Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Comparison Tasting: Highland Park - 70s v Today

Hello, Hello,

Lots to get through on this post so settle down please. Today we’re looking at a comparative tasting. First up look at this picture;

The 12 yo is from a tasting pack that I was given as a present recently. But the other one... just look at that. I picked up that bottle of Highland Park from an “antique” fair for £2 (along with some other gems – including an old bottling Bruichladdich mini - I couldn’t believe my luck).

To me there are 3 things of interest here;

1 – A old bottle gives the chance to compare to more recent whisky from the same distillery (albeit not the same standard bottling)

2 - A bit of detective work (well, googling) required to establish how old the whisky is.

3 – You will have spotted that the old HP bottle has a lower neck-fill, so it’s interesting to see what effect that has. Although that does mean that the comparison isn’t totally fair.

Taking the 2nd point first. How old is the old bottling? Well by my reckoning I think it must be pre-1980 given that it’s listed as 70 Proof rather than 40% ABV (when that change in labeling took place). It has a 70s styling and it seems to be an imperial measure (i.e. I couldn’t see 5cl). Plus looking on google images other whisky sites seem to place this in the 1970s. So this is probably pushing 35 at least since it was bottled and may have been distilled at the end of the 60s. 

So how will it compare against a modern Highland Park. I poured out the two HPs side by side. Here are my notes.

Highland Park 8 Year Old (Gordon & McPhail 70s Bottle)
The 8 year old is much darker, more orange-y looking. It seems a bit odd at first but definitely whisky - sweet but damp to smell. At this point I was wondering what effect the low-level fill had. It seemed a tiny bit flat – not too much coming off the nose.
Giving it a few minutes before going in for a second sniff it certainly seemed old-fashioned – I was getting a strong smell of sherry or even navy rum. Basically it smells a bit like your Nan’s house. Or an old hotel. Or maybe a church. There was damp, stone and wood. But at the same time it was a comforting smell, from a place where people have enjoyed themselves in the past.
Other thoughts scribbled down - Christmas Pudding. Cold Ash. Old leather. A stone room on a winters night.
There was so much going on. It’s difficult to tell now how the aeration (leakage?) has affected it. I noticed the finish was a little… fuzzy. I mean that as opposed to definable as crisp or lingering. There was all this woody-Christmas cake going on but then it kind of turned a bit funny and died (sorry I'm not exactly painting tastes with words). The feeling I was left with was it was like watching a classic black and white film but a poor recording of it. The tracking goes a bit off now and again or you lose the sound ocassionally but there is still plenty to enjoy. The essence still seemed to remain.

Highland Park 12 Year Old (recent distillery bottling)
So how does it compare to Highland Park of today? This is hardly a direct comparison since it’s not the same distillery bottling. 
Just as well since this is really different. I found it difficult to draw a direct line between the two. Now, as far as I’m concerned HP12 is a great bottle. It’s difficult to beat as an all-rounder and I’m A Fan.  Side by side though these two are totally different. 
The colour is much lighter and straw-like. And the smell is a bit of sweet vegetation and rubbery. I got a little bit of sweet grain smell (I know it doesn’t have grain in it obviously). Egg noodles on the nose too, strangely.
It’s much lighter than the old HP and more zesty. It seems younger even though it’s the older of the two in terms of years (if you get what I mean). Tiny bit of smoke. Smooth and toasty. 
But it didn’t seem quite the whisky of my memory when up against this old bottle. I think in the interests of balance that I should have tried this one first since it is much lighter.

Well, using this slightly indirect comparison it seems that the signature taste of HP has definitely changed. It’s gone from stodgy 70s trifle to a light salad. Both have their merits and I found it very interesting to see the difference between eras.
It was also interesting to see what possible effect the low-fill level has. To explore that properly I guess I’d need to two bottles from the same era – one with a low-fill and one without. But from this tasting the low-fill wasn't the total ruination I had feared.

Happily for my interest in whisky (but sadly for my wallet) this now means that my interest has been piqued not just far and wide but also back in time. 
Look out for future comparative tastings to come – 90s Bruichladdich 10, 90s Glenliet 12 and 90s Chivas 12.


08/10/14 - Just a note to add that I recently tried a distillery bottling of Highland Park 30, presumably going back to the early 80s. It tasted very much like the G&M reviewed above. I also tried a 25 year old Highland Park and it was quite different to the 30yo, more akin to the rest of the HP range. Can we deduce from that at some point in the last 30 years Highland Park has changed its signature style?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Glenlivet 16 Year Old Nadurra

Glenlivet strikes me as being a bit like Starbucks coffee. The quality of the core product is decent enough (for arguments sake) but it's that most unacceptable of things for foodie (or any) snobs - popular. 
And in much the same way lots of coffee aficionados wouldn’t go in to a Starbucks, likewise a lot of whisky bores aren’t too interested in Glenlivet. They’ll drink it if no other single malt/coffee is available but otherwise they’re more engaged in trying cask-strength, limited editions of Dailuaine or whatever. Not that it’s bad - the 15 in particular I seem to recall is rather nice – but no-one is going boast on Twitter about uncorking a bottle of Glenlivet 12 Year Old.

But this Nadurra edition is a bit more unusual. It strikes me that this is Glenlivet flexing their purist muscle. It has geek credentials, hence you’ve got this well-aged, non-chill filtered (by implication the standard bottles are chill filtered?) edition. Plus it’s bottled at cask strength. It’s big on provenance all numbered casks and traceability etc. Catnip to whisky bloggers.
But let’s not get caught up in perceptions and pour a glass. It certainly seems a bit lighter in colour which suggests it has been untouched. Taking a niff I had roses and syrup sponge pudding. Make that a rose infused syrup sponge. Very pleasant.
It wasn’t as sweet to taste. A bit of heat (understandable given the high ABV) but generally flowery and sweet maybe a bit of bubblegum, all tempered with wood to stop it getting too cloying. Obviously I’ve been lead to this word from the bottle but it seemed “natural” (again, wood and flowers). It’s stripped down and unfussy with a nice subtlety to it.
In addition to all that it’s very nicely priced for a 16yo cask strength whisky - around £45-50. Generally the Glenlivet range is pretty well priced given that you’re getting an age-statement with it (but let’s not get into that just now).

So if you’re interested in trying out older or cask strength whisky this is an excellent choice and good value. And if you’re at all snobbish about it being Glenlivet… well, don’t be. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mortlach Draft Review

Subject: Mortlach Tasting and Review
Hi guys  - I noticed some other bloggers have posted reviews of the new Mortlachs?! I emailed and tweeted you about the invite to the tasting but didn't get a heads up - suggest someone in admin gets their arse kicked! Anyway, didn’t want to miss out on being one of the first reviews so I’ve pieced together a review from what seen from other blogs. Hopefully the seams won’t show…

Mortlach is the oldest distillery in Dufftown  <note - copy and paste details from ideally 2 or 3 paras>.
Mortlach is well loved amongst the whisky fraternity (or geeks if I may be so bold! LOL!!).  However the much loved and now much discontinued Flora and Fauna bottling was produced in such tiny quantities that prior to being discontinued it could only be found by visiting the obscure websites, like Master of Malt and Whisky Exchange, that might only have stock in the low hundreds of bottles at any one time.
Anyway nobody ever drank the old Mortlach but we're all agreed it deserved wider recognition so now, thankfully, Diageo is breathing new life into this much loved whisky. They are now making this more available to the mass market by launching the entry level “Old and Rare” bottling. The name might seem confusing at first but that’s fine though - things can actually become more rare the more widely available they become. <citation needed>. And I’m pretty sure it’s really Old too I think maybe there wasn’t enough room for the age statement on the bottle <check this>.
By the way the bottles look great don’t they? It’s like a proper glass decanter – and you were probably thinking of buying one of those anyway right? Well here’s one for you. And it has Mortlach written across the front. So there’s that. And after the whisky is finished you might use it for everyday things like putting 2/3rds of a bottle of wine in or 5/7ths of another bottle of whisky.

What I like about it also is that 50cl feels just the right size doesn’t it? I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt 70cl a bit unwieldy for a bottle size – it’s just too much! Besides, by reducing the bottle size more people can get their hands on this very rare and commercially available drop.

Anyway enough about all that. Let get onto the whisky itself, that’s what really matters. As a whisky aficionado I only really care about taste, price just shouldn’t be factor. After all if something tastes good enough it is worth literally any amount someone wants to charge, regardless of any costs related to production. What’s more it’s clear that Mortlach has been undervalued for a long time – probably by a factor of about 7. It’s a wonder other distilleries manage to keep afloat – but then they don’t have the special distillation process <insert details>.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted by the pricing fuss again. So here we go. The Whisky Writer verdict;

Old and Rare
It’s great
Old and Rare Special Strength
I wasn’t too sure whether to risk being slightly dissenting on this one to show a bit of impartiality. But decided to go with below- what do you think?
Really, really great.
18 Year Old
Just awesome. Totally better and different to 16yo F&F bottling which now seems like fucking dog’s piss by comparison (too far?)
25 Year Old
Just perfection. £600 might seem like a lot of money but believe me you won’t be thinking about how much each dram is costing you as you sip this stuff!

Conclusion: I don’t know what the fuss is about for pricing – this stuff is a bargain. Furthermore just show I’m totally genuine I’m going to forgo our family holiday this year and buy one bottle of each.

Let me know what you think – PS any chance of a sample? Cheers WW