This is a mystery whisky my friend Rich recently gave me with no name or any other details attached. The plan was that I would review it and send him my notes and he would then reveal where it’s from, how old it is, what kind of wood etc.. Neither he or I are interested in seeing if I can identify the distillery. That’s a mug’s game (and one that I have a terrible track record with for anything that’s not Bowmore). The exercise is really to see what I come up with without preconceptions of any kind. Well, I am excited to see what this is like and just how wrong my guesses about age etc. will be.
[I tasted this last night and sent Rich the notes below. He revealed the identity etc. this morning. I have asked Rich to write in to the comments below later and confirm that the notes I sent him have not been altered for publication.]
Nose: Honey and apricot and brine; maybe a little plum syrup. Maltiness mixed in with the fruit. With time there’s some citrus peel mixed in with the apricot and also some wood spice (nothing too obtrusive). The aromas concentrate quite intoxicatingly with time, with more dried tangerine peel emerging along with a bit of toffee; maybe a little banana too. With more time there’s a bit of pine resin as well but this goes away. The toffee gets stronger and there’s a buttery/caramel quality to it. Sherry aromas concentrate with time. I literally added only a drop of water and it doesn’t seem to bring out anything new.
Palate: Leads with the brine and then the apricot and citrus and just a hint of gunpowder. The mouthfeel is just a little bit too thin. On the second sip the wood is more present–but it’s polished wood, not tannic at all. The citrus gets more pronounced with subsequent sips but is in perfect balance with the wood. Okay, time to add a drop of water. With water there’s more wood but the citrus gets brighter too. On the whole, though, I prefer it without water.
Finish: Medium. Interplay between citrus and the wood which gets a little spicier. At the very end the pine resin pops up again. With the water the wood gets the upper hand on the citrus.
Comments: Okay, here is where I hang myself out to dry. I am going to say this is old–at least 25 years old and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a fair bit older. I am going to say that sherry is involved but that a significant fraction of it is refill sherry. I am going to guess based on the mouthfeel that this is below 50% abv. If someone were to hold a gun to my head I would guess that this is a Highland Park. My next guess is that it is a Speysider. And after that I will be willing to say that it is very likely a whisky from somewhere in Scotland.
Rating: 90 points. The palate was not quite up to the level of the nose and the finish was not terribly interesting.
So, what did it turn out to be and how far away was I with my guesses? Herewith the answers to those questions: Well, it’s certainly a whisky from somewhere in Scotland….Not a Highland Park, not a Speysider…this is the Glenmorangie Quarter Century.
So, I got the age right and was in the general ballpark with abv (this is 43%). I don’t think I was very far away with my cask speculation either. I was sure there was significant sherry influence but that something was mitigating it. I guessed therefore that it was a result of long maturation in refill sherry. Now, the Quarter Century is a vatting of whisky matured in American white oak, oloroso sherry and Burgundy casks. I think the interplay of the white oak and oloroso sherry is what sent me down the refill sherry path. And I think wine casks may have lent the textural “softening” that made me think that this could well be even older.
As expected, I whiffed completely on the distillery. But in a self-serving way I’ll say that I think Highland Park was a plausible guess for what I got from the whisky. As for the notes themselves, I am pleased to see that they map in general to Serge’s non-blind notes for this whisky (more for the first time he reviewed it than for the second where he emphasizes an oily mouthfeel that I did not get as well as a long finish). And we gave it the same score.
Thanks to Rich for the stimulating experience and for the opportunity to taste this very old and expensive Glenmorangie (the 18 yo is as high as I’d gone before). I look forward to doing this again very soon!
Glenmorangie Quarter Century (43%; vatting of American white oak, oloroso sherry and Burgundy casks; sample from a friend)
If only this cost a third of what it does.