...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Ben Nevis 27 year old 1990 Le Gus't, cask 5

When I had first heard this whisky had spent 12 years in a sherry cask then 15 years in a port pipe, I had two simultaneous thoughts:

1.) WTF?, with the "W" = "Why"
2.) Well, at least someone is having fun out there.

I wanted to try it, but its price was too prohibitive for any version of WTF. Happily I was able to get in on a bottle split a couple months ago. As you can see below, the liquid's color is......shall we say, vibrant.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Le Gus't
Series: Selection XV
Age: 27 years old (9 November 1990 - 10 June 2018
Maturation: 12 years in sherry cask(s), then 15 years in a portpipe
Cask #: 5
Outturn: 736
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(from a bottle split)

It's still whisky, at least in the nose. While plenty of berry jams and candies waft up from the glass, there's still a distinct musty Ben Nevis note in the mix. There are also green grapes and honeydew. After 30+ minutes additional notes of raspberries and wet dogs appear. It's like Bruichladdich Black Art but better! *ducks flying pans* The palate is plenty hot, and actually sort of hoppy. There's also a strong peppercorn note which is something I usually associate with extra young spirit. It's not as sweet or tannic as I'd expected. There are hints pickle brine and industrial smoke. It gets port-ier with time. Lots of berry jams, again. It finishes with black pepper, brine, heat, industrial smoke and some dried berries.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Berries and wine in the nose, then fruity cinnamon, grape bubblegum and PX. A slight peat smoke in the background. More berries than brine in the palate. It's sweeter now, and the tannins still don't overwhelm the rest. The quirky phenolics and hoppy notes remain. It finishes sweet, peppery, hoppy and slightly metallic.

It's neither a hot mess, nor "so bad it's good". It's as if the Ben Nevis spirit is too wild to be totally submerged, so it lurches out in the form of pickles, dark smoke and beer when one least expects it. So, no, the whisky isn't a well balanced, fully formed thing.

The casketry makes one wonder. It takes more than one sherry cask to fill port pipe, maybe even three hogsheads. How strong was the whisky going into the port pipe? And what kind of warehouse was it? That's a high ABV for 27 total years, and a very high outturn for 15 years in a port pipe. The result is something quite modern, lots of fortified wine extraction sitting atop some rawness. But again, it almost succeeds despite all this because it's Ben Nevis.

I don't adore the thing as much as the Whiskybase community does, but I like more than Sjoerd did. Though I don't know how to score it, I'm happy with having only bought 2 ounces worth.

Availability - European specialty retailers, though it's close to selling out
Pricing - €180-€210, I think
Rating - 83 (maybe?)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2012 Edition

This was the one I had wanted. The Mizunara Cask. All you Fedora fu---, um, followers could chase the annual Sherry Casks for the rest of time. And whoever wanted the Bourbon Barrel could have 'em.

Then I never got a bottle. Then life went on. And now, in 2020, I have a sample.

Scheduled two months before it occurred, the highly anticipated tasting turned out to be neither deeply mystical nor solemn. Exhaustion had set in long before the girls' bedtime, as is the case with every quarantine evening. Exhaustion for Papa, that is. In order to keep our girls from blasting off every night we have to duct tape them to their beds. I'm kidding. We duct tape them to the basement floor.

The point is, to quote Lili Von Shtupp, I'm so tired. So I drank my Yamazaki Mizunara Cask casually while staring at the internets mindlessly. It was great. Actually I don't even remember that night and it was Tuesday. Living The Dream.

Distillery: Yamazaki
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Oyamazaki, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Age: ???
Maturation: matured entirely in Mizunara oak casks (allegedly)
Annual Edition: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfiltered? No
Added colorant? ???
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man for the sample!)

The nose is very malty. Barley, pilsner, some hazelnuts. Anise candy, saline and roasted potatoes. A hint of snuffed incense. The palate has a mix of toffee and white fruit sweetness, with delicate baking spice notes lingering in the background. Candied ginger, wort and dunnage. After 30 minutes, a distinct note of a Belgian sour beer begins to develop. The beer note then drifts towards stout in the finish. Then anise, ginger and some tangy berries. The nose's maltiness returns at the end.

Less spicy and exotic than I'd anticipated; less cerebral, too. Instead, it's a just a very nice drink, and one of the most beer-y whiskies I've had. I'll bet it's a good match for any of the beers referenced in the notes, which is neat because the whisky costs only $2000-$4000. Hopefully that didn't make you spit-take your first pour from your Mizunara bottle. Kanpai!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Money, lots of Money
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Willett Family Estate 24 year old 1984 Single Barrel Rye, barrel 637

This is one of my Apocalypse Pours. My family is safe and healthy but I know of other families that are not. So what the hell.

Here's one of the old Willett gems some American fellows speak of in whispers or flip for thousands of bones. This barrel was selected by Bonili, a Japanese distributor, during Willett's early wax top years. I've heard it referred to as 24/110. It may have been distilled at Old Bardstown Distillery, or perhaps on the surface of Ganymede. In either case, this stuff ain't bein' distilled no more.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (a.k.a. Willett)
Range: Family Estate Single Barrel (WFE)
Distillery: Old Bardstown?
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age24 years
MaturationWhite Oak
Barrel: 637
Outturn: 264
Selected by: Bonili Japan Co., Ltid.
Alcohol by Volume55%
(888 thank yous to Secret Agent Man for sharing!)

The nose begins with rye bread, Irish soda bread, fennel seed, cherry shisha and antique shop (the big furniture room). A caramel sauce-laden ice cream sundae. Old armagnac spilled on old newspapers. It reads very dusty, as if it were from the '50s or '60s rather than the '80s.

On the palate, the oak has travelled far beyond the boring bitterness of Diageo's 15-25 year old Orphan Barrels, and into a dense medicinal realm. Eucalyptus, mint and arugula leaves. Its earthiness is balanced by a Dr. Brown's cherry soda sweetness. After 45 minutes it tilts savory and picks up some curry-like spices.

The finish ditches the sweetness for medicine and earth. More eucalyptus and mint leaves. Hints of cigarette smoke in the back ground.

There's always a sparring whisky on hand for every tasting here. But this time I had nothing to compare this to. I pulled wee pours of 8 and 12 year old Willett single bourbon casks, but those knelt sheepishly in the shadow of this 24yo. As per notes above, this had such a romantic dusty edge that it felt like it was distilled one or two generations earlier than it actually was. Its syrup-thick concentrated texture may have been the rye's loveliest element. If one could hold time in a glass...

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Friday, March 27, 2020

Killing Whisky History, Episode 30: MacDonald's Glencoe Malt Whisky, two bottles a half-century apart

Well, I'm home. And you're probably home too. And home is where the whisky is. 'Tis a wonder it took only two weeks for a Killing Whisky History episode to be birthed.

Because of the times, this episode is a little light on history but heavy on alcohol. To be more specific, there are two bounteous pours from freshly opened MacDonald's Glencoe Blended Malts. Ben Nevis malt is at the heart of both whiskies, one is a mini from the '60s/'70s, the other is a 750mL bottle from the late Teens.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Life of a Whisky Bottle: Tobermory 10 year old (2015)

The 46.3%abv version of Tobermory 10 year old succeeds as a unique and spirit-forward single malt. Since this whisky was rebooted as a higher ABV, unchillfiltered expression in 2010, both Burn Stewart Distillers have Distell Group resisted trying to turn it into something cuddlier and more commercial. So it was with plenty of joy that I opened my bottle four months ago. But by the end of the bottle, that pleasure drifted to exhaustion. More on that in a bit.

I pulled samples from the very top of the bottle in early November 2019, then at the midpoint in January 2020, then at its very bottom last week. These three pours were tried side-by-side so I could observe how the whisky progressed with time and oxygen.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: American oak casks
Bottle code: PO33859 L5 10:22 15097
Bottling year: 2015, I think
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Top of the bottle sample from November 2019
Nose - A mix of pear and barley eau de vies. Heck, throw in Slivovitz too. Juniper, lavender flowers, mint leaves, sugar and a hint of yeast.

Palate - Lots of barley. Saltines and a bitter herbal liqueur. A gentle sweetness and tartness.

Finish - Saltines, raw almonds and a mild sweetness.

Middle of the bottle sample from January 2020
Nose - Brighter and a little more rounded. Flower blossoms, brown sugar and citronella candles. There's also a curious raisin note and flour dust. Though the barley supposedly has a peat measure of 0-2ppm, a definite peat-like phenolic note appears after 15 minutes.

Palate - Tart lemons, brown sugar, horseradish and chewed grass start things off. With time in the glass, the whisky develops notes of roasted sweet potato, raw almonds and Slivovitz.

Finish -  There's the peat-ish note again. Then horseradish, wort and a growing sweetness.

Bottom of the bottle sample from March 2020
Nose - Drifting back towards new make, it smells floral and grassy. Small notes of chicken broth and citronella linger in the background. The peat note has disappeared.

Palate - Milder now. Moderate tartness and bitterness. Lemons, grass and malt. Toasted grains and nuts.

Finish - Soft, grassy and malty, with a hint of lemon cookies.

Though I was excited to start this whisky in November, I'd gotten desperate to finish it in March. In fact, this review was supposed to happen three weeks ago but I just couldn't bring myself to drink anymore of it for fun. And that's a problem.

There's a bit of confirmation bias here, probably. I tend to like whiskies best at mid-bottle, and sure enough that was the best spot for this one. By then the whisky had gained some interesting angles and the peat-like notes gave it much-needed depth. I doubt those characteristics lasted long.

While I cannot deny that young Tobermory is truly its own animal and I applaud the honest, naked nature of this official bottling, I have no interest in ever buying it again. Perhaps my palate has changed, or maybe this stuff drinks better in late spring, or clearer signs of mortality have made me fussier about my poisons, but there was no thrill to be found in this bottle.

Availability - Worldwide, though possibly being phased out for the 12yo
Pricing - $45 - $65
Rating - 82 (and only at mid-bottle)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Redbreast Small Batch D

If you're reading this now, you have made it to Friday. Congratulations! Time to weaken your immune system with whiskey.

No fails in the first three Redbreast Small Batches. And *SPOILER ALERT* this one passed muster as well. Kudos to everyone who nabbed one or more of these whiskies five months ago. Their secondary market prices are a primary bummer, but that is how it goes today.

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points
Batch B - "Chocolate, fruit and flowers", 88 points.
Batch C - "The birdy gets dirty" (sorry not sorry), 89 points
Batch D - ......

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Redbreast
Region: Cork, Ireland
Type: Single Pot Still
Age: at least 14 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks
Batch: D
Bottled for: Oak + Violet, Bounty Hunter Wine & Spirits, Redstone Liquors and Julio's Liquors
Outturn: 252 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???
(from a bottle split)

Like Batch B, D has plenty of sherry cask action on its nose. Not raisiny or pruny, rather dried cherries and raspberries in dark chocolate. More honey than grape jam. Hints of mustard and steak emerge after 30 minutes. The palate ditches those last notes for a cleaner character, at first. Lots of nuts and dried fruit. Lime juice and a good bitterness. But it gets a little edgier with time, gaining small notes of earth and salted pork. It finishes with limes, dried blueberries, nuts, cayenne pepper and a minor metallic note.

Batch D could be great on its own, but next to batches B and C it becomes merely very good. C is grittier, B is brighter. Both are probably more complex. Still, I like D's transition from light to dark, and though the nose is simple it is simply enjoyable. Obviously the scores of the four whiskies barely vary, so any one of these could top the others depending on the day and the drinking circumstances. The strong Redbreast quality is present in all four. Perhaps Pernod could do a few more small batches for, say, Ohio?

Final score card:

Batch A - "Modern scotch-styled Irish pot still”, 85 points
Batch B - "Chocolate, fruit and flowers", 88 points.
Batch C - "The birdy gets dirty" (sorry not sorry), 89 points
Batch D - "Simply enjoyable", 86 points.

Availability - US of A
Pricing - it was $100
Rating - 86