Chivas Regal Ultis
Distillery/Brand: Chivas | Region: Scotland | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 6.4 | Palate: 5.4 | Finish: 5.6 | Overall Score: 5.8
2016 has not been a stellar year and few will disagree with me on that. From beloved icons to hairy primates we’ve lost a lot in the last 350 odd days. Many people I know, my self included, will be glad to get rid of ’16 much like a corrupted tooth that’s been making your entire head hurt.
Notwithstanding the troubles rife in all the world there is also the alarming downward tailspin that is the whisky industry. And I don’t mean that in terms of commercial worries.
Oh no. Quite the contrary.
The giants have enjoyed this resurgence immensely. There’s not enough whisky to go around and distilleries / blending houses are struggling to meet with demand.
That’s all good.
What is tailspinning out of control is the unabashed pandering of, and I say this with the largest grain of sand that has ever existed in the history of the world, luxury whiskies to an unsuspecting public. A public that, in the midst of all these crises, still manages to loosen their purse strings in the hope of deriving value. A public that does not know any better. And a public that is routinely being hoodwinked.
It’s a shame.
I’ve written so many of these rant type reviews of late that it almost feels like it’s becoming my signature style. And I don’t want that. Because that’s not who I am. That’s not why I decided to start this little site. It was, in fact, to discover great whiskies and share them with the world. Not to put down the ones that didn’t meet with my satisfaction.
But this year has been harsh. Everywhere I’ve turned I’ve seen expensive suits, flashy invites, stunning venues, beautiful packaging, brilliant PR and, in the midst of all the fanfare, bullshit spirits devoid of any depth or complexity.
It’s almost as if they’ve latched on to a formula for success. Brand ambassador – check. Expensive venue – check. Entertaining distractions – check. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
And the really sick part is that, despite knowing all of this, people like me still latch on to the hope that this time, maybe this time, they won’t take us for a ride. That the heavy price tag genuinely reflects the quality and craftsmanship that the brand so proudly boasts about.
When I first came across the press release for the Chivas Ultis I was immediately drawn. I love vatted malts, thanks in large part to Compass Box, and was really curious what was being done with this. It had a nice story – five malts for five blenders – as a homage for their services. Nice. Comprising of five whiskies from five Speyside distilleries, Tormore, Longmorn, Strathisla, Allt A’bhainne and Braeval, it had the makings of something special. The packaging looked sleek and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
I sent out a mass message to all my friends to pick one up if they encountered it during their travels. And it was not a small favour to ask given it’s US$200 price tag. One of my close friends happened across this at Heathrow and put down his hard-earned money to do me this favour.
And as I sat at his table unboxing the bottle and poured my self a drink the only thing I could think of was Please don’t suck.
That’s it. Not I hope this blows me away. Just Please don’t suck. We are literally in that sorry stage of acceptance that it if it’s simply average we’re relieved. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40%
Nose: Lots of sherry. Butterscotch. Vanilla. Toffee. Soft red apples. Some cinnamon. Christmas fruit cake. Becomes a touch dry after a bit. Blood oranges. Black liquorice. Cherries. A very strong minty aroma now. Close to spearmint. Quite strange. As it settles stale coconut oil. Started off promising but somehow failed to keep me impressed. 6.4
Palate: Light bodied. Extremely weak delivery. Was expecting velvet to quote my mouth. What a let down. Peppercorns. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Trouble getting any flavours out thanks to the low ABV. I tried, believe me. 5.4
Finish: Medium. Woody. Touch of limestone. 5.6
Overall Comments: What do you want me to say? Unbalanced. Devoid of any real depth. Weak. When I first read about this I made a little joke about the name. You see Ultis in Hindi means many vomits and I observed that this was probably not the best name to go with given the penchant that many Indians have for Chivas Regal. But in hindsight it seems like a fitting name given the state the industry is. Don’t waste your money on this bullshit.
Overall Score: 5.8
Compass Box Orangerie
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 15 | Taste: 15 | Finish: 12 | Balance: 14 | Rating: 56
OK John Glaser. I know you do some amazing things at Compass Box but seriously WTF is this crap?
First he’s taken malt whisky from Glen Moray and blended it with equal parts grain whisky from Cameronbridge and vatted them in a first-fill American Oak hogshead.
He’s then infused the spirit with hand-zested Navalino orange peel, Indonesian Cassia Bark and Sri Lankan cloves. The result is the most imbalanced, weirdly tasting whisky I’ve ever had. And actually it doesn’t qualify as whisky any more thanks to the stuff he’s dropped in it. I believe it’s actually liqueur now.
I’m sure he had his reasons for doing what he did and I’m sure there are people who really really like this monstrosity. But if I know Glaser’s taste then I’m pretty sure he didn’t like this as well. Don’t believe me? Ask him yourself.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% ABV
Nose: Orange. Orange. A bit of orange. Some orange. A touch of orange. Lots of orange. With a side of orange. And, oh yeah, orange. Did I mention orange? No? A dash of orange. 15/25
Palate: That same orange that I got on the nose. Some orange. A touch of orange. A wisp of orange. Lots of orange. Chew on it and you get orange. Becomes more orangey mid-palate. 15/25
Finish: That orange again. With a touch of orange. 12/25
Overall Comments: Orange.
PS For a look at how to make orange zest work with your whisky check out the Amrut Narangi
Compass Box The General
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 53.4% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94
Everyone loves a good story. None more so than me when it comes to whisky. And Compass Box seem to have a ton in store. Given the lopsided state of the whisky industry where stories (read marketing gimmicks) trump whisky quality it is natural to be a bit weary of enticing tales.
But when the spirit inside the bottle just happens to be a cut above so many of the others then a good story makes it that much more special.
Which is precisely the case with this gorgeous and extremely unique blend.
Compass Box, in my opinion, are possibly the finest independent bottlers of blended whisky today. From the Spice Tree to The Flaming Heart and now to this beautifully crafted gem there is seldom an instance when they are sub-par at their craft.
One day a strange thing happened at the Compass Box offices. A cask turned up claiming to be around 33 years of age which included spirit that had already been blended when young and left to mature. Now this is a strange thing to have in ones’ possession.
However, what is stranger still is that another cask was brought into their possession which also happened to have blended spirit in it and this one had been maturing for over 40 years. But no one really knows for sure.
The delightful mystery is that no one really knows what kind of whiskies were in both casks or even what sort of casks they were. So Compass Box did what they do best. They experimented.
They felt the only way this could work was if both the spirits were blended to make one whisky. And so after many tries at the correct ratios they finally arrived at The General. This blend is named after the 1926 Buster Keaton movie where he takes an old steam locomotive (The General) on a wild ride to find the love of his life.
One of 1678 bottles and bottled at 53.4% this is one of the finest blends you can try.
Nose: Equally strong sherry as well as bourbon. Very dry. Lots of oak. A lovely weathered oak at that. Warm chocolate oranges. Clove. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Wood varnish. Sweet brown sugar. Sandalwood. Maple syrup. Dry autumn leaves and the faintest of peat. A lovely and strong nose.
Palate: Cinnamon. Dark honey. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Apple stew. Hints of cumin. And that beautifully textured wood. So mature and held together with amazing poise.
Finish: Long. Oloroso sherry. Cinnamon. And the mature oak is back.
This is a lovely whisky which seems to have worked as a result of creative blending. And every time I try a different Compass Box release I fall in love with their style a little more.
The Lost Distilleries Blend – Batch 4
Distillery/Brand: The Lost Distilleries Blend | ABV: 50.9% | Color: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 20 | Rating: 84
OK. First off. I’m not a whisky snob. I like blends as much as single malts as much as bourbons as much as grain whisky. I do not thumb my nose at anything. If it tastes good it has my approval.
So let’s get that out of the way.
And at the same time I try my hardest not to be influenced by anyone. Be it awards or distinguished whisky critics. The latter being the toughest thing for me.
And so I found it a little hard to put together my review of the multi-award winning, critic loving Lost Distilleries Blend Batch 4.
Master of Malt are fast becoming extremely competent independent bottlers. This includes their Master of Malt bottlings, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, The Secret Distilleries, The Lost Distilleries and not to mention their own Vodka, liqueurs and bitters. So these guys know what they’re doing.
The Lost Distilleries Blend series is, as the name suggests, spirit from closed distilleries put together in a blend. No ages are given and neither are percentage of whiskies inside it. On the face of it I think it’s a brilliant idea. Very marketable.
The batch four includes whiskies from Rosebank, Littlemill, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Keith and Port Ellen.
Nose: Very sweet. Overripe mangoes and apricots. Vanilla and chocolate orange with a wisp of smoke (Port Ellen?). Custard. Dry sherry. Hint of wood polish and a sprinkle of very mild green herbs. Smells very Speyside-y to me. In a nice way.
Palate: Spicy. Much too spicy. Almost enough to overpower. I don’t like that. Some mild honey. Orange sponge cake. Apple strudel with cherry on top. But again lop sided spice.
Finish: Long. Mixed fruit salad.
The nose is decent enough. Nothing out of the ordinary that would make me go damn. The palate is simply not in sync for me. The finish is OK.
I really, really tried to like this. Multiple sittings. Letting it breathe for longer. Just didn’t cut it.
What did make a difference was water. A few drops and the bouquet just erupts in an explosion of vanilla. Nothing but vanilla every where. The palate mellow. The custard becomes stronger and sweeter. The finish more fruity.
I’m guessing the panel at the WWA dropped some water in this. But I’m going to have to mark it straight.
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Taketsuru | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
Taketsuru San is a legend. He worked in Scotland during the early part of the 20th century at Longmorn and then at Hazelburn all the while carefully plotting a plan that would take the whisky world by storm.
He went back to Japan armed with whisky making knowledge and a Scottish wife (of no relevance to this review by the way) and began work at Kotobukiya (which would later become Suntory). Then in 1934 he decided to open up his own distillery and chose Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaid. He believed that this part of the country most resembled Scotland.
This distillery would be named Nikka.
This pure 2013 pure malt is a homage to the great man who is responsible for some of my finest moments in whisky drinking. This blend also has the distinction of winning the 2014 World Whiskies Award for Best Blend. Not that I give a toss about whisky awards.
Nose: The sherry influence is is obvious. Dark honey and marmalade fig jam on slightly burnt toast. There is a touch of fresh mint and almonds too. It gets fruitier over time with pears and red berries. All this against a backdrop of decadent oaky chocolate cake.
Palate: Rich. Robust. Creamy. Unmistakable sherry raisins and chocolate maple. The black coffee peppers bring the spice while the ripe sultanas add a touch of fruit.
Finish: Spicy date on autumn leaves.
This is quite a bold whisky and unashamed of it’s flavors. I’d love to see a cask strength version of this.
Nikka, are you reading this?
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Distillery/Brand: Johnnie Walker | ABV: 40% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 85
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.
Compass Box The Spice Tree
Distillery/Brand: Compass Box
Color: Young Sauternes
Compass Box has served me well. I love their packaging. I feel they are a solid independent that produce very innovative and flavorful blends. And I had been looking forward to tasting this particular offering for a while now.
However, what I love more than the malt itself is the wonderful story behind it. When they first introduced this expression in 2005 they did it on the basis of an interesting experiment.
Using 100% malts from the Northern Highlands – mainly Clynelish – all around 10 years old they re-racked the spirit in their own customized casks.
Customized, you ask? Well, this is what they did.
Using 195 year old French Oak (heavily toasted and air dried for two years) they crafted inner staves which they fitted inside used barrels, therefore, extending the life of an otherwise useless barrel.
The result? The first edition of The Spice Tree which ended up winning rave reviews and awards. Unfortunately, the Scotch Whisky Association decided this was illegal and rather than get into a tiff Compass Box decided to suspend production in 2006.
But they had another trick up their sleeve. Instead of using staves second time around they decided to, instead, manufacture heavily toasted cask heads from the same French Oak used in the first edition. Suck on that SWA!
Nose: Hint of peat on a lovely orange marmalade spread. Quite sweet with an almost fortified white wine quality to it. Soft brown raisins. But of course, as the name suggests, the multitude of spices are what sets this one apart. Ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg all feature quite strongly on the nose. The French Oak in play here.
Palate: Creamy mouthfeel with a lovely citrusy sweetness to it. Must be all that Clynelish. The spicy cloves and ginger bits are at home amid the limestone sweetness of the warm brown chocolates and butterscotch raisins.
Finish: Lovely and long with an oily wooden spice.
This is quite a spectacular malt by any standards and well worth sinking your teeth into.
Berry’s Islay Reserve
Berry’s (or Berry Bros & Rudd if you like) are a dependable independent bottler responsible for a string of award winning experiments. Including winning Independent Bottler of the Year on multiple occasions.
Which means that this Islay blend was under tremendous pressure to perform. And it looks like it suffered from a case of performance anxiety.
Nose: Hhmmmm is there a Laphroaig in here some where? The mild iodine certainly thinks so. The hardboiled sweets and sea salt come next with a side of cardboard peat. But I feel there is something missing.
Palate: A touch one-dimensional in my opinion. A spicy lemon tartness with a touch of honey and chalky limestone. Is this a Caol Ila mixed in with the Laph? Could very well be.
Finish: Quite spicy though too short for my liking.
It’s half decent. But don’t expect it to blow your socks off.
The Naked Grouse
Distillery/Brand: Famous Grouse
Color: Deep Gold
This little beauty was slipped in as a mystery malt at a single malt tasting recently and everyone was asked to identify it. My guess was The Macallan which made me only half right!
This is a lovely no-nonsense blend from Famous Grouse using arguably two of the most famous malts in the world – The Macallan & Highland Park. It is so no-nonsense that it doesn’t even have a label choosing, instead, to go ‘naked’ as the name suggests.
Nose: With malts matured in first-fill sherry casks the nose has a really rich and deep sherry influence. Lots of gooey rum topf and fruit cake with a raisin sprinkle followed by dark oranges, prunes and oaky almonds. A Christmas delight!
Palate: Not as delicious as the nose but quite tasty still. Cinnamon sticks on dark fruits and oaky oranges drizzled with a spicy chocolate syrup. I think it could have done with another 6% to really jar the taste buds into ecstacy.
Finish: Quite decent. Not very long but long enough, I suppose. The same dark oranges and spicy cinnamon.
This is a seriously good blend. Not only is it delicious it is an impossibly good deal in todays’ day and age.
Get a case of this (won’t cost you much) and enjoy it for a long long time.