THE DEVERON - Press Pack-25
Royal Brackla Press Pack-27
I’ve mentioned this before, but when it comes to a go-to blended whisky for Scotch and soda, I always reach for Dewar’s. There’s something about the balance of the blend that lends itself to soda. Nothing is lost with the addition of soda, and the softening of the alcohol makes for a smooth and relaxing drink. Why Scotch and soda instead of a single malt or a mixologist’s concoction? Sometimes I just want something that’s cool, refreshing, simple, and works with popcorn or beer nuts. Dewar’s isn’t the most complex or involved blend – there are others I gravitate toward when I want that kind of experience – but it does a nice job of being a simple and nice whisky.
That being said, I’ve long been a huge fan and proponent of Aberfeldy – one of the key single malts that comprises Dewar’s. The rich, honeyed flavor of the 12-year-old was, especially for its price point, a pure winner. A couple of years back, Dewar’s pushed out a second single malt from their blend: Craigellachie in 13-year-old and 23-year-old expressions. I found both to be right in my palate sweet spot (though the 23-year-old’s price exceeded the expression’s deliverable taste). A year or so ago, Dewar’s unveiled three new single malts that go into its blend (collectively called “The Last Great Malts” range), and knowing I’m a fan, sent samples to me for review.
The first bottle was the Aultmore 12 which I sampled with Lee Zaro and Aaron Krouse from the South Bay Whisky Tribe. Aultmore is located in Speyside, less than 10 miles from the sea. Despite the proximity to the sea, the malt is light on the nose in a pleasant way. Like its Dewar’s sibling Aberfeldy, there is honey, citrus and vanilla on the nose. Add in some fresh hay and it has the air of an energetic young thing. Surprisingly, the palate is much heartier than expected. The light hay of the aroma has become a chewy, toasted flavor with hints of orange peel and linseed oil working its way through fields of wet grass and grain. The honey is thick and warm, like on a piece of hotly toasted sprouted bread. The transformation continues to the finish where flakes of pepper and bits of brine linger for a pleasant moment. Most definitely a young malt, but the Aultmore 12 captures an essential essence of Speyside and offers enough of its own character to be a worthy addition to any single malt collection.
A couple of weeks after Lee and Aaron and I sampled the Aultmore 12, I did an impromptu whisky gathering with a group of friends in the Valley. As part of that gathering I cracked open two more of The Last Great Malts – the Deveron 12 and the Royal Brackla 12.
The Deveron is a marketing name. The whisky is produced at MacDuff Distillery. But, a rose by any other name… The previous three Great Malts I’ve tried – Aberfeldy, Craigellache and Aultmore, are all in the same ballpark for their flavor profiles. The Deveron definitely goes a different direction and hints at the variety that makes Dewar’s a well-rounded blend. The nose is lightly creamy, with a bit of vanilla and malt. It’s like the aroma of a dessert bakery that you catch while walking by: not overpoweringly sugary and sweet, but pleasant and sublime. The dessert theme continues on the palate, though with other bits like leather, light peat and salt that round it out. Several chocolate notes pop through with some water added, as well as dark fruit, like raspberries. The finish is sprinkled with bits of all that has appeared before: malt, fruit, sugar and buttery chocolate.
Royal Brackla 12 is the heavy hitter of The Last Great Malts range I sampled. The nose is complex, with syrup and spiced nuts coming to the forefront of a winey/raisin base. The same flavors are found on the palate, with the spices becoming more distinctive – pepper, cinnamon and ginger. Some wonderful fresh apple and more of those raisins also appear on the palate. The finish is surprisingly short for something that was reasonably complex on the nose and palate. That’s not a bad thing, but without having tried some of the older expressions, I’m guessing the finish will be pleasantly rich and coating as it ages.
Breaking a blend down by its components is a fun way to identify some of the notes the blender has tried to capture (or to weed out, as the case may be). While mixing any of The Last Great Malts with ice and soda would be an offense to the soda and a mortal sin to the Scotch, it’s nice to experience them in their own right before they sacrifice their better parts to your blended Dewar’s cocktail.