...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye 8 year old single barrel 971

The plan seemed airtight. I'd save my sample of Thomas H. Handy (2011 edition) rye for a special occasion. And after my second daughter arrived, I knew this was the moment. Then I pulled the sample bottle — poured for me by Florin (a prince) five years ago — from storage, only to discover that 2/3s of the whiskey had evaporated and the remainder was full of swirling murk. I'm an idiot for waiting so long. And yes I'm an idiot for having given it not one, not two, but three sips just to make sure it was really spoiled. It was really spoiled. Moral of the story: DON'T WAIT FIVE YEARS TO CONSUME A SAMPLE.

Now the night was zipping by and I wanted to taste something while my nose and palate were still working, so I grabbed my last Smooth Ambler / MGP single barrel rye sample. It was also from Florin (a prince) but from only 2.5 years ago. That was back in the day when these bottles were selling for 1/5th of their current "value" on the secondary market. But I love full strength MGP rye more than most single malts, so here we go.

Brand: Old Scout
CompanySmooth Ambler
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
RegionMaxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Age8 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Retailer: Davidson's
Barrel: 971
Bottled: 11/12/14
Alcohol by Volume60.9%

The nose starts off bourbon-like, thick with vanilla, caramel and cherry syrup. Then apricot and dark chocolate notes arise. Underneath is a floral rye note, and a minor pickle brine thing. And cinnamony churros! A good lack of heat. The palate is more rye-ish. Dark dusty spices, a jar of multicolored peppercorns. Salted caramels and fennel seed. Sweet and tannic with a velvet texture and very little burn. It finishes with honey and black pepper. Sweet lemons, fennel seed and barrel char. Medium length.

Gonna drop it to the standard Old Scout Rye abv:

WITH WATER (~49.5%abv)
The nose becomes more focused. Caramel candies, mandarin oranges, cloves and a hint of flower blossoms. The rye element intensifies in the palate. All vanilla and caramel stuff has been stripped away. It's very spicy and peppery. Hints of citrus and tannins. The finish is all zing. Tangy citrus. Feisty pepper. Curmudgeonly char.

This is an impressively easy drinker considering the considerable (sorry) alcohol content. The rich oak notes in its nose will likely appeal to bourbon fans. Rye enthusiasts will prefer the palate over the nose. That's where the rye lies. It dilutes well too, which is another plus.

Due to all that oak, I think it's a half step back of Willett's similarly aged MGP rye, but it's close enough to provide some similar joys. This was a good buy back when this stuff was $50-$65. And, girl, I'm missing those days.

Availability - Secondary market only
Pricing - allot of munny
Rating - 87

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Randy Brandy drinks......Clear Creek Cherry Brandy (Kirschwasser)

It seems like Our Dear Leader is useless today because of something called "children", so he handed the website password to this wiser gentleman. That's right, snowflakes, Randy Brandy's going to write whatever he wants.

So, I had a colonoscopy last week, as is required of men of my enlightened age. Here is my entire conversation with the gastroenterologist. I speak in all caps.

"For the 24 hours before the procedure you can only consume clear liquids."
"Actually, that's not--"
"You'll want to refrain from that after taking the laxative--"

That meant I had to drink broth for a day, which is depressing because it doesn't mix with vermouth. I was intrigued when my wife, Brandy, told me about some pop-up shops selling hipster bone broth. But I lost interest when I found out it's actually made from chicken.

The day after the medical professionals looked at my magnificent ass, Diving for Girls invited me over to celebrate the birth of his second daughter. Usually Jews bring Slivovitz (kosher plum turpentine) to celebrate the birth of Jewish children, but Kirschwasser is a German spirit so I thought that would be funnier.

Speaking of hipsters. Portland's Clear Creek Distillery makes brandy out of everything from poire williams to banjos. Steven McCarthy fired up the stills for the first time in 1985, then sold out to Hood River Distillers in 2014, thus losing his Portland citizenship forever.

Clear Creek kirschwasser is made from sweet cherries grown in the Pacific Northwest, which is quite locavore and sustainable, especially considering they then ship the product to retailers thousands of miles away. Clear Creek, guys, you know Latvian or Chinese cherries would be much cheaper.

Here are my notes.

Color: Appropriate
Nose: Fruity bubblegum, maraschino liqueur, dried blueberries, orange brandy. Only a mild spiritous note.
Palate: Moderate acidity. Warm cinnamon spiciness and honey. More on sweet apples than dark cherries. Creamy texture, minimum burn.
Finish: This is where the cherries show up and take over. Some late sweetness and bitterness.

There were my notes.

It drinks fast and easy, so the 375mL bottle is a damned flask. The fruity nose is good, the palate is fine. Imported kirsch isn't cheap, so Clear Creek's version is one of the lowest priced options around. Though German and Swiss kirsch often have a better palate than this one, be prepared for $40-$50 for half bottle prices. So, I guess at $25ish, this one counts as a good deal. I guess. It's better than vodka. It's better than cheap Sliv. It's better than Hiram Walker's "brandy". But so is a colonoscopy.

NOT WHISKY RATING: B-, though by the fourth glass it's a B. Deal with that, Kravitz.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Beatrice Booze Report: Springbank 19 year old 1997 from Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting

After two weeks of a bad cold and one week in the newborn baby zone, I'm back in the game.


Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 19 years (May 9, 1997 to July 13, 2016)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Alcohol by Volume: 59%
Purchased after the Cadenhead Warehouse tasting on, um, July 13, 2016

The nose holds tons of honey and thick toffee. Then roasted nuts, berry candy, blackberry liqueur and clementines. Beneath those notes sit a steady stream of antiseptic, band-aids and good unsmoked cigars. The palate is not as sweet as the nose would have one believe. While there are some sugary berries, it's full of dry sherry, lemons and ginger powder. It's intensely spicy, likely from the cask. It's also very earthy (as opposed to peaty). Loads of fresh ginger and chili peppers in the loooooong finish. Dried berries, crisp tannins and peat embers.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
It's a different whisky. Pineapple and honeydew join the nose's honey. Grape jam and blue Mr. Sketch marker. Toasty peat and a bigger antiseptic note. Hints of milk chocolate and barn. The palate is milder, sweeter and more approachable. Ginger and nutty sherry, with the berry candy around the edges. More smoke, more tangy citrus. Moderated wood spice. The finish is less tannic. More fruit and more tobacco. Dry sherry and a hint of cinnamon raisin bread. A wisp of smoke.

The best way to experience this whisky (and nearly any whisky) is by doing so straight from the cask in Cadenhead's warehouse #9. But that's dickish of me to mention because this cask is no more, it has shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible.

The second best way to experience this whisky is by adding water. It's a hell of thing on the nose, when neat. But the full strength palate, while good, needs some elbow room. Diluting it a little bit helps the finish out as well. No matter how you choose to drink it, the whisky never tilts too sweet. But it can't be accused of subtlety either. It's all power. Thunderous cask notes exist side by side with vivacious Springbank spirit, neither giving way.

When we received the good news about our baby-to-be nine months ago, I knew instantly this was the bottle I'd open when she arrived. There are too many open bottles in my cabinet right now, and that's because they're all okay-to-good. None of them are great. This one is great. And I anticipate it getting better around the bottle's midpoint. At the moment, it isn't the 93+-point whisky I'd thought it would be, but who knows...

Availability - Sold out at Cadenhead
Pricing - it was £100 when I bought it, UK auctions have it for a lot more now
Rating - 90 (with water)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Killing Whisky History, Episode 5 - Three Decades of Chivas Regal 12

It's the 1950s versus 1970s versus 2010s in this month's Killing Whisky History episode. This trio of Chivases, or Chivae, presented me with a pair of surprises, one positive, one not. If you think the 8:30 runtime is long, you should have seen the 14:30 Heaven's-Gate-director's-edition Ralfy-sized second cut. No, you shouldn't have seen it. It has been destroyed. This edit was approved by blind studio executives and me.

The brand and bottle history lessons end at 3:42, after which the tastings and faces begin.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Malt Bar South Park, the second night, part two

Malt Bar South Park posts
1. Bar introduction
2. Night One
3. Night Two, part one
4. Night Two, part two

(Continued from Part One)

Malt Bar South Park's special guest, a thin bespectacled man wearing a checked pattern shirt that was somehow both conservative and riotously colorful, was greeted by the owner as soon as he walked through the door. He gave the owner a bottle of whisky as a gift as they chatted in the right corner of the bar. After several minutes he came over and sat in his reserved seat next to me. We nodded to each other and I went back to nosing my glass of Tomatin.

Once I'd emptied my glass, the bartender, Fujita-san, came over with the bottle of Ardmore I'd tried earlier. He pointed to the bottle and said, "Whiskyfind", referring to the independent bottler of the whisky. Then he gestured to the man next to me and said, "This is Whiskyfind". The guest nodded and laughed.

And I replied, "So I guess you find whiskies."

Yep, I said that.
I felt like a robot toilet.
Let's quantify this idiocy.
1. The man laughed politely. But then things got quiet. Even the bartender walked away.
2. It truly was my "Well, we're not in Kansas anymore" (of Swingers fame) line.
3. I said it LOUD and SLOW, as if he were deaf and mentally handicapped rather than being from another country.
4. Because the gentleman was of Asian background, I had assumed he was Japanese.

His name was Odin Chou and, it turns out, he was not Japanese, but Taiwanese. And he spoke perfect English.

To recover from my social fart, I turned to the one subject that whisky nerds can talk about. Whisky. We talked about Ardmore. Odin walked me through how his company works. I detailed the bizarro world of spirit sales in the USA.

He asked, "Have you tried the Craigellachie?"

I then tried the Craigellachie.

Craigellachie 26 year old 1990 The Whiskyfind for Mash Tun Tokyo, cask 5401, 50.1%abv

Color - light gold
Nose - Very nutty (hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds), peach, candle wax, lots of cereal notes and a whisper of caramel sauce.
Palate - Malty malt. Lemons and limes. Salt and dunnage. Soft, silky texture.
Finish - Candle wax and tangy citrus meet up with salty and savory notes.

Words - This is the oldest non-sherried Craigellachie I've had, and it's the best. Excellent mouthfeel, complex nose. Again, no oak obstruction. Instead, the whisky imparts the gentle passing of time.
Grade: 89

I suddenly remembered that Fujita-san had recommended a Port Charlotte to me on the first night, but I knew that I was d-o-n-e done after the pair of Ledaigs. I had promised to come back and try it. So there I was on my second night. It was time to give it a go.

Port Charlotte 11 year old 2004 bourbon cask for Malt Bar South Park, 58.9%abv

Color - light gold
Nose -  Very pretty for a Port Charlotte. Cocoa, roasted smoked almonds, anise, brown sugar, lime and confectioneries. Also grilled vegetables and bacon.
Palate - Brown sugar, barbecue, sweet cherries and peat. A great bitter bite. Much less heat than expected.
Finish - Peat, anise, cherries, brine and a wallop (or dollop) of horseradish.

Words - Clean crisp PC with a more moderate level of peating than usual, so it's not a palate-killer like some PCs can be. Friendly good stuff.
Grade: 86

Odin then shared pours of a trio of 1989 Burnsides, as well as an Allied-era Ardbeg. (Thank you, Odin.) We discussed the high quality of the former and the delicate grace of the latter. Modern Ardbeg and Laphroaig are bereft of the fruits and subtleties of their old versions, and have replaced them with aggressive peat and/or oak levels.

He was very generous with his time and we spoke for hours. He shared his extensive experiences with the whisky scene in mainland China, as well as his thoughts on the future of Suntory's single malts. I cautiously inquired about his opinion on Kavalan, and then burst out laughing when his opinion of that distillery matched mine precisely.

Amidst this conversation, Malt Bar South Park's owner, Futakata-san (I think!), brought over pours from his YAMAZAKI OWNER'S CASK. How many times can one man say arigato gozaimasu, before things get embarrassing? Whatever it is, I passed that quantity instantly.

(Yes, Serge has had this cask. It is cask #5J3072, 63%abv. Here's the link.)

It was one of the richest whiskies I've ever had. Layer upon dense layer of malt and fruit and rich oak and nuts...

...and that is when my pen died. My phone had already plotzed so nothing was recorded, anywhere. All I could do was be mindful and fully experience the moment.

I did. And it was wonderful.

I treasure these encounters. Writing about them refreshes me. The kindness and graciousness extended to me by strangers throughout my trip overwhelms me still and keeps me aglow in times of struggle and doubt.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Malt Bar South Park, the second night, part one

Malt Bar South Park posts
1. Bar introduction
2. Night One
3. Night Two, part one
4. Night Two, part two

My second trip to Malt Bar South Park marked my final Japanese bar stop. I found my way to the Nakano bar using a printed-out map and my memory. Parts of my cellphone didn't work that night, nor the next. (Frankly, fuck my Samsung Galaxy S6 for being useless when I was lost and in trouble during this trip. I'm happily ridding myself of it this week.) For instance, neither my wireless or data worked that night. Neither did the keyboard. Neither did the power, at times. But the camera randomly functioned (as you'll see below), until it didn't.

As a result the notes for this night were handwritten on the back of the map...until my brand new pen ran dry.

Despite these issues, this experience was awesome. I'll add the narrative for your enjoyment.

After I'd bypassed Malt Bar South Park, again, I found it, then rushed down the stairs to find shelter. Fujita-san was still behind the bar. Everything was still spotless.

The seat at the center of the bar had a "RESERVED" card, which I dumbly and Americanly didn't see as I sat down on it. The owner's wife hurried over to politely ask me to move to another seat, explaining that a special guest was expected to arrive soon. So I thought it would be a great idea to plant my ass next to this mystery person's seat.

After getting another great plate of fruits and nuts and dark chocolate, I began with an Ardmore from an independent bottler that does its business only on that side of the Pacific Ocean.

Ardmore 16 year old 2000 The Whiskyfind for Mash Tun Tokyo, cask 800214, 55.5%abv

Color - light amber
Nose - Very fruity. Lychee, Meyer lemon, apricot and barbecued peach(?). Mild peat, subtle vanilla. Wet sheep!
Palate - More smoke here. Tangy and lemony, with a nice sprinkle of cayenne pepper. From my notes: "Sweet, though almost out of its baby fat phase." Yes, this was my first drink.
Finish - Smoke, lemon and sugar. There was something Hakushu-ish about it.

Words: This is a good intro for drinkers new to Ardmore thanks to its lemons and beachy peat. Despite its 16 years, there was no oak interrupting the flow. I liked it.
Grade: 85

Sherried Inchgower!
Inchgower 32 year old 1980 The Whisky Agency, refill sherry butt, 52%abv

Color - gold, Jerry
Nose - Chocolate fudge, chocolate frosting, chocolate pudding. Nutty pudding. Leather. #FromMyNotes "Nummy sulfur".
Palate - Chocolatey, similar to the nose, but there's also pineapple and peaches. Smoked paprika. Fresh ginger and lychee. Its fruitiness grows with time. Just a whisper of gunpowder, like a seasoning.
Finish - The fruit remains in the finish, shedding the chocolate. Some new notes of oranges and nuts. A hint of smoke.

Words: A treat. The chocolate is a bit heavy on the nose. Though that sounds silly as a complaint, the chocolate's weight prevents additional depth. The whisky is at its best once the fruit comes through in the mouth. (And no, I have no idea what the heck Serge was drinking when he reviewed this, an issue I've been finding with increasing frequency.) But this whisky would be great for dessert.
Grade: 87

I had to do it. One 1978, please.
Tomatin 35 year old 1978 Cadenhead small batch, bourbon hogsheads, 44.4%abv

Color - light gold
Nose - Dunnage. Musty melons. Chalk. Mangoes. Canned peaches and pears. A biscuity malty note. It picks up some oomph with time.
Palate - It's as thick as a liqueur. Loaded with fresh peaches and mangoes. The fruits' essences rather than sugars. Dunnage! A hint of herbal bitterness.
Finish - All tropical and stone fruits, playing separately, then together.

Words: Yes, this was a small batch and, yes, that ABV is accurate. Cadenhead has a few of these '78s with low abv. The result is whisky concentrate. And it is fab. Romantic, even.
Grade: 92

So there I was, sipping on this whisky, looking like a total baller, when the special guest walked in.

To be continued...