...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Birthday Booze: Rare Ayrshire (Ladyburn) 37 year old 1975 Signatory, cask 3422

Get ready for TWO WEEKS of birthday booze reports here on Diving for Pearls.  95% of my bottle and sample collections are not currently in my possession, though they will be in ten days.  In the meantime, what I do have on hand is a bunch of fun old stuff.  So I'm going to open these samples and see what happens.

For my final whisky review at age 37, I'm reviewing a 37 year old single malt today.  It's my first (and probably last) whisky from Ladyburn, a distillery that sounds like an unfortunate shower shaving accident.  Ladyburn had a short life.  It was sort of a nine-year experiment (1966-1975) to produce single malt at the site connected to the large grain whisky distillery, Girvan, in Ayrshire.  William Grant & Sons set up two pairs of pot stills, tried some continuous mashing, then said f**k it after less than a decade.  The idea was to set up a one-stop whisky production shop for their successful Grant's blended whisky brand.  Three decades after Ladyburn's demolition, the company finally did build the facility of their dreams, Alisa Bay, right next to Girvan.  And they paid their respects to Ladyburn's single malt by releasing it in watered-down form, blended with grain whisky and Inverleven via their Ghosted Reserve products.

Luckily, Signatory has (or had) 20+ casks of Ladyburn in their warehouses and has been releasing them at cask strength over the past few years.  I previously had this particular cask at two different events (the LASC Dead Distilleries Night 2014 and the grandiose Calabasas event this past May) and enjoyed the whisky very much both times.  (This sample comes from the LASC event, thus I paid for it.)  Since both events took place outdoors, I was sure I'd have a better take on this single malt once I could focus on it under controlled conditions.  I had anticipated this would be a 90+ point whisky.

Distillery: Ladyburn
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 37 years (October 24, 1975 - September 6, 2013)
Maturation: former bourbon barrel
Cask#: 3422
Bottle count: 111 of 162
Alcohol by Volume: 48.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Selected by: Stoller Wine & Spirits

Its color is light gold, which is nice to see on an oldie.  The pretty but sometimes faint nose leads with clementines and clover honey.  Lychee candy and apricot preserves.  A light farmy note shows up here and there.  After 20 minutes, a bubblegum note develops and takes over.  At 30 minutes, notes of orange oil, cinnamon rolls, and barrel char ease in.  The palate begins vaguely tangy and sweet, with tropical and citrus fruit notes.  Then vanilla bean and cinnamon.  Hessian, carpet, and cayenne pepper.  The sweetness grows and feels distinctly sugary and malty.  Around the 30 minute mark, a big woody bitterness rolls into the forefront.  It finishes with the hessian and cinnamon.  Vanilla and sweet maltiness.  A slight (malt) vinegar thing going on.  The woody bitterness soaks the left side of the tongue and black pepper hits the back of the throat.

With the very pleasant (but sometimes very quiet) nose, the whisky set me up to think I was going to be writing paragraphs about the wonderfulness of subtlety.  But while the palate was okay at first, it was also indistinct and generically Speyside-with-a-little-Lowlands.  The late arriving woody bitterness suggests a little too much time in the barrel.  And the finish leaned a little too heavily on the bung cloth and vinegar notes.

In the environment of an outdoors tasting wherein small pours of whisky hit the glass every ten to fifteen minutes, this whisky works.  It smells very nice and it tastes sweet and fruity for a little while.  But if one bought a bottle for oneself, I don't think the whisky holds up, especially if one wants to take one's time with an extinct $350 single malt.  Binny's may have a few of these bottles left, but there's a reason they still have them after more than two years on the shelf.

Availability - Binny's, maybe
Pricing - $350
Rating - 83

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Whisky Fail! Teaninich 10 year old 1998 Prime Malt

Yep, a Saturday post!

Teaninich (which I keep misspelling) is now one of Diageo's monstrous malt-for-blends-only distilleries.  When Diageo announced its 2012 dreams of completing a £1billion distillery expansion, one of the main projects was a new £50 million distillery at the Teaninich site.  Two years later Diageo shelved majority of their big plans, but (according to Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016) they did wind up adding six new stills to Teaninich, thus doubling its production capacity.  So now it distills nearly 10 million liters of alcohol per year.  Which is a lot.  Yet, other than the old 10yo Flora & Fauna bottling, there still isn't an official single malt.  There aren't even any Special Releases of the stuff.

So, once again, it's up to the indies to reveal a distillery's secrets.  Today's subject, a Prime Malt release from Gordon Bonding (which had a connection with Duncan Taylor once upon a time) is one such indie bottling, and one of the rare Teaninichs to be sold in the US.  I enjoyed the whisky when Florin shared his bottle with me three years ago.  I also poured a sample to take home and review.  Again, that was three years ago.  I had planned on making this the first review of this week's "The Other Ts", but something went wrong.

Distillery: Teaninich
Ownership: Diageo
Region: North Highlands
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 10 years
Distillation year: 1998
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colored? Probably not

The color is light amber.  Though it's also slightly opaque thanks to some cloudiness.  It has a nice pilsner nose, free of oak.  In fact, it's very beer-y (minus any hops).  A little bit of lemon zest.  Dandelion flowers.  Some slight metal and dusty notes.  At first sip, the palate is full of hay, vanilla, and roasted coffee beans.  Second sip, whisky wash.  Third sip, chlorophyll (leaves and lettuces).  Fourth sip, capital 'A' Acrid.  Broccoli.  No fifth sip because I don't like where this is heading.  It finishes very vegetal.  Peas, green beans, kale, and broccoli.  And metal.

For three years this whisky sat half empty in a sample bottle, where it died.  Totally bummed about this.  The nose is probably pretty close to the original thing.  But I can tell you with confidence my sample's palate and finish were ruined.

Sometimes samples go wrong, and rather than just tossing aside this experience I thought I'd share it with you.  So if you have a sample collection, look through your bottles and make sure they're more than half full lest oxygen wreak havoc on your little lovelies.  This has been a public service announcement.

Availability - A few bottles remain on random shelves throughout the US
Pricing - Less than $40, usually
Rating - Sample fail!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Other Ts: Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1967 square bottle (Italian import, mid '80s bottling?)

Tamnavulin distillery has risen from the dead like a zombie, or Jesus, or Lazarus, or Cthulhu.  A regular Zombie Cthulhu L. Christ it is.  It was built 50 years ago by the folks who also owned Invergordon distillery, right in a glen on the River Livet (much like its neighbor Glenlivet).  For a while, before companies raised a fuss, its single malts were labeled Tamnavulin-Glenlivet.  In 1993 it was purchased by Whyte & Mackay, who then closed it in 1995.  Thankfully, they did not go the Full Diageo by plowing the structure, salting the earth, and selling it all to a condo development concern.  Instead, W&M were nice enough to keep the parts in the building for some point in the future.  Optimists!  2007 was that future point.  That January they began refurbishing the place (including eventually replacing the wash stills), in May the company was bought by United Spirits, and in August they started distilling again.  They were at full production capacity by 2011.  A few years later the Whtye & Mackay branch of United Spirits was sold to Emperador Incorporated.

I haven't heard any word about them releasing an official Tamnavulin single malt.  (If you have read differently and have a good link to the news, let us know in the comment section below.)  In the meantime, most of the malt goes into the Whyte & Mackay blends.  The old owners did release a number of official bottlings during previous decades.  The one I'm reviewing today was distilled during Tamnavulin's second year.  There isn't much info online about this bottling aside from TWE's page of a sold out dusty bottle.  My sample comes from a LA Scotch Club event last year.  I actually missed the event and bought the samples instead.  Cool story bro.

Distillery: Tamnavulin
Ownership then: Invergordon Distillers Ltd.
Ownership now: Emperador Inc.
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt
Distilled: 1967
Age: probably between 17 and 22 years old
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Its color is a medium gold.  Lovely bold old damp oak notes lead the way in the nose.  Then lemons.  No, lemon sorbetto!  My notes list "butterscotch" twice, so I guess there's butterscotch too.  Then honeydew and a tiny bit of tropical punch.  Lavender flowers, peat(?), and some OBE-like metallics.  The palate starts off earthy and chalky with a little bit of peat.  As it develops, it intensifies.  A sweet creaminess meets the smoky note, feeling like smoked almonds and cream puffs.  There's malt and also a little bit of IPA-like bitterness.  Musty barrel notes linger throughout.  A nice balance of soft sweet, tart, and bitter notes in the finish meets whispers of smoke and malt.  It's simple but of a decent length.

Ever since I started to find musty notes in old whiskies, I've wondered about the source of those smells and flavors.  Producers wouldn't actually use moldy casks, right?  Or was this part of old bottle effect?  Then, last month, while standing in one of Springbank's gorgeous old dunnage warehouses, with their cold earth floors and stone walls covered in splashes of white mold, I realized I may have been standing amidst the source of one of my favorite whisky characteristics.  Since dunnage storage was utilized by everyone before efficiency and technology took over, perhaps maturing whisky changed in a small way, losing one more element.  Or maybe it's all just in my imagination.

Also, this whisky was great.  Much more vibrant than I'd expected, it had fruit and flowers without being overly fruity or floral.  Nor did the smoke and earth overwhelm.  It was malty and balanced.  Man, I wish I had more.  Many thanks to whomever stored this bottle well for three decades.  I hope other bottles, somewhere out there, will be opened and enjoyed.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - $???
Rating - 90

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Other Ts: Tamdhu 8 year old 2005 Signatory cask #346

Tamdhu isn't exactly one of the unknown T distilleries, in fact it has a pretty large production capacity of 4 million liters of alcohol, but the vast majority of its output has been dumped into White Horse, VAT 69, Famous Grouse, and Cutty Sark.  While it was under Highland Distillers Company / The Edrington Group it lived in the shadows of its stable mates Macallan and Highland Park.  That ownership even mothballed the distillery thrice.  It was during its third closure that Tamdhu was sold to Ian Macleod Distillers in 2011.  Since then, Macleod has been actively pushing the Tamdhu single malt, first in a 10 year old form with a fancy bottle (which looks like the offspring of a St. Germain bottle and a Coca Cola bottle), then as an NAS Batch Strength bottling.

This particular Tamdhu was released by independent bottler Signatory in the United States a couple years ago.  They, along with a few other indies, have been putting young sherry cask Tamdhus on the market recently.  I've been wondering why these companies are in such a hurry to bottle these babies.  Let's see what the story is with this one.

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian MacLeod Distillers
Region: Central Speyside
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 8 years (Jan 27, 2005 - August 22, 2013)
Maturation: first fill ex-sherry butt
Cask#: 346
Bottle count: 615
Alcohol by Volume: 60.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
This sample arrives courtesy of a sample swap with Chemistry of the Cocktail.  Thanks, Jordan!

Its color is dark gold.  The nose has one of the boldest fresh-brewed coffee notes I've ever sniffed in a whisky.  Then there's beef brisket, prunes, and dried currants.  It ends with bread pudding and cinnamon raisin bread.  Now that's a meal to fill the tummy.  The big ABV does sing out a bit in the palate numbing the tongue a little, but not too bad considering it's mostly poison. 💀  But tasty poison! 😸  Sorry, where was I? It starts with sea water, hazelnuts, and burlap.  Then salted caramel ice cream and baking spices.  It finishes sweetly and salty, with hazelnut liqueur and roasted almonds.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
In the nose, the coffee becomes toffee.  Newly split vanilla bean.  Salty beach air and a hint of fresh donuts.  The bread pudding note moves to the palate, topped with raisins.  There's also that sea water note, along with cayenne pepper.  A late note of gingerbread moves forward.  It finishes all gingery gingerbread and spicy cashews (whatever recipe my wife makes).

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets more syrupy and oloroso-y.  There's a hint of the coffee, then vanilla bean and cherry pie.  Lots of ginger in the palate now.  Then vanilla, caramel, marzipan, cayenne pepper, and salt.  It finishes with fresh ginger, salt, and cookie dough.

This is anything but a shy whisky.  The nose, as you may gather from my notes, is a delight.  The palate is good too, but needs some water to push back the ethyl and youth.  While the flavors in the finish are nice, I wish they'd stuck around longer.  But for an 8 year old sherry butt, this is quite a whisky.  I can see why they'd bottle it now, firstly to please an audience looking for young yooge whiskies, but also because this sort of active cask can become too oaky/winey quickly.  I still liked it a lot, and would be happy to recommend it if you've had enough of subtlety already and can find the bottle for whatever price you deem reasonable.

(For a pair of differing opinions on this whisky see these two Reddit reviews here and here.)

Availability - it was US release in early 2014, but it may be difficult to find now
Pricing - $???
Rating - 87

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Other Ts: Tullibardine 500 Sherry Finish

I have to keep looking up who the heck owns Tullibardine distillery.  Currently it's the Picard family, ascendants of the great Jean Luc.  Before them it was the generic sounding "Tullibardine Distillery Ltd", a company who released a number of well-aged whiskies (like a '88, '92, and '93) for bargain bin prices.  A few years after the new ownership took over they decided the range needed sexying up.  Now there are four whiskies without age statement or vintage -- Sovereign, 225 Sauternes finish, 228 Burgundy finish, and 500 Sherry finish -- as well as pricey 20 and 25 year olds.  The odd looking numbers on those finished whiskies represent the general volume size (in liters) of each type of wine cask they use for the finish.

We selected the Tullibardine 500 for an OC Scotch Club event last year.  Even though it was the second cheapest whisky of the bunch, a number of attendees liked it the best.  Their enthusiasm for it motivated me to give it a try too.  While I can't say that I loved it, I remembered it being a decent step up from Glenmorangie Lasanta.

Distillery: Tullibardine
Ownership: Picard Vins & Spiritueux
Region: Mid-Highlands
Type: Single Malt
Age: ???
Maturation: first ex-bourbon casks, then ex-sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill filtered? ???
Caramel Coloring? probably not much

Unlike what the official notes say, its color is not a "dark, rich brown".  It's light gold, which is a good sign to me.  The lightly rosy nose is full of golden raisins and roasted nuts.  Some fresh stone fruits, rather than the dried ones found in many sherried whiskies.  Then vanilla bean, brine, cherries, and potpourri.  The palate is mild and malty.  Again, no dried fruits.  Roasted and slightly tart notes mingle with a light bitterness.  Hints of pepper, salt, and lemons.  Subtle dry sherry.  Totally inoffensive.  It finishes roasty and toasty.  Pepper and malt.  Light on the sherry.  Pleasantly dry.

And yeah, I didn't try this with water because I casually drank up most of my sample without realizing it.  Which is a positive, actually.  Again, to disagree with the official notes, I must say nothing about this whisky is "intense".  May I also repeat my own "Totally inoffensive" note from above.  It's clearly a thing one can drink and forget.  What I don't see is the quality that would make it worth $60+ in the US.  It's actually less than $40 in much of Europe, a price at which I would recommend it.  But if you're looking for something to drink and forget, and you want something better than Lasanta, and you have an extra three score dollars just lying around, Tullibardine 500 is not a bad option.

Availability - Some specialty retailers
Pricing - $50-$70 (US), $35-$55 (Europe, minus VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 81

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Other Ts: Tomintoul 14 year old (2014)

In yesterday's review of Tomintoul 16yo I wrote, "Tomintoul waters almost all of their whiskies down to 40%abv".  This includes their 10yo, 16yo, 21yo, 27yo, and even their 36y distilled in 1976.  That means they can accurately label themselves "the gentle dram" because there's a lot of water in their whisky.  A company will do whatever it wants with its products, but it's seems a shame to soak a product that took so long to produce and mature, like the 36yo.

A few years ago, Tomintoul suddenly plopped two single malts with 46%abvs into the middle of their range, a 12yo Port Wood finish and a regular 14 year old.  The company continued their good habit of keeping their prices down, so rather than charging a premium for the quality presentation, both bottles were priced less than the 16yo in Europe.  It does look like the 14 is more expensive in the US though, if you can actually find it.

I picked up a mini of the 14yo while making a gift shop stop in the Western Highlands last month.  Last week, I tasted this whisky alongside the 40%abv 16yo Tomintoul (which was also bottled in 2014).  Let's see how this uncolored, unfiltered Tomintoul tastes.

Distillery: Tomintoul
Ownership: Angus Dundee Distillers
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 14 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks, I think
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? No

They're not BSing about the lack of added colorant.  The whisky's color is lighter than pinot grigio.  The nose is more nude than the 16's.  Lots of barley and fresh herbs.  Basil candy.  Slightly floral.  A toffee-like note floats in and out.  With time in the glass, the nose picks up a vanilla bean note and the flower blossoms get stronger.  Some fun notes of grape candy and lemon cleaner appear.  Lots of not-so-gentle heat in the palate.  There's a big roasted barley note that reads almost like coffee beans.  There are some white peppercorns, along with hints of caramel and butter.  The caramel note grows with time, as does a notebook paper note.  More heat in the dry finish.  Peppercorns and vanilla.  Not much else.  Reminiscent of a Canadian blend.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Moments of lime candy and peaches in the nose now.  Barley and a sugary glaze.  The palate has a sharper bite; bitterer with more pepper.  More caramel, less malt.  Nillas.  A pre-distillate wash note appears after a few moments.  It finishes lightly sweet.  Corn syrup, wash, peppercorns, and Nillas.  A better, more herbal bitter note than the palate's.  Still sort of Canadian-ish.

This feels younger than its stated age, but not in a bad way.  The barley and blossoms and herbs and wash are a nice experience, for those of us who dig that sort of thing.  Like the 16, there's something quirky going on late in that palate, but it's less of a deal breaker here.  The nose is the best part, and if the palate had matched it, I'd happily recommend this whisky and then go find a bottle for me.  It finishes unremarkably as well, like (as I mentioned above) a Canadian blended whisky.  Because I like this flair-free presentation, I would recommend this over the 16, especially if you find it priced less than its thinner older sibling.  But overall, I think I'm done with Tomintoul for the time being.  Onto another one of the Ts...

Availability - Short supply in the US, easier to find in Europe
Pricing - $60-$80 (US), $40-$60 (Europe, minus VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 82

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Other Ts: Tomintoul 16 year old (The Re-Review!)

I'll be taking a short break from the Scotland 2016 series as I structure the remaining posts.  In its place this week, I'll be taking a look at The Other 'T' Distilleries.  Who are the other T's?  Not Talisker, who gets all the love, and plenty of action on this site.  Hell, there's going to be another Taliskravaganza in 2017.  Not big ol' Tomatin, since I just did a week of Tomatin stuff recently.  And not Tobermory, who has been getting some serious love recently due to the success of their heavily-peated single malt, Ledaig.  I'm talking about the other guys.

First up is Tomintoul, a medium-sized Speyside distillery that's been around for all of fifty-one years.  They had six different owners, including a former Hitler Youth, in their first thirty five years.  It's been sixteen spins around the sun since Angus Dundee PLC took over and they haven't given up the reins yet.  The Malt Whisky Yearbook states (on page 173) that Tomintoul's 10, 14, 16, and 21 year old single malts are all kosher-certified.  If true, then these whiskies were all aged in ex-bourbon casks, unless they dug up some kosher sherry barrels somewhere.  For devout Jews who keep strictly kosher, the moment whisky touches a barrel that held non-kosher wine, it violates the Kashrut (kosher laws).  Now why wine made by goyim is considered not kosher, while whisky made by goyim can be is something you'll have to ask someone else.  I do not keep kosher, so bring on the Pancetta cask Caol Ila (redundant!)!

There are two Tomintouls I'm reviewing this week and I tried them side-by-side.  Today, it's the 16 year old.  It's true reviewed this whisky almost five years ago, for my third-ever whisky blog post.  I gave the whisky 90 points.  Please don't read that review.  Read this one instead.

My own bottle!
Sample taken from about this spot.
Distillery: Tomintoul
Ownership: Angus Dundee Distillers
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks only (confirmed)
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colored? Yes

Its color is of filtered apple juice.  The nose is grassy and very malty.  Big notes of anise and butterscotch sing throughout.  Smaller notes of spearmint leaves, cotton, cherry Jolly Ranchers, confectioner's sugar, and cucumber skin mingle and peek out here and there.  The palate holds apples, pears, and cracked black peppercorns.  Mild notes of vanilla and tart berries sit in the midground.  It becomes bit drying and picks up a quirky bitter note after 20 minutes in the glass.  It finishes tangy and lightly sweet with vanilla and malt.  A little bit of that bitterness too.

Though that already felt a little light, let's do what the blenders do (supposedly) and water it down further to see if it swims.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose's anise note expands further, making this feel Sambuca-ish at first.  Then comes some whole wheat crackers, mint, barley, and maybe even a little yeast.  The palate is very blendy with vanilla, sugar, and pepper, but no fruit.  Some bitter oak rolls in and stays through the finish, joined by citrus and vanilla.

Like Diageo's Singleton series, Tomintoul 16 really is a single malt for blend drinkers, because it tastes like a blend.  It can be compared favorably with the always smooth Chivas 18.  What Chivas 18 has that this malt lacks are the fruit notes (courtesy of Longmorn and Strathisla?).  Meanwhile the Tomintoul has a not-always-enjoyable bitter note which feels too oaky, while the Chivas does not.  Take away that bitter thing, and this makes for an unremarkable but wholly drinkable single malt.

It's a shame Tomintoul waters almost all of their whiskies down to 40%abv.  It would be interesting to try this one at 46%-48%abv, but I believe it'll still have a lot of youth to it, feeling younger than its 16 years, even at that strength.  What this whisky does have going for it is its price (as of today), selling for less than $50 in a few of the The States, and less than $60 in most places.  A 16yo for less than $60?  Yep, but you're going to get what you pay for.

Availability - Many specialty retailers
Pricing - $45-$70
Rating - 81 (neat only)