Sunday, 11 June 2017

GlenDronach 14 - Oak influence

GlenDronach 14 is an interesting release due to the combination of casks. It is initially matured in re-charred European oak puncheons and finished in American virgin oak casks. I assume that the puncheons have been used to mature sherry. The combination of casks can help to answer some questions concerning cask influence.

How much sherry influence do we have from the puncheons?

        I find no sherry influence. Since the cask is re-charred, it has probably been used to mature whisky several times sucking the sherry out of the wood. Then the inactive casks have been re-charred, probably removing the remainder of sherry if any at all.

How much European oak characteristics like tannins do we have? Will a re-charred European oak cask have any influence at all?

-      Re-charring a cask will boost the vanilla influence, caramelize hydrocarbons and give a smoky influence. The caramelized hydrocarbons will give colour to the whisky. Characteristics like tannins and lactones are depleted and will not be regenerated by charring. The result is that the re-charred casks mainly gives vanilla, sweetness, colour and a minor smoky character to the whisky.

Will an American oak virgin cask give the whisky a bourbon like character?
-     
        An American oak virgin cask is the same type of cask used for maturing bourbon. I assume that the cask is charred. The cask gives typical bourbon characteristics like vanilla, coconut and tropical fruits.

The conclusion is that the GlenDronach 14 has many of the characteristics of a bourbon. It is an atypical scotch whisky, and a good alternative to bourbon, swapping corn with barley. GlenDronach 14 can absolutely be recommended.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Tullibardine - a vertical tasting

The Tullibardine new make is surprisingly clean and sweet with strawberry yoghurt, fruitiness and some citrus on the nose. The new make is unpeated and without the characteristic feinty sheep barn off-note. The new make should be a good base for wood maturation. Tullibardine has a nice concept for learning about the effect of maturation in different types of casks.

The base product Suvereign is matured for ten years in first fill bourbon barrels. Then we have the cask finishes 225 Sauterne, 228 Burgundy and 500 Sherry that are matured for one extra year in the respective casks. The number indicate the size of the cask.

The Suvereign has a nice clean vanilla, citrus and delicate oak nose. It is fruity with apple, pear and marzipan. Coconut is more prominent towards the finish which is relatively short.

The Sauterne finished is floral, sweeter and more intense than the Suvereign. It is creamy and citrusy with some orange and pineapple. It has a lot of vanilla and honey. It is perhaps too much, and I probably would prefer the Suvereign in the long run.

The Burgundy is finished in pinot noir casks. The Suvereign is increased with chocolate, spice and red berries. Surprisingly there is nail polish remover, new make and potato starch on the nose. It is a bit sour with vinegar, and it dies with water, turning into tannins. It is not my favourite, but neither as bad as the description should indicate.

The Sherry finished has some new make on the nose, but it is far less than the Burgundy. It has prunes, crème brulee, cinnamon and nutmeg on the nose, and it is a bit sour with a tiny bit of sulphur, and perhaps a bit metallic. It has a quite dry and salty finish. A nice whisky but I probably prefer the Suvereign. I can think of many sherry matured whiskies that I would prefer to this one.

The 20 year old matured in first fill and second fill bourbon barrels and the 25 year old matured in first fill and second fill Oloroso hogsheads seem interesting. The same does The Marray 2004 which is matured in first fill bourbon casks and bottled at 56.1%. I still have to try these.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Sherry casks



Traditionally the whisky industry uses transport casks for sherry cask maturation. The transport casks are more active than the solera casks that are used for years and mainly removed when they start to leak. In 1981 it became illegal to export sherry in casks. Today transport style casks are produced primarily for the whisky industry.

Fino has a dry style that is nutty and yeasty. The colour is light. Fino is almost always matured in American oak casks.

Oloroso is rich and complex with residual sweetness. When adding grape spirit to 17% the yeast is killed and will not build a protective layer as in the 15% fino process. The Oloroso is rounded and darkens due to oxidation.

Pedro Ximenez is made of dried grapes, almost raisins, and is pressed into a very sweet liquid. PX is used to sweeten the Oloroso made for the British market.

The sherry producers have used mostly American oak for the last 200 years. European oak casks are made by special order for Edrington, Glengoyne and G&M.

European oak used for sherry production is mostly sourced from places like Galicia, Asturia and Cantabria in northern Spain. Quercus Robur from Galicia gives a spicier product with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruits, candied peel, caramel, orange and Christmas cake, chocolate and wood. American oak has more flavours like vanilla, honey, coconut, almonds, hazelnuts, butterscotch, fudge and ginger.

Edrington cooperates with the cooperages like Tevasa, Vasyma and Hudosa who turn trees into casks. The casks are filled with Oloroso for 18 months. Edrington cooperate with bodegas like Gonzalez Byass and Willams & Humbert. They use different cask sizes like butts, puncheons and hogsheads.

Both butts and hogsheads are made of American and European oak. That is, butts are not synonymous with European oak, and hogsheads are not synonymous with American oak.

When it comes to single cask whiskies, the type of cask is generally written on the bottle. The whisky should in general be matured in the same cask for the whole maturation, but it is no guarantee. In a worst-case scenario, whisky could have been transferred from one or more casks to a new cask, which is described as the single cask. Some reasons for transferring whisky could be cask leakage or that the whisky is not maturing well.

The Edrington distilleries Macallan and Highland Park both predominantly matures their whiskies in sherry casks, but Macallan is generally known for a heavier sherry influence than Highland Park. How can this be, when they have the same Edrington cask source?

After talking to the Edrington ambassadors Sietse Offringa and Martin Markvardsen, I conclude that Macallan has an oilier spirit that is more active extracting colour and flavour from the casks. In addition, Macallan probably uses more active casks, that is first fill casks, than Highland Park. The ratio between American and European oak sherry casks is more likely the same. The climate influence is probably minuscule, even though larger temperature variations in general results in increased wood extraction.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gjoleid 2016 release

During Oslo whiskyfestival Ivan Abrahamsen, the master blender of Arcus, presented their new releases of their Norwegian whisky Gjoleid. 

Their first distillation of Gjoleid was back in 2010, and they bottled two 3½ year old September 5th 2013. One was matured in an oloroso American oak butt (cask 9305) and the other in a first fill American oak bourbon barrel (cask 9359).

Arcus uses a narrow cut to get a light whisky, the heart of the distillate is 74,3% for the 2011 batch. The mash is made of 85 % malt and 15 % wheat. 15 % of the malt is dried using beech smoke.

Now they are releasing three whiskies of which one is for the tax-free market.

The tax-free release Praksis 1.1 is a mix of two casks, one American oak first fill bourbon barrel (cask 10329) and one American new oak barrel (cask 10342). The whisky was bottled on June 22nd 2016 close to five years old. There are 1400 bottles.

A similar release Praksis 1.2 for the general market has the same type of casks, one American oak first fill bourbon barrel (cask 10336) and one American new oak barrel (cask 10341). The whisky was bottled on June 22nd 2016 close to five years old. There are 1400 bottles. The difference between the 1.1 and 1.2 release is that the new oak is more heavily charred in the 1.2 than in the 1.1.
It is interesting how the extra charring gives a more intense whisky which appears sweeter and smokier. Both whiskies have the typical characteristics of American oak bourbon barrels with the beech smoke, wheat and new wood coming through. Both whiskies are coming on very well.

The last release Blindpassasjeren is originally matured on an old American oak sherry cask and finished on an oloroso sherry cask (465 litres) made of American oak (cask 5491) and used to mature Lysholm aquavita. Lysholm gives the whisky a light delicate flavour of caraway and star anise. Like the aquavita, the whisky has been out travelling on a ship across equator for four months. The effect of the ship travel is to move the whisky around, speeding up the maturation and taking more flavour out of the wood. The dried fruits typical for sherry cask matured whiskies is coming through together with the lighter flavours of American oak. The whisky is from the 2011 batch and was bottled June 23rd 2016. It’s the same new make as for the other whiskies.

All the whiskies are bottled at around 47 %. The whiskies are still young, but the bourbon matured whiskies are doing quite well. I think the bourbon matured whiskies for the moment are doing better than the sherry matured. But hopefully time will help.

Arcus has a new warehouse in Nittedal stacking 13 casks high. The whisky is matured at 18˚C in a dry climate. The result is an increase in alcohol of 0,4 % each year. The is watered down to 55 % during maturation to keep it under 60 %.


Arcus has a new batch made of 100000 litres of wort that was distilled in 2013. So it seems that we have more goodies to look forward to.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ceobanach compared

The Ardbeg 10 year old has been one of my favourites for many years, but since introduction of the new distillate from 1998 and onward, the quality of the 10 year old has gradually decreased.

Today Ardbeg is getting serious competition from Bunnahabhain which is very good at its best, but a chocking catastrophe at its worst.

This evening I compared Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, Bunnahabhain Toiteach, Ardbeg 10 and the Edradour Ballechin 10 year old.

I prefer my peated ex-bourbon matured whiskies without the new make character which I find rancid and stale, and without the rubber/sulphur character which maturation in good quality ex-bourbon casks should remove.

The Toiteach has too much new make character and seems immature. The new make hides the nice Bunnahabhain character which I find plenty of in the Ceobanach. To my taste Toiteach should never have been bottled. But I will give Toiteach one thing, when getting it in the mouth and trying to forget the nose, it is quite good.

The Ceobanach is a beautiful whisky with citrus, sweetness, light fruitiness and flowers on the nose. The smoke is a crystal clear wood smoke. Today I find the Ceobanach much better than the Ardbeg 10 year old which has got more of the new make and rubber/sulphur part than the old 10 year old. I find the Ceobanach to be more citrusy, sweet, fruity and floral on the nose than Ardbeg. Ardbeg 10 is still a good whisky.

But, are there other good peated whiskies out there? Fortunately, yes! This evening I gave the Ballechin 10 year old a chance. With some sherry matured whisky in it, it has a hint of new make one the nose and is a bit heavier than the Ceobanach. It has also a hint of rubber and sulphur, but it works ok with a heavier whisky. All in all, I find the Ballechin to be a good whisky.

I can sit down and enjoy Ceobanach, Ardbeg 10 and Ballechin, but the Toiteach is a pain.

Aftermath
Got a sample of Bunnahabhain Moine, the Swedish edition from 2015, and compared Moine, Toiteach and Ceobanach.

The Moine has quite a bit of new make character, but lack the decay of the Toiteach. Both are young NAS whiskies, but I think that the sherry influence of the Toiteach is a problem. The casks have not been able to remove the decay character from the Toiteach, while the more pronounced ex-bourbon influence of the Moine has. 

The nose of the Moine is sweet, vanilla and fruity, but the citrus and floral part is drowned by the new make character. The Moine is not bad on its own, but head to head with Ceobanach it has a long way to go. It is too young.

A problem with the Moine is that the aftertaste fades away quite fast. It goes from sweet and new make to peppery and then dryness which fades away fast.

The Toiteach goes from intense to dry and then heavy pepper for a good while before getting dry and fading away. It has a longer aftertaste than the Moine. The Ceobanach is less peppery with a long dry oaky aftertaste. It is very clean and nice.

The Moine works well on its own, but I will rather buy a bottle of Ceobanach. I find Moine to be a much better whisky than the Toiteach.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The development of Ardbeg 10

Ardbeg changed their distillation regime in May 1998, and the new Ardbeg 10 was first bottle the summer of 2008. Back in 2011 I compared an old Ardbeg 10 from 2006 (L6 150 4:50 p.m. 4ML) to the new Ardbeg 10 from 2009 (L9 203 1:49 p.m. 6ML). Both whiskies were 46% abv. and non chill filtered.

According to my notes, the aroma and taste were quite similar, but there were differences. The difference in colour was close to zero. Both had sweetness and citrus on the nose, but they were not directly fruity. The old had a touch of peach, honey, toffee and acetone, while the new one was somewhat lighter and fruitier with a flowery touch. Vanilla was also more prominent in the new. The new developed to a greater extent from a sweet to a bitter and astringent mouthfeel. The old was more full-bodied, and appeared immediately smoother. Nevertheless, the new one had the smoothest mouthfeel.

Both whiskies had the characteristic Ardbeg creosote, sea, salt, pepper and smoke, even though the new one was more pronounced in all these areas. I finished asking if these are to completely different whiskies. The answer was no, and a statement that it would probably be possible to taste the difference even when you taste one by one, but if you don’t think about it, they would probably be taken for the same whisky.

Last week, I had the opportunity to compare a 2006 version against a 2015 version. I was in for a big surprise. I did not expect to find a big difference. The Ardbeg 10 year old is still 46% abv. and non chill filtered, but then come the differences.

The 2015 version was much paler than the 2006 version. Since no colour is added, a sign of younger whiskies.

The 2015 had a much more rubbery and smoky character than the old one which had much more of the Ardbegian creosote character. The new one seemed crisper, spicier and with a hint of crème brûlée, while the old one was the smoothest. Overall, I like the 2006 version much better than the 2015 version.

Why did I not find a big difference between the 2006 and the 2009 version, while I found a big difference between the 2006 and 2015 version? Has Ardbeg been moving gradually to younger whiskies with more rubber and less creosote? It seems reasonable. In the 2006 version, it is probably a large amount of older whisky from around 1990, while the 2015 version probably consists mostly of ten years old whisky. Doing the change overnight, would have caused a too fast change in flavour. It seems like a good idea to do the change gradually over several years. Is this what has happened?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ardbeg Perpetuum

There are two releases of Ardbeg Perpetuum; the 49.2% distillery release (DR) and the 47.4% general release (GR). The DR was released in March 2015 and the GR in May 2015. I got the opportunity to compare the two at Ballygrant Inn on Islay some days ago. Are there any differences except for the strength? How is Perpetuum compared to Arbeg 10Y? I find the GR more mature than the DR. The difference can not be explained by the strength alone. A rescue operation going on between the release of DR and GR? I find both to be immature versions of the 10Y.  I find no reason to buy the Perpetuum unless you are a fan of the Ardbeg new make. Personally I prefer a more mature version of the Ardbeg, so I dropped buying the DR when I visited the distillery for lunch. Should I buy a Perpetuum, I would keep to the GR. But the quality is far from earlier special releases like Alligator, Galileo and Ardbog. A sign of running low on mature whisky, forcing the release of substandard NAS?