...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength, recharred Oloroso casks (57.1%abv)

Yes, another sherried Kilkerran! Though this one comes with a different sort of built-in expectations. After enjoying all of the Kilkerran Work In Progresses, I found the first(?) batch of 8yo CS to be disappointing, so much so that I'm still trying to blend it up into something better almost three years later. I also publicly swore off any further batches unless the CS got older or got sherry. The latter has come to be. 15,000 bottles of sherry cask CS action hit the market last year and was very VERY popular, and the secondary market prices did what they do. I'm happy to have gotten in on a bottle split so I could actually try the stuff and report back.

It was to my partially-naïve surprise that my sample bottle arrived with a "recharred" notation on it. Yes, the entire batch was fashioned from re-charred sherry casks. Springbank has been doing this sherry cask re-charring quite a bit over the past two decades and aren't hiding it. Allegedly, the 19yo 1997 sherry cask Springer I loved so was from a re-charred butt and I don't think the re-char process harmed it because the Springbank spirit met the cask head-on and fought it to a thunderous draw. That does not happen often, but I hope the young Kilkerran spirit survives.

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: re-charred oloroso casks
Limited release: 15,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%
(from a bottle split)

The nose is heavier, tarrier and smokier than Monday's 8yo sherried Kilkerran. And perhaps my new knowledge is influencing this, but I'm getting a basic charred American oak note. And burnt bark. Otherwise, there are guava and lime juices, mint candy, baked apples, a hint of yeast and some sort of mango-vanilla creme dessert. The palate proves problematic right up front, as it's all bitter oak, sugar, cardboard and limes. It needs a lot of air. Then it gets nuttier, leafier. There's a pepper + ocean note reminiscent of Talisker DE. A bit of tar. Still feels kinda tight, though. The finish is bitter, tart, leafy and salty.

Watering this one down:

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
This lightens it up. More tropical fruit in the nose, as well as something savory. There's also a decent combo of citrus, anise and faint wood smoke. The palate is better, rounder. Dry sherry, walnuts, salt. A tangy citrus and a less-woody bitterness. The finish matches the palate, with the saltiness lingering longest.

The first two sips worried me. I knew my palate wasn't screwy because I was tasting this whisky along with the Open Day 2016 bottling, but I was concerned that the re-charring had gotten into my head. With time the palate improved, but not enough. Dilution unlocked the palate's better elements. The nose works pretty well with or without water, but ultimately whisky stuff is made for drinking. I don't think the whisky meets the hype, which was likely stirred by a desire similar to mine for a sherried cask strength Kilkerran, and then was further stoked by the darkness of the liquid. It's a good sherry cask whisky for its original SRP of €60, but not at secondary prices for two to three times that amount.

Availability - Mostly sold out on the primary market
Pricing - see just above for this info
Rating - 84 (diluted only, it's 5+ points lower when neat)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Kilkerran 8 year old for Open Day 2016

July 13, 2016 was one of my best whisky days and probably the last time Kristen actually enjoyed drinking single malt scotch. Campbeltown. Springbank Tour. Glengyle Tour. Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting. Ardshiel Hotel Bar.

Among our drinks at the Ardshiel, one Springbank missed and one Kilkerran hit. And I mean really hit. I'm not going to share how much of this bottle we both consumed --

-- but it was a fair amount. (No, that bottle wasn't full when we got there. Maybe.) I remembered the whisky well, then chased it down at an auction more than a year later. On February 24, 2020 (the last in-person scotch event before the quarantine began), I brought it to Columbus Scotch Night where it was happily consumed among 20+ new Kilkerran fans.

I made off with a good sample of the Kilkerran that night because though I loved it two times I was also convinced the tasting environments had influenced my experience. So here's this prized sherried thing as it's about to be consumed in my hermetically sealed tasting chambers:

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: at least 8 years (??? to 29 April 2016)
Maturation: sherry cask(s?)
Bottled for: Springbank Open Day 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 56.4%
(from my bottle)

It wasn't just my previous enthusiasms, the nose has layers! At first there's pineapple, a hint of yeasty wort, lightly peated dried apricots and almond extract. Next, earth, farm, aged parmesan and a funky (manuka?) honey. Then it's all butterscotch candies and Smith & Cross rum. The intense (but not hot) palate is all dark chocolate, coffee beans, pipe tobacco and dried herbs. Notes of plum wine, soil and smoked almonds ease in later. It finish with earth, herbs, dark chocolate and a gingery zing.

Not going to add much water here...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes prunier and peatier. There's also a sugary candy note, golden raisins and burnt veg. The palate gets saltier and plummier (adjectives!), and picks up a definite rye seed note which follows into the finish, which is otherwise all smoked almonds in toffee.

This is in the running for my favorite Kilkerran, or the best high strength version I've had so far. I preferred it neat by a good distance over the diluted pour. Dilution removes its quirks, uniqueness and complexity, so go it straight! I'm so happy to have opened this bottle up with friends and watched it bring joy to others. And, yes, I'm giving this whisky one extra point for emotional purposes.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90 (neat!)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Randy Brandy drinks three apple brandies

When Diving for Pennies asked me, Randy Brandy, if I wanted to blind taste some brandies, I told him to go sodomize himself with a Louis XIII bottle.

Then he did.

Then he asked me if I wanted to blind taste some brandies. I said no.

I hope quarantine has been cuddly for you snowflakes. I laugh at how stupid you look in your face panties and I laugh at the idiots who don’t wear masks. Me, I wear a bandanna. Made out of backboard bacon. Some people stop me and inquire about what it is. When they hear me croak, “Human flesh,” and smell my sweat-caked MAGA hat they stop asking me stupid questions.

Charles Neal wrote the book on Calvados and named the book, Calvados. It’s a good read and also takes a .22 slug from 30 feet like a champ. Don’t look at me like that. It’s a book, I read it, what else am I going to do with it? I hoard nothing but grudges.

Many of the calvados bottles you see on American shelves, including these two, were surrendered by the French to Charles Neal. Did you catch that surrendered part?

Here are my notes:

(Baters = Brandy taters, but that should be self-explanatory)

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 3 year old Calvados, 40%abv
Nose - Flowers, sour apple candy and (American, not Mexican) Sprite. Butter, caramel corn, maybe some apple skins.
Palate - Sugar and vanilla. Nutmeg and ground cloves in applesauce. A bit of eau de vie sprinkled in there to give it some gonads.
Finish - Warm sugary apple juice. Some lemon juice and eau de vie.

More Notes - Almost like a liqueur, a thin liqueur. Probably goes well in cocktails but I don't drink those sad things. It works well in turkey gravy, which I do drink.

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 12 year old Calvados, 40%abv
Nose - Fewer flowers than the 3, more oak spice. Ginger candy. Honey butter on toasted oat bran bread. Something smoky.
Palate - Less sweet than the 3, thank Jesus and Charles Neal, in that order. Lemon candy, apple chutney. Riesling and oak spice.
Finish - Apple candy, Big Red gum, Riesling.

More Notes - A man can actually drink this one neatly. The oak is starting to show, so the 18yo probably gives you splinters. Some heat to it, but also more texture. Is it worth the extra $40? I don't know, it's not my money.

I will not go gently into this indigestion. It's time for a 126 proof American apple brandy.

Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, private cask for Mid-Atlantic Whisky Lovers Society, 63%abv
(provided by some guy Kravs names "Secret Agent Man", I always thought the title was "Secret Asian Man", now the song makes no sense)
Nose - Toffee, oak spice, white peaches and a caramel-covered Fuji apple.
Palate - Like C&K's other brandies this one brings it large, like Jon Dough in Rambone 2 (GOOGLE IT ON YOUR WORK COMPUTER). It's calvados for bourbon drinkers, bourbon for calvados drinkers. The thunder of American oak and the lightning of tart fruits and ginger ale. And so on.
Finish - Tart and sweet apples, honey and vanilla.

Going to turn this American brandy French by diluting the fight out of it.

Reduced to 40%abv
Nose - Milk chocolate, Cheerios, blue cheese, caramel corn, walnuts. Malty stuff.
Palate - Classic Twix. Rich and creamy. Somewhere between wheated bourbon and long-aged calvados. White rice and lemon juice.
Finish - Caramel candy, mint and plum wine.

I. Like. The. 40%abv. Version. Better. Am I French? Am I Canadian? Oh sacrament, am I French Canadian? Decriss!

There were my notes.

Though none of these is Jupiters Darling, America wins. We win so much, we get sick and tired of winning. Something something them apples.

Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 3 year old Calvados, 40%abv - C
Roger Groult Pays d'Auge 12 year old Calvados, 40%abv - B-
Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, private cask for MAWLS - B

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Lagavulin 2003 Distillers Edition (2019 Release)

Unlike the 12 year old CS and 16 year old, the annual Distillers Edition is a Lagavulin I've never loved, nor entirely got. It's always just fine. Sometimes the PX finish merges successfully, sometimes it doesn't (though not as hamfisted as most official fortified wine finishes), but it's always the least Lagavulin-ish of the Lagavulins. It's always easily consumable and never a debacle like Laphroaig's forays into PX. Here's a review of 2019's Distillers (no apostrophe) Edition, sampled alongside 2019's cask strength expression.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation and Age: 15-16 years in bourbon casks, then a brief period of time in Pedro Ximenez casks
Release date: 2019
Batch: lgv 4/508
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel coloring? Probably
(from a purchased sample)

Bereft of Lagavulin Thunder, the nose has some ocean, ash and dried seaweed, though these notes are minor. It's mostly piney, meaty and minty with some undefinable sherried Johnnie Walker Black note. With time it picks up dark chocolate, dried cherries and mesquite chips.

The cuddly palate has some warmth, sweetness and peat, though the mouthfeel is quite thin. There are tart berries and tart stone fruits. Medicinal hints and sooty hints. It starts with lots of herbal bitterness but gradually swaps that out for more sweetness.

The finish reads gently sweet and smoky. Slightly vegetal, slightly bitter. More dried herbs and sugar with time.

The good news is that this is probably the best Lagavulin DE I've had. The double maturation shows only a light touch in the palate and finish, and though the nose is a bit light, it still has some angles. But with its low Lagavulin levels and watery texture, this one is just singing for a 46%abv non-chillfiltered bottling. It's a B-grade whisky from an A-grade distillery.

Availability - This one did make to The States (and Europe)
Pricing - $115-$135 in the US, $90-$110 in Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 84

Monday, July 27, 2020

Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength (2019 release)

Whether or not it has been noticeable, there have been a lot more Lagavulin OB reviews on Diving for Pearls recently. I've come to find Lagavulin's single malt to be one of the most reliable on the planet. As opposed to what they've done with (or to) Talisker, Diageo hasn't with Laga's distillate and has avoided extensive carpentry for its maturation vessels. Yes, they've released 8, 9, 10 and 11 year old versions over the past four years, but the casks did not tilt toward new oak, wee barrels or STDs STRs, and the results have been good-to-great. Still, the 16yo and the 12yo CS rule the roost.

I'm going to review the 2019 edition of the 12 year old CS today, and the 2019 Distillers Edition on Wednesday. They were sampled side-by-side for the purpose of these reviews.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation: American Hogsheads
Age: minimum 12 years
Release date: 2019
Outturn: 60,762 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chill-filtration? Probably not
Caramel coloring? Probably not
(from a purchased sample)

Though oak usually registers minimally in these release, this nose reads rawer than expected, close to new make. It's a glass of sooty ocean water, scorched veg, brothy sencha, almond extract and burnt newspapers (relevant?).

The palate is simple but gorgeous, heavily peaty, salty and bitter. But it also has a sweet nuttiness that keeps it from being one-dimensional. Different smoke flavors swirl through over time: wood, barbecue, veg, etc. It also gains a slight sugar-crystal-topped sugar cookie note in the background.

Salt, smoke and hint of sugar make up most of the finish. It becomes more earthy and bitter with time, then picks up an almond note as well.

A whisky whose palate tops its nose rarely surfaces around here, certainly less than once a month. This edition's nose reminded me of all the 6-8 year old "Islay" indie bottlings I've tried, which isn't really an insult, except the official 12 always top those indies, in my opinion. Thankfully the palate was excellent as ever, not very complex but a minimalist gem. The finish fell short of greatness, so that makes this whisky's grade goofier than usual. But fans of the annual Lagavulin 12 year old will enjoy this one's Islay power as always.

Availability - Europe. It's possible this version didn't make it to the US
Pricing - $100-$150 depending on the country
Rating - 87

Friday, July 24, 2020

Heaven Hill 19 year old bourbon, bottled in 2016 by Cadenhead

This is my first Cadenhead-bottled Heaven Hill. I've tried a pair of 2001 Heaven Hills from Malts of Scotland, but I don't think I've had any other American whiskies bottled by Europeans. Per unofficial online rumors (always a safe source) this barrel spent 3 years in Kentucky before being moved to a Cadenhead Campbeltown warehouse in 1999 where it then spent another 16 years. I'm hoping, HOPING, the change of scenery softened the maturation of those last 16 years, resulting in something that does not taste like furniture. Here it goes...

Actual color
Distiller: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: World Whiskies
Region: Louisville, Kentucky meets Campbeltown, Scotland
Maturation: New American oak barrel
Mashbill75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Age: at least 19 years old (1996? - Feb 2016)
Outturn: 150 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
(Thank you to LV33 for the sample!!)

No generic barrel char to be found in the nose. Kiwis, nectarines and dark chocolate sit in its place. Then some burlap, toffee, blossoms, a drizzle of Pedro Ximénez and just a little bit of vanilla bean. Much less wood and burn than I'd expected from the palate. One can find sea salt, stone fruits, dark chocolate and sesame oil up front. Some tangy pepper sauce in the back. It gets brinier and savorier with time. There are hints of the nose's fruits in the finish, along with cloves, cayenne pepper, umami and a minor tannic nip.

Should I just be drinking American whiskey aged in Scotland instead of American whiskey aged in America? Yes? Great. That'll be a cheap hobby.

The nose wins the day as usual, but still this bourbon drinks very well at this strength. I had a much different experience with the whiskey than did Serge. I didn't find it very oaky, and you know what a sensitive turd I am about tannins. There was a small vanilla note, no barrel char, no caramel and no puckering finish. Instead it has a good balance of salty, savory, fruity and floral characteristics. If I ever get back to Scotland, I'll keep a lookout for Heaven Hills in the Cadenhead shops.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Booker's Little Book, Chapter 1, Straight Blended Whiskey

There's a rumor that July Fourth happened two weeks ago. Just in case that's true, I should probably continue with American whiskies this week as a late celebration.

My local friend, A.S., gave me a sample of the first Booker's Little Book more than a year ago. I did not realize at the time that this wasn't just another Booker's bourbon. In fact it's a blended whiskey, like Kessler, but (allegedly) better. Per Mr. Minnick, the whiskey is a mix of 4 year old bourbon, 13 year old corn, 5 year old 100% malt and 5 year old rye.

"Little Book" was Booker Noe's grandson's nickname, even though Little Book's actual name is Fred, like his father, and he's grownup, meanwhile they're treating the word "book" like a thing with pages so each chapter is a batch. If you follow. This whiskey is of Freddie's design, his first.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Booker's
Type: Straight Blended Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Blend: 4 year old bourbon, 13 year old corn, 5 year old 100% malt and 5 year old rye
Batch: "The Easy"
Alcohol by volume: 64.1% ABV
(thank you to A.S. for the sample!)

At first sniff, it noses like a first-fill bourbon barrel Speyside single malt, then it shifts paths towards something closer to America. There's barrel char, cherry lollipops, gummi bears, paint VOCs and halvah. It sounds like a mess but it works. After 30 minutes it's picked up grilled corn, multigrain pancakes, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce notes.

The palate is neither as hot or peanutty as I'd expected. The heat reads more like chiles than ethyl. It's very salty and floral. Notes say, "A mix of young corny bourbon and oversteeped sencha." Okay then. It improves after 30 minutes, gaining fresh ginger, lemons, honey, oranges and umami notes.

It finishes salty/brothy. More of that oversteeped sencha. It also has honey, oranges and barrel char. It gets woodier with time.

Little Book batch 1 is better than most of the Booker's bourbon batches I've tried. It also doesn't cook the esophagus like Booker's bourbons do. I wouldn't call it the most coordinated or balanced whiskey but it's fun and (another terrible adjective warning) interesting. I would drink this again, though maybe not on these 95ºF days, and try to parse out how its elements work together or against each other. Though this release had a suggested retail price of $60, the Little Books now go for $125 in Ohio, so I will avoid hunting down a bottle.

Availability - Mostly sold out
Pricing - probably $100 and higher
Rating - 83