...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Randy Brandy drinks 2 batches of L'Encantada XO Armagnac

Begging for Pearls brought the righteous Lib indignation this week. Mmmm god it's delicious. Who needs food? JUST COOK UP SOME EAU DE VIE À LA GAUCHE AND SHOOT IT BETWEEN MY TOES.

As an extra Christmas present to us all, Krabs then went full hipster with one of those This Terrible Thing That No One Likes is Actually Good gems because those posts always age well.

And since, like testicles, all good things descend in threes, so Randy Brandy is here to review TWO L'Encantada armagnacs.

At L'Encantada, François and François [Ed. note: Not their actual names.] [Better Ed. note: Shut up.] have Crafted two batches of XO: Lot 1 and Lot 2.0, also known as There Is Pibous In It and There is NO Pibous In It.

L'Encantada found two casks of Domaine Lous Pibous and you won't believe what happened next!

They blended them with three casks of not-Pibous. Brilliant. Because there is definitely an infinite amount of Pibous in the world. Anyway, Lot 1.

Hot for BILFs? Then Lot 2 is for you. 40% of it is 30+ year old fluid, so pull your cork to that. (I should work in advertising.)

That's all the intro I had the patience for. I liked it.

Here are my notes.

LOT 1 - There Is Pibous In It, 46.8%abv
Nose - It's very Christmassy. Allspice, dried cherries, apple pie and chestnuts. Wet twigs and envelope glue. Oaky like an old bourbon.
Palate - Spicy, like pumpkin pie spice. Maple, honey, cinnamon, salted butter and lemon.
Finish - Salted nuts and honey. Tannins and lemon.

More Notes - L'Encantada is good at finding armagnacs that smell like very old bourbon, but don't taste like you blew an oak tree. So, yes this will thrill bourbon geeks whose jaws are sore. The notes of apples, cherries and lemons are also much appreciated.

LOT 2 - There Is No Pibous, 44.6%abv
Nose - Black walnuts, applesauce, buttery caramel, golden raisins, grape juice, some kind of citrus juice.
Palate - Armagnac candy: toasty and very sweet. Speyside whisky aged in new oak. Brazil nuts and toasted almonds. Syrupy and oaky with a little bit of acid.
Finish - Very sweet and tannic. Cabernet Sauvignon and Brazil nuts.

More Notes - Less of the bourbon thing than Lot 1, more brandy and malt whisky. It smells good and drinks fast, but the palate could use some more fruit essence and less sugar. The tannins show its age, but if you don't want any oak in your drink, stay away from L'Encantada altogether. If you love oak then there's a certain aforementioned American beverage that misses that thing you do.

There were my notes.

L'Encantada wants whiskey drinkers and their blind whiskey money. You know who you are. Pony up because you can't take your money with you when you go, especially if you go due to cirrhosis and you're too broke to pay your medical bills. At least there will be more brandy for me then.

Merry War on Christmas, Libs. I'll see you in 2020 with some Pibous.

L'Encantada XO, Lot 1 - B/B+
L'Encantada XO, Lot 2.0 - B-/B

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Loch Dhu, part deux

Speaking of questionable whisky ideas, Loch Dhu everyone!

Yes, I previously reviewed this, one of the world's most reviled whiskies, but I had another sample from possibly the same bottle. And we've all gotten a little older in the five years since. I'd also tried another regrettable whisky this week so I thought, "What the hell."

For those who have never see Loch Dhu, it is black like crude oil. It's similarly, terrifyingly viscous, as it still sticks to the sides of the sample bottle four days later. I don't know why this product was created, with its Coca-Cola (or higher) levels of e150a. Mannochmore distillery produces some very good single malt. Why did United Distillers chose to do it wrong?

Distillery: Mannochmore
Ownership: United Distillers (proto-Diageo)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? Dhu
(Thank you to Andy, again)

It has a bold nose for its low strength, made up of coffee grounds, caramel candy, prune juice, Worcestershire sauce, mold and burnt garlic. There are burnt raisins, burnt celery, burnt cardboard on the palate. And all those burnt bitter things float in a sour vinegar puddle. The finish is very bitter and very sour, but also has mellow chocolatey side to it.

This is nowhere near as horrifying as its reputation, and better than I'd remembered it to be. I'm not saying it's good whisky. It's shit. But there are foul strata, and Loch Dhu does not rest on the bottom layer. Its nose is plenty strange, and not exactly what one would describe as alluring. But it's sniffable, and sort of interesting. The palate is bad, approaching one's lowest expectations, yet the finish's chocolate note approaches appealing.

While the whisky isn't the worst, it's still among the most regrettable of whisky ideas. I wish it had served as a lesson to the SWA that e150a should be banned with the rest of the additives. But no one learned anything. So enjoy all your orange Diageo whiskies!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 55

Monday, December 2, 2019

The deeply problematic St. George Baller Whiskey


In the middle of the socializing segment of last month's Columbus Scotch Night, Doctor Springbank handed me his bottle of St. George Baller Single Malt Whiskey and said, pokerfaced, "You have to try this."

At first glance the bottle label's Ukiyo-e-style art was gorgeous. Also, my wife and I love St. George's gins and I've found their absinthe to be a fun take on a beloved spirit. When it comes to whiskey, aside from Charbay and Westland, no other American distillery is doing anything that consistently appeals to me at this point, so I was quite excited by this new thing.

And then I drank the whiskey. And it was awful. As in "wait this cannot be that bad oh my fuck it is that bad ahh gah nooooo this finish" bad.

Perhaps it was my momentary vom face, but Dr. Springbank knew immediately. "Yes! I thought it was just me." We handed it out as a blind taster to at least six other people, and everyone hated it and was kinda mad we pushed it on them. And then I said "Please sir may I have another," and I took a sample home.


After I completed my home tasting (see NOTES below), I read Baller's official page and more issues became apparent.

The first words are, “A California take on the Japanese spin on Scotch whisky.” That phrase is problematic and possibly meaningless. The current "Japanese spin on Scotch whisky" is to mix together Canadian, Irish and Scotch whisky, bottle it with kanji on the label and call it Japanese whisky, or to bottle ultra-young NAS single malts. And the producers who are doing the latter each have different styles. So there is no current single Japanese spin on Scotch whisky. Even if one was to look at the Japanese whisky market in its heyday (quality-wise) Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi, Miyagikyo and the dozens of upmarket blends each had its own character.

And what exactly is "A California take"? If you think the process is specifically Californian or Japanese, you are incorrect. This "single malt" uses both malted and unmalted barley (is that technically a single malt?), is aged in bourbon and French oak wine casks, then is charcoal filtered and then is finished in plum liqueur casks. They refer to the liqueur as umeshu, though it was made using California ume.

So, the plums are from California. And I guess the French oak wine casks are sort of Napa-ish. Charcoal filtration is very far from a born-in-Cali thing. And the mixed barley mashbill is kinda Irish.

Regarding umeshu casks, some portion of the late Hibiki 12 year old Japanese blend was finished in plum liqueur barrels, but was done with a very gentle hand.

Reading on, I learned the label "reimagined" St. George as a samurai slaying a dragon. And then there was the Japanese flag. This was becoming a plague of cultural expropriation. And since nothing surrounding this whiskey is actually Japanese, one begins to wonder if this entire farce was motivated by the hope someone would mistake it for actual "Japanese" whisky and pay through the nose for it.


Writing about this whisky forced me to think about my own choices. I love Japan. My two trips there were among the highlights of my life. I continue to study its culture, religions and history. I've repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to learn the basics of its language. I have filled my daily visual space (that I can control) with Japanese art and products. But I do this in my private time, and I do it with humility knowing I am an outsider looking in at a proud, profound and unique culture. Seeing a company market a product using nothing but cultural appropriation — even if it's a joke, exploitation is the whole show — empties me of any compassion for the producer, whether or not said company says their $200 whiskey was made for highballs.

Distillery: St. George Spirits
Type: Single Malt?
Region: Alameda, CA, USA
Mashbill: Part malted barley, part toasted unmalted barley?
Age: 3 years old
Maturation: First maturation in a Mix of bourbon and French oak wine casks, then a finish in California plum liqueur casks
Alcohol by Volume: 47%
(Thank you to Doctor Springbank)

Is there a mosquito infestation? Because my nose smells citronella candles and OFF spray. And Bounce fabric softener sheets. A violet liqueur note buries hints of grapefruit and toasted oak. The palate is watery but hot. It's also VERY floral (flowers, soap and perfume). Ginger liqueur and dried oregano. Burnt paper and eggy sulfur. After 20 minutes a strong note of Grand Marnier laced with Nutrasweet pushes forward. It finishes with hot floral soap, bitter orange zest and a chemical sweetness.

This is comparable to the height of the '80s Bowmore terrors, with perfumes and soaps and sulfur and chemicals and burnt things. As I am not a distiller, I can only guess at what went awry, but the level of tinkering involved in this whisky's production leaves a lot of potential for cockups. The liqueur casks are very aggressive, and makes one fear the actual liqueur. Charcoal filtration why? And what about the original distillate. Perhaps it started off in a good place? Or was the soap and perfume always present?

As I enjoy their gins and absinthe, I will certainly continue to purchase those St. George products. But Baller was wrong on so many levels that I'm going to forgo their whiskey products altogether.

Availability - UK, Singapore and 13 US states
Pricing - $150-$300, though a few stores now have it for less than $100
Rating - 57

Friday, November 29, 2019

Laphroaig 10 year old, 40%abv version (distillery mini, 2016)

Yes, it's time to taste my rent from my very own square foot of Islay. This mini was presented to me, along with the coordinates of my plot (and a flag, I think), when I checked in at Laphroaig distillery three years ago.

This also marks the first time I've reviewed the classic Laphroaig 10yo at its lower European market strength of 40%abv. Because of its low alcohol content, I had it batting leadoff in this week's Laphroaig lineup (see here and here for the other two whiskies).

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled: March 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel colored? Yes

What's most surprising about the nose is its lack of the familiar iodine-seaweed-medicinal whiff. Rather it's very close to the barley, fresh and biscuity with honey and green apples. The peat is leafy and herbal with a teeny bit of toasted seaweed. Hints of honeydew and elephant exhibit eek out after 10 minutes. While the palate is smokier than the nose, it feels watery in the mouth. Salt, pepper and sugar in the background. A little bit of dried oregano and marinated banana peppers. It finishes with a "seaweedy truffle salt" per my notes. It's also smoky and sweet with a moment of dried herbs.

This was so disappointing, I didn't continue the lineup until I finished this pour because it would have gotten bulldozed by the other Laphroaigs. Though I enjoyed the nose's youth, its notes could have come from a decent young malt from many other distilleries. The palate is damned close to peated blend territory with its heavy filtration, colorant and dilution. Where's the Laphroaig in this Laphroaig?

All that being said, I would never dump this down the sink. It serves its whisky purpose without offending, though its lack of offense is sort of offensive.

Availability - All over Europe
Pricing - €30-€45
Rating - 79

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2014 Amontillado Cask Finish

Winter arrived a month-and-a-half early this year, so the recent jumble of Ledaig, Lagavulin and Laphroaig reviews feel very appropriate. This week it's all whisky from Bessie Williamson's distillery. On Monday I reviewed 2019's limited edition Càirdeas, today it's the 2014 edition.

Yes, there have been some gaps. I've reviewed the 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 releases and referenced the 2016. I remember drinking the 2018 (Fino finish) but perhaps I consumed it without taking notes. Oh, the humanity!

Anyway, the 2014 edition keeps up the fortified-wine-cask-finish Càirdeas approach begun in 2013 and continued thereafter. Amontillado is usually not a sweet sherry, rather it tends to be dry and nutty. (And, oh geez, I'm beginning to fear the 2020 edition will be PXed.) Hopefully this Amontillado goes well with Laphroaig's spirit...

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: ???, though probably less than 10 years
Maturation: bourbon casks first, then a finish in Amontillado-seasoned hogsheads
Batch: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 51.4%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
(from a bottle split)

The nose smells of new sneakers, from the sole to fresh laces. There's also seaweed, hot tar and an old greasy engine. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of curious fruity things going on: melons, watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a hint of amaretto (not Amontillado). The palate has a curious dirty smokiness to it. Not only is it not Laphroaig-ish, it's not even Scottish. It reminds me of of Säntis or Aecht Schlenkerla. Like burning pine needles and wood chips, burnt vegetable oil. After 20-30 minutes it shifts towards familiar territory with nutty sherry, tart apples, fresh ginger and anise. It finishes with the piney smoke, brine, almonds and tart apples.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose holds plastic, apricots and a gentle smoke. Smaller notes of mint leaves, dried cherries and cinnamon trail behind. The palate stays burly. The peat heads closer to southern Islay, being herbal, bitter and briny, but there's also a decent sweetness in the background. The finish keeps its good length, and mostly matches the palate, adding a little more ginger.

This Càirdeas is more of a thinker, a forehead wrinkler, than the 2019 edition. At first the palate presents something different, a little difficult but fascinating, then it changes course and becomes a reliable Laphroaig. The nose is more consistent, but also less exciting. There are no gloopy or grapey sherry notes, for which we have the Amontillado to thank. Overall it's a good alternative spin on Laphroaig, but I don't think I missed much at the time of its release.

Availability -
Secondary market

Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, November 25, 2019

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2019 Triple Wood

In the days before Select, Four Oak, Brodir and their woody siblings, the Triple Wood expression was the caskiest of the official Laphroaigs. For those new to Triple Wood, here's how it goes: the distillery takes <10 year old bourbon cask Laphroaig, then gives it a series of brief finishes in small quarter casks, refill sherry butts and first fill sherry butts. The result is usually a very mellow and sugary thing with moderate peat.

I lost interest in Triple Wood, as I have with most of Laphroaig's recent output. Then they went ahead and intrigued me by releasing a cask strength version of the Triple for 2019's Càirdeas (an annual release that tends to be both good and well-priced). Because the regular 3W has a 48%abv, the Càirdeas release would have needed to be a real bruiser to set it apart. Sure enough, it has the second highest abv, 59.5%, of any official Laphroaig release.

My sample of Càirdeas 2019 — courtesy of Mr. MAO — was tried head-to-head with the other two Laphroaigs being reviewed this week...

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: ???, though probably less than 10 years
Maturation: bourbon casks (one) then quarter casks (two) and sherry casks (three)
Batch: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 59.5%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably

It has a bright bold nose. Flowers and chocolate, baby. Specifically very dark chocolate. Mint candy and peated peach Jolly Ranchers. Almond extract meets manure. No element overwhelms another. The very nutty palate has just the right amount of sweetness. Fresh ginger + lemon juice, and a seaweed-y umami note pumped up with Laphroaig 10yo CS power. It finishes with lemons surrounded by a very dense smoke, a sprinkle of cocoa in the background. It has a subtler sweetness and saltiness than the palate.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
It's become a very different whisky. I'm getting s'mores in front of a gorgeous bonfire, on the nose, complete with toasted marshmallows, milk chocolate and graham crackers. A little bit of toffee in there too. The palate has shifted to more of a dessert whisky, though a bitter smoke keeps it in balance. Brisk notes of limes and dried herbs, as well. The finish matches the palate, though the sweetness and bitterness mellows out.

Though nuanced whiskies are preferred in these here parts, this beast won my heart. The volume has been turned waaaay up on the casks, spirit, smoke, sweets, alcohol, the whole thing; and as result it appeals to the senses much more than the most recent batch of Laphroaig's 10yo Cask Strength. For a different take see MAO's review of the same whisky. His enthusiasm for the whisky is more muted than mine, though as he notes, this Càirdeas takes to dilution very well, probably improving it. I'm glad he shared his whisky with me. Whenever I go back to buying scotch bottles again, I will certainly consider buying one of these.

Availability - Available at many specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $60 to $90 as of this post's date
Rating - 89

Friday, November 22, 2019

Glendronach Cask Strength, batch 3

Here's a thing. The ABV of each Glendronach cask strength batch:

Batches 1-5 were bottled by Billy Walker's Benriach Distillery Company. Batches 6-8 were bottled by Brown-Forman. What exactly is B-F doing differently? Younger whisky and/or fewer old casks in the mix? Different part of the warehouse? Different sized casks?

I'm not sure what's going on, but it's curious. Luckily, batch six and seven did continue this series's high quality. Now let's go back to the earlier stuff.

Batch two was pretty darn good, though it fell short of the first batch. Time for Batch #3.

Distillery: Glendronach
Ownership at time of bottling: BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd
Current Ownership: Brown-Forman (ugh)
Region: Eastern Highlands (on the edge of Speyside)
Age: ???
Maturation: a mix of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Batch: 3
Bottled: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
(Many thanks to Eric S for this sample!)

The nose is big on sherry (for reals?), opening up bags of dried stone fruits. Citrus zests, anise, mint leaf, saline and carob follow. Maybe a little bit hot. The palate is actually more appealing than the nose. There are chocolates, toffees, wood spice, beef stock and tart cherries. It has a warming, almost smoky conclusion with moments of bitterness and tart fruit.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets beefier, picks up Thai chiles and a simple curry powder. Some cardamom, grapefruit, anise and plenty of heat. Meanwhile, the palate gets a little strange. It's bitterer and saltier. Even a little bit soapy. There's more "classic sherry" raisin notes, milk chocolate and wood spice. The finish is savory, spicy, sharp and soapy.

As noted above, something weird happened to the palate once I added water. I tried it again three nights later and found similar results. No one else has reported the soapy notes, so perhaps this has something to do with the five years it took me to open up the sample. But just to be safe, I recommend leaving out the water because the whisky is quite good when neat. The palate is its richest element, registering a little beefier and savorier than other batches. To me, batch one still holds its position as the best of the group. To those who have tried multiple batches, what say ye?

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (neat only)