This month’s tasting features five whiskys from the Speyside and Highlands areas of Scotland. Each of these Scotches is matured exclusively in sherry casks and then bottled at cask strength.
Let’s begin with some discussion of Speyside. Speyside is the north-east most region of the Scotch regions. It is home to the most dense concentration of Scotch distilleries. Speyside Scotch characteristically (highly simplified and subject to exception) are not overly peaty, but instead often fruity and nutty.
Highlands, like Speyside, is in the north of Scotland. Some even have historically called Speyside a sub-region of the Highlands, and labels, such as Aberlour, sometimes blur the two. Highlands offers a diverse range of flavors, that often are noted by oak, fruit, smoke and floral notes.
To start with the obvious, Scotch – whether Speyside, the Highlands or of other regions – is aged in wood casks. Those casks can be of numerous origin too complicated to address here. But many, including many of those from the Speyside region, use used sherry casks during the maturation process. Sometimes, the whisky is stored exclusively in the sherry cask. Other times, the whisky is finished in sherry casks. Those casks can be blended together with non-sherry casks. And the sherry casks themselves can have different influences, based upon their origin, their age, the number of times they have been used, and their size, just to name a few. The point being, even sherry cask Scotches can take on widely different characteristics, but often the flavors imparted by sherry casks are sweet and fruity flavors.
July’s Flight Club tasting features whiskies aged exclusive in sherry casks. And unlike many traditional Scotches, there are all bottled at cask strength – undiluted by flavorless water. The combination of the sherry cask and the cask strength is very richly fruited and complex whiskies.
Finally, what type of sherry casks were used, you might ask? Oloroso sherry is the most oft chosen cask, because that type of sherry typically produces a dry, full bodied fortified wine, with nutty and fruit flavors, and a background fruit sweetness. Most often, especially with older Oloroso sherries, the fruitiness is that of dark fruits.
Cocktail: Woolworth (taken in part from Distinguished Spirits)
1.5 oz Glenfiddich 12 (sherry and bourbon cask matured)
.75 oz Lustau Don Nuño Oloroso Sherry
3/8 oz Benedictine D.O.M.
2 dashes Homemade Orange Bitters
Lemon Swath as Garnish
Directions: Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Rub lemon swath oils on rim of glass and as garnish.
This cocktail highlights the peculiar dryness/sweetness and fruitiness of the Oloroso sherry, while still allowing the delicate notes of the Scotch to shine through. The Benedictine D.O.M. and orange bitters add depth and complexity.
Glenfarclas 105 (120 proof) (Speyside) (NAS)
Nose: Dried sherry fruit of apricots, pears, orange peel, apple, plums, raisin and raspberry; wax; earth; cocoa and toffee; light baking spice.
Palate: Oak dryness and cinnamon followed by fruit punch, gummy bears and pear cider; spice; charred oak; leather. Rich but not overly viscus.
Finish: Long; dry oak; dried pear; dried sherry fruit; fruit leather; smoke and tobacco.
Why: This is a welcome introduction to sherry cask, cask strength Scotch. While the sherry fruits are strong, overall this has a fairly soft and balanced demeanor. It is complex, with dry character to offset sweetness.
Notes on Glenfarclas: Glenfarclas dates back to the early 1800 and remains one of the last family owned distilleries in Speyside. They are the last distillery in Scotland to use direct heating of the stills by gas. The Glenfarclas 105 is said to be the first cask strength Scotch. The 105 references the British proof system. Oloroso sherry is used for all of Glenfarclas’ products.
Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 5 (118.2 proof) (Highlands) (NAS)
Nose: Soft for its proof; stewed fruit; brown sugar; honey; baking spice; musty grape; faint dry oak; strawberry; banana; baked goods.
Palate: Developing baking spice; berry fruit jam; apple; pear; strawberry-banana; cinnamon toast; vanilla; spicy pepper. Creaminess that hits at the tail end of the palate and finish.
Finish: Thick and medium-long. Juicy ripe fruit; baked goods; vanilla; baking spice; white paper spice. There is a fruit leather texture that helps make the flavors linger.
Why: This whisky brings some spice and fresher fruitiness than the Glenfarclas 105. The fruits are quite contrasting: the Glenfarclas brings dried fruits, whereas this Glengoyne brings very fresh fruits.
Notes on Glengoyne: Glengoyne too has been operating since the early 1800’s. Today it is owned by Ian MacLeod Distillers (as is the later Tamdhu). It sits on the line of the Highlands and the Lowlands regions of Scotland and is often said to be influenced by both styles. Glengoyne is not peated.
Tamdhu Batch Strength Batch 1 (117.6 proof) (Speyside) (purportedly 10 year)
Nose: Berry/raisin heavy sherry fruit; oak; ginger; chocolate; vanilla; orange; fresh baked cake; nut.
Palate: Baking spice; honey; light brown sugar; prunes; apple; apricot; pear; berry; orange; light vanilla; oak; cola; nuts
Finish: Medium-long but slow fading. Nuts; cola; light brown sugar; plums; baking spice; baked goods.
Why: Tamdhu Batch Strength Batch 2 cracked the 2017 Top 10 on Whiskey Advocate. I’ve tried it. It is worth seeking out, but so are the other batches of Tamdhu. This whiskey is softer on the palate and finish than the others, but at 117.6 proof it isn’t lacking in flavor.
Notes on Tamdhu: Located in the heart of Speyside, Tamdhu dates back to just before the 1900’s. Its past is not as storied as many, but today is operated by Ian MacLeod Distillers to produce single malts.
Glenrothes Single Cask (113.6 proof) (Speyside) (14 year)
Nose: A sherry bomb, with cooked and leather fruits (apple, berry; plum; grape, apricot); honey; leather; herbal/mint; tobacco; vanilla; caramel; some funky leather/oak dankness.
Palate: Rich and velvety; cooked fruits from the nose; juicy orange; caramel; vanilla; nuttiness; butter cream frosting.
Finish: Long. Leather; rich tobacco that weaves in and out of caramel and vanilla flavors; sherry; some smokey and metallic notes that hit on the back end.
Why: This is a single cask pick for Kansas by Standard Beverage. It can be picked up for around $55. I can’t think of much better value in whiskey right now.
Notes on Glenrothes: Known most prominately as a distillery that produces whisky used in Cutty Sark and The Famous Grouse, Glenrothes also makes single malt whiskies. Most bottles of Glenrothes are bottled by vintage and not by age statement.
Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 58 (122.2 proof) (Highland/Speyside) (NAS)
Nose: Brown butter; salted caramel; baking spice; vanilla; apple skins; salted chocolate; blackberry and raspberry; orange oils; pastry sweetness; leather.
Palate: Dried fruit medley (apples, black cherry; raspberries and blackberries); rye-like pepper spice; orange; baking spice; caramelized sugar; vanilla; salted chocolate. Incredibly rich, flavorful, and complex.
Finish: Long. Rich black cherry; dark chocolate; hints of salt and dried fruit throughout; sherry wood at the end.
Why: This is what most cask strength sherry cask Scotches are judged against. And this isn’t even the best batch.
Notes on Aberlour: See our previous reviews of Aberlour 13, 16 and the A’Bunadh.
Gentlemen devoted to the finest.