...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life changes, the blog continues. Unasked questions answered.

I used to fill my posts with personal news and photos. This practice decreased gradually as each of my children arrived, as I realized that most of my readers were people I don't know. While I'm sure that the vast majority of my readers are awesome folks, you know as well as I do that there are a lot of very strange individuals on the Internet. And they all drink whisky.

I'm kidding. Some drink brandy.

But I'm going to get into a little bit of personal stuff now because it affects the way I experience whisky and this blog.

The past four years have been very full. Mathilda arrived in 2014. I traveled alone to Japan in 2015. My wife and I traveled to Scotland in 2016. We sold our house and moved across the USA in 2016. I traveled alone to Japan, again, in 2017. Beatrice arrived in 2017.

2018 has been the year of sickness. Some ailments have been quickly curable, some have not. This has resulted in an abrupt dietary change in our home, as well as a significant decrease in the consumption of alcoholic products.

These changes have been shifting the way I experience drinking and buying whisky. Four years ago it was probably already clear that I was no longer interested in The Chase for the newest whisky thingamabob. That philosophy has only deepened since then. Some of you are more informed of the whisky scene than I am, but I promise I always do my best to make sure my whisky scribblings are informed.

Meanwhile, with two beautiful children and the most stressful desk job I've ever had, I've been rethinking about how I want to spend my recreational time and money. I no longer have two consecutive hours to myself, so the film world has passed me by. Reading puts me to sleep almost instantly thanks to constant eye strain. And every time I fall down an internet rabbit hole, I get angry that I let myself die for an hour like that.

My free time is better spent with something more interactive, more compelling. That's why this blog is so important to me. I hope to do more in-depth studies of brands or distilleries in 2019 to keep things interesting for you and me. I've already made some recent changes to add variety to the Diving for Pearls experience. I brought in two guest reviewers for brandy and rum. And I started the Killing Whisky History monthly video series.

Killing Whisky History also emerged because it was time to start opening up my older stuff. Those bottles do no good collecting additional dust. I'm also having a Kill Bottle event for my birthday because all my open whiskies need to be shared and emptied. Those half-finished bottles are doing no one any favors, either. It's time for a refresh.

Where does that leave that whole casual drinking thing? Well, I do much less of it than I used to. When I do drink casually, I want to it be casual. And I don't see the logic of spending $100 for a casual sipper, let alone $200. When I do shop, I'm looking for a bottle that's under $70. Six years ago, my casual bottles were $40 or less. Add that in as one more reason why I've made only four whisky purchases this year. The inhuman emotionless force of the market has failed to change. But I have. At some point along this timeline I'll leave the market to its fate, as I abandon whisky purchases altogether, and just open the bottles I already have.

But samples, though...

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lagavulin 21 year old 1991 (thank you, Brett!)

Today's sample (and many other samples) comes from Brett, a very good man who will travel great distances, through Southern California traffic, just to share a drink and hang out. He took over the reins of the OC Scotch Club, even though he lives in Riverside.

(For those of you not from the LA area, the distance between Riverside and the usual OC Scotch Club event is roughly that of Milwaukee, WI to Uranus, Uranus.)

Just before I left California, Brett invited me over to his housee. I walked through the door and exclaimed, "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE LOT OF WHISKIES."

Actually, that's not totally true. I knew he had a lot of whiskies because he sent me a list beforehand and offered up samples. So, true to self, I arrived with a dump truck full of sample bottles. Because if I'm anything, I'm a mooch. What I did exclaim when I walked through the door was, "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE LOT OF DOGS." Brett and his awesome wife, Linda, have a jubilance of doggies. A zealous of wagging tails. A fete of little noses.

Here's the whisky:

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Southern Islay
Age: minimum 21 years (1991-2012)
Maturation: 1st Fill Ex-Sherry European Oak Casks
Outturn: 2772 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52%

Leather, earth and dark chocolate take the fore in the nose. Cherry sno-cones, root beer barrel candies, banana bread and fruity cinnamon. The peat has grown very rich over the years, abandoning gloom for the daylight. Plums, salt and peat start off the palate. Then tart limes, cayenne pepper and paprika. A wee bit of other fresh stone fruits in the background. It gets leaner and saltier with time. It finishes meaty and very smoky, with some salt and a light stone fruit sweetness.

DILUTED TO 48%abv, or .5tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets beachier and earthier. Ginger, mint, cinnamon and orange oil. The palate intensifies. Big charred meat notes. Jalapeños and honey. Tar and hot cinnamon candy. The finish keeps its good length. It has that jalapeño and honey combo, but also a fresh fruity side.

Two observations. First, the whisky seems to get younger once water is added. Secondly, there are no routine sherry cask notes here. Both are good things in their own way. It's probably a lovely drink during a cold winter or a rainy autumn (frequent happenings in Riverside). It never fades even after 45 minutes in the glass.

The only issue is that Lagavulin makes superlative whisky. Is that an issue? Well, the 12yo cask strength releases are consistently killer. And the 2016 Feis Ile was a stonking honking flonking gem. And let us speak not but in hushed tones about the previous 21yo. So this 21 has a lot of competition from its own distillery's recent history, and it now goes for £1000 on the secondary market. Thus, I say, go find your Brett and try a sip of this whisky before paying a mortgage on the bottle.

Availability - Europe, primary and secondary, here and there, if you have the coin
Pricing - ££££
Rating - 89

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Glen Ord 28 year old 1975 (thank you, MAO!)

Thank you to M.A.O., the guy who knows the guy who once talked to the guy who came up with the name for the blog called My Annoying Opinions, for this sample of Glen Ord 28 year old.

When I first started reading his online opinions he went by another nom de plume. Unless his real name is Mongo. Or Mao. Or Michael. At first he seemed like a particularly prickly pear about everything whisky-related. But then I started actually reading what he was writing and found it all......reasonable. Then one day, in a private group of whisky bloggers, MAO attempted to discuss "the soft corruption" in the relationship between whisky bloggers and the industry, resulting in a chorus of the self-unaware calling him a troll. Not only was MAO correct, but he was being gentle. The corruption was and is hardcore. (It's just accepted now, I guess.) And the fact that no one in the group could admit to the slightest snuggling up made it all very discouraging. Well done, MAO. Thanks to you I hate whisky.

But I like Glen Ord. The Tri-Ords (25yo, 28yo and 30yo) that Diageo released when we were all younger have become a piece of whisky history, with the beautiful whisky inside the clonky bottle inside the shoebox. I have a bottle of the 30 year old that will be opened when I turn 130-something. My wife and I had the 25yo at Fiddler's in Drumnadrochit. And here's the 28.

Thank you, Masked Man
Distillery: Glen Ord
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 28 years (1975-2003)
Maturation: ????????????
Region: Northern Highlands
Outturn: 3600 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.3%

Oh my. The nose. An old musty wine cellar. Then fresh peaches and apricots. Moss and roses. Almond cookies. Hints of hot oregano, coastal peat and lemon cake. The palate is big and warm. Immense citrus levels. Spearmint gum. Vanilla cake, lemon candy, ginger powder and just a bit of fustiness. There's fruit (fresh and candied) in the finish. Some oak spice. Very warm.

Just a little bit of water here...

DILUTED TO 52%abv, or .75tsp of water to 30mL whisky
The nose is similar, with a little more citrus. Lemons, specifically. A bit chalkier, too. Lemon cake turns into angel cake. The hints of oregano and coastal peat remain. The fruit becomes more focused, more specific in the palate now. Think lemons and limes. A good tartness. More minerals, more chalk. Moments of coconut cream, vanilla pudding and nutmeg+molasses. That baking spice note continues into the finish, and leads to ginger snap cookies. Then lemons and a hint of vanilla. Great length.

The noses on the Tri-Ords exude near magnificence. They reveal levels and dimensions and themes and facets, and they also smell good. As MAO mentions in his review, dilution helps the palate out. There's a lot of citrus and (good) oak in the palate. Between that and the assertive ABV, perhaps the palate is held back — just a smidge — from greatness. But the nose can't be shackled. And that will push it up one point to 90, just so that I can be 1% more positive today.

Availability - Oddly not too difficult to find at online European retailers
Pricing - all over the place, but mostly $350-$500
Rating - 90

Monday, August 13, 2018

Black Bull 30 year old Blended Whisky (thank you, Jordan!)

In addition to being reviews of well-regarded whiskies, this week's posts are thank-yous to three fellows whose generosity have helped keep this blog going. Sadly, I have yet to figure out how to offer a proper thank you to Florin. Perhaps it would be a ten-part whisky tasting lasting until 4am, as how it usually goes when I visit him. (Damn, that gives me a stupid idea!)

There are many other people who have been very charitable during sample swaps or who have just handed me great stuff from the excellence of their hearts (and whisky bunkers). I can never thank you folks enough.

First up, thank you to Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail for including Black Bull 30yo in a sample swap. Apparently, Oregon is its own planet when it comes to liquor retailing. Twice I saw Black Bull 30 selling for $160 in California, but the following year those same bottles were priced above $300. Meanwhile, Oregon had them for closeout under $100.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jordan is indeed a chemist and his long-form posts are a hell of a thing — and easily readable for those of us who are not scienticians. Whether he's writing about The Physics of Double Retort Pot Stills and Thumpers or questioning the "uncritical valorization of cask strength whiskies", Jordan challenges us to think about what we drink. Also his cocktail recipes are pretty sweet.

As for Black Bull 30yo......The blend of 50% malt and 50% grain was married at birth in the late '70s, then aged in sherry casks for three decades. I'd say that's a damned good approach to making whisky. Serge thought they whisky was "top notch" and "top shelf". Nearly the entire parliament of LAWSers went a step further, declaring it among the best blends in existence (in 2009).

Brand: Black Bull
Ownership: Duncan Taylor
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Parts: 50/50 malt/grain
Maturation: Sherry casks
Age: minimum 30 years
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Bottled: 2009

Mmmmm, dunnage nose. Nutty sherry, orange peel, watermelon rind, and grape jelly. Chocolate covered roasted almonds. Sticky candy meets salty sea air. Something about the palate reminds me of Springbank single sherry casks. Maybe it's just that these were good sherry casks. Anyway, there's citrus, musty oak and French oak baking spices. Limes, toffee, salt and pepper. Light bitterness and a gentle herbal note. It finishes with oranges, salt, grapey sherry, honey and toffee. There's also some bitterness to it, as well as a mineral edge.

DILUTED TO 46%abv, or 1/2tsp of water to 30mL whisky
Baskets full of dried fruit on the nose. Hershey's syrup, roasted nuts and bananas. Ah, but there's earth underfoot. Toasted nuts and toasted oak in the palate. Chocolate + coffee. Lightly sweet. Possibly denser and richer than when neat. The finish has coffee, salt, oranges and minerals.

I tried this up against Old Perth 21yo 1996 vatted malt, which it beat, though not by a lot. It comes pretty close to the 20yo 1994 Exclusive Blended Malt I so adore. All three are examples of very good sherry cask whisky. The Old Perth and Exclusive were all malt, while this was 50/50. As with the Old Perth, the sherry cask(s) dominate Black Bull 30's content. The Exclusive vatting wins out because it's a little dirtier, while also revealing a variety of fresh fruits.

That's mostly nitpicking. Blending a blend from the start is a smart approach. Using good casks is...well...kinda the point. The 50%abv works in Black Bull 30's favor because tinkering with dilution may in fact improve the experience. Overall, the whisky should appeal to any sherried-whisky lover and would taste quite fine on a cold winter night.

Availability - Sold out worldwide, probably
Pricing - it was anywhere from <$100 to >$400
Rating - 89

Friday, August 10, 2018

Glenlossie 22 year old 1992 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 3447

I paused a day between the two 1992 Glenlossies because I was concerned you were getting burned out on Glenlossie. Goodness knows, I was burned out after trying four in two days. Also, I only had four Glenlossie samples in total, so I had to skip a day. And I don't want to leave everyone without a whisky review on Friday.

Time for full disclosure. I tried four ex-bourbon cask Glenlossies this past weekend because I've been considering buying something from this distillery. The result? I'm not going to buy something from this distillery right now. Though today's 'Lossie was my favorite of the bunch, none of these showed signs of a thrilling spirit / distillery character / whathaveyou. There's a lot of competition in the Speyside area, hell, even on the distillery grounds. Mannochmore has been more my speed thus far.

Anyway, on with the winner of the week.

Distillery: Glenlossie
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 22 years (November 18, 1992 - August 20, 2015)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask number: 3447
Outturn: 348 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Like the other whiskies this week, today's Glenlossie's color is pale. Yet it also has a slight peach tint to it that sets it apart. The nose releases a burst of very ripe very musky melons. Then cherries, vanilla, toasted coconut and roasted marshmallows. Something between lemon custard and lemon-scented soap. And something between cotton and burlap. It has a zippy fruity palate. Peach and grapefruit. Amaretto and flowers. Saltines. A slight bitterness. Its simple finish holds peach pits, salt and flowers. Sweet and lightly tangy with a warming bitterness.

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or <1tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The fruits have abandoned the nose. Barley, honey mustard and toasted oak are what remains. The palate gets much simpler. Sweet, tangy and salty, with ginger and black pepper. The finish is very similar to the palate with, perhaps, some bran flakes and more oak.

A perfectly acceptable aquaphobic whisky. Nothing is really wrong with it when neat. A good flourish in the nose. The palate proves friendly and shows little-to-no oak. It finishes moderately and agreeably. It fits perfectly in an amicable Speyside style (if that really exists). It would've been great if it could swim better, but it would be great if I could swim better too. It was nice to have two ounces of it and now I'm done. Thanks to MAO for the sample! He had a similar overall opinion of it. The whiskybase community is, as ever, more enthusiastic about it than we are.

Availability - Maybe on the European continent?
Pricing - €90ish
Rating - 85 (neat only)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Glenlossie 18 year old 1992 Signatory, cask 3329 for Binny's

Yeesh, that last 'Lossie was lame. Let us now turn to the often reliable Signatory for what should be something considerably better. Historically (read: in my experience), the Binny's crew makes good Scotchy picks too.

Of course, this Glenlossie is even less relevant than yesterday's, as it was bottled five months earlier than that one. And sold out sooner.

Distillery: Glenlossie
Ownership: Diageo
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 18 years (November 16, 1992 - June 5, 2011)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask#: 3329
Outturn: 280 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
Exclusive to: Binny's
(Thanks to Florin for the sample from, like, years ago)

The nose leads with melon, roses, lemons and grapefruit. Crayons and scented markers in the mid-ground. After a while, the fresh fruit smells drift toward artificial scratch-n-sniff fruit smells. Then in comes a hint of soap and bitter ash. The palate is extra limey. Then mild sweetness, ginger, crayon wax and the expected heat from its ABV. It finishes floral and gingery with very tart citrus.

DILUTED TO 46%abv, or 1.5tsp per 30mL whisky
The nose balances flowers, fruity candy and toasted coconut. But then, in rolls the cardboard. The palate has more vanilla and coconut to go along with the lime. It's sweeter and bitterer. Some paper and wax. The finish has become very sweet, along with a mix of tart citrus and cardboard. This results in a strange aftertaste.

That took a weird turn. How about some more water?

DILUTED TO 40%abv, or 2.75tsp per 30mL whisky
Lemon zest, notebook paper and ink on the nose. Vanilla, sugar, soap and vinegar sourness on the palate. Sweet and sour finish. Also soap.

I spent nearly two hours with this whisky (and Friday's whisky), which in hindsight was not the best idea because this Glenlossie seems averse to air and water. It was on its best behavior right up front. So I'd recommend appreciating it as a small pour in less than 20 minutes. After that, son, you're on your own.

Does anyone out there actually have an unopened bottle of this? Were US Americans madly hoarding more whisky than they could drink back in 2011? I have a feeling this review is for no one.


Availability - Exclusive at Binny's during Obama's first term
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82 (but don't wait, don't dilute!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Glenlossie Week: 11 year old 2000 Duncan Taylor Dimensions

Glenlossie Week continues with a release that's about as old as the first whisky review on this website. It's so old that the Dimensions series was still affordable when it was released. Actually the bottle is still for sale at some continental European stores, so that doesn't bode tremendously well.

Like this week's other three Glenlossies, it was aged in American oak. Due to its color, I'd bet it was a refill cask. That could be good. That could also be not good.

Distillery: Glenlossie
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Series: Dimensions
Age: 11 years old (2000 - 2011)
Maturation: a 🙁cask
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Thank you to Tetris for donating this MoM sample to D4P Laboratories!)

Its color is very pale. The nose starts off with an odd combo of white mezcal, raisins and yeast. After 10 minutes that mezcal note goes straight to Cuervo Gold. Then apples and Dove soap. The palate starts with sugar and raw heat. It has a cheap blend sourness and bite. Then comes the soap and perfume. It finishes with sugar, perfume, sourness and bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or <1tsp water per 30ml whisky
The nose ditches most of the Cuervo Gold. Picks up a little bit of stone fruit, moss and plastic. Maybe some barley. The palate gets buttery and biscuity, with some lemon. But then comes the agave/tequila thing, which expands and expands with time. The finish is the same as the palate, with extra bitter ash.

I've previously had issues with Dimension whiskies, in that they lack, well, dimensions. But this is pretty horrible when neat, like some prank combo of Johnnie Walker Red and Cuervo and dish soap. It's better with water, at first very much so. But then the cheap tequila thing barges in. And that's when I decide not to finish the sample.

Style-wise, it bears no relation to the other three Glenlossies this week. While there's a possibility that the sample could be tainted in some way, I think it's much more likely that the cask was dead dead dead. It has wrung awful compounds into the spirit, rather than filtering awful compounds out. So though it reads like 3 or 4 year old whisky, but the problem isn't the youth. The problem is bad whisky.

Availability - It can be found in Europe if you are so inclined
Pricing - Too much if not free
Rating - 68 (with water only, 10 points worse when neat)