February 2007


I have been jotting down notes over the last few weeks since starting this blog, and a few of those have eventually turned into posts. In the same time the number of readers is slowly increasing.

I’d love to find out what you’d like to hear about here. Would you like more tasting notes? More discussions about the production of single malt scotch? Are my posts too long, or not long enough?

Please feel free to add comments so that I can gauge how well I am doing, and get a feel for what i should keep talking about.

Alternatively you can send me an email to whiskyblog@comcast.net

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More and more often now we are seeing whisky manufacturers take a more purist approach by avoiding chill filtering and colouring of their products. But what exactly are these processes, what is the reason for them and how does it affect the end product?

Firstly, lets talk about colouring. As the single malt whisky industry grew, its clientele began to expect a level of consistency between any two bottles of the same labeled product. One large area of inconsistency comes from the flavourings and colourings imparted by the cask used to mature the distilled malt whisky.

As I have mentioned in another post, the flavour aspect is controlled by the skillful blending of whiskys across casks and even ages from within the distillery. The colour tone can also be normalized in this manner, but more typically a standardized rich golden tone is provided with the addition of caramel for colouring.

Chill-filtering has an entirely different purpose. Say for example, you poured directly from a cask into a bottle. How would that be any different from a carefully blended and filtered single malt? First the whisky will contain small ‘chips’ and impurities from the inside of the cask (I’ve heard these referred to as coals). These are entirely harmless, but offputting to most consumers. These can be mostly removed using regular filtering (through a metallic filter mesh). The second difference is that the malt that is not chill-filtered will contain natural oils and proteins present from the distillation and also extracted from the cask. These oils can cause the whisky to become cloudy when chilled or mixed with water which is again offputting for the average consumer.

Chill-filtering is a process (created I think sometime in the early 20th century) whereby the liquid is chilled to around freezing point (0°C) . This causes the natural oils and proteins to clump, and once passed through a filter these elements can be more effectively removed. This process also removes the sediment and coals.

A purist typically does not care for unnatural additions to his single malt, and in fact would celebrate differences from one cask to the next. In fact, becoming familiar with how different a whisky can be between casks really does lend some knowledge to what factors do affect the final product in terms of flavour, colour, aroma and finish and to how important the cask maturation is.

The same purist would typically also not care for any extractions from the product, and the chill-filtering process does just that. Personally, I have no problem with a single malt clouding up with the addition of water, and instead celebrate the fact that the whisky almost certainly has flavour aspects and a texture that would have been very different had it been chill-filtered.

As I mentioned, more and more single malts now label the fact that they are unchill-filtered or colour free. Custom bottlings are rarely touched in this manner, and the Blackadder bottles I own contain a fair amount of the sediment talked about earlier. The Signatory collection have some great cask strength and virtually untouched malts. Most cask strength whiskys are probably non-chill filtered as well, for example the Aberlour A’bunadh.

Please feel free to post your feedback in the comments. I’d love to know if this helped anyone clear up some of the meaning behind the terms. 

I purchased this bottle (among a few others) while on a recent trip to San Francisco. If you are in Northern California this small store,The Whisky Shop , is well worth checking out and alongside the more regularly available single malts are a number of rare malts.

I settled on a Tobermory and a Signitory Vintage 10y.o. unchill-filtered Edradour, specifically Bottle 263 (of337) from case #229. This bottle is marked as being distilled on 23rd May 1995 and bottled 24th Feb 2006.

 

Being unchill-filtered this Edradour has a wonderful warm nutty brown colour do it. In fact the colour is rich and suprising given the lack of caramel or other additives to enhance the appearance.

The aroma is complex and satisfying, with florals and heather alongside a faint touch of orange and vanilla.

The flavour is very robust with a rich comforting warmth. I get caramel toffee and a faint chocolate forthe initial flavour, and the finish is medium with a gently receding warmth and ending with caramel and a hint of orange.

 

Overall I rate this Edradour quite highly, and is one of the favourites in my collection (although it is almost gone too). I would probably rate this as a 8.5/10 and is a very sophisticated and well rounded single malt.

Now that my cold is receding (after 5 horrible days), I can move onto my next tasting.

I first tried Laphroaig (pronounced laff-roig) Quarter Cask a few months ago after it appeared in the local liquor store here.
The term “quarter cask” refers to the fact that it is matured in a second smaller (quarter sized) cask after the original maturation in a regular oak cask. This adds an extra depth of flavour and aroma to an already fine malt.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask Image

One feature I particularly appreciate is that it is non-chill filtered, allowing the whisky to retain more of its real characteristics along with the natural oils that cause the whisky to cloud up slightly when water is added. Note that I recommend the addition of water for this particular single malt given the bottled alcohol strength of 48%.

1. First impressions: Appearance and aroma

The color of Laphroaig Quarter Cask is deeper from my recollection of the regular Laphroaig, which is to be expected given the additional cask maturation. The actual tone and color reminds me a lot of an apple cider, with a nice golden orange hue. The aroma is also quite ‘woody’ with a sweet and subtle peaty smokiness. There is also a hint of English christmas cake.

2. Taste and Finish

The palate is sophisticated, and the peaty flavour is much more subtle than from the nose. I get hints of anise and cloves, finishing very long and getting sweeter as the flavour diminishes.

3. Overall Impression

This is an excellent single malt. When I first started getting into single malts I really didn’t like Laphroaig, but over time as my taste became more varied I really appreciated the depth of flavour in this producers offerings. The Quarter Cask is no exception, and is probably once of my favourite Islay whiskys. I would rate it an 8 out of 10.

When talking about a Scottish Whisky (Scotch), there are two main categories of product – blends and single malts. The difference between the two is simple. A single malt is made entirely by distillations from a single producer at a single site, whereas a blend is created by mixing distillation from multiple producers.

Blends are typically also a mix of malt and grain whiskys (though there are exceptions), whereas a single malt is obviously only made from malt whiskys.

Blended whisky was first produced in the mid 1800’s, and the main goal is to produce a consistent marketable product. Typically the bulk of a blend is made up of grain whisky which is cheaper to produce, lending itself to a more cost effective product. The grain aspect is an unmalted cereal such as wheat or maize and it lends itself to a harsher flavour than whisky from malted grains. One thing to note is that over time, the availability of the base components of a blended whisky might become unavailable (either the distillery closes, or it decides to longer provide the malt whisky product to the blenders), causing quite a challenge to the blender. Good examples of popular blends are Bells, Grants, Teacher, Famous Grouse and Dewars.

Confusion can often arise when talking about a single malt. The term single actually refers to the fact that it is sourced from a single distiller and the end product is a crafted blend of malts of various ages. The goal here is to retain the character of the product while retaining as much consistency between batches as possible.

One important thing to note is that if a single malt is aged (for example, Aberlour has a single malt product aged at 10 years old), by law no whisky in the product can be younger than that age. Therefore a 10 year old might be a blend of 10 year olds, 12 year old, 16 year old and higher (each maybe from multiple hogsheads). The reason older products are used is often to give heightened character and sophistication to the younger product.

There are two more rare classes of product worthy of discussion – often referred to as single single malts, and single single single malts.

A single single malt denotes a malt whisky that comes from a single distillation from a single producer. It might still be a blend across hogsheads to obtain a level of consistency from batch to batch, but it typically gives a much better representation of the product you might obtain directly from a single cask.

More exclusive is what is sometimes referred to as single single single malt, although I prefer to refer to it as a direct bottling or whatever term is used by the bottler (such as Blackadder’s use if Raw Cask). This is a bottling from a specific barrel and the selection of this barrel is carefully considered in order to be representative of the distilleries regular product. Independent bottlers might also buy casks from a distiller and release such a product – an example of which would be the Blackadder products in my collection – although these products might be much more random in flavour as the barrels are rarely custom selected by the signitory or master distiller.

Given that the fewer components that are in a particular bottle usually means a more careful selection of those components, the best way to get a high quality product is to move up to single single malts, or the direct bottlings. Even here in New Hampshire there is a good selection available and as always it is worth looking out for new items at the liquor store or specialty spirit/whisky shop.

I had hoped to add a few more tasting notes this weekend, but have instead been stricken with a cold. Once my taste buds are back and my nose is unblocked, I’ll write up a few more notes.

I mentioned in a previous post that my collection contains two bottlings of Aberlour by Blackadder. Blackadder whiskys are special because the buy casks directly from the distilleries and literally pour them straight into a bottle. The resultant whisky specifies the actual barrel (hogshead) number along with the year of distillation and the year of the bottling.

Because Blackadder avoid the chill filtering process, and also do not blend various ages together for consistency (I’ll talk more about the reason for both of these processes in later posts) the resulting single malt is very inconsistent in terms of colour and flavour but yet has many spectacular characteristics of its own. Each bottle is essentially unique and a masterpiece in its own right, never to be repeated.

I originally got into the Blackadder bottlings around 7 or so years ago after moving to the US. As I was still making a number of flights back to England I was always finding myself in London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 awaiting Virgin Atlantic flight to Boston. Inside Terminal 3 there is a great specialty whisky store, making the wait that much easier. At around the same time I had read about the popularity increase of non-chill filtered single malts and wanted to try it for myself, which lead directly to a purchase of Blackadder Aberlour (Aberlour being my favourite distillery of the time).

As far as I know, that store was the only one in the UK to sell Blackadder bottlings, but shortly after my second purchase I was informed that they were no longer stocking the product. A bit of research showed that the majority of the product was being exported to Sweden of all places, making it a bit out of my reach. Over the last few years Blackadder have finally been extending their reach and at last they have announced an import deal with a US company.

I would encourage anyone that comes across Blackadder for sale to make the purchase. It is a little expensive (I paid a little over $200 per bottle if I remember correctly), but well worth it. Before adding water, the aroma amazingly seems ‘locked in’ to the liquid, but once diluted to a more palatable 35-40% the natural oils in the whisky start to become apparent and the aroma bursts out. The tongue feel is amazing, with a nice smooth and oily feel and a delectably long and smooth finish.

Regarding the two bottlings that I continue to eke out (by only drinking on extra special occasions), even though they are bottled from consecutive hogsheads they are very different in character. #3317 has a soft warm hue, and a smooth flavour with very nice and lengthy finish. #3318 is much lighter, almost clear, and yet has a very punchy flavour and a bright and potent aroma.

I’ll provide tasting notes next time a special occasion comes up. While you will probably not find the same bottling of the same hogshead, it should highlight how different each cask can really be.

More information at www.blackadder.com. Personally I cannot wait to try their Bruichladdich.

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