...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Pittyvaich 20 year old 1989 Special Release

Built by Bell's in 1975 right next to their Dufftown distillery, Pittyvaich ran for less than 18 years before it was shut down by United Distillers (proto-Diageo). It's in the running for the least sexy of the dead malt distilleries but that hasn't kept Diageo from putting out three Special Releases, which is sort of cool if one doesn't mind spending $300 on Pittyvaich. And for those who don't know, a $300 Special Release is a bottom shelf Special Release.

Before this whisky, I'd had a grand total of one Pittyvaich, one of those 1990s 40%abv Connoisseurs Choice Bleh Whisky experiences all geeks should experience at least 74 times before being able to label oneself an anorak. Let's see what happens to Pittyvaich's single malt when it's not diluted to a beige flavor.


Distillery: Pittyvaich
Ownership: United Distillers
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Maturation: American oak casks
Age: 20 years (1989 - 2009)
Outturn: 6000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
Fruit, glorious fruit in the nose. Pineapples, mangoes and lemons. Tinned fruit cocktail juice, apricot hamantaschen and fried plantains with (fruity) cinnamon. The pink scented marker. And a gentle ripple of barley in the background. An impressive lack of oak in the palate. Lots of green herbs mixed with lime and lemon juices. Hints of toasted barley. Moderate amounts of heat, sweetness and tanginess. There's also something grungy and metallic in the background. It finishes with those limes and lemons. The herbs are dried now, and joined by a sprinkle of sugar and salt. A spicy zing lingers the longest.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose's fruit note shifts to yellow bananas, honeydew and lime zest. Now there's a mix of bubblegum, shortbread, cloves and mint leaves. While the heat on the palate somehow gets more intense, things also get very very sweet. Then there's plastic and an herbal bitterness. More bananas. It's actually kind of a mess. Some tartness joins the sweetness in the finish. More bananas, now covered in caramel sauce. More plastic.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I'm on a streak here. This is the fifth consecutive single malt I've reviewed that doesn't fare well under dilution. Each one has either gotten neutered or fallen apart. The nose on this Pittyvaich stands up just fine with dilution, though I prefer the fruit riot of the neat nose. The palate, though, goes very wrong once water is added. When neat, the flavors are fresh and crisp, seasoned by a subtle weirdness. But I was very disappointed when I was left with a half-sample weakened by water. Such a Pitty.

Availability - after 10 years it's still around at some European specialty retailers
Pricing - €250-€350 w/VAT
Rating - 86 (neat only, dilution knocks it down 10-15 points)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Port Dundas 12 year old

I completed this tasting a few days before typing the first word (I!) of this post. And though my expectations were set low, this "whisky" still unperformed. Make that capital-U Underperformed. I could not make it past one-third of the sample.

Leaving aside my dislike of Scottish grain whisky, this release doesn't make sense to me. Port Dundas is a dead distillery. Why not let this stuff age for 30+ years and then sell it for a small fortune to the saps who pay $1k for Special Release grain whisky? Or if it's such a large parcel, why not keep it for blends? Or do a combo of the two so there's more grain for old ultra-luxury blends?

There's nothing else constructive I can say about this "whisky", so I'm just going to get to the notes.


Distillery: Port Dundas
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Grain
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Brett for letting me relieve his collection of 1 ounce of this stuff)

NOTES
The nose is all watered-down bottom shelf Canadian whisky blended with vodka. Vodka, imitation vanilla, caramel, nail polish remover, butter and simple syrup. The palate impressively and unimpressively matches the nose. Vanilla vodka, woody bitterness and palate-killing levels of sweetness. It's all heat, vanilla vodka and sugar in the finish.

WORDS
Can someone with spare liver cells do a Port Dundas 12yo versus Smirnoff Vanilla taste off? Or not?

Availability - The USA because we're suckers?
Pricing - $40-$60 (should be $9.99)
Rating - 49

Monday, July 15, 2019

Bunnahabhain Moine 9 year old 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Casks

There's a theme to each week's reviews. This week's theme? Some Random Stuff.

Once upon a time, Bunnahabain's official range included the 12yo, 18yo and 25yo. Now, according to their official site, there are 23 current releases. Is this progress? I don't know. But their 12 year is still excellent. Today's whisky is a young heavily-peated Bunny that spent its entire life in red wine casks from the Bordeaux region. I predict intensity.


Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Dirty South





Age: 9 years (18 Dec 2008 - 26 Feb 2018)
Maturation: Bordeaux red wine casks
Outturn: 4536 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt for the sample!)

NEAT
There's dark chocolate, peanut butter, ham and rubber smoke in the nose. Beneath that: mixed berry jam, cinnamon candy and dried cherries. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the rubbery smoke turns leafy. Salty burnt seaweed leads the palate, followed by grape jelly and bitter chocolate. Then cayenne pepper and bus exhaust. It picks up some fruit sweetness and lime juice, with some time in the glass. Madness in the finish. Bus exhaust, limes, berry candy, peanuts, burnt paper and mild bitterness.

That was a lot. Let's tone it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%, or > 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeah, the nose does calm down and the separate parts merge: chocolatey peat, lemons, cloves, cinnamon and peanuts. Water has washed most of the wine away in the palate. Peated peanut butter, cinnamon and wood smoke lead the way, followed by smaller notes of citrus, berries and sugar. Simple sweet smoke, nuts and fresh berries in the finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The good news is Bunnahabhain isn't tying itself to one simplistic distillery character. On the other hand, what is this stuff?

It's pretty wild, though it's not bad. In fact, I'd take this over most of the countless immature 5-8 year old single casks the indies are currently dumping onto the market. If you hate winey whiskies — whether your palate or a whisky blogger has told you so — just add water to this thing and then worry not. If you want violence, then don't dilute it.

I'm baffled by the whiskybase scores for this whisky. Or maybe everyone's just throwing around 90+ scores at this point in time. I will say this product commits fully to entertaining the drinker, but who the heck could get through a whole bottle of this stuff?

Availability - Maybe a dozen or two retailers around the world
Pricing - $100-$200, yeah I don't know either
Rating - 83

Friday, July 12, 2019

PUNI Nero 4 year old, 2017 Edition

In this Nu-Whisky era, experimental whiskies coming from the usual countries often interest me less than the bottles from unconventional locales. Yet, when I sat down with a sample of this Italian whisky and read that it was four years old and aged entirely in Pinot Noir casks I had......feelings.

It's tough to find a comparable sparring pour in my collection, so I chose the Ardnamurchan 2018 AD due to its sweetness and cask influence, watering it down to a comparable 46%abv. Yes, that was setting the bar low, but I had......feelings.



PUNI is fully committed visuals. Here's the distillery:


Do a Google image search for "Puni distillery". You won't regret it, whether you think it looks like a giant honeycomb built by square bees or The Future Because We'll All Be Living In Deserts.

And here's the bottle:


I normally don't care for bottle flair, but I enjoy this design more than the Octomore monolith.



So PUNI has its design in order, but what about its actual products? Nova, Sole and Alba are their core releases. The limited edition Nero has been released twice, so far.

The Nero's color was noticeably lighter than that of the Ardnamurchan, and 4 years of maturation in Northern Italy is different than 4 years of maturation in Port Askaig. Also, not all wine casks are the same. Yet those......feelings.

Distillery: PUNI
Region: South Tyrol, Italy
Age: 4 years
Maturation: Pinot Nero (think Pinot Noir) wine casks
Bottling Date: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose is very pretty. It starts with honey, flowers, lychee, applesauce and cinnamon sticks. That's followed by star anise, saline, kirschwasser and a hint of oats. The palate is like a salty almond-ginger cake (if that's a thing). There's also a note that took me forever to figure out: Foursquare rum. Eau de vie lingers in the background, as does a strong herbal note that leans toward pepper and smoke. The medium-length finish is drying and very herbal with eau de vie and pinches of ginger powder and white pepper.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose simplifies and focuses on McIntosh apples, honey and dried thyme. Lots of dried savory herbs in the palate, along with anise, eau de vie, mint leaves and a slight bitterness. The finish mirrors the palate, but with more bitterness and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Well, as Randy Brandy always says, feelings are wrong and no one should have them. This PUNI Nero is a light pleasant whisky that probably works well as a spring or summer pour. Indeed it is young, but anything more than an additional year or two in those casks would result in an overbaked winey whisky. At 4 years old, it's better neat and never very sweet (rhymes!). It's subtler, better balanced and much more enjoyable than the Ardnamurchan. Italy just won the week.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 80 (neat only)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ardnamurchan 2018 AD

The first two whiskies this week were distilled by companies better known for their independent bottling of other producers' single malts. On Monday it was Wemyss, today it's Adelphi.

Ardnamurchan Distillery began distilling in 2014, but has yet to release something old enough to be called 'whisky'. Instead they squeezed out 1 year old spirit bottlings in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Their site says they aim to release their first single malt in 2021. That means they're either struggling to get things right at 3 years, or they're (gasp!) waiting to bottle something older. I hope it's the latter.

Considerable effort has been made to keep this side of the company more modern than most. Their handsome bottle design includes some blockchain-QR tech, which allows them to track every bottle and deliver more narratives to customers. Meanwhile, the distillery is powered by local renewables and their byproducts are reused locally.

This West Highlands distillery produces non-peated and peated (30ppm at malting) malt, using Concerto barley. Like Kingsbarns, they're keeping things small with a capacity under a half-million liters per year.

Now that all these facts are behind us, it's time for some hot takes!


Distillery: Ardnamurchan
Owner: Adelphi
Region: Way Out There (Highlands)
Age: the youngest stuff is said to be 1 year old
Maturation: 1st fill sherry casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
An absolute whompin' of sherry cask influence on the nose: dried berries, cocoa and a hefty meatiness. There's also a mix of honey mustard, watermelon candy, mint, peat smoke and metal. The palate starts out with a brushfire character that's reminiscent of Balcones Brimstone. Lots of mesquite smoke and ham and soil. Beneath that is thyme, cinnamon, honey and salted nuts. The drying finish is mostly heat and smoke, with a large dose of salty peat.

What happens when we cool it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets funkier with bigger peat and honey and black raisins. Burning plastic siding. It's beginning to shift from Brimstone to Leviathan II. The palate is much sweeter and bitterer now. Leafy peat, cinnamon and nuts float in a simple syrup. The finish's bitter and earthy notes are swallowed up by a sugar flood.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Without dilution it's Brimstone, with dilution it's Leviathan II. With those two products struggling to be unique whiskies rather than stunts, and often losing that battle, it's not the best company for a new scotch to be in. I think Ardnamurchan 2018 AD comes out ahead of those two, but just barely.

The issue isn't the raw aggressive peat character, rather it's the blanket of overactive casks and a blinding sweetness. These elements clash with the earth, leaves, bitterness and plastic smoke, leaving one wondering what the spirit would actually be like if left alone.

I'm assuming Adelphi released this spirit drink for revenue purposes and to fuel the brand ahead of time. Once it sells through — and it will because it's New — it'll gross around €250K. The company is also likely utilizing the outsized premium they charge for their independent bottlings of other distilleries' whiskies, like €155 for 5 year old blended malt, €200 for 7 year old whisky and nearly €300 for 14 year old single malt to keep the distillery's lights on. That's certainly one way to crowdsource.

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €65-€90 (w/VAT)
Rating - 70 (neat only)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Kingsbarns Dream to Dram

Many of the online reviews of this whisky lean heavily on the words "young" and "Lowlands", and that's not helpful. Firstly, of course it's young. It's barely 3 years old. So rather than using the Y-word, I'll attempt to use sensory descriptors. Secondly, geographic location no longer determines what a whisky tastes like, if it ever really did. There are unpeated Islays and heavily-peated Speysides. There are triple-distilled single malts from Speyside and Campbeltown, and there are double-distilled whiskies from the Lowlands. So I won't use latitude measurements to describe what a liquid tastes like.

Kingsbarns Distillery opened in 2014, then its spirit started going into barrels in early 2015. The facility currently fills 24 casks per week, though the distillery has a higher capacity. Kingsbarns is located in Fife and the barley is from......Fife. Novel!

Dream to Dram is the distillery's first widely-released legal whisky. It's mostly from bourbon casks, though there's a portion from STR casks. STR = shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks. Yes, this is now a thing.


Distillery: Kingsbarns
Owner: Wemyss Distillery Ltd.
Region: Lowlands (Fife)
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: 90% 1st fill bourbon casks + 10% shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks
Bottling Date: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose starts out with lots of pears and yeast. Very worty. Ground mustard, grass, oatmeal and sugar. A barley note emerges then expands with time. Barley and a hint of vanilla lead the palate, followed by toasted nuts and cayenne pepper. It needs 10+ minutes of air, then there's almond biscotti, vanilla fudge and a hint of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate-covered almond biscotti, barley, pepper sauce and a little bit of sweetness finishes it out.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Sour beer, cheesy yeast, barley and a squeeze of lemon in the nose. More heat in the palate than when the whisky was neat. Flavor-wise, there's barley, vanilla, flowers, ginger powder and a little bit of herbal bitterness. It finishes hotter as well. It's also more acidic and tangy. Barley and nuts.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Forget adding water to this whisky, it plays best when neat and given some time in the glass. At times it's very close to wort, but at other times it seems like it's on its way to something very good. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but Dream to Dram makes for easy drinking and it's never too sweet. While I do look forward to this stuff after it has spent 10 full years in a cask, in the meantime I like it much better than the two Wolfburns I've tried. Good luck, Kingsbarns!

Availability - Many European specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - €40-€50 (w/VAT)
Rating - 79 (neat only)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 26: National Distillers-era Old Crow bourbon, bottled in ...

This month's whiskey comes from often-beloved-in-hindsight National Distillers. It is of a certain age and a certain bird. But is it old? And is it anything to crow about? Click to find out!