...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Birthday Booze: Glen Esk 31 year old 1984 Cooper's Choice for Limburg Whisky Fair

It's that time of the year! Again. It snuck up and caught me unprepared. But I recovered quickly. There will be three birthday booze posts. The first two will be special samples from the stash, then Friday's post will be the birthday bottle.

Glen Esk (or Glenesk or Highland Esk or Montrose or North Esk or Hillside) whiskies are few and far between, and this is my only sample of this Eastern Highlands producer. The distillery opened in 1897 and closed in 1985. It spent 25 of those years as a grain distillery, and for another 25 (or more) years it was silent. It was a major ingredient in VAT 69 in the '70s and '80s before it was mothballed.

Most importantly, its second owner was the one and only Septimus Parsonage, who was named after the groundskeeper from the Transformers / Downton Abbey spin-off series.


Distillery: Glen Esk (amongst its many names)
Region: East Coast Highlands
Owner: Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (SMD)
Independent Bottler: Cooper's Choice
Age: 30 years (December 1984 to 2016)
Maturation: "a bourbon cask"
Cask number4677
Bottles: 240
Bottled for: Limburg Whisky Fair
Alcohol by Volume: 49.5%
(Purchased sample)

Its color is remarkably light, as if it's actually 13 rather than 31. I'll say......unoaked French Chardonnay, to be ridiculous about it. The nose starts with lemon cake, peach skin, a hint of mango and lots of barley wash. With time in the glass, it picks up raspberries, peonies, red Pixy Stix and lawn. Keeps kicking long after an hour. So much barley in the palate! Very little sweetness or fruit, other than a tart citrus strike. Toasty with gentle bitterness. Marizpan with hints of toffee, metal and minerals. The delicate but long finish has barley, flowers, tart notes and a metallic hint.

The nose is damn near perfect. You nosing it for an hour may look funny to outsiders, but that's why we drink by ourselves, no? As pretty and demonstrative as its sniffer may be, the palate is restrained and unromantic, but very appealing to those looking for low-oak whisky.

It walks an interesting balance between fragile and powerful. I didn't add water because it felt like it would immediately fall apart, but then the palate would hammer its character through.

This is a rare case wherein I agree with both Serge and Ruben in their assessments of a whisky. And though it is indeed expensive stuff, I don't know how many more Glen Esks we'll see after this.

Availability - A dozen or so retailers in Europe and Japan
Pricing - $300-$450 (w/VAT)
Rating - 89

Friday, August 18, 2017

Speyside Region (Glenfarclas) 20 year old 1994 Whisky-Fässle

Our house has fleas. And we have no pets. Those bloodsuckers hitched their way inside on our clothing and now have taken up residence on both floors. Three people live in this house, but the fleas are only aware of one. Me. Because I am one delicious piece of foot.

In order to combat the fleas, I did some scientific research and came to a conclusion. I'm going to drink so much that the alcohol content of my blood will poison every jumping bastard that bites me. It's science. It's got to work.

Here's a sample of another Glenfarclas that couldn't be called "Glenfarclas".


This time it's from a sherry butt. And the bottle had a duck on it. At least Whisky-Fässle didn't say it was from Speyside's finest distillery, because enough with that silliness.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Whisky-Fässle
Series: Ducks?
Age: 20 years old (1994-2015)
Maturation: Sherry butt
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Sample arrived via swap with My Annoying Opinions.)

NEAT
The nose starts of nice, but blurry. Some shoe leather, cherry candy and mint. But a lot of air opens it up. Earthy and herbal up front, prunes second. Fresh pear. A good whiff of gunpowder. Small floral note. The palate is bracingly bitter, like a grapefruit and Campari combo. Walnuts, salt, lawn, a slight tarry woof. A quirky aquatic note meets caramel sauce. It finishes with sour cranberries and mochi with bitter chocolate. Peaches, lawn, herbal liqueur and salt. Quite long.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose reads more like a classic sherried malt. More dried fruit, canned peaches and toffee. The palate still has that bitter belt to it. Some fresh stone fruits, tart citrus and a hint of grains. It finishes bitter, fruity and salty.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
That bitterness is fascinating. MAO reads it as oak. And though I don't disagree, it doesn't taste like American oak. Perhaps they used actual European oak for this cask? It's a great bitterness though, if that's one's style. Add that to the salt and gunpowder and we have an entertaining whisky here. But it's the fruit that lifts it up and provides dimension, ultimately. Water tames the beast, but not entirely. I might even prefer it diluted. Good fruits.

Happy Friday. We made it.

Availability -
Only to be found at Shinanoya, oddly, two years later

Pricing - was around €110 (w/VAT), costs almost twice that now
Rating - 87

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Probably Speyside's Finest Distillery" (Glenfarclas) 22 year old 1991 Old Malt Cask for Binny's

Somehow I've reviewed only one "Glenfarclas" that was not allowed to be called "Glenfarclas". As is usually the case, independent bottlers aren't given permission to use the Glenfarclas name on their Glenfarclas single casks, especially when they're ex-bourbon casks as that is not part of the Glenfarclas house style. But we can call it Glenfarclas, and I've called it Glenfarclas, so that's seven counts of the Glenfarclas (eight!) name in this paragraph. So there, Glenfarclas.

This Glenfarclas is a Hunter Laing's single cask released under their popular Old Malt Cask brand. The statement in its name, "Probably Speyside's Finest Distillery", is highly debatable, and I'm not sure why Laing felt the need to kiss their arse, unless it wins them more casks.

Glenfarclas
Distillery: Glenfarclas
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Series: Old Malt Cask
Age: 22 years old (June 1991 - November 2013)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: 10008
Limited bottling: 258
Alcohol by Volume: 52.4%
Exclusively sold by: Binny's
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Sample saved from an OC Scotch Club event)

Its light gold color perhaps bespeaks of minimal oak, perhaps? The nose is big on barley, apples and honey, at first. Whipped cream and vanilla in the background. Later it's all apple cider, nutmeg and orange peel. The palate is quite malty at first, and a little phenolic and funky. Lemons and a hint of vanilla. Slight sweet. A bit prickly from ethyl heat. Gets a little drying after a while. The finish is sweeter and oakier. Salt and pepper. Some funky barrel notes in there.

Nothing changed when I dropped it to ~46%abv. But at ~40%abv, it went awry. Though the nose still had the apple cider and barley, more barrel action crept in. The palate went tart and tannic, with a hint of earth. The palate was tart and bitter and soapy. So DON'T add water.

When I tried this at the event two years ago, I was underwhelmed by this Glenfarclas. Yet my first 15 minutes with it here were very pleasant. I was ready to heap some serious praise on this thing. Then the finish couldn't match the rest. Next, the oak started showing in the palate. And adding water destroyed it. The nose is the best part throughout, by far.

I haven't seen any reviews of this Glenfarclas online, nor is it in Whiskybase. Binny's might still have it in stock, which means it's been on the shelf for three years. Definitely some popular stuff right here.

Availability - Binny's
Pricing - $119.99
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Glenfarclas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Assessing 5 Current Whiskies from Nikka and Suntory

Aside from some of the work done at Shinshu Mars and Chichibu (and Nikka from the Barrel!) the Japanese whisky industry remains the politest shitshow in the whisky world.

No, I'm not going to back up Serge's recent complaints about the mixing of Scotch and Japanese whiskies. I have no problem with this practice—unless the products are labelled "Japanese whisky"—though it would be appropriate for the producers to disclose when this was happening. The foulness of this method falls far short of actions regularly practiced by the American and Scotch whisky industries.

Instead, my ire continues to be focused on the two major players in the Japanese whisky industry, Nikka and Suntory, emptying their warehouses when the rush came, not managing the outgoing assets and having no thoughtful plans on what to do next. Their strategy has since been revealed as: release inferior young whisky mishmashes at a higher price point than the beloved age-stated stuff, and market the hell out of it. Just like the scotch industry. But with a 0% success rate and without any age-statements in the portfolio.

In 2013 and 2014, I was happy to call Japanese whisky my favorite whisky in the world. At this point, the whiskies by the two majors don't match up to most of the results by the Scotch, American, Canadian, English, Irish, Indian, Swedish, Dutch, French, Belgian, South African and Taiwanese industries.

Hell, my naïve 2-liter barrel cockups are better. And yours are too.

No, I'm not bitter. You're bitter.



Our Columbus Scotch Night crew did a Japanese whisky tasting this past Monday, and it inspired me to compare and contrast a handful of the majors' current whiskies to see what's worth drinking, and if my above grievance still holds true. Here are the suspects:

Nikka Coffey Grain, 45%abv - This corn-based single grain has been on the market, along with a Coffey Malt, for a few years. I tried it once at a tasting and found it to be a so-so bourbon imitation. For those wondering why I keep misspelling coffee, it's because "Coffey" is the type of continuous still used to distill this whisky's spirit.
Available worldwide, priced $55-$70

The Nikka 12 year old blended whisky (2016), 43% - Released to celebrate Nikka's 80th anniversary in 2014, this blend came on the scene relatively quietly considering it has an age statement. I almost bought a bottle of it blindly when I was in Japan since it was 60% cheaper there than in Europe.
Available in Europe and Japan, priced $45-$55 (Japan), $100-$130 (Europe)

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master's Select blended whisky, 43% - Please note, this is not the widely available Japanese Harmony. The Master's Select edition hit the Travel Retail shelves in 2015, functioning as a premium version of the Harmony, or at least a more expensive version. According to the Internets, this is a mix of 10 different whiskies from five different kinds of casks. Take that as you'd like.
Available in Europe, Asia and Travel Retail, priced $70-$130.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, 43% - This is the NAS that has replaced the 12yo. I've had it twice before and have nothing nice to say about those experiences. Like the above Hibiki, this is another mashup whisky. It has American oak, Mizunara, sherry casks AND French oak ex-Bourdeaux casks. I've seen a wide range of age claims about the whiskies inside, from three years to 20 years. May we all assume there's a pittance of 20 year old and Mizunara whisky in this? Yes, we may.
Available in Europe and Japan, priced $40-$60 (Japan), $60-$100 (Europe)

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve, 43% - During my visit to Yamazaki distillery in 2015, the tour group received pours of Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve and Hakushu Distiller's Reserve. No one, and I mean no one, finished either pour. I found the Yamazaki to be flat and hot, and the Hakushu was somehow worse. Later in the trip, I tried them side by side at a bar and had the same sensory experience. I have my expectations for this Hakushu set the lowest of these five whiskies.
Available in Europe, priced $60-$100


Whisky Notes
THE NOSES
Nikka Coffey GrainStarts off like a floral cheap bourbon. Cardboard, vokda, paint, vanilla and caramel. It picks up a hint of barbecue sauce, then a whole lot of vanilla after some time in the glass.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyFruity! Cantaloupe, honeydew and plums. Some caramel sauce too. It shifts gears with some air, picking up barley and earth notes. Horse stall. Vanilla bean.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Lots of apples. Then cinnamon and pears. Rice pudding. Hints of smoke and barley. Taffy, pound cake and some raisins.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltFlat. Yeast, brown rice and carob. Bubblegum and Elmer's glue (a duo indeed). Picks up more grains, flowers and vanilla with time in the glass.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltFresh pears, cinnamon and hint of wood smoke. Toasted grains, plums, cherries and ocean air.

Whisky Notes
THE PALATES
Nikka Coffey GrainFlat hot bourbon. Vanilla, barrel char, black pepper and paint. Then salty pork. More and more vanilla with time. Almost all cask.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyEarthy and herbal, with no sweetness at first. Then it sweetens slightly. Light bitterness and acidity. Hint of hard toffee. With time, the earthy note gets almost Ledaig-ish. A hint of sherry cask.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Hotter than expected. Very sweet. Vanilla and caramel. And that's it at first. But it softens up with some air. Tart apples, grains, toasted oak, nutmeg and almonds.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltOoh. Better than the nose. Confectioner's sugar and marshmallows. Very malty and toasty. Limes, pecans and toasted coconut.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltLight smoke. Low on oak aside from a vanilla hint. Ashy in the back. Marshmallows, apricots and ginger. Has a mineral edge to it too.

Whisky Notes
THE FINISHES
Nikka Coffey GrainSalt, bitter oak, vinegar, vanilla, barrel char and tangy acidic lemon candy.
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyLight bitterness, low on sweetness. Some salt, barley, hint of smoke. Vanilla and lemon cake.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
Not much. Grains, vanilla, wood smoke, salt and toasted nuts.
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltLimes, marshmallows, vanilla and toasted coconut. A little sweet and acidic.
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltSmoke and barley. Tingly but not sweet. Mineral and lean.

Whisky Notes Rating
COMMENTARY AND RATINGS
Nikka Coffey GrainThis is one step away from being a total embarrassment for one of the world's best whisky producers. Or formerly one of the best. I'd bet Evan Williams Green Label would knock this over in a blind test, at 1/6th the price.
71
The Nikka 12 year old blended whiskyPerhaps Nikka is best at blended whiskies. This beats the new NAS Yoichi, Miyagikyo and Taketsuru. It's complex and spirit forward. Only at the finish does it start to falter. Though it's well ahead of the other four whiskies here, it would be a hell of a thing at 46%abv. Is it worth $100? No. But at $45 in Japan, it's a decent deal.
84
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Master's Select blended whisky
The nose is very good and is the only aspect that can compete with the late Hibiki 12yo. The palate starts to fizzle and the finish plotzes. Could have used more whisky and less water. Not bad overall, but it doesn't inspire me to try their regular Harmony.
78
Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve single maltA rare example of a palate that far surpasses the nose. It smells like immature (redundant?) American craft whiskey. It tastes decent, but falls so very short of the great Yamazaki single malts available only yesterday.
77
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve single maltMUCH better than the version I'd tasted in Japan two years ago, and could serve as a gentle lightly smoky daily drinker. But while Hakushu 12yo is often available for a lower price, I don't see why anyone should chase this.
80

FINAL THOUGHTS:
This wasn't the disaster I was anticipating. The Nikka 12 is legit. And thank goodness Hakushu wasn't gross. Other than the grain whisky (which I may have graded too highly), I would try any of these again. But, aside from The Nikka 12, these are all just so-so. And that's more than just one step backwards for these companies. We may need to wait another decade to find out if Suntory and Nikka are motivated to get back to the high quality of their premium whiskies, or if they're satisfied with cranking out cheap blends for the masses indefinitely. The people making the whisky take pride in the whisky, but will the ownership ever follow suit?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tamdhu 10 year old (current bottling), and pausing BARD Friday

I'm taking a few weeks off from Bourbon and Rye Day Friday. American whiskey has been my go-to for casual drinking this summer and, as often happens, I've reached a saturation point after two months. All that oak stuff exhausts my palate after a while. One might say I can't handle my wood. Or perhaps I've handled it too much.

Also my Scottish samples outnumber my American samples by a ratio of 7:1, so I need to make a dent in the scotch. And it wouldn't hurt if I occasionally reviewed a contemporary whisky.



Back when it was in The Edrington Group's portfolio, Tamdhu bottled a very limp 10 year old. I always found this odd because Edrington was simultaneously releasing excellent official versions of their other distilleries, Highland Park and Macallan. My theory had been that the 10yo was just an afterthought, with most of the Tamdhu malt going into Famous Grouse, but then The Group sold Tamdhu to independent bottler Ian Macleod. The new ownership pulled the old version off the market, replacing it with a sexier bottle, with more sherry cask action and a 125% price increase.

The bottle is cute and I do want to support a small-ish scotch company, but damn, $65 for a 43%abv 10 year old?! Luckily this whisky made an appearance at Columbus Scotch Night in July, so I was able to slink away with a review sample.

Distillery: Tamdhu
Ownership: Ian Macleod Distillers
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: 10 year old
Maturation: ex-sherry casks, a mix of American and European oak
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Colored? whiskybase says No

NEAT
Its dark gold color looks only moderately suspicious. The nose begins with an amusing combo of dark chocolate, toffee, new sneakers and a slightly funky moldy note. There's something phenolic in here, but I'm not sure it's from peat. With time it picks up toasted oak notes, and the dark chocolate turns to milk chocolate. The palate starts with a rich Oloroso note reminiscent of (if not better than) GlenDronach 12. As it opens up, it gets a spicy and effervescent feeling, like good ginger beer. Here comes some PX sweetness to go along with a bitter chocolate note. Both floral and earthy at times. The finish has fresh ginger, milk chocolate, black pepper and soil. A good length to it.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
The nose is maltier, cleaner. More toffee. Some orange peel and roses. The palate is less earthy, more peppery. The sherry is nuttier and there's just a hint of bitterness. The finish stays long. Similar to the palate, yet it picks up the nose's new orange peel and rose notes.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Much better than I'd expected. There's still some youth and funkiness to it that the big sherry doesn't choke out. Despite the low abv, it swims well, delivering a prettier whisky when diluted. Though I still balk at dishing out ≥$60 for it, Tamdhu 10 is better than most of the sherried stuff at this price, especially Mac 12. If I'm in the mood for its type, and I can find it ≤$50, then I'd buy it.

Availability - Worldwide
Pricing - $55-$70 USA, $35-$50 UK (ex-VAT)
Rating - 85

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Glen Elgin 26 year old 1985 Blackadder, cask 1527

If you studied every frame of the first episode of Killing Whisky History—and I'm sure you have—then you'll know White Horse Distillers obtained Glen Elgin distillery in 1930, utilizing its production for the White Horse blend.

Glen Elgin had foundered almost immediately upon opening in 1900, closing after five months of production. It was mothballed and sold off the following year. A wine company bought it in 1906 restarted production, then sold it to Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD), the owners of White Horse, two decades later. SMD became UD which became POS Diageo.

Glen Elgin provided an official 12 year old to the Flora and Fauna series for a couple of years before becoming part of the "Hidden Malt" series in 2002. There was a Manager's Choice bottling eight years ago, but there were no "Special Releases" of it until this year. (I don't know what's going on with the "quotes" here.)

Today's sample is a single cask from Blackadder, distilled before Glen Elgin had its current set of stills installed. This cask was all of 46.3%abv, so I'm anticipating some quirk.


Distillery: Glen Elgin
Owner: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Blackadder (Raw Cask)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: 26 years (May 1985 to November 2011)
Maturation: "Oak cask" or what was left of one
Cask number: 1527
Limited bottling: 218
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%

(Sample purchased from LASC for an event I couldn't attend in 2015.)

NEAT
Its color is very light, with Raw Cask Shmutz®! The nose......yes, some quirk. There are two sides to this creature. It has a pretty side, with stone fruits, chocolate malt, vanilla and a hint of lemon peel. Then there's this other side. Soap and turpentine. Never got The Turps from a 20+ year old scotch before. A moldy basement note sits in the middle, but I like that smell. The idiosyncrasy continues into the palate. It starts off sharp, and both soapy and earthy. Like someone didn't scrub hard enough. There's also leather and carpet. Some dried herbs, but a bitterness that feels oaky. It finishes hotter than expected. Ashy, peppery, drying and burnt. New carpet smell. Lightly malty and weirdly bitter. Adverbly adjective.

WITH WATER (~40%abv) because what the hell
The nose is better. Dusty and fruity, with some apples rolling in. Fresh oregano and candy canes. The palate remains a bit hot, but there's some decent tart citrus in there. More vanilla. That moldy basement note. Lots of the citrus sticks around for the finish, which is grassy and tingly with some mothballs. It's also longer than the neat finish.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
When they rolled this cask in for filling and pulled its bung plug, it said "LOL." It then cracked in three places and died.

The whisky is a curio, but not more than that. It improves with water. Hell, Blackadder should have broken with tradition and bottled it at 40%, because it ain't working where it is. Or perhaps they should have sent it to the Big Blend House in the Sky.

Availability - No
Pricing - Liver cells
Rating - 71 (with water only, 62ish when neat)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Drinking in Ikebukuro, Part 2

The evening from Part 1 continued...

After I left Abbot's Choice and before Will and I went to Quercus, logic would dictate that I had met up with Will. And I did! At his bar, Buffalo Tap.

Walking into Buffalo Tap, I couldn't help but grin. Will was living the dream. Or, at least my dream. And probably his dream. Here was a small neighborhood bar with maybe a half dozen seats, and a well-curated whisky and beer selection. No, there aren't 500 whiskies, but the stuff that's there is great. It's exactly what I wanted to do when I moved to Ohio, but the ancient liquor laws got in my way.


Take THAT, Bar Argyll!
I hung out with a few local folks while I had a good crisp IPA by Crux Fermentation Project. Tried that Hazelburn 9yo Barolo Cask on the left side of the above pic. It was much better than I'd expected. Then Will gave me a try of the sherry and American oak edition of Mars Komagatake which was very good.

He also poured me a bit of this bizarre thing:

Known as Suntory Za, this peculiar thing was the first blended whiskey designed by Suntory's current blender Seiichi Koshimizu, back in 2000. The good news is Koshimizu-san's whiskies got better after this one. Once Will told me this whisky spent time in cedarwood, that's all I could taste or smell in it. For more info on it, see Will's post.

Once I was done drinking Will's whisky, we headed out for some more whisky. Our first stop was Quercus (reviewed here). By the time we were done there, it was quite late. The second planned stop, Oasis, had closed. But the owner suggested we go to his new bar, Nonesuch.

It was about 2am at that point. It was time for a fourth (or fifth?) meal to keep us young folks going. We spotted an all night Indian food joint. Over mildly spice dishes and arm-sized slabs of naan, we discussed Twitter and the philosophy of David Hume, as you do.

Then it was to Nonesuch! From what I recall (blurry), it's a British music themed bar. Posters and record covers on the wall. BUT, MOST VITALLY, Starcrash was playing on a big TV in the corner. A fabulously crap Italian-produced Star Wars ripoff, Starcrash stars the lovely Caroline Munro (playing it totally straight) and Marjoe Gortner (who's unsure if the whole thing is campy or not). Hasselhoff shows up at some point, as does Joe Spinell. Christopher Plummer makes several appearances because I'm only assuming the producers were holding his family hostage. Regrettably, everyone keeps his and her clothes on, except for a giant metal robotress. Otherwise it's terribly delightful, or delightfully terrible. I own the DVD, but seeing it playing on a TV in a British-themed Tokyo bar at 3 o'clock in the morning is one of the great things.

"Imperial Battleship, halt the flow of time!"

Also, I drank this...
...which I dare say was damned good. All the single cask Chichibus I've had thus far have been impressive (and expensive). Another pic:
It was around this time I realized the trains were not in service. Will told me some lines started up at 4:30. Google confirmed this.

At 4:45am Will and I parted ways. My train ride was filled with Walk of Shamers and the early shift. When I stepped out of Shinjuku station, the sun was up. It had be 15 years since I pulled an all-nighter. Let's just say it's not as easy as it used to be.

That's one thing I learned that night. I also discovered there's still good whisky being produced in Japan. It's just not being done by the majors, for the most part. It's young whisky, but it's good whisky, and it's expensive whisky. But I'd take 'em over Kavalan any day.

I was less than 40% through my trip, but it was the last time I drank Japanese whisky while in Japan.