"Words, words, words."

-- Hamlet. Act II, scene iii.
-- Butthead. Season V, episode iii.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: W.L. Weller 12 year old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Such is this cockamamie whisky world that I had to source my sample for this bourbon from The Netherlands.  You see, once upon a time (approximately two years ago) retailers suddenly realized that they were selling WL Weller 12yo for only $30 while they were selling a bourbon (known as Van Winkle 12yo) with the same age and same mashbill by the same company for $300.  Then this happened:
from winesearcher's market data
To put a finer point on it:
Avg price in September 2014 - $26
Avg price in September 2016 - $215
Price increase in two years: 727%

While I have heard unofficial tales about decreased allocations of Weller 12, I have also seen stories in Esquire and Wall Street Journal encouraging their readers to seek out the Wellers if they can't find the Van Winkles.  So with a little less supply, more demand, and even more "let's see what these dopes will pay for this stuff" WL Weller finds itself with a 700% price increase.

As this is a wheated bourbon -- thus uses wheat in the mashbill as its flavoring grain rather than rye -- and I'm not the biggest fan of modern wheaters (though I do ♥ dusty Old Fitzes), I did try the Weller 12 alongside a pour of Heaven Hill's wheated Larceny.  I'll review Larceny at another time.  This post is about Master Weller.

Owner: Buffalo Trace (via Sazerac)
Brand: WL Weller
Distillery: Buffalo Trance Distillery
Location: Franklin, Kentucky
Mash Bill: unknown, but it does use wheat rather than rye as its flavoring grain
Age: at least 12 years
ABV: 45% ABV
(I am reviewing from a purchased sample)

The nose starts off with vanilla, caramel, and oak (duh).  Oak char, sap, and bark.  With time it gets creamier and desserty, but I'm still sniffin' tree here.  Okay, there's some fresh apricots or apricot jam, and black cherry ice cream.  After a half hour it picks up a barbecue sauce note.  The palate is dirtier and earthier than I expected.  It's austere (oh that word) for a bourbon, at first.  Gradually the sweets (definitely honey) come around as does a peppery zip.  Burnt corn on the cob.  A hint of maraschino cherries.  Something reminiscent of dusty bourbons, like a whiff of metal+vanilla.  Overall it's Tannin City, or maybe Tannin Island since there's water all around.  The muted finish is mostly barrel char with granulated sugar, burnt corn, and orange peel.  Some hints of vanilla and black pepper in the background.

To me, this was an acceptable bourbon, likely worth $30 in this market, though probably had some competitors at $10-$15 in the previous decade.  The nose works, even with the felled forest within, and the palate's earthy and dusty notes keep it entertaining.  But the thinness to the mouthfeel and generic finish keep it from being anything more than okay.  If I magically find a bottle at its old price, I will buy it for cocktails, casual sipping, and maybe even a re-review if it exceeds (or falls short of) this experience.  Otherwise, I liked Larceny more and I even found Weller 107 better than this.

For those who have purchased a bottle of this for $200, have you opened your bottle and consumed its contents?  Did it provide $200 worth of pleasure?  Please help me here with some details because I don't understand it.

Availability - It's still out there, don't be afeared of the scare tactics
Pricing - Be afraid, be very afraid
Rating - 81

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Luxury Product Report: Convalmore 36 year old 1977 Special Release (2013)

Speaking of Diageo's 2013 Special Release ultra-luxury products......here's a 36 year old Convalmore.  This was the other 2013 Special Release that interested me.  I knew it would be out of my price range since Convalmore was silenced three decades earlier.  What shocked me was that its suggested retail price was only £100+ less than that year's Brora and £100+ more than the 28yo Talisker.  I was (and still am) unaware that Convalmore was in such demand.  But then again, the following year Diageo priced a Glendullan at $1000.

Just to be fair and not to crap all over Diageo as I usually do, consider the fact that Convalmore is a dead distillery with very few indie or official releases.  Consider the fact that the product is 36 years old and burning in at 58%abv.  With that in mind, also consider Balvenie, which is not a dead distillery, which has a more widely available 30yo bottled at 47.3%abv selling for the same exact price as this Convalmore.  Then there's the Dalmore 25yo, bottled at 42%abv which sells for more than these two.  And yes, there's the 43%abv Macallan 25yo which sells for 50% more than any of these.  So, yes, Diageo is far from being the only culprit, and in this instance their whisky is the rarest, oldest, and strongest of the four products mentioned in this paragraph.  And of these four Convalmore is the only one that interests me.

How about a pause in the opinions for some history?  Built near Dufftown in 1894, Convalmore was sold to the big blender James Buchanan ten years later.  In 1925 it was bought by DCL (proto-Diageo) who then mothballed it in 1985.  At that point they sold the distillery and dark grains plant at Convalmore to William Grant & Sons.  Grant later demolished the plant and cleared out the distillery equipment but left much of the building standing.  They currently use Convalmore's old warehouses to store Balvenie and Glenfiddich casks.  Meanwhile, even they sold off the physical assets, Diageo still owns the Convalmore brand name and are thus able to release the single malt under its distillery's name.

Thanks to St. Brett of Riverside, I have a sample of a real Convalmore to try out!

Distillery: Convalmore
Ownership: Diageo (owner of the brand only)
Range: Special Releases
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: at least 36 years old (1977-2013)
Maturation: refill European oak
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
Limited Bottling: 2680
Bottling year: 2013
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Yes

Like yesterday's Oban, this product's color is worryingly close to DiageoGold™. Ah, yes "mit farbstoff".  Why the hell would they do that to a 36 year old "Special Release"?  At first sniff, the nose shows a funny combination of gummy bears and a moldy dunnage.  But give some time, a lot of time, and those notes are replaced by cucumber skin, yellow peaches, lemon cake, autumn baking spices, and a hint of manure.  The palate begins quirky as well: watermelon candy and burlap.  That is soon overwhelmed by loads of lemons.  Maybe some grapefruits too, and a hint of honey.  A little bit of toffee keeps getting stomped down by all the lemons.  The lemons don't last so long in the finish.  Smoked almonds, watermelon candy, carpet, some drying tannins, and a peppery tingle take the lead.  There's also something dirty and earthy to it which gives it another nice dimension.  Great length.

Going easy on the water here since this is an oldie:

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose is all honeycomb, lemon zest, and autumn baking spices.  The palate is made up of the angriest lemons, like first-presidential-debate-Trump angry.  Likely some bitterness and tiny hands too.  It finishes sweeter, with earth, pepper, and lemons.

What a curio this is.  I wonder what the rich folks would think of this product if Whiskyfun and Whisky Advocate weren't telling them it's magical.  It's certainly quirky and old school, for which it certainly deserves points.  And it's a good thing I like lemons, because this has lemons.  But all its parts are flying around, bouncing off each other, never really merging or balancing out, when neat.  Adding water pulls everything together and intensifies some of the better elements.  It's good to very good, but (to me) doesn't merit hyperbole.  Nor, obvs, the price.

Availability - A few dozen stores worldwide
Pricing - In the US $900-$1000, In Europe $650-$850 w/o VAT
Rating - 86

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Luxury Product Report: Oban 21 year old Special Release (2013)

Oban 14 year old was my favorite single malt back in the days when I owned only two or three whiskies at once.  It was more angular than Glens Fiddich, Livet, and Morangie and delivered what I considered at the time a fuller drinking experience.  Years later, when this blog was a toddler, I tried Oban 18 year old and found it to be good but lighter and shier than the 14.  Still, I probably should have bitten back when K&L had it on sale for $79.99 now that the average US price for it is $140.

When Diageo announced their 2013 Special Release lineup, I was very excited to see Oban amongst Port Ellen and Brora and other sexier names, and was even willing to push my bottle price ceiling to get this once-a-decade bottle.  But then I saw the price, more than twice my ceiling.  That was right about the time the rest of the Special Releases were nearly doubling in price from the year before.  That marked the moment the Special Releases no longer had anything to do with whisky.  They became ultra luxury products.  And over the past three years, whisky geek outrage about these prices has turned into bored dismissal as we've recognized the Special Releases are irrelevant to 99.99% of whisky drinkers.  In some marketing circles outrage equals publicity, and silence equals death.  So good luck with that, Dr. Nick.

Three years and three Special Release rounds later, Oban 21 can still be found for its original price on a number of store shelves in the US.  The good news (for me) is that I was very lucky to receive a sample bottle of this product from St. Brett of Riverside (a man who elected to purchase this luxury bottle) this year.  And to be honest, I was more interested in the Oban than much more expensive bottles that were offered.  So I drink this as toast to St. Brett and to my fellow former Oban fans.

Distillery: Oban
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases
Region: Western Highlands
Age: at least 21 years
Maturation: rejuvenated American Oak and second fill ex-Bodega Casks
Alcohol by Volume: 58.5%
Limited Bottling: 2860
Bottling year: 2013
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Maybe

The color is orange gold.  Umm, I'm just going to hope that's not DiageoGold™ or else this isn't a very special release from you putzim.  The nose starts out with a gorgeous combination of toffee, milk chocolate, canned peaches, and burning leaves.  Yeah, there is a solvent hint occasionally and two pencil shavings, but there are also rich notes of orange oil and dates.  The insanely rich palate is loaded with yellow peaches, yellow plums, vanilla pudding, malt, bitter dark chocolate, toffee, and earth.  The little bit of heat works like a spice behind the main ingredients.  There's a massive citrus note in the finish: limes, oranges, and sweet lemons.  Vanilla bean and a brisk bitter buzz.  Great length.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Just a touch of caramel sauce in the nose.  Oranges, yellow plums, and jasmine along with an aromatic old musty scotch note.  The palate gets a little sweeter, tangier.  Limes and chocolate ice cream.  The finish now has a combo of metal, tangy citrus, and herbal bitterness that actually works.  Also milk chocolate.

Yeah, there's some "rejuvenated" oak in the mix here, but the fruit and the earth lift it up meeting the new stuff head on, resulting in deliciousness.  When neat, the palate is a true highlight, but the nose rules once water is added.  It's much better than the 18yo and I'm thankful to have tried Oban at full power.  Had I spent $200 on this, I would have been happy with the quality of the product.  But $450?  Heehee.  Ugh.  Next.

Availability - A dozen or more stores in the US
Pricing - $400-$500
Rating - 89

Monday, September 26, 2016

1000 Posts and 5 Years of Whisky Reviews

Going to the well for this pic one last time.
I knew I was approaching post #1000, but I'd forgotten that the fifth anniversary of my first whisky review had zipped by almost three weeks ago.  My palate has changed considerably during that time period, which is inevitable when one's sampled well over a thousand different whiskies.  The results of that experience aren't always good, in fact I miss the simple joy of just digging into and savoring ONE bottle of whisky for about a month.  I miss the prices from 5 years ago and the innocence of not fulling understanding the depths of the crapulence of the major whisky producers.

At a couple of points over the years, I've written that the ratings I gave to my early reviews weren't bloated and that instead I was just finding more middling-quality whiskies then I used to.  Well, I'm here to tell you of my suspicion of that statement being partially crap.  As experience is gained things change, a palate recalibrates, and better whiskies are tried, sometimes completely resetting how one sees other whiskies.  For the whiskies I believe were scored too high, I'm attempting to obtain samples so that I may do a re-review, as I did with Tomintoul 16yo.

I've updated the About Me page, lightly, so that it is 7% less crappy.  But more importantly, I've done a complete overhaul of my Declaration of Principles.  That was way overdue as the old one had become irrelevant.

There were a few blog projects in the works that were severely delayed due to my cross-country move.  Once my office (and hopefully a wet bar!) are finished, then I will pick up where I left off with them.  This week I'll do a couple of fun single malt reports to celebrate and then get back on schedule with my regular semi-or-not-at-all-relevant reviews.  There is a good chance I may start writing about non-whisky spirits, as many other whisky bloggers have done recently, but that may not start until next year.  Gotta build up my experience a little more first.

I'll depart with just one list here.  In the process of pulling together my Top Twenty-One Most Visited Posts, I noticed most of them had been around for three or more years gradually piling up the clicks.  So to make the list a little more relevant, I instead listed them by their average viewing per day.  Many of the same posts show up, but some more recent gems(?) make the list.  It makes me happy to see a few of my longer form posts are being read!

Top Twenty-One Most Visited Posts (weighted by view per day)
1. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 1: Value vs. Volume
2. Taste Off!!! Chivas Regal 12yr versus Johnnie Walker Black Label
3. Single Malt Report: Glenlivet 12 versus Glenfiddich 12
4. Taste-Off: Dewar's White Label vs. Johnnie Walker Red Label
5. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 2: Single Malt Prices in the US between 2007 and 2015
6. Single Malt Report: Grangestone Double Cask
7. NOT Single Malt Report: Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky
8. A Friendly Reminder to Kill Your Whisky Gods (figuratively)
9. Scotch Ain't Dead Yet, Part 1: Export Volume and Value
10. Single Malt Report: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak (w/guest reporter!)
11. WTF Is This? Shieldaig Highland Peaty Single Malt
12. NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky
13. Something Weird: Suntory Royal SR Japanese blended whisky (early '80s)
14. NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Select Reserve & Jameson Select Reserve
15. NOT Single Malt Report: Lauder's Blended Scotch Whisky
16. What Was the Scotch Whisky Boom? Part 3: Plateau and Decline
17. Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Uigeadail versus Ardbeg Uigeadail
18. High West Rye Taste Off! Rendezvous Rye versus Double Rye
19. NOT Single Malt Report: Taste Off! Maker's Mark vs. Four Roses Single Barrel
20. Single Malt Report Taste Off! - GlenDronach 18 year "Allardice"
21. Whisky Observations from Japan (or Where the Hell is the Japanese Whisky?)

Thank you to all my great readers!  I'll check back with you after the next thousand posts.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition, Batch 1

This past Spring, Suntory Beam elected to drop a few ultra-luxury whiskies into the active marketplace.  The one that drew the most (not entirely positive) attention, was the $300-$400 Booker's Rye.  Allegedly a once-in-a-lifetime release, the rye was very good and something I'd recommend for 1/4th of its price.  Along with the rye, Beam also released three batches of 14+ year old 2001 Knob Creek bourbon.  Note, that these were batches and not single casks, nor were they released at full strength.  The batches were labelled "Limited Edition" but Beam did not offer information about the batch sizes, though I have seen bottles online with numbers over #9000.  The pricing of these "Limited Editions" started at $130, or 4x the price of the regular 9 year old small batch**, and 3x the price of the 9 year old 120 proof single barrels.

With all this taken into consideration, I ignored the press releases and reviews of these Knobs.  But then thanks to a fortuitous sample swap with Mr. The Whiskey Jug, I received a sample of Batch 1.  Of course from the moment I received the sample, I've been looking forward to drinking it.  If it's half as good as Booker's Rye, I'll be impressed.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Age: 14 years (2001-2016)
Barrels or Bottles in Batch: ???
ABV: 50% ABV
(Thanks to Josh P. for the sample!)

Lots of oak on the nose, which is to be expected from a 14yo American whiskey.  Enjoyable combination of fruit, candy, and earthy things.  Hazelnuts, grilled pears, black cherry syrup, vanilla frosting, gumballs, dried apricots, clay, and a hint of pine.  The palate has a bit more heat to it than expected.  It has the dark cherry thing going on, a bit of rye spice, and a big peppery bite.  It's slightly leathery with a sea salt note.  This all sits on a nice spread of Nutella.  Its finish of a good length, full of rye spice, fragrant oak, and salt. A pleasing lack of sweetness.

WITH WATER (~45%abv)
Now the nose has loads of milk chocolate.  I'm thinking Twix Bar and all its parts.  Then raisins and vanilla bean.  Candy shop.  The chocolate grows darker with time.  Some subtle changes in the palate.  More (tart) cherries, less heat.  A little earthy and tannic, but not mouth-drying.  Never gets too sweet.  The finish keeps its length, growing slightly sweeter though also picking up a touch of bitterness to balance it out.

Because of the product's price and hype, I wanted to hate this bourbon.  But I liked it, a lot.  There's a very good complexity to it at 100 proof.  At 90 proof it's a rounder better drinker.  The quality is comparable to the better barrels of Blanton's, has a similar rye content, and should appeal to Blanton's fans.  I like it much more than the regular 9 year old small batch (of which I have more experience than the single barrel) Knob Creek, and it doesn't have the oak and heat problems I often find in Booker's Small Batches.  I would absolutely buy a bottle of Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Small Batch #1 if it were half its MSRP.  $65-$70, yep.  $130+, nope.  If any bottles of this batch remain anywhere, I recommend doing a bottle split with your bourbon buddies, that way no one's pitching in more than $40 for a few drinks.  Or... *he squints to find a silver lining* ...it's probably a bargain compared to Booker's Rye.

Availability - ???
Pricing - $120-$200
Rating - 87

**And just like that...it's gone.  Knob Creek Small Batch has now dropped its age statement.  So the KCSB goes the scotch route: NAS for the masses, age statements for the wealthy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I'm going to Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, are you?

I'm serious.  Are you going?

I just moved to Westerville, Ohio, the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League and currently under a draconian state control liquor system, thus I will be doing my whisk(e)y buying in other states (or countries) for the foreseeable future.  One neighboring state I have purchased in is Indiana.  (Yes, I drove from Kasich's state to Pence's state, such is the Midwest right now.)  And in The Hoosier State my preferred retailer is Vine & Table.  I've had the opportunity to chat with V&T's Manager & Spirits Buyer, Denis Lynch (an Irishman selling Scotch!), in person and via email.  Unlike certain retailers, his blog and public emails come across modest, straightforward, and low on the carnival barker meter.  One thing Denis does well each year is to rally the troops for his pet project, the annual Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo.  So far there are over 120 brands attending, a couple master classes, and a lot of catering.

This is my ride.
Yes, an event like this means a lot of ambassadors and reps, also with a few craft whiskey non-distilling distillers.  This sort of company makes some geeks' skin crawl due to very bad experiences with these pitchmen (and pitchwomen).  While I fully understand those feelings -- because I've had plenty of those run-ins myself -- I met a number of brand reps on the West Coast who did know what they were actually hawking and were happy to dish the dirt on or off the record, and I recognize they are often just trying to close a sale.  Having worked in the entertainment industry for half my life, I'm used to being surrounded by salespeople, specifically a breed filled with much sweatier desperation, fueled by too many uppers and not enough downers.  So to me, every rep at a whisky event is innocent until proven guilty (unless the brand itself has proven to be historically consistently guilty).

And here's the thing.  While drinking alone and bloviating about the results online provides me with great joy, writing 100 whisky reviews is nowhere near as fulfilling as meeting one Matt Wunderle or one Eric Burke or any one of you.  I had my crew and I knew the reps in Southern California.  But I'm new to this part of the country.  Meeting humans and sorting out how whisk(e)y works around here is my priority, and an event like this is perfect for that sort of thing.  Plus I might just end up with a new whiskey or two about which I can report back to you.

So if you're local-ish, let me know.  And if you're going to the Expo, please drop me a line.  No, I won't be working a table.  I'll be drinking and geeking.  I'll be the bespectacled dude with the homeless guy beard, dropping countless F-bombs when he's sober and declaring he's THE booth babe when he isn't.  I may share the occasional opinion as well and I'll try not spit when pronouncing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Whisky Fail! Dailuaine 10 year old 1999 Prime Malt

Uh, oh......

Distillery: Dailuaine
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Gordon Bonding
Range: Prime Malt
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: minimum 10 years
Distillation year: 1999
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? ???
Caramel Colored? Probably not

It appears to be nearly opaque.  It smells and tastes like bitter asparagus piss.  It neither smelled nor tasted like bitter asparagus piss when I enjoyed it three years ago.  But this Dailuaine fell to the same fate, alas more violently, as the Teaninich sample that was (partially) filled on the same day.  Three years in a less than half full sample bottle can completely oxygenate, oxidize, exterminize, eradicize, and annihilize a whisky.  So treat your samples well, people!  Stop making me mutilize my whisky in order to save yours!

Availability - A few bottles remain on random shelves throughout the US
Pricing - Less than $40, usually
Rating - Sample fail!