Whisky and Words Number 55: Talisker 57° North

The 57 Degrees North. A fine whisky.

Normally, I review whiskies one can find at a reasonably well stocked liquor store. But now and then I cover something a bit harder to get. In this case, my wife had the Talisker 57° N shipped from Scotland for my (57th) birthday. I can imagine the cost of shipping rivaled that of the whisky. I have searched about 10 online liquor shops in the US and none of them had this expression. But if my wife can get it, so can you. It just takes will…and some extra cash.

Talisker intended this whisky to be a tribute to their remote location on the isle of Skye, 57° North latitude. What do they say about it? On their website, Talisker 57° is said to be “an untamed, natural expression of the Talisker’s full power: a volcanic, intensely appealing flavour that most drinkers will have only experienced in a cask strength bottling.” Indeed, 57% alcohol is pretty strong, a true 100 proof. True cask strength whiskies (except for the oldest) are typically higher than that, but 57% is on the cusp. Their flavor map has it dead center in weight, and pretty high on the smoky range. It’s not far from where they put their 10-year expression. I also find the label appealingly similar, the classic off-white label with Talisker in an embossed-style font.

Diageo kept the classic design for this expression.

There is a bit more on the carton, telling us they’ve aged the spirit in American oak refill casks, and it is “Sweet to start, and explodes with smoke and volcanic pepper.” Wow, I did not know volcanoes made pepper, got to get me some of that. I like pepper.

So, where’s the there, you wonder? On the pour, it doesn’t assault the room like a Laphroaig, but that’s not the Talisker way with peat. (Talisker tends to be medicinal in its phenolic content, not oily and ashy like the Islay peat monsters.) I find the nose very similar to the 10, but richer in the top end, where the grassier aromas from the oak are found and lighter on the bottom end, where the 10 brings more fruit to the nose. It’s nice – we probably have younger whiskies in this dram (it’s a NAS after all) but the malt master has done a great job selecting casks to bring out the best in young whiskies. There is no sting from the alcohol: they’ve really nailed the heart on this dram. There are 43% whiskies that sting far more than you’ll get from the 57.

The Talisker 10 (l) and 57 North (r) are very close in color. Sad day for lighting though.

So, on to the taste. I expected..well, it’s a NAS of which I am always dubious and the tasting notes were a bit over the top but yowee, they deliver on this whisky. At first, straight, no water needed, you notice the very nice caramel sweetness and then moments later, the ‘volcanic’ pepper does indeed explode. Holy cow. And then it gets smoky, in a less oily way than an Islay whisky. As I say in my tasting notes, a sip of this is like a drag on a truly good cigar. This is a roller coaster of flavor. Where the 10 is smooth, medical and subtle in its smokiness and spice, the 57 makes no bones about its flavor profile. It’s a big, but precise, flavor delivery engine.

Talisker 57° North, Island (Skye) Single Malt, NAS, 57% ABV

Nose: Very maritime: seaweed, earthy peat, like the 10 but more so. Sweet red apple, celery, fresh cut grass. Smoke is persistent but not overwhelming or oily. Surprisingly gentle on the nose for a near-cask-strength whisky.
Palate: Big toffee and caramel lead, and I get a bit of apple and strawberries. The sweet is quickly balanced by the traditional Talisker medicinal phenols (a bit Listerine, in a good way). Wow, yes it does explode in the peppery spice on the sides of the tongue, transitioning to a hefty serving of ashy smoke near the end, like a drag on a really good cigar. Remarkably smooth for a strong whisky; there is no harshness on the throat.
Finish: The ash stays with you once the pepper finishes its beat-down of the caramel and toffee; those spicy notes continue to balance as the smoke lingers.

Bottom Line: An exceedingly well done NAS whisky. And for a change, the tasting notes from the malt master are dead on. I have to say, the 57, along with the very solid standard ’10’ and the awesome 25-year-old I tried in New York really cements my appreciation for the brand. I am not letting my friends have any more of this. I’m totally going to hog this whisky. Kudos to the best-of-all-wives for ordering this from the Home Country!

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Whisky and Words Number 52: Edradour 10-year

The Edradour 10-year Distiller’s Edition. Dark and lovely.

I first encountered Edradour whisky at The Ship Inn, located on the water in a little town called Stonehaven. Stonehaven is just north of Dunnottar Castle on the east coast of Scotland. The Ship Inn had a hefty book full of single malts to try and I liked their description of the Edradour 10-year. You can read the description in the photo below. It was a good dram, and I was pleased to find when I returned to the US I could find a 10-year ‘Distillery Edition’ in my state. I do not know if it is the same expression as I had at the Ship inn, as that might have been their cask-strength version, which is also 10-year aged (and non-chill-filtered).

Description of the whisky at the Ship Inn. Click to zoom.

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Whisky and Words Number 50: Bunnahabhain 12 re-review!

It’s been a long time since I reviewed my old fave Bunna 12, and since then they have revamped the packaging, making it a good choice for the 50th review. The new packaging introduces a new style, new palette and a new Bunna captain as well.

The new 12. We expect great things.

Of the whisky inside, the features remain the same: 46.3% ABV, natural color, non-chill-filtered, “Double Matured in Ex Bourbon and Ex Sherry Casks.” What does that mean? The folks at Distell tell me Bunnahabhain “is made using 70% sherry casks with 30% bourbon casks, these casks are married (mixed) together in a vatting.” In this case, both sherry and bourbon casks will have been aged for at least 12 years. This is contrast to other part-bourbon, part-sherry offerings, like Glenmorangie’s Lasanta, where they start in bourbon casks and move to sherry for a final (shorter) maturation. So, Bunna is not actually ‘double matured,’ but the Bunnahabhain approach should result in a richer, more sherry-influenced profile.

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Whisky and Words Number 49: Glenmorangie Nectar D’or

The golden nectar on an unusually golden Fall afternoon.

The final Glenmorangie ‘specials’ review! Today we take on Nectar D’or, which takes the standard Glenmorangie 10 and ages it for two additional years in Sauternes barriques (a fairly small barrel). Sauternes being a sweet wine (think noble rot), we expect the Sauternes treatment to result in a sweet and smooth spirit. Glenmorangie telegraphs this expectation with their moniker for this expression – Nectar D’or. So, is it really a golden nectar? Glenmorangie thinks so:

Our sumptuous, special reserve whisky is aged first in American oak bourbon casks for smooth, fruity notes. We then finish this single malt in hand-selected wine casks from Sauternes, the most famous and ancient sweet wine-growing region of France.
These rare casks bring layers of mellow sweetness to Glenmorangie’s renowned smooth style. Non chill-filtered for enhanced aroma and texture, our Nectar D’Or is enjoyed around the globe.

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Whisky and Words Number 48: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

The Quinta Ruban from Glenmorangie

This is the second of three reviews of Glenmorangie special expressions, each of which has been finished in specialty casks to elicit different flavors. The Quinta Ruban builds on the standard Glenmorangie 10 with two additional years in Port pipes (large casks). Let’s see what Glenmorangie is saying about this spirit:

The darkest and most intense whisky in the extra-matured range, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban has spent 10 years maturing in American white oak casks, before being transferred into specially selected ruby port pipes from the Quintas or wine estates of Portugal.

Extra maturation in these port pipes develops Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban into a voluptuous spirit with a complex balance of sweet and dry flavours and an intriguing contrast of smooth and crisp, cooling textures. Non chill-filtered for additional aroma and mouthfeel

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Whisky and Words Number 47: Glenmorangie Lasanta

Lasanta’s lovely color adds gravitas to any occasion.

As promised, here is the first of three reviews of Glenmorangie special expressions, each of which has been finished for two years in a specialty cask. In this case, the Lasanta (Gaelic for ‘warmth and passion’)  takes the basic Glenmorangie 10 for a two-year ride in sherry-seasoned (Oloroso and PX Sherry) casks.

What do we get for an additional two years? Is the Lasanta able to challenge all-in sherry aged drams like Macallan’s Sherry Wood, Glenfarclas 12 or Highland Park’s 12? And how does it fare against another ‘finished’ whisky, in this case the very nice (and more expensive) Balvenie Doublewood? That’s what we’re here to find out.

The packaging is conservative and classy with a dark maroon label, an echo of sherry’s ruby tones, and you will see significant color in the spirit (see photo below). What does Glenmorangie say about its whisky? They are quite up front on the bottle about the extra two years maturation, so kudos for clear messaging. There are no claims of ‘craft’ techniques like non-chill filtration or avoidance of added coloration, but at the price point, $50 in Oregon, that’s not expected. On their website, we don’t get much more info than tasting notes, to wit: “the sherry casks bring rich raisin intensity, toffee and spices to Glenmorangie’s renowned smooth style”

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Whisky and Words Preview: Glenmorangie Finished Expressions

What’s coming up – reviews of three Glenmorangie specialty-cask ‘finishes’ of their single malt.

A cask (from Glenmorangie website)

How distillers switch up the casks and hence flavor profiles

There are a few ways a distiller can introduce flavors outside of those provided by the very common ex-Bourbon cask. One way is to age the whisky entirely in specialty cask types (port, sherry, rum or wine casks). The Macallan standard expressions (12, 25) and all Glenfarclas bottlings are aged exclusively in sherry butts. Highland Park uses only sherry-seasoned casks, but employs two kinds of oak to get their flavor profile (American and Spanish).

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