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Friday, 1 August 2014

I Can See Clearly Now: Kininvie 23 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

It was exactly one year ago today that I found myself hopping up to Scotland to take part in the Ardbeg Islay Half Marathon.

As you would expect from an event held on an island in the Inner Hebrides, in the 140 minutes it took me to complete the course I experienced pretty much every type of element known to man, save for a snow storm. From hail to bright sunshine, I have never seen such a variety of weather in just one morning.

Preparing for such an onslaught of elements required some pretty decent kit and I’d purchased some good trainers, comfortable running kit and a pair of Oakley sunglasses. My saving grace, the sunspecs were vital to keeping me going, as post-shower when the sun burst violently from behind the clouds, the glare from the roads would have been unbearable without the aid of the dark glasses.

On returning home and having invested not only in the running kit, but in the training time as well, I decided that it would be wise, what with all this professional drinking and suchlike, to maintain a healthy balance of drams and training: the odd half marathon to balance out the regular half measure of whisky. The ultimate ‘half and half’, if you will.

However, there was one improvement which needed to be made to my kit, correcting a error I had made in the lead-up to the Islay Half.

Being a proud spectacle wearer, when I took ownership of my Oakley sunglasses I didn’t have the lenses replaced with prescription ones. This meant that, as wonderful as the scenery of Islay is, I was unable to take in much of it and to really enjoy it. It literally passed me by in a blur. If I was going to do more running, I at least wanted to see where I was going!

And so I spent some of my 'hard-earned' on having the lenses replaced in my running glasses and it has improved my exercise experience immeasurably as I’m now able to enjoy the varying vistas of my weekly runs.

My vision has been enhanced by greater clarity and added perspective and it certainly helps to be able to see something in clear relation to something else.

When judging or critiquing single malt whisky, it also helps to have comparisons. Each distillery has a unique flavour profile which is carried through the core expressions and should be evident in the new make through to the mature product. Doing a range tasting, especially with a distillery’s ‘entry level’ products, is important as it can put into perspective both the flavour development of whisky in older (or in this day and age of No Age Statements- more expensive) expressions and also highlight how different cask-types work with the new make spirit to develop certain flavour elements.

So it is always slightly confusing when you encounter whisky from a distillery for the first time, and even more confusing when you have nothing to compare it to.

And this is where I find myself today, faced with a sample of Kininvie 23 Year Old. I have, once, had some Kininvie. It was supplied to me in form an ‘under-the-table’ sample at a whisky event. But it was one of those ‘drink and enjoy’ moments, not one for notes or scribblings, so (as whisky is designed to be) it was lost to the memory of time.

But not to worry, for the chance to try something new is always exciting and the parameters by which one should measure the quality of a dram, unaware of the distillery’s character, profile or range, remain unchanged: is there balance, complexity and an overall ability to hold itself in the crowded marketplace that is single malt Scotch whisky at the moment. 

Let’s find out:

Kininvie 23 Years Old – Batch 2 – 42.6% abv

Note: I have a small sample but this will come in a 35cl bottle when released in the UK. The bottle pictured is Batch 1.

Nose: Initial hit of banana (mid-ripeness), jute bag and rum cake. The sweetness develops in to fresh orange juice and pear drops with a backdrop of fresh leather. It’s quite a complex nose and really quite unique: if you gave me this blind it would be hard to guess what it was, other than being a Speyside dram.  Going back to the nose after a while it shows apple and blackberry pie with custard, plus a fair whack of vanilla.

Palate: Sweet tea at first, then a hit of dried apricot and raisins followed by red apple slices and some leather notes. Creme brulee with a summer fruit coulis then appear. The balance of red fruits and vanilla is excellent, with just a hint of spice to counterbalance the sweetness.  

Finish: Oak, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg on the death with a lasting zest of lime, thyme and some fresh mint.

Overall: This is quite an unusual dram, bouncing between vanilla sweetness and rich red fruits... but the balance works. It isn’t out of kilter but neither is this a sherry bomb nor a delicate bourbon barrel baby. I think I’d like to see how this would take in just the latter, with bigger vanillin and charred oak spice.

Not a bad start to the Kininvie journey and I’m looking forward to seeing how this might compare to other styles of whisky coming from the same distillery as well as to see how Kininvie’s core DNA differs from that of the other single malts (Glenfiddich, Balvenie) produced on the same site in Dufftown. Until such time, I’m running blind, but (as I was on Islay) running happy.