Whisky Showdown! Highland Park 18 vs. Glenfiddich 18

Time for another whisky showdown folks! Today, a couple of well known 18 year olds go head to head. We have the Highland Park 18, highly recommended in a previous blog entry, against another one of my preferred whiskies, the Glenfiddich 18.

Let’s get started. Both these whiskies are bottled at 43% abv. The first impression on both is the warm, goldish hue. The Glenfiddich is a shade darker and looks more rich, but both are substantially golden in colour. The difference in shading becomes apparent only when the whiskies are held side by side.

The legs on the Glenfiddich run thin but slow. The Highland Park’s run a bit thicker and just as slow. Again, the difference is slight as the only way to tell is to actually hold them up side by side.

Both are sweet on the nose, bringing their floral and fruity fragrances without restraint. The Glenfiddich stands out for its expressions of oak and chocolate. The Highland Park sets itself apart with nuts and spice.

On the palate, the Highland Park’s fruits continue to make their mark, but hazel and milk chocolate hints lead into some oak and cinnamon. The Glenfiddich starts more sour, then sweet. The fruits are apparent again after the initial confusion caused by the fruity nose and the sour first taste. Its chewy texture sets it apart from the Highland Park, but oak and chocolate bring these two whiskies together. The Highland Park is almost watery compared to the Glenfiddich.

The Highland Park finishes long and sweet. Memories of the hazel and cinnamon linger until the oak and a honey glaze take it to the close. The Highland Park adds another layer of complexity, throwing in smoke and light peat to cleverly finish off the experience. The finish on the Glenfiddich is not as long as the Highland Park, but only by a hair. It is not as complex, leaving a distinct sweetness, reminding me again of the fruits on the nose and palate, but also of honey and milk.

These are both fine whiskies making for smooth and easy drinking. I’ll give the Highland Park the edge on this one, not because the Glenfiddich is not a satisfying whisky. This is more a testament to the Highland Park 18 being a more complex animal. The Glenfiddich 18 is a wonderful whisky and a worthy challenger to the Highland Park 18.

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The Macallan Select Oak

Recently, a friend’s travels took her through Chicago. Being in good terms with me and appreciating my thirst for good whisky, she retrieved a bottle that is exclusively sold at duty free shops. I decided to open this bottle today, though I’ve had it for a while.

The Macallan Select Oak is part of their range geared specifically for travelers. It is only available at American, European, and some Asian airport duty free shops. This whisky is aged in mostly first fill sherry oak casks, but American oak used for producing bourbon is also used.

This 40% abv whisky is golden, with thick legs that also happen to run rather quickly.

On the nose, it’s orange, spice and cinnamon. There’s some apple, pie crust, and hints of pear.

On the palate, remarkably smooth. Cinnamon and sugar are omnipresent but joined periodically by oak, very light hints of smoke, apples, pears, and green grape. The flavour profile makes for an easy drinking whisky that could appeal to a broad range of people, from beginners of whisky appreciation to seasoned pros.

The finish is not short, but I wouldn’t call it very long either. It’s satisfying, with the cinnamon and spice continuing its hold on the senses. It ends sweetly and lingers on the sides of the tongue for some time.

Overall, a fine daily dram and better than your average whisky. It’s lack of complexity precludes me from calling it an excellent whisky, but it is perfect for a warm summer’s day or casual drinking after a pleasant dinner with friends. In other words, a versatile whisky. Well worth picking up on your travels and an interesting find for those looking for something easy to drink under many circumstances, I guarantee this will be a bottle you will be sad to see reach its bottom.

Cheers!

Chivas Regal 12

A cool, late summer’s night brings about thoughts of keeping warm. What better way to do so than with a nice glass of Scotch! The drink of the hour is Chivas Regal 12, the base of the Chivas line of blended whiskies. This whisky is a blend of malt and grain. Interesting,y, the bottle has a machine printed date on it, indicating that it was bottled on September 11, 2007. This is a popular whisky and competes against Johnny Walker for the hearts and minds of blended whisky lovers.

The colour is light gold, not very striking in the glass but looks alone aren’t all that important. Let me point out here that given its alcohol content of 40% abv, I decided on adding a few drops right off the top and tasting it with water only.

On the nose, it’s a big citrus fest. Orange peel, clementine, tangerine, and grapefruit zest along with oak attack the olfactory system. What a pleasant introduction! This is a whisky that’s worth appreciating on the nose before every sip.

The palate is interesting for being subtle and smooth. Where the nose hit hard, the palate is caressed. The notes of honey and oak are massaged into the tongue. It’s very light, somewhat watery even. It goes down easy, but feels a bit uneven. The wood and the honey, sometimes coming across as fruit, don’t seem to be in harmony but rather struggling to take their place. Is there some butterscotch in there? Maybe, but not strong enough to make a lasting impression. I don’t mean to say it’s not a good whisky, and most people will prefer the smooth and simple nature of this expression.

The finish is short and woody at first, turns sweet as it fades away. The memory of the finish will be of its sweetness, almost like a Toblerone.

So there you have it, a good whisky and perfect for everyday drinking amongst mixed company. The next level up, the 18, should be a good point to determine how the blenders have improved on their base label. I may try it some day and let you know.

Cheers!

Whisky Showdown! Johnnie Walker Black vs. Chivas Regal 12

Whisky showdown time, and a couple of blended 12 year olds go head to head. JohnnieWalker Black is up against Chivas Regal 12. These are both popular brands and bitter enemies in the battle for consumer dollars. Shelf space is tight in the competitve blended whisky market, so which is worthy of your hard earned money, not to mention liver function? Let’s find out.

Both are bottled at 40% abv and have medium thick, somewhat slow running legs.

The Chivas Regal 12 is a lighter gold in the glass by maybe one or two shades compared to the richer gold colour of the Johnnie Walker Black.

On the nose, where the Chivas is an explosion of citrus and hints of oak, the Johnnie Walker is subdued. The Johnnie Walker is also about citrus, but the unmistaken mellowness of caramel enriches the sense. Candied apple rounds it out at the back end. What contrast! Yet, both are fine examples of what their respective blenders are trying to accomplish.

On the palate, the Johnnie Walker is just as smooth as the Chivas, if not a touch more velvety. Smoke comes across with the dried fruit and apple flavours of the Johnny Walker. The Chivas is not as complex in this sense, being slightly more watery and less complex, with no discernable smoke and flavours that fight for attention rather than invite appreciation.

The finishes on both are quick to medium, the Johnnie Walker Black being more dry and smoky while the Chivas leaves behind a sweet memory for a while longer than its competitor.

Overall, I’ll recommend the Johnnie Walker Black over the Chivas Regal 12. I’m inclined to think that this Chivas compares better to the Johnny Walker Red, but have not yet reviewed the latter for these pages. The Chivas is still a decent dram, but will appeal more for those who aren’t too interested in a complex whisky or who are looking forward to drinking more than a couple of glasses…

Cheers!

Whisky Showdown! Bowmore 12 vs. Caol Ila 12

Another edition of whisky showdown and quite an interesting matchup if I do say so myself. Two 12 year olds known for being smoky and peaty, the Bowmore 12 is a reliable standby and the Caol Ila 12 has its own devout following.

Time to get started.

As soon as they are poured in their respective glasses, the first distinction between them becomes clear. The Bowmore, with its rich gold complexion, makes the Caol Ila seem pale and lifeless. On looks alone, one would assume the Bowmore offers an experience as rich as its appearance. Luckily for us, just as with litterature, one cannot judge a whisky on looks alone.

On the nose, both are lightly smokey and peaty. The major distinction between the two on this level would be the apple and pineapple on the Bowmore against what I can only describe as a very ripe fig and lemon from the Caol Ila. The fig was not evident the first time I tried the Caol Ila, contrasting it against the Bowmore brings it out very nicely. Both are thus sweet on the nose, but possess different expressions of the trait.

On the palate, the wood, smoke, and peat shine on the Bowmore. The smokiness you remember from firewood being brought in from the cold and quickly thrown upon the fire is distinct. Quite satsifying and comforting on a cool evening. The Caol Ila is smoother, less smoky but more peaty. The banana flavour is obvious, especially contrasted with the Bowmore’s pineapple. Caol Ila mixes in sweet tones of honey, unlike the Bowmore which retains a more cabin in the woods type feeling.

The finish is also quite distinct from one to the other. The Bowmore 12 is dry. Smoke and wood and peat, and bitter dark chocolate. The Caol Ila is all about a sweet finish.

Both are good, both have their purpose. If I were to be forced to choose the victor, I would go for the Caol Ila on the finish alone. Personal preference, I enjoy a nice sweet finish. The rest is a tossup as both are accomplished products. Iprefer the Bowmore on a cool late summer evening such as tonight, however. The smoke and wood are comforting.

Hope that helps in your future tasting endeavours.

Cheers!

Compass Box The Peat Monster

A recent addition to my collection, The Peat Monster by Compass Box is yet another blend from this fine company. Having greatly enjoyed The Spice Tree, my first exposure to this blender, I hope to try all their bottlings in due time. Compass Box states that this is a balanced whisky, using Islay and Speyside single malts to produce a finely tuned whisky for peat lovers. The whisky is aged in first fill and refill American oak.

The whisky is light in colour, amber hue. The legs of this 46% alcohol by volume whisky run thick and slow.

On the nose, surprisingly peaty. OK, not surprisingly…the thing is called Peat Monster after all. Though the peat overwhelms, there is some sweetness to the aroma, hinting of raisin and dried fruit along with the faintest whisper of rose petal.

On the palate, peat and smoke, smoke and peat, peat, then some more smoke. Oak and nut some raisin and a hint of honey. Chewy texture.

The finish is long and satisfying. Oak, smoke, peat, a bit of spice and black pepper.

Some water brings out some more fruit on the nose. The palate becomes richer, deeper, more complex. The spice in the finish from my initial tasting comes through on the palate. The fruitiness is entwined with the peat. But make no mistake, it remains monstrously peaty and smokey. The finish continues to be strongly peated and smokey.

This is a deep, rich whisky. Complex and finely blended, perfect for a cool, rainy evening. This whisky has won a few awards, including s gold medal in 2006 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. You can find this in at the SAQ in Quebec, but you’ll have to do some searching. It’s also about $71 vs $60 in Ontario where it is widely available.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy peat and smoke in their whiskies, otherwise you may wish to pass on this one.

Cheers!

How to taste whisky

How does one go about appreciating whisky? I for one had very little insight not too long ago. Having started this blog and more seriously taken to the hobby of enjoying whisky, I share my education with you here. You will definitely challenge some of these notions, likely you will find variations on themes that work best for you, and that’s fine since there is no one way to embibe.

First, I’ll choose my whisky. Depending on mood, I already know if I want something peaty, sweet, spicy, fruity, balanced, etc.

Normally, I will choose a glass with a slightly curved lip in order to trap the aromas and concentrate them. You could use a typical rocks glass of you’re so inclined, but the curved glasses enhance the experience. Try a snifter if you don’t have a nice whisky glass.

Pour in your chosen whisky and hold the glass up against the light. Appreciate the colour and body of the whisky. Try to verbalize what you’re seeing. Describe it to yourself. Swirl it around in your glass, let it aerate. Watch the legs as they run down the sides of the glass.

Next, put your nose into the glass and take in the aroma. Keep your mouth open while you do so, it somehow keeps it from burning. The first sniff will get you accustomed to the alcohol. Take another smell, now it should be softer. A third smell should help you identify the components htting your nose. Again, make an effort to describe these. It may be orange peels, spice, cinnamon, whatever it is take the time to figure them out and make sense of them.

Taste the whisky when you feel you have appreciated the nose. Take in enough to cover your entire tongue. Chew it slightly and let it sit. What are you tasting? Is it similar to the nose? Are there new impressions you weren’t expecting? Think these through. There could be some spice in there, maybe vanilla, possibly apple, smoke, or nut to name a few. There are so many varieties with so many profiles, you will be amazed.

Finally assess the finish. Is the aftertaste gone quickly or does it linger? What flavours are lingering? Which are passing through quickly? Is it dry? Sweet?

Add some water next. I would say always add a few drops of cold water to your whisky, but on a first tasting I like to have it straight to determine how the water is affecting the flavour. Go through the same steps, you’ll identify some changes. I don’t like ice in my whisky, unless it’s a particularly strong or harsh bourbon. When adding water, a little hit: the stronger the whisky, the more you can dilute it. Dilute to taste however, I hate to give guidelines on this since it’s such a personal thing.

I hope this helps in enhancing your experience. Good whisky can be ever better if you give it every opportunity to reveal its complexities. These steps should help you get there.

Cheers!