My motto's always been, "When it's right, it's right."
I'm kicking myself for not buying another bottle of this when I had a chance (1 of only 238 from the cask, now sold out). This is one sexy whisky, all dressed up in Speyside gentility and then nestled in the loving arms of a Pedro Ximinez (PX) cask for 10 months. 10 months? You'd hardly know it from the color. Although it's actually more along the lines of a rich mahogany, I'm tempted to classify this as a member of the purple food group.
Dalmore is a heavy name to be throwing around these days. Frankly, I'm kind of surprised they parted with this cask (although my notes on the palate will let you know that this just doesn't fit much of their usual flavor profile, making it unsuitable for many blends). You probably know Dalmore for its sterling reputation (it always does well at auction), a recognizable name brand Scotch along the lines of Glen-this or Glen-that but with an ultra premium / luxury status to boot. That, or it's possible you've been drawn into their cigar malt marketing (actually a decent whisky), or it was (absolutely nothing wrong with this) gifted to you because "It's Dalmore. So and so drinks Dalmore so it must be good stuff." Much of Dalmore's celebrity status comes from the gravitas of its master blender, a man you can't not watch talk about his whisky. Take it away, Richard "The Nose" Paterson (an educational experience; I'll wait until you come back).
The nose does not surprise on this whisky. This is one of those drams that lets you know where it's going. "If you like it, you can take it. If you don't, send it right back. I want to be on you." Dalmore, ever the man's man, stands there as confident as ever in his velvet smoking jacket. But there's lipstick on his collar and a sweet, winy perfume all over him. Someone got lucky. I'm getting a monstrous praline hit, suggesting that we may have another froyo match coming on. There's a crunchy bite of Heath bar, all chocolate and toffee like - perhaps this is more Willy Wonka than Ron Burgundy. Raisin Bran and sugar dates underneath it all. C'est magnifique! He's a well respected man about town, doing the best things not conservatively at all. Take a bow, Gene Wilder!
That must have been one frisky PX cask. On the nose it's just right, but on the palate... it's almost too much. It practically crosses the line into a cuvee. In fact, comparing it to other famous PX whiskies I own (Bruichladdich 1992 Sherry Edition, Bruichladdich 407 PX, Auchentoshan Three Wood - not PX exclusive) this takes the cake. Similar to international bitterness units (IBU's) for hopped beer, or phenols for peated whiskies, I am now going to enforce a unitary standard on the PXization of whisky liquids. I'll call it the Cuvee Approachiation Measure (CAM). Auchentoshan's expression earns it a solid 1 on the CAM scale: "Suited to the character of the spirit." Those two Bruichladdichs each earn 2 CAMS: "Enough to alter the dynamic of the spirit in an unusual way." This Dalmore? 2.5 CAMS: "It is dangerous to be this close to 3 CAMS. Only attempt this if you know what you're doing." This whisky knows what it's doing.
The rich fruits don't let up on the palate - they just keep rolling and rolling. Keep in mind that these are sweet, dry, fibrous fruits, not anything like a fruit salad. I'm sitting here grilling a tri-tip out on my porch and this dram combined with a good hickory smoke are making my mouth water for succulent, umami-rich food stuffs. People will compare this palate sensation with "tobacco" or "leather", only because they lack the words to describe the dark, dry, syrupy richness that's swirling in that 46.1% ABV (surprisingly cask strength). Would you eat tobacco? Okay, leather? Right. I'll say this: on the tip of your tongue and the back of your throat you definitely have the impression of a wine. It's spicy, it's tangy, it's full bodied like a Shiraz. On your mid palate this thing goes nuts with the cereals, sugars and classic Dalmore richness. BIIIIG CARAMEL. You can pronounce caramel however you'd like. Now that you've read my notes on the nose, and this paragraph in search of meaning (or vainglorious nosing notes), I'll just post this:
It's a work of dessert art.
Things this whisky pairs well with: friends, special occasions, good unfiltered pipe tobacco, vanilla froyo, pie crusts, romantic anniversaries, daytime lovemaking, night-time lovemaking, baby showers, blind dare tastings, and quiet readings on a porch. Possibly I have experienced all of these.
The Colorado rocky mountain high,
Maybe it's because I just returned from the Rockies, but I'm feeling pure Rocky Mountain High all over this glass. I just poured myself a dram of Single Cask Nation's first Glen Moray bottling, a 12 year old, first fill bourbon barrel expression that was one of only 148 bottles from the cask. This is my second review* of a Nation whisky so far. Yesterday I wrote about the whisky that started it all, a 12yo Arran finished for 4 years in a pinot noir cask. I'm going through all of their original (now sold out) expressions until I make my way up to their current line-up.
*[Regarding reviews: unless I say otherwise in the write-up, I only review stuff that I like** or that leaves a deep impression on me. I'll pen my notes on origin, craftsmanship, and tasting, and I'll even tell you how much I seem to like it and compare it to what I already know. My "reviews" are more like a journal in that respect. Nevertheless, I'm still happy to tell you what I think about the usual stuff.]
**[Which means you should totally seek out the drinks you read about in this section; again, unless I am warning you otherwise.]
This is my only real experience with a Glen Moray, so it's hard for me to know what I'm supposed to expect on the nose. Like many Speyside whiskies, the origin doesn't really help here as "Speyside" the style is often quite different from "Speyside" the specific distillery. This particular Glen Moray cask presents more like a highland whisky, all light and buttery oaked, not entirely unlike Glenmorangie's Astar. The light, heathery sweetness makes this drink quite palatable for whisky newcomers, or when you're trying to show off the many unique facets of Scotch whisky style. I've even had great success drizzling this whisky on vanilla froyo and peach custard (yes, you really should).
Of course, it's not all Scotch you're getting on the nose. That first fill bourbon cask leaves its mark with delicious buttery sourdough and rye spices. Don't confuse the rye spice for an oak spice, it's definitely a high-rye bourbon imprint we're dealing with here. The oak leaves its mark with a cool mountain lake of vanilla. Underneath the bakery we have hints of highland flowery shrubs and lichens, with a warm field of granite evaporating off an early summer rain.
My mouth is already watering. I've added water to open up the whisky's nose a bit, but this is one of those rare whiskies that you can actually sip at cask strength (56.1% ABV) and not worry about the alcohol burn: "neat and sweet." I love letting this one sit on the palate for a while.
The sweetness jumps out at you in the form of pure, tangy honeysuckle honey, not that sugary processed honey you buy in the little plastic bears. There may even be a honeycomb waxiness here. The rye spices come marching in, and I'm starting to wonder if I sipped a bourbon for a moment. Then the fruity malt shows up and I'm back in the highlands. This is just a delicious little dream of a dram, but I'm not done yet. I have an experiment in mind.
I'm going to add an equal dose of Breckenridge Bitters to my glass and see what happens. It seems everyone is making their version of a "bitters" these days (which are basically just infused vodkas unworthy of names like "citron" and "razz"), but Breckenridge has something special on their hands. As legend would have it, their master distiller personally hikes up above 8,000 ft (which Breckenridge, the "world's highest distillery," basically is anyway) and gathers the herbal ingredients for this highland infusion. There's something distinctly "Colorado" on the nose of these bitters (if you've ever been hiking up near tree line, you'll recognize the aromas immediately), but here's the bottom line: it is basically an American Drambuie! It even looks the part.
The combination of Breckenridge Bitters and this buttered up Scotch is superb! I'd be tempted to muddle in some fruit and put it all on ice for a tipple. I think Breckenridge imagined the potential of pairing their bitters with their bourbon as being an Americanization of the Rusty Nail. It works beautifully, I can attest to that, but then I almost prefer the marriage on display here. A Scotch barley malt, matured in American bourbon barrels, mixed with American bitters not unlike its close Scottish cousin, and matured in Scottish terroir. The Pond is shrinking by the hour.
We live in cities you'll never see on screen,
I'm a big fan of Single Cask Nation, an independent bottling company with a sweet Hebrew flair (not a community requirement). I first met these guys at Whisky Live NYC in 2013, pouring away their first three bottles and generally having the time of their life. Less than a year later, I was privileged to represent the Nation and pour alongside co-founder Joshua Hatton at Whiskey in the Winter (St. Louis). I've also collected every single release SCN has put out. Believe me when I say to you that this is about as fun as whisky imbibing can get: cask strength, single cask, independent bottling. All of this time I have been asking myself, "Why haven't I reviewed these amazing drinks?"
Well, I'm a bit late to the game now. 4 of the first 6 bottlings have sold out (only available online), and as such are passing quickly into the annals of history. This particular cask, a 12 year old Hebridean malt, yielded only 277 bottles. The two I own will never happen again. When they're gone, they're gone! A whisper in the wind. This is the magic of single cask bottlings. They exist as a wrinkle in time.
I've chosen to review the Arran bottling first, because it's the whisky that won me over to Single Cask Nation. It was so utterly unique that I knew I'd never stumble across something quite like it again. This spirit was distilled in 1999 and spent its first 8 years in a first fill bourbon barrel. It then spent its last 4 years in a first fill pinot noir cask. "Whoa" is right. Check out what's happening in the nose.
There's an enormous, spicy, pungent hit of Brisa Tropical deodorant. This whisky's like a tweenager who still hasn't figured out how much cologne to wear to the dance. I know what song I'm going to use now (pastes the URL into the plug-in above). The scent lingers long after the whisky has left the room. There are some growing pains going on here, so strange for a 12 year old (whisky). The oily, pickle brine explodes from the glass. Underneath all this there's some soft, tumbling surf, sandalwood, and a distant hint of sun dried agave. It's been a while since I've really sat and nosed this one, but it never gets familiar. Let's taste it.
It's hot, as in oleo capsicum hot, but it's not all the 54.8% ABV. Hot pepper spices and cilantro rise up your sinuses, then unfold into something sticky and sweet on the palate - like a s'more with crispy burnt marshmallows. Kids and their junk food. You can still feel the chili heat on your lips, like when you get a little overzealous with the salsa in your scrambled eggs. Speaking of breakfast, here comes the blood orange marmalade. The finish is long and oily and no I will not drink water because I want it to last forever. I may just have to finish this bottle tonight.
I can't wait to review the others. Coming tomorrow, a very creamy delicious Glen Moray. I'll keep posting one a day until we catch up to the current inventory. Hope that Catoctin Creek travels quickly...
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.