Whisky Showdown! Johnnie Walker Gold Label vs. Cutty Sark 25

Another cold winter’s day and one of the pleasures of such times is setting a nice fire and enjoying a day at home with few commitments. As the fire warms the house and I find myself drawn to the fireplace to enjoy the heat, I realize that there is something missing from the experience. My thoughts turn to my readers, and what better way to complete the moment than by enjoying whisky and sharing my thoughts.

My recent tasting of Cutty Sark 25 has inspired me to try it against the closest blend I have in terms of number of years aged. Johnnie Walker Gold Label is an 18-year-old of good repute and could prove a worthy challenger.

The Cutty Sark has already proven to benefit from the addition of more than just a little water andI have added a few drops to the Johnnie Walker. The benefit of having more than 45% abv to the Cutty Sark 25 is the flexibility in adding water without diluting the drink too much. The Johnnie Walker demands attention in this respect so as not to weaken it too much due to its alcohol content of 40% abv.

The colour on the Johnnie Walker Gold is lighter gold than that of the Cutty Sark. The contrast is stark, as the Cutty Sark 25 makes the Johnnie Walker seem almost yellow next to it.

The legs are satisfyingly thick and slow on both.

The nose of the Gold is lighter and less smokey than the Cutty Sark, both blend with the light smoke from the fireplace perfectly. The Cutty Sark is more oak than the Johnnie Walker. The younger fruit of the Gold and the deeper orange of the Cutty Sark work well together. These two whiskies appear to be complimenting each other rather than competing at this level.

The palate on the gold is lighter and smoother. The Cutty Sark comes on bold and deep, with stronger oak flavours and smoke. Contrasting the sweet fruitiness of the Gold against the pepper of the Cutty Sark is quite interesting and I find myself going back and forth several times to appreciate this obvious difference. The sherry of the Cutty Sark also comes out in stark contast against the Johnnie Walker’s honey.

The finish on the Cutty Sark 25 is richer as well. Its spicy finish is longer, more complex, and more interesting as it leaves behind an oily texture that the Gold has difficulty matching.

Overall, the Cutty Sark is a richer product with enough complexity and character to satisfy most whisky lovers. The Gold has its appeal and is most certainly meant for a broader variety of drinkers and would probably add quality to mixed drinks as well. The palate and finish of the Cutty Sark is just too much for the Gold to compete against however. As I throw another log on the fire, I listen to the sounds of the kids playing, watch the dog sleeping next to me, and remind myself that there is something to say for lazy Sundays at home.


Cutty Sark 25

Time for another tasting. I will be trying a blended whisky this time around and a brand one that is well know among those who appreciate blends. Cutty Sark 25 appears to be the high end of the range of products branded as Cutty Sark and produced by the Edrington Group. I have seen the non-age expression at the SAQ in Quebec as well as the 12-year-old. There exist 15 and 18 years old versions as well. My interest in this particular version of Cutty Sark was propelled by the scarcity of its supply, the age of the single malts used in the blend, and an interesting price point from Ontario’s LCBO. At the time if the purchase, only 4 bottles were available in Ontario and none in Quebec or anywhere else reasonably close by.

Some history would be appropriate. The name comes from a famous Scottish clipper ship and its image is displayed on all bottles of Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark’s genesis is a result the light whisky craze in the United States during prohibition. In order to capitalize from the interest in this sort of whisky, the brand’s owners (Berry Brothers & Rudd) commissioned this blend. It was quite popular at the time. The Cutty Sark 25 was introduced in the late 1990s and earned an award for best blended Scotch by Whisky Magazine in 2003.

The blend is made up of several of Edrington’s classic single malts, such as Macallan and Glenrothes. There are more than 20 single malts involved in the blend, many of which are from Speyside. The single malts are ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask matured, a sizable portion of which are first fill casks. The single malts are married in oak casks in order to mature further and provide Cutty Sark’s signature characteristics. Recently, a Tam O’Shanter version of the 25-year-old was released. This 2012 release release is said to introduce peat to the regular version.

The box is quite a visual treat itself. It opens on both sides to reveal the bottle nestled in a royal purple silk-like lining. It is quite large, unfortunately taking up a disproportionate amount of space in my cabinet.Cutty Sark Bottle

This acquisition came about thanks to a friend who was heading to Toronto for the holidays. Upon hearing of my interest in this blend, word quickly spread to Toronto and the trigger was pulled on the purchase…without my knowledge. That said, I cannot complain that folks attribute great import to my cause and take measures to ensure that my whims and fancy are satisfied for all things whisky.

Now then to the tasting!

The colour is deep gold with some thick, slow running legs. This deeper colour is quite unlike younger versions of the product that I have seen but not yet tasted. My introduction to this brand will be from the top of the range.

The product is bottled at 45.7% abv.

The nose offers orange and spice, a bit of jasmine and a hint of coffee. Some sherry is hinted at and a bit of fruitcake mixes in to provide a rather unique aroma.

The palate is mellow. Spices abound, black pepper comes up first. There is some smoke and dried fruit in there but this is a spicy whisky more than anything else.

The finish is long and full of oak and spice. Fruit comes back and it goes sweet at the top, but the lingering impression remains with the oak and spices.

Adding water opens up the nose significantly. Whereas I struggled to pull out the fruitcake earlier, it now comes through clearly. Additionally, oak is available now on the nose.

The palate too opens up quite a bit. Sherry, ripe fruit, a hint of caramel, and toffee make it to the forefront. The spice remains but is no longer the focus on the palate.

The finish becomes sweeter and richer. Much more complex and satisfying than earlier.

This is a whisky that benefits enormously from the addition of a good dose of water, but mind your proportion or risk watering it down too much. I added about 10 drops to a little more than half an ounce of drink. The water turns a mid-level blend into a higher end product and seems to be produced to deliver this effect. In fact, the bottle itself recommends adding a measure of water.

Overall, a fine dram and one that is worth checking out. Just don’t forget the water or your experience will leave you wondering what the fuss is about.


Cutty Sark 25 box

Whisky Showdown! Bowmore 12 vs. Bowmore Darkest 15

After a brief hiatus, the Whisky Showdown! is back! Though to call this a showdown is a bit of a stretch. Rather, this is an appreciation of a signature expression against an older expression produced under different conditions. The Bowmore Darkest is not simply aged three more years than the 12, it spends a further two years in sherry casks resulting in a deeper colour and most likely imparting some of the sherry’s legacy on the finished product. Both of these whiskies contain malts from the Islay distillery’s famous malting floors, though the younger product is bottled at 40% abv as opposed to the Darkest’s 43%. Several months ago I wrote that I was looking forward to comparing the staple Bowmore 12-year-old to a more aged version from the distillery and finally, that opportunity has come about. My recent tasting of Bowmore Darkest 15 has certainly whet my appetite for this comparison and I would like it to begin sooner rather than later so without further delay…

On the eye, the Darkest’s deep amber colour stands out against the paler gold of the Bowmore 12, however rich the latter’s colour may be. The legs run thicker and slower on the Darkest.

The nose on the 12 is sweeter and slightly more overtly smokey that the Darkest’s powerful wood aromas. The Darkest manages to deftly reproduce the scent of an old church or library. Both hint of orange and some peat. Both also share some fruity notes, but the Darkest translates the time it spent in sherry casks into expressions easily appreciated by olfactory cells.

The palate is an exercise in contrasts. Where the tropical fruit, smoke, and peat mix to provide the Bowmore 12 with its signature taste, the Darkest pulls the most out of its sherry heritage and adds orange, smoke, leather, tobacco, an oily texture, and tops it off with more sherry.

Both exhibit the qualities of a fine whisky in their respective finishes. The Bowmore 12 has a satisfying conclusion of smoke and dark chocolate. The Darkest goes out kicking with smoke, tobacco, leather, and a hint of some of the sweetness it exhibits throughout the stages of the tasting.

Overall, both are recommended but the Bowmore Darkest is a much more complex product. On the basis of its rich and appealing appearance, more indulgent aromas, somewhat more satisfying palate, and deeper, more complex, and fuller finish, I will give a significant nod to the Darkest without taking anything away from the Bowmore 12. These two whiskies set out to do two different things and both achieve their respective ends admirably. The extra years of aging and the sherry casks used in the production of the Darkest add depth and character to a product already well ahead of its class. My initial review of the Bowmore 12 can be found by clicking on this link. The Bowmore Darkest 15 currently resides here.


Bowmore 12 vs. Bowmore Darkest 15 (2)

Bowmore Darkest 15

In October 2012, the SAQ had a promotion, granting 15% off the price of any purchase under a volume discount scheme and I took full advantage of this rare opportunity. One of the bottles I acquired was the Bowmore Darkest 15, a whisky that normally sells at close to $95 in Quebec. For quite some time, I have appreciated Bowmore’s smooth, accessible, yet peated 12 year expression and thus was interested in the next levels up on the Bowmore ladder.  I finally came around to tasting the Darkest late on New Year’s Eve, but I took a second shot at it recently in order to better appreciate its offerings.  Let us agree that New Year’s being what it is, a serious tasting would be rendered impossible…

Bowmore’s Islay distillery is the oldest surviving facility on the island. Bowmore still runs its own malting floors and is known for the smoke of its malts, more so than the peat itself. Bowmore has several expressions, but the core range is limited to the 12-year-old (tasted here), this Darkest, an 18, as well as a 25-year-old. The Legend also appears to be part of the ongoing range with special editions coming up from time to time (such as the Tempest).

This Darkest gets its name from the colour imparted by the sherry casks used in the finishing. Bowmores are usually aged in ex-bourbon casks, like many whiskies. This Darkest benefits from some time in sherry casks, getting some additional flavour notes and a deeper colour than the others in the range. The question now is, how does all this affect the finished product?

The Bowmore Darkest is bottled at 43% abv. It boasts a colour that lives up to its name. Your eyes will be treated to a deeply coloured, dark amber whisky. The legs run very thick and painfully slow down the sides of the glass. A visual experience matched by only a select few whiskies I have tasted to date.  I used my Vinturi Spirit (reviewed here) as I had been told that this drink requires some time to open up.

The nose is sweet fruit and honey, some melon, pear, and only the slightest hint of peat. A gentle smoky aroma keeps these notes in check and binds them together. I even get some old leather and tobacco, more cigar than cigarette. Excellent introduction.

The palate starts with warm honey and sweet fruits. There’s plenty of rich smoke, bringing out the old leather somehow without overwhelming the senses. Sweet spices power their way through the smoke to join the honey and fruit. The texture is slightly gritty yet chewy. This is a powerful whisky that remains easy to drink.

The finish is long, smooth, and satisfying. There’s some old leather again, smoke, and oak combining to give the impression of bacon.

Adding a drop of water, maybe two if you are so inclined, intensifies the flavours and aromas.  There’s no significant change however and this seems to play a minor part in enhancing the experience.  I’ll say that I noticed some salty dark chocolate, like the Lindt variety, on the palate after I had added the water.

This is a fantastic expression from Bowmore and deserving of a spot on your shelf. It is complex, rich, and smooth without being inaccessible.  For those who don’t quite appreciate peat, the Bowmore Darkest tones it down and instead plays up its distinct smoke.  Its long and smooth finish kept me from drinking it quickly while the full bodied and complex palate kept me coming back for more.  The price is a bit on the high side however and may be an occasional indulgence for most.  Ontario doesn’t carry the stuff, but you could find it in New Hampshire for about $70.  My advice is to wait for a promotion at the SAQ in Quebec and grab it.  The price is well worth it for the quality of the product.


Bowmore 15 Darkest

Product Review: Vinturi Spirit Aerator

A while back, I ran across a neat little contraption used to aerate wine. It was a nice looking glass device equipped with a funnel for the wine to run through and into the receiving glass. Earlier this year, I noticed a spirit aerator was launched specifically designed to decant undiluted spirits and, according to the claims of the manufacturer, enhance the drinking experience.

The product, the Vinturi Spirit Aerator, is now in my possession and I took it for a spin this evening in an effort to determine its effectiveness.

The box is designed to portray a high end product and the design of the aerator itself is eye catching. The whole is an elegant, transparent device whose sleek appearance, shiny metal parts, and crystal-like reflection of light make for a nice showpiece. The top part is shaped like a shot glass and comes with markers indicating the volume poured from 1 to 2 ounces. This leads into a funnel through which your drink passes into your glass when a button is pushed on the side of the device.

I decided to test the product on a single malt whisky, the Glenfarclas 105 (initial review here). This particular whisky was chosen as my experience has lead me to believe that this whisky responds quite well to airing out for approximately 20-30 minutes prior to drinking. In fact it is quite coarse without the proper preparation (some water should also be added prior to consumption).

Using the measurement indicator on the Vinturi Spirit, I added an ounce to each glass but added no water to ensure a proper comparison could be made. The glasses were marked beforehand underneath in order to be able to identify them. I then switched their places a few times such that I could no longer tell which was which. The tasting could now take place.

The first glass contained the harsh product I was familiar with. My hopes for the Vinturi Spirit thus resided in the second glass. My first sip was a revelation. Gone was almost all of the grittiness, replaced with the silky and smooth flavour of honey. My tongue was warmly enveloped with apple and caramel, and then oak and fruits. I looked for the marker under the glass and sure enough, this glass contained the aerated product.  Not that the first glass didn’t showcase the qualities of the Glenfarclas 105, the big difference was how much more smooth the product that passed through the Vinturi Spirit became.  The removal of the grit made the flavours clearer and more easily identifiable.  The Glenfarclas was easier to drink and a more pleasant experience right from the get go, no need to let it sit and aerate.  I do recommend adding some water to this particular drink regardless.

You can see how the product is used here.

Also, a link to the website from Vinturi.

The Vinturi Spirit claims to do wonders for other spirits as well, namely cognac, port, tequila, bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, brandy, sake, and liqueurs.

One thing I must mention, the aerator does an admirable job speeding up a process that occurs naturally over the course of about a half hour anyway.  You may notice sometimes a drink becomes better as you are consuming it or after sitting for a while, the Vinturi Spirit is speeding up that process and making the drink accessible immediately.   Therefore, it is entirely up to you if you think the $30 to $40 you will spend on this is worth the time.