"Words, words, words."

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2

Buffalo Trace has three bourbon mash bills at the moment. Their wheated (using wheat rather than rye as the flavoring grain) mash bill is the one which has gained some infamy over the past few years as it's used for the Weller and Van Winkle whiskies.  The low rye (~8%) mash bill (aka Mash Bill #1) is used for the regular Buffalo Trace products including Buffalo Trace, Old Charter, the Taylors, the Staggs, the Eagle Rares, and the Benchmarks.  Mash bill #2, or the higher rye (~15%) mash bill, is used for the Age International whiskies: Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age, Hancock's President's Reserve, and Rock Hill Farms.

Ignoring the wheated mash bill (forever, if possible), Mash Bill #1 bourbons seem to be easier to find throughout the US, especially Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Benchmark, and at least one of the EH Taylors. But, aside from Blanton's Single Barrel and Ancient Age Sputum, Mash Bill #2's bourbons are difficult to find in most states. I've been told Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel and Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel used to be easy to find (and much cheaper) once upon a time. And I hadn't even heard of Hancock's until this year. Much of what Age International makes is distributed widely abroad since its brands are owned by a Japanese corporation. That's why it's easy to find four different versions of Blanton's in Japan and increasingly difficult to find one in the US.

I like Mash Bill #2's results quite a bit. Blanton's Single Barrel can be excellent, or at the very least reliably good. Two bottles of Elmer T. Lee vanished quickly in my home last year.  And Ancient Age with some actual age on it can be pretty decent. That's why I was looking forward to trying my sample of Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel. I've never bought a bottle of it myself because I can't remember the last time I saw it on a retailer's shelf for less than $60. Hell, I can't remember the last time I saw it on a retailer's shelf, period.

Single Barrels?

Rock Hill Single Barrel suffers from the same problem as two other popular Buffalo Trace brands. Eagle Rare Single Barrel and Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel are labeled as single barrels but their bottles provide no information about that single barrel. Not even a barrel number. On the cynical side of things, this leaves one wondering if these really are single barrels or a BS marketing ploy. On the logical side of things, this prevents a customer from tracking down another bottle of the barrel he or she might have enjoyed. To me, neither of these things are good for a brand. But people keep buying this stuff, so there's no motivation for Buffalo Trace to change anything. (Oddly, Blanton's labels print all sorts of information about its single barrels, except the age of the whiskey.) Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel does not provide information about what barrels its bottles come from, thus there isn't a single review you can read about Rock Hill Farms (RHF) that will be relevant to the bottle you have open. Including this review.


This is a rock. I don't have a photo of my sample bottle.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: Rock Hill Farms
Brand Owner: Age International
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: unknown
Alcohol by volume: 50%
(Many thanks to Ms. Linda for the sample!)

The nose starts off very lightly, mostly of blossoms and almond extract. Once it opens up, it's one BIG vanilla bean. Moderate notes of vanilla fudge, sandalwood and toasted oak spice linger around the edges. The flowers turn into grandma's perfume. Vanilla bean proves to be the main component in the palate as well. There's also brown sugar, grenadine, tart limes, ginger ale, cream soda and a hint of woody bitterness. But where's the rye? The finish itself is sweet sweet sweet. Kool Aid, corn syrup and cream soda. A bite of jalapeño oil. And plenty of vanilla bean.

This bears no resemblance to Blanton's nor Elmer T. Lee. Instead it's a like a better version of Ancient Age. Yet there's little to no rye character to balance out this sweet vanilla bomb. This left me nonplussed for the first half of the tasting. But by the end I recognized that this bourbon was a nice simple drink, maybe a bit on the desserty side of things, but offered up no fight nor harm, inoffensive unless vanilla offends.

This could be a reliable sipper at $30. But it's not $30. You may be able to find it for $50ish if you're willing to do some hustling, but $60-$70 seems to be its home, or twice that when sold by parasites. If I find a bottle for less than $50 during a dusty hunt, I'll get it. Oh, and the bottle is cute with its horsies, if that's your thing.

Availability - At random retailers
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 81 (for this mystery barrel only)

For more posts on other single barrels of Rock Hill Farms see Chemistry of the CocktailRecent Eats (wherein Sku devotes a whole paragraph to the review!), and LAWS (wherein Tim hates it). Also, Bourbon Scout did a good Mash Bill #2 blind taste test last year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Moray 10 year old Chardonnay Cask (43%abv)


If you want to be hip, you should pronounce the 'Moray' in Glen Moray like murry, as in Eddie Murray, Brian Doyle Murray, or the last name of that creepy guy in the white fedora who releases annual press releases that screw with the whisky market.

A what cask?

Yeah, I had the same feeling as many of you when I saw the 10 year old Chardonnay Cask on the shelf. Though I don't hate wine cask finished whiskies, I also do not seek them out. And I don't always drink Chardonnay, but when I do I drink the unoaked sort.

But three things led me to buy a bottle of this whisky blindly. First, I discovered the whisky wasn't finished in wine casks, but instead spent its entire maturation there. That sounded odd enough to be worth trying. Secondly, the price was right. I had no problem finding it for $35-ish. And finally, it received positive reviews from two gents whom I wouldn't have expected to like it, Ralfy and MAO.  And you know what? I liked it. My wife liked it. And I almost forgot to salvage a sample to...


Distillery: Glen Moray
Owner: La Martiniquaise
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Elgin)
Maturation: Chardonnay casks
Age: at least ten years old
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colorant added? Possibly
(review sample comes from the lower third of my bottle)

There's some orange in the color's gold. Hopefully that's not farbstoff.  A lot of peach and apricot in the nose, followed by fruity chewing gum. No, wait...Strawberry Bubble Yum. Dried grass clippings, roses, and lime sorbet. Whipped cream, marshmallows, and a creamy maltiness.  A surprisingly vibrant palate led off by coffee + toffee. Pineapple juice and marshmallows, yet not super sweet. Malt and a gingery zip. Some extra ripe melon in the midground. Very moreish (as I used to write). The coffee + toffee remains in the finish. Then a roasted note, a subtle herbal thing and a hint of oranges.

Utterly charming. I have no idea where the chardonnay is hiding in all this, but the cask steered the whisky in a completely different direction than the regular 12 year old. If I'm going to gripe then it would be regarding the short-ish finish, but that's it. Though there's minimal complexity to it, the whisky is, dare I say, very tasty. And it can still be found for $30. Unfortunately I'm seeing the new NAS "Chardonnay Finish" showing up more often, so perhaps we're all looking at our last opportunity to buy this little old gem.

Availability - A few dozen specialty US retailers
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 85 (It gets an extra point because the wife likes it. Important.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Single Malt Report: Glen Moray 12 year old


Glen Moray-Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd. built Glen Moray on the site of the former West Brewery, in the midst of the Pattison-era whisky craze, in 1897. The whisky market crashed the following year, but Glen Moray kept chugging along until 1910, when it closed. Macdonald & Muir, then owners of Glenmorangie, bought the distillery in 1920, reopening it 1923. Due to the malt's success in M&M's Highland Queen blend, the owners doubled the still count in 1958, also replacing the floor maltings with a Saladin box. (Note: I've seen a conflict between reliable sources saying the stills were actually doubled in 1979. It's Chuck Maclean vs. Johannes.) Macdonald & Muir released the first official Glen Moray single malt in 1976. It was right around the late '70s when they ditched the internal maltings altogether for a third party's unpeated malt; so if you have one of the old 20yo or 30yo, those were distilled from the distillery's own maltings.  In 2004, Macdonald & Muir (now Glenmorangie plc) sold their distilleries to Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Then four years later LVMH sold Glen Moray to the current La Martiniquaise ownership.

For more than a decade Glen Moray has produced a number of well priced aged-stated single malts, including a 10 year old Chardonnay Cask, 12 year old, and 16 year old. They had the NAS Classic for years, but that was clearly priced to be their starter whisky. As of 2016, they entered the NAS parade with a Classic Peated, Classic Chardonnay Finish, Classic Port Finish, and Classic Sherry Finish. Thankfully, those price tags have been kept under £30.

Brief Commentary

With most of their malt going to the Label 5 brand, the 10th most popular blended scotch in the world, I get the feeling there was a bit of strain being put on their malt reserves. Either that or they bought into the artificial boom too late, because they just doubled the distillery's capacity to 6.5 million liters per annum last year. Whisky Yearbook says there are plans to increase it further to 9 million liters/year. Yes, you just heard me sigh. I hope their ownership looks back to the beginning of the distillery's history to determine the wisdom of that additional expansion.


Distillery: Glen Moray
Owner: La Martiniquaise
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Elgin)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks, with unknown quantity of first fills
Age: at least twelve years old
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colorant added? Not much, if any
(Sample comes to D4P courtesy of a sample swap with My Annoying Opinions)

Its color is as light as straw, often a positive in my book. The nose is very grainy; think cream of wheat, oats, or rice. Actually, a bit of sake in there. Then hay, carpet, apple cider and a young weird buttery note that may be more from the spirit than the oak. The palate starts off well with a gentle toffee note and a raisin-like thing.....which vanishes after the third sip. What starts off as light acidity grows with time. Add that acidity to a fizziness, and one's left with a 7-UP note. Some anise. Hint of potato vodka. A thinness in the mouthfeel makes this come across like a mid-shelf blend. The finish has barley, anise and vanilla. That 7-UP note. The acidity remains, giving off a feeling of grappa, almost.

Well, that was curious. Having had other Glen Morays before (though oddly this is the first I've reviewed) I knew I wasn't going to get some average boring malt. There's always a kick of something quirky in their whisky. I liked the graininess and the whole young aspect of the nose. The palate began with promise then was overtaken by the acidity, and that's where it buried itself.

It works a little better as a tumbler whisky, as opposed to a Glencairn whisky. And that's how I'd recommend one drink it. The acidity mellows and more of the youthful barley notes stick out. You could do much worse in the vanishing $30 single malt tier, especially if you're not an oak enthusiast.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 78

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, barrel 446

I'm a fan of Blanton's Single Barrel (46.5%abv) more so than I am of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel (60+%abv). Preferring a lower ABV version of a whisk(e)y is tantamount to heresy in many circles. Thankfully my circle is more forgiving. Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail critiqued the valorization of cask strength whiskies very well, almost three years ago. I'll add my thoughtful crappy take on this matter once I can figure out how to string together two paragraphs about it. But Blanton's more or less captures my viewpoint. The higher alcohol percentage provides nothing but ethyl heat, closing off much of the whiskey's richness and character. This isn't true of all bourbons. But it's been consistently true of Blanton's, so much so that I'm not that disappointed Straight from the Barrel isn't sold in The States. Goodness knows what retailers would be selling it for.

Yes, I'm already giving you a hint about the results of this tasting, if you hadn't already scrolled down to see the rating. My first review of Straight from the Barrel (#68) was back in 2014, click here for that one. I also had pours from two different barrels while in Japan, with similar results: lots of cherry, much better with water.  So here goes my fourth shot (if you will) from a sample purchased from whiskysite.nl last year.

Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: Blanton's
Brand Owner: Age International
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: unknown
Bottled: January 8, 2015
Barrel: 446
Warehouse: H
Rick: 42
Alcohol by volume: 64.9%

It has plenty of color to it, as opposed to the photo above. The nose is plenty hot, in fact it took almost 45 minutes of airing out before I could find these notes. At first it's corn syrup and flowers. From underneath that arrives a cinnamon and cherry syrup. Cherry & lime lollipops. Melting cherry popsicles. You the get the point: cherry candy. A little bit of caramel, vanilla, and grapefruit. Ethyl sits up front in the palate and refuses to move. Way behind that is cherry candy, cayenne pepper, molasses, salt, oak pulp, and a burnt note (though that might just be my tastebuds getting cooked). There's a palatable bitterness in there somewhere. The vague hot finish leaves a long burn and not much else. Sweet cherry-flavored meds and chili oil.

I then reduced the second half of my sample to the Single Barrel's 46.5%abv and let it sit for 24 hours for better integration...

WITH WATER (~46.5%abv)
The nose becomes clearer. Cinnamon, vanilla, dried apricots, and fresh plums. Some Sazerac Rye, sawdust, and caramel.  The palate is quite candied, but that gets balanced out a bit by the good bitterness. Caramel, bubblegum, mint, ginger, and rye. Feels a bit thin in the mouth, though. Corn and cherry sweetness make up most of the finish, though it's less cloying than when neat. Maybe some hints of bubblegum, fresh ginger, and chili oil.

As referenced in the notes, the whisky took 45 minutes of air before it opened up a little. Previous to that it held but two dimensions: cherry candy and face burning. The neat nose isn't terrible, once one can find it. The palate is fine, once one's tongue regains feeling, but the finish proves to be bland. Dilution provides added dimension to all the pieces, turning it into kind of a sugary version of the regular Single Barrel. But it also feels watered down in the mouth and doesn't finish strong. There's nothing here (at 64.9% or 46.5%) that can't be regularly beat by the Single Barrel. Straight from the Barrel is a decent bourbon (one diluted) but I'm in no mood to try it a fifth time.

Availability - Europe and Asia
Pricing - anywhere from $55 to $95 (w/o VAT and shipping)
Rating - 80 (with water only, low to mid 70s when neat)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Single Malt Report: Craiglodge 8 year old 1998 Distillery Select, cask 139

On an oddly warm evening in mid November of last year, Andy Smith (of LASC, OCSC, and SDSC fame) and I were having an earnest discourse about fatherhood as we picked through the leftovers from the recent Peatin' Meetin'. Not being emptied during the Meetin' was usually not a good sign for a whisky bottle. Among these unfinished whiskies was a Craiglodge. Upon this discovery I asked Andy if I could take a sample home for deep study.  He said, "Take the bottle, please."  And that's how I wound up with this:
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Loch Lomond's lack of candor over their different brands can result in confusion. For instance, though Craiglodge is a peated Loch Lomond, it's not the same as Croftengea which is also a peated Loch Lomond.  And neither of these should be confused with Loch Lomond Peated, which is a different peated Loch Lomond. A little bit of openness from the distillery would be nice, because it isn't as if one of us could recreate this stuff in our garage. Nor would most of us want to.

There don't appear to be very many Craiglodge bottlings out there. Whiskybase shows a grand total of four, which doesn't include this one. The cask that has received the most digital ink is #223, which the Malt Maniacs HATED. Johannes gave it a 32, Luc Timmermans graded it a 15, and Serge was the most generous out of the six reviewers, calling it a 68. This level of public shade makes me feel all tingly inside. Bring on cask 139!

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Craiglodge
Range: Distillery Select
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: Spanish oak hogshead
Age: 8 years old (March 26, 1998 - June 12, 2006)
Cask #: 139
Bottle: 101 of 330
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
Chillfiltered? I think so
Colorant added? I don't think so

The color is bourbon brown. At first whiff the Loch Lomond Garbage™ note rings true in the nose. Luckily(!) it vanishes after a couple minutes. Once that dissipates, large quantities of vanilla and oloroso sherry sit up front. Then fresh mint and chocolate peat. Cinnamon and chlorine. Then, out of nowhere, gunpowder bursts forth, followed by cheap perfume. With more time the vanilla and chocolate take over again. The palate starts with ashy peat, bitter chocolate, and bags of gunpowder. Lots of black pepper. Big sweet grapey action. And an occasional manure note. Bitter ash and moscatel in the finish. Gunpowder on vegetables. Quite sweet.

Dare I add water to this?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Melting cheap plastic toys and milk chocolate on the nose. Then mesquite and black cherries. The palate is bitterer and more peppery. More veg, more savoriness. A hint of perfume. The sherry and ash retreat to the far back. The finish is very bitter, to the point it's a stamina test. Somewhere underneath that is lead, dirt, and grape sweetness.

Hot damn, it's no wonder they didn't bottle it at full strength, as it would have resulted in fatalities. It's not just ugly, it's the absolute zero of balance and comfort.

But, here's the thing. I like it. The cask imparted a considerable richness. The palate is zesty in its earthiness and bitterness. And its total dissonance makes the whisky so bad it's...it's...It's like one of those impressively frightful dogs that win awards. It resembles nothing lovable, but in that absence one discovers surprisingly warm feelings. And one starts to think, "Man, I want one of those." Gotta respect this little brown snowflake, the antithesis of Balvenie Batch 1401, the ugly dog.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 79 (Mind you, some drinkers may give this whisky a fat F, and they wouldn't be wrong either.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Single Malt Report: Inchmurrin 12 year old Unpeated (2014) and what is Inchmurrin single malt anyway?

On Monday, I reviewed the new Loch Lomond NAS Original.  In that post I referenced that the Loch Lomond distillery makes a number of different whisky styles and brands in house, thanks to their unique (pot, Lomond, and Coffey) stills configuration.  Today I'm reviewing a 2014 bottling of another one of their brands, Inchmurrin, named after an island in the loch itself.


Now what Inchmurrin is (style, brand, production process) exactly, I don't know. The internet hasn't been very helpful in my searches. Whiskybase does call it "Unpeated". And Charlie Maclean references a couple of things in his Whiskypedia book: Inchmurrin was originally made from the Lomond stills, and the spirit was designed to age quickly.  The former may no longer be true, while the latter is of course the Great Big Hairy Candy-Coated Grail all of whiskydom continues to chase.

To add to the confusion is the ever-changing Inchmurrin packaging design.  See below for the 5 versions that have existed over the past 10 years.
To be fair, or more confusing, that first bottle type -- the "Distillery Select" -- was actually for all of Loch Lomond's single malts since it was designed for the single casks (not at cask strength) they'd release. All the Distillery Select bottles appear exactly the same from a distance, with the info on the little white label marking the only difference between each release.

Five different bottles, one decade.  From a marketing or (more importantly) the customer's standpoint, what does an Inchmurrin look like? A little visual consistency goes a long way to help a brand. For instance, we all know what a Glenfiddich or Ardbeg bottle looks like from across the shop. Johnnie Walker's bottle & label helped create and sustain the largest whisky brand in history. Thus it wouldn't hurt if Loch Lomond Distillery Company picked a visual style and stuck with it.

Now for the actual review...

The Inchmurrin I'm reviewing today is the fourth bottle from the left (above), probably the artiest of the bunch, though difficult to photograph, and a little difficult to read. While I like that bottle design the best, it lasted all of TWO years before they changed it again.

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Inchmurrin
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: refill ex-bourbon?
Age: at least 12 years old
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

Its color is a very light straw.  A remarkably clean nose for a Loch Lomond product. Roasted barley, lemon juice, fruit cocktail juice, rock candy, and apple juice. A little bit of polyester and new car. Small notes of vanilla, honey, and moss.  The palate holds bitter melon rind, lemon peel, and barley. An intense earthy note meets up with fresh arugula. A hint of peaches. This all gets delivered with a nice oily mouthfeel.  The finish registers as soil, grass clippings, and hay upon first sips. Later on it's burnt barley and fresh ginger.

Ta-da! A good Loch Lomond single malt. Hell, it's the best I've had. Even if it is unpeated, it's very earthy and organic. It's also nearly devoid of oak influence, with lots of barley dancing around in lieu of the cask. It also does a good job balancing fruit notes with the industrial stuff.  I won't say this is a world beater, but it sure can compete with (and beat) most official 12 year olds from better-loved distilleries.  Hopefully the producers kept the whisky the same when they changed the label last year.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $55-$60 in USA, $30-$45 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe
Rating - 84 (Keep in mind, one's enjoyment of it depends on one's palate. So please read the notes.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Single Malt Report: Loch Lomond Original

Some of us think we're hardcore hipsters for liking Glen Scotia and Ledaig before it was cool to do so. But how many of us dig on Loch Lomond for kicks? I cannot be counted amongst that crowd. While I do respect that distillery for continuing to make whisky without adapting to the times, their company's management (destruction of Littlemill and near abandonment of Glen Scotia) and the frequent packaging revisions (enjoy Google image searches of Inchmurrin Single Malt and Glen Scotia), on the other hand, seem to be some form of satire funny only to the ownership.

Thanks to Loch Lomond distillery's unique set of stills -- four pot stills with rectifying heads, two pot stills without, and a Coffey still for grain and malt -- they can make a plethora of whiskies right in-house.  This week I'll be reviewing three of these whiskies, all single malts.  Today it's the newest iteration of NAS Loch Lomond, the Original.

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Owner: Loch Lomond Distillery Company
Brand: Loch Lomond
Type: Single Malt
Region: Western Highlands
Maturation: paint cans
Age: at least three years old
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colorant added? Probably
(mini purchased by the reviewer)

The orange gold color doesn't look even remotely natural for this baby whisky.  The nose treads right between new make and cheap blend.  Apples, rotting veg, margarine, and a chemical note that's something between methanol and turpentine.  YET it's not entirely terrible.  It gets earthier and picks up more barley notes with time. The palate starts with brown butter, caramel, dirt, and a vague bitterness.  There are hints of dark chocolate, dry cheese, dried sage and Loch Lomond's ever present chemical note. It does have a remarkably oil texture which makes me think it wasn't chillfiltered. The finish has a cheap cigar aftertaste to it, then some margarine and burnt toast bitterness.

Loch Lomond National Park is beautiful. Loch Lomond single malt is not. Its producers don't seem to strive for drinkability, subtlety, or brilliance. And, you know, there's something admirable in that. You get what you get without much woodwork or futzing.  And if their whiskies weren't usually lousy with turpentine or garbage notes, I'd say they were on to something.

The good news is that this Loch Lomond Original is probably the best "Loch Lomond" brand single malt I've tried.  The bad news is that's not saying much. What works in its favor is the thick mouthfeel, earthy palate and near absence of oak. What doesn't work is the constant chemical note running throughout keeping me in constant fear that I'm drinking something unsafe. And I can do without all the margarine notes too. Overall, the whisky is more or less of the quality of an NAS blend and, thankfully, priced almost the same.

Availability - Specialty retailers
Pricing - $20-$35 (w/o VAT or shipping) in Europe, $30-$35 in USA
Rating - 72