Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Arild's outstanding Whisky review

A virtual friend from Norway (I know him from a cigar board), whom I had not the luck to meet in person until today, got three samples of Whisk(e)y from me... he said he would be curious about this or that, so I made him a lil package...

Here you go with his impressions:

Woodford Reserve Batch 61, bottle no.04919 at 45.2 % alcohol. This is a bourbon made in coppar stills made by the coppersmith Rothes in Speyside, Scotland. This is as far as I know the only triple distilled whiskey in the US. I don't know much about Bourbon and has very little experience drinking it, but I will tell you my thoughts about it later in this post.

The second bottle was a private bottling of Springbank, cask no. 354, stored from 1999 - 2009 and bottled at 56.5 % alcohol. Springbank is one of my absolute favorite distilleries, their whisky is a little like a painting for me, you discover new smells and tastes every time you enjoy a Springbank dram.

The third and last bottle was something really special, a 35 year old Glenfarclas from the Speyside region, stored from 1971 until bottling in 2006 at a natural alcohol of 51.4 %. The oldest single malt I have ever had.

The Glenfarclas distillery in the Highland (Speyside) region of Scotland was built on the farm Richlerich, right by the foot of the 800 meter mountain Ben Rinnes and the river Spey in 1836. It was the farmer Robert Hay who built it. He bought two used "pans" from the small distillery Dandaleith 5 kilometers north of Rothes. When Hay died the distillery become silent.

In 1865 the well known John Grant needed more space for his Aberdeen Angus creature, and hired the farms Recherlich and Derrylane. He also bought the distillery Glenfarclas, and paid 511 pounds for it. The first years the distillery was run by the distillator John Smith from Clydesdale Distillery in Wishaw. After five years Smith left and started the distillery Cragganmore. Mr. John Grant then started himself with Glenfarclas and founded the J & G. Grant firm with his son George. In the year 1887 they bottled and sold to the USA their maltwhisky named "Pure Old Glenfarclas-Glenlivet" Most of the production was sold to John Deward & Sons and John Walker & Sons.

That was a little history around the start of the Glenfarclas. A little newer history - in 1960 Glenfarclas got two new pans and had a total of four. 12 years later the maltery was closed (this means that they malted themselves in 1971 when "my" whisky was put on a barrel) In 1976 they got another two pans and could produce 2.6 million liters of pure alcohol per year.

Glenfarclas six pans, the largest ones in Speyside are fired directly with open flames from gas. This is quite unusual today as this wears the pans more than indirect warming. They sample their spirit between 72 and 60 % giving a middle of 68 %. I guess it is more 72 and less 60 % in the sample! They store their whisky in mostly "first filled sherry butts" earlier containing either oloroso or fino sherry. Glenfarclas does not use any American bourbon casks. All casks are stored on the distillery in 30 "dunnage-building stores" with red doors. Glenfarclas can produce 3 million litres of pure alcohol today.

The water used to make Glenfarclas is cristal clear and ice cold melted water from the sides of the mountain Ben Rinnes. Glenfarclas has a lot of different bottlings to buy, I guess your wallet is the only problem, hehe. I could never afford a whisky like the one Heiko sent me. It could well be 1000 pounds for a bottle of 35 year old Glenfarclas!

If you still read, over to the tasting notes.

I started with all three in tasting glasses without any water. The most important thing for me is the smell of the whisky, and trying to get and write down my impressions is what I used most of my time doing.

First I will tell you shortly what I think of the bourbon, the Woodford Reserve. What really hit me when I first smelled this whiskey was that I had never smelled anything like this before in a spirit. It reminded me really strongly about banana milk shake. Not that I don`t like banana milk shake, but that smell is probably not what I would have wanted from a fine spirit if I could choose. It also had a sweet smell of vanilla and a hint of white peppar on the nose. The colour was like dark gold with a nice shine. A nice smell, but I guess not what I am looking for when I buy a bottle of whisky(ey).

Over to the Springbank. A brilliant golden colour shines in your face from the glass. When I hold my nose at arms lenght from the glass I get a hint of the wonderful smells I'm about to experience. At 56.5 % alcohol and aged only ten years made me think it would kill my nose in a short time, but actually it could just as well have been only 40 % alcohol. So pure and "integrated" with the oak already.

I can tell you already that I loved the smell from the Springbank. It has a brilliantly integrated smell of smoke, I talk about a nice thouch of smoke, not overwhelming like some of the Islay whiskys. The smell of this liquid gold actually made me think of walking around in a forest smelling the wet sprigs of spruce on the forest floor and looking up in the air trying to locate a fire in the distance. Wow, this is complexity in a spirit. The Springbank also reveal fine tones of old sherry, a touch of caramel and hints of peat. I could not ask for more in a ten year old whisky, period.

After drinking some pure water and walking around in the garden for a few minutes I was ready for the Glenfarclas 35 year old. Looking at the colour it strikes me that it is very very dark, almost like an oloroso sherry stored in an Almacenista for decades. Dark gold with reddish tones describes the colour I think. Even just sitting in my sofa with the small tasting glass on the table in front of me made my tasting buds jumping in amusement. I took a picure of the Glenfarclas with a bottle of a superb Oloroso sherry from Lustau just to illustrate that I think the Glenfarclas must have been stored in oloroso sherry casks. If the Glenfarclas distillery is the mother of this whisky, the oloroso cask must be it`s stepmother. Heiko wrote it had 51.4 % alcohol. I guess it has reached this level naturally just by the "angels share" during the 35 years of storing. Surely it has the natural colour also, it shines just too much to have any caramel put into it, and that would have been a crime doing also. I love natural things and dislike strongly artificial additions in anything.

When smelling the Glenfarclas it brought what felt like silk underwear to my nose. So soft, at the same time so incredibly strong in smells (I talk about the whisky). Of course you smell the oloroso sherry, but that is one hell of a nice smell isn`t it?. It is so sweet and silky on the nose in an elegant way. Sweet vanilla and walnuts comes forward. Oriental dried fruits is crystal clear, and you can feel a touch of fine leather and almost old Grande Champagen cognac as well. The body of the Glenfarclas is mouthwatering full and creamy with tastes like described in the smells departement.

At last I had some pure water in the whisky(ey)'s. That brought industrial banana smell to the Woodford, the Springbank remained almost the same, a little more "mild" and kind perhaps. And if you think I put water into the liquid gold of the Glenfarclas, hehe, I did NOT.

So, Heiko and others interested in whisky(ey). The Woodford Reserve was a nice experience because I had not tasted a triple distilled bourbon made in scottish pot stills before. But I don`t think I will taste it again, the banana smell was just over the hill for me personally.

The Springbank is the most complex 10 year old whisky I have tasted to date. Outstanding for a ten years old.

The Glenfarclas was easily the best whisky I have tasted, a heavenly drinking experience.

Heiko, thank you for thinking about me when you looked at your outstanding display of whisky's in your bar, it was much appreciated and I enjoyed myself immensly doing this simple review.


Another comment reached me in the evening:
...I'm sitting outside with what was left in the glasses after I finished the review. I followed your advice, and the ERDM Grandes de Espana is a great match to the Springbank and the Glenfarclas...

I'm glad to hear that my suggestion was good also for you, Arild.

Thx a lot for doing such an outstanding review...