...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Single Malt Report: Benromach 1999 Origins Batch No. 2 (Port Pipes)

If you were left scrambled by yesterday's post, I'll clarify: I'm reviewing a few Benromachs this week. Yesterday was the 10yo 100 proof and tomorrow will be the out of production 25 year old. Today, it's batch 2 of the Benromach Origins series.

The good folks at Gordon & MacPhail decided to do some experimentation with the Benromach single malt once they purchased the distillery. Aside from all the winey "Contrasts" bottlings, they have also done a series of heavily peated and organic whiskies. The Origins are sort of their own range. Each batch represents a little tinkering done to the production process as a way to alter the end result. Batch 1 was distilled from Golden Promise barley and was matured in sherry casks. Batch 2 spent its entire life in port pipes. Batch 3 was from Optic barley. Batch 4 was the next round of port pipes. Batch 5 was the next batch of Golden Promise.

The releases started in 2008 and seemed to have ended in 2013. I hope the experiments haven't ended because Benromach tends to do good work, and it would be great to see them push the envelope a little further. Batch #2 was released in 2010. Thank you to Florin (a prince) for this sample.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Origins
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Age: either 10 or 11 years old (1999-2010)
Maturation: Port pipes
Peating: 8ppm (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is rosy gold. The nose starts off with grape Bubblicious, milk chocolate and tangerines. Beneath those notes lie clay and smoldering hay. Then a raisiny sherry-like note shows up, followed by blackberry jam and cassis. The palate is quite malty and peppery. Tart berries, tawny port, fresh ginger, burnt grains and a growing horseradish bitterness. With time in the glass, it picks up some almonds and dark chocolate. The bitterness gets pretty raw in the finish, though there's plenty of sweet port and raisin residue to provide dimension. There's also some cayenne pepper and "burnt stuff".

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose gets earthier. Some cocoa powder. Blackberry jam, plums, and bread pudding full of raisins. The palate hasn't changed much. The sweetness is a little richer and the bitterness slightly tamer. There's a chocolate-coffee stout note showing up now. The finish is less bitter as well, with more fresh stone fruits and a hint of moss.

While I can't say that all the disparate elements (wine, oak, peat, barley) have fully merged in batch 2 of Benromach's Origins experiments, the whisky is still good and fun. It doesn't come across as heavily produced or tweaked to appeal to every drinker. The bitterness might turn some palates off, but I dig it. The port notes are most appealing in the nose, unless you hate wineskies. Adding water does seem to pull things together a bit and tone down the noise. This has left me interested in the other Origins, so I might pick one of them up if the price is right.

Availability - Not easily found in the US or Europe
Pricing - $70+
Rating - 83

Monday, December 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Benromach 10 year old 100 proof

Rating - 90
Pricing - $80-$100 in US, about half that price in in Europe (w/o VAT or shipping)
Availability - Easily found at European retailers, a bit scarce in the US

I don't know. All I can say is that this and Springbank's Green 13 year old are my favorite sherried whiskies right now, and they both have the same pricing problem in this country.

I think the regular Benromach 10 year old is tremendously underrated. If you disagree then that doesn't necessarily mean you won't like the 100 proof because it's a different animal. The regular 10yo doesn't have the ultra-sherry wallop the 100 proof hauls with it. I don't understand why the hell it costs $90 (almost twice the price of the 10yo) in the US when it can be had for half that price on the European continent. Maybe the word Imperial is expensive to print here.

And you know what? I love this whisky. I dig it so much I absolve all those assholes who loved this and told us that Bruichladdich Ten was the shit. When I brought my bottle to my final OCSC event it was wiped out almost instantly. So I bought another (from the UK, again).

Okay, I'll cut the crap and conclude this thing. A lot of people raved about Benromach 10 year old 100 proof when it came out last year. And by "came out", I mean it was released in Europe. So I waited for it to get released in the US. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And then it arrived with the name "Imperial Proof" and was price almost twice what it went for in Europe. Plus it only seem to come in to a handful of states. So, I said screw it and bought a bottle from the UK.

I'm sure you've run into this problem. One or more well-known relatively-independent whisky reviewers goes of his/their gourd(s) raving about a Whisky of the Year. I try it and it's......okay. It's better than mediocre, nothing exciting, well made, but nothing of which I'd ever buy a full bottle. Unless I've already bought a bottle based on the recommendation(s), and now I'm none too happy.


The finish leads with rich sherried notes like the old red label Macallan Cask Strength, that are then matched with a heap of peat smoke. There are hints of grape jam and green herbs. It's the sweetest part of the whisky, but that's kept in balance by a lovely earthy aftershock.

The palate is loaded with tar, burnt tobacco, peat ash and dried berries (leaning towards blueberries and currants). Some of that rubber ball note. Malt! Hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cloves. A gorgeous wormwood bitterness ripples underneath.

Big bold sherry and big bold peat in the nose. Leather, iodine and moss. Dried dark cherries, dark chocolate, dark plums. Blue rubber ball. Hints of cassis and a jammy PX.

Its color is dark gold.

(Sample taken from my own bottle)
Colorant added: Doubtful
Chillfiltration: No
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Maturation: 80% bourbon, 20% sherry, then is married for a year in (first-fill?) oloroso casks
Age: minimum 10 years
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Ownership: Gordon & MacPhail
Distillery: Benromach


I'll be reviewing Benromach single malts this week!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: James E. Pepper 1776 Barrel Proof Straight Rye

To begin with, this whiskey has nothing to do with the actual James E. Pepper, nor his old brands, nor the year 1776. It's a two year old MGP-distilled rye bottled by a non-distiller producer. So I'm not going waste your time with another American 'craft' whiskey company's fish tale; I'll just focus on the liquid, which was distilled by the funnest whiskey factory on these shores, The Midwest Grain Products WonderFactory™. The regular Pepper rye, also from MGP, is bottled at 50%abv. They did a smaller batch of "barrel proof" rye and, thankfully, it was priced under $40. Thank you to Florin (a prince) for this sample!

Distiller: Midwest Grain Products
Bottler: James E. Pepper (via Georgetown Trading Co.)
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Region: Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Age: 2 years
Mashbill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Maturation: New American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

There's a lot of pickle juice in the nose which clashes with an aggressively perfume-y floral note. Brown sugar, vanilla and Old Spice aftershave. There's a root beer note that swings toward cream soda after a while. The palate is hot. Hot. And also hot. White, unaged rye. Peppercorns. Brown sugar syrup. Rice pudding. The aforementioned heat starts to turn bitter and acidic on the tongue, soon going metallic and bloody. It does seem to mellow after 30 minutes, though perhaps my tongue is dead. The finish is hot, sweet, metallic and ashy. An undercurrent of paint fumes.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Fewer pickles on the nose, more perfume. Pine needles and orange candies stuck to the carpet. Gives the illusion of smelling more mature because the roughness is watered down. The palate is milder, with some new Brazil nut and earthy/rooty notes. But it's also turning more chemical by the minute. Still bitter. A hint of caramel sweetness in the background. The finish is the same as the palate with the addition of some pickle juice and paint.

I am going to assume the tasters over at J.E.P. found something special in this rye that I did not. Though I am a rabid MGP rye fan, I'm having a difficult time finding something positive to say about this whiskey. Why they didn't give this very very very very young rye a few (or several) more years in oak to let it finish baking, I don't know. At this point it's hot, metallic, chemical and ashy. Again, MGP rye is the easiest whisk(e)y to sell me on, but I doubt I'd ever drink this one again. In fact, this makes me not want to try the regular 100 proof version. (FWIW, I wasn't a big fan of their barrel aged brown ale either.)

Availability - A couple dozen US retailers still have it
Pricing - $35-$40
Rating - 71

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchroisk 34 year old 1975 Old Malt Cask, cask DL5522

Auchroisk looks like it's pronounced like some you say when you burn your toast, but instead it actually sounds like oh-thrusk, which I hope helps to explain some of my bad Auchroisk jokes strewn about social media this week.

I'm closing up the two-week five-part Auchroisk reviews with the oldest of the batch, a 34 year old from the Laing's Old Malt Cask range. The Man in the White Fedora gave this cask an utterly-hyperbolic review in his 2012 tome. Of course, he reviewed a 50%abv version of this bottling that's never been seen before or since. So if you're looking to buy that one, you may find it on a shelf next to the magical Ardbeg Uigeadail he proclaimed the 2009 Whisky of the Year, a bottling never seen before or since. The actual cask DL5522 was bottled at 47.7%. Thank you to Cobo for this sample!

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 34 years (April 1975 - September 2009)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask numberDL5522
Limited bottling: 228
Alcohol by Volume: 47.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

The nose starts off with quite a bit of overripe melon up front, then anise and peppery mint leaves in the back. Lots of grain and little oak, except for a hint of vanilla. Tangerine juice. After 40 minutes, it picks up a plum wine note.  The palate is similar to the nose, but with more toffee. The overripe melon and tropical fruits have moved into the background. There's a tart austere (oh that word) edge to it, as well as a young green note. Was this a 5th refill? After a half hour, citronella candles take over. The short-ish finish has roasted malt, salt and a hint of cocoa. A little bit of lemon, some bitterness. The citronella candles are the loudest.

This one gets brownie points for not being over-oaked, nor trying to please the crowd. The citronella note gets abusive after a while, but that can be avoided by finishing the dram before the 30 minute mark. On the other hand, the nose takes quite a while to lift off. My main gripe with it is the oddly brief finish. Yesterday's 18yo Auchroisk had such a long vibrant finale, that it put this oldie to shame when tried side-by-side. Overall this 34yo is certainly a decent whisky, and I'd be happy to drink it again and again, but it definitely exhibits proof that age and price do not necessarily determine quality.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - was £175 back in 2009, dunno what it goes for now
Rating - 84

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Auchroiskin' all week: Auchroisk 18 year old 1988 Blackadder cask #8954

This is a curious whisky. I'll list what I've observed. Here's the label, from whiskybase:
It has a different design than the usual Blackadder label, though they kept the font in the same family. The whisky was reduced to 46%abv (not the usual Raw-ass Cask approach), but somehow only 105 of these diluted bottles came from a hogshead which doesn't appear to have been split with anyone. And this is the first "Aberdeen Distillers" bottling I've seen. More do exist and they do appear to be a lightweight version of Blackadder bottlings, like a cross between Signatory's "Vintage Collection" and "Unchillfiltered" ranges.

So, it's a diluted Blackadder from a rarely seen (at least in my whisky shopping travels) range from a cask that may have had serious evaporation or leakage or fell victim to a warehouse worker's thirst. But it is Auchroisk and I'm having some Auchroisk luck recently. Thank you Florin, a prince, for this sample.

(UPDATE: Florin may have explained the weird bottle count issue in the comment section below. It seems likely there was at least a second release of this same cask...)

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Range: Aberdeen Distillers
Age: 18 years (December 1988 - August 2007)
Maturation: Oak hogshead
Cask number8954
Limited bottling: 105
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Note: as per the photo above, I tried this alongside the whisky from the next review.

The nose is loaded with orange peel, white gummi bears and tropical fruit candy right up front. An undercurrent of brininess keeps things from getting too wild, but it remains fresh and crisp throughout. With time it picks up more lemons and a hint of overripe melon. The palate is malty, salty and tart. A bit sharp up front, creamy around the edges. Tropical fruit candy, sweet limes, apricots and a hint of oak. It has a nice long finish highlighted by peach, vanilla bean, baked pear, apricot preserves and a slight earthy note.

Damn. Whatever happened to this cask, Blackadder might want to (accidentally?) replicate it. In fact, I liked this more than most of the full-powered Blackadders I've tried. It's right up there with Monday's official 20 year old Auchroisk. So don't be weirded out by anything on the label, in fact pretend you didn't even read my intro.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, November 28, 2016

Single Malt Report: Auchroisk 20 year old Limited Edition (2010)


Okay, okay. Stop shouting. I'll review more Auchroisk this week, damn it.

First up, is Diageo's limited edition release from 2010. Not too long ago, a number of retailers couldn't seem to give this one away, dishing out massive price cuts to clear this from their shelves, but finding limited success. In 2012, Diageo dropped another limited edition Auchroisk (a 30-year old) which is also still easily available throughout Europe. Not to be outdone, they released another Auchroisk limited edition this year, 25 years old but priced higher than the 30 year old. Um, if you're a retailer, are you really picking that one up too?

But what if the original, 20 year old, limited release was actually great? I'd like to find out. Many thanks to Brett, certified whisky fan from Riverside, for this opportunity to find out.


Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases / Limited Editions
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 20 years
Maturation: American and European oak casks
Limited Bottling: 5856
Bottling year: 2010
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Not much, if any

The color is thankfully short on DiageoGold™. The nose leads with mangoes, canned pears, vanilla and cocoa. With 10-15 minutes of air, seashore and berry candy notes appear. Then York peppermint patties, toffee and pencil shavings. The palate has a lot of toasted oak and roasted malt. A citric tang, tobacco, toffee and a ginger beer buzz. It's both peppery and sweet. Slight notes of sherry cask and smoke after a while. Ah, plenty of nutty sherry in the finish. Malt, salt, cocoa, grilled meat. Lengthy sweetness meets subtle wood smoke.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is much different, but remains high quality. Lemon, peach and apple skins, toasted malt. The palate now has more of the nose's fruit and a pleasant sweetness. Malty and gingery. Some dried fruit from the sherry casks. The finish is shorter and lighter, but more acidic. Mint, sugar, lemon candy and a hint of wood smoke.

This Auchroisk 20 year old was such a nice surprise. It has high quality ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks in the mix, lending a hand while letting the fruity maltiness sing through. Water turns up the fruit notes, but I think I prefer the neatness's complexity. It also drinks easily, considering its ABV. If you were smart and grabbed this when it was on sale, then enjoy! And if you're still looking for it, it's easily found.

Availability - a couple dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $130-$160 Europe (w/o VAT, w/o shipping), $140-$225 US
Rating - 88

Friday, November 25, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, barrel 176 for Cleveland Bourbon Club

Are you still full from Thanksgiving or are you chewing on a cold drumstick as you read this? Well, how about a serving of Wild Turkey, the most relevant whiskey for Turkey Day? Though there's also that viski Tekel distills in Ankara...which is the capital of Turkey. Man, this intro is crap.

I had the pleasure of obtaining a bottle from a Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit single barrel purchase by the Cleveland Barrel Club. My bottle was promptly opened but has not been drained terribly quickly. At the time of typing, I'm still not at the midpoint of the bottle. But it's time for a review!

I only realized yesterday that the bottle's frilly ribbing
was meant to depict a turkey's tail feathers. I'm slow.
Brand: Wild Turkey
Owner: Gruppo Campari
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery
Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
Age: 8 years 8 months
Bottling date: September 8, 2016
Barrel #: 176
For: Cleveland Bourbon Club
Alcohol by volume: 50.5%

The nose starts out very woody, with ashy wood smoke, sawdust and tree bark. Slight vegetal note, with soy sauce underneath. LOTS of corn chips. Fryer oil meets dijon mustard. The palate is also woody, but less so than the nose. It's very minty with lemon and a slight medicinal tinge. Some low rumbling rye. Hints of raspberries, almonds and hazelnuts. The finish is very tannic and drying. But it also has substantial notes of raspberries and cherries. Some more lemon and a peppery tingle. Long and sweet.

WITH WATER (~40.5%abv, from 101 proof to 81 proof)
The nose has softened considerably. Some barrel char. A little bit of rye and mint. Slight manure note. Not much else. The palate has also gotten milder, but has a good herbal bitterness to it, meeting up with the corn sweetness. Still has some of that berry fruitiness. It finishes with barrel char, cherry-flavored cough syrup and cracked black pepper.

AS A HIGHBALL (1:1 ratio and few shakes of Angostura bitters)
It performs best here. The spices from the bitters meets well with brown sugar and fruit from the bourbon. A good drink. I've enjoyed it two nights in a row.

I struggle a little bit with Wild Turkey's products. I do not like their 81 proof bourbon and rye, nor their regular 101 bourbon. But I like Rare Breed and all the Russell's Reserve whiskies. This one sits somewhere in the middle. Its strange nose might be kind of cool if not for the aggressive wood. The palate is pretty decent, especially when the fruit appears. As with the rest of their whiskies, I don't recommend proofing it down to 40.5%. But BUT it works very well as a highball, which I'll probably be using it for going forward.

Availability - Exclusive to the Cleveland Bourbon Club
Pricing - sold out
Rating - 80 (bonus points for the good highball)