...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Rum Dummy drinks Hampden 18 year old 1998 Kill Devil

I like three things. Rum, not reading rum reviews and not writing rum reviews. But Mr. Diving for Pearls gave me free rum (which is better than rum) so I'll write this. But I won't read it.

I've been told to thank "MAO" for this rum because "MAO" finances this entire site. Thank you, "MAO"?

Hampden distillery makes good rums. Their old rum is usually not cheap. Their old rum is usually not in America. The old rum is in Europe because Europe is so much closer to Jamaica than America is.

You can keep shipping costs down by piggybacking off your sad friend who buys at least 14 whiskies a month from Europe and then brags about it. The more he buys, the less you pay. Everyone wins, except for him.

I had nothing to do with this picture.

A review:

Nose - Olives, black licorice, honey. Banana nut loaf. Hot tar, dead leaves. Lots of brine. Ping pong paddle.

Palate - Charred pizza crust, black olives, honey, leather, soil and black sesame seeds. Blackberry jam, with salt.

Finish - Charred pizza crust, sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. WD-40. Banana pudding. Salt. Good.

Three interesting things about this rum. It has no grain, but there's bread to it. I can't stop drinking it. I can't stop drinking it.

I'm naming my next dog Hampden. Or Kill Devil.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Edradour and Ballechin twins! Same bottler, same year, same cask type.

First, Hazelburn and Longrow. Now, Edradour and Ballechin. My original intro was five paragraphs long, let me just outlineify it here:
  1. Edradour distillery produces unpeated single malt (Edradour) and heavily peated malt (Ballechin)
  2. Edradour distillery is owned by the independent bottling company, Signatory.
  3. van Wees, a Dutch indie bottler (allegedly) draws its single barrels from Signatory's warehouses.
  4. van Wees releases a few Edradour and Ballechin single casks each year.
    1. Usually ex-sherry casks for Edradours
    2. Usually ex-bourbon casks for Ballechins
As soon as I spied a sherry cask Ballechin, I swooped in and got semi-matching samples: Ballechin and Edradour, both distilled in 2008, matured in sherry butts and released by van Wees in their The Ultimate series.

Check the photo for the stats. Note the very similar ABV. Also the butts had very similar outturns: 696 and 694.

To the tasting!


Edradour (8yrs 1day) - It starts off with oranges, cinnamon and dried apricots. Then raspberry jam, fudge, cardamom, nutmeg and a whiff of butterscotch. And, yes, plenty of alcohol.
Ballechin (9yrs 178days) - Smoked fish, eucalyptus and clementines. Dried cranberries, ocean air, ham and charred peat. With time in the glass it picks up baked pears with cinnamon and sugar.

Edradour - Dried fruit, especially cherries and golden raisins. Very salty. Tart lemons and raspberry jam. Sweet and heat. Thick mouthfeel.
Ballechin - Massive mossy peat. Charred veg and not-charred dried fruit. Lightly sweet, lots o' heat. Cinnamon and Tabasco sauce. Develops some bitterness with time.

Edradour - Sweet. Berries, fresh and dried. Tart lemons and a hint of woody bitterness. But its the ethyl heat that lingers longest.
Ballechin - More of that huge peat. Chili oil. Very little sweetness. Similar heat and bitterness to the Edradour.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or <2tsp water per 30mL whisky

Edradour - Fudge and flower blossoms. Lime peel, prunes and raisins. Very big even at this ABV.
Ballechin - Ledaig, is that you? Seaside, peaches, cinnamon, peat and citronella.

Edradour - 
Plum wine, tart berries, ginger ale and cream soda. It's very peppery and drags along some woody bitterness.
Ballechin - Somehow the peat feels even bigger and darker. Quite a tar note. Well beneath the peat is a balance of sweetness (brown sugar), salt, savory and moderate bitterness.

Edradour - A mix of cayenne pepper, grape jam, bananas and bitterness.
Ballechin - Char, dark chocolate and salty ham.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or ~1Tbsp water per 30mL whisky

Edradour - Very manageable. Mint leaves, ginger, anise, blackberry jam and Macallan 12.
Ballechin - Just char, mint and brine.

Edradour -
 It has become creamier, with fresher fruits (think plums and pears). Ginger powder.
Ballechin - Still plenty of punch to it. Peat and pepper and salt. Tart citrus and oak spices.

Edradour - Pepper, berries and bitterness.
Ballechin - Identical to the palate.

You may read quotes from "experts" that the cask is 2/3s or 3/4s or 70% responsible for a whisky's final character. Well, the Edradour is 100% cask. It is at times a very good cask. At other times it's too aggressive, held only in check by the high alcohol content. It seems to be doing its best Orphan Barrel Bourbon imitation with all that woody bitterness. But it gets better the more it's diluted.

The Ballechin is all Andrew WK. With peat levels that would embarrass southern Islay, heat levels that rival Stagg Jr and sherry levels comparable to, well, the Edradour, this 9 year old Ballechin a whole lot of too much. Which works. If you're into that sort of thing. If it could shed the bitterness, I'd love to see it arm wrestle one the many murderous SMWS Port Charlottes.

At full strength, Ballechin's outrageousness wins. Yet as the whiskies are diluted, the Edradour reveals more stamina and complexity......even though it's all cask. But, in the end, it's all combustion.

EDRADOUR 8yo 2008 van Wees, cask 118
Availability - continental Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 w/o VAT
Rating - 85 (with water)

BALLECHIN 9yo 2008 van Wees, cask 189
Availability - continental Europe
Pricing - €50-€60 w/o VAT
Rating - 84 (neat)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Springbank 14 year old 2002 Bourbon Wood

A new-ish Springbank! Serge Valentin, whose soul patch maintains the whiskyfun Twitter account, reviewed it. MAO, whose handlebar mustache grades students' essays, reviewed it. Now it's time for me, whose Rabbi Haddock beard helpfully saves the contents of every meal, to review it.

Unlike so many of Springbank's brands' cask strength releases. this whisky is entirely from former bourbon casks. This sort of release is likely more difficult to produce than it sounds. Too much oak influence will cause a large portion of fans to complain about the smothered spirit. Too many limp casks could result in hot, sharp, immature whisky. And with Springbank's deservedly great reputation, expectations will be high for each thing they do.

I was very lucky to get a sample of this whisky twice(!), thanks to MAO and Matt W.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 14 years (November 2002 - August 2017)
Maturation: "Fresh and Refill Bourbon Barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 55.8%
Limited Bottling: 9000

Because I had such a nice quantity of this Springbank, I tasted a full strength and diluted (46%abv) version side by side.

46%abv - Gummi bears and peach candy. The moderate simple unobtrusive oak lets some wort and bright lemony notes shine through. There's also plastic toys, brine and some distant vanilla. Very little peat.
Full strength - Less fruit, weightier oak. Salty and a hint of something savory. Lime peel, caramel candy. A little bit papery. More heat, obviously, but also more peat.

46%abv - A little of the nose's fruit, mostly tart stuff. A creamy, vanilla side with some brown sugar. Ginger and cinnamon candy. Some heat. Woody bitterness and a surprising amount of heat.
Full strength - The alcohol burn seems to be holding back some good stone fruit. Lots of salt. Metal. Limes and lemons. A bit peppery. Acid and bitterness levels build with time.

46%abv - Tart citrus and pepper. Bitter. Some sweetness rolls in to balance things out. Medium length.
Full strength - Heat, salt, citrus and metal. A sweeter fruit element comes in late for an assist.

My tasting notes sit somewhere between Serge's and MAO's, though I hold the whisky in slightly lower esteem. Dilution is key with this one, because (for me) the goal is to push back the heat and bitterness to find that fruit. It's that bitterness and acidity that give my palate trouble. I don't mind the vanilla or caramel here because they work well with the rest. Perhaps I hold Springbank to a high standard because recent batches of their standard 10yo have been spot on, or perhaps the spirit has gotten to the point that it performs best with a little bit of sherry cask influence, or perhaps I'm full of shit.

Availability - Some specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $100-$125 (why) 
Rating - 84 (diluted only)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

For those keeping score, Bruichladdich's The Classic — their NAS offering — has undergone a few design changes. First it was just Classic, in the old livery. Then there was Laddie Classic Edition_01, complete with the underscore and charade that this was the first edition. A brief hot flirtation resulted in Sherry Classic. Next, a brand-wide movement towards showcasing barley terroir motivated the Scottish Barley The Classic Laddie, with Scottish Barley getting the BIG FONT. Finally (for now) came the switch to The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley, with the classic-ness receiving the visual emphasis. The whisky's Scottishness was deemed less important than branding and/or subjectivity getting the upper hand on objectivity.

Because I've had mixed feelings about Bruichladdich's recent unpeated output, I'd expected this triple-tasting to be utterly unfair and humiliating (if one can humiliate an inert liquid) to the most current of the "Classic Laddies". But *SPOILER ALERT* the results were not that imbalanced.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Western Islay
Age: ???
First Maturation: probably just American oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Well, they're not kidding about the barley (on the nose at least), perhaps it should have gotten first billing?!.?!1.? A little bit of yeast and wort and flowers and cocoa powder. Anise and apple skins. Some barn and metal. Sugar and cinnamon. Maybe a peep of white tequila. The palate is full of clean crisp spirit. Very little heat, despite its age and alcohol content. Roasted nuts and mild sweetness. Hints of subtle smoke, like a polite mezcal. Tangy, tart fruit and brown sugar. The finish leads with roasted grains, cayenne pepper and brown sugar. Mint leaves and a hint of yeast. Very tingly and green.


I expected very little from this whisky, especially since I had so many issues with the 8 year old. And I paired it up with two near titans. And yet, it held its own.

As I referenced in the tasting notes, the crisp clean spirit shines without burning. It's not too sweet nor does it scrape the tongue like so many other very young whiskies. The barley is the whole show, not whatever "The Classic" is. It's an ultra-young malt that succeeds without heavy peating. These things do exist. I like it. Kristen liked it. I might even buy it if I can find it for less than $50.

Availability - Most specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - $45-$65 worldwide
Rating - 85

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 27 year old 1985, aka DNA4

The fourth and final release in the much too brief DNA series, this whisky was distilled in MCMLXXXV like the DNA3 I reviewed yesterday. While its cask types are undisclosed, I'm going to guess they're all ex-bourbons, which made it a great contrast with its predecessor. Unlike DNA3, this edition has an actual distillation date listed on the back label (along with a random Orson Welles reference) which means these weren't just a bunch of random casks. You have octuplets! It rolls right off your tongue, and into your heart. Oc-tup-lets. Oops, we're not supposed to be talking about Apu right now. Also, they could be nontuplets or dodecuplets for all we don't know.

As mentioned yesterday, I tasted this whisky alongside DNA3 and the current Scottish Barley from Bruichladdich. Here's the review of DNA4, the 27 year old.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 27 years (March 7, 1985 - August 22, 2011)
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks?
Outturn: 1698 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(from a purchased sample)

It has a nice amber color to it. It noses of chalk and dirty rocks. Almond extract, yellow plums, white nectarines and pears. More time in the glass brings out more fruits, such as pineapple. A hint of barn. Mint and honey. It smells like sunshine. It also has that great oily mouthfeel. Lots of barley, tart apples and blackberries on the palate right up front. Then green peppercorns and a bitter bite. Hints of wood smoke, cocoa and grassy leafiness. Lemon juice. It finishes as earthy as the nose. Tart fruits, leaves, lemons and peppercorns. Chili oil and honey.


Another lovely thing. I'm impressed by the casks' restraint. (Or maybe I've gotten to used to contemporary whisky woodwork.) The palate is good, but the nose is sublime. I can gripe a little bit about the finish, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could wonder how many more of these well rested barrels were dumped and candied by those indie owners, but I'm going to focus on the positive. And I could also marvel about the tremendous and complex palate the 25yo had but this had not, but I'm going to focus on the positive. This is great ex-bourbon cask whisky.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 89

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mathilda Malt: Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV 25 year old 1985, aka DNA #3

Since my Littlemill stash is indeed little, I decided to do something slightly different to celebrate Mathilda's birthday this year.

Consider the Bruichladdich DNA series. While the McEwan/Reynier regime devoted half their business to drowning thousands of Invergordon Distillers-era 'Laddich single malt in Mogen David, ex-Listerine octaves or wine spit cups (or all the above in the Black Fart series), they chose to release the four "DNA" single malts nearly unscathed. Were these casks (likely less than 40 for the four releases combined) left alone because they were deemed good enough? Or were they put out to provide a wider range of color amongst the pink and burgundy hue of Bruichladdich's other releases?

I'd like to find out. So I tried two of the DNAs along with the current Remy Cointreau-era Scottish Barley Bruichladdich, which probably isn't that much older than Mathilda.


DNA #3 was bottled the year I started writing about whisky, back when everything was amazing! Everything except Murray McDavid. Back in 2011, there were a lot of Bruichladdichs on the shelf, which was "fun" and strange and confusing and I ignored them.

Like many of the 'Laddie oddities, DNA #3 has some good age to it. Unlike many of the 'Laddie oddities it comes from a mix of classic casks: ex-bourbons and sherry butts (or just sherry butts depending on one's sources).

Now, how they got Jim McEwan's DNA into the whisky isn't safe to speak of on a family blog such as this. Let's just say no one will second guess the man's affinity for sherried butts ever again.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership at time of distillation: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Western Islay
Series/Gimmick: DNA
Age: 25 years (1985-2011)
Maturation: Whiskybase says bourbon casks and sherry butts, TWE says sherry butts
Outturn: 1665 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.1%
(from a purchased sample)

It has the darkest color of the three. Its nose leads with milk chocolate, Worcestershire sauce, soda bread and ocean air. Then there are the mangoes. Tobacco, dunnage and a subtle earthiness. York peppermint patties, a slight beefiness. That salty air note blends with the chocolate flawlessly. Oh wow, such a thick mouthfeel. On the palate it's chocolate with smoked almonds. A slightly savoriness. Dried apricots and cranberries. Clementines and melon. Limes and ginger. Despite the expanding fruit notes, it's never very sweet. An underpinning of bitterness and pepper lends balance and complexity. It has a very earthy, almost smoky, long finish. Think fresh cigars (Habanos). Very warming. A ginger+peppery zing meets the palate's dried fruit.

Never had the urge.

Fabulous. Rich and balanced. Fruit, earth and killer casks. This is the sort of whisky that can spoil a person rotten and make him sneer at most modern sherried malts.

The early '90s Invergordon/W&M era of Bruichladdichs can be a mixed bag, but this is my first try of a mid-80s malt from this distillery and it's a candidate for my favorite technically-unpeated Bruichladdich ever. Only one other can compete...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - somewhere between £200 and £300
Rating - 91

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mathilda Rose turns 4!

Here she is, posing with the two snow demons I'd summoned to appease Kuraokami.

You don't see your child grow up in real time. There are the moments when she'll do something that has always been just beyond her, and you gasp involuntarily. Or the sudden realizations of, "When did she get so big?", as you feel a great loss and a great gain at the same time.

Mathilda wants to be a big girl and a baby at the same time. (Which is kinda the human condition in general.) But her grasp of math, art and architecture (really) is the most amazing thing I've witnessed aside from the girls' births, and that time this little girl just stood up and started walking. I'd like to think she gets her math skills from her nerdy father. But the artistic side ain't from my people. In fact it's totally foreign to me, and it makes her her own person — which she's always been, anyway, since birth.

Happy Birthday, Mathilda Rose. The possibilities hiding in every moment have become infinite ever since you've been around.