ABV: 53.8% Distillery: Glenlossie Bottler: Carn Mor (Celebration of the Cask) Region: Speyside
Ask a seemingly simple question - get a series of ill-informed answers. The Internet is awash with experts no matter the topic. “Whisky is always at its best at 18-20 years of age, except Ardbeg – I love Ardbeg 10 year old.” Says the chap who manages to contradict himself within 10 words. “I never drink Scotch less than 12 years of age” drones the young lad who’s clearly but a few years older than suggested ideal tipple. Or, my personal favourite – “Best age to drink whisky at? I never really liked it in my late teens and twenties, so I’d say around 35”. The question of age is woven tightly into the very fabric of whisky – there’s a psychology behind the appeal of bigger numbers – and for years the market has been continually educated that older equals better. But in reality, age is not only a diverse and idiosyncratic topic, it’s also highly personal.
It’s certainly possible to suggest a preference for a balance between spirit and wood – Young and fiery or old and austere – both have their appeal. I’d posit that trying to pin-point an exact moment in time when these characteristics will always manifest themselves (regardless of the distillery or wood type) is impossible. For instance, when precisely does Caol Ila transform from being formidably intense and young into demonstrating a more tranquil and harmonious equilibrium between distillate, peat and oak – after 15 years, 20 years – you tell me (and I’ll likely be able to find you an example that bucks that trend).
I do hold personal views of distillates that I believe operate well at a wide variety of ages (Caol Ila, Glenfarclas, Linkwood etc). But, any detailed discussion of ‘best age’ seems the rather pointless exercise – distillate styles, cask types and sizes, rates of extraction all diverge to such an extent that firm conclusions are hard to come by. I’ll always remember sampling two casks of Laphroaig alongside each other – both filled with the same spirit from the same run – both were matured for an identical amount of time in seemingly identical wood. They couldn’t have tasted more different.
Sometimes, older is better – sometimes older is, well, simply older. If your whisky has been sat in a tired 3rd or 4th fill cask with wood long depleted of activity, its additional maturation might well have not added to the sum of its parts. Conversely, liquid casked in particularly active wood will have a shorter fuse before it becomes over-exposed, over-wooded and likely tannic. Remember, there’s a difference between age and maturity – they are not the same thing.
Today’s review comes courtesy of Morrison and MacKay’s Carn Mor Celebration of the Cask Series – a 1995 Glenlossie. Lossie has long been a key blending component – purifiers pass the heavier compounds back into stills for redistillation resulting in a spirit that has a good amount of body and texture – ideal for a blend base note. Lossie is far from commonly seen as a single malt – the only readily available OB comes in the form of a 10 year old Flora and Fauna series bottling (launched back in 1990) – and likewise, compared to many whiskies, there’s not a large lake of IB’s either.
Our Celebration of the Cask Lossie was bottled exactly one year ago today (I do love it when a plan comes together), having spent 22 years in an bourbon barrel (#1323). 185 bottles were produced at 53.8% ABV. There’s still a few bottles available – the best price I can find is via The Green Welly Stop at £122.
Nose: Fruit-forward with poached pears, honeydew melon, gooseberries and greengages. A lovely vein of lemony polish (with a slight sherbet zing) runs throughout, supported by candle wax and sunflower oils. In the background - bees honey, warm porridge, cola cubes and damp soils. Reduction adds tropical tinges of guava as well as emphasising maltiness with oats and a slice of malt cake. In the background, gentle grassiness with pine needles and leafy greens.
Taste: The arrival has a syrupy texture and plenty of weight. Overripe oranges, lemons and field berries sit with polished and lacquered wood tables, pancake batter and licorice. The mid-palate is quite cask-driven – pepperiness building whilst fruits turn increasingly sour and acerbic. Flecks of salinity and minerality hit in the back-palate - combined with citric zestiness. The addition of water softens the cask influence, restraining the spicy bite and adding anise and cloves and plenty of honeyed sweetness.
Finish: Medium with malt loaf, lemon peels, fizzing pepper and wet slate.
This Carn Mor Glenlossie exhibits plenty of ripe fruitiness and well-aged character throughout. It does however feel a touch overexposed to the oak in the mid-palate - spicing (particularly pepper) jars with the softer more juicy fruits and viscous, substantial body. Nothing that a little dilution can’t fix – a few drops of hydration offers both improved balance and an amplification of the underlying malty sweetness of the spirit. Age might just be a number, but adding maturity to a quality distillate is always going result in something tasty.