft, spicy wood, moorland and faint traces of wood-smoke to appear.
- Palate – Soft, pleasing and medium bodied. Well balanced, smooth mouthfeel; short punch, sweet and fresh, then a pronounced drying effect. Moorish. Enjoyable at any time, with little or no water.
- Finish – Quite short. Some lingering sweet smoke in the attractive, drying aftertaste.
- Overall – Attractive, subtle complexity; elegant and worth knowing. Spirity nose with sweet apple blossom and heathery aromas, well balanced palate with good viscosity, warming with a drying finish.
Overall we concluded the previously opened bottle was simply NOT the same calibre of whisky and had just lost too much… prompting horrified thoughts of other precious open bottles.
A debate ensued on whether there is universally such a dramatic impact on ALL bottles or just some. Whether peatier, cask strength or sherry bombs fare better or even that is not something one can depend on. How decanting is used to help accelerate oxidation for whisky where this actually brings out a more optimal character…
Morale of the story? Enjoy your dram while you can! And plans for an upcoming “Dram Dregs” session was born to help ‘rescue’ opened bottles before they slip too far past their prime!
The Whisky Ladies of Mumbai’s Scottish Regional Tour continues…
- Lowland – Glenkinchie 12 year 43%
- Islands – Jura Turas-Mara 42%
- Highland – Clynelish 14 year 46%
- Speyside – Cardhu 12 year 40% (this post)
- Islay – Ardbeg 10 year 46%
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I made my first and only visit to Scotland in 2004, and the first distillery I visited was Cardhu. To this day, it’s my favorite whisky! In fact, I even have an unopened bottle of that hot mess they called “pure malt.” I paid big bucks for it (and another bottle of their 12 yr old ) on eBay before Cardhu started selling here in the states again a few years ago. Now I can get my 12 yr old fix anytime I need it! Great review!!
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Hey Greg! Thanks for sharing your Cardhu relationship. And good to know it is now readily available in the US. Thanks to duty free, it is here in India too. 🙂