...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Talisker 27 year old 1985 'Maritime Edition' Special Release (2013)

As part of its 2012 special releases, Diageo released a 35 year old Talisker, which was curiously more expensive than the 35 year old Brora. Rather than following that up with something older or sherried in 2013, they instead released this a 27 year old from 1985. They called it the 'Maritime Edition' for reasons unknown to me. And, frankly, the Internet hasn't helped much on that account.

For those keeping track 2013 was the year that Diageo decided to try to beat the secondary market (or just act like dicks) (or both) by greatly increasing the prices on their special editions. For instance, this 27yo Talisker was priced nearly the same as the 35, the Brora nearly doubled in price from the year before, the Port Ellen went up 150% and the market found itself its first £600 Convalmore. These price increases have continued ever since, which is interesting since most of these "Special Releases" (not named Port Ellen or Brora) remain on the shelves for years before selling through. For instance, this Talisker can easily be had in 2017 (if you have that sort of dough lying around). As I mentioned in my reviews of the still-available Oban and Convalmore releases, the wisdom of ultra-luxury pricing proves not to be airtight with these annual releases, and I wonder how long retailers will keep picking these up as they crowd the shelf with the old ones.

Back to the subject at hand. The Talisker.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 27 years old (1985-2013)
Maturation: refill bourbon casks
Bottle: 0790 of 3,000
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Not much, if any
(Many thanks to Brett for this sample!)

The color is a regular gold, as opposed to the expected DiageoGold™. The nose is, quite accurately, maritime. Malt, salt, hay, burnt plastic, smoked fish and seaweed. Whole wheat crackers, shredded wheat and smoky cocoa powder. With time, it picks up lime, bacon and more cocoa. The palate is Assertive and Austere (I've reached my monthly 'austere' quota of one). Salty and malty, strung together with seaweed, eucalyptus, wood smoke and chili oil. It gradually develops a toffee sweetness, along with some milk chocolate and lime. Its fat finish mirrors the palate with malt, salt, seaweed, chili oil, wood smoke, toffee and tart limes.

Be delicate with the water because this monster has some age to it.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
The nose picks up a new sticky honey note. Still has the smoked fish and bacon. Barley, seaweed and salt. Cracked black peppercorns. The palate blooms with water. Brown sugar, mint leaves and honey. Chocolate malt, limes, eucalyptus and a musty dunnage note. Again, the finish mimics the palate. Honey, salt, pepper and limes.

At times severe, at times lovely, this isn't just one of the better Taliskers I've ever had, it's probably my favorite single malt since my Japan trip two years ago. It likely places in my all time Top 20 whiskies. Its ability to show off brute force and grace in equal measures is reminiscent of the Laphroaig 25yos back when they were actually bottled at cask strength. I don't know what else to write about this maritime 'Maritime Edition'. It's expensive. It's a gem.

Availability - a few dozen specialty retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $550 to $750 worldwide
Rating - 93

Monday, February 20, 2017

Talisker 20 year old 1982 Cask Strength

I'm bringing Taliskravaganza 2017 to an end this week. Four weeks was plenty. Plus I'm saving few samples for the 2018 edition. Though the party is ending early, it's going out with a BANG!

Talisker bottled lightning with their three 20 year olds in 2002 and 2003. These three 20s—with ABVs of 58.8%, 59.7% and 62.0%—have received some of the highest scores for any Talisker from many reviewers (see the whiskybase community, LAWS, Whiskyfun, whisky-monitor and The Whisky Fedora).

For some reason only he knows, reader Cobo sent me a sample of the 1982 58.8%abv edition. Thank you, kind sir.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 20 years old (1982-2003)
Maturation: refill bourbon casks
Limited bottling: 12,000
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Not much, if any

Its color is amber, making it the lightest non-Lagavulin-12yo whisky Diageo has ever released. The nose is very fruit-forward. Melons, limes, grapefruits and lots of juicy tropical exotic things. It's also very malty. Some smaller notes of eucalyptus, dunnage, tar and horse stall. The palate is very approachable even with such a high ABV. Pink peppercorns, green bell peppers, light smoke and light florals. Some vanilla sweetness and minty candy. With time it develops an intense citrus blast, with some mango in the background. A ripple of tropical fruit runs through the long finish, along with the nose's dunnage and eucalyptus. Lots of lemons. Heath bar and a hint of smoke.

I've never had a Talisker like this before, and I probably never will again. All those fruits ring out like in a well-aged bourbon cask Highland malt. The smoke and phenols are present, but stay in the background most of the time. If I'm going to gripe ("If"?) it's that the palate doesn't match the nose's quality and complexity. Still, it does have a proper second gear. This whisky is a real treat and deserves its grade, but...

...I tried it next to another Talisker, one that will be reviewed on Wednesday. Something older, but newer.

Availability - Secondary market, and maybe a handful of European specialty retailers
Pricing - under $400 in some places, over $1000 in others
Rating - 90

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Barterhouse 20 year old

I return now to the Orphan Barrel series. And it won't be the last time, sorry.

Barterhouse 20yo was one of the first of Diageo's oops-look-what-we-found-in-our-warehouses series. Despite the name, each Orphan Barrel release wasn't made from one lonely barrel, but instead these whiskies each had "limited" bottle counts in the tens of thousands.

To be honest, I really like the label design and bottle shape of this entire series. On the other hand, don't really like the whiskey inside the nice bottles. Because these bourbons spent more than two decades in oak, they tend to smell and taste like wood. Makes sense, right?

Barterhouse was distilled at the old Bernheim distillery, then bottled at George Dickel distillery, then spent some portion of their maturation at a Stitzel-Weller warehouse. Diageo mentions that final aspect in all of their marketing. I can't imagine why. *Insert emoticon here*

One more note: Barterhouse's label does not list the word "straight" anywhere amongst its many other words.

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Barterhouse
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 20 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.1%
(Thanks to WhiskyWithRyan for the sample!)

I tried Barterhouse twice, once in public and once at home. Because I did not reference the first tasting's notes during the second go-around, the results are slightly different. I've listed both sets below.

Public sampling:
Flowers and split lumber. Paint fumes and hazelnuts. Plenty of vanilla and a tropical fruit note in the back.

Private sampling: Tree bark and peanut brittle. Lots of caramel. Wood pulp and pine needles. Cherry popsicles with hints of perfume and hazelnuts.

Public sampling: It's all oak. Vanilla, caramel, paper and sawdust. Paint. Creamy and acidic.

Private sampling: There's cherry candy, but it's moderately sweet. Dove hand soap. Lavender soap. Bitter woodiness. Some tart out-of-season berries. The soap notes fade with time, leaving behind paint and wood spice. It's like chewing a wooden fence. Planky.

Public sampling:
Paper, oak, caramel, acidic tart blackberries.

Private sampling: Soap and cherry candy. The cheap Red 40 version of maraschino cherries. Tart and slightly spicy. Quickly falls flat.

I am clearly not the intended demographic for this bourbon. Perhaps this gentleman would experience a deeper Barterhouse appreciation:
Like Forged Oak, Barterhouse's strongest asset is its nose. Yet, even its sniffer doesn't display the balance or depth of a modern 6-12 year old Heaven Hill bourbon. The best thing I can say about the palate is that its woody bitterness isn't as violent as Forged Oak's. And it is somewhat drinkable once the soap notes vanish. My notes on the finish should speak for themselves.

I'd take Barterhouse over Forged Oak, but not by much. I still like Lost Prophet 22yo better. Sku had some nice things to say about Barterhouse, though my take is closer to Andy's. The Whiskey Jug liked the bourbon. So did John Hansell, but his notes match no one else's. Meanwhile, Drink Spirits and Drinkhacker are less enthused. Before you go out and pay a bunch for Barterhouse on the secondary market, please take a look at some of these reviews to see what you'd be getting yourself into.

Availability - can still be found at some US retailers, more than three years after its "limited" release; also quite available on the secondary market
Pricing - $80-$300
Rating - 73

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Talisker 175th Anniversary Single Malt

Talisker distillery was founded in 1830 by the MacAskills, a pair of successful tenant farmers. Needless to say, the distillery was not owned by tenant farmers on its 175th anniversary, which was when this edition of its single malt was released.

I've seen various statements online saying there's 20-something year old whisky in the mix, while others say there's whisky up to 35 years old in there. The most thorough description I've found is this marketing blurb that appears a few sites:
To commemorate Talisker distillery's 175th anniversary in 2005 a special, limited edition expression of the Skye single malt was issued by Diageo. Talisker 175 carries no age statement and consists of a release of 60,000 bottles worldwide. It is largely the work of Diageo's Maureen Robinson, who says that some of the oldest component malts date back to the mid 1970s, while the youngest are at least ten years old. According to Talisker distillery manager Charlie Smith, 'It has all the elements of Talisker but in slightly different proportions to those in the ten or the 25-year-old. It's unmistakably Talisker, and one of the easiest drinking Taliskers I've tasted.'
So it's a 10-year-old.

I almost bought this whisky couple years ago when I found it on the shelf for something near its original price. As usual, my hesitation led to someone else scooping up the bottle a couple weeks later—after it had been on the shelf for nine years. Curiously, at a whisky event soon after, I met the very man who bought that bottle.

Cool story, bro.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: "at least 10 years old"
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Bottling date: 2005
Alcohol by Volume: 45.8%
Chill-filtration? Probably
Caramel colored? Yes

It noses like a vatting of Laphroaig 18 and Talisker 18, lightly medicinal and full of fruit (specifically nectarines). There's some old musty sherry cask funk in the mix. Then roses, citronella, dusty pepper, pound cake and dark chocolate. The sherry funk rolls right into the palate. Horseradish and a slight jalapeño sting. Chocolate malt and a little bit of vanilla. Some very dry red wine. A slight fizziness. There's oak to it, but a much different oak than what's in current Talisker, more delicate, less "rich" and gooey, never sweet. The foremost finish notes include black pepper, cocoa, and malt. There are smaller notes of brown sugar, menthol, anise and smoke.

This was much better than I'd expected. The nose is downright awesome. Its subtlety and grace might even appeal to peat-o-phobes. There are certainly some older casks in the whisky. Whether or not they were underproof casks that needed a home, they were well applied. Had the palate's quality/structure matched the sophisticated nose, I'd be talking about a near masterpiece here. The palate is good—thanks to the funk, malt and restrained oak—but it never ascends to "very good", let alone the excellence of the nose. I like the finish's simplicity but it fades a little too quickly. Still, if you can find the 175th selling at its old sub-$100 price, it's a nice thing to have.

Also see Serge's super happy review; Oliver and MAO's positive reviews; and LAWS's moderate reviews.

Availability - It's around, kinda
Pricing - $100-$250
Rating - 88 (dat nose tho)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Talisker 57º North (Current Label)

I reviewed the original label version of Talisker 57º North during the previous Taliskravaganza, three years ago, and found the stuff to be pretty awesome. I never got around to buying a bottle because its price had sailed over $100. The American TTB had approved the 57º North's label nearly four years ago, so I was also waiting for it to show up here. But it never did.

The 57º North's label got a design update, along with the rest of the range, in late 2012. That was right about the time that Talisker 10yo's quality started going downhill (in my opinion), thus I was even less motivated to buy the 57º. Thanks to Saint Brett of Riverside, I have a sample of the current labelled edition right here with me. Time to give it a try.

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: NAS
Maturation: some version of American oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Yes

Its color is DiageoGold™, as expected. The nose starts off salty and remarkably fruity (honeydew, white peach and pear). Then vanilla bean, walnuts and lemons. A happy lack of ethyl heat. Ah, but the palate is very hot. Loads of ginger, peppercorns and cinnamon. It's very tangy with a sticky sweetness and some barrel char. The heat continues through the finish. It ends with vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, sweet citrus and woody bitterness.

WITH WATER (~45.8%abv)
It gets very cloudy very quickly. Eucalyptus and cocoa powder on the nose. Then wood char, pie dough and caramel sauce. The palate is desserty sweet. It's also loaded with black pepper and woody bitterness. An occasional mothball. Keeps coming back to the intensely sugary note that reminds me of lemon bars. The finish is sweet and woody, full of lemons and vanilla.

This is an example of a whisky with an exceptional nose and an unexceptional palate. And a mediocre finish. This is likely due to two unsurprising factors: lots of oak and under-matured spirit.

New and rejuvenated American oak can produce a lot of rich bold smells, but it can't hide young whisky; instead, it becomes the pig's lipstick. So, while this whisky's nose displays more depth than that of the two 5yo indie Taliskers I reviewed last week, the palate feels as rough or rougher. Adding water doesn't help matters since it brings the wood to the fore. But, on the bright side, the nose is excellent.

American scotch enthusiasts don't have to spend over $100 to get 57º North from Europe, thanks to the weakness of the euro and pound. But still, it will set you back $80-$90. It's just not worth it, to me. I'd recommend seeking out the version with the old label instead.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers in Europe and Asia
Pricing - $80-$90 shipped from Europe, w/shipping, w/o VAT
Rating - 82 (the nose is the only thing keeping it out of the 70s)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whisky (2013)

I have served almost 150 individual world whiskies at the private and public events I have led over the past three years. And you know what was, by far, the whisky that won over the most people? This:

A screenshot from a '90s softcore Canadian sex film
Lot No. 40. Yes, a Canadian whisky. A Canadian rye. Aside from all those new Lot No. 40 fans, we've sorta gone through a few bottles on our own here in Ohio. No whisky has vaporized at this speed at home since Willett held court.

Now, like most of you, I'm not a big Canadian whisky fan. Not a lot of Canadian whiskies get reviewed on this site either. The only Canadian whiskies I've ever recommended were an early-'80s distilled Canadian Club blend and Collingwood 21yo rye. The former read like a high quality Irish blend. The latter is liquid rye bread and only appeals to specific tastebuds.

But then there's Lot No. 40, which—as I have seen live many times—has broader appeal. The 2012 version of No. 40 put it on the contemporary whisky map, and you can find a number of good reviews of it online. (Here's Serge. Here's Sku. Here's MAO.) Alas, I am not reviewing the 2012 batch today. Instead I'm reviewing the No. 40 bottled in 2013. That's the one that I've been sharing and enjoying.

Brand: Lot No. 40
Company: Corby Distilleries
Distillery: Hiram Walker Distillery
Region: Canada (a big region)
Age: ???
Mashbill: 100% rye (10% of which is malted)
Bottling Year: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Added Colorant? Also probably

There's a direct rye delivery in the nose, a fennel and mint combination that's almost absinthe-like. A soft floral (blossoms not perfume) note meets real maraschino cherries. Mint leaves become mint candies. Salty almonds and a gentle bourbon note. I give it more than 20 minutes of rest, pick up the whisky glass to give it a sniff and suddenly I'm waist-deep in a meadow of herbs. There there are moments of baked peaches and ground mustard seed in the distance. There's a pleasant, but not weak, minty spicy arrival in the palate. Some floral hints, reminiscent of young cognac. And creamy root beer. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky keeps coming back to a mix of mint, black pepper and white sugar. A slight fizziness. It has a rye bite throughout, and it builds with time. The finish has fennel in the back and a soft bitterness in the front of the tongue. Root beer. Mint leaves. A melting sweetness.

This is a great drinking whisky. When enjoying it casually, I don't find all of those notes listed above. I mostly find, "Mmmmm." That's important. Lot No. 40 stands so far apart from all the 40% Canadian blends in quality and content—yet also a bit different in character than American ryes—that it's difficult to compare it to anything else.

Back when Lot No. 40 hit The States 4+ years ago, there was a lot of blog talk about Canadian whiskies being the next big thing. As far as fads and economics go, that never happened. Apparently there are a number of Canadian ryes of quality that never pass beyond our neighbor's borders, so perhaps potential comparisons await. Until then, this is without a doubt my favorite Canadian whisky.

Availability - Available at most specialty retailers 
Pricing - $35-$65, though Ohio had it for $33 not too long ago
Rating - 87

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Talisker "Tactical" 26 year old 1974 Old Malt Cask

Like the whisky from yesterday's review, today's Talisker is a low-abv release from an independent bottler who couldn't use the distillery's name. I tried the two whiskies side-by-side. Yesterday's Talimburg was like a funky herbal liqueur, lessee what today's Tactical turns out to be.

Name: Tactical
Actual Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 26 years (May 1974 - August 2000)
Maturation: an old malt cask?
Bottles: 292
Alcohol by Volume: 44.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Thanks to Cobo for providing the sample!

Its color is gold, darker than yesterday's 19yo. The nose is full of minerals and earth. Chalk, clay and salt. Apples and almonds. Dunnage funk. After 20ish minutes in the glass, the nose trends towards white grapes and peaches. After 30 minutes, vanilla bean and honey appear. The palate starts with lots of baking spice: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. More pepper than smoke. Briney, with some horseradish. After 20ish minutes, it picks up mint leaves. The brine and horseradish turns into a zesty herbal bitterness. After 30 minutes, it gets toasty, with a gentle toffee sweetness. The finish stays fruity throughout. Sometimes fruit cocktail, sometimes tart limes. Toffee, mint and a light bitterness.

Though I do like the 19yo Talimburg's herbal liqueur style, this 26yo Tactical is more my jam. The herbal notes are there, but so is an impressive amount of minerality (on the nose), sweets and spice (on the palate) and fruit (in the finish). The complexity dazzles considering the low abv, so thankfully the angels didn't steal all the good stuff. If you have a bottle of this release stashed away, Mazel Tov. It's a great one.

Availability - 
Happy Hunting!

Pricing - ???
Rating - 90