Regardless of where you are on your whisky journey, you’ll no doubt have stumbled across the curse that is ‘complexity’. Complexity in alcohol is both desirable and actively sought out – but as a concept, it’s also something which is oft-times either poorly defined or rarely agreed upon. The Internet doesn’t help things - a drink will often be described as complex simply because its tasting note has become too long. The use of near endless descriptors (and in some cases the overzealous use of online thesauruses) seems to demand that a drink with such a wide rubric must, ergo, be complex. But, by equating complexity with ‘more things to taste’, we’re missing out on a whole host of markers for quality and simply focussing on volume alone.
The Internet encourages this behaviour amongst drinkers. Bigger and more is always better right? (a quick look at PPMs and how people lose their minds over the size of those numbers will reaffirm this view). But, truly defining complexity is actually far from simple. If we rule out the length of tasting note = complexity supposition, we’re still left with a wide variety of possible connotations.
Whisky can be complex through being challenging to the drinker – of being hard to define, seemingly impenetrable and not necessarily easy to understand. Similarly, whisky can be complex through offering a multiplicity of intricate parts – the sum adding up to a greater whole. But, whisky can also be complex through its inherent experience – the ability to offer something different to the drinker each time they come back to the glass – a sense of uncertainty and change which volunteers an element of surprise.
In terms of how I define complexity, I’m firmly in the latter camp. For me, complexity stems from the ‘uncertain movement’ of whisky – of being taken on a journey in an unexpected direction, or being struck by a near thunderbolt of astonishment - and these could stem from aroma, flavour, texture, or even wider. It would be wrong to argue with anyone who suggests that complexity for them is more relatable to the intricacy or the challenge. There's no right answer. But, there is a problem in attempting to define complexity as a juxtaposition of its – simplicity.
All too often, simplistic is bandied around as an alternative expression for boring. Its utilisation has become pejorative, rather than descriptive. It's entirely possible for a whisky to be intense, impactful, deep and surprisingly simple. There’s nothing wrong with something being perfectly formed, no matter how small that thing might be. But, by equating simplicity with disappointment, we’re inflating complexity as a sole marker of quality. And regardless of how you define complexity, it should not be at the expense of the overall harmony of the liquid.
Glengyle’s Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength has seen several releases since its inception back in early 2017. A batched approach to ex-bourbon wood resulted in three parcels of 9,000 bottles being brought to market throughout 2017 into early 2018 (The Dramble provided a quick review of the first batch at the time). But, it was not until the last few months of 2019 that the bottling returned, taking on an almost identical guise to an incredibly popular release the distillery created for its 2018 Open Day.
8 year old Cask Strength Re-charred Oloroso Sherry Casks offers the highest ABV of the now four general releases and with an increased bottle number of 15,000. Whilst this certainly sounds like a lot of bottles, you’ll quickly discover that the bottling is seemingly a bit of a big deal – and, at least in the UK, is not all that easy to obtain. You’ll still find it for sale in some of the Netherlands retailers (E.G. https://dramshop.nl/nl/ds-whisky/product/kilkerran-8-cask-strength) – some have even maintained the original very reasonable price of a shy under £50.
Nose: Intensely reduced red berries – raspberries and cranberries sit with dried fruits – redcurrants, raisins and fig rolls. Smoke is thinly composed, semi-dirty/industrial and well-integrated throughout. A rich vein of chocolate runs throughout, supported by both alluvial notes of clay and mud, alongside umami flavours from soy sauce. Resting this whisky proves to be highly worthwhile endeavour – whilst expressive straight out of the bottle, a little time unravelling offers additional breadth – nougat and marshmallow with cloves, cardamom and chamois leather. In the background – a flinty minerality develops. The addition of water also proves transformative – cherry Bakewell, tarmac/road paving, vanilla sponge and a waft of coastal breeze.
Taste: The arrival is impactful – initially succinct but entirely forceful, offering sweet red and black berries (raspberries, cherries and blackberries) alongside tobacco leaves, high % cocoa chocolate, fruitcake and mentholated oak. The development once again offers up minerality – a tang of rockiness alongside expanding pepper and chilli spicing. In the back palate, dry earthiness – cracked sun-licked soils played against sappy oak and overt oloroso influence. A short (10 minutes is ample) rest allows the dram to unravel further, adding ashiness to the smoke alongside furniture polish, marzipan and coffee grounds. Reduction plays into vegetal moistness – mushrooms, damp sherry bodegas and water-logged wood alongside juicy berry fruits. Interesting, though arguably less distinct and demarked when considered as a whole.
Finish: Quite long with moist soils, fading fruits and spices, sustained chocolate and dry oakiness. Worth noting that dilution ups the earthiness of the finish, but also considerably shortens it.
Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength Re-charred Oloroso Sherry Casks is a mouthful in all senses. The spirit is thick, dense and packed full of flavour, the sherry cask influence is palpable, but sympathetic throughout and the generous ABV allows for both an impactful delivery as well as ample room for experimentation. That this whisky also benefits from breathing (offering even broader, but equally balanced delights) is testament to its composition.
I’d argue that this is a complex whisky. So, is that a long tasting note? The presence of unexpected aromas and flavours? An ability to morph when influenced by either oxygen or water? Or simply just challenging and begging for due care and attention? In this instance, it’s all of those things.
But don't take our word for it..
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