...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Port Charlotte 16 year old 2002 Dramfool, cask 243

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

16 year old Port Charlotte. It's a real thing! In fact, the final three reviews for this cluster will be of 16 year old Port Charlotte. I'm starting that run by ending this Dramfool review run with a 16yo distilled in 2002. While Monday's 14yo was from a sherry hoggie, and Wednesday's 15yo was from a bourbon hoggie, today's 16 spent its time in a first-fill bourbon barrel, though somehow it had a larger outturn than the 15's hogshead. As excited as I am to try these 16s, I'm going to moderate my enthusiasm because more age often doesn't translate to better Port Charlotte...

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 16 years (June 2002 - July 2018)
Maturation: first-fill bourbon barrel
Cask #: 243
Outturn: 221 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 60.5%
(from a bottle split)


NOTES


The nose starts off with big, but controlled, peat. Then pine sap, apricots, lemon juice and honey. Snickerdoodle cookies and a hint of vanilla bean. It trends towards forest and earth with time. It becomes a very different experience once it's diluted all the way down to 46%abv. Citrussy smoke swirls around mangoes, cloves, cardamom, sandalwood and blood oranges. Yeah, I'm okay with this.

Lemons, brown sugar, smoke, soil and stones make up the palate. But those lemons, nice and tart, start to merge with the smoke after a bit, and then are joined by charred peppers. At 46%abv, the palate reads smokier than the nose. But it's not one dimensional. Lemon cookies, Thai Bitters (these, FWIW) and small savory notes develop after a few minutes.

It finishes with lemons and pepper oil. Earth and smoke. Just a little bit of sweetness. Down at 46%abv, it's all lemons, smoke, and a pinch of sugar. But the lemons!

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Well done, you Dramfools. Between the nose's beautiful turn at 46%abv and the palate's perfect lemons, this whisky earns its 90 points. I probably won't be able to afford 20 year old Port Charlotte, but for those of you who will, this bodes very well for 20 year old Port Charlotte, said the man who just wrote, "more age often doesn't translate to better Port Charlotte." Also, Port Charlotte. Will that get me some more hot SEO action?

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Port Charlotte 15 year old 2001 Dramfool, cask 0847

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Continuing the series-within-a-series, I bring ye some more Dramfool Port Charlotte. On Monday I reviewed a 14 year old bold sherry cask Port Charlotte distilled in 2004. Today, I'll be consuming a 15 year old hoggie distilled in PC's rookie year of 2001. This time there's no booming fortified wine cask to distract from the spirit, and, judging from the color of the whisky, the oak influence could be moderate to low. Trying not to get my hopes WAY UP...

Sample posing on top of a box of venereal disease

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 15 years (2001 - 2016)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask #: 0847
Outturn: 195 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

Two types of notes perch side-by-side in the nose. Category 1: peat, wet sand, ocean and kiln. Category 2: Oranges, apple cider and brown sugar. The fruit drifts through the background, while kiln and ocean stay up front. The brown sugar and ocean notes do expand after 30+ minutes. Lemon candy appears after the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, joining the kiln + ocean character. Smaller notes of rope and metal develop as well.

The palate starts off hot and very nutty. Sugar and salt appear next. Smaller notes of metal and cured meat show up momentarily. It feels like a big Caol Ila. After 30+ minutes, it all simplifies to smoke and sugar. It gets saltier and bitterer (in a good way) at 46%abv. Some beachy smoke and citrus drift in. It gets sweeter, again, with time, but the bitterness keeps it in check, sort of a swirl of citrus types.

It finishes peaty, salty, slightly metallic and very sweet. At 46%abv, there's a mix of salt, sweet oranges and beachy smoke.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This Port Charlotte comes across so polite compared to Monday's fireworks. The 15yo is familiar and very good, yet also indistinguishable from other Islays (see the Caol Ila comment in the notes). On one hand that means Port Charlotte has joined its much older neighbors in style. On the other hand, it required dilution to make it more interesting, as it gains the citrus+beach note I so enjoy in Ardmore and (again) Caol Ila. For those of you who have a bottle, you may find the whisky improves with more or less water.

That was my first ever 15 year old Port Charlotte. On Friday, I'll try my first (but not last) 16 year old PC. Stay tuned...

Availability - 
Secondary market

Pricing - ???
Rating - 86 (when diluted)

Monday, June 14, 2021

Port Charlotte 14 year old 2004 Dramfool for Feis Ile 2019

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I'm just going to review three Port Charlottes this week because:

#1) What the hell, why not?
#2) See #1

All three of these Port Charlottes were released by Scottish independent bottler, Dramfool. Today's whisky is 14 years old, Wednesday's is 15, Thursday's is 16. (They also released a 13 year old, but it was from a "Jim McEwan Signature Collection" and a "1st Fill Pomerol cask", so that's a double no-thanks.) Three whiskies, three ages, three vintages. The 14 year old was from a first fill sherry hoggie, and the whisky's color is very dark. Is the PC spirit up to the challenge?

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: Dramfool
Age: 14 years (2004 - 2019)
Maturation: first-fill sherry cask
Outturn: 299 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.4%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

What a nose! Tar, burning tires, musty basement and Luxardo cherries. And that's just the start. How about some diesel, spent synthetic oil, toffee pudding and walnuts? And then......new car smell. The cask overwhelms the spirit once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. There's less smoke and industry. More nuts (of the Brazil and hazel varieties), figs and dates.

The palate does a damned good job matching that fabulous nose, especially on the tar and basement notes. Bitter chocolate and burlap fills the background, while a crazy cocktail of Campari, tart limes and blackberry juice floats in the middle. Dropping the abv to 46%, rolls the cask out, way out. I mean it's very woody. Some good salt and kiln notes hover around the edges.

The palate's crazy cocktail morphs a bit in the finish. Now it's tart citrus, black licorice and Underberg, all wrapped up in burlap and tossed onto new asphalt. Yeah that makes sense. At 46%abv, the finish becomes more tannic. A little bit of citrus, salt and kiln remains.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is a great example of a fun, loud Port Charlotte that is not 63+%abv. The power isn't in the poison, it's from all the other curious compounds floating around in the glass. The spirit and its vessel have their best matched tussle in the nose, and the palate works best when neat. In fact, I'd say keep water out of it, since dilution seems to do little but bring out A LOT of oak. When neat, it's quite a show, perhaps too much for some palates, but if you expected subtlety from a first-fill sherried Port Charlotte then that's your own issue.

Now that the tariffs seem to be on their way out, can some distributor haul some Dramfool bottles into the US? And not charge $300 for a teenage whisky?

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89 (neat)

Friday, June 11, 2021

Port Charlotte 14 year old Batch 7, That Boutique-y Whisky Company

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I've gotten into a habit of prefacing my That Boutique-y Whisky Company single malt reviews with paragraphs about how I've yet to be thrilled by one of their products. And then there are a few snipes about full bottle prices for half-bottle sizes. And some comments about their labels, etc.

But then I went ahead and bought one of their whiskies anyway. I love the idea of smaller bottles, especially those in the 200mL - 375mL range. The price on this 14yo wasn't horrifying, and the molecular label may be their most reserved piece of graphic design. Also I applaud their shift to using actual age statements, so I decided to support it with money.

These Port Charlotte batches are a bit confusing. Batch 5 has an identical ABV to Batch 7, and the age statement is the same, but it was released in another country. So are they really different whiskies? And why is Batch 8 priced 67% higher than Batch 7, while being one year younger? Clearly, I've become an easily confused, addled old man early in life.

Anyhoo, my bottle:

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Rémy Cointreau
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Age: 14 years (???? - ????)
Maturation: Not listed, but there's a sherry cask involved
Outturn: 662 bottles (375mL)
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
(from the top third of my bottle)

The tasting will be conducted backwards this time, as I try it diluted first, full strength second.

At 46%abv

The nose reminds me of the 10-12yo sherry cask Ledaigs Signatory cranked out pre-Covid. It's full of funky sneaker peat, roasted nuts and toffee. Ocean, kiln and farm form the middle. Hints of chocolatey coffee linger in the background.

The palate is all kiln and moss at first, massively smoky. A mix of brine, chile oil and wasabi appears next. After 20-30 minutes, the salt meets up with some citrus and farmy notes, bringing depth.

It finishes as loud as the palate and nose. All salt, chile oil and kiln smoke.

At full strength (51.1%abv)

The nose feels a bit tight at first, all mossy smoke and clementines. Then, gradually, it opens up with almond pastries, walnuts, hints of dried fruit, coffee and anchovies(!). As the sherry cask wakes up, it merges very well with the peat, creating a solid core.

Hotter than expected, the palate releases a bundle of lemons to go with all the smoke. Small to moderate notes of tar, bitter chocolate, cinnamon and dried grasses fill it out.

It finishes with bitter chocolate, cinnamon, kiln smoke and just a squeeze of lemon.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is my favorite TBWC whisky by some distance, thank goodness. It's a challenging drinker for a humid June night, but I should have expected as much from Port Charlotte. I'm thankful the whisky wasn't bottled at a higher ABV because it's very heavy for 51.1%abv. But it's not oak soup nor sherry soup nor mezcal soup because there's no awkward separation between the moving parts. It's a good cask that was bottled at the right time, as far as I can tell.

I'm going to close this one back up until December or January because I'd rather drink it while sitting on my new balcony, appreciating the quiet winter, pretending my indigestion is really a soul beginning to thaw.

Availability - I don't know, but it was a USA-only release
Pricing - around $90 for a 375mL
Rating - 88 (maybe higher in winter)

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Revisiting Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak almost a decade later

It doesn't matter what anyone writes about Macallan. That distillery could do a limited release of bottles filled with smegma, and there'd still be 400 of those things on Scotch Whisky Auctions within 24 hours of the drop date.

So let me not focus on the gleaming present, but instead on the blurry past. Once upon a time, I held the unpopular view that the Macallan Fine Oak series was indeed quite fine. And while I often tell people that Yamazaki 18yo was the first $100+ whisky I dared to buy more than once, that's damned lie. Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak was my baller bottle for a number of years, with its powdery lavender label and the relatively light-colored Mac inside the glass.

Though I enjoyed Macallan 18 year old (Sherry Oak, to the Europeans) at first, I found it less and less interesting with each subsequent try. Diminishing returns and escalating prices. (A familiar tune?) This issue started to invade my Fine Oak experience, as my final bottle of the 17yo FO had much more sherry character to it than I cared for. If there was any sort of Macallan distillery character that was spirit-related, the best official route to it was via the partial-bourbon-cask Fine Oaks. Adding more sherry casks may have appealed to some drinkers, but it silenced what made the 17 year old Fine Oak joyous to me.

It has been eight years since my last sip of Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak. I have kept samples of my beloved (94 point!) 2010 bottling and the moderately thrilling 2012 bottling. They have been saved for this very moment. Probably.


Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2010, 43%abv

The nose has a dry, nutty (maybe even a little briny) sherry note, neither overbearing or overwhelming, but part of a larger picture that includes dried apricots, roses and watermelon Jolly Ranchers. There's a little bit of toasted oak, a little bit of malt, and good dose of baked apples and brown sugar after the whisky sits in the glass for more than 30 minutes.

The early palate holds a surprising amount of barley and ripe orchard fruit sweetness. It slowly picks up salt, lemons and just a hint of dried fruits. It gets sweeter with time, and is much much too drinkable.

Fresh and dried pineapple give the finish a nice twist. Small notes of salt, malt and flowers float in the background, while more oak and sugar develop with time.

This is still very good whisky all these years later, though not as mind blowing as I once judged it to be. The nose is its true highlight, bearing plenty of gentle, pretty characteristics that would offend no one. As noted above, the palate remains very comfy and well-constructed and ...... suddenly the glass is empty. It was nice while we had it.

RATING - 88



Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak, bottled in 2012, 43%abv

Its nose is quiet at the start, requiring extra time to wake up. The sherry note appears first, reading meatier and prunier than the 2010 bottling. Golden raisins appear next, followed by tapioca pudding, peach hand lotion, grilled fish(!) and a hint of peppery sulfur. With time it tilts more towards dried fruits (raisins and berries) and dried flowers.

The palate is very spicy, a mix of cracked peppercorns and oak spices. Black raisins in molasses. Salty rocks and lemon candy. Plenty of tannins crowd the edges.

It's all black raisins, oak spice and tannins in the finish. It gets much sweeter with time, almost reading like a PX after 45 minutes.

Of the two, this one is more unique and more problematic. To dispute my impressions from 8+ years ago, the sherry isn't louder, it's just messier, which makes for a lot of fun in the nose. But then the oak comes crashing into the palate, which is a shame because it seemed as if there was something a little weirder and more adventurous in store. Not bad though. I'd drink it any time.

RATING - 86



Final Thoughts


The quality gap between these two whiskies closed considerably. Maybe it's my palate, maybe it's the samples. They are different whiskies though. Despite Macallan's considerable efforts to keep their whiskies the same, year after year, things do change because whisky is a mischievous thing. Or perhaps the recipe for the 17 year old Fine Oak changed at the end of its existence, with the cleaner sherry casks going to the more famous 18 year old Sherry Oak.

One final final thought. Don't keep samples sitting around for 8-10 years. Even these relatively recent whiskies started taking on a soapy note around the 45-minute mark. Dustier whiskies, especially bourbons, often do the same when their samples sit in a box for a long time. Drink your whisky!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Two Glenburgies distilled in June 1995

After last Friday's Glenburgie review, I decided to extract my two other Glenburgie samples from their deep storage for today's writeup. As it turns out, these two were distilled within eight days of each other, come hogsheads, and are only a year apart in age. Each is from a well-trusted bottler, Signatory and Archives, and (due to cask numbering) I have a sneaking suspicion they both matured in Signatory's warehouses. Both samples arrived via bottle splits.

Here they go:


Glenburgie 23 year old 1995 Signatory, hogsheads 6534 + 6536, 415 bottles, 55.2%abv

The nose feels a little tight on this one. Nothing takes the fore. Apricots, barley, lemon and thyme are in the midground. A slight leafiness, some toasted oak and a few white gummy worms are in the background. When reduced to 46%abv, the nose feels even shorter and hotter. It's woody, with small notes of lemon, brine, dried herbs, apricots and wildflowers. Diluting it down to 40%abv, wakes it up! Musty fruit and dunnage notes appear. The wood recedes, while the dried herbs move forward.

The neat palate is hot, but fruity. I'm thinking lemons and limes, mildly sweet but mostly tart. Some ground pepper around the edges. Sugary bourbon cask notes arrive after 30 minutes. It's sweet and simple at 46%abv with plenty of vanilla and oak spice, as well as lemon and black pepper. 40%abv suits it well here, too. There's more tart citrus, less vanilla and mellower sweetness. Easy drinking.

Pepper and lemons and heat in the finish. It's also a bit drying, though some sweetness appears later on. More tannins and vanilla appear at 46%abv, though the lemon remains. It holds a good sweetness at 40%abv, and ginger joins the lemon.

I was about to pass this one off as big "meh", but diluting it aggressively brought out its best sides. One may still rightfully expect more of a 23 year old Speyside, especially from a solid distillery like Glenburgie. Its role in longer-aged Ballatine's blends becomes obvious here.

Availability - May actually still be available in Europe, three years later
Pricing - $125-$150 or so
Rating - 84 (with lots of dilution)



Glenburgie 24 year old 1995 Archives, hogshead 6315, 237 bottles, 55.6%abv

Oh my, what a different thing. The nose is positively packed with fruits: papaya, lemon, grapefruit and dates. There's also plenty of malt, toffee and nutmeg, with a hint of copper in the background. It combines a lovely fermented fruit note with a whiff of mizunara-like spice. The fermented note remains once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Oranges and fresh herbs appear, mixing with the other fruits and malt.

Those great fruits show up in the palate, too! Maybe some yuzu, floral white peaches, and ginger powder as well. An excellent overall mix of tart and sweet stuff. It also has a creamy dessert note in the background that feels more like malt than oak. At 46%abv, it has a big fruitier second gear. First it's, "Mmmmm." Then it's, "Wow!" That is all. Okay, also mango.

The nose's mizunara-esque spice note shows up in the looooong finish, as do the grapefruits, yuzus and white peaches. It has that subtle creaminess, and a drop of chili oil to give it extra zing. At 46%abv, it's a bunch of mangoes, lemons, and smiles.

These two whiskies highlight the difference a cask can make. The first one was alright. This one was Alright Alright Alright. With its fruit and richness, this 24yo is like a cousin of earlier Longmorn generations. The thought of diluting it pained me, but it flies high even with water. No wonder it has such a high score at Whiskybase. People aren't just kissing Menno's and CJ's asses (if they're still holding court). If you have a bottle of this Glenburgie, I hope you open, enjoy and share it!

Availability - All gone
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Friday, June 4, 2021

Glenburgie 23 year old 1989 Chester Whisky

I've found 15+ year old Glenburgie to be a very agreeable whisky, mostly because it has The Fruits. Wednesday's Irish whiskey was also fruity, but there was an oaky battle going on. Today's Glenburgie is of a similar age to that Knappogue Castle, just two years its elder. It's a single cask from the Chester Whisky & Liqueur Company, an independent bottling company that closed up shop seven years ago. As a result my first Chester whisky may also be my last, unless anyone wants to send me a free case of their '88 sherry cask Littlemill.

Distillery: Glenburgie
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Owners: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: Chester Whisky & Liqueur Company
Age: 23 years (1989 - 2012)
Maturation: Bourbon barrel
Outturn: 212 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)

NOTES

The nose begins curiously. It's like huffing a bag of Wonder bread in a freshly painted kitchen. Face out of the bag, one can now smell butter, orange oil and overripe bananas. After about 30 minutes, notes of nectarines and black Twizzlers develop in the background. Its style shifts a bit once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. Dried coriander, lemon and malt arrive first, followed by yellow bell peppers and orange oil.

Bread and butter on the palate. Lots of vibrant lemon, some savory-peppery spice. Hints of nectarines and honey around the edges. At 46%abv, there's less bread and more fruit, specifically lemon zest. Chile oil, fresh herbs and a pinch of salt as well.

It finishes saltier and tangier than the palate, with hints of nectarine and honey in the back. At 46%abv, the whisky finishes with salt, lemon and malt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

A bit of an odd duck, this whisky is difficult to score or even summarize. Unlike the younger and lighter KC21, the bourbon barrel here never intrudes. On the other hand, the bread notes were unexpected and considerable, and I struggled to see beyond them. I liked the lemon notes, and wished there were more fruits in play. Diluting the whisky solved most of those challenges.

Mr. M.A.O. had a somewhat different experience than I, preferring it neat and enjoying it more, though we did find some of the same characteristics. As usual, I'm more of an arse, which is easy because he's a sweetie pie.

Where was I? Oh yeah, more Glenburgies next week!

Availability - Gone
Pricing - I think this was about $100, eight years ago
Rating - 82