Blended Scotch Whisky Archaeology – Conclusion, Part 2
Welcome back to my archaeology dig of one scotch whisky blend history. I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this conclusion. As I promised in it, in this post I will share the different opinions about the two versions of the blend as I got them from my whisky friends around the world, and also include my own 2 cents about them.
Just a reminder, out of the three bottles featured in part 1, only two were opened and tasted (and of which samples were sent) – the current 2010 version and the 1970’s bottle that I purchased from The Whisky Exchange. The original bottle, owned by my friend Elkana is still sealed and I actually visited it in its kitchen cupboard hiding place just the other night.
The three Stewarts, left-to-right:
1970s bottle from TWE, 2010 version bottle, Elakana’s 1970s bottle – ‘the original’
Quick note – As part of the responds to the previous part, I was asked if the tasting we had at Elkana’s house was videoed. Well it actually was, and due to popular demand you can find at the bottom of this post a short segment out of it. As we spoke Hebrew, I’ve added English subtitles to my best effort.
But first, let’s get started with what my dear whisky friends thought about these two versions of the Stewarts Cream of the Barley (You can find Gal’s notes, which are concerned by me the ‘official’ notes of these posts, at the end of part 1).
We’ll start with my good friend and whisky persona Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast.com, who on top of providing tasting notes, honoured me with an interview about this set of archaeology posts in episode 297 of the show. Mark called me up on Skype late at night (Israel time) the other day and spoke to me about the blends, the set of posts, the road they took me on and what I’ve learned from this whole experiment. You are more than encouraged to listen to that episode to learn my thoughts, and mind you, the “late at night” is my excuse for the pauses, English mistakes, the hiccup in the middle and so on .
This was an interesting comparison…here are my notes…
Stewart’s 1970’s version
Nose: Light spices and beefy with notes of brandy, cocoa, and a hint of vinegar…
Taste: Peppery and tart with a citrusy lemon note.
Finish: Very short.
Score: 72 points
Stewart’s 2010 version
Nose: Nutty with a touch of hazelnut, straw, slight citrus note.
Taste: Creamy at first, then turning peppery with a citrus note that builds slowly as the pepper fades and lingers into the finish.
Finish: Citrusy-tart and lingering.
Score: 80 points
Not sure whether the brand changed hands in between these two bottling, but the current version is definitely better. Might be “old bottle” effect, but the current version would be average at best…
What did the others have to say?
Thanks for thinking of me…had a lot of fun with this…
Mark Gillespie (left), recording Richard Paterson during Feis Ile 2010
Next we have a dear friend to all of Whisky Israel Society members, the man with the most colourful whisky notes ever, Joshua Hatton of The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society. Joshua analysed the two blends quite in depth, which I, by honest mistake, misquoted on my WhiskyCast.com interview; Joshua – my apologies for that.
firstly, I appreciate you asking me for my opinion on these two different blends (different being the old version and now the new). It’s a rare treat to be able to taste some of these old blends from the 60’s/70’s and to have an opportunity to taste the 2010 version of this blend against it, is going to be, if anything, a lot of fun. So, thank you.
Here we go:
Off the bat you can see the difference in colour (see the attached picture).
The old Stewarts is dark in colour – like over-steeped green tea with a good deal of gold in there. Some long, thick legs show up after swirling it in my glass too.
The new Stewarts is lighter in colour with more of a chardonnay hue to it. Similar legs in the glass but it looks less viscous for sure.
The samples as tasted and photographed by Joshua
On to the nosing:
Old: Sherry influence with notes of raisins (sultanas). A bit musty and dusty smelling. There’s a sweet smell in here that reminds me of sticky hanging fly paper (sweet yet, artificial). The grain is evident but not overpowering. Something medicinal here – like cough syrup. Some oak, vanilla and a bit of honey. Dead leaves. A decent nose & fairly balanced.
New: Worlds apart from the old blend. A high sweet grainy quality with no traces of the sherry I found on the old. Ex-bourbon casks for sure. With the amount of grain in here I’d say this is a 2nd or re-fill ex-bourbon cask. Hay and honey. Grassy (new green grass). A touch floral and just a bit of caramel.
On to the tasting (with notes on the finish):
Old: Very similar to what I got on the nose. This is a well balanced blend! Decent mouth feel – a bit chewy. Raisins come to the fore and those musty & dusty notes follow. Some coffee and old leather. Something vegetal in here and a bit salty as well. The finish is nice and long with notes of salted toffee.
New: Massively creamy mouth feel! Again, like the old Stewarts, the taste is similar to the smell — big grain influence here. Worlds apart from the old version. Cooked butter (or is that just the mouth feel?). Celery stalks & a bit salty (but nothing like celery salt). Very much like new make with the evident notes of green apple and pear. Some cinnamon.
Summary: I think we have a “Cream of the Barley” vs. “Cream of the Grains” scenario here. The only thing connecting the two whiskies is the name “Stewarts”. The old version was a solid blend, no doubt. Well balanced and quite enjoyable. The new blend is good for mixing but not as a stand alone. It’s too one-sided, too young or, better yet, not ready as a stand alone whisky.
Shai, I’m not sure how much of the old bottle is left but, taste it sparingly. Not only is it a good dram, it’s a bit of history in a glass. I was born in 1973 and chances are this stuff was bottled before me. That, in and of itself, is pretty damned cool.
Joshua Hatton (picture provided by him)
Before continuing to what my fellow Whisky Israel ‘Socieiters’ had to say about the two blends, I wanted to bring here what Richard Paterson, Whyte&Mackay’s colourful master blender (one my favourites whisky personas), had thought of the two blends.
Richard is a very very busy man as you all may know, and though Craig McGill tried to assist and get Richard on to the samples, he just didn’t have time to get to it (you might have read that Richard had been to New Zealand to get three bottles of Shackelton’s whisky).
I hope that sooner or later we will get Richard’s thoughts of these whiskies and then we’ll post another (appendix) part to this set of posts.
Whisky Israel Society (WIS) member Richard Barr, provided me what he sais to be his first ever nosing/tasting notes. I must say that for first ever notes, these are very nice:
These two are simply not the same whisky. It’s amazing how different two whiskies could be despite sharing the same name. I’d love to do a Macallan tasting in the same vein, if that were ever possible at an affordable price.
Colour: Dark Golden
Nose: Very Sweet like Burnt Sugar & Honey, Hints of Vanilla & Liquorice, Perhaps a little Dried Orange Peel.
Mouth Feel: Oily & Thick that lasted beyond swallowing.
Flavours: At first acetone & alcohol but then coffee & liquorice. Not as sweet as the nose would have indicated but still a touch of it.
Finish: Long & round, with a slightly bitter follow through.
I didn’t get much change with addition of water, it just made the nose characters more subtle. Perhaps I didn’t add enough water but I think if I added anymore, I would have destroyed the whisky.
Colour: Pale Yellow Straw
Nose: Lite, lemon & lime citrus, a hint of Jasmine flowers. With addition of water strong smell of Pear Drops (Candy).
Mouth Feel: Watery & thin.
Flavours: Grassy, sea Air, hint of Malt at end. With Water added the overriding taste is that of Straw.
Finish: Long but shallow, without any body. Completely lost with addition of water.
Neither dram showed any peat smoke.
I hope this helps. Was I getting similar results to your or was I just crazy??
In the first part of this conclusion, I provided Igal Tabachnik’s summary about the tasting evening we had. Here are his thoughts about the two whiskies we had. This is a direct continuation to what he wrote about the evening:
If I had to pick the one I liked more – it would be the contemporary Stewart’s Cream of the Barley bottle.
An amazing everyday summer dram, citrusy, light both on the nose and on the palate – no ice and no water needed for this one.
The old whisky was a great after dinner dram – caramel and rich, it complemented greatly everything that was on the table.
For its price, Stewart’s Cream of the Barley is an insane bargain.
If you’re looking to introduce someone to whisky, this would be a great dram to do it with!”
As I promised above here is the short video segment from the tasting evening at Elkana’s house. In this bit of video, Igal speaks about his first whisky and an experience he had with it at a friend’s place abroad. This was part of a longer conversation in which Igal explained Elkana and his wife Ruth, about how whisky is made, why Richard Paterson doesn’t allow ice in the dram, what makes whisky so unique and so on. I hope he approves of this . Again, we spoke Hebrew so I did a “free” translation and added subtitles for you who have yet to master our language. (Please excuse some typos in the subtitles, I only noticed them after I closed the movie maker project without saving it, so I couldn’t fix without doing the whole thing from scratch).
I find it quite interesting to see how different the notes about the whiskies are. Obviously every person have their own perspective, nose, palate and taste, as this can clearly be seen in the notes above, but to have opinions differ so between few people, about two whiskies, is intriguing, at least for me. I would love to know what you think of this as well.
Personally, I enjoyed both whiskies but liked the older version better. I preferred the smoke and fruits it contained, the rounder, fuller, creamier body. I like the fact that it felt complex and more elegant. Don’t take me wrong, I like the younger version as well, but I think of it as I do with Lambrusco wine, or young Chardonnays – tasty, young, likable, zesty, alive and goes well with a nice summer outdoors picnic. All in all the young one is a nice non-aged blend and hell of a value for money.
I hope you enjoyed this set of posts, and thank you for coming along for this ride.
I want to thank Elkana and Ruth Jacobson for showing me the original bottle, setting me on this journey, their hospitality and their great friendship. I thank my father Gideon Fleischmann and his girlfriend Rachel Berger for helping me with the bottles. Many thanks go to Gal Granov for allowing me the opportunity to use his blog as a stage and for tagging along the ride. More thanks goes to Mark Gillespie, Joshua Hatton, Richard Paterson and Craig McGill who assisted (and still is assisting) with getting the samples to Richard and of course getting Richard’s notes at some point in the future .
Thank you also goes to Richard Barr, Igal Tabachnik and Kfir Bloch (who’s notes, sadly enough, had yet to come in as he is also quite busy), my fellow Whisky Israel Society friends. I highly appreciate all of you guys for coming along this trip I took you on.
A final thank you goes to me dear wife Meital, who has been hearing, seeing and tolerating this ride, and whiskies in general around the house, so patiently.
Final note – the original bottle is up for sale to collectors – it is in mint condition. If you are interested, please contact me (twitter or Facebook) as I’m helping Elkana to sell it. I have my own bottle from the 1970s, and thus am not buying it myself.
Again, thanks for reading, and see you in future posts.