...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Charbay Amador Hop Flavored Whiskey

I 💚 Charbay. Their infamous "Whiskey Release" series is, like, intergalactic, man. Their distillers, Marko and Miles, are madmen, so I'm happy to try anything they design. Unfortunately the whiskey world discovered that those Releases are superlative, so I can't afford any of them. But recently Karakasevics did some batches of cheaper whiskey experiments. There's Whiskey S, a distillation of Bear Republic Big Bear Stout. There's Whiskey R5, a distillation of Racer 5 IPA. Then there's today's piece of craziness.

Amador Hop Flavored Whiskey is, as per the official site:
A blend of 60% straight malt whiskey and 40% hop-flavored whiskey distilled from a craft IPA beer, the components were aged separately for over 2 years in French oak wine barrels and then “married” in our family Chardonnay barrels for another 2 years before being bottled.
So, no, this is neither bourbon nor rye. But it's American, so there.


Companies: Charbay and Amador Whiskey Co.
Distillery: Charbay
Location: St. Helena, California
What the hell is this made out of? See description above
Age: at least 4 years old
Batch: 1
Barrel: 2
ABV: 48% ABV
(Thank you to Sku for this sample!)

The nose has an intensely fruity side: lemonade, mango and grapefruit. It also has a rich sugary side: vanilla fudge, circus peanuts and a hint of maple syrup. Lots of hops that haven't gone Full Weed yet. The palate is wonderfully, violently tart. More lemon than lemon. Pine sap and grapefruit. Roasted grains, lots of hops. A bit of a sweaty, musty note. Its loooooooong finish is full of hops, pine, grapefruit and lime juice. A little bit of sweetness reins the tartness in.

Odd but joyous. There's no other way I can find to describe it. The IPA element is unmistakable and has run right over the malt. Everything is big and crazy and it's probably a good idea the thing wasn't bottled at full strength because it may have caused a tear in the space-time continuum. As intense as it is, I can see it as being a great spring or summer sipper because of its IPAness (don't say that word out loud). Great work, Miles and Marko!

Availability - At a few dozen American whiskey specialists
Pricing - anywhere between $75-$115
Rating - 87

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speyburn Arranta Casks, bottled 2015

On Monday I reviewed Speyburn 10 year old, complementing its uncompromising low-oak grungy style. Today, I'm reviewing an NAS big-oak Speyburn called "Arranta Casks". Arranta is "inspired by the Gaelic word meaning 'intrepid and daring'". The whisky is also entirely composed of first-fill bourbon casks and exclusively targets the American market. Kinda seems like it was designed to (try to) capture bourbon fans. In order to get a better perspective of the liquid, I tried this whisky along with the Speyburn 10.


Distillery: Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: at least 3 years old
Maturation: first-fill bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? probably not
Colored? possibly
[DISCLOSURE: Today's bottle was sent to me by Amy from Ten27 Communications, a PR firm for InterBev, AnCnoc's parent company. Thank you, Amy.]

Its color is slightly darker than the 10's yellow gold. The nose starts out with lots of oatmeal. Then there's metal, butterscotch, polyester shirt and brown rice. With time it develops notes of cinnamon sugar, nutmeg, florals and hand soap. The palate is sweet and creamy, full of vanilla pudding and caramel. Hints of flowers, heat and soap. There's an undefined bitterness to it. But there are also some raspberry and apricot notes. LOTS of tannins in the very sweet finish. That sweetness steamrolls most other notes, though there are some vanilla and milky things going on.

This was better than I'd expected, but still falls short of the 10. The quirky spirit and rich oak make for an awkward partnership. The vanilla and wood spices are present, but either override the Speyburn part or exist separately. Still, it's far from boring and not as much of a mess as Diageo's current woody NAS insults. It's worth a try at a bar, if you can find one that stocks Arranta.

Availability - USA only
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 78

Monday, June 19, 2017

Speyburn 10 year old, bottled 2014

Florin (a prince) tricked me into learning the ways of Speyburn 10yo a number of years ago. Back then the whisky came in a bottle with an exquisitely unattractive green label, and it could still be found for $15. They've since updated its look with another unsexy label and a bottle with a slightly different shape. In some parts of California it can still be found for about $20, but around the rest of the country it's priced at $25-$35. I've been wondering if the whisky itself has changed. My previous bottle of the 10 was filled in 2011, this sample from Florin was from a 2014 bottle.

It's actually the 10yo. There is no official
12yo at this moment in time.

Distillery: 
Speyburn
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: "a combination of American Oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks"
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

The nose begins with grapefruit, malt and butter. There are also notes of barley wash and metal. There's a almost-phenolic grungy note that sits somewhere between Loch Lomond-style and Glen Scotia-style. It's simple but quite striking. The barley shows up in the palate as well. There are dried herbs (oregano/savoury), pipe tobacco, tart berries and a hint of milk chocolate. With time in the glass, it develops an earthy note, as well as some good bitterness. The finish has a wallop of tart fruits and Campari bitterness. It also has a little bit of toffee and confectioner's sugar to give it some depth.

This might be even better than before. Its style has gotten dirtier—especially in the nose—while it seems as if the rest of the industry's official bottlings are attempting to get oakier or cleaner. This uncompromising approach is admirable in this marketplace. While Glenfiddich 12 and Tomatin 12 are friendlier, easier drinkers, Speyburn 10 will deliver some fight and fun, at a similar price. Whether this whisky is for you depends on what you want from your beverage.

Availability - Worldwide
Pricing - $25-$35
Rating - 84

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Grand-Dad 114 (bottled 2008?)

Never particularly fond of the lower proof Old Grand Dads, I don't mind the 114 proof version as it usually delivers a lot of punch at its good price. I reviewed the then current version in 2014. While doing some dusty hunting in a neighboring state, I found a bottle with a L8 code alongside a bunch with L14 codes. So I think it's from 2008. It lists its code twice, adjacently:


This review comes from the second half of the bottle. The first half was often unpleasant, and made for the ugliest Manhattans on record.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Old Grand-Dad
Distillery: Booker Noe Plant
Location: Boston, Kentucky
Mash Bill: Beam's high-rye
Age: ???
ABV: 57% ABV

NEAT
The nose leads with cut lumber, followed by cherry candy, brine and loads of raw rye spirit. A bit of hazelnut liqueur in there too. The bold palate has more of a rye kick than most 51%-rye rye whiskies. There's also tart citrus, wood spice and something salty & meaty. Plenty of heat and sweet. It finishes sticky sweet. Definitely cherry lollipops. Tannic, hot and peppery.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose has burnt peanuts, lead and brine. Cardboard and corn syrup. No more rye. The palate has less heat, but is sweeter. Peanuts and cherry candy. The finish is similar to the palate, but is face-makingly cloying.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Burnt toast, mint leaves, creamed corn and cherry candy on the nose. The palate is mild, bitter, sweet and nutty. Its finish fades quickly. Sweet, tannic and a little bitter.

MANHATTAN w/ bourbon at full strength
Terrible. Bitter, tart and lead laden. Maybe a hint of cherries.

MANHATTAN w/ bourbon reduced to 40%abv
Much better. More citrus and baking spices. Actually feels more bourbony.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
TL;DR - DO NOT add water if you're sipping it. DO add water if you're making a Manhattan with it.

What a strange experience this bottle has been. Its palate is always better than its nose, which I can't say I've found too often. The rye edge is much appreciated, and its much missed once the whiskey is diluted. All of this is the exact opposite of my encounter with the 2014 bottling, which had little rye and took water well.

Perhaps I'm experiencing bourbon exhaustion. Bourbon has been my only go-to for casual sipping for the past several weeks, and I think I gotta take a break from it. I'll review something a little different next Friday.

Availability - Not as wide as it used to be, not carried in all states
Pricing - $25-$35
Rating - 79

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kornog T'aourac Trived peated French malt

And by "French" I mean Bretagne. And by "Kornog" I mean peated Glann Ar Mor. And by "T'aourac Trived", I have no idea.

Let me clarify further. Kornog is the peated single malt produced at Glann Ar Mor distillery in Brittany, a corner of France with considerable Celtic history. Glann Ar Mor approached its production from an old school angle, with direct-fired alembic stills and bottling right on site. Kornog's malt was peated up to 35ppm, and though this specific bottling was matured in bourbon barrels there are some releases that spent time in oloroso or PX casks.

You may notice the past tense verbs in the previous sentence. Apparently the distillery closed in 2015 due to Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) instituted by France. I don't 100% understand the reasoning behind this, so if anyone cares to weigh in on this please do so in the comment section below. In any case, it's a shame, because this is good whisky.


Distillery: Glann Ar Mor
Brand: Kornog
Region: Brittany, France
Age: ???
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Peat level: 35ppm
Bottling year: probably 2010 (BC 2010 batch)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
(sample purchased from The Whisky Exchange)

Its color is white burgundy (that description is there to piss off the French). The nose is lovely. Peated peaches and melons. Subtle medicinal and almond extract notes. Simple syrup. Floral peat. Bright and candied. The palate is full of stone fruits + honey + sweet peat. Fried plantains. Grapefruit. A Campari bitterness. A light refreshing peated whisky? It finishes with more honey and mellow peat. Pear nectar and fried plantains. A little bit of coffee. Lots of Campari. Very aromatic.

What a sweet gentle surprise. I didn't add water because it was so cuddly right at 46%. Yes, a cuddly 35ppm peated whisky. The combination of fruit, florals and honey is unlike any Scotch single malts I've had, peated or unpeated. From what I've gathered, this stuff is pretty young too, which makes it even more impressive. If the distillery really has closed permanently, it's a real loss for the whisky community, and France.

Availability - Happy hunting
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88

Monday, June 12, 2017

anCnoc Cutter 20.5ppm peated single malt

Inspired by last week's curious-but-good peated Caperdonich, I've decided to roll out a pair of peaty non-Islay malts for this week.

Today, it's anCnoc Cutter, a peaty whisky from Knockdhu distillery in Speyside. Like the anCnoc 12 and 18 year olds, this sample comes from (*DISCLOSURE*) a bottle sent to me from Amy of Ten27 Communications. Thank you, Amy.

Cutter is one of the nine NAS peated whiskies anCnoc released in 2014. Yes, nine. Though they lack age statements, eight of the nine whiskies were bottled at 46%abv and listed the peating level on the labels. Peatlands was 9ppm, Rascan 11.1ppm, Rutter 11.5ppm, Barrow 12.5ppm, Flaughter 14.8ppm, Tushkar 15ppm, Stack 20ppm and Cutter 20.5ppm. (I do believe these phenolic measurements are from pre-distillation rather than post.) Barrow was exclusive to the travel retail market, Tuskar was for Sweden, Peatlands and Stack were for continental Europe. The ninth peaty release, Rúdhan didn't have a ppm listing and was also just for travel retail. A few of these, including Rutter, Flaughter and Cutter, are/were available in The States.

Sorry, no bottle pic. The bottle was emptied quickly
at my last event.

Distillery:
 Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Type: Single Malt
Region: border of Speyside and Western Highlands
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: probably refill American oak casks
Peat level: 20.5ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No

NEAT
The color is very light, possibly sub-pinot grigio amber. A good sign. The nose is very medicinal upon impact. There are also racquetballs, burnt plastic and a hint of tar. Some earthy molasses and lemon and lime zest. Really gives the feeling of decomposing veg. The warm palate has a lightly bitter and roasted side to it that reads like black coffee. A mild saltiness and sweetness softens it up. A Thai chile and black peppercorn strike hits late. With its chili pepper sting, tartness and salt, the finish is all hot sauce.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets a little quirky. Butter and hard cheese meets farmy peat. Lemons and a hint of florals. A little bit of vanilla-ish candy. The palate keeps its roasted note, though the whole thing is calmer. There's mild salty peat and salted Irish cream butter. Hints of bitterness and whole wheat bread in the finish, though salty peat leads the way.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
One can see why anCnoc stopped at 20.5ppm for their peaty releases because Cutter feels twice as phenolic. It's a nearly nude peated whisky that doesn't feel too spirity or hot. Nor does it smell like mezcal as many other baby peated whiskies do. I like it quite a bit. This bottle also made its way to two whisky events where it was easily emptied by impressed drinkers. I got all of four pours from my (free) bottle and enjoyed them all.

I don't recommend adding water to it because dilution seems to throw it out of whack. So, again, this whisky is only suggested for peatheads, specifically peatheads looking for an Islay alternative. It would be interesting to try some of the 9-to-11ppm anCnocs to find out how they measure up to peated Highlanders like Ardmore and Benromach. Hopefully I can source a few!

Availability - Europe, United States and Japan
Pricing - $55-$80 worldwide
Rating - 86

Friday, June 9, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Charter 8 year old

When I picked up a 200mL bottle of the discontinued Old Charter 8 year old bourbon while on my drive across the country last summer, I was excited about what I thought was a high-quality sorta-dusty bourbon.

My guess as to it being from the 1990s was quashed quickly once I realized the label stated the whiskey was distilled in "Frankfort, KY". Actual dusty Old Charters list Louisville instead. Louisville was the location of the old Bernheim distillery. Frankfort is the location of the Buffalo Trace distillery. BT's owner, Sazerac, bought Old Charter in 1999 so, if I understand math correctly, the earliest my bottle would have been filled was 2007. Taking a look at this bottling code, I wonder if it was bottled in 2012 instead. Wiser bourbon people, please chime in if you think it's from a different date.


My "high-quality" expectation was even more roughly rebuffed. The bourbon was sour, bitterly oaked and formless in its 40%abv. In fact, I dumped almost half the bottle down the sink. Two ounces were stashed away for this review though. Let's see if I like it more now than I did a year ago...


Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Ownership: The Sazerac Company
Brand: Eagle Rare
Region: Frankfort, Kentucky
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 8 years
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace low-rye
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

NEAT
The nose starts off with paint fumes, banana candy, generic barrel char and turpentine. After 20 minutes in the glass, it starts releasing friendlier fumes: lavender, sage, dried berries and orange oil. The palate begins all bitter oak. Then some vanilla and sugar. Generic barrel char, dried cherries and something metallic (lead?). Like the nose, it gets more approachable with time. The finish has some length to it, though it's mostly lead/metal, oaky bitterness and generic barrel char. A little bit of sweetness in there. Vanilla and overripe bananas.

MANHATTAN
Light and inoffensive. The bourbon adds nothing to it,

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This reads as bottom shelf stuff when it first hits the glass, but give it some time and it's better than terrible. Almost satisfactory. Sorry, I'm running out of positive things to say about it, other than I'm glad I paid all of $5.99 for the 200mL bottle. While it'll do in case of an emergency or to apply to a quick cocktail, I have little doubt that earlier iterations were better than this bottling of the old 8yo.

Availability - Can still be found here and there
Pricing - I paid $5.99 for my 200mL
Rating - 73 (but it needs air; scores ten points lower before aired out)