Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Review & Tasting Notes

boubon-cask-tube-and-bottleI’m walking through Total Wine (and More, though I don’t know anyone who says that part!), a cart full of beer and wine, when I see a random display of scotch in the middle of the aisle. Our cart is jammed because we’re having a birthday party this weekend (it’s for a four year old but kids have parents and parents need survival supplies too!) but it had room for another bottle.

There’s always room for another bottle.

Grangestone. Bourbon finish. $25.

Eh, why not? I knew that Grangestone wasn’t a private label by Total Wine, unlike Shieldaig, so I thought I’d give it a try. It did, after all, win a gold medal at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

This NAS whisky is 40% abv and it is first matured in traditional American oak, followed by a finish in first fill bourbon casks.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Vanilla, floral, hint of raisin and toffee
  • Taste: Smooth, again the floral and a little spice, not much sweetness.
  • Finish: Goes pretty quickly, not memorable.

It’s OK, not my favorite and I wouldn’t get it again. I don’t dislike it, it’s just young, tastes young, feels young, and that might be my excuse to leave it in my case for a while (yes yes, I know it won’t do anything).

A quick search online found a two year old post on Reddit where someone sleuth that it might be Kininvie. Kininvie is one of the three (the others being Glenfiddich and Balvenie) that go into Monkey Shoulder.

Personally, I’d spend more and go with Monkey Shoulder. And throw those stupid spirits competition awards out the window… Shieldaig won a Gold too and I found that to be on the other side of bad. Grangestone Bourbon Cask is not bad, just not great and likely worth the $25 price tag… if I didn’t have a blend I like better in that range.

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Glenfarclas 105 Tasting Notes Review

Glenfarclas 105 with brother Glenfarclas 12 on the left and an organic Benromach on the right

Glenfarclas 105 with brother Glenfarclas 12 on the left and an organic Benromach on the right

So this past week my wife and I spent ten days in England (London and Beverly) and Spain (Barcelona) on our first trip away from our two little kids. We were visiting college friends of ours who now live near Beverly and had the pleasure of traipsing around in two countries with them.

(Expect a look into some duty free shops in the coming weeks as I edit the photos and write the posts)

Richard, who is a member of our mighty little Facebook group and frequent commenter, has a pretty delicious looking whisky collection and in winding down our July 4th celebrations (the irony of celebrating July 4th in England was not lost on us), he kindly offered me my choice.

As a good steward of your time and mine, I opted for a distillery I’d heard many a good thing about but hadn’t yet tried – Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas is a Speyside distillery owned by the Grant family, not to be confused with William Grant & Sons who owns Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and many other brands. The name, Glenfarclas 105, refers to it’s alcohol content in the old British Proof system where 105 meant 60% alcohol by volume.

First reactions – WOW that’s got a kick.

Funny enough, I didn’t know it was cask strength so I didn’t prepare my senses! Once I stuck my nose in the Glencairn, I knew. I took a cask strength sip, could taste the sherry and chocolate but the alcohol overwhelmed the rest. Might have had a spicy finish… or it was the alcohol, I couldn’t tell.

I put in a couple drops of water and got to scribbling some notes.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Sherry notes with chocolate espresso
  • Palate: Sweetness from the sherry, rummy, chocolate, some dry fruit like raisins with a smooth creamy nuttiness like almond
  • Finish: Spicy, long and lingering sweetness revealed once the spiciness fades

It’s a no age statement, as most cask strengths are, and I found it to be delicious. A little context, I enjoyed this dram as kind of a wind down to the evening (which featured lots of beer and wine drinking, and a mid-party nap) and so I wasn’t expecting a cask strength wake up call… but there it was.

I’m a fan, for sure, however I think given the choice between this ($75) and Aberlour A’Bunadh ($65), I’d pick the A’Bunadh.

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Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured Tasting Notes

aberlour-16yo-double-cask-maturedI make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of Aberlour A’bunadh and it’s cask strength goodness… and its sherry bomb.

This is actually the first 16yo I remember trying, it’s a strange number to see (until recently) because you see a lot of 12 and 18, but not many 16s besides Lagavulin (and until the last few years, Jura and Glenlivet Nadurra). But I figured I’ve had the 12 before (delicious), I’ve had the A’bunadh which has no age statement (also delicious), why not give the 16 a run?

The double cask is actually pretty standard for Aberlour. It refers to the two casks in which the whisky are matured, traditional oak (bourbon) and sherry, and their 12, 15, 16, and 18 are double cask matured. The maturation in each type of cask may be different but each of those spends time in both.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: A very light sherried sweetness, hint of chocolate & caramel, fresh fruit like berries
  • Palate: Nice balance of the sherry flavors and bourbon/oak flavors, has a buttery mouth feel, vanilla
  • Finish: Medium finish, sugary honey sweetness, now a little more dried fruit comes through, like raisins

If you’re into awards, it won the Silver Outstanding for the Speyside category of the IWSC in 2013 and 2014 plus Gold in the 13-19yo single malt category at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

My gut reaction to the 16yo is meh.

The retail price of this bottle is $74 and my feeling is that you get better value out of Aberlour A’bunadh at $85 and Aberlour 12yo at $58. If you love yourself some sherry, go with the A’Bunadh, it’ll knock your socks off with sherried goodness (and alcohol!). The 16yo will seem “light” by comparison. The Aberlour 12yo represents a better value, the 16 is more refined but not worth the 28% higher price tag.

If you want to try Aberlour for the first time, go with the 12yo or the A’bunadh.

If you’re a fan already and want to try some more, the 16yo is a good scotch whisky, it’s just not a great price. You get a little more oompf than the 12yo but waaaay less than the A’bunadh. So if you think you like A’bunadh but the sherry was too much and the 12yo was just not quite enough, the 16 is a good middle ground.

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Why does Jack Daniel’s call itself “sour mash” whiskey?

Credit: Caitlinator

Credit: Caitlinator

Ever wonder why Jack Daniel’s calls itself “sour mash” whiskey? Ever since doing shot after shot after shot of Jack in college, I’ve always wondered what “sour mash” meant.

It sure didn’t taste sour.

Now that it’s been years and I’ve become more invested in the process of drinking, rather than the result, I wanted to know.

So a little background, whisky production is a lot like beer production, except you distill the product and age it in barrels. (if you want to read about whisky production, WhiskyForEveryone has this great writeup on how whisky is made)

The part that matters when you talk about “sour mash” is the mashing process. It’s when the grounded down malt is added to warm water to pull out the sugars from the malt – that mixture is called mash. That sugar will be fermented by yeast to product alcohol.

Sour mash just means that the mash from a previous batch, which still has live yeast, is added to the current one to start the fermentation process. Using the sour mash from a previous batch helps with consistency, maintains an ideal PH, and a bunch of other good stuff.

Why is it called sour mash? It’s called “sour” because it’s just like how sourdough bread is made. It borrows the name from using a sourdough starter.

As it happens with a lot of marketing, sour mash is not unique to Jack Daniel’s. Nearly all bourbon is produced this way.

While I haven’t had Jack neat in a long long time (is it even considered neat when you just shoot it?), I do enjoy a Jack & Coke from time to time. It tastes like college. :)

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Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14yo Tasting Notes

balvenie-14yo-caribbean-cask-bottleMy lovely wife and I play this fantastic game where she will pour some scotch in a glass and I will drink it.

I love this game. And I love my wife. :)

The game is actually that I try to guess what she poured. At any given time, I’ll have about a dozen bottles open and sometimes I remember what I have open, sometimes I don’t.

Tonight, she stumped me when she poured me some Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a bottle I forgot I opened. What really threw me off was the color, it’s a lot lighter than I expected. Not yellow, like a lot of Irish whiskies, but it wasn’t a dark amber – so I started thinking it was going to be Laphroaig (based on color and what I thought I had open). That’s what caught me off guard because it had no smoke and was nowhere near Islay (or Skye/Talisker). It was too dark and the nose of vanilla and fruit, a marked absence of any floral note, meant it wasn’t an Irish whiskey.

Once I ruled it out I went to Speyside. At this point, I forgot what I had opened and so I had no idea and had to surrender.

Balvenie Caribbean Cask. HA – she got me.

I took another sip… could I tell? It was just so complex and had a bunch of different flavors I didn’t recognize together. The 12yo DoubleWood doesn’t have this much flavor, my memory of it (it’s been a bit since I tried it) was that you had vanilla and brown sugar. There was also fruit to it, but it was all much lighter and easy. And it makes sense, because Caribbean Cask is only finished in Rum casks.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Floral and vanilla, hints of fruit (more like the freshness of biting into an apple, not the apple itself)
  • Palate: It’s chewier, has some toffee and malty richness, brown sugar, vanilla, a little sugar cane and lime too (that was a first for me)
  • Finish: Decently long finish, rich, raisins, with some spiciness and dries out nicely.

I think the rum amplifies the vanilla and brown sugar notes, that’s the big difference between this and, say, the DoubleWood. Also, for those who are into awards, this one has picked up a slew of awards. It won the Gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge and Silver Outstanding at the 2014 International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Here’s a fun aside, I also have the Balvenie 14yo GoldenCask, which was their travel retail version, and it is a precursor to the Balvenie 14yo Caribbean Cask. I still have some in a bottle and here’s a side by side comparison of just color:balvenie-caribbeancask-vs-goldencask
In terms of flavor, the GoldenCask had more citrus and fruity notes, more spice and chewiness – the Caribbean Cask seems to be more delicate despite being darker.

I can find it locally for around $60, which is about ten dollars more than DoubleWood, and seems like it is price reasonably. What I need to do is try this head to head avainst the Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel (similar price) to see which I’d prefer to spend my money on. :)

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