...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bowmore 11 year old 2000 Sovereign (K&L exclusive)

Sweet Cthulhu's mercy, this is my THIRTIETH review of a K&L exclusive whisky. Those reviews have been slowing down. There were zero in 2017, in fact. I was about to type "and I have don't have any left in the sample stash", but holy crap I was wrong.

This is the earliest K&L sample I will ever review. It hit the shelves a month or two before I first set foot in that store. It was even a few months before I started blogging about whisky. The sample comes from MAO, so that means he was on the K&L scene before I was. That man has always been a devoted member of the Double David Fan Club. *wink emoji*

Continuing with the theme, this is a single cask Bowmore aged in a sherry hogshead. It's very dark in color, especially considering the age. So I anticipate some cask influence.

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Hunter Hamilton
Series: The Sovereign
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Age: 11 years old (2000 - Aug 2011)
Maturation: sherry hoggie, possibly American oak
Cask numberHH7613
Bottles: 180
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No
(Sample from a swap with MAO, like a thousand years ago)

The nose begins with dark chocolate, gritty peat and roses. Pears and vanilla. Grapefruit and Heath Bar. With time the flowers go Full Violets, budging ahead of almost all other scents. The palate is tangy, sweet and sour. The peat reads sort of grassy. Vanilla. It gets both sweeter and bitterer with time in the glass. A few of the roses appear here. The long finish is very sweet. Lots of oranges and sugar. Plenty of dirty peat too.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets more desserty, less floral. Lots of gooey caramel, vanilla and toffee things. Cinnamon and citronella. The peat gets quieter, earthier. The palate has bitter smoke and limes. A hint of milk chocolate. It finishes sweet and tangy. Lightly peaty.

I'm going to ignore the flowers for the next paragraph.

This whisky never really worked for me, even though it was generally short on flaws. The sweets and vanilla didn't really work for my palate, and often shouted down the other characteristics. Adding water did improve the situation, though. The nose worked better than the palate (again). Meanwhile...

...the nose's flower strike was a surprise. That's the biggest violet appearance outside the Dreaded Eighties that I've yet found in a Bowmore. Luckily they didn't sneak into the mouth. A hint of rose is okay, sometimes great. But violets, nah.

While MAO found some similar notes in this whisky, he enjoyed it more than I. Florin liked it more too. So that makes me the sour puss. Man, I hope my review doesn't stop this cask from selling out.

Availability - With or without a time machine?
Pricing - $80
Rating - 80 (with water)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Caol Ila 20 year old 1996 Montgomerie's, cask 3076

Hey, it's Not-Bowmore Day. And, also Simulreview-with-MAO Day. And, also Friday. Huzzah.

If I've said it once, I've said it (at most) eleven times: There aren't enough Caol Ila reviews on this site. You can count me amongst those who say "Cry not over Port Ellen, for there is still Caol Ila." Long-aged CI is very comparable to PE. (It used to be much cheaper too, but word got out.) I've tried a pair of young PEs and found them uninspiring, but young CI is often quite good. Here's a comparison of a pair. Caol Ila single casks have also been widely available from indies, as Diageo seems to let more of these barrels escape than with any of their other distilleries.

I've grown to enjoy Caol Ila's single malts because the good bourbon cask CIs seem like cousins to good bourbon cask Ardmores. It's the beach or BBQ or bonfire or beach BBQ bonfire peat smoke drifting above a foundation of fresh citrus. That's my jam.

Today's CI is from Angus Dundee's Montgomerie's line, just like last Friday's Glen Ord. Like that Ord, this was part of a bottle split with famed lawn bowling blogger, My Annoying Opinions. I'll link to his review as soon as I can today. (Here it is!) For now, you may follow my notes below.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 20 years old (1996-2016)
Maturation: probably an ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 3076
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose mixes soft oceanic peat with Good & Plenty candies. Then a note somewhere between orange blossoms and orange oil. Moments of mint chip ice cream, menthol, dried herbs and caramel sauce. With time, the peat gets rootier. The palate comes across more rugged. Wood smoke, Robitussin, charred bell pepper skins. Charred beef, tangy lemons, tobacco smoke and bitter herbs. It gets bitterer with time in glass. Bitter smoke on the finish. Tobacco smoke. A tiny bit of sweetness.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or less than 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
Much less peat on the nose, but more fruit. Think oranges, limeade and dried apricots. Beachy. Mild sweet peat on the palate. Hot oregano, bitter chocolate and vanilla simple syrup. The finish mirrors the palate.

Recently, I've had a string of peated single cask whiskies with rich complex noses and narrower, less exciting palates. This one joins that parade. In fact, this one's palate took me by surprise. It was a slap in the mouth compared to the nose's cuddle. It tastes rawer than what I'd expect from a 20 year old Caol Ila. The finish neither offends nor excites, it just finishes. These aren't huge complaints, but when the nose sets one up so well...

Availability - Total Wine & More (and maybe a few other retailers in Minnesota)
Pricing - $125
Rating - 83

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bowmore 14 year old 1999 Old Malt Cask, HL10146

Monday's indie Bowmore was a lumbering (heh) sherried thing that swam worse than I do. Today's Bowmore is from also from a sherry butt, but it's a refill this time. It was also bottled sooner and at a lower ABV. I tried the two side-by-side...

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 14 years old (September 1999 to October 2013)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask: HL10146
Bottles: 563
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is full of smoked fish with figs, sugary apples, orange marmalade, arugula and soda bread. A picnic on Islay? Yes, please. Though the peat reads at turns green or like coal smoke on the nose, it lands much heavier on the palate, like ham and burnt plastic. Lots of brown mustard, apple juice and cherry lollipops. It all gets smokier and sweeter with time. It finishes with a peppery arugula and herb salad, topped with figs. Dark rumbly peat. It grows more honeyed with time.

DILUTED TO 43%abv, or 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose has become a dank, muddy boat floor. Then simple peat smoke, apples and lemons. The palate shows peat, mint and oranges. It's lightly sweet, lightly bitter, lightly herbal and lightly drying. Lightly. The finish is full of sugary peat, pears, mint and bitter herbs.

Like the 16yo SMWS from yesterday, this 14yo OMC's peat and cask feel bigger on the palate. But here they're calmer, less suffocating. The palate feels better balanced — with or without water — and can almost compete with the stellar nose. This would be a great rainy day whisky. Too bad it was released four years ago, when sherry cask Bowmores were half the price they are now.

Availability - Winesearcher last found it in October 2017
Pricing - its average price stayed below $100 for more than three years
Rating - 87

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bowmore 16 year old 1997 SMWS 3.217

After reviewing four bourbon cask Bowmores, I am hopping over to four sherry cask Bowmores for the remainder of the Mondays and Wednesdays this month. Today's indie Bowmore was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), a club that would have someone like me for a member, so I'd rather not belong.

Like all SMWS whiskies, this one was given its own "funny" name: A delicatessen shopping basket. That sounds promising...

Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
"Funny" name: A delicatessen shopping basket
Age: 16 years (September 25, 1997 - 2014)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask#: 3.217
Bottles: 609
Alcohol by Volume: 55.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thanks to Brett for the sample!)

The nose shows off mangoes, ginger, dried cherries, molasses cookies, concrete and chimney smoke. With time it picks up notes of toffee pudding, prunes, roasted corn and a hint of classic peat smoke. The palate is less complex than the nose, almost monolithic. Big peppery char. Sugared grapey notes, as if someone peat infused a sweet sherry. Agave nectar and eucalyptus leaves. Lots of heat. The long finish holds lots of sweetness and peatness. Black pepper, arugula and ethyl heat.

The nose works, but the palate seems closed. Time for serious dilution.

DILUTED TO 44.5%abv, or 1½ tsp water per 30mL whisky
And the eggy sulphur comes rolling into the nose. Some milk chocolate and ginger too. The palate is intensely peppery and hot and sulphuric. With a side of sour candy. It finishes sweet and peppery.

Uch. Maybe some more water?

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or 2⅓ tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is cleaner, more herbal. Whiffs of apricots, pool chlorine and tar. The palate is cleaner and weaker, but some sulphur remains. Bitter, herbal and sweet, but out of balance, like a messed up cocktail. The finish is similar to the palate but much sweeter.

At first you think this "delicatessen shopping basket" is actually a sherry-coated locked treasure chest that can only be opened by adding water. So you add water. And the box opens. And ZOMG IT'S SATAN! So you add more water to kill the beast and in the process the whisky drowns as well. And then you wonder what the hell kind of deli does the SMWS-naming guy shop at, because damn.

So the whisky is best when neat, where it smells fantastic and tastes......satisfactory. Perhaps it will appeal more to you sherry faces out there. To me, the nose sets up expectations of complexity and beauty that go entirely unfulfilled. And it swims so poorly that I have to knock the rating down additional points.

Availability - Nope
Pricing - not sure, though I believe it was north of $150
Rating - 80

Friday, April 13, 2018

Glen Ord 18 year old 1997 Montgomerie's

When the proprietor of famed food blog, My Annoying Opinions, offered up a bottle split of indie Glen Ord, I couldn't resist. Montgomerie's, one of Angus Dundee's labels, has entered the US market via Total Wine & More almost exclusively. I enjoyed their 1995 Ben Nevis last year, as it balanced BN's weird + fruit quite well.

It's also nice to see a Glen Ord come through our market. Ords with this high of an age statement are also scarce in the rest of the world. I like the Ord, as does MAO. So we're doing a simultaneous review of this whisky today. Here’s his opinion. Here's my opinion:

Distillery: Glen Ord
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Independent Bottler: Montgomerie's (via Angus Dundee)
Age: 18 years old (1997-2015)
Maturation: probably a refill ex-bourbon cask
Cask: 800002
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtered? No
Caramel colored? No
(from a bottle split)

Its color is nearly, well, colorless. Very pale. The nose has barley, sour apple candy and lime zest. Stones and ocean air. Amaretto and fresh apricots. The palate has a zesty lemons+chiles+honey combo. Also, whipped cream, oranges and roasted malt. The finish is very long and zippy, with limes, peppery heat and fresh apples.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The whisky gets cloudy quickly. A good sign! The nose is very similar to the neat version. The apples are more fruity than candied now. More of an earthy note too. Maybe a hint of soap. The palate has gotten a little sweeter. Also, some tart limes and lemon juice. More apples, limes and lemons in the finish.

I can't say this is the most complex thing, but it's crisp as a casual drinker. The lack of intrusive oak is much appreciated, as the mature perky fruity malty spirit gets the spotlight. It's fine while diluted, though 46%abv seems to be a great spot.

I'd love to see more 18 year old (non-Singleton) Glen Ords. Will I have to wait another decade when the distillery's massive production gets the better of it?

Availability - Total Wine & More (and maybe a few other retailers in Minnesota)
Pricing - $100
Rating - 86

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bowmore 15 year old 1997 Anam na h-Alba

The fourth of eight indie Bowmore reviews this month, this Anam na h-Alba release is the last of the bourbon cask releases from this group. The four Bowmores that follow are all from sherry casks, I think.

Don't have much else to say about this whisky other that it was well loved by all the voters on whiskybase, except for Cobo from whose bottle this sample came, this sample that has been sitting in the stash for more than three years. It's time to free it!

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Anam na h-Alba
Series: The Soul of Scotland
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 15 years old (June 2, 1997 - July 18, 2012)
Maturation: ex-bourbon hogshead
Bottles: 77
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thanks to Cobo for the sample!)

The nose begins with wet leaves and fresh in-season peaches. Vibrant sugary green peat, as well as sooty smoke. Burlap, cinnamon, honey and clementines. The palate has mild citrus and lots of soot. Bitter chocolate, horseradish, soil and a mild sweetness. It gets sootier and sweeter with time. The warm and lightly bitter finish has an ethyl sting to it. Lime juice and simple peat.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
Water does the nose no favors. It washes away nearly everything, leaving behind only hints of earth, moss, lychees and apples. The palate gets more acidic, with generic citrus. Quiet notes of soot, pears and sugar. It finishes salty and sweet, with oranges and pears.

It's a shame the palate fell so short of the excellent nose, because this would have been one hell of a whisky. In fact, it all starts so well with the first sniff and then propels downhill from there, finishing quickly and quietly. Overall, it's a decent drink but it leaves me thinking only of what it could have been. Because this was a micro-release from almost five years ago, I'm not sure if this review is relevant to anyone. BUT if this whisky sits on your shelf, don't waste any water on it once the bottle is opened!

Availability - Not
Pricing - 'twas €65
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bowmore 17 year old 1996 First Editions

Like last Wednesday's Bowmore, here's another 17yo distilled in 1996 and bottled by an independent company. And it's another bottle that I recently split with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. For this review, I tasted the two Bowmores side by side to get a better perspective of each.

Unlike my experiences with AD Rattray, First Editions whiskies have always underwhelmed me. Of course, I've tried a grand total of four before this year, but I wanted to give them one last good try before adding them to my Meh List. So, basically, it's all riding on this.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Series: First Editions
Region: Islay, Scotland
Age: 17 year old (1996-2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask
Bottle: 155 of 266
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a bottle split)

This is gentler on the nose than the Rattray cask, right up front. There's brown sugar, green veg, lots of toasted barley and ocean-y peat. It shifts a little bit with time, turning up notes of barn, cherry candy and vanilla. The palate starts off "super mineral". Early notes are salt, lemons, grass, mint leaves. After some time it opens up, revealing hints of fresh stone fruit, peach candy and blackberry syrup. The long finish is simple but pleasant and tingly. It's lightly sweet with some of the late palate's fruit and mineral notes. The peat reads more salty than smoky.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or a little less than 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is now full of mint, honeydew and grass. Some vanilla bean, brown sugar and mild peat smoke. The palate is similar to the neat version. More on sweets, ginger and lime candy. Less on minerals. The finish is also sweeter with much less peat. The lime candy note shows up here too.

I can't believe I'm typing this, but I liked the First Editions Bowmore more than the AD Rattray cask. There's more fruit in this one and just the right amount of oak. Both had a good dosage of mineral notes, but this one feels more balanced. The peat is more consistent here as well. The Rattray cask offers more raw spirit and violence, which is why that one needs water. The First Editions Bowmore feels more mature, and works with or without dilution. Plus, it's $30 cheaper. So, it's a win for First Editions.

Availability - Just a few US retailers
Pricing - $130-$150
Rating - 87