Thursday, 18 November 2021

Benriach New Range [Tasted: #545 - #551]

Benriach has had a long history. It started off as Longmorn's sister plant in 1898 (four years following the establishment of Longmorn). Founded by the entrepreneurial John Duff, the Speyside distillery was then known as Longmorn No 2. Benriach's initial fate was fairly short-lived when it closed in 1900 and it wasn't until 65 years later that it began to distil whisky again. In the intervening years, Longmorn went through various cycles and though it officially bottled as a single malt, those releases were never as startling as Longmorn or Glen Grant.

In 2003, Benriach was once again mothballed. This time by Pernod Ricard and at the time, it looked like Benriach had jinxed its fate once again. However, this time was different, Benriach was bought in 2004 by a South African consortium, led by former Burn Stewart managing director, Billy Walker. Walker and his team launched a series of different malts including rich, heavily peated whiskies. Over the subsequent years, Walker grew Benriach into one of the most fascinating distilleries in Scotland which led Benriach to be known for carrying complex, spicy, and rather exciting quality on the palate.

Thanks to a long-standing tradition of distilling three styles of whisky; classic unpeated, Highland peated and triple distilled, together with an eclectic selection of casks from around the world, Benriach has been known to be able to explore different flavour possibilities of single malt.

This tradition continues today, under the guidance of Master Blender, Rachel Barrie and Rachel has been instrumental with Benriach's latest portfolio of single malts. The new portfolio of single malts and the new look is inspired by the distillery’s creative heritage and presents a rather diverse, versatile, fruit-laden style and a range of spectrum of whisky flavours that Benriach is known for.

On the new range, Benriach Master Blender, Dr Rachel Barrie said:

“The new range perfectly marries tradition and innovation that is central to Benriach’s story. Inspired by the 1994 bottling of the Original Ten, with its fruit-laden complexity and smooth, rounded taste, the new range re-imagines the 1898 origins of Benriach, brought to life in the 21st century through fusing distilling styles with extraordinary casks.

The new Benriach range is for those open to new possibilities, building on a wealth of experience and tradition. I invite the drinker to join me on this creative journey, as we explore the rich rewards of Single Malt whisky.” 

The core range is made up of four different expressions from a three cask maturation process

  • Benriach "The Original Ten"
  • Benriach "The Twelve"
  • Benriach "The Smoky Ten"
  • Benriach "The Smoky Twelve"

"In the new Original Ten, a more richly flavoured, rounded malt character might be discerned, whilst The Twelve balances richly sherried malt with added layers of fruit complexity, reaching a pinnacle at twelve years old.

The new Smoky Ten and Smoky Twelve explore the sweet smokiness of Benriach, enriched through innovative combinations of rum, virgin oak and marsala casks interwoven with more traditional bourbon and sherry." Barrie says

In addition to the core range, there are also three premium releases and two travel retail releases:
  • Benriach "Twenty One"
  • Benriach "Twenty Five"
  • Benriach "The Thirty"
  • Benriach "Quarter Cask" (Travel Retail)
  • Benriach "Smoky Quarter Cask" (Travel Retail - note the change from peated to smoky)

In addition to Benriach The Original Ten, the Core Range will feature a new recipe for Benriach’s richly sherried twelve-year-old whisky, including port and bourbon casks combined to add to the complexity. The sweet smoky whisky distilled in the distillery’s smoke season also features in the new Smoky Ten and Smoky Twelve Year Old expressions.

The premium set sees the Twenty One, Twenty Five and Thirty Year Old Single Malts that have been put together through a diverse selection of oak casks (four different casks in fact) to provide additional layouts of complexity and richness.


The new range offers something for everyone, in particular with the core range where there are two different takes of the 10yo and 12yo that offer both, classic Speyside style malts or a smoky variant. I particularly enjoyed both the Twelve expressions and found both to be rich, creamy and quite intriguing on both the nose and the palate. The premium range, with its four cask style, provide a very unique profile. Rachel Barrie has created a very balanced yet intriguing set of whiskies, in particular across the older age profiles.

The new range; the 10yo, 10yo Smoky and 12yo will roll out this month. The 12yo Smoky will be released after Christmas time. The premium range; the 21yo, 25yo and 30yo will not land on our shores until 2022.

Benriach "The Original Ten" (43%, Speyside, Scotland, A$85) 
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Nose: The nose is rather fruity, there is apple, vanilla, sweet bread, maple syrup, sticky honey. It is quite fragrant and rich.

Palate: The palate is ladened with caramelised burnt sugar, nutmeg, nectarine or citrus, there are oranges and dry, peppery spices. There is a hint of smoke.

Finish: The finish is long and there is a level of soot and smoke

Rating: 91/100 


Benriach "The Smoky Ten" 10yo (46% ABV, 10 Year Old, Speyside, ScotlandA$95) 
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Nose: The nose has apple, peat smoke, golden maple syrup covered pancake, pineapple, crumpet, honey. It is also quite creamy on the nose.

Palate: The palate follows the nose, it is creamy, viscous and smooth. There is sweet honey and the smoke is now weaning though it is still pleasant. There is caramel and some ginger spice.

Finish: The finish is long, there is the smoky campfire

Rating: 91/100 


Benriach "The Twelve" Triple Cask (46% ABV, 12 Year Old, Speyside, Scotland, A$97) 
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Nose: The nose is filled with forest fruit, oak spices. It's peppery though balanced with some sweetness from raspberries and wild berries

Palate: The palate is rich, mouth-coating followed by some citrus and a mix of spiced elements; pepper, nutmeg, cherries

Finish: The finish is dry with some spices that remain

Rating: 93/100 


Benriach "The Smoky Twelve" (46% ABV, 12 Year Old, Speyside, Scotland, $TBC - available post Christmas 2021) 
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Nose: The nose is filled with apple, vanilla waffles followed by a subtle bonfire smoke and cherries

Palate: The palate is creamy, viscous, round and mouthful. It's a very rich mouthfeel, almost like tasting chocolate. There is moreish smoke, some cocoa and burnt orange

Finish: The smoke gently disappears into pepper and spices

Rating: 93/100 


Benriach "The Twenty One" (46% ABV, 21-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 
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At twenty-one years old, Benriach takes on an elegant character, elevated by long maturation, four cask types and a combination of Benriach's unpeated and peated styles. The characters of aged bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine casks intertwine to present a range of flavours.

Nose: The nose is filled with sour citrus, some fresh pine forest. Then there are gummi bear lollies, fruit, and berry fruits

Palate: There is more of those berries, citrus notes, some cocoa, peppery spice and rose water. The palate has a subtle smoke

Finish: There is a subtle smoke that remains

Rating: 93/100 


Benriach "The Twenty Five" (46% ABV, 25-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 
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A rich single malt, interwoven with mellow smoke and curation of oak. After twenty-five years, it is then enhanced by four cask maturation in sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks. An appealing dram for sherry lovers

Nose: smoked apricot, dark cherry chocolate, hazelnut toffee and a mixture of dark fruits, raisins and currants. 

Palate: baked fruit, toasted oak spice, orange and cinnamon spice, finishing with rich caramelised smoke. The peppery spice builds up from then on.

Finish: Long, oaky, the cinnamon and spices continue to linger for some time

Rating: 93/100 


Benriach "The Thirty" (46% ABV, 30-Year-Old, Speyside, Scotland$TBC - available in 2022) 
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The final malt in the premium portfolio. This expression continues the four cask maturation tradition in sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and port casks. The final product offers a deep aromatic complexity in flavour. 

Nose: The nose is buttery, filled with vanilla, honey, citrus and dark fruits; plum, figs and raisins. Cinnamon doughnut anyone? There is nuttiness that follows with subtle smoke.

Palate: The buttery, honey prevails, so too is the cinnamon doughnut. There are more raisin notes, followed by orange, citrus that followed. Some intense spices start to build at the end.

Finish: The finish is subtle, long and sweet and leaves an oaky, smoke that remains for a while.

Rating: 93/100



Cheers
Hendy


Thanks to Brown Forman for providing us with samples from the new portfolio.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

The Macallan Harmony Collection "Rich Cacao" [Tasted #544]

The Macallan Hong Kong launched the first release in "The Harmony Collection" today, a new annual series filling the hole left by the "Edition" series, which came to an end with last year's Edition No.6.

The first release, "Rich Cacao", celebrates chocolate and sustainability through a collaboration with Jordi Roca, of famed Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. The Roca brothers have been collaborating with The Macallan for several years now (long-time readers might remember our El Celler de Can Roca dinner in the grounds of The Macallan estate for the launch of the new distillery in 2018)), but this is the first major/global release of a whisky produced in collaboration with family.

The story goes that:

"The Macallan Whisky Maker Polly Logan embarked on a unique journey to Girona, Spain, where she immersed herself in the world of chocolate, exploring the chocolate-making process and uncovering the distinctive flavour profiles at Casa Cacao.

Polly worked with Jordi Roca, owner of the famed chocolate boutique and hotel, Casa Cacao and the youngest of the acclaimed Roca brothers. As part of the exploration, she also spent time with master chocolatier of Casa Cacao, Damien Allsop."
..and that on return to the distillery, Polly sought out both American and European oak Sherry casks displaying the most chocolate-like characteristics.

The packaging and labelling also presents a new direction for the distillery, with a much bigger focus on sustainability. The box is 100% recyclable, and both the box and labels are made from a mixture of fibres including cacao shell.

To celebrate the launch, The Macallan held a series of tastings at The Macallan Room in K11 Musea, paired with a local honey-infused chocolate from Vero Chocolates along with a cocoa-dusted orange wheel.

Both these pairings brought out varied and delicious notes in the whisky, but I was most interested to see how the whisky fared on its own, and to see just how chocolatey it really was..

The Macallan "The Harmony Collection" Rich Cacao (44% ABV, NAS, Speyside Scotland, $1,800HKD)
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Colour: Amber gold.

Nose: Sweet ginger at first, then honey. There's that trademark sherried-Macallan note (I call it a slightly "flinty" note, but I wouldn't call it sulphur here) and some apricot after time.

Palate: Initially, a lot more ginger and spice than I expected. Cinnamon, orange, fruity spices and more ginger. Honey, sure, but not much chocolate (at first). After some time, dark chocolate and chocolate orange notes emerged, true to its name. 

Finish: Medium to long in length, with spiced honey and some cinnamon to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A well-constructed Macallan, true to the notes listed on the box (cinnamon, dark chocolate, honey, dates, vanilla). To my palate, there was more ginger, honey and cinnamon than chocolate, but you could definitely taste the chocolate after time. I'm looking forward to seeing where this series goes with future releases (though with a starting point almost double the Macallan Edition 6, hopefully not too further in terms of price)! No word on the total number of bottles released.


The Macallan "The Harmony Collection" Rich Cacao is available from 22nd Nov for $1,800HKD. The pop-up experience at K11 Musea (5/F) runs until mid December.

Cheers,
Martin.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Style-specific Whisky glasses? Why not!? A review of Lucaris' new "Gràn Collection"

The world of wine has a variety of glasses (or "stemware") to suit the many styles within - a large, bowl-like glass for Pinot Noir, a smaller, tighter glass for Riesling, a flute for Champagne (arguably not the most effective design for flavour, but regardless...) and so on. Wine's many varieties are sufficiently different that a range of glasses are needed to bring out the various nuances in each, or so the story goes.

...but what about whisky? From a light, delicate Lowland, to a "sherrybomb" Speysider, to an Islay peat monster, whisky is arguably as varied and nuanced as wine, if not more so...and that's before we even leave Scotland. Why should we drink all whiskies from the same style of glass?

That's the question Matthew Fergusson-Stewart (co-founder of Spun Spirits, noted Asia-based whisky personality, co-founder of the global Dram Full community, former Glenfiddich South East Asia Ambassador, and good friend of mine) asked last year, ultimately leading to the development of the "Gràn Collection" by Lucaris, consisting of four distinct whisky glasses:
  • Delicate: With a “unique angled rim designed to emphasize the light fruity and floral notes in more delicate whiskies”, designed for “Classic Irish whiskies, lowland Scotch whiskies, and more delicate Speyside whiskies such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet”.
  • Sherried: With a “wider bowl to increase interaction between whisky and air”, designed for “Sherried whiskies including Aberlour, Glendronach, Macallan, The Yamazaki, and Glenfarclas”.
  • Peated: With “a narrow rim that expresses the richer earthier notes”, designed for whiskies including Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Port Charlotte, Ardbeg and Talisker.
  • Classic: A “classically styled stemmed and tulip shaped glass designed for balanced whiskies”, designed for blends, balanced single malts, and classic Bourbons.

Matthew’s whisky credentials are well-known throughout Asia (ref: aforementioned experience), but he’s also somewhat of an oracle on the chemistry behind whisky, having authored two authoritative papers on chill-filtration, and created the “Whisky Molecules”  group on Facebook. All of which makes him pretty qualified to develop a collection of style-specific glasses, if you ask me.

 

Now when it comes to glassware, I generally sit between “believer” and “sceptic”. Yes, I agree the shape/size/design of a glass can absolutely change or enhance the nose/palate of a dram, but I also feel there are glasses out there which are more style than substance - with spurious / questionable claims about enhancing the nose etc… all in the interests of making a few bucks. Whilst I had no doubt Matthew’s glasses would NOT fall into this category, of course I wanted to give them a proper test run. Thankfully Matthew and HK distributor KKH were kind enough to send me a set so I could do just that.


For the test, I went with a classic GlenDronach 18 for the Sherried glass, an SMWS Inchmurrin (“112.61 Crazy Fruits”) for the Delicate glass, an intense single cask 2010 7yo Octomore (cask #4819) for the Peated glass, and for something a bit different, a Russell's Reserve 10yo Bourbon for the Classic glass. Pouring equal measures of each into the glasses, along with 4 separate Glencairns (my usual go-to), I nosed and then tasted each side-by-side:

Sherried: Now this was impressive. The Gràn Sherried really made the dram come to life, with a nose bursting with dark chocolate, whereas dark chocolate skulked about in the background with the Glencairn. Just hugely expressive overall! You'd swear the whisky in the Glencairn was a good few ABV% less, such was the contrast.


Delicate: The Inchmurrin's intensely fruity nature, with grassy, floral notes (a result of a higher cut point & the distillery's use of rectifying heads) really showed through much more prominently in the Gràn Delicate glass. There was more grassiness, more fruitiness and overall a "cleaner", more focused nature, especially on the nose.


Peated: The Gràn Peated glass gave this dram (a heavyweight 62% peat monster) more of an ashy, and surprisingly sweeter note. As with some of the others, the whisky felt a bit "cleaner", and more focused - especially on the nose.


Classic: This I found interesting, with the Gràn Classic glass producing a slightly more saline / sea air note, with less Orange/citrus than I found with the Glencairn. Less notable difference compared with the Delicate glass, but noticeable nonetheless.



So in summary? VERY impressive. No word of a lie, the difference was stark. In all cases, the nose was much more pronounced, and in some cases seemed “cleaner” - in the sense that the core, desirable notes (like dark chocolate in the ‘dronach) where much clearer and easier to discern. 

So Kudos to Matthew & Lucaris then,

A review of glassware of course shouldn't neglect to mention the quality and feel of the glasses, and in that department these shine too. They’re delicate (much more so than a Glencairn), but solid enough to survive a whack I accidentally gave one on the tap. In wine glass terms, I’d put them closer to a Zalto, or Riedel’s “Fatto a Mano” series. They definitely have that quality / premium nature, and feel incredible in the hand.


Available as pairs, or as a set of four, the Gran Collection is $2,400HKD from KKH in Hong Kong, or $397SGD RRP in Singapore. No word yet on Aussie pricing or availability.

Cheers,
Martin.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

The Macallan Concept No. 3 [Tasted #543]

Last year I wrote about The Macallan "Concept 2", a travel retail exclusive launched at a time when global travel was extremely limited.

Fast forward ~18 months, and the next (and final) whisky in the series has been released, "Concept 3" (at a time when global travel is still, sadly, very limited). Despite the lack of travel, The Macallan were kind enough to send me a bottle (part of this stunning kit) so I could try the whisky.

First though, some background. The third and final release in the “Concept” series sees a whisky which “brings together the worlds of whisky and graphic design”, through a collaboration with designer David Carson. Described as “bright & fresh”, the whisky was created by The Macallan Whisky Maker Polly Logan, at a unique 40.8% (because “8 happens to be mine and David’s favourite number”, says Polly 😁)

As you might expect from a collaboration with a graphic designer, the bottle and packaging have a lot "going on" visually, culminating in an impressive AR experience (via app download) which gives more detail on the whisky, design and collaboration via short videos from Polly and David. It's a fun and unique (in the world of whisky) way to add a little joy / interactivity to the experience. 

 

As for the whisky itself, details are limited, but we do know that it includes whisky from first fill sherry butts & ex-bourbon casks, along with "selected refill and virgin oak casks" (no word on if the refills are ex-sherry or ex-bourbon, or something else however).

I never covered it on the blog, but some of you may know I wasn't the biggest fan of Concept No.1 (for me, the "reverse" sherry-then-bourbon cask maturation didn't quite hit the mark), but I found No.2 to be a big improvement. So the big question is, how does the series finale stack up? Let's find out...



The Macallan Concept No.3 (40.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside Scotland, $TBC)
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Colour: Yellow golden sunset.

Nose: Sweet yellow fruits - apricot and peach. Subtle ginger followed by a big dollop of honey, and sweet mandarin.

Palate: A lot of sweetness, with soft peach and pear notes, floral / pot pourri notes, and subtle vanilla hints. There's plenty here to let you know it's a Macallan, but it's sweeter than you might be familiar with (especially when compared with other recent NAS Macallans).

Finish: Medium in length, sweet and spiced (allspice), with vanilla hints at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A sweeter Macallan, but a well-constructed one and one that I suspect will be popular with a wide cross-section of drinkers. 

 

The Macallan Concept No.3 is available now via travel retail globally. A big thanks to The Macallan Hong Kong for the set pictured here.

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Highland Park Hong Kong Single Cask Edition #4 [Tasted #542]

Edrington's two most well-known distilleries (The MacallanHighland Park) get a lot of airtime on this blog, and that's largely because their commanding presence in the HK market means they can bring some pretty cool whiskies here, and launch them with some pretty amazing events


One area the brands really differ though is in their single cask offerings. The Macallan has the "Exceptional Single Cask" program (which has included everything from 12yo to 67yo whiskiy), but these are pretty tough to get a hold of, and typically come with a price tag to match their rarity (to be fair, their retail prices are very reasonable - but rarely can they be found at retail prices!)

(The Macallan also have a private cask program, but it's so incredibly limited I won't cover it here.)


Highland Park's single cask program on the other hand has seen hundreds of casks released, often at very reasonable prices. Some have been specific to certain shops, whisky clubs, bars or events, others are specific to the distillery visitor centre and yet others are bottled only for certain locations. In the latter camp, we've previously seen no less than four HK-exclusive casks (the first of which we covered almost 3 years ago) and now, Hong Kong has it's fourth - this time an 18yo!


Distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2020 @ 56.6% ABV, the Highland Park "Hong Kong Edition 4" 18yo comes from a refill Hoghhead (Sherry no doubt) and is limited to 296 bottles. It also comes in a pretty nice and very heavy wooden box.


To celebrate the new single cask, and the launch of the latest edition 50yo (which I later tasted thanks to Dram Good Stuff, but that's for another post...) a lunchtime tasting and pairing was held at St Regis Hong Kong with HK whisky stalwart Ron Taylor. The canapés were delicious and the whiskies expertly paired, but there was one whisky I was there to taste, and really spend some time with, and that was the new single cask...



Highland Park Single Cask Series "Hong Kong Edition 4" (56.6% ABV, 2001-2020, 18yo, Refill Hogshead #2585, 1 of 296 bottles, Orkney Scotland)
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Colour: Amber copper.

Nose: Slight sulphur notes at first, then followed by citrus (calamansi?), vanilla and sour mix. The sulphur dissipates but some mild tannins remain, alongside some sweet orange notes.

Palate: Zesty orange, vanilla and coffee grounds. It has a sweetness, but at the same time there's a robust earthy note. Slight hints of grassy peat, then raw honey, hazelnut and orange chocolate. A few drops of water adds a little more earthy spice, with a hint of vanilla.

Finish: A long, floral honey nuttiness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91. A very enjoyable cask.



The Highland Park "Hong Kong Edition 4" 18yo sells for $4,650HKD at Dram Good Stuff (but given its limited outturn, I suspect it won't be around for long).

A big thanks to Edrington Hong Kong, Ron and Lee Wolter for the invitation to the event.

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Berry Bros & Rudd's new bottle design (and a very special 1989 Bunnahabhain) [Tasted #541]

The whisky world (in particular the Scotch whisky world) talks a lot of provenance and history - as well it should. With whisky distillation legally sanctioned in Scotland in 1823, and distilleries commencing operations very soon thereafter (and many, like Bowmore and Glenturret, well before), there's a rich history to draw upon.

~200 years may seem like an impressively long time to be in business (and let's face it, it is), but it pales in comparison to Berry Bros & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant who have not only been in operation since 1698, but have traded from the same shop the entire time. 

323 years is an incredibly long time to be in business (especially trading from the same location), but in all that time, Berry Bros have never had their own bottle design, with the "Own Selection" whiskies and spirits using a relatively standard design. Until now...


Launched in July this year, Berry Bros & Rudd's whiskies (and other spirits) now have a bottle worthy of the liquid, with a bespoke design by label designer Stranger and Stranger referencing the Berry Bros & Rudd shop's iconic arched windows.

As Guy Pratt, Design Director from Stranger and Stranger explains:
“The premises on St. James' in the heart of London’s West End is inextricably tied to the history of old London and the host of famous and extraordinary people who have passed through its doors. It was the famous arched windows of the facade that provided a way to express the merchant’s prodigious spirit credentials within the mould of the bottle itself, added to the base of the bottle they echo both the iconic facade and the scalloped decoration you might typically find on a heavy spirits glass. In this way we were able to celebrate the brand and the home it has occupied since 1698 in a single mark. For appreciators of fine spirits who unfortunately cannot visit the shop itself, Berry Bros & Rudd have just brought the shop to you!”

BBR's "Summer Release 2021" series is the first to be bottled in the new design, and features 6 diverse spirits from across the world - 5 Single Casks (a 2010 peated Bruichladdich, 2000 Clyenlish Sutherland, 2014 Guyana rum-finished Laprhoaig Williamson, a 2010 Islay-finished Diamond Rum from Guyana, and (the coolest of all) a 2016 Lark from Tasmania), alongside a "Small batch" whisky in the form of a 2009 12yo Linkwood - at only £60.

When BBR kindly offered to send me something to celebrate the new bottle design, I assumed it would be a few samples of the above - or perhaps even one of the bottles if they were feeling particularly generous. What I didn't expect was an entire bottle of single cask 1989 Bunnahabhain, labelled with my own name (or a slightly misspelt version of it) front and centre, adorning the new bottle design!


Incredibly generous and unexpected! Whiskybase suggests the cask (#5738 from 2015) was originally bottled for Shinanoya, but presumably they didn't take the whole cask, and a few fortunate souls were lucky enough to receive a personalised bottle in the new bottle design.

Of course, as lovely as the new bottle design is, ultimately it's all about the liquid inside, and so to that end, upon receiving the bottle I immediately ripped the cork out and poured myself a dram...and I'm glad I did!


Berry Bros & Rudd Single Cask 1989 Bunnahabhain (43.4% ABV, 1989-2015, 25yo, Hogshead #5738, 1 of 115 bottles Islay Scotland)
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Colour: Bright yellow gold.

Nose: Rich yellow fruits - peach, pair, hints of lemon.

Palate: Zesty white chocolate, lemon pie. Creamy vanilla pie. Viscous mouthfeel, with marzipan and yellow jubes.

Finish: Long, with hints of pear and peach.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Extremely drinkable, complex, and entirely enjoyable.


A big thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd for this beautiful personalised gift, and congratulations on a stunning new bottle design and range!

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tasting the world's oldest whisky: G&M's Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery [Tasted #540]

We've featured our fair share of Gordon & MacPhail whiskies over the years - from the "Connoisseurs Choice" range (which, no hyperbole, deserves a lot of credit for bringing single malt whisky into the spotlight back in the 1960s) to the rare and always-exceptional "Private Collection" range. With whiskies ranging up to 70 years old, it's fair to say we've had some incredible tasting experiences.

One range we've never featured though is G&M's "Generations". Retained for only the longest-matured, most exclusive whiskies, there have only ever been 4 previous releases - two of which broke the record at the time as the oldest Scotch whisky ever bottled.

Since the last "Generations" release (a 75yo Mortlach in 2015), there's been quite an increase in incredibly-aged malts hitting the market (one distillery in particular has released no fewer than five 70+ year old whiskies since 2018), but to date, the oldest whisky ever commercially bottled has topped out at 78 years old.

Today though, G&M are regaining the crown, with the release of the world's first 80 Year Old Single Malt WhiskyGenerations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery.



It would be easy to simply focus on the age of such a whisky, given how rare it is for whisky to remain in oak for so long and still legally be whisky, but that would mean brushing aside some incredible facts and figures, like:
  • This whisky was distilled during World War II (1940), when production at Glenlivet (and all Scottish distilleries) reduced by two-thirds due to Govt-imposed restrictions before almost halting entirely/. Peat was also commonly used, even in distilleries that don't today produce "peated" whiskies.
  • This incredible cask was looked after by four generations of the Urquhart family (who still own G&M to this day); and
  • This whisky matured for 40% of the lifespan of The Glenlivet distillery!


The spirit for this release was filled into a 1st Fill Sherry Butt (which initially held mosto (freshly pressed grape juice), then sobretables (new wine post fermentation) before being filled with mature Sherry at Bodegas Williams Humbert) on 3rd February 1940, and was laid down in Elgin by George Urquhart (aka "Mr George") and his father John, to mature well beyond their own lives - all the way to 5th February 2020, when it was bottled as the very first 80 year old Single Malt Scotch.



I was incredibly fortunate to taste the whisky recently, over a 1:1 Zoom with Stephen Ranking - eldest member of the 4th Generation of Urquhart family and G&M's Director of Prestige. Speaking to Stephen and hearing him tell the story of this whisky and G&M's 125 years in business was fascinating, and a testament to G&M's long-standing relationships throughout the industry. 

For example, G&M were only able to obtain Glenlivet new make (going back to well before this one was bottled) due to long-standing relationships with the distillery - both business relationships (G&M would provide the distillery with business, casks and warehousing) but also personal relationships, as both families were close. Similarly, as a close personal friend of Alexander Williams of Bodegas Williams Humbert at the time, "Mr George" was able to secure quality casks and ensure they were prepared as required.

(Side note: one fact I really love about G&M is they still, to this day, only buy new make spirit and fill their own casks themselves, unlike most other independent bottlers who also buy mature casks for further maturation. Of course there's nothing wrong with buying mature casks, but G&M's approach affords significantly more control and oversight of the whisky's maturation. Due in no small part to their extensive relationships, they've been able to do this for over 100 Scottish distilleries throughout their 125 years.)



As Stuart Urquhart (Operations Director and member of the fourth generation of the owning family) explains of the spirit:
“Glenlivet’s style of spirit is often highlighted as a classic example from Speyside – smooth, light, fruity and slightly floral. Spirit from Glenlivet can withstand long term ageing, managing to retain its delicate character. It is imperative for us to select quality casks, made to our exacting specifications, to ensure the spirit is not overpowered. Typically, we use Sherry casks for spirit earmarked for long-term maturation, with bourbon casks deployed for shorter term expressions although there are always exceptions to the rule."
When reviewing a whisky, I'll be honest - I don't typically like to give a lot of attention to bottle and packaging design on the blog, but in this case, it warrants an exception. For the fifth Generations release, G&M looked to partner with someone who shared their values of ‘artistry’, ‘legacy’ and ‘craftsmanship', and they found him in Internationally acclaimed architect and designer, Sir David Adjaye OBE.


Not having an architect's eye myself, my first thought upon seeing the design was "yeah, that looks really cool", but speaking to Stephen highlighted the level of thought and planning that went into the designs:
  • The decanter, with its "lenses" on the sides, is intended to cast the whisky in a different shade, showing off the different colours it goes through during maturation (the lenses are also functional, serving as handgrips. You wouldn't want to drop one of these!)
  • The oak case (handmade in sustainable timber by Wardour Workshops) is intended to "open like an oak forest letting light through its branches".
  • The blackened top of the handblown Glencairn crystal decanters is intended to echo a charred cask.

 


Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery officially launches today, as a release of 250 decanters bottled at 44.9% ABV. Interested parties won't be able to purchase one just yet however, as decanter #1 is going under the hammer for charity, with Sotheby's holding an auction on 2nd October in Hong Kong. In addition to the first decanter (and oak case and two tumblers), the winner will also receive:
  • A unique & rare whisky tasting experience for four in London, tailored to the buyer, conducted by Stephen Rankin and attended by Sir David Adjaye OBE.
  • The cask head of cask 340 which cradled the spirit for eight decades, presented in a bespoke frame.
  • Sir David Adjaye OBE’s original, signed concept drawings for the decanter and oak case, presented in a bespoke frame.
Proceeds from the auction (minus costs) will be donated to Trees for Life, a Scottish charity with a mission to rewild the Caledonian forest, with whom Gordon & MacPhail colleagues have been actively involved in helping with tree planting, including native oaks, at their site at Glen Affric in the north of Scotland.

Pricing and availability for the remaining 249 decanters will be announced following the auction.


So, a historic and incredible feat of whisky-making, no doubt, but how does it taste? Many would claim (and I wouldn't disagree) that on average, Scotch single malt hits its "sweet spot" around 15-25 years old, and that for a whisky to make it to 40, 50, 60, 70+ years and 1) still be whisky and 2) still taste good is an incredible feat.

..but what about 80 years? Has 8 decades in a First Fill sherry butt rendered something of an oak bomb? Read on...



Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery (44.9% ABV, 80yo (3rd Feb 1940 to 5th Feb 2020), First Fill Sherry Butt #340, 1 of 250 decanters, Speyside, Scotland, pricing TBC)
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Colour: Rich, deep burnished copper.

Nose: Initially coconut, followed by cigar box, some mint & sandalwood. You get some of those woody notes that let you know a whisky has spent some time in-cask, but they don't dominate at all - far from an "oak bomb". Nose it for a bit longer (I spent 45 minutes on the nose alone) and you'll find pot pouri, lavender, and some caramel cream.  With a little drop of water, I found port, more sandalwood, rooibos tea and some orange.

Palate: Viscous and full-bodied, there's initially some citrus-infused oak, dried fruits (sultanas, papaya), pressed flowers, fig and hints of grassiness and mint. You get big "vintage whisky" notes (cigar box, leather) without the "old bottle effect" notes that often accompany whiskies of this era from decades gone by. Water brings out a little orange peel, some very slight tannins, more mint and after 40 minutes, the faintest hints of smoke appear. The layers in this are incredible - some of these notes only showed themselves after 20, 25, 30+ minutes. If you looked up "complex whisky" in the dictionary, you may well find a picture of this.

Finish: Incredibly long and mellow. Ginger tea, sandalwood, incense and orange peel.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Just incredible - not only because this whisky made it to 80 years and still retained 44.9% ABV, but because it retains such balance and complexity. An absolute pleasure to experience - I sincerely hope whoever is lucky enough to purchase one of the 250 decanters opens it up and enjoys it with good friends.





A tremendous thank you must go to Stephen Rankin for generously giving up his time to take me through the whisky, and Gordon & MacPhail and Petrie PR for allowing me this incredible opportunity.

Cheers,
Martin.