Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie Astar
Price: $65-$75
Strength: 57.1 %

Glenmorangie is working hard to set a trend in the Scotch world by bucking traditional age statements. Many of their offerings today are mixes of various expressions; for example, the Quinta Ruban, the Lasanta, and today's subject of review, the Astar. I don't really know what to make of the lack of age statement. The Glenmorangie rep I spoke to at Julio's Liquors Whisk(e)y-a-Go-Go swears that it's in fact traditional in Scotland and that describing by age is done for the American market. Part of me thinks it's great, that we can step away from the notion that older is automatically better, but part of me is just confused by it. Anyway, confusion at labeling aside, let's talk about what really matters: the Scotch. Make no mistake, this is a big Scotch. I would not recommend this to a beginner. Full of alcohol burn and strong notes, there's a lot to experience here.

The first thing I noticed is the alcohol. The Astar is a cask strength, distilled at 114.2 proof and not diluted, and yup, that's apparent at once, with a strong, peppery burn. A splash or two of water helps cut some of the fire... usually I'm conflicted whether to bother adding the water or not, but in this case, I think it's a good idea.

As my mouth adjusts to the heat, flavors burst out. Glenmorangie is known for being both selective and creative with their wood, and in fact the Astar is aged in American oak casks specially made just for this whisky. In fact, the name Astar is Gaelic for "journey," to describe the journey from the Mississippi Ozarks to the Scottish Highlands. The American oak imparts sweet, very pleasant notes of coconut and vanilla; in fact, the best way I can describe the initial burst of flavor is "Coconut cream." I feel a little odd describing a Scotch this way, but it fits. As the flavors develop, I get some mild pleasant spice, notes of cinnamon or nutmeg... something spicy, anyway. Other more experienced tasters on the net find all sorts of bizarre things like mint, black pepper, tweed (?)... your mileage may vary. Perhaps my palate just isn't as developed, though I hope never to taste tweed in a Scotch.

The Astar finishes strong, with the alcohol burn continuing throughout, and really lingers, as does the coconut cream flavor. This malt has a really long finish; it just stays and stays. As noted above, this is a big Scotch in terms of proof and flavor. I wouldn't recommend it to a beginner, but to a more novice malt enthusiast, there's a whole lot to experience here. I've decided this makes a great dessert malt, especially around the holidays... or just on a Tuesday evening when you need a little fire and sweetness to warm up the day.

Overall score: 90 points (A-). Would have been higher, but the alcohol is a lot to handle.

Other Glenmorangie reviews:

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  1. It sounds like you knocked it down a point or two because of it being cask strength. I'm divided on this, because on one hand it's cool to get the full, natural whisky and freedom to add how much water you want. On the other hand, it can be frustrating trying to mix in the perfect amount of water. I usually alternate between adding too much water and too much whisky and end up with twice as much drink as I intended. It seems to me that 46-48% is the sweet spot, so why not just bottle it at that?

  2. You make a good point. Is it fair to knock a cask strength malt for being cask strength? But I think I'll let my score stand, as it had more alcohol burn than other cask strength offerings I've had. Balvenie 15, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and Glenlivet Nadurra (my favorite Glenlivet product) all are cask strength, yet are smoother, with less burn. And hey, 90 is still a good score. And the Astar deserves it...Glenmorangie will be getting more attention from me in the future.