Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Cask Strength

Sweet! individually hand-wrapped

Sweet! individually hand-wrapped

My first cask-strength whisky that I bought and I drank. Cask-strength whiskies are a different monster altogether. Most cask-strength whiskies are bottled over 50% abv and the Glenlivet Nadurra 16 is no exception.

I remembered asking my friend to help me get it at Changi DFS on his way back from a trip a year ago. It was quite value for money(around $70+ at that time) and I was looking for a higher abv whisky because I was curious to whether it would just kill my taste buds or might it actually taste good.

I revisited this whisky today after a few months break and I’m glad to say that it still packed a punch similar to when I had my very first sip.

Aged 16 years in first-fill ex-bourbon cask and bottled at natural cask strength, meaning no water was added to the whisky to dilute it, the Nadurra (natural in Gaelic) is truly a taste to behold. My bottle was also peppered with little snippets of information such as Batch No. 0712U, bottled at 55.5% abv on 07/12. Apart from the decent packaging, the whisky bottle itself came hand-wrapped in a nice waxed-paper with the George & J.G.Smith Logo.

It is also non-chill filtered, allowing the whisky to retain a fuller body and richer texture by retaining more natural oils from the casks. Normally, whiskies are chill-filtered to prevent them from turning cloudy under low temperatures or when ice is added. Should you want to experiment, place a small glass of Nadurra in the fridge and you will see what I mean.

Now for the tasting.

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Colour: Rich golden honey

Nose: The first whiff brings a distinctive note of oak and vanilla that is reminiscence of bourbon. Really sweet and strong alcohol. Follows with a floral and nutty aroma with a slight hint of apples.

Palate: Upfront vanilla and butterscotch, really chewy and luscious if that can be a word to describe whisky. Moves on to a malty-cereal backbone and finally a burst of tangy green fruits. Pears and green apples.

Finish: Long long finish, at first bitter almond, oak and strong hazelnut. After 3 minutes, the bitterness dissipated and eased onto macadamia, especially when I moved my tongue around my mouth (not kidding here). At the 5 minute mark, something odd. I started tasting raisins.

A truly exceptional dram, unforgettable. If this has to be your first cask-strength whisky, I’d say go for it, all out. The Nadurra is also bottled at a lower 48% abv and sold at Changi DFS for those who prefer something lighter. But why bother when the real deal is right here.

Cheers!

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Whisky 101:Great Whisky Regions of Scotland

Terroir.

 A set of special characteristics which whisky, wine or perhaps any agricultural product has that is affected by the climate, geography and geology of the land. I want to share with you the amazing terroir of Scotland and the variety of whisky that comes from this little part of the world. But first, a little back story…..

When I first started my whisky journey, my goal was to wean myself away from the relatively more expensive craft beer drinking sessions that my friends and I had weekly. As I trawled online for a place to purchase a decently priced single-malt whisky, I stumbled on Drinksfellas and I remembered that they had a monthly promotion for the Tullibardine Single Highland Malt 1993 Sherry finish which I purchased for a sick price of 54 bucks (sorry guys, last I checked it was $115). It was a different experience altogether, when compared with the usual Chivas that I normally drank. But one thing that struck me was the label on the bottle ‘Single Highland Malt’. What does that mean?

Tullibardine 1993 Single highland malt sherry wood

   In case you were wondering how it looked

As I went online to further my research, I discovered that whisky too has its own terroir and that the Highlands was one of the main regions in which scotch whisky is categorised under. The Highlands run through the entire central and northerly area of Scotland and comprises of many distilleries scattered throughout. One of the most ubiquitous single malts that you can find stocked in almost all bar shelves is the Glenmorangie which also comes from the Highlands.

Whisky Regions

  The six regions of Scotland, arbitrary of course

Like the Dalwhinnie 15 which is a Diageo classic Highland malt that my Kaki, Chris has written about here. The Scottish Highlands is such a diverse and large region that it is difficult to pin-point an exact characteristic that could be applied to all the distilleries in this region.

For example, Royal Lochnagar, a fruity and floral whisky similar to a Lowland malt, but when compared to a Dalmore, it is a different beast altogether. The Dalmore has a thicker and more full-bodied taste, combined with dark fruits and sherry notes.

A very vague and general rule of thumb is that one can a expect a much fuller body to their whisky when compared with the other regions.

Now before I continue with the other regions in Scotland, I would first like to put up a disclaimer. The separation Scotland into six different whisky regions that I chose is purely arbitrary. Other whisky organisations such as the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) only list five regions and others might include only four regions.

I chose this six regions as there are more things to share about how the difference in climate and geology has on the whisky. As far as I’m concerned, its like drawing borders on a map. In reality, the regions in Scotland are neither separated by man-made fences or walls.

The five regions of Scotland, according to the SWA

     The five regions of Scotland, according to the SWA

On to the next region, Speyside.

The Speyside region is actually part of the Highlands as you can see from the map above. However, there is a reason why Speyside is deserving of a region on its own.

Distilleries congregate along the banks of the River Spey

Distilleries congregate along the banks of the River Spey

As you can see, Speyside really has A LOT of distilleries and. And most of them are built around the ‘sides’ of the River Spey which might be how Speyside got its name. In fact, of the hundred or so distilleries still operating in Scotland, about half of them can be located in Speyside.

The distilleries around the River Spey are famous for producing excellent whiskies. Whisky powerhouses such as Macallan and Glenfarclas are built nearby to harness the excellent waters the river provides.

The Speyside region encompasses so many differing styles and distilleries that once again, geographical distinction is not as important as the distillery itself .

Generally, the whisky produced in the area tend to be of a sweeter dram, lacking in or totally devoid of peat and smoky flavours.

One of my favourite value-for-money drams is the Glenfarclas 105 cask-stength whisky bottled at 60% abv and can be bought at Changi Dfs.  My Kaki Chris abhors it though because he thinks cask strength sherry monster is too strong.

Lowlands single-malt distilleries in green

 Lowlands single-malt distilleries in green

The next up is the Lowlands.

The Lowlands is the region of Scotland closest to England. Currently, the Lowlands only has six operating distilleries in this whole massive region with Bladnoch, Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie leading the pack. (The other three distilleries opened only after the 2000s).

Traditionally, Lowland whiskies are usually distilled thrice(similar to Irish whiskies) compared to double distillation which most other whiskies undergo.

This means that much more trace impurities are removed from the final white spirit leaving a purer distillate that takes on a heavier character from the casks that it was matured in.

Islay, totally surrounded by the Scottish waters

Islay, totally surrounded by the Scottish waters

I’m going to introduce you the region has to be my favourite of the lot. Islay. Pronounced as eye-luh.

Personally, I’m a person who like big, bold and brash flavours. I love my Laksa, I love my stouts and I sure love my chilis. For me, Islay whiskies is a representation of all that, powerful peat, very bold and brash.

If you haven’t known what peat was, peat is the decayed plant and animal matter found in swamps and bogs that have been compressed over thousands of years.

Peat was traditionally used for fuel in Scotland and if you were wondering, much of our haze that Singapore receives are a result of peat fires in Indonesia that could burn on almost indefinitely.

Men hard at work cutting peat

Men hard at work cutting peat bricks

However, when peat is added to the fire when drying the germinated barley or malt, it imparts a smoky aroma that is often a love it or hate it feeling.

I have friends who told me that Islay’s peaty whiskies remind them of the traditional black Chinese medicine drink (not Luo Han Guo but the really bitter stuff), and I also have friends who tell me that it reminds them of eating Lay’s BBQ. I’m guessing that its hard to really explain what the taste is.

If you’re really hardcore and like the fresh hazy air every September when half of Indonesia catches fire, go for the Ardbeg 10($80.70) at Changi DFS which is one of my daily drams.

If you prefer something more balanced with hints of acidity and sweetness, something that could perhaps pass off as liquid Lay’s BBQ, I’d say go for the Lagavulin 16($74++) at Changi DFS which is also one of Diageo’s Classic Malts.

island distillery

  From the north to the south, the island distilleries are scattered throughout

The Island whiskies.

Located off the western coastline of Scotland, this regions is often subsumed under the Highlands. But for the sake of diversity, I shall go into a brief introduction of this region.

There are six main islands in this region of which seven distilleries are located. Of the big names you should know, it might come as a surprise that the Highland Park you often see at DFS is located on the Isle of Orkney and not actually in the Highland mainland itself.

The other big names are Talisker, located on the Isle of Skye which produces a salty, smokier dram. As the Islands are scattered as it is diverse, characteristics also run the gamut from the heathery-sweetness of Highland Park, fruity-citrusy drams of Tobermory to the pepper-peat of Talisker whiskies.

All that said, whiskies from this region do exhibit a slight maritime influence, being especially close to the sea. On a side note, Chris started his journey with a Highland Park 12 (2001) from Changi DFS which I find to be a wonderful whisky for starters. We would love to do a review for it but Chris’s current bottling has gone stale and is sadly, relegated to cocktail duties.

campbeltown

 Once there was thirty, now there are three

Lastly, Campbeltown.

Formerly known as the whisky capital world, there were about 30 distilleries operating during the boom years of the whisky industry back in the 19th century. Sadly, it’s a shadow of its former self with only three operating distilleries, namely Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.

It just goes to show how fads come and go, even if its 200 years ago. The famous Springbank distillery is also one of the few distiller that produces three brands of whisky with its own character – The triple distilled Hazelburn, peaty Longrow and the namesake Springbank.

In conclusion, it can be said terroir is important in determining what profiles will be imparted to the whisky due to the soil, sea, peat and air which surrounds the various distilleries. However, terroir is not an is all end all, it is just one of the various factors which come into play.

More importantly, many of this distilleries are owned by large drinks conglomerate who want to show diversity in their portfolio regardless of regions. One should not be surprised to see slighty peaty drams coming from Speyside or perhaps a non-peated version of Islay whisky.

Across the globe, the whisky trend is reaching new heights and we can see whisky distilleries from Tasmania to Japan and India all producing a style of whisky so unique to the culture of the people, so adapted to the climate and so different from the scotch that we drink. It challenges us to define what truly is whisky and whether any good can come from this whiskies outside Scotland.

Dive in with an open mind, the rewards are greater than you think.

Cheer!

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie_Blue_Sean

This as you can see right here, is the iconic Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the 4.5L cannon version. However, what we tried today isn’t current. This version of the JW Blue is quite old, but it is still very, very good. The JW Blue Label is the premium, top-of-the-line offering by Johnnie Walker, however it is a NAS. (No age statement)

A little bit about NAS. Quite controversial as traditionally, scotch is sold according to how old is. Example being the 12, 15, 18 and 21. But, that does not mean all NAS whiskies are bad. NAS whiskies allows the master blender more freedom to achieve consistency and quality in order to get the same product every single time a la Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Sometimes, it can be even better than the equivalent 12 or 15. (Hakushu Master Distiller’s Edition is better than 12, my personal opinion) . However, do be cautious as nowadays many distilleries are churning out NAS whiskies to sell more as they do not have stock to keep up with the demand of their traditional age statement whiskies thus not all are as great and consistent as the venerable Blue Label.

Johnnie Walker claims their Blue Label is the smoothest blended whisky ever made. Using a recipe dating back to the 19th Century and utilizing rare casks from distilleries, current and past (only 1 in 10000 casks makes the cut). We should find out if it really is the legend of a whisky (blended).

Credits to my friend, Benedict who supplied this bottle while at his place. Do admire the collection behind this bottle, for there are numerous cognacs and whiskies which I will hopefully get to drink someday. Sigh, my first world problems.

Now, to the tasting!

Appearance: Golden amber liquid. Oily, thick and viscous. Coats the glass thoroughly.

Nose: Huge initial burst of vanilla, oak and some smoke. Creamy and Buttery. Wild Floral Honey and Orange Marmalade. A final touch of smokey peat and it ends.

Mouth: Smooth. Very smooth. I can imagine why people would down this willingly in the club. Can I fault it for being too smooth? Honey followed by light floral undertones, and a slight sherried sweetness. A touch of chewy toffee and raisins. Eases subtlety to reveal an enjoyable smoke and peat background. Conceived with balance and executed perfectly.

TL:DR, A really really smooth and very enjoyable whisky. The focus of it is still on the smoothness and drink-ability. Not the complexity or layers of flavors, but it has enough to keep you more than satisfied. A 85/100 because of how it is simply enjoyable. No fuss at all. Price-wise, you’ll have to decide for yourself, a decent 1.0L bottle goes for $237 in Changi DFS.

Cheers!

Dalwhinnie 15

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The Dalwhinnie 15. Dalwhinnie distillery has the highest elevation of any distillery in Scotland. Situated 354m above sea level in an area where the average temperature does not pass 16 C and -2 C. It is owned by beverage giant, Diageo and marketed as part of the Classic Malts range. It is known as the Gentle Dram and rightfully so. A Highland malt with a Lowland personality and a touch of Islay. It uses the local spring water during the making of the whisky but does not process its own malt.

I bought this in Changi DFS back from my trip to Bali for a whooping SGD$91.40. I had a hard time choosing between Dalwhinnie 15 and the Scapa 16. The Scapa and Oban, in its slick looking hard tin packaging was right there staring me in the eye to buy it back rather than the Dalwhinnie 15 in its cruddy old box. The box still disturbs me to this day when I hold it and goes soft and flaplike a cardboard box in the monsoon season. When I returned home, I downed a glass of my sad, sad purchase alongside a Stella Artois before crashing in for the night. Luckily, it did not turn out to be as bad as I’d imagined when I revisited it again with Jo. Though the box…that box… Let’s move on.

I personally prefer Lowland malts as they bring a crisp and refreshing palate. Most of the common aromas associated with the Lowlands are fresh cut grass, meadows of heather or flowers and fruit orchards. The sweetness is something else. Not so cloyingly sweet as a sherry-cask matured whisky but good enough to satisfy the sweet tooth, somewhat like the honey aloe-vera liang-teh . Its like stepping into the countryside without the travelling and getting to sample all the fine fruits in the orchards. Another really good example is the Glenkinichie 12 which I will touch upon another day.

Now, to the tasting!

Appearance: Light Golden, similar to Hay. Quite thick and clings but returns quickly.

Nose: Mainly Honey, a Tinge of Oak, Very Aromatic and Creamy. Heather is very prominent. Floods your senses with them fruity smelling benzenes. Reveals raisins, nectarines and apricots. Some custard, caramel and ends with some smoke.

Mouth: Long initial. Creamy Honey and Heather. Like drinking thick nectar with a nutty touch of hazelnuts or walnuts.  Moves quickly to the fruits ( I am guessing nectarines and apricots), vanilla and a spicy touch of cardamoms. Ends long in smoke, heather and some spice.

TL:DR, A fine whisky. To me, this is an 8.5/10. Sweet and approachable. Does not rush you and ends well. A whisky for Lowland lovers who likes the occasional peat and an excellent introductory single-malt to people used to drinking only blends. You should buy this if you want to experience a Highland malt with a Lowland character that comes with enough peat to keep you satisfied.

Cheers!

Whisky 101:What is whisky/whiskey?

In our first blog post, Chris and I would like to first explore the world of whisky/whiskey with our Kakis. But before we delve into that, please bear with us as we tell you our back-story. For the few twenty or so years of our lives, we only knew whisky encompassed Chivas and Johnnie Walker. Vodka was the staple when we were younger as it was cheap, easy to get and very easy to mix with other beverages.

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Ahhhh, yes! A bottle of good ol’ Johnnie hits the spot

One day, we decided that enough was enough, it was like eating the same economical beehoon for the past twenty years, some how or another, something has gotta give. We then went online to find out more about what whisky was and we were amazed by how much we were missing out on. And thus everything else was history.

the-sword-in-the-stone

Kinda like how this guy felt

What then is whisky/whiskey? And why the difference in the spelling? Whisky(ey) however it is spelled is basically a distilled spirit. There is a whole long process on how grains such as barley, wheat, corn or whatever is turned into the magically intoxicating stuff that we consume but that’s for another day. I’ll distill (pun intended) how this process takes place- 1) water + grain + cooking = wort (kinda like porridge) 2) wort + yeast + fermentation = weak alcoholic gunk / beer 3) weak alcoholic gunk + distillation = strong white spirit / moonshine 4) strong white spirit + barrels + time = magical brown liquid / whisky

Kinda cheem if you ask me, but heck! A picture is worth a thousand words!

Kinda cheem if you ask me, but heck! A picture is worth a thousand words!

In the past, the brown stuff that we now come to love was called “Uisge Beatha” or water of life by the Scots and Irish. Legend has it that the first drop of whisky was produced by monks who then spread it around the British Isles when they became missionaries. Scotch or scotch whisky is rightly named so because whisky making and drinking has long been associated with the Scottish people.

Take me to church

The monks sure know their stuff

Now, about the spelling. Whisky and whiskey are just about the same brown stuff people drink. The Scots, Canadians and Japanese prefer whisky without the “e” in the middle while the Americans and Irish stick to their ee’s. But besides the spelling, you might have heard about the terms, “blended” and “Single-malts” when used with whisky. Single-malts are whisky which only come from a single distillery in Scotland that uses only malt (germinated barley) in making their whisky. Much like how some wine are labelled as single-estate, similarly you can be sure that a single-malt whisky comes ONLY from that particular distillery made using ONLY pure malt. Of the single-malt whiskies that most Singaporeans should know, Macallan and Glenfiddich should be most familiar to everyone.

rasams-restaurant-sunnyvale-ic-lounge-amrut_indian_malt_whisky

The famous Indian distillery from Bangalore, Amrut

Blended whisky on the other hand are like a Pandora’s box. Blends like Chivas and Johnnie Walker may contain 50 or more different whiskies from different distilleries which you will never know. Also, a high proportion of that blend will come from grain whiskies which are not made from barley but instead come from wheat, corn, rye and many others. That is not to say a blended product is inferior to a single-malt. In fact, blending is an art as the master blender must be really skilled to take 50 different components and marry them to produce a consistent product every single time.

RoyalSalute62_2

You’ll never fail to find this at Changi DFS

Then there are also “blended malt whisky” or “vatted malts” which involves blending different single-malt whiskies without the addition of any grain whisky. If you come across “pure malts” like Nikka Taketsuru, Johnnie Walker Green Label and Monkey Shoulder, these whiskies are also considered blended malt or vatted malt whiskies.

Did you know? Johnnie Walker Green Label is a  blended malt

Did you know? Johnnie Walker Green Label is a blended malt

With that in mind, the next time someone hands you a bottle of whisky, I’m sure you’d be able to read the label and tell him/her exactly what kind of whisky it is. I hope you have enjoyed reading our first post. Keep on drinking. Cheers!