Glenlivet Cipher

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Distillery/Brand: Glenlivet | Region: Speyside | ABV: 48% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 6.2 | Palate: 6.0 | Finish: 6.1 | Overall Score: 6.1

Review
I laugh at whiskies like these.

Correction.

I laugh at marketing tactics like these.

All well and good for the casual drinker hurrying through Travel Retail looking to bring home a story. But grumpy bloggers like me, who have a point to prove, can only roll their eyes as far back into their sockets as they’ll go and emit distasteful snorts.

First up, let me tell you how I feel about Glenlivet.

They are the reason I drink whisky today. If I hadn’t accidentally picked up a bottle of the 15 year old French Oak Reserve I might still be stocking my bar with two litre bottles of Grey Goose. That whisky taught me about flavours, balance and above all a delicious subtlety that I could never have related to a spirit like whisky. It’s not the best whisky in the world, far from it, but I have a special soft spot for it.

I then fell in love with the 16 year old Nadurra Cask Strength. The old school release. I challenge anyone to defy this perfectly matured and wonderfully crisp expression that has my heart racing every time I take a sip. It is the reason why I’m such a sucker for high strength whiskies today. Once again the flavours and balance are spot on.

While the majority of their whiskies may be borderline boring (read classic Speyside) I give them their due for championing their easy-going brand of liquid among the masses. Alongside Glenfiddich they deserve a ton of credit for putting dependable single malt whiskies in the hands of the new generation.

Which brings me to the second time they’ve pulled this little trick. The first one was called the Alpha. A whisky with absolutely no information. In an era where consumers are increasingly asking for more information Glenlivet decided it would be a fun idea to do exactly the opposite. No age, no cask, no notes; absolutely nothing. Drink it and figure it out.

Sure, why not. I’ll come along. You have me intrigued. The fact that the spirit was barely average didn’t help but, hey, these things happen. I played along as did everyone else. Now if you could please go back and make some tasty whiskies that would be great.

Well, they didn’t. They started making some really bad whiskies. Discontinued the 12 year old and replaced it with the Founders Reserve; absolute piss. Bastardised my favourite Nadurra by taking away the age and corrupting it with over-oaked Oloroso. Generally taking everything they stood for and began running it into the ground.

And on top of that decided to re-hash the experiment that never worked in the first place and released yet another mystery malt. Come on! No one cares! Just because this time around it comes with a website where I have to guess the flavours doesn’t make this a good whisky. Because it’s not.

Had at a party, where my gracious host unveiled it for all of us to try it was greeted with clucks of disapprovals and shaking of heads. And that’s what my biggest peeve is. Customers who spend good money to buy marketing spiel in the hope of creating a positive experience by sharing it among friends. And imagine when it has the absolute opposite effect.

Sad.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48%

Nose: Don’t have to tell me it’s sherry. Lots of it. Immediate on the nose. You know it’s Glenlivet thanks to the vanilla. The strong green apple. Red berries. Now more chocolate. Dark. The oak is quite distinct here. Doesn’t bode well for the palate, methinks. 6.2

Palate: Just as I suspected. That oak has taken over everything. Very drying. Pencil shavings. Some ginger spice. Vanilla. Quite tannic. Dark chocolate. Dark honey. Those red apples again. But the oak’s made everything too bitter for me to like it. 6.0

Finish: Medium. Very dry. Very oaky. 6.1

Overall Comments: I think I’ve said what I had to say. Cool bottle, though.

Overall Score: 6.1

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Glenfiddich Project XX

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.7 | Palate: 7.7 | Finish: 7.7 | Overall Score: 7.7

Review
I previously wrote about Glenfiddich’s new direction, #Experimental, where they’ve taken it upon themselves to break the mould of traditionalism and appeal to a younger target audience.

Crazy bartenders, cool new graphics, an IPA influenced expression and ultra snazzy bottle designs are just some of the ways they’re trying to live up to this new claim.

And so it was in the spirit of experimentation that they brought together twenty Glenfiddich brand ambassadors from around the world, including the legend Ian Millar, to hand select casks from their warehouse which would then be blended together by Mr Brian Kinsman and named Project XX.

Cool name, I think.

We were lucky enough to be sat with Russian ambassador Denis Pankratov who brought with him spirit that he had selected for the mix. I don’t remember the age (I think 18 years) but it was a first-fill bourbon with a strength of over 60%. I have to tell you that was one of the most delicious whiskies I have drunk in a while. I would love for them to just bottle this and sell it as a one off. But we all know that’s never going to happen. Fingers crossed, though.

Project XX finally saw seventeen bourbon barrels and three sherry barrels make it to the mix. The exact recipe is a secret which no one other than Kinsman knows so we’ll have to live with that.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 47%

Nose: This is more like Glenfiddich than the IPA. Quite fruity. Typical Glenfiddich fruits of figs and raisins. But then also darker fruits like plums. Berries. Oily. Little buttery too. And then again the familiar. Honey. Blood oranges. Malty too. I like the nose. It works for me better than the IPA. I shouldn’t be comparing but I did have it back to back and that’s a good reference point. 7.7

Palate: Still fruity. The same raisins. But now more stewed apples. A bit tannic as well. Those sherry casks must have been insanely strong. Treacle. Dark jam. Quite sweet. Hint of oak. Becomes a touch sharp mid-palate. But overall I like it. 7.7

Finish: Those sherry casks are back in play. But so are the apples. Figs. 7.7

Overall Comments: I like it. I think it works. Can’t be easy crowdsourcing a blend. Each one with their own tastes and preferences. But somehow Kinsman has made it work. There might be an off note here and there but by and large it does a good job. And like the IPA the price point is just fabulous (around 50GBP). In this day and age that’s got to be a plus. If not for my self I might just pick it up for a friend and impress him with the cool bottle. And the spirit’s not bad, either.

Overall Score: 7.7

Glenfiddich IPA

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Colour: Light Gold
Nose: 7.1 | Palate: 7.1 | Finish: 7.1 | Overall Score: 7.1

Review
For those of you unfortunate enough to read my reviews you know that I have always given Glenfiddich it’s due praise as being the giant that truly champions the single malt cause among the fickle masses.

For someone who produces such vast quantities of spirt for them to maintain that level of above average consistency is quite remarkable. I have not yet met someone who has anything bad to say about them. Sure, they might not have the stunners we seek every now and then but I think to be on average above average is no easy feat. And for that they have the tip of my hat.

Which brings me to this interesting new direction they’re taking. I like that because they’ve decided to take the odd risk every now and then. Having been shackled to their core range for the longest time they’ve decided to step out of their comfort zone and meet the new world head on.

And that comes in the shape of their new #Experimental campaign. This broad direction is taking everything from bartenders with crazy ideas to expressions that push the boundaries. Should some boundaries be pushed is a different matter altogether but I’m in favour of this new attitude in general.

Launched at the World’s Most Experimental Bartender competition, which I was fortunate enough to judge, we sat down with Dennis Pankratov, the Russian Brand Ambassador, to go over this anomaly. Matured first in bourbon, followed by 12 weeks in barrels that previously held an IPA and then back to bourbon for another few years. Notice the conspicuous lack of numbers here. Obviously pretty young.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Starts off similar to the 12 year old I feel. Youngish. But at the same time retains the signature green apples and pears that you find in the entry level. The similarity is quite strong. Vanilla. Custard. Also the barley is prominent. Not sure if that’s because of the IPA influence. Quite malty. It’s not a nose I look for in a whisky but it’s enough to keep me interested. 7.1

Palate:
I think the beer influence is stronger here. I don’t know if I have a great palate or it’s simply the power of suggestion. Again quite malty on the palate. But now with a touch of spice. Peppercorns. That dry ginger that I normally associate with Glenfiddich. Vanilla. Some more custard. Again, not something that’s going to blow me away but enough to keep me intrigued. Slightly better with a couple of drops. 7.1

Finish: Hint of bitterness. Citrus. 7.1

Overall Comments: What do I think? I think why not. I like it when traditional tries harder. It’s a good sign. It reflects in the bottles which are by far the trendiest I’ve seen in a while (after Compass Box, that is). And the price point of 40GBP is almost a no-brainer. They’re obviously appealing to young voters thanks to the IPA touch and chic bottle style. And they’re the ones they have to impress. Not us irritating snobs pretending to have lofty standards.

Overall Score: 7.1

Balvenie 25 Triple Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 5.9 | Overall Score: 6.8

Review
This is the part where I write about how Balvenie is a super solid distillery and how David Stewart is arguably one of the best whisky makers the industry has ever seen. And that I have yet to meet a Balvenie that I didn’t like. I mean, I may like some less than others but never truly disliked one, per se.

Until now.

OK, maybe dislike is a strong word. How about meh? Yup, I like meh.

But wait! What if the whisky costs upwards of US$500? Is it then justified to convert the meh into boo? Yup, I think it is. Definitely is.

So boo, you 25 year old lacklustre whisky. Hiding behind dollar signs and that smooth talking salesman at the Duty Free. Shame on you for making a fool of my friend who thought he was going to surprise all of us at his tasting but instead had to graciously agree with us snobs that he had been well and truly hoodwinked.

*exhales slowly* OK I’m done now.

The Triple Cask is the latest of the Balvenies to hit travel retail with an entry level 12 followed by the 16 and this 25 year old. Neither one is cheap for it’s relative age, mind you. Three casks in play here as the name suggests. Sherry, first-fill bourbon and something called traditional whisky cask (which I can only assume means second-fill bourbon). If that is really the case then why they wouldn’t just say that? If it’s something else then please enlighten me.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% – WAIT! 40%? Are you kidding me? Who drinks whisky at 40% anymore? Maybe Glaswegian middle-schoolers but certainly not me. This whisky is getting on my nerves now.

Nose: Soft. Weak or understated I can’t tell. Honey-comb. Wild flowers. Heather. I feel the sherry is the more dominant of the three casks. Possibly has a higher percentage in the vatting. That brings out more raisins. OK after all that it’s not so bad. It’s not wooing me like a sultry older woman like it should but it’s certainly trying to flirt. 7.6

Palate: Is this the 12 year old? If I hadn’t slit open the seal my self I would have been convinced that my friend was trying to pull a fast one. But he’s an honest chap and I did, after all, open the bottle my self. Which makes it a rather sad state of affairs don’t you think? Pay five times as much for something which tastes the same if not a tad worse. Oh, well. Oranges. Lindt chocolate. Not dark. Milk. You can feel the sherry again. The 40% is being really tested to it’s limits here because I’m struggling with the mouth. It’s a decent start but peters out mid-palate. I don’t hate it. I’m just irritated.7.0

Finish: You piece of shit. 5.9

Overall Comments: I hate it when this happens. Buy something expensive only for it to taste exactly like something half it’s age and a quarter of it’s price. Like buying a Business Class ticket only to find out you’re in row 54 stuck between a colic baby and a fat sweaty man who has no respect for other peoples’ personal space. Just get me off already.

Overall Score: 6.8

Berry Brothers & Rudd Tasting

The following is an honest account of my experience at a recent Berry Brothers & Rudd tasting.

We were greeted with a sweet cherry cocktail as we walked into the clubhouse of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, one of the many developments that have sprung up around the outskirts of Dubai. They call it secluded but the phrase that came to my mind was more along the lines of out in the boonies.

Since I was early I perched at the bar and kept my self busy watching, you guessed it, golf on the many HD screens hanging from the walls. Once there were sufficient numbers crowding the waiting area we were ushered into the restaurant and shown to our numbered tables.

The head-chef came out first and explained the menu to us in great detail. Food wise things were looking promising. The chocolate mousse and pistachio dessert was what I was really waiting for. As it turned out the entire meal was absolutely fantastic.

The fresh salmon ceviche was followed by a baked sea bass. Braised beef in a whisky reduction was next and a lovely chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream was pretty much spot on. Really happy with what I ate that night.

Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for the whiskies that we encountered.

Having been in the business since 1698 Berry Brothers & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. They also bottle a hefty number of whiskies which they sell under their BBR label. Counting the four that I had that evening it would bring the total number of BBR whiskies I had tasted up to a whopping 11.

I think that’s enough whiskies to form a general opinion on the overall quality and style of a particular independent. Sure there are some hits and some misses. But when the misses are overwhelming then one has no choice but to cast judgement.

And so I have cast. You, sir, are not to my liking.

Berrys SpeysideReserve

The first whisky of the evening was the blended Speyside Reserve. I’d love to know what reserve really means. So many distilleries use it to denote spirit kept aside for a special purpose. What I think it really means is I have no idea what this whisky stands for. Let’s put Reserve in the name and hope for the best.

The young whisky was quite bland and boring as was the speech by Doug McIvor, their Spirits Manager, who read off the cue cards at the beginning of the evening. After which he settled down for his meal and that was the last we heard of him.

Left to our own devices we decided to take the evening seriously and settled down to making some notes.

Note: All whiskies reviewed under were bottled at 46%

Nose: Hello rotting wet wood. Looks like a sulphured cask in here somewhere. Can’t be anything else. Quite overpowering if you ask me. Processed honey. Sugarcane juice. Sweet heather. Love hearts. They all try but the sulphur is a bit much.

Palate: Very light. Uninteresting. Bitter. That sulphur again. Quite spirity and raw. Tries to be sweet. Can’t. What a waste of time.

Finish: Let’s just leave this field blank.

Overall Score: 5.0


Berrys Girvan

The second whisky to be brought out was an 8 year old single grain Girvan. One of the comments left on my Twitter feed after I posted this picture was @WhiskyCliff saying the only reason Girvan existed was to remind us how good single malt really is.

I must admit I laughed a little at that.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 (see I told you it was 8 years old) it’s not as bad as the comment that was made but let’s just say I’m not rushing out to get t-shirts with I [heart] Girvan printed on them.

Nose: ex-Bourbon barrels have given this a sweet vanilla essence. Faint nectarines. Neutral greens. Jolly Green Giant peas. Mild fennel. It’s not as bad as the previous one. Still no sparks, though.

Palate: Right then. Back into previous territory. Bitter. Quite savoury. Coconut. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Nope. No thank you.

Finish: Still bitter. Still not good.

Overall Score: 5.5


Berrys Caperdonich

Ah, what do we have here? A closed distillery. And my first Caperdonich.

Striking color on this one. The sherry seems to have done it’s job. And twenty years old on top of that. Here’s hoping.

Nose: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Nice. Very nice. Ripe bananas. Stewed red fruits. Stewed cherries that you ladle on a cheesecake. Cherry Cola. Dry arm chair leather. Pomegranate peel. Mint leaves. Seems like an Oloroso butt here. I really like this.

Palate: Nice oak. Maybe a tad tired but this is not the time to start being cynical. Lindt 70%. Cinnamon. Burnt caramel on creme brûlée. Not as good as the nose (thanks to the oak) but quite drinkable. Let’s order another dram.

Finish: Medium. Nice. Lindt with red chilis.

Overall Score: 7.5

Berrys Arran

I’m a fan of Arran. Not it’s number #1 fan, mind you. More a there’s nothing wrong with this whisky fan. So I was quite happy to finish off the evening with something that I kind of trusted.

But as Mufasa will tell you trust is a dangerous thing.

A seventeen year old bottled in 2014, matured in ex-Marsala casks and paired with my chocolate pistachio dessert. Bad idea.

Nose: Burnt caramel. Cabernet Sauvignon. Black grapes. Wait, what’s that? Is it sulphur? Maybe. There’s certainly something dodgy going on here. Black salt. Dry all spice.

Palate: Something is definitely off here. Not Defcon 4 off but off. I don’t like it. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Slightly spent oak. Not working for me.

Finish: Medium to long. Oaky.

Overall Score: 6.2

Bit of a disastrous evening if you ask me. The food made up for it, though.

My favourite part of the evening was when one of the serving staff insisted that Caperdonich was an Islay whisky. I merely nodded and smiled. Because, like most of the whiskies tasted that evening, what was the point?

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 4

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 50.4% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
Another one off the bucket list. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get hold of this when it first came out? I mean by the time I managed to locate two stragglers sitting on a shelf somewhere in Eastern Europe the price on this had literally tripled.

Luckily for me news doesn’t travel as fast to that part of the globe and I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of these bottles at a fairly decent price. Now when I look at various auctions I’m thankful I picked them when I had the chance.

I’m pretty sure by now you know what the Tun is. It’s actually a massive holding vat in Warehouse 24 that Master Blender David Stewart employed to mix and marry a variety of vintage Balvenies for up to three months to create this special series.

Batch No 4 consists of seven bourbon aged Balvenies and three sherry with spirit rumoured to be distilled as far back as 1966 and as early as 1988 making this quite a special little expression.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 50.4% ABV

Nose: If there’s anything David Stewart does is craft an ingenious nose. Every time. Burnt toast. Sherry. Lots of clove. Touch of sweetness. But with a sea saltiness too. Tobacco leaf. Toasted oak. Let it sit and a mild floral fragrance starts coming through. Green melon. Wild red berries. This is a solid nose. Reminded me of the Balvenie 30. 23/25

Palate: So strong. Robust. Coats the entire mouth. Quite dry yet chewy at the same time. Black peppercorns. Cinnamon. Blood oranges. Bitter chocolate. Wait… Lindt Intense Orange. With the orange not so intense. That toasted oak again. Get’s salty mid-palate. And now comes with a spicy betel nut leaf. Not as sweet as the nose suggested. Quite crisp with the poised oakiness a testament to it’s age and quality. 23/25

Finish: What the hell? This one stayed in my mouth long after I had washed the glasses and kept away the bottle. Clove. Betel nut. Again quite savory. Almost masala like. Good masala, mind you. Touch of oils. Bitter chocolate. 24/25

Overall Comments: This is a superb example of vintage whisky done right. You can smell the elegance a mile off. The mouthfeel is arresting. But it’s the finish that did it for me. Stayed for eons on the lips. There was a lot of unashamed smacking going on after I was done. Find it. Drink it.

Rating: 93

BenRiach 15 Year old PX Sherry Wood Finish

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 46% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
I always start a BenRiach review by mentioning a horrendous 20 year old I had some years ago which put me off the distillery for a really long time. But this time around I won’t.

Even though it was really bad.

OK, enough about that.

I made up for my BenRiach hiatus by binge buying as many expressions as I could get my hands on. I like that they’re easy to get hold of and within an acceptable price range. More importantly there is a maturation twist with most expressions, which I like. Plus they have these goofy names like Importanticus Fumosus, which is Latin for You will never be able to pronounce or remember this no matter how hard you try.

Good variety of flavors, easy on the wallet and a chance to practise a dead language?. That’s a win win, if you ask me.

I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for a while for no reason other than I just didn’t get around to giving it a go. But a couple of days ago I felt it was time. And I’m glad.

This 15 year has been matured in traditional bourbon barrels before being finished off in casks from the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, Southern Spain, previously used to mature Pedro Ximenez sherry. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Dark chocolate. Barley. Red apples. Green tea. Oak. It’s a little salty. Wild red berries. Sweet rich sherry. Licorice. Maraschino cherries. Christmas cake. If you ask me I prefer PX Sherry over Oloroso maturations. I think it’s sweeter, a little more complex. This is a great nose. Hardly any flaws. 23/25

Palate: Medium body. Oak. Black peppers. Dark dates. Chocolate. Cinnamon. It’s quite dry. Not as sweet as the nose. Quite savory. Under-ripe banana. Coconut. This is quite enjoyable. 22/25

Finish: Quite long. Dry. Touch of oak. Cinnamon. 22/25

Overall Comments: This is a very enjoyable whisky from a solid distillery. If you let it breathe, as you should all whiskies, it gets even more sweeter over time. Good stuff!

Rating: 89