SINGLE CASK NATION BLAIR ATHOL 2011 (10 YEAR) REVIEW

Aside from comments on social media or in online tastings, this is the first time I’ve attempted formal tasting notes. As a relatively new whisky drinker, this is an intimidating task. It is especially nerve-wracking to be asked to post a review on the Park Whiskey Society website, which is a page I have gone to for over a year to read about some of the amazing options available to whisky lovers here in Alberta. 

When I first found this site online, I was amazed with each individual’s ability to detect such a wide range of scents and flavours in each dram. As a novice, I could only really pick up on sweet, spicy/peppery, smoky, or “holy crap that burns my eyes”. To read someone commenting on vanilla, or stewed fruits, or lemon zest made me feel like a very inadequate member of the group. 

It’s amazing what a few months and a few dozen (hundred?) drams can change. My best suggestion to new whisky drinkers: join a group like the Park Whiskey Society. There are many local whisky club options, and the people in these groups are generous, kind and always willing to share a sample or an opinion. Also, get involved in as many whisky tastings as you can. When you find a whisky you like, buy it. If it’s a limited release or special cask, buy two. You’ll regret it if you don’t. 

Single Cask Nation is one of the most successful independent bottling companies in the world, and they have very recently returned to the Canadian market. They have provided 6 distinct releases in the last 3 weeks, including this beautiful Blair Athol which spent 10 years maturing in a 2nd fill PX sherry butt. Blair Athol is a small Highland distillery that primarily supplies whisky for the popular Bell’s blend in Scotland. This whisky is bright copper in colour, and is bottled at a generous 55.3%. 

Nose: Sweet fruits, but more subtle than a traditional PX cask. A hint of musty malt that reminds me of the old bookshelves in my grandma’s basement. In a good way. Something else sweet too, like the inside of a candy bar. I spent a long time nosing this whisky. It’s complex. 

Palate: Rich and sweet, quickly turning to a ginger spiciness. This is followed by cereal malt, and hint of dark chocolate bitterness. The high abv might make it too hot for some. A couple drops of water mellowed the malt and spice and brought out something that reminded me of Christmas fruitcake. 

Finish: Medium-long, with lots of spice. Again, more ginger than pepper. The fruit at the end is cherry or cranberry, and leaves a very pleasant aftertaste. 

This is one of my favourites of the SCN initial releases. It is more complex than your average PX sherry bomb. The combination of the sweetness from 2nd fill sherry cask, the mustiness of the malt, and the ginger spice allows this dram to activate and please the entire palate. 

I am still learning about my own personal palate, and the unending flavours that appear across the whisky spectrum. You may agree with the notes above, or taste something completely different. But I know what I like. And I like this whisky. The SCN Blair Athol 10 is backup bottle worthy. 

Instagram: Dave Woodley (@woodley_dr)

Single Cask Nation Tomatin 2006 (12 year) review

Unlike the Teaninich that I just reviewed, Tomatin is definitely a familiar name if you have perused the whisky shelves with any frequency. From the Legacy, all the way through their high age stated bottles, Tomatin is a very familiar and affordable Highland scotch whisky. Tomatin likes to advertise themselves as “The lighter side of the Highlands”. This moniker may hold true when it comes to their official bottlings, but that is not case if you pick up an independent bottling of the stuff. I found this out in a big way when I reviewed this zesty little number!

This Single Cask Nation Tomatin 12 year was distilled in 2006 and matured in second fill bourbon barrels. It was bottled in 2019 at 58.1% abv with an out turn of 219 bottles.

Nose: For a second fill bourbon barrel, I’m getting quite a bit of vanilla. Even stronger than the expected tropical fruits is the fresh cut apple note I’m getting right off the bat. I have to say, for such a high abv whisky, I can really get my nose pretty deep into the glass. This nose is quite cereal rich for it’s age with a good amount of barley sugar thrown in for good measure. As well as pineapple, I’m getting quite a lot of citrus oil expressed from a fresh orange. A grapefruit note comes up after a while in the glass. As far as spicing goes, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger and a hint of cinnamon.

Palate: I was expecting a wave of citrus here and I get that big time. The entry, after the first couple of sips, is quite measured and sweet with honey and vanilla wafers before a wave of citrus breaks early in the development. This, along with its high proof really tingles the tongue so I would sip this slowly if I were you! The sweet and sour note continues throughout the entire development with the latter transitioning from orange to grapefruit as the experience progresses. That maltiness and barley sugar continues from the nose and apexes during the mid part of the development. The sweetness fades during the second half of the development, but doesn’t disappear completely. The spice builds to a crescendo at the end of the development with cinnamon, ginger, cracked black pepper and clove. There just a bit of oak at the end, but it is pushed into the background will all of this spice.

Finish: This is a very long finish that is spice and citrus forward. Most of the spice and sweetness fades during the first half of the development. This leaves the citrus to continue the journey alone for the most part, with some oak tagging behind it. The tail end of the finish is a little bit sour and bitter in equal amounts. It’s not in your face. Not all whisky needs to end with a sweet note.

With water added…

This has become a bit floral now. The vanilla remains, but I’m not getting as much apple as I did without water added. I’m still getting some of that nice maltiness. I’m getting some earthy allspice and the ginger has faded quite a bit. The cinnamon remains though. A nice digestive cookie note comes out after some time in the glass. The palate still possesses quite a bit of citrus zest, but there is more sweetness to balance it throughout the entire development. The sweetness is mostly a rich honey. On the second half of the development, the spice is still pretty strong, perhaps even stronger than without water. Interesting that I am getting a bit of apple, starting mid-way into the development and continuing into the finish. This is still quite a spicy, citrusy finish, but that extra apple and honey sweetness helps to balance things out a bit more. The finish is still sour and bitter, but there is enough sweetness there to right the ship a little.

Conclusion

This is not a whisky that everyone will enjoy. If you are dead set against adding water to your whisky, you had better like a good dose of citrus. The addition of water and the added sweetness it brings really transforms this one quite a bit. To be honest, I’m glad that the Teaninich I just reviewed and this one are so radically different. Seeing that these two are both from second fill bourbon casks of some sort, and thus quite distillate forward, you get an idea just how diverse Highland scotch whiskey can be.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Glenmorangie – Signet

Truthfully speaking, factoring in all the variables, Glenmorangie Signet is my favorite single malt. It is a uniquely crafted masterpiece with a rich distinctive profile that is unrivaled among whisky’s of its ilk and cost class. When Signet is brought up in conversation, you can expect to hear “chocolate in a glass” from anyone who has tried it and anyone who knows me, knows I love my chocolate!

Glenmorangie markets this release to perfection, with a sleek regal bottle design combined with dramatizing the secrecy surrounding the recipe and ages of the casks they use to blend this magic juice but… when you create such a consistent expression like this, then you can have a little fun things and people will play along. Plus, it’s that visage that makes this bottle so intriguing and why its always proudly placed on the top shelves of whisky collections around the world displayed in a way it will always remain an interesting conversation piece and an even more impressive pour.

Created by Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Bill Lumsden, this creation was the first single malt to use a method that involves roasting ‘chocolate malt’ barley at high temperatures which evidently brings out that chocolate taste we are all so familiar with. In combination with this process, some of the distillery’s rarest and finest of their collection, aging for as long as 30+ years in bespoke designer casks which are blended together meticulously to create this chef-d’oeuvre. The Glenmorangie Distillery actually shuts down for a full week each year, known as Signet week, to focus solely on the production of the ‘chocolate malt’ which is roasted in much smaller quantities in order to persuade out those rich flavors of chocolate and espresso. The rest of the profile is created by the assortment of casks selected for maturation including ex-Bourbon, sherry butts and even new charred oak.

ABV – 46% / Age – unknown / Mash – 100% Malted Barley / Region – Scotland (Highlands) / Cask – ex-Bourbon & ex- Sherry butts & new charred oak

NOSE – Terry’s chocolate orange combined with malt, raisins and an array of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, etc. Honestly reminds me of walking into my moms house after baking her signature coffee cake.

PALATE – This is where the chocolate and espresso flavours come in droves along with a beautiful sweetness of dark fruits like blackberries, plums, and BC cherries and a perfect accompaniment of oak cask influences of bourbon and sherry.

FINISH – Classic highland like finish with some subtleties of chocolate and espresso remaining. Slightly dry and spicy down the throat.

Magnificence in every aspect and a perfect low calorie substitute for desert after a nice dinner. I strongly advise everyone to own it.

Rating – 9.6/10   

  • Review by Steven Shaw

anCnoc – 1975 Limited Edition Single Malt

109st (Downtown), Edmonton, Alberta

Last up in our Inaugural Tasting, we opened the acclaimed release of anCnoc’s 1975 Vintage by the Knockdhu Distillery. Bottled in 2014 making it 39 years of age and officially older than most of the gentleman that took part in this Friday’s tasting. Distilled in the far northeast of the Speyside region almost bordering the Highlands region (why its considered a Highlands scotch), an area known for being an area rich is natural springs, local barley and inexhaustible peat. This limited edition single malt was selected from merely 3 casks, only producing 1,590 bottles. Aged for as long as it was, in a combination of Spanish and American Oak, surprisingly came out lighter in colour than most whiskies of its maturity. That being said, older whiskies tend to go down a little hot but this vintage finishes as smooth as butter.

ABV – 46% / Age – 39 years / Mash – 100% Malted Barley / Region – Scotland (Highlands) / Cask – ex-Bourbon & ex- Sherry

This single malt by anCnoc was impressive from all angles which is consistently in line with all their bottlings. The AnCnoc brand, still fairly new to the industry has been a nice breath of fresh air in the modern scotch world creating a reputation worth everyone’s time. From a storied and historical distillery over a century old, AnCnoc has combined classic infrastructure and values with new-aged innovation to craft some titillating expressions capable of turning anyone into a scotch drinker.

NOSE – The seductive sweetness of honey and orange rind entice you first followed by mildly toasted raisin bread and toffee cake. At the tail end of your inhale and lasting through your exhale right before you take your first sip is where the sherry makes it’s appearance flirtatiously preparing you palate for greatness.

PALATE – Impressively enough, after such a remarkable nose, the palate is something to admire. As those familiar characteristics manifest into a complexity of flavours the tip of the tongue is met with freshly baked bread pudding, allspice, mink oil, aged leather, tobacco and smoked oak.

FINISH – Full of charisma while being revisited by that lovely sherry zing is an oily mouth feel and a ton of oaky spiciness complimented by vanilla and subtle citrus.

By my standards this was as well crafted a whisky as I have tried. AnCnoc has delivered a range of age statements all performing above other bottles in their price ranges and this one was no different. Not many single malts aged for 39 years go for the price this one is sold at. I enjoyed the 1975 immensely so it rated an impressive 9.6/10.

The society found a way to rate it even higher at 9.8/10, so you can imagine the enthusiasm around the room. Intoxication may have also played in anCnoc’s favour but what’s a tasting without a little fun?

  • Review by Steven Shaw