Whisky Showdown! Macallan 12 vs. Yamazaki 12

The first international whisky showdown! One of Scotland’s best known brands against a perennial favorite from Japan!  Macallan 12 and Yamazaki 12 go at it this time.  The Macallan is the better known of the two, but my previous review of the Yamazaki 12 was quite good and I’ll be interested to see how my perceptions will change, if at all, with a head to head tasting.  Both of these whiskies have sherry casks involved in the aging, but the Yamazaki uses three types of casks in its process. American oak, toasted, is used in the Yamazaki as are Japanese oak barrels which lend a distinct flavour.  The aging strategy at both distillers should make for different tasting experiences.
The visuals are quite different between the two.  The Macallan with a rich dark copper tone contrasts clearly against Yamazaki’s light gold colour.  The Macallan’s legs are thick next to the Yamazaki, though both appear to run rather quickly.  Both products are bottled at 43% abv.

The nose on the Macallan is fruity, with orange standing out.  There’s some smoke and oak to bind the fruit with the overwhelming sherry influence.  The Yamazaki is sweet, moves away from orange and towards melon, pineapple, honey glaze, vanilla, light spice, but no sign of smoke.

The palate on the Macallan exudes sherry and oak.  There’s a bit of smoke in there too.  The Yamazaki is still fruity.  The pineapple is strong as is the honey.  The vanilla is also quite present.

The finish on the Macallan is dry, slightly smokey, not too long but quite pleasant.  The Yamazaki is fruity even on the finish.  Lingering notes of melon and pineapple continue to play with honey and vanilla, providing a very nice overall experience with enough complexity to keep it interesting.

I’m quite sure I’ll surprise a lot of people by declaring my preference for the Yamazaki 12 over the Macallan 12 overall.  Both are good, but the Yamazaki is better at delivering a complex experience.  At $65 at the SAQ, this is a better value in both relative and absolute terms on the Macallan 12 which is sold for almost $90.  The LCBO sells the Macallan 12 for roughly the same price in Ontario and does not carry the Yamazaki 12.  The Yamazaki 12 is a great drink for everyday, special occasions, and sharing with friends who are both whisky fans or not normally whisky drinkers.  Pick up a bottle, you won’t regret it.

Cheers!

Bruichladdich: The Laddie Classic Edition_01

This tasting should be interesting. The bottle itself is a hard to find Bruichladdich Laddie Classic Edition 1. Bruichladdich has become quite an experimental distiller and bottler lately, as my review of their 16 year old Chateau Margaux indicated, and this product is no exception. It is a limited release of the distiller’s classic Islay style and matured in American bourbon oak casks. The bottle, in its aqua blue colour, is also quite different. It is not clear and the product within is not visible until it is poured. Bottled at 46% abv, I noted that my bottle also contained an indication of the date it was produced. The spirit was bottled at 11:11 on April 7, 2011. Since there is no age statement, one can only wonder how old the spirit is, but the bottle mentions that this is ” a union of spirits distilled over the last decades, matured in oak casks which have lain in our sea spray lashed cellars on Islay’s Western seaboard all their whisky lives”. It mentions that it reflects their head distiller’s (Jim McEwan) intent. Let’s see if Mr. McEwan’s intent matches my expectations.

A light gold product greets the eyes, showing some rather thick but quick running legs. If its texture matches its appearance, it should be a silky smooth whisky.

On the nose, very smooth with barely even a trace of alcohol burn. Soft orange peel and pineapple are refreshingly apparent. A hint of raisin is noticeable too and gives way to very faint traces of overripe fig, possibly leaning on honey. A floral and fruity introduction overall with an oak background balancing and binding all the aroma.

On the palate, it’s an explosion of barley, dried fruits, citrus, raisin, dates, black pepper, spice, and a tinge of caramel. As expected, this is smooth and pleasant.

The finish is not as long as I expected and leaves behind black pepper at first, but turns slightly sweet and salty, then offers a brief encounter with dried fig, and goes to caramel for the length of whatever remains.

Overall, an above average, full bodied whisky with a good level of complexity to render it interesting through the full tasting and keep you coming back for more. Only one bottle is left in all of Quebec as of this writing, but Ontario seems to have a good stock. However, Ontario is pricing this about $15 more than Quebec’s $64. I can never figure out the logic in pricing some of these products, but there you are. Ontario’s price may be putting it a bit out of reach though and pitting it against some interesting offerings. If you take advantage of some of the SAQ’s periodic rebate schemes, you can get this for less than $60 if it’s in stock and even at its regular price, it is well worth the cost. I recommend this one for newbies and long time whisky appreciators alike.

Cheers!

Whisky Showdown! Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona vs. Bowmore 12

Another whisky showdown folks. Two classic whiskies, one purpose: declare a victor. This showdown is between Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona and Bowmore 12. Both are peated products and well received by this whisky fan, but how do they compare? Time to find out.

The colour difference is stark. The Bunnahabhain in so light, it looks almost transparent. There’s just a little yellow colour in there, like a very light vegetable oil. The Bowmore is golden, and despite the expression “never judge a book by its cover”, looks like a more appetizing drink.

The legs run thin and quick on the Cruach Mhona against the comparatively thicker and slower Bowmore 12.

On the nose, more alike than different at first. They are both unmistakeably peated and smokey. The Bowmore gives off fruit however while the Bunnahabhain exudes the sea, full of salt, seawater, seaweed, and memories of a rainy day on the beach.

The palate is interesting. The Bowmore starts grainy in texture, peated of course, but fruity and sweet at the same time. The Bunnahabhain is chewy in texture and it quickly expresses its complexity is in its transition from peated, to salty, to sweet, and peppery.

The finish on the Bowmore is shorter and sweeter. The smoke lingers, however, and brings with it some citrus notes. The Bunnahabhain leaves smoke and peat, pepper and salt, spices, and some wood notes. There is a bit of sweet in there as well, the long term payoff being the delightful flavour of red liquorice.

So there you have it. Two fine whiskies worthy of a permanent place in your collection. I will give the edge to the Cruach Mhona on this one. Bunnahabhain’s product is more complex and more satisfying. Grab it next time you travel.

Cheers!

Whisky Showdown! Glengoyne 12 Cask Strength vs. Springbank 12 Cask Strength

After a few weeks off, it’s time for another whisky showdown.  This time around, a couple of whiskies at cask strength and for which no standard 12 year version exists below 90 proof as far as I know.  The Glengoyne 12 Cask Strength is bottled at 57.2% abv whereas the Springbank 12 Cask Strength comes in at 58.5% abv.  The alcohol content is similar in both as is the colour.  The two whiskies exhibit the exact same shade of gold and are impossible to tell apart just by looking at them.  The nose may help distinguish them.

The Springbank 12 comes with peat and seaweed with a hint of smoke.  The citrus rushes through the peat as a pleasant epilogue.  The Glengoyne is all about fruits, pear especially.  It throws in honey and overripe fig.  Two extremely different introductions to what I expect to be two very different whiskies.

On the palate, the Springbank continues to respect its reputation for having a peaty profile, throws in the citrus, and comes out smooth and silky in doing so.  I get a bit of Orange Crush at the end.  The Glengoyne contrasts once again with dried fruit, pepper, hints of honey, and a chewy texture.  Both continue to offer completely different experiences.

The finish on the Sprinbank produces soft notes of wood, peat, smoke, and nuts.  The Glengoyne’s long and peppery offering is once again in stark contrast to the Sprinbank, though some pepper is present on the Springbank.  I note an oily texture remains long after the Springbank is gone.

Overall, a couple of very good whiskies and both ranking high on my list of recommendations.  I will give the Springbank the win on this one due to its more complex nature.  I am amazed as to how smooth the Springbank is, especially given the peaty profile of this drink.  The Glengoyne is good, but lacks a certain degree of complexity.  It’s also quite a bit more rough, making it more of a sipping whisky and an occasional indulgence.  You can see my individual reviews of the Springbank 12 and the Glengoyne 12 by clicking on the links.

Cheers!

Compass Box Great King Street

A trip to Ottawa yielded few spoils, however it allowed me to continue my discovery of Compass Box’s wonderful blends. Compass Box products are hard to find and overpriced in Quebec, but they appear abundant in both quantity and variety in Ontario and much more reasonable in price. The Great King Street blend is bottled at 43% abv and references the building in Edinburgh housing Compass Box.

I happened upon this product while looking for a bottle of the Oak Cross, another reputed offering from Compass Box and bought it over the slightly pricier Oak Cross.

The colour is quite light, amber in hue but looking a bit watery. Quick running, thin legs are apparent when swirled in the glass.

On the nose, it is very soft. Some orange and almond are readily apparent. Apple and vanilla with a hint of pie crust round out the introduction.

On the palate, it’s mostly vanilla. There’s some apple and citrus for good measure. Concentrate slightly and you will catch the light spices and pepper that end up making this whisky stand out from the crowd of blended products in this price range. The palate is soft overall though, making for an extremely drinkable and flexible whisky. This whisky could well be served as an aperitif or accompany an assortment of meals.

The finish is not long, but it’s not short either. It’s full of vanilla and citrus. Some hints of fruity sweetness remain in the background and keep the vanilla from dominating. The very end is honey and sugar.

Overall, a wonderful whisky for seasoned veterans and occasional drinkers alike. It’s great for guests and a suitable party whisky.  Compass Box suggests using it as an ingredient in mixed drinks as well.  I prefer my whisky neat, but probably worth a try to find out how those vanilla notes affect the finished product.  Try to get your hands on this one, it will leave you wanting more. So far I have only seen it in Ontario and at under $50, it’s a reasonably priced whisky and enjoyable under any circumstance.

Cheers!

Smokehead

I was recently invited to a whisky tasting at a fellow whiskyphile’s abode where I was introduced to a brand that was completely unknown to me.  The Smokehead whisky is a relative newcomer and, combined with its obscurity, immediately aroused my interest.  I assumed that the name referenced the main quality of the spirit and was eager to taste it and compare against some of my other recent peated finds.   This product is bottled at 43% abv and comes with no age statement.  The little research I did on the subject suggests that the whisky is aged to about 7 or 8 years by Ian Mcleod distillery.

The whisky is yellow in colour and ranges towards gold.  The thick, slow running legs combine with the colour to give the impression of a very rich whisky when held against the light.

On the nose, the smoke and peat are obvious.  An underlying current of sweet comes across in the form of light honey and fresh fruit.

On the palate, and explosion of pepper introduces the main event of peat complimented by faint sweet notes hinting of pear and caramel.

The finish is medium in length full of wood, smoke, and peat.

Adding just a bit of water in this one opens it up considerably.

The nose becomes more salty and seaweed comes through clearly.

The palate opens up and becomes more sweet.  The salt and seaweed from the nose continues to be felt and fits in perfectly with the smoke and peat.  I didn’t catch the seaweed without the water, but perhaps it was always there.  Subsequent tastings should allow me to confirm whether I missed this the first time around.

The finish becomes more extended, the salt linking the various stages of the tasting.  The wood and smoke remain strong but are joined by the unmistakeably strong sensation of iodine.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this whisky.  Perfect for a cold, rainy evening.  Even better sitting outside under an awning, keeping warm with the whisky in hand against a cool breeze.  This is a strong, full, and intense whisky which I sipped slowly during the course of the evening.  A nice find, the LCBO currently lists it at just about $60 a bottle.  The SAQ does not carry it as of this writing nor could I locate it in New Hampshire.

Cheers!

Whisky Showdown! Aberlour 16 vs. Lagavulin 16

Time for another whisky showdown! This edition’s heavyweight contenders consists of Aberlour 16 year old and Lagavulin 16 year old. These are both excellent whiskies on their own, but a head to head should prove interesting in identifying any special traits to set them apart.

They are very similar in colour in colour. The Aberlour is slightly more towards copper, but the two are almost indistinguishable from one another unless looking very carefully at each glass. The legs on the Aberlour run thicker and slower.

On the nose, the two are unmistakenly different. The peat and smoke on the Lagavulin is strong. The Aberlour gives off aromas of green apple and fruit in stark contrast.

On the palate, the Aberlour is much sweeter. Its soft blend of fruits and honey contrasts starkly with the Lagavulin’s attack of smoke and peat, even though the Lagavulin hits the tongue with some fruity notes at first.

The finish in the Aberlour contrasts its honey and watermelon to the Lagavulin’s smoke, peat, and oak. They both have the woody taste on the finish and the Aberlour adds some nuts and smoke to the experience, but not nearly to the same degree as the Lagavulin.

Overall, each whisky is strong and the distinct profile of each is evident throughout the tasting experience. They are both very coherent and complex whiskies and deserve a spot on any serious whisky drinker’s shelf. Personal preference plays heavily in deciding a victor and I hesitate to do so…I will say that on this particular day I found the Aberlour quite satisfying and more to my liking than the Lagavulin. However, on a cold winter night, the peated Lagavulin may be a better companion.

Cheers!