Friday, August 30, 2013

anCnoc 12 and 22 review: Apple Skin and Wulong Tea

anCnoc - formerly Knockdu, was a cutting edge distillery built in 1894 at the tail end of the late 19th century whisky boom and one of the casualties of the 1983 slaughter of distilleries.  Its location Knock, Aberdeenshire, is sometimes reckoned as part of Speyside, and sometimes as Eastern Highlands - not that this particularly matters.  It was picked up and reopened half a decade after the 1983 closure by Inver House (makers of one of my least favorite blends) but appeared on the American scene only the past decade, under ownership of Pacific Spirits.  This distillery was certainly off my radar until the past few years.  Apparently the name was changed to avoid ongoing confusion with the unrelated Knockando (which certainly was on my radar - even as long as 20 years ago).  Well, anCnoc has become, along with Balblair, the standard bearer of the light, tart, "green apple" floral Highland flavor profile.  This has really become a trend in recent years and I've heard several friends say that anCnoc 12 is their new favorite base expression, unseating classic pale Highland malts such as Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12.  Part of the upgrading action for anCnoc is the recent Peter Arkle editions and the new 22 yo - which slots in between the traditional 16 and the rare 30 year old top expression.  There are also several limited edition single year vintage bottlings: 1995,1994 and1975 that are well regarded.   I'm behind the curve, so it's high time I tried the 12 and the 22.

The description of the 16 and the 22 specifies that they are not chill filtered.  The lack of such a specification on the 12 indicates that it is - FYI.  Be aware that most reviews and sales listings for the 12 seem to be at 40% abv and the 50ml bottle I purchased at Ledger's is 43% and some of the recent reviews indicates that maybe the proof has been increased (a very good move). 

anCnoc 12 43% abv
50ml miniature purchased at Ledger's Liquors in Berkeley, CA

Color:  Pale Gold

Nose:  Heathery floral with grassy elements of sugary hay and alfalfa with some gentle flinty mineral, lightly tannic white wine, and a touch of meaty broth.  The sweet hay and savory warmth almost evoke a bit of farm yard.  There are some lovely green apple fruits and tart crisp apple skin and some paraffin wax.

The palate opens gently with a very appealing light heathery floral perfume character.  The expansion brings tasty honeyed malt and then an acidic tartness carrying green apple skin, lemon and pino grigio aspects.  The finish turns malty and almost savory - very gentle and warming.

Adding a drop of water ups the paraffin in the nose significantly (and deliciously) and suppresses the meat broth dramatically - improving the nose.  The palate thins with water, however - becoming more tart and less sweet.  I preferred it neat.

This is wonderful whisky for a base expression - particularly in warm weather.


anCnoc 22 46%

sample courtesy of Lukasz Dynowiak of Alembic Commons

Color: Old Gold

Nose: Magnolia, rose and honeysuckle florals. Maybe even a touch of Jasmine blossoms on a cold morning. The floral meets a slightly tannic edge like Tung Ting jade wulong tea. Then rich honeycomb, honeydew melon and some hints of tangerine or blood orange. Underneath are some musky skins and hints of rich tropic fruits (pineapple, breadfruit, and mangosteen). Intoxicating. Yet it comes off as young and fresh - just very big.

The palate entry is sweet, sharp and big with florals and waxy glory. The midpalate arrives with unexpected oak spice heat, citric acid tang, and bitter curb. There's a ton of oak lurking in this dram, but it shows up late. The turn to the finish is drying, but the finish is malty, gentle, and bitter-sweet.

A few drops of water adds some richness to the mouth feel and tames the heat, adding some more honeyed melon in it's place. This very mature anCnoc is light and fruity - but sprightly and powerful as well. It wears it's age in oak spice cinnamon clove heat rather than in overtly oaky flavors or any kind of heaviness on the palate.  Brilliant.


It's remarkable to me how the tart green apple skin of the 12 has morphed into complex tea tannins in the 22.  Esterification in the barrel over the extra decade has turned the young fruits of the 12 ripe and complex and sweeter in the 22.  But both the 12 and 22 are highly recommended drams and epitomize the light and tart style of Highland Scotch whisky.  Currently the 12 goes for around $40-$50 in the US - which is a good value.  The 22 goes for around $130-$150 which, in the current market, seems a decent value to me as well.  I'll need to check out other issues from this distillery as this is a flavor profile that suits me nicely.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Distilling Rob is a memoir straight from the heart.

Rob Gard’s book, Distilling Rob, Manly Lies and Whisky Truths is a personal memoir of rare sensitivity and honest introspection.  It tells a story of a man’s search for self acceptance and maturity amid a mess of dysfunction and doubt that will seem all too familiar to many.  The search leads him into and out of careers, women, bouts of introspection, and ultimately to a year spent on the legendary Scottish whisky island of Islay working at the resurrected distillery Bruichladdich.  The primary narrative elements of the story are revealed up front.  The direction of the narrative flow is inwards as layers of meaning are added to the structure you have from the beginning, like an onion.  In this pursuit, Gard’s narrative weaves moves back and forth between the current action and memories of the past which inform the emotional landscape he wrestles with.  This is very much the structure of my favorite novel –  Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom!  And like Absalom! Absalom! there are unexpected dark traumas like hidden pearls in the center (no spoilers!).  It’s a brilliant structure upon which to hang Gard’s story of moving from inner rejection to a modicum of self acceptance.

We live in a sensationalist culture of confessionalism and exaggerated bogus self abnegation. Gard, as a Hollywood PR man, journalist, and massive movie buff, is very aware of the stereotypical images of maleness.  Gard wrestles with the emotionally arid archetypes of manhood, finding those ultimately alienating and unfulfilling.  He eventually transcends them.  Rob initially learns about being a man from his withdrawn Vietnam vet father, mostly in the negative. He aspires to be like the men in the movies – withdrawn, tough, and mysterious. This has some big drawbacks.  After losing the love of his life he turns to a player lifestyle, boozing and lying, and become emotionally divorced from himself in a major way and flirts with disaster. But Gard is a sensitive and ultimately loving person who is driven to mend.  His quest is deeply resonant for me personally – particularly in my current phase of life.  I found that the issues raised struck powerfully close to home again and again for me.  This is a book with wide applicability for men who want to learn to feel their feelings and become more connected, whole, people.

Not that I don’t have a few issues.  On the downside, Gard spares us the nitty gritty details of the art of crafting whisky. We get scenes of Budgie the still man turning valves based on his cryptic empathetic connection with the whines and whooshes of the stills. We get the silent monosyllabic mash man Thomas, heavy with his unspoken regrets.  We get warm bonhomie and camaraderie from the barrel filling dunnage rousting Aaron and Jack.  But we don’t get to learn what Rob learns about the intricacies of making Bruichladdich. This book isn’t about that.  Whisky is a backdrop that weaves its way in and out of the story like the warp and woof of the fabric that underlies the weaving, obscured by the threads. Whisky is the dominant metaphor, and grand unifying theme of Distilling Rob – but there is little actual detailed information about Bruichladdich or whisky in general specifically there. No tasting notes or the kind of insider production details that some whisky geeks might have hoped for.

 But what Gard gives us is more valuable.  It’s about putting life in perspective, finding comfort in your own skin, and learning to become a man.

Gard helped finance the book with a successful and noted Kickstarter campaign.  Full disclosure – I participated in the campaign.  Not much use denying it.  Gard lists the participants at the end and my name is in black and white.  Furthermore, I’ve known Gard (on the Internet only) for over a year and have admired his writing.  Gard returned to whisky writing with a series of blog posts on the Whisky Guy Blog that were about the wider culture of whisky – a clear departure from the usual tasting notes style of whisky blogging which predominates.   I was immediately drawn to this more sophisticated perspective.  When Gard interviewed Johanne McInnis - @whiskylassie, she used the term “whisky fabric” and Gard blogged it. This term has become a twitter hash tag (#whiskyfabric) which now represents the unique social phenomenon of the warmth and acceptance of the global whisky community.  This is something remarkable and special about the whisky world – quite different from many epicurean areas.  All of this has clearly predisposed me to a positive impression of Gard’s work.  I view him as a brother – albeit one I’ve never met.  After having read Distilling Rob that impression is stronger than ever.