With the recent award bestowed on Sullivan's Cove distillery, I'll pick up their Double Cask from my backlog and take a break from Scotch:
I decided to try this because at least one Connosr had commented that the Double Cask is preferable to the distillery's French Oak Port expression. I'd had such a great experience with the latter that I could not overlook this recommendation, and now I am tasting them head-to-head. Since I'd advised oxidizing French Oak Port for at least a month (in order for the aromas and flavors to develop), I tasted this Double Cask in two sessions: first fresh, and then aged in a closed sample container for 2 months. (Apologies for the number of "artificial descriptors". They are actually wonderful, even if they might sound less sophisticated.)
Nose: Vanilla Coke and milk chocolate; Lightness of red grape flesh. Some significant warming in the hand can bring depth to these impressions: lightly leathery and oaky malt. After several minutes, a touch of grassy green apple warns of negative youthful effects, but it is subtle.
Palate: Similar to the nose. Enters pleasantly with malty vanilla milk chocolate, but not too sweet because it's rounded out with some woody cinnamon complexity. Midpalate, I see more of the effect from the French Oak Port casks-- There is a pleasant "gummy bear" influence (but lighter) that mixes with the milk chocolate.
Finish: Continuation from the palate, with some green apple slightly sour in the cheeks.
Nose (2 months): Vanilla Coke (more vanilla-heavy than before) and milk chocolate that contains notable raisins. Beyond the raisin, there is an impression of "artificial" scents of corn-syrup-based candies: jelly beans colored orange and "pink" (cherry or strawberry), those "Circus Peanuts", or perhaps cotton candy. As before, the fruity elements change after 15 minutes or so, with some grassier green apple.
Palate (2 months): Enters with the sour-ish green apple and grass that came out of the nose. This sensation develops with oaky spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and even allspice. Later sips seem to have more vanilla and cocoa, which is a welcome addition in lieu of the grassy apple.
Finish (2 months): Green apple hard candy, with allspice emphasized on exhaling.
The fresh whisky was very good, basically combining some vanilla/spice/green-apple with some elements I'd enjoyed in the French Oak. In this way, the Double Cask gives a "broader" range of sensations, but those elements are diluted, of course. Unfortunately, I found the Double Cask inferior to the French Oak Port, in both the fresh and aged tastings. Although quite good, it's just not in the same tier. Incidentally, I've also noticed that the texture of the Double Cask is not as thick/oily as the French Oak.
I also found the Double Cask to worsen (sour) with oxidation (whereas the French Oak had actually improved), scoring about 5 points lower. This is mostly because of the prevalence of that grassy green apple, which had been foreshadowed in the nose. So I have to recommend preventing the Double Cask from oxidation, even though it did bring out more interesting oak spice influence. In the end, drinking side-by-side, I find myself falling in love again with the French Oak-- I think even more than before.
As far as similar malt recommendations, my first impression was that this Double Cask was similar to the very good Balvenie 17 DoubleWood-- with less honey and more fruit. I rate the Sullivan's Cove higher, and it also sells at a lower price. The oxidized Sullivan's Cove is closer to the younger Balvenie DoubleWood: the inferior 12yo. But for another similar experience of roughly equal quality and lower price, look to the Glenlivet Nadurra.
@Chookster, I would think the same, from my own standpoint. But then I am continually surprised about differing tastes (more than I should be at this point). For an example of a preference for this malt yet no apparent aversion to port finishes, see @jdcook 's review of this malt and the comment added on Aug 12. (connosr.com/reviews/sullivans-cove/…)
I find it interesting that anyone rates this over the french oak expression. I'd assume you'd have to have a real aversion to port cask style whiskies to prefer this instead.