The Norlan Whisky Glass – A Comparative Review

The day has finally come. After having backed the Norlan Whisky Glass on Kickstarter back in November 2015 (funded successfully in mid-December), the promised backer reward finally made it to my doorstep Monday afternoon. I wasted no time upon arriving home that evening in unpackaging and pouring myself (Jason as well as Jean) a few drams into the new glass as well as a more traditional Glencairn-styled whisky glass for comparison, in this case I used my daily drinker: a Single Malt Dianco glass. Not *intending* to do a full review until later in the week, I couldn’t help myself but to write down our notes and dig in to a proper review as we began the initial testing of the glassware.

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Unboxing

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Unboxing

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Unboxing

 

My initial impressions:

Comparison notes: For this comparison, I chose to sample Tualatin Valley Distilling’s Oregon Experimental Series American Whiskey, Project Cherry Wood Smoke, at 100.6 proof (sadly currently sold-out).IMG_2532

Nose

  • Norlan – Deeper caramel and stone fruit notes with a more delicate overall presence of slight, nearly imperceptible alcohol.
  • Traditional – Substantially punchy alcohol notes followed by aromas of grass, nougat, and bubble gum.Comparison note: The glassware absolutely has a dramatic impact on the nose of the whiskey, though I am not sure I can decide which I preferred. On one hand the more traditional style gave me a deeper sense of the higher proof of the whiskey as it sat in the glass, whereas the Norlan provided me more refined structure of the aromas without the more powerful impact of the alcohol bowling over the nose.

IMG_2537Palate

  • Norlan – Grassy forward then into a mellow stone fruit and mild hint of smoke, followed by soft butterscotch.
  • Traditional – Grassy forward then into a mellow stone fruit and mild hint of smoke, followed by soft butterscotch.

    Comparison note:
    Yup, same tasting notes for both glasses. We found no appreciable difference in the actual palate of the whiskey when sipped from either the Norlan or more traditional Single Malt Dianco glassware. Note, however, that our glasses remain on a side table as we sampled back and forth, where a more appreciable difference may have presented itself if the glassware were constantly help in the hand under differing usage scenarios.

Usage

  • Norlan – The thicker, more rounded lip of the glass removes the glass sensation from the lips and allows more focus on the flavour of the whiskey as presented. Jean found it more comfortable to sip from but also noted a less precise sip occurred in part due to the light weight of the glass regardless of quantity of fill. The external facets feel comfortable in the hand, though overall the glass has a very delicate presentation in feel.
  • Traditional – Far more substantial and weighty in the hand, lending to a familiar sip and control. The sharper edge of the glass lip becomes part of the overall tasting experience and slightly impacts the initial sharpness of the whiskey presented.

    Comparison note:
    This is going to come down to personal preference as far as usage. Many people tend to prefer more substance in their glassware than the Norlan would initially present. While I’d have no qualms about running my more traditional style through the dishwasher (side note, I don’t, but feel it could withstand such an undertaking) I don’t feel the Norlan would survive such treatment due to it’s overall sense of a very delicate nature.

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Conclusions:

This is a cool glass that any whisky/whiskey geek should have in their arsenal. Some may find it is the absolute perfect glass for them, but I have not yet come to that conclusion for myself. With the palate reflecting the same profile in both vessels, I’d recommend it as a worthwhile purchase for a whiskey nerd, but the average whiskey drinker may not find any discernable difference between the Norlan and traditional Glencairn-style Single Malt Dianco glassware. This would make for a fun gift for any whiskey drinker who takes their drams ‘neat’, so definitely recommended as a wonderful whiskey gift. For those expecting a dramatically different experience, however, you may not be as impressed as you were hoping to be. Sadly, the Norlan glass will remain on my shelves as a cool gadget novelty while I continue to imbibe using my Glencairn and traditional style glassware for daily drinking. I’m very please to have a set, but they won’t be replacing my current daily drinkers.

You can preorder your own here, if you missed out on the Kickstarter backing: http://www.norlanglass.com/norlan-glass/

 


Brenne French Single Malt Whisky Review

IMG_6531I’ll admit, when I first heard there was a new French whiskey on the market, I was skeptical. I’d had a French whiskey previously, and to say it was a challenge to my palate would be overly kind. But, the chatter around this newcomer to the industry had me cautiously optimistic, especially since it was brought to market by a person I now consider a friend, even though we’ve never met in person.

I met Allison Patel on twitter, as happens nowadays. We exchanged pleasantries via her @whiskygirls account and the @3drunkencelts accounts on twitter and G+, as well as through my own individual accounts as I retweeted her from time to time when I wasn’t logged in as the 3DC. True to the power of social media,  I was able to watch from a far as she worked in New York to launch her newest endeavor: Brenne French Single Malt Whisky

Imagine how cool it is to get in on the ground floor of a product coming to market like hers, watching it grown and starting to hear more and more people talk about it. Every little success she shared was a huge win and brings a smile and hope for the future. But alas, for the past 6+ months since its launch in October, I’d not procured a bottle of my own to taste. I’m sure you could imagine my shame in having to admit that point to Allison and then immediately rectifying such an issue.

I am happy to say now, I did in fact obtain a bottle last week and have had some time to sit with it and take down some tasting notes. As with every bottle we taste and review on the 3DC blog, we have not been paid nor received freebies in exchange for reviews, so what you get are indeed my own opinions without bias, as much as I can possibly muster. I’ve also integrated my wife Jean’s notes as well since we tasted simultaneously and talked through it together.

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Distiller/Bottler: Brenne French Single Malt Whisky Finished in Cognac Barrels

  • Bottling notes: 40% abv, no age statement. Aged in new Limousin oak barrels, then finished in Cognac barrels.
  • Nose: Immediate apricot coming from the cognac finish with a hint of green apple which quickly relents to malted milk balls and softer notes of chocolate  and cream.
  • Flavour: On the palate I got a heavy creamy mouth-feel which continued the malted milk ball notes and shifted to a milk duds note as the caramel from the barrels came in later. Almost reminiscent of a cream soda at points.
  • Finish: Continues with the caramel notes and into a lingering heat of alcohol with a balance of malted barley and a green raw chocolate note.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 2
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous Notes: A solid B+ score for personal taste here. I think that some more age may help reduce that lingering green note I get on the end, which would move this from a wonderful dram, to an exceptional A score. I was surprised by the depth of creamy chocolate notes, as I wasn’t expecting that richness from a cognac finish. Once my mind embraces the richness, I found it to be sweet enough for my preference, well balanced without being over powering or cloying.

So, yes, thankfully Brenne didn’t disappoint, and happily broke my preconceived notion of a French whiskey; it is indeed a truly enjoyable dram. Since it is rather new, I’m fairly certain most of you have not yet had opportunity to taste this dram. Now that I’ve finally picked up a bottle, I’m even more disappointed in myself for waiting so long; I should have bought a bottle back in October…

Don’t be like me: take this as your personal invitation to flood Allison with orders, as you do not want to miss this bottle. If you do wait, you’ll be kicking yourself like I am, and wondering why you prevented yourself from so much enjoyment.

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Big Bottom Zinfandel Finish and Single Cask Zin series review!

img_5404This past weekend (well, black Friday, technically) I was able to help out over at Big Bottom Whiskey again and bottle up three different single cask runs of their Zinfandel Finish Bourbon warehouse series to complement the more widely available blend. I’m quite privileged to be friends with the owner, Ted, and more so to get some sneak peaks into the business and what’s to come.

I’ve know about the warehouse series zin bottlings for a while now and even had some small samples when I stopped in a while back as Ted was prepping the blend. Now that the warehouse series are bottled and I had some time to sit at home and really run through a decent side-by-side tasting, I figured I give you all the run down of what I think.

Following are the notes of the three warehouse series single cask bottlings as well as the commercially available blend (Note that I had a clean palate prior to sitting down to taste, cleared with both a small cup of black coffee followed by water prior to and after each glass.):

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  • Bottling: Amy’s Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Red licorice, currants, cardamom, and a citric whiff of orange and cranberry
  • Flavour: Fruit and oak tannins up front, followed by some white pepper and a return of red licorice
  • Finish: Light vanilla combined with the fullness of red fruit, almost jammy, then balanced quickly by the rye spice and dry finish.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: Complex and subtle notes from the zin barrel come through, as well as the zinfandel itself. Heavier on the rye notes as well.

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  • Bottling: RedwoodValley cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: More red licorice and berries with a heavier oakiness.Orange as well, works into a cinnamon finish on the nose.
  • Flavour: Dry tannins roll into the oakiness of a heavy zinfandel with muted rye spice notes.
  • Finish: As the zin fades, the rye spice returns forward and finally balanced with the sweetness of cinnamon Christmas candies.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: The explicit barrel notes really come through with this bottling.

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  • Bottling: Ancient Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Pepper and red fruit indicative of a good zinfandel. More red licorice with a slight toastiness that presents the entire dram quite big on the nose.
  • Flavour: Round sweetness and charred oak. Big fruit gives way to coffee and char, then moves right into a rye spice.
  • Finish: As the coffee and char fade, the ry spice and fruit comes back to linger with a distinct but mild alcohol burn.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: Big and complex. Much more of the French oak. A great marriage of zin and bourbon here.

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  • Bottling: Zinfandel Finish, blend of four different zin casks. Same winery, but different vineyards.
  • Nose: Cardamom and red licorice, with orange, cinnamon, and very light oak.
  • Flavour: Berries and oak tannins move into a complex mix of char, toast, and a melange of spices including rye, cinnamon, cardamom, and white pepper.
  • Finish: The spice moves back to the sweetness of berries with a slight chocolate espresso note that lingers at the end.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram is surprisingly greater than the sum of its parts. The blend exemplifies how critical barrel choice and blending percentages can be. The blend results in a dram that is entirely new but still maintains the best qualities of the included casks. 

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All in all, I am amazingly pleased with how the entire vertical series turned out. While I enjoy the final blend the most of all four bottlings, I actually enjoy it more as a direct result of being able to compare it with the single casks that went into it. Of the single cask bottlings, I do have to side with the complexity of the Ancient Vineyard cask as it reminds me so much of the high quality and BIG California Zinfandels my palate grew up with; the rye spice in the bourbon being the perfect complement to the pepper in a good zin. The finished blend is a wine and bourbon lover’s dream come true.

The good news for you all local to the Portland area, the warehouse series should be on sale this coming weekend exclusively at the Big Bottom Tasting Room in Hillsboro, Oregon.  For the rest of you all, you may be out of luck, unless you can find an on-line retailer (connected to one of these distributors) to special order and ship you some of the Zin Finish Blend… unless you’re lucky enough to happen upon some in your local store  🙂

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Review: Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt (Shackleton’s Replica)

img_4456 This is probably the single dram I have ever actually looked forward to. Most drams I am simply pleasantly surprised to find out they exist, but this one… this one has been on my radar since it was announced after the Shackleton expedition find hit the news sites. Imagine, a replica whisky built off of actual exemplars which have literally been on ice for a hundred years, preserving the contents in a spectacular fashion!

For some of our newer readers, I’ll remind you that whiskies do not age in the bottle, so what was discovered in the crates in Ernest Shackleton’s hundred year old base camp was unchanged from when it when in the bottle so many years back. This provided an amazing opportunity for some lucky few (one being Richard Patterson, also known as “The Nose”, of Whyte & Mackay) to test, sample, and ultimately reproduce a new blend whisky to replicate the original as closely as possible with today’s available stock.

If you’ve not seen the show, I highly recommend checking out NatGeo’s “Shackleton’s Whisky” episode on the discovery of the whiskies he’d purchased for his expedition. This show delves into a good balance of the history of the expedition, as well as the process used in recreating the replica bottling. They really treated the bottles with utmost care and respect; amazing they held up so well for so long in such harsh conditions, but they do show their age 😉

So, of course, when I heard the replica was finally released and available in the States, I had to grab a bottle for my shelves. (Can’t quite say collection, as I don’t collect…. though this one will likely be opened far fewer times than most bottles on my shelves.) Well, it just arrived today, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos then crack her open for a wee dram to take some studious notes and share for you all to drool over…

My first amusement was the packaging, which does a great job at mimicking the original crates. Of course the bottles weren’t individually packaged for Shackleton’s voyage, so Whyte & Mackay had to take some small liberties with the individual cases. The packaging could have been gimmicky and simple novelty, but thought was obviously put into this and resulted in a job well done. I will admit, as I stood in my kitchen opening the box, I did feel a bit of an explorer uncovering a long lost treasure, and a slight silly pang of guilt for not wearing my white gloves for the job. Gingerly pulling off the tissue paper wrapping, noting tears in expected places from the boxing, I was greeted by a lovely sight:

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But, as I noted above, I’m not a collector and can’t leave well enough alone, so I grabbed a tulip glass and gently shuffled the tin wrapper up and off without causing a tear (easily replaced back to original effect once I poured my dram). Right off the bat I noted how surprisingly light the whisky actually appeared. A few pictures later and I got down to tasting…  here are my notes:

 

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “Shackleton” Whiskey

  • Nose: A bit of heat at the start, then straight into the sweetness from the sherry butts and a waft of smoke to compliment. Next some subtle spices like a Major Grey’s chutney slink in, but hang around the shadows while lightly buttered toast enters only to highlight the orange zest originally hidden by the initial ethanol heat.
  • Flavour: Mild and subtle are the two words to spring to mind at first taste. There is very little bite from the alcohol, which at a higher 47.3% was as surprising as the light colouring. The first flavours to hit my palate are cheesecake with a nice toasted graham-cracker crust into a smokey fine quality toffee, then the oak follows to balance the sweet with the dry.
  • Finish: This dram has a middle to long finish which moves into heavier oak on the end. Quite dry during the last half of the finish as it slowly fades away leaving a nice woody tannin dryness to contrast the sweetness from the start.
  • Viscosity: 4   (it looks quite crisp in the glass, but in the mouth it is surprisingly and pleasantly chewy)
  • Boldness: 2
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste:  A+
  • Extraneous Notes: It is very light in colour than what I was expecting for the age and casks of the distillates used in creating this replica, as well as the final marrying. This really is a quintessential Speyside dram though, as it drinks with far more depth than the colour would initially indicate. Like all quality aged whiskies, the subtleties really shine here, as the recipe is perfectly balanced to highlight each of the mild and balanced tones coming through. Not only is this dram balance at every point on the palate, but the balance transcends the immediate taste and works effortlessly to balance the entire length of the story; a task easily but brilliantly achieved by this blending.

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I’m sure none of you are surprised to find this rated so highly on my personal taste; after all it is an expensive dram with a Speyside pedigree which I have been looking forward to for a while now. And yes, that may well indeed cloud my perception of this dram to some extent. But I tell you this: I’ve had far older, and far more expensive drams which don’t compare to the complexities and balance of Shackleton’s whisky. There is an impressive marriage of notes to this whisky which take it from a simple good dram, to an outstanding dram which may now take the top spot as my favourite (bumping the Balvenie 21 Portwood to a meager second place), but I think another dram or two will be needed before I close the books on that end. I’m quite pleased to have obtained a bottle for what I did, as I can imagine the price increasing exponentially from here on out as supplies become more limited. This IS a strictly limited 50,000 bottle run. Once gone, well… you’re only hope will be if another adventurer stocks away a case or two which are later rediscovered and replicated within your lifetime.

If you’re a fan of slightly smoked Speyside whiskies, do yourself a favour and pick up this bottle soon… you’ll regret it if you don’t. Thus far, my only regret is that I can’t buy more!