...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old 2005 Single Cask Nation, cask 900165

Single Cask Nation hit the big time last year as round after round of their single casks appeared then disappeared at many popular whisky retailers. The first of these releases I'll review is also the third 13-year-old Ledaig of this week.

This whisky is part of the ever expanding 900000 series of 2005 Ledaig casks that found their way to a number of independent bottlers. The cask numbers started with a pair of Berry Bros releases (900008 and 900012), then bounced around to a few random indies, then to Sansibar for several casks, then stayed with Signatory for 16 consecutive casks and then hopped over to Elixir Distillers. This SCN cask number (900165) sits in the middle of the Elixirs. Most, if not all, of the 900000s are sherry casks and many have very good reputations, especially the Siggies. Did the distillery sell or trade off this massive parcel? If so, I hope they held onto a few for official releases.

Cask 900165 is a second fill sherry butt, but the whisky is very dark, the reddest of this week's Ledaigs. I've a had few recent "refill" casks that were outrageously sherried, leaving me wondering if they were all re-seasoned and/or recharred.

This 13-year-old hit the market at $140, a price point that disincentivized me from getting a bottle. It didn't stop other folks, so I went in on a bottle split and set my expectations high.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 13 years (Oct 2005 - March 2019)
Maturation: Second fill sherry butt
Cask: 900165
Outturn: 575 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is......yep. Need more than that? A muscular herbal peat meets moderate nutty sherry in perfect balance. There's rotting kelp, charred veg, almond extract, pound cake, one cherry lollipop and a squeeze of lemon. The palate matches the nose very well, with a lovely nuttiness and dark chocolate pairing with salty seaweed peat. Mild sweetness, a little bit of citrus and big herbal bitterness. It finishes with toasted seaweed, sooty smoke, almonds, bright bitterness and a hint of sweetness.

It pains me to reduce this. But for science:

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has cotton candy(?!), tar, old rye spiciness, cherry shisha and baked pears. The palate doesn't have the nose's candy shop, rather it's an intensely bitter herbal thing with some sweet white fruits providing some balance. Plenty of tar as well. White fruits, bitter herbs and tar in the finish.

This excellent whisky from the Single Cask Nation crew leveled the other two Ledaigs in the big matchup. It was all over in the opening moments. The cask's weight and the spirit's intensity stay well-balanced (and delicious) throughout, something I don't find that often with sherry + peat. I have nothing but more hyperbole to spill about this. Expectations surpassed.

Availability - Sold out, or almost thus
Pricing - $140
Rating - 90

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old Port Pipe Matured

I may be entering more cask-driven territory now with this heavily-peated Tobermory spirit that spent its entire life in Port Pipes (probably 5 or 6, per the total outturn). Despite early negative expectations set by some whisky geeks, I have had decent experiences with many port cask matured single malts, including a few peated ones items, with Benriach's 17 year old Solstice marking the summit. I don't know why it works for a palate that could without wineskies forever. Maybe the key is tawny port? I like tawny port.

Ledaig, though. Expectation level set to: Sure, What the Hell.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: Port pipes
Outturn: Two releases, 3,199 bottles
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 58.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(from a purchased sample)

Opposite of what I'd anticipated, this has the most muted nose of the three Ledaigs. There's a minor Caol Ila / Ardmore-esque snuffed bonfire note and a little bit of ocean along with flowers and baked plums and blueberries. The palate feels big but its elements are difficult to discern over the first couple of sips. There's plenty of berry essence without the sugar. Smoked fish and wood smoke. Tart and bitter citrus. There's also a curious grainy note in the background. The mouth-drying finish has lots of heavy smoke, tart citrus, the aforementioned grainy note and lots of heat.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes very pretty with its flowers, pineapple and fruit cocktail. The smoke and ocean notes grow, and brown sugar makes an appearance. The palate is more on herbs and grasses, now. Good bitterness, subtle sweetness. Milder smoke. It finishes dry and grassy. It feels young, but no mezcal this time.

These were certainly not wet port pipes, or they were gingerly seasoned because the fortified wine note remains minor throughout. And the pipes' large surface area prevented the whisky from getting woody. It also resulted in another youthful Ledaig. It's less funky and more friendly than the 13yo Amontillado finish, but there's also an odd drying aspect to the finish that I didn't enjoy. Expectations met, I guess, though not surpassed.

Availability - Sold out, or almost thus
Pricing - €120-€140
Rating - 84

Monday, August 10, 2020

Ledaig 13 year old Amontillado Cask Finish

Three 13-year-old Ledaigs this week! Because!

Leading off is an official 13yo that was bottled in 2017 and cost (usually) under €100 back then. The only major harrumph I'll harrumph today is regarding the "Cask Finish" as its length is unspecified, so it could have been 10 years or 10 days. A little help here, Tobermory.

Expectations set to: Moderate Enthusiasm. The official 10 is good and the first batch of the 18 was positively odd, but the three 19s I reviewed last year were disappointing. Thus I'm glad Dr. Springbank risked a bottle and sent me a sample. Time to test my luck!

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: bourbon casks for ? years, Amontillado casks for ? years/months/weeks/days
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 59.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No
(sample from Dr. Springbank. Thank you!)

The nose is somewhat reminiscent of the weird early-90s Ledaig that disturbs some drinkers while delighting others. There's hard cheese, walnuts, baked potatoes, smoked salmon and mezcal (a.k.a. breakfast). Grasses and cocoa powder appear after some time. Ah, the sherry's in the palate. It still has the walnut and aged cheese notes but now those are met with dried berries and golden raisins. It hauls along loads of salt and a massive youthful sneaker peat wallop. It finishes hot and salty, with bitter smoke, sneaker peat and a hint of sherry.

May I attempt Distell's favorite ABV?

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Though the nose is bolder and farmier, it also holds almonds cookies and peach and pear nectars. Some apple juice and ginger candy. The peat now trends towards seaweed. The palate reads both very young and very sherried, at first. Classic oloroso (not Amontillado) style, too, which is strange but we're in Ledaig Land now so...there it is. It sweetens and softens up with time. It finishes with farmy smoke and mild sweetness.

Keep going:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or about 1 tbsp of water per 30mL whisky
It's getting younger now? The nose is all yeasty, malty newmake, with confectioner's sugar, flowers and mint. Sugar, almonds and sneaker peat in the palate and the finish.

This Ledaig presents the reverse of Friday's Kilkerran, wherein this whisky's original bourbon cask maturation seems to have resulted in very little maturation, and then the distillery tried to give it a little nudge with secondary sherry cask aging. It sresults in something reading half the listed age, but it works better (for me) than all those indie single-digit mezcal-Taliskers. I like this whisky best when neat where the sherry works well and the nose is the oddest. This style may be divisive. I'm more than moderately enthused, but this isn't a casual sippin' whisky.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Friday, August 7, 2020

Kilkerran 15 year old Oloroso Wood single cask

Welcome to the future! Ignore, for a moment, the daily horrors and realize 15-year-old Kilkerran exists. I'm not going to fire up The Chamber Brothers yet, but the years have indeed passed and now there's no need for a whisky fan to ask "What if they let Kilkerran age?".

Four of us considered splitting a $260 bottle of this Oloroso single cask, then decided against it. Now stores in Southern California are pricing it at nearly $500, which is $100-$150 more than individual flippers are trying for. Consider the tariffs and everyone's favorite importers, then consider how much of that $500 Springbank would actually receive. Welcome to the future! (The future, Mr. Gittes.

But the whisky. Look on the back label and you'll read something utterly outlandish: "This Kilkerran Single Malt Scotch Whisky has been matured for ten years in a fresh oloroso sherry butt, followed by five years in a refill bourbon hogshead." That right there is something called cask management. Or someone tripped over an "Oops!" cask five years ago. I'm not going to say which I believe, but...

I did wind up joining a larger group who split a bottle. My two ounces:

Distillery: Glengyle
Owner: Mitchell's Glengyle Limited
Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 15 years (May 2004 - October 2019)
Maturation: 10 years in a fresh oloroso sherry butt, then 5 years in a refill bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 280 bottles
Bottled for: U.S. of A.
Alcohol by Volume: 51.5%
(from a bottle split)

The nose's first wave of hazelnuts, pine and ocean remains for 10-15 minutes before revealing nectarines, melons and cherries underneath. Toffee pudding and sweeter fortified wine notes appear later. Calmer than the nose, the palate has some of the fruit but much more nutty dry sherry. Moderate notes of mesquite smoke and barn. Lightly sweet with some bitter oranges. Thick mouthfeel. It finishes with pine sap and smoke residue, gradually sweetening up with blackberries and blueberries.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose begins tilting toward a classic sherried Speyside style, then is rescued by small notes of seaweed and beef stock. The palate has become bitterer, but it also holds sweet cherries and a mild cigar. And a little bit of that seaweed. The finish is similar to the palate, though slightly sweeter.

It's good! But I'm of many minds about this whisky. If one is a fan of deeply sherried whisky then know this Kilkerran delivers on that level. For those Kilkerran fans looking for some Kilkerran in their Kilkerran, some digging needs to be done here. Though greatness was in this whisky's grasp, the first ten aggressive years nearly wiped out the excellent umami, fruit and phenolic notes. Dilution and air are again the key, so gradually apply more of each to find what you're looking for.

This can be a fun whisky in a historic sense (until the 20 year olds appear in five years) and if you can find it close to the distillery's suggested retail price then I'll bet it's a swell winter warmer. For my palate, though, I like the WIP 7 Sherry Wood a little better and the Open Day 2016 sherry cask even more.

Availability - Secondary market and secondary market-styled retailers
Pricing - All over the place
Rating - 87 (diluted)

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