...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old (2016)

Baller. That's right. That's me. I'm here to strengthen my reputation for reviewing whiskies that neither you or I can find or afford. This time I'm reviewing Old Rip Van Winkle ("Don't Call Me Pappy 10") 10 year old.

So about that "afford" issue. There's no actual defunct-distillery Stitzel-Weller juice berben in ORVW anymore. It's just wheated stuff from Buffalo Trace. And it's released every year. And Buffalo Trace never announces the actual bottle count. Thus the secondary market's price is based almost solely on demand.

But why is it in demand? There are other wheated bourbons, other 10 year old bourbons, other 107 proof bourbons, some of which are made very similarly to ORVW. But ORVW is part of the annual Pappiez release. In fact, it's sorta like cheap Pappy. One can proudly add the bottle to the Conspicuous Consumption Display dick pics one airs out on social media, I suppose.

There are still some people who actually open the bottle and drink Ol' Rip, good people like Ryan from New Jersey, from whom I recently received this sample in a swap. Thank you, Ryan.

Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: Old Rip Van Winkle
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: BT's mystery wheated mash bill
Age: at least 10 years
Release year: 2016
ABV: 53.5% ABV

The nose begins with a rich round mature corn whisky note. Aromatic oak (as opposed to generic char), marshmallows and toffee pudding. Hints of cherry candy, pine sap, salty meat and Old Spice. The palate has caramel sauce, dark cherries and black cherry soda. Very minerally. Jalapeño oil and a whisper of ginger beer. The finish has the essence of candy without too much of the sweetness. Fresh cherries and cherry popsicles. Mineral. Lots of heat.

Dare I add water to Van Winkle? Sure. I'll drop it to Buffalo Trace levels.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
The nose shows cloves, caramel, cherry candy and almond extract. The palate is mintier, sweeter. Similar cherries, less caramel. The finish is shorter, simpler. Cherries and candy.

Without fail, the Van Winkle bourbons smell fabulous. Also without fail, the palates never reach the noses' heights. This edition of ORVW has an excellent nose. While I appreciate the palate's reserved nature, it's missing the sort of depth that rye may bring. Yes, I'm a rye and high-rye bourbon fan, so I'm partial. Whatever the culprit may be, the palate hits a wall it cannot ascend. Thankfully though, it's not an oakfest. And I liked it a little better than Weller 12. Old Rip Van Winkle's suggested retail price is probably representative of its quality. The secondary market prices are not.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $60 suggested retail price, $350-$375 actual price
Rating - 84

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bruichladdich The Laddie Eight

After going 2-3 years without an official age-stated whisky, Bruichladdich released this 8 year old single malt to the Travel Retail market in early 2016. Less than six months later they dropped a 10 year old into the world market at about the same price as the 8. That should give you a hint as to how the whisky industry feels about Travel Retail customers.

Both the eight and the new ten are made up of similar casks and are bottled at the same ABV, and have similar packaging. And now they can be found on the same shelves at dozens of European retailers.

After the new 10yo was announced, I bought a 60mL sample of the 8, partly for gits and shiggles, partly because I was hoping to find a successful single-digit age-stated whisky.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: minimum of 8 years
Bottling year: 2016
First Maturation: American and European oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is of yellowed straw. The nose starts off farmy and slightly pukey. Lots of grains: cream of wheat, oatmeal and new carpet (not a grain product, yet). Burnt leaves. Cereal milk and mild cheddar. The palate is similar to the nose, grainy and milky. Necco wafers, Ceylon cinnamon and pencil lead. Moderate sweetness and something kinda peaty. With time in the glass, it gets hotter. It finishes tangy, milky, pukey. Burnt grains, lead and soil.

Maybe some water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Hints of apples, pears and cinnamon in the nose. Less barf, same cheese and grains. A whiff of wood pulp. Apple juice shows up in the palate. Sweet-ish and lightly bitter. Milky and malty. Very very acidic. The sweet and tangy finish still has the milk and lead notes, as well as a hint of buttery pound cake.

I've picked up on modern Bruichladdich's milky note before, but never like this. That note doesn't usually bother me much, but while that character sets this whisky apart as eccentric, it also verges on foul. Things get slightly better when the whisky is diluted, but then the violent acidity crashes in.

I like when the fruit shows up, and the forwardness of the grains is refreshing. But with or without water, Laddie Eight feels American Craft Whiskey-esque. And that's not a compliment. In fact, now I'm going to avoid the new 10yo. Perhaps if they let the spirit go 12-15 years in oak, then I'll give it another try.

Availability - Travel retail and many European specialist retailers
Pricing - $50-$70 (w/o shipping)
Rating - 71 (with water only, at least 5 points lower when neat)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Laphroaig 10 year old, bottled late 1980s

Long time friend and whiskyman, Bernardo, came into possession of this Duty Free Liter of Laphroaig 10yo:
Turns out, it was bottled at the end of the '80s. The top thin label appears to have fallen off due to old dried glue. We opened it up not too long ago—crumbly cork, of course—and gave it a substantial drink or two. When I visited Bernardo two weeks ago, he allowed me another substantial pour for review. Thank you, sir.
Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner at the time: Whitbread & Co.
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled: late 1980s
Chill-filtration? ???
Caramel colored? Maybe
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a brassy gold. The nose begins with chocolate and malty drinks like Ovaltine and Yoo-hoo. There's vegetal peat (not smoky) and a gentle salty seaweed note. Apricots and limes show up early. With some air there's an acidic stone fruit note, like yellow plums. And a hint of fig too. Smoky, salty, savo(u)ry peat in the palate. A little bit of fudge and a nice leafy (young Kilkerran) note. There's a fat, almost rich, bitterness to it. Very little sweetness. A gentle tingly heat. It has a long warm finish of mild cigars, leaves, sea salt and toasted barley.

What a gorgeous nuanced thing Laphroaig once was. (See Serge waxing poetic about the 10s from that era.) It's rich without being oaky (attention: Beam Suntory), and challenging without being brutal. Though it's so very different than the Laphroaigs from this decade, and the previous, there are still matching DNA markers between those and this. Apologies for the ExhaustedWriterMetaphor™.

Perhaps there's older malt in the mix since the scotch market was still limping about at that time. Or maybe the folks at the distillery knew how to produce a stunning whisky at 10 years of age back then. I can only dream that someone—likely not under corporate ownership—cracks that code at a distillery somewhere in the world in my lifetime.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Japanese Reboot

To my great readers in Tokyo and the Kansai region who are available to waste some good hours with this crazy person in the near future, please email me at divingforpearlsblog at gmail.com. Or if you have some suggestions for off-the-path ramen spots or awamori (and, er, whisky) bars, my furry ears are open. Thank you for your time and help!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, HW-15-5U

If you've been following my B.A.R.D.F. series this year, you may have noticed that I haven't been particularly impressed by the bourbons and ryes I've tried. The three I've recommended—Heaven Hill 6yo BIB, Lot No. 40 and Bulleit Bourbon—are (or were) pretty easy to come by in many states, and many of you are already familiar with at least two of them. Though I have some American oddities, dusties and crafties awaiting review, I'm going to try to make sure there's a few regular comfies in the mix.

With that in mind, I've decided to review old reliable Four Roses Single Barrel for Mathilda Rose's birthday week. It's one of the few whiskies (of any sort) to be priced lower in this part of the country than in California. It's below $40 in Ohio and I saw it at $32(!) in Kentucky last weekend. I know it's hipper to talk up the cask strength private barrels, but I'm comfortably cool with the 50%abv version that can still be found without much struggle.

Am I ashamed to not have had a classier photo?
Actually, yeah, a little.
But it's late here.

: Four Roses
Ownership: Kirin
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Region: Lawrenceberg, Kentucky
Age: ???
Recipe: OBSV (high rye, fruity yeast)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Warehouse: HW
Barrel #: 15-5U
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(review sample taken from midpoint of the bottle)

Its color is rosy brown. The nose has a mix of fresh apples and cherries with brown sugar and cinnamon. And some cantaloupe. Some earthy molasses and brine to give it a slight edge. The vanilla stays subtle throughout. The palate has a comforting warm. A spicy rye rumble balances with the moderate sweetness. Cherry Squishees. Salt and unsweetened cocoa. Some orange roll up late. The sweetness grows with time, though so does the spice. It finishes with cherries and rye. Toasted grains and brief citrus. The spice picks up in later sips.

The nose is very fruity. Cherries and oranges. Still some peppery spice in the palate, with raspberries and caramel. The finish is full of pepper and berries.

Man, this is just right. The nose has great balance, while the palate never gets too oaky, and the finish lingers well. It won't knock you out of your chair—unless you have five pours—but it works like I wish more bourbons worked, neat and in cocktails.

I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, but then again, this release is a bunch of single barrels. Still there's a decent consistency between each batch/barrel. I think this particular one was in East Coast shops last year. If you find it, I doubt you'll be disappointed. If you find a different barrel, odds are it ain't bad either.

Availability - East Coast USA, I think, way back in 2016
Pricing - This series: $35-$50
Rating - 86

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd

After Mathilda's birth, 3 years ago, I celebrated on this blog by reviewing three Littlemills. A few months later, I hurried out to a Total Wine & More to buy a bottle of what may be the final sub-$200 full strength single cask Littlemill. It's the only Littlemill in my collection.

Since we all survived these three years, I have chosen to open the bottle now. Chances are, I may only open the bottle when her birthday rolls around each year, thus giving me an opportunity to track how it develops/oxidizes over time, much like I did with my Balblair '78.

Distillery: Littlemill
Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak of some sort
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is a brassy gold. The nose starts off with bundles of fruit, think melons and lemons. Hints of bourbon up top and a malty undertow. Butterscotch, vanilla and a little bit of wood pulp. The palate is hot, tight and sharp. But it's also creamy, full of butterscotch and apples. It's also grassy and green (specifically, leaves). A little bit bitterness. Feels much younger than its age. Apples, grass and leaves in the finish. Some bitterness and heat. Vanilla. A good length to it, though.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is mostly unchanged. Less bourbon, more grassiness. Cucumber, melons and cream soda. The palate has lemons, grass, tart apples and a hint of vanilla. More bitterness. Still some heat to it. It finishes lightly sweet with a bitter bite. Ashy oak, vanilla and grass.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets slightly maltier. Almond extract, caramel and vanilla. Lemons and brown rice. The palate is sweet, creamy and grassy. Heavy on the caramel. Limes and bitter lemon soda. Vanilla and grass in the finish. A little bitter, a little sweet. Not much change, I guess.

This one has me stumped. When I first opened the bottle on Monday night, I was struck by the difference between the nose and palate. It smelled pleasant and fruity, but was very sharp and austere (there it is!) on the tongue. I usually find that a bottle's initial pour can be too tight. So I made sure my review pour on Wednesday had plenty of air. That resulted in the notes listed above.

There were substantial youthful notes throughout, yet there was also some heavy oak. And they didn't (or haven't yet) come together. I wonder if this whisky spent most of its life in a third- or fourth-fill cask before being re-racked into a hyperactive first-fill or new oak barrel. There are a number of official bottlers of whom I'd expect that, but not a steadfast indie like BB&R. They don't help matters by listing only that their whiskies have been matured "in oak".

I like the youth, the leafy grassiness, the bite, the fight in this Littlemill. And for that it gets extra points. But the naked unintegrated (segregated?) oak stuff holds it back. I will indeed let this sit in the bottle for a year before I open it again, then I'll review it again to report on what's happened.

Availability - Total Wine & More, though now sold out
Pricing - I think it was $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 83 (probably being generous)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Caol Ila 27 year old 1979 Whisky Tales

For the next Mathilda malt, I'll scooch from Hokkaido to Port Askaig for a 1979 Caol Ila single cask. It was released by the German independent bottler, Whisky Tales, in days of yore (2006).

I miss two things about California, the year-round local produce and my whisky friends. One of these friends, whom I didn't meet until only a year before I left, is Mr. Zaro. Mr. Zaro, an always generous soul, celebrated his birthday yesterday, so I decided to go with this rare whisky he shared with me. I count myself spoiled. Thank you, Mr. Zaro!

Distillery: Caol Ila
Ownership: The Big D
Region: Port Askaig, Islay
Independent Bottler: Whisky Tales
'Quirky' name: The Unicorn
Age: 27 years (1979-2006)
Maturation: fresh bourbon cask
Bottles: 215
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Despite spending twenty-six years in what was likely a first-fill American oak barrel, the whisky has a nice light gold color, which gives me hope that it's not over-oaked. Indeed, the nose leads with anise, basil and mint leaves. Apple skins and ash. A medicinal moment here and there. Vanilla pudding. Smoky toffee (if there was ever such a thing, bring it on). With a long time in the glass, the whisky starts to pick up a fresh peach note. The palate is intensely herbal. Big on oregano, and a certain still-illicit-in-many-states herb. It's lightly sweet and not too hot. Lots of apples and a couple of limes. Hints of strawberries, marshmallows and salt. More pepper than peat. It finishes with limes and dried herbs. Salt and pepper. Lightly sweet and lightly tannic. Good length.

WITH WATER (<46%abv)
The nose is still minty, but now it's also malty. Limes and a hint of forest-y peat. A quiet pretty note of nectarine skin. The palate is still herbal and leafy. Sweeter, though with a hint of good bitterness. Like the nose, it's maltier. A few tannins. The peat seems to have dissolved. It finishes very sweetly. Again, no peat. Black peppercorns and a hint of bitterness.

Yes! The oak stayed in the background throughout, though water did bring it forward a little. Like the stunning 31 year old Special Edition Caol Ila that Cadenhead released two years ago (also a first-fill ex-bourbon cask), this whisky is very light on peat. Both read more Highland than Islay. While the Cadenhead was fruit forward, this one dishes out pepper and dried herbs. This Caol Ila is a little louder, I think. If you've opened your bottle and find it to be a bit too edgy, plop a teaspoon of water into your glass and you should find the whisky getting sweeter.

Availability - I dunno, it's a unicorn
Pricing - Rainbows?
Rating - 89 (though might be 90+ on another day)