Sunday 27 January 2019

Tasted #429: 70yo Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery"

Writing about whisky fairly consistently for the last ~7 years has afforded us the opportunity to try some incredible whiskies, as well as some incredibly old whiskies - with several in their 40s, a fair few in their 50s, and three in their 60s, topping out at 65yo.

With the exponential rise we've seen in both the demand for and value of old and rare whisky, it seemed like that 65yo might retain the crown as our oldest whisky ever tasted...until this arrived in the mail...

Bottled at a whopping seventy years old (70yo), this Glen Grant from Gordon & MacPhail's "Private Collection" range (full name: "Gordon & MacPhail 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery") was distilled on 11th June 1948 and bottled on 19th October 2018 @ 48.6% from a single first fill sherry butt - #2154, yielding 210 bottles.

See our previous thoughts on the "Private Collection" range here, including a 50yo Caol Ila, 64yo Glenlivet, a pair of 57 year old Longmorns and more.

A lot of whiskies are termed "liquid history" but this one is truly deserving of the title. Distilled only 3 years after World War II ended, when the UK was still rationing barley and spirit production was below pre-WWII levels, it was filled by G&M and maintained by four generations of the owning Urquhart family, whilst it matured in Glen Grant's Warehouse No.5 (for the first 20 years) and GM's Elgin warehouses (for its final 50 years).

You have to give G&M credit for their recent Private Collection releases - they've produced some stunning decanters to go with some stunning whiskies, and whilst the focus should always be on the liquid - it doesn't hurt when the presentation is this impressive:

But, the focus is on the liquid and so to that end...let's dive into the oldest whisky we've ever tasted...

Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection" 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery 70yo (48.6% ABV, 70yo, Speyside, One of 210 bottles, £17,500)
Colour: Golden orange-copper.

Nose: Fresh herbal-citrus at first - mandarin, orange peel and spearmint, with coriander. But hold on, now it's got some older, earthier notes coming through - vintage books, polished leather. After some time, a waxiness emerges, with some strawberry jam and cinnamon. Now there's mint, and some subtle-but-definitely-there dried, smoky oak staves.

Palate: Big and expressive - initially with cinnamon and oak showing, then strawberry and apricot jam. More of the smoked oak from the nose, and then some cracked pepper. Underneath all this are herbal undertones - earthy, wet-grass notes, along with hints of aged dry leather. The sherry influence here is noticeable, but remarkably restrained and refined for a 70 year old whisky. No one note dominates here - it's an orchestra of flavours, each coming and going and then returning again.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with more noticeable woodsmoke than the nose and palate. There's a residual citrus (whole oranges) note throughout, and right towards the end, more mint.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. It's truly astonishing that a whisky can be 70 years old, from a first-fill sherry butt, and still retain such complexity, refinement, and most remarkably of all - not be entirely dominated by oak. Well done to G&M for what would have to be one of the most incredible examples of maturation I've experienced.

Gordon & MacPhail 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery is available for a UK RRP of £17,500 (Hong Kong pricing TBC) and will be available worldwide. Thanks to G&M for this review sample.


Tuesday 22 January 2019

Mars tasting at Whisky and Words with Kazuto Hombo (Tasted #422 - 428)

The popularity of Japanese whisky continues to grow in Hong Kong, and at a recent tasting (at the newly-opened Whisky & Words in Sheung Wan) it was evident that that popularity isn't limited to rare, old and aged Japanese whisky (although Karuizawa prices continue to baffle at auction...)

The whiskies in question were those of Mars, under parent company Hombo Shuzo. This was no ordinary tasting though, with Hombo-san (Kazuto Hombo), the President of Mars himself in attendance along with Kusan-san (Tatsuro Kusan), master distiller.

Hosted by good friend of Eddie Nara, the tasting involved 7 spirits, including some not even yet released in Japan.

Eddie and Hombo-san talked us through a brief history of Mars whisky - from their 1872 inception as a Shochu producer, to their 1949 licence to distill whisky and 1960s experiments in whisky (which were not popular), to their later periods of whisky production (1978-1992 and 2011-current). 

We learned that 1985 saw the opening of the Shinshu distillery in Nagano, and much more recently in 2016, the Tsunuki distillery in Kagoshima (on the site of a previous ageing warehouse) to provide some variety in the portfolio. With 2 distilleries, 3 warehouse locations and 5 different kinds of new make spirit (0ppm up to 50ppm), the Mars whisky portfolio is a diverse one it seems!

First up was the latest "Lucky Cat" release - "May", the 4th in the series, finished for 18 months in ex-umeshu casks. As a big fan of the first Lucky Cat (which I was lucky enough to buy on release for under $300HKD/$50AUD!) I was looking forward to the latest one, named after a cat found and owned by Hombo-san's daughter, who also happened to be in attendance on the night.

Mars Lucky Cat "May" (40% ABV, NAS, Blended whisky, bottled in Japan)
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Green apples, apricots, plum wine. Very unique.
Palate: Light, sweet, fruity. Some acetone, grapes and plum.
Finish: Short, light, with lingering grape notes.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  85/100. A simple yet enjoyable whisky.

Next was the latest Komagatake Limited Edition (2018), aged in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels and bottled at 48%.

Mars  Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Single Malt, Japan)
Colour: Yellow gold.
Nose: Banana, hay, and sweet jelly chews (red frogs).
Palate: Sweet toffee apple and banana flan. Some pear emerges after some time.
Finish: More toffee apple, with some oak and coffee ground bitterness towards the end (though not overpowering).
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. Also simple, though enjoyable - especially for those who like their whiskies on the sweeter, ex-bourbon side.

Next it was over to Tsunuki, where this single cask Komagatake was aged (hence the "Tsunuki Aging" moniker). Bottled for the Tsunuki festival to be held the following weekend, the whisky was aged in ex-umeshu casks like the Lucky Cat, but this time for the full maturation - 3 years and 7 months.

Mars  Single Cask Komagatake "Tsunuki Aging" Hojo Selection 2018 (44% ABV, 3yo, Japan)
Colour: Orange gold.
Nose: Apple juice, cider, almond chews.
Palate: Red apples, sweet candy apples, jelly chews (but this time, green frogs).
Finish: Oak tannins and toffee apple.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100.

Sticking with Tsunuki, we next tried two "new makes" (aged 664 and 408 days), followed by one actual new make.

Mars Tsunuki "New Make" 664 days (59% ABV, 664 days old, Japan)
We were amongst the first people in the world to try this, apparently! 
Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Light and floral. Some grape hubba bubba.
Palate: Rich and oily with sweet grape notes.
Finish: Medium length, malty, oaky, with a lingering earthy smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  83/100. Simple but showing promise.

Mars Tsunuki "New Make" 408 days (59% ABV, 408 days old, Japan)
Colour: Light yellow gold.
Nose: Sweet smoke - quite meaty, with a subtle sweet pulled port undertone.
Palate: The smoke is less noticable on the palate, and there's some white chocolate and sweet sugared almonds.
Finish: The smoke returns and there's a lingering sweetness to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  87/100. A lovely sweet meatiness to this spirit - I'd love to see how it goes after a decade or two in a good cask!

Mars "New Pot Heavily Peated" New make Spirit from May 2017 (60% ABV, NMS, Japan)
Colour: Clear (duh)
Nose: Earthy bananas.
Palate: BBQ ash, burnt beef brisket pieces, and then, somewhat interestingly, a lemon-lime sweetness emerges!
Finish: Back to the smoke - long ashy BBQ smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  85/100. Undoubtedly simple, but actually quite enjoyable! I wasn't the only attendee who said they preferred this to the 664 days!

Last but not least came the "Marsmalt Le Papillon" 5th edition, bottled at just over 4 years @ 60% ABV, from a single American White Oak cask (distilled at the Shinshu distillery).

Marsmalt "Le Papillon" 5th Edition Single Cask (60% ABV, 4yo, Bottle no 553/560, Japan)
Colour: Vibrant orange gold.
Nose: Candied orange peel. Sweet and citrus.
Palate: Bitter orange at first, then lemon, then grilled BBQ fish and a salty bitterness at the end.
Finish: Medium in length, with slight citrus (lemon) bitter tannins.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  87/100

Tasting a range like this is always fun, especially when it involves such variety of distilleries, spirits and ageing regimes under the one banner (in this case, "Mars"). A big thanks to Hombo-san and Kusan-san for giving up their time, Eddie Nara for his expert hosting duties, and Whisky & Words for the venue!

Martin. was grateful to attend this tasting as a guest of Whisky & Words.