...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength, Port Casks

Kilkerran's 8yo Cask Strength series has defied expectations for me, but in the wrong direction. Having adored the Work In Progress series, I was thrilled when the CS series was announced in 2017. I bought a bottle of the first batch in 2017, opened it immediately, but finished it five years later, after considerable effort. It wasn't bad whisky, but it was very disappointing compared to all of the WIPs. Then I got into three bottle splits of the lauded batch #4 (re-charred oloroso casks), but found them all to be extremely oaky. A bit soured on this series, I thought I'd ignore future batches. But then I split a bottle of the port cask-driven batch #7: port casks because I'm a fool.

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: port casks
Alcohol by Volume: 57.9%
(from a 50/50 bottle split with Dr. Springbank)

NEAT

The nose is surprisingly sulfurous at the start. And there's a mix of cheddar and Velveeta happening as well. Wet sand, roses, pomegranate arils, and red gummy bears arrive later. What kind of port was this?! Less scary than the nose, the palate offers up raisins and dried blueberries, flowers and yeast. Lots of sugar, lots of heat, and even more black pepper. It finishes with black pepper, grape jam and a hint of chocolate.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

No more sulfur! Quite a bit of American oak, though, on the nose. Vanilla, dried currants and potpourri up front, with something briny in the back. The palate starts off acidic and peppery, then picks up sweet dried berries and a few almonds. It finishes nutty, floral, and peppery.

DILUTED to ~40%abv, or 2¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Unsurprisingly, the nose is much calmer at this strength, just flowers, figs and currants. The palate is floral, tart, and peppery, and finishes similarly.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

That's three for three for me. Batches 1, 4, and 7 just don't work for my nose and palate when the whisky is at full strength. They all need water, with this one requiring the most dilution. Its nose is unlike any other port cask whisky I've had, especially as the neat version arrives like a dirty PX cask. The palate works better, but there's too much pepper, and not enough of anything else.

Plenty of whisky remains in this bottle, which means I have many chances to tinker with dilution. But I refuse to let it hang around for five years. Fool me three times...

Availability - Mostly sold out?
Pricing - all over the place
Rating - 80 (diluted only)

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Kilkerran 15 year old 2004 Fino Wood single cask

Like the 15yo Oloroso cask I reviewed more than two years ago, Glengyle distillery management made a grownup decision to move this whisky from its first cask into a more neutral vessel after 10 years. In this case, they poured the Kilkerran single malt out of a first-fill Fino puncheon into a refill hoggie. Many (or most) of today's bottlers would likely have kept the whisky in the first-fill for the full 15 years, then bottled coffee-dark oak juice because that's what brings the boys to the yard.

My question is, where's the rest of that puncheon's outturn?

Also to note, the aforementioned Oloroso cask was bottled for the entire American market. Today's cask was bottled for one European retailer. So it goes.

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 15 years (May 2004 - September 2019)
Maturation: 10 years in a first-fill Fino puncheon, then 5 years in a refill bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 222 bottles
Bottled for: The Nectar's 15th Anniversary
Alcohol by Volume: 52.1%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose starts off with the same mix of clay, smoked fish, and orange candy as Monday's 16 year old, which is both odd and nice. After 20+ minutes it takes on its own characteristics. New tennis ball, baked apple, and orange blossoms up front; saline and coffee in the back. Hints of hazelnuts and brazil nuts appear later. WOW, the fino steers the palate, all nuts and salt. Tangy limes and serrano chiles fill the midground, dusty smoke and dried cherries the background. Limes, hazelnuts, almonds and chile oil merge in the finish.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose feels more focused here, with toasted walnuts and pecans bathed in molasses, and a hint of lemon in the backgound. The palate's a bit woodier, but not brutal. Bitterness doesn't conquer all. Walnuts, molasses and salt sit atop mild industrial smoke. The finish matches the palate, without too much tannic interruption.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

As with its Oloroso Wood sibling, this whisky's cask has fully taken over. There's very little Kilkerran left in this Kilkerran. Yet I still like the result. There are actual Fino notes here. One can pick out individual nut species in the nose and mouth, with the salt giving them all a boost. Though sherry cask whiskies get a pass from Winesky Haters, I have no trouble telling you that this is indeed a winesky, but one I like, one that is still very "whisky" in its structure, but driven by its fortified wine cask. Thank goodness it didn't spend any more time in that puncheon.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, January 30, 2023

Kilkerran 16 year old, 2020 US Edition

Going from good stuff (Ardmore) to good stuff (Kilkerran), but I won't make you sit through 12 reviews of Glengyle's single malt. Just three.

First up, the 2020 American release of the Kilkerran 16yo(!). My how that baby has grown! Also, good on the Mitchell folks for holding on to so many 2004 casks.

Each batch of the 16yo has its own cask mix. For instance the 2021 US edition was 75/25 bourbon/sherry and the 2022 European version is 70/30 bourbon/sherry. Today's batch was 98/2 bourbon/Madeira, a combo I kinda like, a light seasoning of alternative casks.

The 2016 round of the standard 12 year old (also distilled in 2004), was very good without being a knockout, to my palate. I'll pick up a newer batch of that before the price gets any worse. In the meantime, here's a 16...

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 16 years (2004-2020)
Maturation: 98% bourbon casks / 2% madeira casks
Bottled for: U.S. of A.
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose begins with clay and smoked fish, with orange candy highlights. And it works. It seems to get younger as it sits, with pineapple, pear, yeast, and a sencha-like brothy note arriving next. After 45 minutes, the nose shifts to ocean water with a hint of mango.

A mix of sweet citrus fruits leads the palate, with medicinal hints in the corners. It picks up notes of ginger beer, toasted grains, manure, and salt after some time. It never gets too sweet.

It finishes with a menthol and ginger glow. Oranges, cereals, and salt float through the background, along with perhaps a whiff of manure.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

A good move by Glengyle, starting the 16 year olds with this sturdy batch. I ♥ the nose on this one, as it shifts phases (or faces?). The palate reads like a good everyday drinker, never really ascending from there, but I'll take that over all those cask-heavy Kilkerran limited editions. The 16 is likely a half step ahead of the 12yo, but keep in mind the Springbank/Glengyle tendency towards batch variation. Better and worse versions of each are out there.

Availability - This batch is probably sold out
Pricing - other batches are $150-$200
Rating - 87

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Concluding the Ardmore Cluster

(Ardmore cluster homepage)

I'm pretty sure I am the only one who benefitted from this cluster. Here are the things I "learned":

  1. Ardmore is a very very very good single malt.
  2. When matured in hogsheads it can be too young, too oaky, or fabulous.
  3. When matured, even partially, in sherry casks it can be amazing or not.
We all knew this, yes?

The intent behind this cluster really wasn't to glean any deep understanding of the Great and Powerful Ard. Rather, I wanted to greet 2023 with a dozen pours of decently aged malt from this Kennethmont distillery as a way to convince the universe that this January didn't need to be the 37th month of 2020; like a prayer to appease the Whisky Kami, Whisky Buddhas, and Whisky Ganesha. And with all that heresy, I've probably doomed us all. At least the whisky was good.

The cluster did bring the blog its first and second 90+ point non-1992 Ardmores, including my Whisky Doris bottle, and possibly the best sherry cask Ardmore I've ever had. In fact, the cluster members were so good overall that I forgot there was one semi-stinker. But the most satisfying result was the proof that there isn't just one magical Ardmore vintage (aka 1992), rather the distillery's direct fired stills produced excellent stuff right up until the end. As for the steam-coil heated stills......that's a tale for another day.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Ardmore 22 year old 2000 WhiskySponge, edition 69

(Ardmore cluster homepage)

It's time to finish up this cluster with its second dark sherry cask Ardmore. As I'd mentioned in the G&M cask review, I tend to prefer bourbon cask Ardmores, but that sherried hoggie was awesome. Today's whisky had a different life. It spent its final two years in a sherry butt, and the first 20 in at least two refill hogsheads. Thus, it's a single cask that really isn't. But is it good?

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: WhiskySponge
Age: 22 years (1997 - 2022)
Maturation: 20 years in hogshead, two years in a first fill sherry butt
Outturn: 541 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose arrives with an oaky California pinot noir note. Once the red wine slips away, the cask remains. Butter, raspberry jam, almond butter and a hint of pipe tobacco fill the front and middle; cinnamon, brown sugar and a touch of tar in the back. There's less sweetness on the palate than expected, more walnuts and roots (a good thing IMHO). Dark chocolate, almond butter and metal develop with time. It becomes earthier and bitterer too. Lots of dark chocolate, mint leaves and roots in the finish. A little bit of smoke and oranges as well.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Nuts, butter, orange peel and toffee in the nose. The palate has become almost all bitter roots and earth, with a touch of berry sweetness in the background. The finish is more dusty than smoky, with smaller notes of bitterness and mint candy.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though it's far from matching the aforementioned Gordon & MacPhail cask, this Ardmore works well in its own way. The palate has its act together, as opposed to the.....extremely contemporary-styled nose. There aren't many reviews of these two WhiskySponge Ardmores online — the Whiskybase folks have barely touched it and Whiskyfun hasn't said anything — so I'll reference Good Sir Opinions again. As he noted, the finishing cask seems to have covered up most/all of the Ardmore element of this Ardmore. Luckily the result is nutty and earthy. Thus this is an Ardmore for sherry cask fans rather than Ardmore fans.

Availability - Still available as of the date of this post
Pricing - £235
Rating - 86

Monday, January 23, 2023

Ardmore 24 year old 1997 WhiskySponge, edition 76

(Ardmore cluster homepage)

The final two members of this Ardmore cluster were bottled by Mr. WhiskySponge himself. I'm not sure why I saved them for last, but pre-tasting nosings tell me they're different than the other ten in this series. Starting with the Sponge's refill hoggie, the oldest non-sherry cask of the group...

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: WhiskySponge
Age: 24 years (1997 - 2022)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Outturn: 250 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose arrives intensely piney, with crushed lemongrass and pickle brine (MGP-style) in the background. Notes of lox and lemon candy develop after a 20+ minutes. Oh my ganja, the palate. Wow. Uh okay, yeah, "hops" and dried oregano, grapefruit, pineapple, and some of the nose's pine. Then mezcal and metal and a whiff of peppery smoke. It finishes mostly peppery and metallic with some pineapple and IPA in the back.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or >¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose is a little more Ardmoreish now, with more beach and stones, rather than pine. Some rock candy in there as well. The palate indeed turns more towards hops than "hops". A bit more vibrant overall, sweeter and rootier, but still quite metallic. Its finish lingers sugar-free, plenty bitter and metallic.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

My Annoying Opinions reviewed his part of the bottle split two weeks ago. We found different notes and he seems to have liked it better than I, but we both were disappointed with this whisky that reads younger than its age. Devoid of the charm and grace found in the cluster's other 24 year old, this malt feels like it wasn't done cooking when it was bottled. May I dare suggest that a second maturation — like Sponge's other Ardmore — could have helped a little? Yes, this is me that's tut-tutting a spirit-forward whisky. I'll shut up now.

Availability - Still available as of the date of this post
Pricing - £230
Rating - 84

Friday, January 20, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Ardmore 21 year old 1997 Whisky-Doris, cask 901456

(Ardmore cluster homepage)

Whisky-Doris's white label Ardmore masterpieces were pivotal to my palate's development. It's as if I needed them to show me what I actually like. Ten years ago, I was into BIG flavors. Overwhelming peat, thick sherry influence, or ryes of considerable size. Hyperbolic whiskies led to hyperbolic reviews. But Whisky-Doris's monochrome bottles held '92 Ardmore single malt that dialed the smoke down to 4, citrus up to 6, salt to 5, sweetness to 3......

I just looked back at my last Ardmore TIRD, and discovered I wrote essentially the same thing. It's not that I'm getting old, it's that I tell the same stories over and over. But this habit surely won't worsen with age.

Back to this tale. I bought today's 1997 whisky because Ardmore + Whisky-Doris. It cost 60% more than the '92s did eight years earlier, but I was happy to make questionable monetary decisions during the those early pandemic months because I was depressed AF. Anyway, Ardmore!

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Whisky-Doris
Age: 21 years (November 1997 - June 2019)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask #: 901456
Outturn: 180 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 49.4%  ← there's that low abv again!
(from the upper third of my bottle)

NEAT

The nose starts with peaches, mangoes, and orange peels. Wood smoke, marzipan, and milk chocolate fill in the open spaces. The fruit gradually smothers it all. The palate arrives "totally in tune" (per my notes). Salt + savory + smoke + sweet citrus. "It's kinda perfect." As if more was needed, dried herbal and tart lemon notes grow with time. Ah, the multi-gear finish. First gear: brine, grapefruits, oranges, and a subtle sweetness. Second gear: savory smoke. Third gear: bitter herbs and grapefruit (again).

DILUTED to 46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose is all wet stones and peaches and bacon and yes. The palate is fruitier, mintier. Plenty of salt and savory remain, but less smoke. The mangoes in the background carry over into the finish, along with ultra-tart citrus and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I treasure this run of excellent TIRD bottles (see here and here and here, and yes I'm ignoring less than excellent bottles, but that's not the point, and this shouldn't be within the parenthetical anyway). As noted above and in a previous post, many '90s Ardmores have curiously low ABVs, no matter who bottles the casks. And it works. I'm also happy to say that this one can take a little bit of water as well. One question remains, will I open my next Ardmore in 2024, or will I be unable to wait that long? Answer: I'll enjoy this one in the moment.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - €160 w/VAT in 2020
Rating - 90