Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Spirit Log: Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve

goddammn it! Had to borrow a pic from TWE for this one...
It was time to try something from the Highland region and some way or other (without the aid of a whisky guide) I arrived at the door of Glen Garioch. Reviews on The Whisky Exchange were favourable, but what swung it for me was that, with the desired criteria being no age statement/under 10 years and that I didn’t want to spend (much) more than £30, this one was both and a mouthwatering 48% - which turns out to be cask strength.It is  likely aged between 7 and 8 years and of course it also helps that it is non chill-filtered.

At the time of purchase they only did this, a 12 year old and a variety of vintage bottlings though that range has since been extended to include a 15 year old “Renaissance” edition which is the first of a 4 part series that is intended to chart “the fascinating progress of the spirit in the cask”. Fascinating? Over 15 years? More happens in the life of a cat over 15 years than happens in a cask sitting in a warehouse and you’d hardly call that fascinating would you? But you know what? I’ll go with it.

At around £75 the Renaissance edition seems a bit pricey, though I see you can also buy the pre-2009 15 year old edition at TWE for just a couple of pounds more. Interesting. For my Founder’s Reserve I paid £29.20 plus the P and the P.

In terms of presentation, it comes in a plain brown box with a bit of tartan trim while the bottle is pleasingly stout and sturdy.

While carrying out a little research on other peoples opinions of this expression, I came across one that raises a curious behaviour that, while whisky is considered to be the most complicated and perhaps worthwhile spirit, lauded and celebrated the world over, when people detect a note that isn’t entirely to their taste they seem to feel they have to improve on it – like, by adding “sweetened soda” – in this particular instance (naming no names).

I accept the stipulation that adding water can open up a spirit, and that it is necessary with higher cask strength bottlings (though the quantity to add is down to personal taste – I like to go for as little as possible), but… soda? How bad is it?

You get the impression that some reviewers treat their whisky like a puzzle; how can I make this right? - in the same way you add seasoning to a meal. I don’t think you’d ever get a wine enthusiast adding anything to their glass, would you? So why don’t whisky drinkers accept and enjoy an expression for what it is more?

The only instance in which I will try to “improve” a whisky is if I feel it’s so bad that I can’t drink it as is, and that rarely happens because in my experience, any bad spirit can be improved simply by sticking it in your hipflask or chugging it to get the party started… you don’t have to taste the fuck out of it. Mostly I’m happy to explore it and if I don’t like the trip, it’s more a case of finding a drink to use it up in.

It remains to be seen whether I’d feel anything needed to be added to the Founder’s Reserve, so let’s get around to seeing and open that bottle…

Since Jon had come round, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, I needed to open something new, and this was it. We caned nearly half of it that evening before I set it aside for a while to finish the HP12 and appraise all that has to offer. See last week for that particular self-indulgence.

The Founder’s Reserve has a similar taste to the Glen Scotia 16 – a tang that due to my limited experience still strikes me as weird. I’m thinking it is probably going to be indicative of a style since I have now found it in two different places – Glen Scotia being a Campbeltown and Glen Garioch a Highland malt.

In further comparison to the Scotia, the Garioch’s flavour profile doesn’t edge so far towards the synthetic impression that I mentioned in my earlier post. Nor is it as smoky.

Sadly, as the weeks went by I started to enjoy this less and less, to the extent that I would prefer many a blend over it. Consequently, at around £30 it seems overpriced when a Ballantine’s, Grant’s and even Asda’s own brand McKendrick’s would be preferable.

I started to detect hints of lavender (a plant I don’t think has any business being eaten (or drunk)), and also found the extra strength (its selling point) to be ultimately unpleasant, requiring more dilution than I would like just to soothe the unpleasant burn and leaving you drinking an underwhelming whisky squash.

In comparison to the admittedly pricier Glen Scotia 16, it was falling by the wayside, and even in comparison to the vast majority of single malts in my index. In terms of price per centilitre I’ve previously paid less for the Glanfarclas 10, Glenmorangie Original, Talisker 10 and HP12, all of which I consider vastly superior. Sadly, that can only lead us to the conculsion that you can do a lot better for £30.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Reacquainting - Highland Park 12

If you read my recent Canadian Adventure posts, you will already be familiar with the story of how I came into possession of another bottle of the Highland Park 12, a personal favourite and one that I have bought numerous times previously as presents for friends. On this occasion, it is as a failed gift attempt that I am able to revisit and see if another couple of years’ drinking experience has affected my opinion. It turns out my father-in-law doesn’t like peated whiskies at all – even this one which, being familiar with Islay’s heavily peated fare, I consider  to be mild.

Highland Park is still one of the coolest bottles around, with it’s chunky shape and oversized cork – not classy in a traditional sense exactly, just invitingly robust (just how I like my women…), treading that fine line between modern and classy with consummate ease.

I can’t help noticing the peaty aroma that escapes from the bottle on opening every time, but in the glass, the smoky nose is more subdued, and you forget there’s any peat in there at all. On first tasting, I’m thinking it’s not exactly a fine spirit, but it is so damn tasty. The body is a little light, but the profile is all class.

On first taste this time around, I was actually worried for a moment that Jim Murray was right in his 2013 Whisky Bible about the HP12 losing some of its quality, but I remembered I hadn’t appreciated my first bottle to its full extent immediately, and resolved to reserve final  judgement until a full appraisal could take place.

He doesn’t specifically say what’s wrong with this bottling, but puts it down to the cask and hopes it’s an anomaly. Consequently he scores it a mere 78. I have to say, I do believe I may have detected the slightest hint of a bum note in there, that it would seem was a logical effect of a cask issue, but even this note appeared only fleetingly and was quickly eclipsed by the mouthwatering flavours that are evident elsewhere within the spirit. So even with what I am going to accept as a possible slight flaw, HP12 is still significantly tastier than many a malt - especially at this price point.

I thought for a while that I might be loath to buy this as a gift until I could be certain the high standard was restored (or unless I needed to buy a gift, but couldn’t afford anything else at that particular time…), but as a dram for evening enjoyment, it clearly still has a lot to give.

By the end of my second tasting, I was convinced I’d been right all along, but to confuse matters further, other tastings proceeded to prove disconcerting; it isn’t quite right, is it? I thought, Or is it?

One night after band practice (and a beer), I settled in for another glass, and the flavours were delightful as they were dallying around on my tongue. I picked up a bit of bacon on the nose, along with the usual vanilla tones, and the spirit itself was soft, sweet and light. Probably the most I’d enjoyed a dram in many a week.

What is going on with this bottle?

I wondered maybe if this was a whisky to drink late at night (it was almost 11 when I poured it) but then, I usually drink it later on, having prepared myself with a blend first. Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong, maybe it follows pilsner best…

Reviews on forpeatsake.com have alluded to the way the whisky can taste different from one day to the next. This is something I’ve noticed before but, perhaps this time, that effect is more pronounced than previously noted. Many of those reviews mention that this bottle has become a trusty backup, one to keep in the cabinet at all times, and I think that tendency to  transform further supports that practice.

So far I’ve found my second bottle of this more puzzling than the first though, by turns, no less satisfying or intriguing. It seems to me now, that if I don’t get another bottle in and on the go soon after this one, the whole quandary could begin over again – so why not keep it on standby and enjoy the rollercoaster consistently, repeatedly, in perpetuity…?

It is that good. And because of that, I am elevating this malt from where it stood at number 6 in my all time single malt rankings to number 2, behind only Caol Ila 12 and ahead of such luminaries as Ardbeg 10, Bladnoch 10 and Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012. High praise indeed. I want another glass tonight, but it’s Thursday… sadly not a drinking night. Ah, but tomorrow…

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Spirit Log: Martell VS, or How to make a post out of uh... verylittle.

Brandy! It’s not as good as whisky is it? It’s not. It’s nice and all, and probably easier on the palate, but that’s why it comes up short when you compare it with a nice whisky. I do like it though, and its status as a must-have spirit in my house remains unthreatened with a view perhaps to one day finding a great one. Is there such thing as a great one? And more importantly, can you get a great one at an affordable price (as you can with wihsky)? That’s what I’m asking this week as I look at a low cost Cognac, Martell VS.

"fine" cognac? Or simply "all right" cognac?
At least, that was the plan as, when I looked at my notes I found I’d made very few. When I cast my mind back and tried to pull impressions from my memory… I hardly remembered drinking this bottle at all. What happened? It’s like some aliens have stolen three months of my life. I can’t remember a single specific instance of drinking it – how did I get through a whole bottle without it leaving a single impression one way or the other?

I do know that there were some pounds off this one (six), making it an overdraft friendly £25. I ruminated at the time that you can’t get a great single malt scotch for £25 as a rule, but that from time to time you can – I’ve picked up the Highland Park 12, Talisker 10 and Glenmorangie 10 at this price point before, so I had been hoping to draw some conclusions as to how this measured up.

Based on previous experience, my expectations were fairly low. Cognac is generally known to be expensive and the ones at the cheaper end of the spectrum thought to be poor – as borne out by the Courvoisier VSOP I bought some time ago, also for £25.

So what else do we know? I remember that the bottle was uninteresting aesthetically, that it was 40% ABV and that I had found from research that it is thought to be aged for between 5 and 7 years. So far, so particularly dull. I did read some good comments from user reviews online but clearly they didn’t inspire any particular impressions from me. Finally, in my simple “like?” column on my geeky spreadsheet, I have entered “yes”. That doesn’t really mean much where brandy is concerned as it’s all kind of all right, isn’t it?

So there you go. I hope you weren’t hoping for some in depth insight. I could make some up, but it wouldn’t be fair either to you or the product. And in the end, I think the lack of an impression it made tells its own story. Drinking the Martell VS has ultimately turned out to be the liquid equivalent of getting home drunk and watching your favourite TV show on the TV recorder, then deleting it… then waking up the next day, thinking “ooh, I’ve got that show to watch… where is it?” You’ve already watched and deleted it. It’s like that.

How is that supposed to help you? Well, if you’re going to buy it, don’t expect much.