Johnnie Walker Green Label

A special anniversary requires a special gift. The anniversary in question was our 15 years of marriage, the gift was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label. The Green Label is symbolic as it is a mixture of some fine whiskies with a minimum age of 15 years. But unlike the other whiskies in the Johnnie Walker range, the Green Label is a blended malt whisky. No grain whisky is blended into the carefully selected mix of malts used in its preparation. The box indicates that the Green Label is a mix of Talisker’s The Power, Linkwood’s The Finesse, Cragganmore’s The Heart, and Caol Ila’s The Mystery. The blend is bottled at 43% alcohol and is quite elegantly packaged ina deep green box with matching label.

Visually, the whisky is a smooth amber colour, not very deep but not pale either; somewhere between the Black Label and Gold Label.

On the nose, one finds cinnamon and black pepper with a hint of honey, fruits, and floral bouquet.

The palate is smooth and rich. There is a strong oak presence which combines with spices, a touch of peat, and a subtle sweetness that eases into dried fruit as one continues drinking.

The finish is not overly long but satisfying. Pepper lingers and hints of the dried fruit persist in the background.

A few drops of water creates a more vivid experience as the sweetness is enhanced. The pepper on the finish becomes more pronounced as well.

Overall, an excellent choice for a special occasion and a very thoughtful gift from my wife. This whisky was discontinued in 2013 but recently made a return to store shelves. It can be had for about $80 in Quebec and Ontario at the SAQ and LCBO respectively and US $55 in New Hampshire.

How is Scotch whisky aged?

One of the most important parts of whisky production is a component that is hardly overlooked. In fact, most bottles mention it proudly right on the label. We’re talking, of course, about the type of barrel used in the aging process. The raw spirit produced in the distillation process is colourless and lacks the rich taste the wood in the barrels will provide after years of maturation. The barrels play a huge role in giving the final product its flavour and appearance. So what are the various types of barrels used? Well, Scotch is aged in oak casks. American or European oak to be precise. But that’s not all, there’s much more to it than just the cask. What these casks previously held before the raw spirit was placed in them for aging is even more interesting in terms of what the final product will taste like.

Most whisky, as any trip to the SAQ or local liquor store will confirm, is made from barrels previously holding bourbon. Bourbon casks are only used once, so it makes for a great relationship between the two industries. The casks, once used, are shipped across the Atlantic to Scotland to find a second life as ex-bourbon whisky casks. Bourbon casks are charred on the inside, and provide a distinct range of flavours. Many Scotches are produced using casks previously having held sherry. Again, different flavour profiles can be achieved though these ex-sherry casks. The remainder can be all kinds, the bottle of the whisky you are purchasing will normally indicate what you’re looking at. In some of my tastings, I have noted that the Scotch is principally aged in one type of cask and finished in another. This is clever play on tastes and differentiating one product from another, even within the distiller’s own line.

Of import is also how many times the cask is used for aging. The first time the barrel is used for whisky imparts more flavour, the more a cask is used, the less of its features will be transferred to the final product. Again, this can be used to modify the final product depending on what the distiller is hoping to achieve. A strong product using first fill ex-bourbon? A weaker bourbon cask mixed with a strong first fill ex-sherry to pull some more sherry and limit the effects of the charred oak cask? All kinds of possibilities are available to a master distiller.

Sherry casks come in many different types, the one I see the most on labels happens to be Oloroso. Sherry being a type of fortified wine, the grapes end up impacting the flavour of the final product.

I spoke about the size of the cask and its potential impact in my Laphroaig Quarter Cask review and won’t go into it further here. However, other conditions, such as allowing the whisky to age near the sea and let the salt water permeate the barrels, also plays a role in the final flavouring. The type of cask, ex-bourbon or ex-sherry, also plays a part in the colour of the whisky. Ex-sherry casks will give off a deeper amber while ex-bourbon is typically in the gold hues range. Some whiskies are even finished in a barrel holding another type of alcohol altogether, such as rum. Fascinating stuff really and only limited by the distiller’s imagination.

By law, Scotch must be aged at least three years to be called such. Most, of course, is aged longer. Longer does not necessarily mean better. As you can see, several factors play into the final product and everyone has a different definition of a good whisky.

Hope that helps, I’ll add more as I learn more about this subject and notify when I update this space.

Cheers!

Where is Scotch produced?

Let’s continue learning about the background of the drink we have been enjoying together over the last few weeks by exploring where the stuff is produced.

Scotch comes from all over Scotland. However, clusters of distilleries exist in close proximity to fresh water, since much water is used in its production. The major regions for Scotch production are:

Speyside
The Highlands
The Lowlands
Islay

Campbeltown also produces some whisky as well as the several of the outlying islands. Here’s an interesting map of the regions and their respective distilleries.

Speyside is the major whisky producing region in Scotland. There are many distilleries based here, and just as many varieties of whisky. The cluster is East of Inverness and Loch Ness and is home to the likes of Macallan, Benriach, Glen Elgin, Balvenie, Glenfidditch (reviewed 12, 15, 18), Glenlivet (reviewed 12), and Aberlour (reviewed 16) to name a few. The flavours are diverse, ranging from fruity to spicy to floral to malty, and just about any iteration in between. However, I believe none are quite smoky or peaty. Further reviews and research may confirm my assessment of the production from this region.

The Highlands cover most of Scotland. Anything roughly North of Glasgow on the mainland, except for Speyside, is considered the Highlands. Here again, one finds a vast array of flavours across the regions, though each sub-region within the Highlands may share some similar characteristics. You’ll find some excellent smoky and peaty whiskies here as well as some fruity, nutty flavours, and then just about anything else you can think of the describe the flavours you will experience during your journey through this part of the country. The area is home to the likes of Clynelish (reviewed), Ardmore, Glengoyne (reviewed cask strength 12), Dalwhinnie, Old Pulteney, and Tomatin to name a few.

The Lowlands cover the area South of the Highlands right up to England. Here, some high volume producing distilleries may be found and the area is a major blending hub. However, only a few distilleries exist, such as Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie. The whisky produced is mostly light in flavour, easy to drink stuff that can be consumed in large volumes I imagine.

Islay is an island to the West of the Lowlands, or to the East of Newfoundland if you prefer. Islay is known for its distinctive peat, a natural feature of the region and a major flavour component of the whisky produced there. It is home to Lagavulin (reviewed 16), Laphroaig, Bowmore (reviewed 12), Bunnahabhain (reviewed Cruach Mhona), and Ardbeg to name some.

The Orkney Islands sit north of the Highlands and are home to a couple of famous distilleries, Highland Park and Scapa. Each has its own flavour, with Highland Park preferring to produce smokier malts and Scapa looking at more fruity products.

Finally, there’s Campbeltown. Home to one of my favourites, Springbank (reviewed cask strength 12) and a couple of others, the product is usually smoky, but can be fruity as well depending on the distiller’s preference and maturing process.

So there you have a brief description of where the stuff comes from and which distilleries are located where. This is by no means an exhaustive list of distillers, but most of the well known brands are mentioned here.

I usually mention the location of the whisky distillery in my reviews, but if I forget, please refer back here or send me a comment to remind me.

Cheers!

Bowmore 12

With this review, I am going back to a standard issue 12 year old scotch sold at 40% alcohol by volume. Bowmore is known for peaty and smoky whiskies and this is the least aged version in its range. This is an Islay distillery, dating to 1779 according to the bottle. The colour is a nice gold and running quick and thin when swirled in the glass.

The smell is smoky off the bat and gives way to some peat. Slightly sweet, like fruit that has sat out on a table too long. Specifically, it brings to mind apple, banana, and pineapple. You may disagree though and I would love to understand how you interpret this rich and satisfying scent.

On the tongue, it is quite smooth. It starts off sweet but yields the smoky flavour the brand is famous for. Some peat comes through as well, but it is quite different from the Bunnahabhain cruach mhona I reviewed earlier. The peat in the Bowmore mixes with the smoke rather than presenting itself distinctly and apart. Quite delicate, but there nonetheless.

The finish is of a good length and leaves behind hints of smoke and wood. Some dark chocolate makes its way out just before the sensation fades completely.

Some water enhances the smoky, fruity smell and taste. The overall change with a few drops of water is that you end up with a more velvety texture and a richer, smoother tasting experience. The finish remains much the same.

Recommended, but I get the feeling this drink ages wondefully and exposes many flavours and aromas that the 12 year aging period could not accomplish. I anticipate acquiring a 15 year old bottle at some point to put my theory to the test.

Cheers!

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Aberlour 16

Looking through the available selection, and having tried a smoky, peaty, 16 year old whisky earlier, I decided to try something of similar age but different in flavour. The Aberlour is from Speyside and is double cask matured. The box indicates that the casks in question are traditional ex-bourbon and ex-sherry oak. It has a beautiful dark copper colour with very slow running and thick legs whe swirling in the glass.

To smell this product is to experience a sweet, dried fruit sensation. A bit of peanut mixed in there, quite, like trail mix but with a less raisin. The odour is smooth so as not to burn the back of the throat, even when taking it in with closed mouth.

The taste is perfectly married to the nose. A smooth whisky full of fruit and flowery notes. Sweet overall and rich.

The finish is long and compliments the rest of the experience. Slightly sweet but with an almond and cashew finish that lingers before giving way to more sweetness that fades very slowly.

With some water, all the experiences are enhanced. The smell is somewhat sweeter, the flavour more floral, the finish more nutty.

An excellent whisky, very easy to drink and appreciate. A compliment to any company and bound to make the evening a success.

The other ages in the line are definitely worth a try, with the A’Bunadh being the one I am most curious about.

Update July 8, 2012

On a second tasting yesterday, going back to this whisky proved to be quite a revelation. For whatever reason, my initial sampling did not do it justice, perhaps due to lack of experience at the time.

Some more bcakground is appropriate here, Aberlour makes two double cask matured versions of its whisky, the 12 year old and the 16. This version has an alcohol content of 43% alcohol by volume.

To my intitial tasting, I’ll add that I noted some strong elements of orange peel and apple. Some spice is evident towards the end and I will say that the peanut is soft and the fruit prevails.

The finish is sweet as well, the taste of honey is now obvious to me. I also recognize the lingering taste if the wood that goes back to honey before fading completely.

A much better whisky than my first impression may have suggested. Available across Quebec at of course, the SAQ.

Cheer!

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Glengoyne 12 Cask Strength

A random selection for this tasting and one that, though I have owned some time, have rarely imbibed.

The Glengoyne is a scotch from the southern Highlands. I haven’t tasted any others from the Glengoyne distillery. Glengoyne offers a 10 year old, a 17, and a 21 on top of the 12. The only version of the 12 year old I have been able to find is the cask strength. There may not be another version offered. The label on the bottle indicates that this whisky is non chill filtered and that the barley used to produce the drink was dried using only warm air. I therefore expect no smoke or peat odour and flavour. The cask strength is 57.2% alcohol. A strong drink, no doubt, most probably made better by adding a bit of water. But let’s not resort to conjecture. The answer will soon be upon us.

In appearance, the drink is a light gold. Not as light as I expected and darker than the Bunnahabhain I tasted recently.

To smell the Glengoyne 12 is to experience the sweet smell of pear, very distinctly. Honey also comes to mind. Overall very pleasant. The scent does not betray the strength of the drink.

Strong on the tongue, I can taste barley but also the fruit. Very strong at cask strength, wow. Definitely not smooth and silky, quite the opposite. But excellent if this indeed represents the distillery’s other diluted offerings.

The finish is long, burns a bit, but does a good job satisfying the expectation of a fruity payoff.

With some water, I expected the colour to go cloudy as non-chill filtering apparently could result in such a change in the visual characteristic of the product. It did no such thing, still a light gold.

The smell is much stronger now, still pear and sweet. I’m reminded of honey nut Cheerios.

The taste is a bit softer, at first caramel and then much like Cheerios again. Pepper at the end. Warms the tongue nicely.

The finish is full of black pepper with little fruit this time. Leans more to the Cheerios and lingers this way until the end.

Overall, an excellent sipping whisky and should be good with a cigar. Definitely will try to acquire some of the others ages in the line as a result of this tasting. Cheers!

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Glenfiddich 18

I must apologize for being sidetracked by some of the other whiskies I had the good forture of coming across since my last Glenfiddich tasting. I intended to taste and write about the 12, 15, and 18 in order. Better late than never though so here it goes.

According to the label on the box, The Glenfiddich 18 is aged in Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks and then placed in oak tuns for a minimum of 3 months is small numbered batches. My particular bottle contains product from batch #3269.

On the nose, I smell old leather. The sweet scent of dried fruit, almost like trailmix, is distiguishable. Some notes of dark chocolate as well. Paticularly Lindt 70% cocoa.

Upon swirling it in my glass, I notice the legs thicker and running more slowly than the 12 year old, if only slightly.

As I taste it, I feel the dark chocolate even more. But less sweetness and very little of the dried fruit I smelled. It does remind me of Lindt 70% cocoa, a fine chocolate. I prefer the 85% cocoa though, but I digress.

The aftertaste lingers, and continues to feed dark chocolate flavour to my senses. I still don’t get any of the sweetness I smelled at first.

Unlike the younger whiskies in the line, I don’t get any hints of vanilla in this one.

With a couple of drops of water, I notice the smell lightens and gives way to more fruit than anything else.

The flavour remains the same, but more silky and smooth. Still, the dark chocolate prevails and the dried fruits emerge.

The aftertaste lingers once again, slightly sweet at first, but giving way to the chocolate.

An wonderful choice, smooth on the senses and delivering an excellent drinking experience. This is one for the ages, the dark chocolate on the senses makes the Glenfiddich 18 my favorite to date. Enjoy this drink whenever you can, and I will not complain if you see fit to bring a bottle next time you visit.

Cheers!

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Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona

On my return from the UK, I picked up the Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona at Heathrow airport’s duty-free store. According to the box, Cruach-Mhona (pronounced cru-ach vhona) means “peat stack” in Scottish Gaelic. I was looking for something smokey and chose this one over the Bowmore Cask Strength. Hopefully I chose well. Note that this particular Scotch is only available at the duty-free. Bunnahabhain is not known for peated malts from what I understand, so this could be interesting.

This is an Islay malt, generally known for its peated, smokey malts (though as I mentioned above, Bunnahabhain apparently is an exception). On pouring, I’m struck by the near absence of colour. It is a very pale gold liquid sitting in my glass.

The smell is strong and not surprising as this is a 100 proof drink. The alcohol burns my nose slightly as the aromas are delivered. This smells of smoke, peat, the lake on a mild summer’s day when just about to go out on a boat. You get the idea.

On my tongue, it burns slightly at first, then fades to a smokey, slightly sweet flavour (caramel hints) and ends with the taste of black pepper. For good measure, there’s a distinct taste of salt to go along with the pepper.

The finish lingers for quite some time. It leaves impressions of black pepper but starts with smoke, the lakeside, and transitions to caramel and red liquorice. Quite complex.

Adding water makes the scent less strong. Sweet tones now accompany the smokey and peaty aroma.

The whisky is smoother with water, but goes more salty. The salt alternates with a more rounded sweet flavour and keeps things interesting.

The lingering finish is still smoky and peppery.

Overall this is an excellent addition to any collection, especially if you prefer some of the more smokey offerings. This is supposedly atypical of the brand however so we’ll have to try some of their other offerings. Also, comparison to some of the higher end Bowmore offerings are in order to establish a reference point.

Update July 27, 2012

Coming back from Ogunquit, Maine where I just spent 5 days on the ocean, I find that the nose is eerily reminiscent of the beach. I recognise that seaweed and salt water aroma now that it is fresh in my mind. This is quite a revelation and I again recommend a seach for this product. I have yet to try a higher end Bowmore, but I am told Caol Ila may be up to the task.

Cheers!

Glenfiddich 15

I decided I would best serve the reader by diving into the next step up in the Glenfiddich range rather than stick to comparable whiskies to the Glenfiddich 12, such as the Glenlivet 12. This would permit me to discover and better describe the changes that take place as the Glenfiddich ages.

The 15 year old uses the Solera Vat. According to the box, the Solera Vat is always kept half full at least. What this means is that the whisky in the vat and therefore in your bottle is partially much older than 15 years. It is aged in sherry, bourbon, and new oak casks. Most of the Solera vat is filled with refilled bourbon cask whisky, then European Oak, and finally new oak.

Tne colour is golden, darker than the 12 year old.

The scent still comes on fruity in my opinion. Less vanilla than the 12 year old, but still a light touch of it remains. I can make out some sherry in there, but not being a sherry drinker, I’m afraid this nuance is lost on me. Perhaps now is the time to consider developing an interest in sherry? I also smell some chocolate, very light. Overall not as sweet smelling as the 12 year old though.

It is very smooth initially on the tongue. A bit of bite after a while, but retains some of the fruit of the 12 year old. The fruitiness is not as prevalent though and I detect none of the vanilla. Some light chocolate at the beginning and end of the tasting. It’s more like a darker chocolate in my opinion, but you may differ in your assessment.

The finish is much longer than with the 12 year old and more satisfying.

Overall, an improvement on the 12 year old of course.

Adding a bit of water changes the smell somewhat. Potpourri? Definitely fruity.

Even more smooth on the tongue now, with no bite at all. Still fruity. Pear? Apple? Let me know what you think.

The finish is extra smooth now and delightfully sweet. The chocolate hints have vanished though.

Update July 29, 2012

Having recently updated my experience in sherry drinking and recently tasted the Macallan 12, I realize that though sherry is present in this bottle, it is not overwhelming. It is rich, but not overpowering as in the Macallan. Also, I discovered some nuances, such as apple pie. To add to my assessment of the finish, I find that the wood is quite obvious to me now. An excellent find and well worth the price of admission. I’ll add that I have noticed that more recent bottlings omit the Solera Vat descriptive, but the production method remains the same.

Overall, a distinguished drink and a compliment to any evening spent with good friends and great food.

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Whisky

I discovered whisky many years ago on a trip to Quebec City. We were celebrating the penultimate night of a long week of work and decided to indulge in some drinks at the Chateau Frontenac. I do not quite recall what was ordered, someone far more experienced than I in the intricacies of a fine scotch was doing the heavy wallet lifting. We held our drinks high, toasted a job well done and the excellent company in which we found ourselves, and slowly took in that first sip. I coughed. It was strong, but soothing. The taste lingered on my tongue. I was hooked.

We find ourselves 6 years later as I write my first post on the subject. My approach will be that of a near beginner, with the hope that all whisky lovers will find the writing insightful. I will write about my experience with the drink in all its forms. From scotch to bourbon to rye and every other type that I can get my hands on. I will write about tasting notes, discuss the look, scent, taste, and lingering effects on the tongue of the products I will try. I will give my advice on which offers the best quality for the money, where I have picked up some interesting finds, and will keep readers posted on SAQ promotions.

For those of you who will join me on this journey, I hope you have as much fun as I know I will. My first tasting will be Glenfiddich 12 year old. I will update this blog shortly with the details.

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