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cask force – reviews from the Whisky revolution festival

Marco Zucchetti’s review column is back, and we find him inspired as a Brazilian playmaker in the days of grace. This week he and his thick beard return to Castelfranco Veneto, for the second part of the report on Whisky Revolution Festival (here the first, for those who missed it).

Clynelish 12 yo (2005/2018, Gordon&MacPhail, 55,1%)

Just as you expect to end up with your mouth burning and you asking for water and bread when you taste Mexican chili, you expect to soak in wax as you approach a Clynelish. But here, you don’t. The refill sherry butts and the high alcohol content work like wrapping paper. You gotta unwrap it. Without water, on the nose there are notes of heather honey and butter, with nutmeg and vanilla. There is fruit (mango?) and citrus fruit, more orange than lemon. Perhaps a touch of acidity, we do not know if it is fruity (Rennet apple) or butter that becomes rancid. In the mouth it is sweet, fruity malt, pineapple, hazelnut and honey again, but this time honey biscuits. Milk chocolate and a bitter orange aftertaste. Well, but since we’re 70% made of water, let’s add a drop. Spell: on the nose an aromatic waxiness appears, with wild flowers and a sugary suggestion of white grapes. And in the mouth, what an improvement! Also here flowers, propolis, orange and white pepper. It relaxes, becomes comfortable and lets itself go to a sweet finish: toffee, with ginger and ripe yellow fruit. Without water it is decent, with water it becomes a great spring dram.

Transformist. 86/100

Kilkerran 11 yo (2007/2018, Cadenhead’s, 58,1%)

In every video game there’s the monster you can’t beat because you can’t find the place to hit. This Kilkerran is a bit like that, the real puzzle of the Festival. High abv, heavy sherry, peat, marinity: all that’s missing is ham and mushrooms to make it the Pizza Capricciosa Scotch. Intimidated by so much variety of suggestions, you throw your nose at it. Roasted black olives, dirty but rather evident peat. It’s humid, it takes you to a place between the barn (wet hay) and the cellar. There is tobacco, the coffee beans emerge sharply together with the burnt caramel. The fruit is dark, plums of all kinds and nuts. Curious acidic touch, like vomit. I think I can hear my mother outraged, “Ew, that’s disgusting”. Okay, so sour plum peel. Is it better? With water the brine (trademark) becomes sharper, the acidity becomes wine. And divine too. In the mouth the sherry is sticky, caramel and coffee. Lots of sweetness, chocolate (dear old Mars snacks). It is syrupy, but also fat. Smoked fatty fish, tannin in the form of cloves. Flavours XXXL, heavyweights who fight between sweetness and burnt notes. The first one wins, with red fruits in syrup, milk chocolate and a smoke that cleans up the ring. Nice challenge, a great sensory mess, as if Yin and Yang were head-butting each other. The water doesn’t change its face, it stays pretty even. The arrogance with which sweetness prevails is not beautiful, but it’s one of those whiskies that keep you company for hours after you’ve finished it. Sure, you have to like puzzles, extreme tastes, piercings, smelly cheeses, grunge music, West Ham United football club. If you can’t stand rules and easy days, it’s done for you.

Plus sized. 87/100

Old Perth 2004 13 yo (Macallan and Highland Park, 43,8%)

At first glance you think you have a cataract problem or selective color blindness, you probably don’t see liquid colors well. It’s 13 years old but it’s very dark, dark mahogany that looks good on rum and Armagnac. After having ascertained that your eyesight is still good and that the color is just due to that scoundrel of sherry, it’s time to smell. And you may think you have a space-time problem, too: it’s better to check that you are still in the 21st century, because from the glass you get suggestions of old library, leather armchairs, pipe tobacco, something from the cellar. How beautiful is youth? Let the Renaissance poets say it, we prefer old age. The nose doesn’t want to lay down, it’s still providing us blackberries, raisins, dark chocolate, cloves, even a drizzle of peat and dark fruits, like blackberries. It looks like Benjamin Button. He’s 13, but he looks centuries old. And he changes a lot, in ten minutes the stale notes dissolve and a sweetness of panettone and sour cherries in syrup remains. You force yourself to sip, even if your nose is a tyrant, and it would keep it all for itself. Tough as Mrs. Rottermeier, dry as a teacher’s reprimand. Sherry is sovereign, the wood rules. There are the bitter notes of Macallan (walnuts, burnt caramel), the fruity side is limited to a touch of strawberry, the spices are lively, with black pepper and cinnamon. The sweetness is limited to malt and it’s recognizable, although it’s only in the background. The smoke of Highland Park sews the tapestry together. And when you think you’ve figured it out, in the very long finish there is the surprising return of blackberries (like the old and dear Big Fruit candies), a touch of cola, raisins in full hands. There you go, you could catch a plane, go ring Morrison&Mackay’s door and beg them to find that empty barrel, if it’s still there. Throw away the Ikea’s Billy and that useless plant which is going to die in winter. Make room for it and put it in the house, like the piece of art it was.

Historiographical. 90/100

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