Feb 162015
 

This post completes the current Aultmore trilogy, as the future holds a release of a 30 and a 35 year old expressions. To this point, we have explored the Aultmore 12 (and loved it), and the travel retail exclusive 21 year old (and was less than blown away), which brings us to the 25 year old.

Photo Credit: GEOGRAPH.ORG.UK

Photo Credit: GEOGRAPH.ORG.UK

The distillrey was established by Alexander Edward (owner of the Benrinnes, Craigellachie and Oban distilleries) in 1897, just in time for the big whisky bust years, and being partially owned by the Pattison brothers, it promptly closed until 1904, then stopped production during World War I due to barley shortages. The distillery didn’t really make it back on its feet until its 1923 purchase by Dewar’s, bringing it into the DCL fold in 1925.

In 1971 Aultmore was expanded and capacity doubled with the installation of 2 new stills, currently producing at full capacity making 3,000,000 litres of spirit per year, the vast majority of it going into Dewar’s blends. There were only three official bottling: A Flora and Fauna 12 released in 1991, a Rare Malt Selection 21 year old cask strength release in 1996 and an official 12 year old released in 2004 that just disappeared off the markets at some point (some digging brought up this picture).

The current release of a full core range is part of Bacardi’s very recent push into the single malt market with the “Last Great Malts” series bottling full core ranges from the Dewar’s distillery portfolio. Craigellachie came out in 2014 with a 13, 17, 19, 23 and 31 year old series, Aultmore with a 12, 21, 25 and in the future adding a 30 and 35 year old with Royal Brackla and Macduff (The Deveron) to the offerings in 2015.

There is one issue with this series which I have addressed in my review of the Craigellachie 23 – pricing. Bar none, this series was priced at the very top of their age classes (with the Craigellachie 23 even overreaching the class), and the Aultmore isn’t different. The 25 year old is priced at £296, compared to Glenfarclas’ £117, Glenlivet’s £199, Glengoyne’s £235 and Bunnahabhain’s XXV at £218, all of whom are better whiskys (in this writer’s humble opinion and with any other applicable disclaimer inserted here 🙂 ).

Photo Credit: whiskyshop.com

Photo Credit: whiskyshop.com

Aultmore 25 Year Old (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, thin legs with liquid residue left on glass.

Nose: Deep clean honey, floral notes, dusty spices and a hint of that clean coal fire I detected in the 21 year old. There’s citrus, but less lemony than the 21 and some orange showing up in the sweetness.

Palate: Sweetness first as it runs on the tongue, then the spices hit followed by the very zesty citrus. A mature freshness is to be found in this bottle, with a full bodied yet light mouth feel.

Linger: Honey, light bitterness, a lingering sweetness with spice in the back of the throat. After some time, the very long finish produces green apples once the spices abate. This expression has an excellent finish!

Conclusion

Putting the price issue aside, the extra four years deliver a dram which has matured into a more interesting dram than the 21, and has a little more of what made the 12 a great tipple in it. Nevertheless, I like the 12 better, so I won’t even go into the value for money aspect, which is self evident.

 

Feb 142015
 

This is a milestone post for Malt and Oak, as today’s post is our 200th. I did a year in numbers post on December 31st, so I’ll spare you the numbers recap, but will take this opportunity to thank you for your readership, feedback and engagement!!

Photo Credit: almightydad.com/

Photo Credit: almightydad.com/

On to the whisky now….I’m tasting the new Bacardi “Last Great Malts” Aultmore releases. My (very positive) review of the 12 year old appeared within the series on entry level malts, and can be found here. Having completed that series, I’ll explore the other two Aultmore expressions, the travel retail 21 year old and the 25 year old, with a 30 and 35 year old expressions planned for the future.

Photo Credit: whisky-discovery.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: whisky-discovery.blogspot.com

Like the Craigellachie expressions, the official bottlings are ex bourbon cask matured. On the one hand, this allows the spirit to really shine through, on the other hand, with the younger Craigellachie expression, this choice was to the detriment of the whisky. With Aultmore it isn’t, and the 12 year old is actually a wonderfully complex and fresh whisky, and one that will make its way to my own cabinet. And here’s where the 21 year old came up short: On the one hand, it lacks the endearing freshness of the 12, and on the other hand, it has not truly developed a character of its own. I haven’t yet had the 25 (I’ll get to it over the weekend), so I can’t make the comparison to it yet, but the 12 year old is the better of the two, and if you factor in value for money considerations, is a walkaway winner.

Aultmore 21 Year Old, Batch 107 (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, slow forming slim legs.

Nose: Honey, light spices, wet moss, a sour note, lemon (but not a clean lemon scent), lightly vegetal note and a curious coal fire note. A few drops of water tease out more of the toasted/coal scent.

Palate: Lemony citrus, dusty spice, some sweetness and then a light note of bitter citrus comes through.

Linger: Sweet lemon, very spicy in the back of the throat and a tartness on the inside of the cheeks. A sensation remains in the mouth for a while (a warmness and a tartness) but almost no discernible flavors.

Conclusion

On the one hand, the 21 lacks the delightful freshness of the 12 and on the other hand has not developed any type of gravitas from being older. So in one word, this is a disappointment. It also explains why there’s not 15 or 18 year old in the range – there’s simply nothing going on there…

I don’t know how much it costs, but given the pricing the 12 year old and the Craigellachie range, it’s surely priced well beyond its value.

 

 

 

 

Jan 292015
 

As I mentioned in my reviews of the Craigellachie releases of the “Last Great Malts” series (you can see the reviews of the 13, 17, 19 and 23 here), Bacardi decided to take the Dewar’s malt distilleries to market. Craigellachie was first, with ex bourbon cask releases, and if you’re thinking of the Craigellachie 13 as another entry level expression, stop right there! It’s not! The Craigellachie 13 is for much more experienced palates than any of the other entry level expressions. The second series released it the Aultmore with three expressions (the 12, 21 for travel retail and the 25 with a 30 year old planned for a later stage), with Macduff (AKA The Deveron) and Royal Brackla to follow later this year.

Photo Credit: potstill.org

Photo Credit: potstill.org

Unlike the Craigellachie, the Aultmore 12 is a definitely a good entry level whisky, and is suitable both for new and experienced palates alike. I will say, as I have about the Craigellachie, that having it in an ex bourbon cask is very different than most of the independent expressions that were prevalent until the official bottling (many of you probably remember the Aultmore XO story), and it’s a nice experience. I do have samples of the Aultmore 21 and 25, and will get those reviews (with more information about the distillery and Bacardi’s marketing strategy) up right after the series on entry level expressions runs its course.

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Aultmore 12 (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale straw, thin and slow legs.

Nose: Honey, vanilla, green leaves, lemon, annona fruit. There’s an underlying dusty sweetness with a fresh note I haven’t come across too often. Time in a covered glass brings out a touch of sourness on the nose which dissipates quickly.

Palate: Sweet honey and a light pepperyness that teases the center of the tongue with a fizz like tickle.

Linger: Sweet on the tongue, bitter on the sides and spicy in the throat in an extremely long and satisfying linger.

Conclusion

This is one of the better 12 year olds on the market today, fully on par to compete with the Bunnahabhain 12 for the top spot in the sixth grade!! No doubt, this bottle will be migrating into my whisky cabinet in my next order.

I am a little concerned with the pricing point chosen for it by Bacardi in the UK (£42-£54). The corrcet pricing reference is, as I said, the Bunnahabhain 12 (~£35), but can be found in The Netherlands for €42.

Sep 182014
 

Two things I really like came together one afternoon this summer: I love Aultmore whisky (seriously, I adore this distillery), and I highly respect the Laing independent bottlers (Both Douglas Laing with Director’s cut, Old Particular, Provenance and the blends and Hunter Laing with Old Malt Cask, Old and Rare and Douglas of Drumlanrig) and both came, for the first time ever, to the Ben Gurion International Airport duty free shop. This was ground zero for a whisky exclusive launch. Both Laings launched TLV exclusive botllings for sale at Israel’s main (and only) inernational airport, and Fred Laing even flew in for the launch. This should have been a very happy occasion, yet it caused an uproar I’m sure fully intened. Things got NASty, but not in the way you think.

The uproar started with the presentation of a single malt Douglas Laing Old Particular expression designated “Aultmore XO”, raising fears that Cognac designations are on their way into the whisky world, intended to obscure the NAS nature eluding to the minimum 6 years of maturation for the XO designation in cognac.

Fred Laing at the TLV James RichardsonTravel Retail Stores

Fred Laing Launching the Aultmore XO at the TLV James Richardson Travel Retail Stores

Fred himself flew into TLV to launch the expressions, kilt waving in the muggy air, and a new era dawned on Israel as a whisky market. This is surprising, because for all it’s smallness, Israel has three internationally read English writing whisky bloggers (Gal Granov of Whisky Israel, Yoav Gelbfish of Whisky Gospel and yours truly of Malt and Oak). None of us were informed of the expressions or of the secretive launch, but this actually makes perfect sense if my supposition is right, and purposeful obscurity was the name of the game.

I approached the James Richardson customer service to get more information about this expression. I didn’t get any information, other than being told that it’s a special sherry cask hand picked by Fred Laing. At this point I posted a picture of the expression on Malt Maniacs & Friends on Facebook and all hell broke loose.

After much speculation in the facebook group, Fred joined the discussion and made the following statement:

Guys – I love your passion! This is an Israeli exclusive bottling and as the label states, this is a Single Cask bottling under our ‘Old Particular’ brand – one single sherry butt, non chill filtered and look at that natural colour! The “XO” was purely a play on words – in my opinion this is an “eXtraOutstanding” cask irrespective of age so we decided to have a little fun with it – we’re not trying to hide anything! It doesn’t carry an age statement – as is the case with many, many Malts – but I believe it is so good that I traveled to Tel Aviv specifically to launch this cask only a few weeks ago where it was very well received when sampled with consumers & the retail outlets team. As for the on-shelf pricing, this is set by the retailer… based on what they can achieve factoring in quality, quantities available etc etc…

Mark Gillespie, of the excellent and informative WhiskyCast podcast picked up the story and interviewed Cara Laing on this expression. Here’s the interview, and my thanks to Mark for allowing me to use the snippet:

 

So we can put the XO fears to rest. This isn’t Congac’s XO designations, and we’re not heading that way, thank the whisky gods. But I suspect this isn’t the story, and the uproar is both welcome and fully intended.

The expected response from the blogosphere was, of course, of a unanimous tone: NAS is the devil incarnate, and give us back our age statements. I think whisky geekdom felt it was betrayed by of one of its strongest bastions – independent bottlers in general and the Laing family in particular are the “protectors” of purity and quality against the big bad corporations getting all NASty (see Oliver Klimek’s post on his highly respected and influential Dramming blog and Yoav Gelbfish’s review on this expression).

Now the Douglas Laing Co. didn’t last 66 years in a tough business, building solid enough brands to thrive even through a corporate division into two separate businesses through bad marketing, stupid moves or alienating their customer base. Fred, Cara and the staff are highly intelligent business people who grew up breathing the whisky industry since they were in diapers (sorry, they were in nappies). This isn’t a mistake or a faux pas. Fred “sounds” too playful in his response and Cara sounds utterly amused in her interview to be doing real “damage control”.   NO! There is something else afoot.

I have no confirmation of my theory, but I’ll put them forth anyway.

Independent bottlers have a problem, which the big guys solved in a way that the IB’s can only envy. Some young whisky is really good, and it’s getting more prevalent as the science of making whisky and wood management techniques get better and better. If you’re careful (and smart), younger whisky can be sold, and not only to geeks who will go for a 6 year old peated Bunnahabhain because it’s interesting.

Speaking of whisky geeks, from peat heads to sherry bombers – how many of us whisky geeks are out there?

If the whisky industry is 92% blends, the other 8% are divided between maltheads (who read blogs like this one and vie to try a 6 year old Bunnahabhain just because it’s there) and people who buy single malts as gifts, or buy a Glenfiddich, Glenlivet or Macallan to drink because of brand recognition, not whisky connoisseurship.

How many maltheads are there in the world? Nobody really knows, but Malt Maniacs and Friends, Facebook’s largest malthead group, has less than 7000 members, and the some of the widely read blogs who’s numbers are known to me,  have 500-1000 entries a day (this blog’s busiest day saw 723 entries, and most popular post was read by 2,615 people. Other blogs peaked at yet more). We account for a fraction of single malt sales world wide, which makes us less than 1% of the whisky market overall. Obviously, for independent bottlers we’re a much larger market share, and still I doubt if we hit the 50% mark of their volume, simply by virtue of being out there in stores and now in travel retail. For years, that other 50% (or more) was sold to non maltheads looking for a nice gift or a nice bottle to drink – and these guys ARE NOT going to buy a 5 year old Aultmore, even if it’s good whisky. They just won’t!

Hence,  non age statement Whisky, and here is where it gets tricky for the indies. On the one hand, their brands are built on single casks with full disclosure (Old Particular being a prime example of this, with only age stated single barrel aged 14+ years in the range, until now) and one has to tread lightly so as to not damage existing brands. On the other hand, there are some really good products out there which can, if price and packaging is right, be very successful. Enter the “Aultmore XO”! For a 5 year old whisky, this thing’s a cracker. It has its flaws, but for its age, it’s very good. I can understand why D. Laing would want to get this on the market, and I can understand why they wouldn’t want to disclose the age. So what’s needed is a test market to test three issues:

1. Does it sell better than a similar cask that has an 5 year old age statment?

2. Will going NAS harm your brand in the eyes of the non-geeks?

3. Will going NAS harm your brand in the eyes of the geeks?

So, it’s easy. Take a really good but young cask, give it a name geeks CANNOT ignore (you don’t want this one flying under the radar), make it part of a brand you can always claim it never belonged in (like a 5 year old in the Old Particular range), release it in a market where nobody but the geeks ever heard of you, but in a place they can’t miss the small quantity you allocated for the test, make sure not to invite bloggers to the launch, price it so that they will have to cry foul, and see what happens and how sales to non geeks go. I suspect there’s an age stated 5 year old Aultmore from a sister cask in a similarly sized travel retail store somewhere in europe that “somehow” landed there at the same time with similar sales incentives for in store reps – to compare sales volume, or this data actually exists already from past expressions.

When the geeks cry foul and the you-know-what hits the fan, you say it was a play on words – a good spirited joke, we never intended to go Cognac-y on you (in fact, Fred used XO to designate a blended whisky some 35 years ago), it’s extraordinarily good and we had nothing to do with the pricing. Moreover, we don’t need the headache and grief so this will never happen again. No harm caused with the geeks, the brand is protected, but the viability (or not) of small scale NAS releases for young whiskys is proven, and a small company with some great young casks knows if developing a NAS brand for single cask releases (mainly for non geeks) is worth it.

So, it seems that everybody played their part to the tee, and I assume our Glaswegian friends got the market research they needed. Just don’t forget to deduct one bottle off your sales – the one Yoav Gelbfish and I bought. We did that to actually taste this bottle, so we can give the whisky geek community what we all really want – firsthand unobfuscated information about our water of life.

Douglas Laing Old Particular Aultmore XO – 450 Bottles (54.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, very slow legs and it leaves a full ring of drops around the top of the liquid level.

Nose: New make hits the nose, then dissipates for the most part, but from time to time rears up again. The sherry is strong in this one, as is the vanilla – which is quite unexpected, even if this sherry cask is American Oak. There are dried fruit, balsamic vinegar, old leather and gentle spice notes. After time in the glass, most of the new make disappears and a dry spice with sherry and vanilla take over. After yet more time dark chocolate liquor appears. Water doesn’t seem to have an effect on the nose.

Palate: Young bite on the front tip, new make and a lot of vanilla, spice (cloves and powdered cinnamon, pepper and cardamom).

Linger: This is where the XO really shines! Long and spicy in the back of the throat with chocolate on the tongue. The linger is glorious.

Conclusion

This is a very young whisky in an a cask of exceptional quality and vibrance. The cask almost masks the new make that is still very much part of the whisky, and while the nose and palate have the new make flaw – which is to be expected and can be enjoyed, the linger is absolutely glorious.

For a 5-6 year old whisky, this is an absolute gem and priced correctly, would make a great buy. However, this is a $50 bottle, and at that price, it would be a definite buy. At $113 (€87) you can get much better, less immature sherry bombs.

Looking into my crystal ball, I expect NAS bottlings of single casks to pop up here and there carrying wordsmithed names (but no more XO, VSOP and the likes – I think the market was pretty clear on that). You can expect them to be labeled one step above the label they actually belong in (just as the Aultmore XO should have been a Provenance Young and Vibrant, not an Old Particular), and priced according to the higher label. This reflects the limited, yet highly profitable, NAS no man’s land that independent bottles can carve out for themselves in today’s market.

Aug 292014
 

I previously wrote that the Bacardi’s Dewar’s corporation seemed to have little interest in the single malt market, thus leaving all of the group’s single malt distilleries (Aultmore, Craigellachie, Macduff, Aberfeldy and Royal Brackla) with no regularly sold core expressions except for Aberfeldy. While Aultmore was still owned by Guiness (before the formation of Diageo, which forced the sale of Dewar’s to Bacardi), an official Flora & Fauna expression was released, as was a Rare Malts Selection 21 year old in 1995. Under Bacardi, a 12 year old official bottling was released in 2004, which dissipated leaving no trace).

Photo Credit: whisky-guide.de

Photo Credit: whisky-guide.de

That has all changed now, as Bacardi detailed its plans to bottle core and limited expressions from all its single malt distilleries all of which will be fully age stated and be free of artificial coloring. The planned Aultmore releases will be non chill filtered and will include a 12 and and a 25 year old core expressions, as well as a 21 year old travel retail. Dewar’s will be exhibiting at The Whisky Show in London in October, and I hope to have tasting notes of these new expressions for you from the show.

In the meantime, I have this SMWS expression to review, and I’ll be posting a note about the most controversy stirring Aultmore XO by Douglas Laing. With no further ado, lets get to the majestically old and dignified Aultmore 24 at hand.

Aultmore 24 Year Old Single Cask – SMWS 73.61 – Distilled 31.5.1989 (57.2% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Copper with very slow forming, slow dripping thin legs. High alcohol and lots of flavor expected there.

Nose: Red sweet wine, white raisins, oak, touch of salt, dark brown sugar over oatmeal, nutmeg, clove and some cinnamon bark, toasting sugared nut mix. Water brings out some acerbic notes. The nose suggests an non first filled barrel.

Palate: Very spicy with lots of pepper, with sherry evidenced. Cloves and spice notes appear after a wave of sweetness subsides.

Linger: Very long with sweet sherry, spices – lots of clove and nutmeg – with cranberries and yet more sweet spices remaining forever.

Conclusion

There are some whiskies that just take sherry so well, and Aultmore is one of them. This sherried expression is a perfect example of the genre, and I hope the new expressions heading to the stores will be sherry matured as well.

I wish to thank Yoav of the Whisky Gospel blog for sharing this dram. Slainte!