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The first thing that strikes you about The Thirteen is the rounded quality of the nose. It's gently unobtrusive but inviting, and exceptionally harmonious. The defining characteristic is a sweetness, but not a cloying one: this is a nose of exquisite poise, built around a honeyed note paired with a robust maltiness. It's ornamented with a delicate array of fragrances that are not easy to separate out - you're likely to find your own scents in here - but I get ripe fig and proud oak, garnished with a little mint.
On the palate, the first taste is a lovely coating of caramel backed up with good-quality bitter chocolate. The harmony from the nose shines through in the mouth - you can really sense the impact of the year that the malts spent married together in the barrel before the grains joined them for bottling. Returning to the nose unveils a syrupy partner to the caramel taste, alongside the suggestion of loose-leaf tea. A second taste once that initial gulp has had time to open up on the palate brings citric and biscuity notes, but really emphasises the distinctly creamy texture of the body.
At 40% ABV it's not overly muscular and can certainly be taken without water, but I'm glad that I added a drop - The Thirteen developed and opened up more than any other whisky that I've tried. You can now detect delicately (and I mean that - they're incredibly subtle) phenolic undertones that enliven the nose, in partnership with a sweetness that is much fruitier (is that a cherry note?) than the rather vanilla qualities you first found. You really sense the Speyside presence in the blend, with all the elegant charm that that suggests, coming to the fore. After the water, the palate is even creamier, and also better reflects the citric note that the nose promised.
The finish begins with bitter chocolate and tea before a lightly alcoholic tang crescendoes, ebbing out through a consistently biscuity taste into a sweet farewell. This really is the dram for all seasons: there's plenty here to delve into, with both light and heavy elements well-represented. On the other hand, if you want your whisky simply to accompany (and enrich) contemplation, conversation and relaxation, then The Thirteen is a smooth and enjoyable partner for your reflections. The lions rampant on the (very pretty) box were clearly salivating at the prospect of a glass. For the money, you'd be hard pressed to find better - and you could spend substantially more before you found an improvement.