Sherry Expressions – Seasoned, Finished or Matured…

Sherry’s influence on single malts is significant. At one of the spectrum could be a full on sherry “bomb” matured for years exclusively in first re-fill casks and at the other a mere hint with a “touch” of sherry finish for a mere month.

Our host for the evening cleverly selected from duty-free three different variants of Sherry expressions. Each explored a different approach to bringing a sherry influence to the whisky.

Here is what we explored with our Sherry expressions evening:

  • Macallan Terra 42.8% – 1st fill American and European casks, “seasoned” with Sherry
  • Glenmorangie The Tayne 43% – A Fino Amontillado Spanish Sherry “finish”
  • Glen Deveron 20 year 40% – Matured in “Sherry Oak”

Read on over the next few days for insights into our impressions, speculations and interpretation of what the distillery shares about the way in which the sherry element influenced each single malt.

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Scottish Grains Recap

According to our friends over at Malt Madness, today in Scotland, there are only 6 full fledged grain distilleries:

  • Cameronbridge – the oldest & largest grain whisky distillery now best known for Haig
  • Girvan – a grain distillery built in 1963 by W. Grant & Sons that has recently released a few age statements
  • Invergordon from Whyte & Mackay can primarily be found only in Independent bottles
  • North British the second largest Scotch grain distillery
  • Starlaw – opened in 2010 and owned by La Martiniquaise
  • Strathclyde – owned by the Pernod Ricard conglomerate with a few independent bottles out there

Yet this should soon be changing… with new distilleries opening such as R+B who put out  advance indicators of the style they plan to emulate… including a grain with their Borders Single Grain 51.7%.

Of these, our whisky tasting groups of Mumbai have managed to get their hands on:

  • Cameronbridge with their Haig Club 40% accessible, innocuous and frankly forgettable grain
  • Invergordon 28 year 56.5% from Douglas Laing – Think muted varnish, vanilla, salty sea water with roasted peanuts
  • Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% from Signatory Vintage – An absolutely delightful delicious and alas discontinued dram
  • Girvan 8 years (2006/2014) 46% from Berrys’ – Starts with a hit of pure alcohol then sweet bananas, some vanilla from the oak wood, lemon drop sweetness peeped out… all the elements were very subtle with the overall scent of light varnish
  • Girvan 28 years 42% – From a bio-chemistry set to sweet fruits, pudding, tasting like honey water, eclair and a caramel rum ball
  • Strathclyde 25 year (1990/2016) 51.1% from Douglas Laing – A remarkable nose that kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.

Still to try something from North British and Starlaw… However not such a bad start to exploring this category of whisky!

Curious about even more grains? Check out this Grain’s page dedicated to just grain – in all its various from Scotland to Japan to North America and Europe!

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Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

Royal favour has its benefits… including in the world of whisky.

The distillery was founded in 1812 by Captain William Fraser of Brackla House on the estate of Cawdor Castle and by 1833 was selected by King William the IV to be the royal court whisky. The distillery changed hands, had its ups and downs – including closing for some time in 1943-45 and 1964-66 then 1985-91.

And yet the “Royal” title remained, even as it changed hands eventually ending up as part of the Dewar & Sons portfolio.

We sampled this 21 year old whisky blind, with a reveal at the end. Here is what we thought…

Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

  • Nose – We were greeted with varnish, lime, sharp and direct, link control, medicinal soap, started to shift and become very sweet, cinnamon spice candy, bananas, hallowe’en corn candy, marshmallows, wood sap, toffee, burnt caramel, a puff of smoke, resin, white pear, leafy basil, curry leaf
  • Palate – Soft, a nice coating and well balanced, raisins and resin, a bit of chocolate, loads of wood, honey, with the 2nd sip was much spicier
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice – delicious!
  • Water – I never would have thought to try but others prompted – the whisky takes water quite well, opening up a complete fruit basket of aromas, butterscotch, rounds it out even more, with a lovely sweetness, revealing a nice fresh grassy element on the palate, surprisingly it also improved the mouthfeel

It was a rather nice way to finish up our Scottish traditional trio. Again it had the sense of being a combination of ex-bourbon with some ex-sherry too.

And the reveal?

A recognition this is a distillery we rarely encountered. Yet were pleased to do so that evening.

So what do the folks at Dewar (aka Barcardi) have to say? They have quite succinct tasting notes:

Richly fragrant with summer berries, dark chocolate, star anise, and a sherried sweetness.

Our original tasting group explored two other whiskies in our classic Scottish trio evening:

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Old Pulteney 17 year 46% revisited

Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of how much you enjoy a particular distillery and its whiskies. We had just such an opportunity with our Scottish “classic” evening…

Naturally half the fun was tasting completely blind with the reveal only at the end. Here is what we found…

Old Pulteney 17 year 46%

  • Colour – Copper
  • Nose – Sweet perfume, floral, vanilla, a touch of salty brine, chocolate, butterscotch, so familiar and inviting, toffee, some gentle sherry influence. After the 1st sip we found marzipan, almonds, light sweet citrus like a lemon cake. As it opened even more, there was a hint of smoke. As we let it sit even longer, the citrus shifted into a lively orange peel oil.
  • Palate – Soft sweet spice with some salt. A lovely complexity, sweet lime, lightly bitter with a subtle touch of tobacco leaf, a wisp or puff of smoke, so beautifully balance
  • Finish – Ends on a sweet note, gentle spice, really quite beautiful, a bit of liquorice
  • Water – Mellows it out… some preferred with and some without

We all really enjoyed this whisky and found it quite lovely, with a “feel good” character. While exceedingly easy to drink, it also had complexity and kept evolving. We all were confident that it must be Scottish and clearly well crafted. It also had all the hallmarks of an ex-Bourbon cask with a bit of ex-Sherry too.

A few of us kept remarking how there was something so completely familiar about it. We settled on Highland, one even mentioned Old Pulteney, another an old style Balvenie.

And our reaction to the reveal that it was an Old Pulteney 17 year?

Delight! An excellent reminder of how this whisky is simply one good dram.

Naturally this was one of many enjoyable evenings with Old Pulteney of which a few included:

Our original tasting group took an evening with a classic Scottish trio:

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Scottish Trio – Linkwood, Old Pulteney, Royal Brackla

Sometimes you just want to enjoy classic styled whiskies… with a flight that has a straight forward age progression from younger to older… no experimentation, just a standard combination of ex-bourbon cask and ex-sherry maturation.

That is exactly what we did this month, sampling each malt blind… And yet it wasn’t entirely as “traditional” an experience as one would think…

Our original tasting group went “traditional” with a Scottish trio:

Curious to know more about what we found? Just click on the whisky links above and get all the juicy details!

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Dewar’s Aberfeldy 21 year 40%

Ah Dewar’s… a blend that has gone beyond the mold by being involved with such initiatives like the Dewarists – an MTV series of musical travelogues around India. This show blended musicians from different genres and places living the motto: “Some things are just worth doing.”

I will openly admit to having a soft spot for any brand that gets behind independent musicians and contributes to the cultural fabric of their target market.

And what does that have to do with this whisky review? Naturally Aberfeldy distillery is part of the Dewars stable… and its 21 year old the high-end of their travel retail offerings.

What did we think? Read on…

Aberfeldy 21 year No 28750 40%

  • Nose – Sherry, vanilla, light hazelnut or bitter almond, dried orange peel, cloves, fruity, like pear or white apricot, very sweet and honeyed
  • Palate – Different than the nose indicated… some leather, bitter and then became fruity. As it settled in became nice and enjoyable with a decent mouth feel
  • Finish – Long yet initially quite bitter, nutty like walnut skin

Never had a whisky that greeted us with such a wet warm whisky welcome… It was quite ‘friendly’ in a sloppy moist puppy dog kisses kind of way. Yet amusing and sweet too.

We set it aside for some time and returned to see how it had become sweaty in the covered glass. A few whiffs and sips, we decided it was worth the wait. The sweetness and initial drizzle of honey became more and more pronounced. The fruit also lightly mingled with a soft peat on the palate.

Overall we found it simple, easy to drink, uncomplicated yet eminently enjoyable.

And what would a bottle of this Aberfeldy would set you back? One can find it online at Master of Malt for approx £130.

PS If you are curious about the Dewarists… here is an ad film that provides insights into this series that ran from 2011 to 2016…

Dewar’s Scotch and The Dewarists

In our latest greatest adult evening, what all did we try?

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Whisky Ladies Go Against the Grain – Haig Club 40%

From Cameronbridge distillery in Fife, on the edge of Eastern Highlands and Lowlands, the Haig grain has set about creating a marketing space for a “different” kind of whisky.

It does not look like your traditional whisky bottle.

It does not attempt to claim space with your standard dram.

It steers far away from being “traditional” and instead embraces being a base for cocktails, welcomes ice, says hello to cola and more….

As they put it, it is deliberately “designed” to be different.

Forget everything you thought you knew about scotch. Experience the new world of scotch whisky.

So what did the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai collectively think?

Haig Club 40%

  • Nose – Initially a hit of pure alcohol, then starts to slip into a fresh, citrusy scent, some spice, light vanilla that over time started to reveal a nice butterscotch or caramel quality
  • Palate – We had quite a mixed response here – some found it smooth, innocuous honey water whereas others thought it flat to the extend of simply nondescript alcohol
  • Finish – Not much, short, perhaps a hint of honey ginger?
  • Water – Surprisingly given this was already at the low end of alcohol strength for a whisky, we actually did try it with water… and found it made it even more of an “easy drinking” whisky

We certainly weren’t “wowed” by this Haig grain but hadn’t expected to be either.

It was very “accessible” which is a nice way of saying easy-drinking without much distinctive character.

What was more amusing was the division of opinion on whether the “perfume” style bottle was aesthetically pleasing or not. Just like the palate, the room was divided between liking and not.

What is it exactly? A combination of three cask types – first-fill, rejuvenated and refill bourbon barrel-matured whiskies.

Beyond that… here’s what the folks producing it have to  say :

HAIG CLUB’s ultra-smooth character and toffee and butterscotch notes can be paired with a variety of complementary flavours to add extra layers of complexity, resulting in a range of cocktail styles that eclipse most whisky brands and showcase unexpected ways for people to enjoy Scotch.

  • Appearance: Light, bright gold with a fine viscosity, suggesting freshness and sweet flavour.
  • Nose: Light creamy butterscotch or custard, with tropical fruits and citrus becoming richer and sweet; a pleasing light woody spiciness.
  • Taste: Icing sugar or coconut creamy sweetness, butterscotch, and a mouth-watering spiciness. Like a tropical fruit salad with a fresh clean balance.
  • Finish: Short and very clean, with traces of freshly sawn wood.

And what would a bottle of the Haig set you back? You can find it online at Master of Malt for £39.95 or various duty free airports around Asia. Our bottle was purchased a few years ago and opened in September 2018.

PS – Photo credit goes to our contributor – with thanks!

What did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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21 years – Aberfeldy, The Glenrothes, Highland Park 1991

Sometimes you just want to go classic, returning to the days of age statements… or at least an aged dram known by vintage!

That is exactly what we did with our evening trio of “21s” – each whisky was matured for 21 years, an increasing rarity with ever increasing prices in the world of whisky.

In our latest greatest “adult” evening, what all did we try?

Want to know more? Just check out the links above and read on….

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Peat Unusual – Loch Lomond Peat 46%

Sometimes a whisky is picked up not for marketing schpeels, glowing reviews or word of mouth enthusiasm… Sometimes a whisky is acquired for more whimsical reasons… like a nod to pure childhood sentiment. Yes Tin Tin comics and their Loch Lomond whisky.

This is exactly the motivation for adding the Loch Lomond Peat to an evening of Peat Unusual – all peated whiskies but ones that did not necessarily follow the standard peaty Islay style.

So what did we think?

Loch Lomond Peated 46%

  • Nose – Honey sweet, organic, some caramel custard, floral grasses, tube roses and white flowers and more honey… after tasting there was even a hint of ginger… after sitting for much longer took on an almost sour mash quality
  • Palate – Sweet ginger and a quality that was almost tequila like, some spice
  • Finish – There but… quite shy

Overall this had us scratching our heads wondered where was the peat? Was there any peat? Wasn’t there supposed to be some peat?

Another joked it somehow reminded him of left-over pub tequila. Hmmm…

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad it just wasn’t stellar either, just something to pass away some time, sipping while you engaged in activities… an easy accompaniment

And what do the folks over at Loch Lomond have to say?

Not much as you can’t even find this particular expression on their website!

However the TWE folks have this to say instead:

The peated release of Loch Lomond was launched in 2008 by popular demand. Home to a cooperage, malt distillery and a grain distillery (which produces the best selling Glen’s Vodka), Loch Lomond is a multi functioning site. This has notes of soft fruit and is hugely peated.

Um… hugely peated? That certainly wasn’t our impression.

We opened this bottle in November 2017 and I strongly suspect this was picked up at The Whisky Exchange where it can be purchased for approx £14. And at that price? You can afford to indulge in a bit of pure Tintin nostalgia.

Our “peat unusual” whiskies featured:

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Highland Hijinks – Aberfeldy 18 year 40%

Last in our “Highland Hijinks” trio was an 18 year old from Aberfeldy. For the most part, one has Aberfeldy in Dewars blends, less frequently in official bottles however they are now regularly having a  12 and 21 year bottling with the 18 year launched in 2014 for travel retail.

I often think of 18 years as being the “sweet spot” for many Scottish single malts that truly demonstrate the quality and character while still being almost affordable vs 21 years which tend to rise steeply in cost.

For many of this, we simply haven’t tried  much Aberfeldy and it is increasingly rare to have “adult” age statements, so we looked forward to sampling!

And what did the Whisky Ladies think?

Aberfeldy 18 year 40%

  • Nose – Spirity, brash, seemed younger, then with a little effort could start to discern some citrus orange, honey or caramel, followed by nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon… with the nose becoming increasingly pleasant
  • Palate – Simple, sweet, easy on the palate, like sipping sugar or honey water with a slight injection of fruits, some spice
  • Finish – Where is the finish? Barely there

Overall we just had to admit it was a disappointment. One truly expects more from an 18 year old whisky. We found the nose had more promise then the palate was frankly… bland. Don’t get us wrong, we do appreciate a nice subtle nuanced dram, this one just didn’t have enough character to captivate our attention. Likely on its own, it may be easier to appreciate, but in a trio, it simply didn’t shine.

Talk turned to a rather crude hindi phrase which more politely could be explained as teasing but no real action. That about summed it up.

What did the Whisky Ladies sample in our night of “Highland Hijinks“?

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