...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 27, 2016

NOT Single Malt Report: Noah's Mill Bourbon, batch 15-18

Upon the recommendation of one Bourbon Truth, I purchased a bottle of Noah's Mill, batch 15-18.  I'd drunk Noah's at bars before but never my own bottle.  Mr. Truth was so very ecstatic about this particular batch, and I found a bottle for such a good price while in Arizona, that I risked a blind buy.  After I bought the bottle, I found an emphatic negative review of this same batch by Reddit user XenonBloom, then a moderately positive one by user ShooterFlatch.  I handed out some samples from my bottle to get some feedback.  My friend Linda, who knows bourbon probably better than I, liked the whiskey a lot.  My Annoying Opinions has a sample and once his sniffer is back to 100% functioning power, you may see his review of this bottle.  (And I'll try to remember to post a link of his review when it's up.)

Though bottled by the Willett folks, Noah's Mill was distilled by the Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™.  It used to have a 15 year old age statement, but now it's NAS.  I've read online that it's now a mix of bourbons between 4 and 20 years old, but I don't know if that's just rumor.  What is curious about Noah's Mill is that nowhere on the bottle is the word "Straight".  As in "Straight Bourbon Whiskey".  Does this mean there are additives in the mix?  Or are they using whiskies younger than 4 years, and thus by not stating the <4yo age, they then can't call it "Straight"?  I know they're not required to use the Straight designation, but it just seems a little odd to me.  Anyway, on to the review!

Brand: Noah's Mill
Owner: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd, (aka Willett Distillery)
Distillery: Midwest Grain Products
Type: Bourbon
Mashbill: possibly a mix of three MGP recipes
Age: ??? (maybe 4 to 20 years, thus maybe 4 years)
Batch: 15-18
Alcohol by Volume: 57.15%

Right up front, the nose shows furniture polish, lumberyard, roasted corn, and honey.  It opens up considerably with air, picking up flower blossoms and an orange meringue thing.  Burnt vanilla beans (if that's a thing).  A hint of mango juice and confectioner's sugar.  On the palate the heat reads as chili oil.  It's not too sweet, but rather leafy with some bitter chocolate and halvah.  With some breathing time it picks up some white fruit juices and almonds.  It has a BIG tannic finish.  Very spicy, almost rye-ish.  Lots of black pepper and burnt toast.  Caramel, vanilla, and barrel char.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose gets fruitier and reveals some nice green herbal notes.  Less oak, more old school Robotussin.  Melting sugar and rock candy.  Not much change in the palate.  Less heat, more sweet.  More black pepper than chili oil now.  A slight tart and bitter bite.  The finish is also sweeter.  Still drying and tannic with bitter wood notes.

I love the nose on this one, though it needs a lot of time to open up and adding some water won't hurt it either.  Two things I like about the palate: A.) it's not super sweet; and B.) the oak is the quietest here.  The palate doesn't take to water as well, so overall I'd recommend it neat, even with the high ABV.  Like the nose, the palate works best with a lot of breathing time.  The oak does roar back into the finish, so be prepared for that.  When it comes to big American oak, I think it works much better in American whiskies (appropriately) than in Scottish ones.  But here the finish's wood attack is a bit above my tolerances.  I will naively guess there's quite some old whiskey in this batch or else the barrels were extra active.  It still makes its way into the "B" range because the nose is so good.

If you can find this batch for less than $50 and you have a high oak tolerance, then I recommend it.  But if your retailer is selling it for $60+ and you're more of a Scotch fan, my recommendation would be much less emphatic.

Availability - Noah's is widely available at US specialty liquor retailers, look for the brown sticker on the side of the bottle (see above photo) for the batch number
Pricing - $45-$65
Rating - 84

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 26 year old 1988 Signatory for Binny's, cask 2805

As referenced on Tuesday, I did a blind tasting of three 1988 Signatory single cask Balmenach samples.  I did so in order to not let any sort of bias slip into my tasting experience.  In each instance, I graded each whisky and guessed which one was released by whom.  You'll be relieved to know that I got all three guesses wrong.  I mean, what does K&L taste like?  (*insert your own personalized joke here*)

I obtained today's sample via a group bottle split, courtesy of My Annoying Opinions.  As I mentioned in the two previous reviews, these 1988 Balmenachs have been getting good reviews and word of mouth.  In his review of this cask, MAO references the suspect Magical Vintage theory (see 1998 Laphroaig, 1972 Caperdonich, 1997 Clynelish, etc.).  As 1997 is for Clynelish, 1988 is the "vintage" which has the most indie releases for the Balmenach distillery.  Does the prevalence of these casks have some psychological influence that leads to the "Magical Vintage" idea?  I don't know.  Perhaps it's possible that well matured Balmenach is in fact good whisky, no matter what year it was distilled.  Hopefully there are more casks sitting warehouses in Scotland that will someday let us know if this is true.

On one final note, MAO was not a big fan of this particular Balmenach.  I am a big fan of this particular Balmenach.

Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 26 years (October 18, 1988 - September 1, 2015)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2805
Alcohol by Volume: 51.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: Binny's

The nose starts with a big ol' barley note, along with papaya and loquats.  Some lovely bright oak, sometimes piney, sometimes a little old school musty.  A small medicinal note is followed by a smaller metallic one.  The pine gets a little bigger with time and is lifted up by a solid fresh ginger note.  Toffee, barley, peach and apricot pie (with some cinnamon in the filling) start off the palate.  It's plenty sweet, but that's balanced by a moderate bitter note and a spicy zing.  Some vanilla shows up later on, along with a rye-like baking spice note.  Its nice long finish goes a little tropical, picking up bananas, rum, applesauce, and barley.

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The medicinal note goes towards band-aids in the nose.  Then some dusty barley, citronella candles, and funky fermenting tropical fruit.  The palate gets milder.  It's peppery, salty, and tangy.  Some caramel sauce and dried apricots.  The finish is mostly the same as the palate, though less fruity.

While the European cask (2819) had a bigger brighter perkier nose, this one's nose was more complex.  This cask's palate and finish are the best of the three.  The fruit and spice and bitters play very well together and the long exotic finish really hits the spot.  It's close to getting itself a 90+ rating, but the whisky doesn't swim particularly well, especially when it comes to the palate where it flattens out.  As I mentioned above, MAO had a different take on this whisky.  Since our reviews came from the same bottle, take a look at his post in order to calm the great optimism I've now instilled in you.

Availability - 

Pricing - $130-$150 depending on their sales
Rating - 89

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 25 year old 1988 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants, cask 2900

Inver House Distillers owns a number of respectable malt distilleries.  There are the more familiar stars from the North Highlands: Old Pulteney and Balblair.  There's the rising star, AnCnoc.  And there's Speyburn, a distillery which produces the best value 10 year old single malt in Speyside.

But then there's Balmenach, a distillery whose malt is used almost entirely for blends, including Hankey Bannister (*frowny emoji*).  Originally owned by DCL (proto-Diageo), it had a pair of Flora & Fauna releases about twenty years ago.  Inver House purchased the mothballed distillery in 1997, and an official single malt under the Balmenach name hasn't been seen since.  Curiously Inver House does sell some casks to a company called Aberko who then uses it for their 18 year old "Deerstalker" brand......except of course for the times they use Allt-a-Bhainne.  And, just to confuse things further, Aberko uses Braeval's single malt for their 10 year old Deerstalkers.  So, still, there isn't very much Balmenach to be found.

Thus we go to the independent bottlers once again to find out what Balmenach tastes like.  As I mentioned yesterday, Signatory's 1988 single casks of Balmenach have been receiving very positive word of mouth.  I was able to obtain samples of three of these single casks and did a blind tasting of the bunch.  Yesterday, I reviewed cask 2819 (sold in Europe).  Today it's a cask that was sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants in the US.  Thank you to Brett for the sample!

Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 25 years (October 25, 1988 - April 25, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2819
Bottle count: 148
Alcohol by Volume: 56%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants

The nose is more floral (jasmine and roses) than cask 2819's candy blitzkrieg, though there is a slight sugary candy shop note.  There's the lemon bar note and some lemon juice, but also some lemon bathroom cleaner.  Salty beach meets dusty dry soil.  A little bit of green grass.  The only time the oak shows up is in a small caramel note.  White peaches, caramel, and slight tart bite start off the palate.  Those are followed by cayenne pepper, rosewater syrup, and limes.  A bit of a Grand Marnier thing appears after 30 minutes.  The light finish is lightly floral and creamy.  Some vanilla, limes, and lemons show up as well.

WITH WATER (~47%abv)
Lemons, limes, roses, cherry candy, and roasted barley in the nose.  The palate is still quite aromatic, though also tangier and bitterer.  There are lemons and limes and very little sweetness.  Still a decent oomph to it.  It finishes with salt and sour lemon candy.

No big flaws to this one.  It had my second favorite palate of the three, but the finish was on the short simple side.  Its nose is good, but the sniffers on the other two casks were damn good so regular "good" equals third place.  Even though it finishes third out of three overall, it's still an impressive whisky for a distillery that has historically gotten no love from anoraks.  I'm glad K&L took a chance with this cask.  The risk paid off for them as it sold out pretty quickly.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $150
Rating - 86

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Balmenach Trio: Balmenach 25 year old 1988 Signatory, cask 2819

It started innocently.  A number of 1988 Balmenach single casks by Signatory started showing up on European retailer websites.  The prices weren't terrible.  And I thought, Balmenach?  Balmenach.  So, I started snooping around for reviews and discovered that people really liked these single casks.  Had we all been missing out on a nearly unheard of distillery all these years?  I'm all for unsexy brands, so I kept an eye on the progress.  More of these '88 Signatory single casks kept appearing, and soon a few made their way to The States.  I was intrigued, but I wanted to try a few of them in order to challenge my skepticism.  So I added it to my new Dram Quest, and sure enough I lined up samples from three of these casks:  One cask sold in Europe, one cask sold exclusively through K&L Wine Merchants, and one sold exclusively through Binny's.  I lined them up and tasted them blindly, so as to not let any biases slip in.

First up, cask #2819, sold in Europe.  I purchased this sample from Whiskybase Shop in The Netherlands.

Distillery: Balmenach
Ownership: Thai Beverages plc (via Inver House Distillers)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 25 years (October 18, 1988 - August 12, 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask#: 2819
Bottle count: 245
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose is full of citrus and candy.  Lemon bars, lemon creme filling, creamsicles, orange juice, and orange hard candies.  Vanilla, Cool Whip, and sugar cookies.  After 40+ minutes, some moderate notes of leaves and softly toasted oak appear.  The palate is more peppery than the nose and less fruity.  It's mildly sweet with limes and tart raspberries.  Slight musty basement note mingles with peppercorns and the growing tartness.  It finishes peppery, tart, tangy, and musty.  Small sugar and lime notes show occasionally.  A good length to it.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
There's a little more vanilla and a lot more caramel in the nose now.  More flower blossoms, too.  The fruit reads as apricots rather than lemons.  The palate becomes much quieter, though also sweeter.  There's a slight creak of oak, but a better bitter note develops simultaneously.  No more mustiness.  A little bit of tart citrus.  The finish keeps its good length, getting sweeter and more tannic.

Of the three Balmenachs this week, this one had the best nose.  It's a sheer delight to sniff, both with and without water (though, without is preferred).  Meanwhile the palate, while perfectly okay, is very different than the nose.  It's neither a fruit basket nor a bag of candy.  I'm glad it wasn't tooth rottingly sweet, but it's a bit tight and water doesn't open it up at all, though it may require more hydration than I gave it.  But, goodness, that nose is awesome and that's what keeps the score up.  Perhaps the palate plays better at the midpoint of a 700mL bottle.  If you're working on a bottle of this, please let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Availability - It might still be found at some specialty retailers in Europe
Pricing - $120-$130 (w/o VAT, w/o shipping)
Rating - 87

Monday, May 23, 2016

OC Scotch Club Event: Michael's Last Stand

This is me workin' the hard sell for my LA/OC/SD readership.  Reviews shall return tomorrow...

As mentioned in a post two months ago, I help Andy Smith run the Orange County Scotch Club.  For the past ten months, I've been leading the tastings, talking a little bit about the history and processes behind Scotch whisky and its distilleries, and pouring the goodies.  It's been a great honor and a lot of fun.  I've met some excellent people and consumed some very good malt whisky.  But next week will be my final event because my family and I are moving out of the area.  More on that another time.

Michael's Last Stand
at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club
on May 26th

As it's my last go around leading an OCSC event, I elected to go with whiskys from my own recent purchases and my own secret cabinet of oddities.

Here are the scheduled whiskies:

Caol Ila 18 year old -- It's sadly no longer available in the US -- probably because they don't set aside enough casks, using most 18yo CI for Johnnie Walker Platinum -- but I was able to grab a bottle from the UK.  I adored this stuff the first time I tried it 2+ years ago, so I'm looking forward to sharing this one with all!

Ben Nevis 16 year old 1998 Càrn Mor from a Fino Sherry butt -- Ben Nevis + Fino cask.  Couldn't pass it up.  This should be a real trip.

Springbank 17 year old 1997 Sherry Wood -- I reviewed it, loved it, and bought it.  There's a nagging feeling inside of me saying this will be the last time we'll ever see a fully sherried cask strength teenage Springbank for under $200.

Benromach 10 year old 100 (UK) Proof, 57%abv -- I'm FINALLY getting around to this one.  I'm a fan of Benromach's regular 10yo, and that one's only 43%abv.  The plaudits are numerous for this big baby so let's try it out and compare it to...

Benromach 19 year old 1978 Scott's Selection -- Distilled by DCL (neo-Diageo) before the distillery was mothballed and sold to G&M, this is this indeed my birthday whisky for 2016.  I'm opening it a few months early this year in order to share with whomever shows up to this event.  And yes, I snuck a sniff already after I salvaged the bottle's shattered cork.  If the palate matches the nose, holy moley.

As soon as we sell 20 tickets, I'm going to start pulling more bottles from my cabinet.  The more bodies, the more bottles.  I clearly need help drinking my whisky and here's your opportunity to assist.  We're only two tickets away now...

With dinner served on the pool patio of a fancy yacht club and optional post-tasting cigar smoking, this shindig will send my ass out in style.  For more information on this May 26th event, please see the official site.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Macallan 37 year old 1969 Duncan Taylor Rare Auld, cask 8360

Closing up this week of vibrant old expensive stuff, I've elected to go with a Macallan.  "A 37 year old Macallan?!" you squeal.  "Yes, from an ex-bourbon cask," I intone.  "F*** that," you bemoan and walk away.  And you miss out on something good.

I've had a handful of ex-bourbon Macallans from independent bottlers, and I've liked them all because they allowed me to experience the actual Macallan character freed of its sherry shackles.  The result is usually very good whisky.

This single malt is the first of a number of reviews of the five olden whiskies from last week's delightful Calabasas event.  I'll sprinkle the other four reviews here and there.  Despite what this week demonstrated, I don't want to smother you excellent readers with reports on impossible to find/afford whiskies.  But since my daughter just turned two, I figured I should let my hair down, because it let me down.  (Dr. Katz reference!)

Distillery: Macallan
Ownership: The Edrington Brand Group
Region: Speyside (Central)
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Series: Rare Aultd
Age: 37 years (September 1969 - October 2006)
Maturation: "oak casks" -- um, thanks, I guess? And I do believe this is one "cask"
Cask #: 8360
Bottle #: 129/178
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%

So two things happened during and before this tasting.  Firstly, this wasn't from a bourbon cask.  It's definitely a refill sherry cask.  So much for my intro.

Secondly, it finally happened... The Spill!  I had the glass sitting on a normally very stable nightstand, but when I opened one of the drawers, the entire nightstand toppled over.  Many things went airborne, including the 37 year old Macallan.  Magically, the glass landed in a random open spot in one of the drawers, though not before half of the sample hit the carpet.  Thus my shorter palate notes below:

The color is a light yellow gold.  Definitely a sherry cask on the nose, but as per the color it's a refill and the result is more cask than sherry.  The orange peel notes I usually find in Highland Park 18 are here as well, but mustier and more delicate.  Primary notes of fudge, butterscotch, and fresh roses mix with smaller ones of canned peaches and dried berries.  Amongst these prettier things is a moderate amount of salty meat and an emphatic metal grease note.  The palate is quite potent for the ABV, even after 45 minutes of air (and the spill).  It's very creamy with lots of both malt and exotic wood spice.  Then apple pie filling, lime zest, creamiscles, cinnamon, and a hint of pecans.  The impressively long finish has a strong barley note which sits atop the toasted oak, followed by black pepper, pecans, and mint leaves.

Many of the guys from the Calabasas event liked this whisky the best and I understand why.  It's a tremendous single malt that really sticks the landing with one of the longest finishes I've ever experienced.  The nose is gorgeous, and though this did turn out to be from a sherry cask the mature spirit powers right through.  The rich palate is well punctuated by that aforementioned finish.  It's a toss up between this one and the Ardbeg for my favorite this week.  In either case, they're both grand whiskies if you can find 'em and afford 'em.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - Thousands?
Rating - 91

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mathilda Malt Report: Glenfarclas 34 year old 1968 Old Stock Reserve

Now that these reports have moved from Islay (Ardbeg and Port Ellen) to Speyside (Benriach), let's stay there in Single Malt Central for the last two reviews.  With the previous three whiskies seeming to be from primarily ex-bourbon American oak casks, I'm going with a whisky from a pair of ex-sherry European oak casks.

Between 2000 and 2003, Glenfarclas had a series they named "Old Stock Reserve".  And it was indeed old stock that they bottled for that label, ranging from 1967 to 1970 distillate.  Some were in squat dumpies, while others were in classic tall bottles.  They all had the nice simple labels seen below:

Though Glenfarclas continued to bottle old vintages, they ended the Old Stock Reserve series name pretty quickly, replacing it with a number of different names until settling upon the current super expensive "Family Casks".  Many thank yous go out (again) to Cobo who sent me a sample of the 1968 OSR from his own bottle.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J. & G. Grant
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 34 years (February 7, 1968 - January 8, 2003)
Maturation: two ex-sherry casks
Cask #: 686 & 687
Bottle count: 341
Alcohol by Volume: 54.1%

Tasted alongside yesterday's 35 year old Benriach.

Its color is a very dark crimson brown.  The nose is enormous.  Damp attic, oloroso, hot fudge, blackberry syrup, and old cognac.  Then cloves, clementines, leather, and carob.  After 30 minutes, it picks up more old wood character.  After 45 minutes, the fruit comes in; think mango and apples in honey.  A fresh cilantro note lingers in the midground.  Lots of baking spices in the palate.  Cloves, nutmeg, black peppercorns, chili oil.  Then baking chocolate, cherry juice, and a sandalwood note reminiscent of mizunara casks.  Plenty of tannins and salt with a mild woody bitterness that actually works for me.  A hint of fired caps and apples.  The actual sherry wallop hits later on, after 30+ minutes of air, and then carries through to the lengthy finish.  Prunes and pipe tobacco.  Macintosh apples and a hint of fresh peach.  Toffee and clover honey.  A sharp tart bite meets an increasingly sweet dessert wine.

To say this is oak-heavy would be an understatement.  Normally that doesn't work for me, but that's usually with American oak.  Here (with what I believe is European oak) one can actually feel the time in the cask, the toasted staves gradually giving into the spirit, the hardy stuff left behind after decades of evaporation.  It's not punishing like the 1970 single cask bottled for K&L a few years back.  It won't pucker your cheeks and dry out your tongue.  Instead it's the aromatic spices and tobacco and chocolate which stand up front, slowly mixing with the spirit's and wine's fruits.  Yes, it is oak dominant, probably to the point where it may be slightly out of balance towards the tannins.  But it provides a more dynamic experience than the cleaner 35yo Benriach.

Availability - Auctions?
Pricing - $??? - $????
Rating - 90