Whisky tasting: Glenmorangie Companta

I’m fairly new to Glenmorangie, I tried one of their wine finishes some years ago and found it wanting; I’ve since had the Lasanta and enjoyed it a lot, and somewhere along the line had the base expression which left no impression whatsoever. I’ve got an unopened bottle of the ellusive and highly rated Ealanta waiting for the right time. When the Companta came a long a couple of years ago I bought one hoping for greatness. The result is below.

Colour: spectacular red.

Nose: Rose wine, flowers, UHU glue stick, glace cherries.

Taste: cherries and berries and plums, with a hefty alcohol kick. It’s 2% less than last night’s dram, but am getting the spirit coming through stronger. An explosion of slightly tart summer fruits.

Finish: Not as long as I’d like. There’s a little bit of plum remaining, but for something so upfront it fades fast.

and with a drop of water…

Nose: more of the cherries and flowers.

Taste: a little extra sweetness, maybe a hint of vanilla and a demerera sugar coating.

Finish: a slittle sweeter but no longer.

And the official tasting notes: https://glenmorangie.com/en/glenmorangie-companta

Aroma: On the nose, Companta exudes rich, ‘autumnal’ scents of red berries and damp forest floors, with a hint of fragrant woodsmoke complementing notes of aromatic, nutty oak.

Taste: Upon tasting, a spicy palate redolent of cherries and stewed fruits is slowly revealed, as notes of sugared plums, blood orange and rose-hip syrup emerge alongside milk chocolate and brown sugar.

Finish: Companta lingers on with a rich, mouth-coating finish.

The Companta is quite unique in my experience, so much up front (and different) yet so lacking a finish. There’s a lot of interesting here, and I’m willing to believe that someone somewhere lists this as their favourite whisky of all time. That’s not me: it’s an unusual dram, good to drink, but doubt I’ll need to restock when the bottle runs dry. I will try the next special Glenmorangie though, for something different I’m sure.

Whisky Tasting: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Time for some more Islay goodness, from probably my fave distillery. I’ve had a number of Laphroaigs over the years, so will probably go hard on this dram. It has a lot to live up to.

Nose: All the Laphroaig classics: peat, smoke, iodine, dark sugar, with maybe a hint of dried fruit. All the classics, but possibly dialed down a little.

Taste: Dark chocolate, smoked malt, treacle, pepper (though this may be a remnant from dinner), maybe some dried orange or orange peel too.

Finish: medicinal, with bitter dark chocolate and smoke.

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a standard Laphroaig bottling, so I may have to recalibrate my tastebuds, but overall this was fine but subdued. It’s nice, but not really pushing the barrow of “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies”, not in the same way the Quarter Cask and 10yo Cask Strength do.

and with a single drop of water…

Nose: a little more fruit, a little less peat.

Taste: the smoke comes through stronger, everything else is there but dialed down a little.

Finish: sharper, slightly more bitter chocolate.

And the official tasting notes: http://www.laphroaig.com/whiskies/triple-wood.aspx

NOSE: At 48%, straight from the bottle, the initial flavour is quite sweet with a gentle mixture of sweet raisins and creamy apricots with just a trace of the dry peat smoke at the back, the smoother nutty flavours combine all these flavours into one smooth, syrupy whole. With a touch of water the peat smoke comes to the fore and masks the gentler fruitier notes. Even with the maturation being carried out in 1st fill bourbons, quarter casks and sherry butts, the intense bonfire ash smell of the earthy peat cannot be masked

BODY: Powerful yet with a creamy consistency

PALATE: With no water, a large initial burst of peat belies the slight lack on the nose but is gentled on the tongue by the creamier flavours of vanilla and fruit with just a suggestion of sherry sweetness. With a trace of water the peat reek is gentled, allowing the more complex flavours of citrus fruits and spices to come through. A slight tang comes from the European Oak balancing the creamier American White Oak.

FINISH: Mouth filling and extremely long but balanced by the sweet smooth caramel taste

So I’m getting dark chocolate where they get caramel, but otherwise I seem to be backward (my impressions without water are closer to theirs with).

It’s a tough call, were it not Laphroaig I’d be singing the praises of this dram highly. There’s certainly a bunch to like about the triple wood, wonderful flavours, a long finish that just gets sweeter, and a price point just over $100 that’s just about right. I just feel that it sits a little safe: the peat freaks won’t be challenged, and yet there’s still more peat than a typical peat-avoider would like.

This brings up something else, in that Laphroiag have also done the right thing by the NCF (non-chill filtering) evangelists on this dram, but it in spite of this it seems to bring less to the party than the supposedly chill filtered 10yo. It’s pushing me more to think that it doesn’t really matter, as long as the final dram is good. But then a bunch of what I say above also reads like someone looking for a taste or experience that the dram isn’t, too.

So I guess if you’re looking for something peaty, and with hints of fruit, it’s not a bad drop. It’s no xmas cake, not a hospital ward, nor the aftermath of a bonfire, but brings a hint of each.

Whisky tasting: Hazelburn Sauternes Cask

Tonight’s dram is a sweet little cask strength drop from Campbeltown.

Nose: Big spirit and sweet wine notes, there’s power in here. Butterscotch, dark chocolate, coffee beans, vanilla and dried fruit.

Taste: Strong alcohol leads the charge, this is definitely cask strength. I’m looking for a taste here but all I’m really getting is spirit burn. time to reset my palate with greek honey yogurt and water. Take two: better, caramel, toffee, a hint of smoke that gets stronger, and a hint of tawny port. It delivers the alcohol the nose promised but they are fighting the alcohol.

Finish: Lingering notes of toffee and dark chocolate, not the greatest but pleasant.

I’m going to add a drop of water for the nose, then a splash for the second tasting.

Nose: More of the sweet caramel and toffee notes, more chocolate.

Taste: Much smoother, fruit and nut chocolate.

Finish: Shorter, but I’m willing to please palate fatigue on this. It’s a strong one.

Previous encounters with this dram haven’t been as overpowering, I think because I usually have it after a couple of other drams. I think it needs a retaste in more optimum conditions. It’s sweet, big and not really recommended for a warmish week night.

Tasting: Highland Park 18 year old

Nose: Sweet, raisins, possible sherry, also dry with a hint of acetic, citrus, possibly grapefruit, maybe some demerera sugar tucked away. There’s a lot going on.

Taste: dark bitter chocolate, honey, malt, a little thin. The taste doesn’t quite deliver on the nose.

Finish: quite long, lots of chocolate, a hint of smoke, brown sugar.

And then a drop of water…

Nose: more citrus, more grapefruit.

Taste: Still a little thin, I’m looking for flavours but not really finding them, maybe something herbal or grassy.

Finish: Shorter.

Then I checked the HP website:

http://highlandpark.co.uk/shop/highland-park-18-year-old/

“Lingering layers of sweet honeyed malt, meet characterful dried fruit notes, marzipan and golden syrup, all wrapped up in swathes of our distinctive, subtle floral peat smoke. A whisky, which reveals more layers with every glass you enjoy.”

So I got some of that. It’s a pleasant dram, not overly complex but good for drinking. I think I paid around $150 and it’s probably overpriced at that point given the flavour profile. HP do some great drams, this one’s okay.

Tasting: Ardbeg Uigeadail

Nose: Definitely Ardbeg: smoke, peat, salty, oily, with something elusive on the edges, burnt rubber maybe, smoked fish? I’m looking for a sweet scent but there isn’t one. No fruit, no nuts either.

Taste: Bold, savoury and oily. Hints of kalamata olives perhaps. Spice and pepper.

Finish: Not as long as expected, lots of smoke, pepper, peat, a little vanilla perhaps.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: as above, as well as a little vanilla. Not as strong, maybe due to nasal fatigue.

Taste: Spicier, more pepper.

Finish: Longer, more smoke and spice.

Then I looked at http://www.ardbeg.com/shop/ardbeg-uigeadail.html

I’m not getting the sherry and christmas cake stuff, not initially anyway. When I hold it in my mouth I’m picking up some dry sherry notes, a hint of raisins, a little dark chocolate at the finish. The sweeter notes definitely come later, and with another 5 drops of water.

It’s a pretty drop. With a retail of around $125 it’s very good value. It probably doesn’t need the hype around the Whisky Bible Award, it’s a solid Islay dram on its own merits.

The Whisky Wishlist

What would I buy if I had unlimited monies (note this is not a hint for anyone, but just a place I can put down some thoughts on some whiskies I’m unlikely to get anytime soon).

Reasonably expensive

Under $200, not owned but would like to have around, may be acquired during periods of fiscal irresponsibility.

  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014
  • Ardbeg Ardbog
  • Old Pulteney 17 year old
  • Glenfarclas 105
  • Talisker 57
  • Caol Ila Distillers Edition
  • Benromach 10 year old 100 Proof
  • Springbank 12 year old
  • Springbank 12 year old cask strength

 

Almost reasonably expensive

Those around $200-$400. I may get some of these one day in when sudden windfalls and flippant attitude coincide.

  • Midleton Very Rare 2014 (the one I have is getting low)
  • Old Pulteney 21 year old
  • Old Potrero 18th Century Whiskey
  • Glenfiddich 21 year old
  • The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Cask
  • Glenfarclas 30 year old
  • Talisker 25 year old
  • Longrow Gaja Barolo 7 year old
  • Glengoyne 21 year old (I have one now, thanks to my wonderful wife!)

 

Quite unreasonably expensive

Pushing around $500-$1,000, and probably involving shipping costs and all that.

  • Rosebank anything (other than occasional SMWS bottlings)
  • Laphroaig 25 year old cask strength

 

Well and truly unreasonably expensive

Over $1,000 and too much hassle.

  • Port Ellen anything
  • Brora anything
  • Laphroaig 30 year old

 

WTF OMG how much?

Any whisky over $10,000, just for the experience.

Deserted Island Whisky Case list: Draft 1

This one just some thoughts out loud. Given the scenario of being stuck somewhere deserted (and fairly cool, not a hot desert tropical humidity pit, but maybe a spot in the Outer Hebrides) with a case (6 bottles) of whisky, what would I choose. (The other assumptions are some clear, clean, wonderfully refreshing potable water, and for all but one of the whiskies to be vaguely reasonably commercially available somewhere for under about $250, so there’s no point listing a case of Port Ellen anything.)

Here goes draft 1:

  • Laphroaig 10 year old cask strength
  • Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera
  • The Macallan 12 year old Sherry Cask
  • Bowmore 15 year old Darkest
  • Ballantines 17 year old
  • something from Port Ellen

Some peaty, some smooth, some sherried, and a special bottle for special occasions. At a glance I could swap the Ballantines for an Ardbeg, but think it’d probably give me too much peaty (bearing in mind the Laphroaig is cask strength and probably in a 1L bottle). Realistically otherwise possibly swap the Ballantines for a Highland Park.

Feel free to add your list to the comments.

(Note, there’s no right or wrong answers, so this isn’t a serious argument starter.)

2015: the plan

Here’s the plan. Note, it’s not a plan, a Plan, or The Plan. Just the plan.

I’m hoping to post something here every week or so about music, and similarly something every week or so about whisky. There may be some talk of book things too.

I’m resetting the default for this all to be: harmless personal thoughts/opinions, not for starting arguments. Posts tagged specifically as opinionated rants may be the exception.

Welcome to 2015. Slainte!

A dram or three with G

Took the opportunity last night to have a few quiet drams with the G man.

Bade adieu to my bottle of Longrow Gaja Barolo. Five and a half years in refill bourbon casks, then another year and a half in fresh gaja barolo barrels, maybe a year sitting in Cadenheads in Edinburgh, a couple of weeks in the postal system, a couple more weeks while Oz customs taxed it to hell, then 4 years being slowly consumed in comfort. What impressed me first, and what had me figuratively running the length of the Royal Mile to get a bottle, was how chocolatty it tasted. Not the sweet over confectioned chocolate, but fresh, maybe 50% cocoa, dark but not too dark, with maybe some demerera in the mix. Suffice to say it was pretty darn nice from go to whoa.

G challenged me to find a whisky to pair with a bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve he just happened to have with him. Part of me was thinking go for peaty and sweet against the fruity esters of the ale, but G’s not a big peat man, so narrowed it to the LGB or a Hazelburn Sauternes finish. Went with the LGB and I think it’s a good pairing, each complementing the other without it being an argument for the dominant taste.

Also cracked open the Scotch Malt Whisky Society 25.64, which is a 22-year-old from the sadly no longer distillery of Rosebank. I’d only previously tried the Rosebank 10yo, a lovely light dram full of fruit and flowers. The 25.64 brought some of that to the party, but was a very different drink. Sweet on the nose, not so floral but a hint of aniseed, like liquorice allsorts, and good body though a little short on the finish. I wanted it to linger in my mouth but was gone way too soon. A very subtle dram, I recall describing it as being like 10 different flavours all contributing 10% rather than a couple of dominant ones. G wasn’t so convinced, he likes his bold and sweet Speysiders and this lowland dram wasn’t finding the right notes on his palate. Interestingly, though it’s a weighty cask strength 59%, it really couldn’t take too much water, much more than a splash and the elusive flavours became ninjas. I liked it, but will re-taste before coming to a firm conclusion — it was afterall swimming against all the Campbelltown drams, Belgium ales, and cheap pizza.

A top 10 Scottish distillery list

Just for fits and giggles, a whisky post/lesson in futility. A top 10 list of distilleries, annotated.

  1. Laphroaig
  2. Ardbeg
  3. The Macallan
  4. Port Ellen
  5. Glenfiddich
  6. Highland Park
  7. Rosebank
  8. Springbank-Longrow-Hazelburn
  9. Lagavulin
  10. Caol Ila

1. Laphroaig

It’s fair to say that I love almost everything they do, for one reason or another. I have something like 10 different expressions in the cupboard. They do make the occasionally silly decision — replacing the 15 yo with the 18 yo was not to my palate at all, and why don’t they sell the cask strength through their online shop at the moment? Overall sublime, from the 30 yo to the Quarter Cask (just don’t mention the 18 yo).

2. Ardbeg

Again, everything they do is sublime. Wonderful, powerful whiskies. Only problem is that when they excel, it’s with either wonderfully expensive whiskies that are hard to find, or wonderfully expensive whiskies that are really hard to find (Lord of the Isles, anyone?). I’ve never had a bad dram yet from these good folks.

3. The Macallan

Points for having a solid base-grade 10 yo that hits the spot and can be found in many places. Never had a bum dram from these folks, only issue would be that I’ve not had a larger sample size to base this opinion on.

4. Port Ellen

Would be No. 1 if they still operated. Sublime. Sublime. Sublime. There are two problems with this distillery. The first is that they stopped producing in the early 1980s. The second is that as they no longer produce, their whisky is getting expensive. Always worth it.

5. Glenfiddich

Rollercoaster. I wouldn’t clean with the base malt, it’s a horrid wretched thing that serves no purpose other than to identify folks with less discerning palates. Then comes the 15 yo, a wonderful dram that is sweet, fruity and delicious. Default choice if I’m looking for a quick duty free dram. I’m not sold on the 18 yo, it doesn’t hold a lot for me. The 21 yo Gran Reserva, yes please! Mighty fine.

6. Highland Park

I don’t believe there’s a better 10 year old out there for all-round drinking. The supreme all-rounder, and for $60-70, there is no other contender. Every other aged dram I’ve had is great, just harder to find and a lot more expensive. The 10 yo is just too good, making me loathe to go older.

7. Rosebank

Another good one gone. I’ve only had one of their whiskies, and it was mighty fine, light, floral, something I mentally savour now the bottle is long gone.

8. Springbank-Longrom-Hazelburn

All good stuff from these guys. Some wonderful wood varieties that take the whisky to new and fine places. I’ve never had a dud dram, but for reasons I can’t explain they’re not top 5. A feeling that all of their stuff is consistently 9/10, never 8/10 but never 10/10 either. Bonus points as these guys do it all, from malting to bottling.

9. Lagavulin

Kind of a one trick pony, but that one trick is just amazing, the full on punch in the face ocean and iodine and seaweed and oil and peat better than anyone else. Drink the 16 yo, and only the 16 yo.

10. Caol Ila

Wanted to sneak these guys in because I know how to pronounce them — “kull eela” I’m told. Lighter than their southern Islay cousins, these folks produce solid, possibly underappreciated drams full of the fresh sea. Totally worth it.

There you go, another pointless exercise in list-making subjectivity and futility. There are a bunch of distilleries I thought about and excluded because of various reasons:

1. Those with big, varied ranges that I’m not up to speed on (I’m mostly looking at you, Bruichladdich, but Glenmorangie also gets a nod).

2. Those with one fine whisky that stands head and shoulders over the rest of the range (this one’s for you Bowmore, love the Darkest, hate the 10 yo and the Legend to pieces, nods to Dalmore and Jura).

3. Those I haven’t had recently enough (Glengoyne, Glenfarclas, Cragganmore, Bunnahabhain).

4. Those I’ve sampled two or less good but not totally sublime drams (too many to name, includes Glenkinchie, Blair Athol ).

5. Talisker — a one trick pony like Lagavulin, full on flavours of the sea, just pipped at the post but try the 18 yo and 25 yo if you can.

6. Distilleries delivering a fairly generic Speyside flavour (a little nutty, a little malty, a solid 7/10 nothing special but nothing regrettable drinking experience; Glenlivet sits here until I better explore their range; kind of the benchmark for a good dram).

7. Distilleries outside of Scotland (another post for another year when I feel in a better position to judge).

Slainte!