Macallan Rare Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
OK so let’s give credit where credit is due. When Macallan do something they do it in style. Have to give them props for that. And they seemed to have pulled out all the stops for the launch of their newest NAS, the Rare Cask.

Set on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, is the newly opened bar Gold On 27, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by the name, is pretty lavishly done up in gold. This was to serve as the venue for this rather glitzy affair headlined by the Edrington Group Creative Director Mr Ken Grier.

I managed to sneak five minutes with him during the course of the evening and found Ken to be an instantly likeable chap. And looking at how Macallan is being perceived today in the world I’m confident he’s doing a stellar job.

Which now brings me to, what I consider, a serious problem in the world of whisky today. Stellar marketing to push average products to wide-eyed consumers. Now I’m in marketing as well and have, at times, been guilty of doing the same.

It is, after all, the look that sells. I get it.

But whisky evokes certain emotions that few other products do. It’s constantly being judged across an enormous gamut of subjectiveness. And each opinion is a sum of so many influences.

Which brings me to the moral dilemma I’ve started to face of late. Is something so subjective really bad (or good) just because I like it (or hate it)? I honestly don’t have the answer to that.

Take Dalmore for example. I think Richard Paterson is one of the best marketers of his era. Taking, what I feel is, a mediocre product at best and doing a fantastic job positioning it as an ultra-premium brand. I may not like that whisky but I have seasoned whisky buddies who swear by it. Are they wrong? Am I? Again, I don’t know.

So I feel that this Rare Cask is treading that ever shrinking line between being genuinely good and being wonderfully marketed. Do I think the whisky is good? Sure, it’s not bad. It’s not the magical elixir made from the tears of a thousand angels, mind you, but it’s certainly drinkable.

Is it over-compensating by being packaged in a lovely bottle and experienced at the world’s most prestigious venue? I certainly think so. Is Bob Dalgarno, their esteemed Whisky Maker, under constant pressure to churn out premium expression after expression despite depleting stocks of well aged whiskies just to satisfy both the Marketing and Finance department? You bet he is.

Made from a selection of casks which the official literature liberally describes as being rare, exquisite, never before, never again or exclusive (among other buzz words) and employing a mix of European & American first-fill sherry barrels (not all, mind you) my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Honey. Vanilla. Grated ginger. Nutmeg. Strong Oloroso sherry. Almonds. Touch of oak. Hint of citrus. Cloves. Red grapes. Green apples. A fair amount of spiciness. There is some masala – the nice kind. Dark chocolate. I like the nose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t blow me away but that’s fine. I don’t think it was meant to. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. A little oily. Plums. Raisins. Those Christmas spices again. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Clove. Chocolate. Dark oranges. Christmas cake or fudge. Almonds. Toasted tobacco. It’s not as good as the nose. I would have preferred a more full bodied approach. 21/25

Finish: Medium. Quite oily. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Could I have done with a bit more? Sure. 21/25

Overall Comments: I was sat with Ken Grier when tasting this so I might be a little biased by his good natured attention towards me as we shared this dram. Forgive me, I’m human after all. Otherwise the tasting camp was divided down the middle. Haters and lovers. Unsurprisingly the haters were part of my whisky club. The lovers people I had just met who were out enjoying an evening of decadent whisky tasting. Which sort of amplifies my point of how insanely subjective this matter is. I think the world would be a better place if the snobs chilled out a bit and the casual drinkers gave their whiskies a little more attention instead.

PS I would also like to ride a pink unicorn that pees only The Macallan 1946.

Rating: 85

Ben Nevis 10 Year Old

BenNevis 10
Distillery/Brand: Ben Nevis | Region: Highland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
To be perfectly honest I don’t really know any thing about Ben Nevis. I didn’t even know it was the highest mountain in all of the British Isles. I didn’t know the distillery was named after it. I didn’t even know it sat at it’s foothills.

I only bought this 10 year old because I thought the label looked cool. In my defense that was over four years ago and that’s more time than it takes Amrut to lose half it’s spirit so that should give you some perspective.

I visited their website and the first thing to greet you is a wildly hilarious video about a Scottish giant named Hector McDram (you can’t make this stuff up) who takes you on a journey through the Western Highlands. If you have ten minutes and a sense of humour I highly encourage watching it.

Other than the 10 year old they also have a smattering of blends under the name Dew of Ben Nevis.

Basically this has been sitting under my radar for a long time and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. There’s not a lot of literature about this expression but it seems like it’s been finished off in European Sherry. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40%

Nose: Toffee. Lots of bourbon. Milk sweets. Walnuts. Vanilla. Fudge. Chocolate. Dates. Green tobacco leaf. Toasted oak. Orange marmalade. Touch of peat. Coffee. Perfectly decent nose. Quite good, in fact. I like being pleasantly surprised because this could have gone either way. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. The delivery is a little weak – 40% ? Chocolate. Bourbon. That touch of oak again. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Dates. Nuts. Touch of bitter chocolate. Mild peat. Again, not bad. Decent. 21/25

Finish: Long. Dry. That oak again. Cinnamon. 21/25

Overall Comments: So what do I think? Yeah, why not? I like it. I think if I go back to it I might like it even more. It has something just a touch unusual to give it an edge.

Rating: 85

Springbank Gaja Barolo

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Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 54.7% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
Springbank is pretty much a genius distillery in my opinion. The way it produces three different whiskies from one set of stills is quite remarkable. And the fact that each whisky is pretty darn good is further testament to it’s stellar reputation.

It’s fought it’s fair share of wars with sulphur but then who hasn’t? Springbanks are primarily sherried and gently peated with an air of coastal sea salt around them. Their 10 & 12 year old cask strength versions are a joy to behold. As is the rather pricey 21 year old.

This particular expression is not as old that. Bottled at nine years it spent it’s first four years in a bourbon cask and the last five in a fresh Gaja Barolo barrel.

The Gaja Barolo is a type of red wine produced in Northern Italy using the Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes. I’ve, frankly, never had a Gaja Barolo so I’m not really sure what to expect.

The sample I have was distilled in February 2004 and bottled in October 2013. It is one of 11,000 bottles and served at 54.7% ABV.

Nose: Quite grainy. Dusty. Green. Herbaceous. Hint of talcum powder. Very mild peat. Faint cardboard. Ginger gratings. Dry wood. Honey. Sea salt. Could have been stronger overall. Lacks the depth and complexity, in my opinion.

Palate: Lots of pepper. Oak. Berries. Sea salt. Mild peat. Cinnamon. Dark chocolate. Tannins. Tobacco leaves. Brown sugar. A bit rough around the edges and a touch bitter. It’s not a disaster, mind you. But it so easily could have been.

Finish: Woody. Coffee beans. Some spice. Berries. Bitter ash.

Not entirely sure whether the experiment is working. It’s interesting enough, I suppose. Not sure why this particular wine was chosen to mature the spirit. I wish I could get my hands on an actual bottle of Gaja Barolo just to understand.

Not my favorite Springbank, that’s for sure.

Rating: 85

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Ardbeg AuriVerdes
Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 49.9% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review

It’s that time of the year again, folks! When emotions trump logic. When clear thinking is clouded. When, like crack addicts, we go insane for that one hit we have been waiting for since June 1 of last year.

I am, of course, talking about Ardbeg’s yearly Festival Release. This years’ must-have bottling is called the AuriVerdes.

‘Auri’ means gold and ‘Verdes’ means green. Which is basically to say there is gold liquid inside this green bottle. In Portugese. Not terribly creative I admit. It’s also the name of the Brazilian football team and, with the World Cup just around the corner, this is quite possibly a lawsuit in the making.

Let’s hope FIFA doesn’t bankrupt Ardbeg. How would we spend our hard earned cash on mediocre whiskies, otherwise?

This one has seen quite a different maturation process compared to other Ardbegs. The casks are American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels with normal Bourbon specification charring. Once in Scotland the heads were replaced with new American oak heads treated to a particular (and secret) toasting regime.

These re-worked barrels were then filled with spirit and ultimately blended together with Ardbeg from 1st and 2nd fill Bourbon barrels.

The idea was that the different wood elements would each lend their unique flavor profiles and create an entirely new flavor profile.

Did they succeed in a creating a unique flavored Ardbeg? Yes. Is it fantastic? Nope.

Nose: Very herbacious and heathery. Looking at the pale olive liquid in the glass one need not be surprised. The peat is subdued amid the vanilla butterscotch and stewed fruit. Some garam masala finds it’s way towards the end as well. The aromas are there but just not confident enough to create a lasting impression.

Palate: Quite thin and weak in my opinion. Very unlike an Ardbeg should be. Maybe they’re going for a newer audience that likes their whiskies unchallenging. Spicy spearmint with the same ashy greens as the nose. Maybe a chocolate pear in there too.

Finish: Medium with a touch of spice.

Had it at a tasting recently and a majority of Ardbeg fans in the room turned their noses up. As an avid anti-marketing whisky fan it pains me to see my favorite distillery riding on the back of it’s cult status and cool gimmicks instead of really focusing their blood and guts into making their whiskies the best in the world.

Which they were. And can still be.

Rating: 85

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

JW BlueLabel

Distillery/Brand: Johnnie Walker | ABV: 40% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 85

Review
Let me start by saying this is not a bad blend at all. It has some Port Ellen in it, though I don’t know how much. All the whiskies in here are at least 20 years old which, I suppose, in a way could begin to justify the high(ish) price tag – over US$250 travel retail.

That being said I have a pet peeve when it comes to products that are merely half way decent but are made to appear as if they have come down from the heavens on Gods’ own winged chariot. Now multiply my peeve by 10 when it comes to whisky.

Which is why I am a little miffed. Sitting atop shelves and commanding top dollar at bars just because of some snazzy packaging, a scroll and a marketing budget the size of Liberia’s trade deficit?

Sorry, but that’s not supposed to happen.

So the only thing I can do to balance out this equation is deduct one point from my review for excessive marketing and deluding innocents. That should make the brass at Diageo sit up and take notice.

Right, what else is there to do now but share my thoughts.

Nose: It’s not bad. Fresh out of the bottle the peat is quite strong (must be that drop of Port Ellen). There’s a nice wisp of smoky, salty butterscotch toffee on almonds. Let it settle and the vanilla starts coming out but now with some ginger spice and red apple. I think the nose is decent but definitely not as complex as promised on the velvet blue box.

Palate: Quite creamy if a touch one dimensional. There’s smoke on pear pudding and grated ginger. Touch of woody vanilla and chocolate lemon tart. A second sip brings out the savory salty nuts. Mull it longer and experience a drop of fish oil. Must be that Port Ellen.

Finish: Medium oily with that same grated ginger which is there through out your journey. But now with a sprig of bitter mint.

I think this is a half-way decent dram which should be treated as such. If the less-informed want to plonk their hard earned cash to fulfill some marketing generated stab at a status symbol then I wish them good health.

For everyone else may I suggest five Ardbeg 10s in the same price.

Rating: 85