Sunday, 7 October 2018

Don't be fooled by the cask

I bought a 20cl sample of Bunnahabhain that had been matured for 14 years in a Pedro Ximenez Noe cask, at the distillery. It was in a dark bottle, so I could not see the colour of the whisky. I expected to see a dark coloured whisky like the Dalmore or Glendronach, but it was light golden. Andrew Brown, distillery manager at Bunnahabhain, told me that the cask was very old and used several times to mature whisky before Bunnahabhain got it. It turned out to be inactive.

So to a comparison between the Bunnahabhain and a Caperdonich 18 years old refill American oak hogshead matured whisky.

First some facts about the whiskies:
1) Bunnahabhain, cask 555, 14 years old, 54.8% abv., Pedro Ximenez Noe sherry butt, bottled 26 March 2018.
2) Caperdonich, single cask, Douglas Laing's, Old Particular, 312 bottles, refill hogshead, REF-DL9963, distilled June 1995, bottled August 2013, 18 years old, 48.4% abv.

The Bunna was slightly more golden than the pale gold Caperdonich.

The Bunna showed sweetness and custard overpowered by new make on the nose, while the Caperdonich was sweet with vanilla and fruitiness. The Caperdonich was quite gentel.

The Bunna had very little alcohol sting, while the Capardonich seemed a bit stronger with more sting even though it had a lower abv., but it was not overpowering.

In addition to the custard and new make, the Bunna showed some oakiness in the mouth. The aftertast was light and short.

The Caperdonich had a light and fruity tast. The aftertast was light and delicate, but short.

With water the Bunna lost the oakiness, but it didn't improve. The Caperdonich took the water very well and turned into pure delight - a candy store.

Conclusion: Both whiskies had the character of American oak. I could not find any hint of Noe sherry in the Bunna. The Bunna could have doubled for a three year old, while the Caperdonich had a lot of nice American oak fruitiness. A very good whisky.

One last comment: Gonzales Byass Noe solera casks are made of American oak. Without the charcoal the sherry cask was not able to remove the new make even after 14 years. In addition it was not able to give anything to the whisky to overpower the new make due to inactivity.

Even though I didn't find the Bunnahabhain any good, it was an interesting experience. I love the policy of bottling these 20cl samples. They give a good understanding of cask maturation.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Glenfiddich - now and then

How is todays Glenfiddich 12 year old (L2B 7430 1708 08:37) compared to the Pure Malt (LA 4287 0106 42) edition of the late 80’s and early 90’s? Since todays 12 year old is the successor of the Pure Malt, you could expect them to be quite similar. Starting with the colour, you get an indication of differences. The Pure Malt is much paler than the 12 year old. After what I understand, the Pure Malt is eight to ten years old, but I cannot find any big difference in maturity between the two.

I find todays Glenfiddich very fruity with a prominent aroma of pears - almost artificially intense. The Pure Malt has still pears, but with a nutty oily character. The Glenfiddich of today is light drinking and very commercial. The old one is much more demanding, and I love it. I prefer the old one, but I think the new one is a better market match.

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 alder 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. 

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. 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.

There are approximately 1000 bottles of Praksis 1.1, and the same of Praksis 1.2. The lable says 1400 bottles, but that is a misprint.

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 alder smoke, wheat and new wood coming through. Both whiskies are coming on very well. Praksis 1.1 seems to have some aquavita influence, but Ivan Abrahamsen from Arcus has confirmed that there is no influence from aquavita casks in Praksis 1.1 and 1.2.

The last release Blindpassasjeren is originally matured in an old American oak sherry cask and finished in 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.

Updated 170723: Alder smoke not beech smoke.
Updated 170813: Number of bottles printed on Praksis 1.1 and 1.2 are wrong. Approxiamtely 1000, not 1400.
Updated 170813: No aquavita influence in Praksis 1.1 and 1.2.

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.

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.