Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aberlour 10yr

stats: single malt scotch, Speyside, 86 proof, $34
I started to write the Glenfarclas 12yr post last week, and got half way through it when I had to close the laptop and head out to dinner with my parents who were visiting for a few days. I was suffering palate fatigue when I got home, and it was a few days before I got around to finishing up that post. But I had capped off that interruptive meal with a glass of 12yr Aberlour. And that got me thinking……Glenfarclas, Aberlour and Macallan are all very similar in style (originating in Speyside, little or no peating, and aged almost exclusively in Sherry casks)…..comparisons are in order. Ultimately, I’d like to do a triple three way comparison – the 12yr offering of each, the cask strength version of each, and Glenfarclas 17yr / Macalan 18yr / Aberlour 16yr (or Aberlour 18, if I can find one). That will take time and money, but in the meantime I do have a bottle of 10yr Aberlour lurking in the back row of the Scotch shelf, and that borrowed bottle of 12yr Glenfarclas hasn’t been returned yet. A few years ago the standard Aberlour lineup had a 10yr and a 15yr. The 10yr is still available but a little harder to find than the newer 12yr, and the 15yr has been replaced by a 16yr. There is also the above mentioned 18yr.

The night I started the post on the 12yr Glenfarclas (and comparing it to the 25yr), there was a gap of at least 2 hours before my post-meal 12yr Aberlour. Not quite a side-by-side tasting, but the Aberlour definitely stood out as being lighter and quite a bit fruitier.

The Aberlour 10yr and the Glenfarclas 12yr are almost identical in color. While the nose on the ‘farclas is heavy, thick and malty, the nose on the Aberlour is lighter and thinner (but not in a bad way), and a bit minty. On the palate, the Aberlour is surprisingly a little fiery with warming spice notes (mint, cinnamon, etc). There is a fruit element there, but it stays in the background relative to the spiciness. The finish of the Aberlour is quite long with the spice notes slowly tapering off. The Glenfarclas is quite malty out of the gate then meanders into a bit of spiciness, with hints of fruit showing through late in the finish. The 10yr Aberlour is not nearly as fruit forward as I remember the 12yr Aberlour to be. While I do find this to be an enjoyable malt, I would give a slight edge to the 12yr offerings from Aberlour and Glenfarclas.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Glenfarclas 12yr

stats: single malt scotch, Speyside, 86 proof, $36

After writing about the 25yr Glenfarclas, I was fortunate enough to have a friend offer to loan me her bottle of 12yr Glenfarclas (in exchange for a wee taste of the 25yr, of course). I've tasted the 12yr before and was quite fond of it, but that was at least a year ago. A direct comparison is definitely in order. A few weeks ago, I mentioned recalling that there was very little difference between 12yr Chivas Regal and 18yr Chivas Regal, I'm quite curious to see if that is the case here. 

The nose on the 12yr is pronounced and dense with a sweet, malty, biscuit-like quality. On the palate it has great structure - plenty of backbone for its proof. It is fairly viscous, with a sweet, malty core which is nicely tempered by the spicy oak notes. Across their age range, Glenfarclas whiskies are aged almost exclusively in Sherry barrels. The Sherry influence is there, but does not dominate. Rather, it adds another layer to the balanced complexity. The finish is long and warming. It actually seems somewhat similar to the 12yr Chivas that I'm so fond of.

When comparing the 12yr and the 25yr, it is obvious they are cut from the same mold. However, there are some not-so-subtle differences. The color is almost identical between the two. The nose is similar, but the 12yr smells richer, with a more obvious butterscotch-like sweetness. On the palate, that sweetness becomes the biggest difference. The 25yr is much drier up front, but they both give way to a long, spicy finish. I would describe the 12yr as bold and youthful (in a good way) and the 25yr as more elegant and refined.

These are both great whiskies. If I were to score them on a 100 point scale (something I don't really feel I'm qualified to do), they would likely be within a few points of each other. Each is a great value for the age statement it carries. If you are new to Glenfarclas or looking for a great single malt at a very reasonable price, I would go for the 12yr. If you are enamored with the brand and want to explore it further, or if you want to experience an older Scotch without breaking the bank, the 25yr is well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jim Beam: White label VS. Black label

stats: Jim Beam Original (white label), Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 80 proof, $15
         Jim Beam Black, Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 86 proof, $20
The standard Jim Beam Original makes the bold claim of being “The world’s finest Bourbon” on the label of every bottle. I’m willing to give any whiskey a fair shake, but I’ll have to disagree with that statement right off the bat. I guess I can’t call them liars though; it’s not really a quantifiable statement, more like one man’s opinion. It also seems to create a marketing conundrum - where does that leave the more expensive, higher proof, longer aged Black label? Not quite as good as the everyday stuff? Jim Beam is, however, the best selling brand of Bourbon in the world. That statement is true and quantifiable, and that makes me think it is worthwhile to compare these two examples and see what makes the 800 lb gorilla tick.

The White label has a fairly pleasant, thought slightly medicinal nose. On the palate, it’s a little hot – not a huge burn at 80 proof, but there’s not quite enough flavor there to back up the alcohol. There are some decent flavors hiding inside (along the caramel-vanilla-spice range), but the unimpressive medicinal note that I picked up in the nose becomes more predominant on the palate. The finish is reasonably long, but it’s hard to get excited about that when the flavor profile is nothing to write home about. Overall, I don’t hate it, nor do I love it. The word mediocrity keeps popping into my head. I’d use it for mixed drinks, but I think there are better Bourbons for drinking straight in the same price range.

The Jim Beam Black is aged twice as long and bottled at a slightly higher proof (86 vs. 80). On the nose it comes across a little more woody with notes of leather, and with a bit more intensity. On the palate it is more flavorful up front, fading into a pleasant tingle on the tongue as it drifts into the finish. I pick up subtle floral notes, but they could be the flavors that came across as medicinal in the White label, only suppressed a bit by the stronger oak and spice flavors present in the Black label. Overall this is more well-rounded and civilized than the White label. While it is a step up in quality and worthy of drinking neat, there are definitely other Bourbons in its price range that I would reach for first.