...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Three Talisker 18s: An introduction

Diageo doubled the breadth of the Talisker range, from two to four, in 2004, by adding an 18 year old and a 25 year old to a line that had only included a 10 year old and the Distillers Edition. While the 25 year old was aimed for the ultra-luxury market, the 18 offered Talisker enthusiasts a way to ascend the consumer's ladder for a smaller premium. The 10 year old was about $40, while the 18 year old cost $80. That opportunity ended abruptly when Diageo hoisted the 18's price to $150 in 2012. This increase met with widespread grievance from customers and some retailers, as one of the best deals in the single market was gone.

New packaging, from boxes to labels, came with this price increase, so the whisky itself was not only more expensive but it looked different. I had been a very vocal devotee of the 18 year old in its previous livery, so I was curious when three whisky friends from different parts of the world told me, separately, that the "new" 18 year old was not nearly as good as the "old" one. And I wondered, "Had a change in recipe been partnered with the new visuals?

I dare say, 2012 is now a long time ago. And I'd been waiting to do a comparison of Talisker 18s since then, but I didn't know how.

My cupboard included one bottle of the 18 in its new packing, purchased for me by my wife. That was probably the last whisky bottle she bought for me because we both later agreed that more whisky bottles is not what our household needs.

Two years ago,  I discovered to my great surprise that I had saved a sample from my last old-label 18. It wasn't even in my whisky spreadsheet, so I had discovered a secret I was trying to keep from myself.

That then inspired me to scour the European auctions for an older bottling of the 18, specifically a 20cL bottle (one of the great bottles sizes, if not the best), and found just the one.

So there were three. One bottled in 2006, during the 18 year old's early years. One from 2011, just before the pivot, and one from 2012, just after.

The comparison was scheduled for late February 2020 but I could no longer fend off the anticipation. The tasting was moved to the day I write this introduction. In two days, I will post the results.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

All The Baby Laing Taliskers, including this Talisker 6 year old 2009 Old Malt Cask for K&L

Independent Talisker releases by vintage:

2012 - 0
2011 - 7 (all by Laing companies, all 5 to 7 years old)
2010 - 11 (all by Laing companies, all 6 to 8 years old)
2009 - 16 (all by Laing companies, all 5 to 8 years old)
2008 - 31 (mostly or all by Laing companies, one was 9 years old, the rest were 5 to 8 years)
2007 - 0

At some point, the Laing family of independent companies obtained a sizable collection of Talisker casks that had been barreled between 2008 and 2011. And they've released 99% of them at 8 years of age or younger. If 10 or 11 year old Laing Talisker was going to make an appearance, 2019 would have been the year for it. But nothing yet.

Why is this happening?

(If anyone from the Douglas Laing side of things is reading this, please share!)

I've experienced four of these baby Taliskers (including today's), and owned one bottle. The first time a drinker tries one of these wee Talis it's kind of neat, in a raw mezcal sort of way. But no one with tastebuds in his face would say the whisky is anywhere within sight of Talisker at its best.

Meanwhile, on the financial side of things, imagine the whisky geek excitement of 11+ year old indie Talisker. Imagine the prices! Can be I an optimist and hope there are 200 more Talisker casks sitting in a non-Diageo warehouse, destined to provide the whisky world with a journey of Talisker through the ages?

I can understand why a retailer would scoop up one of these casks. It's Talisker, a known name, something that will sell faster than a six year old Tullibardine. And maybe that's the engine behind it all.

In any case, today's whisky doesn't among to be one of the above listed 65, so we can call it the 66th baby Laing Talisker. It's a single cask exclusive to US retailer K&L Wine Merchants, and the sample comes from My Annoying Opinions. How those two must love sharing space in the same sentence!

Distillery: Talisker
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 6 years
Distillation year: 2009
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

The nose starts out farmy, yeasty and raw. Slightly briny. Lots of cinnamon syrup, a few Glenfiddich-like pears. It gets cheesier with time, and very sugary. The palate is hot and acidic, vaguely grainy and peaty on the first two sips. Then comes the yeast and cheese. Then a grape candy sweetness that nearly takes over. Some dusty smoke lingers in the background. It has a drying, yeasty, cheesy finish with bursts of refined sugar and smoky mezcal.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose has shifted to peated simple syrup, sharp cheddar and limes. The palate and finish are both very sweet and very yeasty.

I think disliked this less than MAO. We both found the yeast and mezcal bits. He experienced lots of plastic while I tasted lots of sugar. But we came to similar conclusions as you may see in the score below.

Farmy and yeasty notes aren't dealbreakers for me, in fact Tobermory often finds a way to weave them right. But they don't work well here as they crash into the piles of cheese(!) and sugar. I have to think doubling the maturation time would have helped it all out.

Is this (and Macallan M) the future of single malts? Or are 5-6 year old whiskies an aberration, something we will have forgotten about in 5-6 years? If not, that'll keep my spending down.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $40
Rating - 74

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Talisker 15 year old 2002, Special Release 2019

πŸ₯³πŸŽ‰πŸ₯³πŸŽ‰πŸ‘» It's new whisky! New. Ish. Newish. Let's just say it's recent. πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‚πŸ₯🎸πŸ₯³

Diageo's 2019 Special Releases came and went and mostly avoided these United States. There was no Caol Ila, peated or un. There was 14 year old Cardhu and 12 year old Cragganmore, which is so unhip that it's almost hip. In fact it's one of the least sexy batches (no Brora! No Port Ellen! No thousand-dollar grain whisky!) yet.

I missed out on last year's allegedly awesome 8-year-old Talisker, so I was happy to get in on a bottle split of this year's 15-year-old Talisker. That was before I realized this 15 was entirely from "freshly charred American oak hogsheads" (per the press releases). Being that there are more than 42,000 bottles in this release, Diageo either did a whole lotta rejuvenating or went deep on new oak (~200 casks) in 2002.

May this whisky succeed despite the great effort to smother the Talisker spirit!

No Tauntauns were harmed in the production of this photo.
Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: at least 15 years old (2002 - 2018?)
Maturation: "freshly charred American oak hogsheads"
Outturn: 42,222!
Alcohol by Volume: 57.3%
Chill-filtration? ???
Caramel colored? ???
(from a bottle split)

The nose is quite the candy shop: cinnamon, mint, Big Red gum, Juicy Fruit gum, Haribo bears, toasted marshmallows and cotton candy. Limes + coconut cream = piΓ±a colada. And a little bit of ocean-y peat. Meanwhile, the palate is much less sweet than the nose leads on. Ginger, toasted oak, toasted coconut and mellow peat smoke are right up front. A mocha-like note (similar to Westland's malt of all things) and sweet lemons are in the background. The finish is similar to the palate, albeit a little tangier and sootier.

DILUTED TO ~45.8%abv, or 1½ tsp per 30mL whisky
Limes, cinnamon, flower blossoms and some mild vanilla on the nose. It's a little smokier and Talisker-ish at this strength. The palate is better balanced. More cayenne pepper, less sugar. More limes, more moss, more salty peat. A little bit of pickled ginger. Again, the finish matches the palate, with a little more sweetness.

Though this is indeed a unique Talisker expression, was anyone actually asking for such a creature The neat nose is quite, uh, quite. Sort of like one of William Lumsden's noodlings, I suppose. It's all MUCH preferable when reduced to classic Talisker strength (45.8%abv / 80 UK proof) as the coconuts and sugar jump ship.

Not a lot of Talisker in this Talisker for Talisker enthusiasts. But overall the whisky is better than I'd expected (especially when diluted), topping the Skye, Storm and Port Ruighe bottlings, while falling short of all the age-stated regular releases. But never fear, Thursday brings an even less vital Talisker...

Availability - Europe, whatever that may be as you read this
Pricing - €110-€140
Rating - 84 (diluted only)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Edradour 13 year old 2005, cask 145

On Wednesday I reviewed a heavily-peated bourbon cask NAS single malt from Edradour. Today it's a non-peated single sherry cask 13 year old malt from the same distillery.

I knew this one was going to be a hellion. It is bottled at 65.9%abv. Single malts north of 60%abv tend to require a lot of tinkering before their palates reveal their best sides. That's just my experience of course. Yours may differ. Though how on Earth is a 13yo whisky still flexing a nearly 66%abv? A hot warehouse? A higher barreling strength? A wonky cask?

Distillery: Edradour
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 13 years old (28 June 2005 - 14 November 2018)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 145
Outturn: 532
Alcohol by Volume: 65.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

The nose is plenty poisonous, almost all ethyl and glue, for the first 15 minutes. Gradually notes of almond butter, urine and fish oil slip out. It takes 45 minutes to open up: prunes, dried cranberries, mixed berry jam and dirty hay. Compared to the nose, the palate is not that hot. It's still a bit gluey. It's also spicy, with sweet shisha and dry sherry. The hot, acidic finish is nothing but aggressive tartness, earth and dry sherry.

I'm going to attempt to bring it down to a more approachable level: 100 UK Proof.

DILUTED TO ~57.1%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes less gluey. More candy notes: Good 'n Plenty and cherry lollipops. The calmer palate gains fruity notes, like raspberry jam and tart lemons. There's a definite woody smoke to it, which carries through to the finish, which also brings a hit of tart berries and limes.

Is it all that it can be? Perhaps not.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or > 2½ tsp of water per 30mL of the original whisky
The nose is earthy, grungy, metallic and yeasty, but also candied. Fruit cake and a little bit of smoke. The palate is sweet and tangy, but doesn't let go of the heat. Smaller notes of wood smoke and metal. It finishes farmy, metallic, sweet and tangy.

This cask's ABV does it no favors. It's violent stuff until it airs for 45-60 minutes, but even then it feels tight. Bringing it down to 46%abv reveals a quirky, challenging creature, interesting but difficult. Though "Edradour" is the distillery's unpeated malt there is definitely something smoky running throughout this particular whisky, unless that's my palate burning down. That note is welcome. The metallic side, not so much. This Edradour gets points for being nonconformist, but that's about it.

Looking at its whiskybase scores, I see I'm probably alone in my opinion of the stuff. I've set aside one ounce of the whisky, reduced to 46%abv. It'll sit for a bit, maybe a month. If the whisky changes at that point, I'll update this post. But right now, the Ballechin wins by a good measure.

Availability - might still be around in Continental Europe
Pricing - around €100?
Rating - 79

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ballechin Batch 6, Bourbon Cask Matured

Before the 200+ single cask Ballechins swarmed the market, Edradour had released eight small batches of their young peated single malt (Ballechin), each with its own maturation scheme. Batch 3, aged in port-seasoned hogsheads, was pretty great per my palate. I also had a chance to try today's batch (number 6) at the distillery and was again impressed, especially with its unique coffee note. So far I like these baby Ballechins more than their current, older sibs.

This past weekend I enjoyed comparing this NAS 46%abv peater with a cask strength non-peated Edradour. They bore little resemblance, but more about that on Friday. On to the Ballechin review!

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: ???
Bottling year: 2011
Maturation: Bourbon Barrels
Limited Bottling: 6000
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The peat does indeed have a coffee grounds character to it in the nose. The mint extract and anise. Small notes of a sugar glaze, cigarettes and smoked fish. The palate balances light sweetness, gentle citrus and moderate peat. It also has an OBE-like note of glass and metal. Bitter smoke builds with time. There's a tiny bit of vanilla but there's much more apricot and white peach. It finishes with limes, cigarettes and seaweed. Just a little bit of sweetness.

This very solid peated whisky reminds me of the early Kilchoman Machir Bay release with more maturity and maybe a few drops of Laphroaig thrown in. Like Batch 3, it reads even larger than its 46%abv, while also being dangerously drinkable. Though it's not the most complex peated whisky, the little bits of fruit in the palate and the coffee grounds in the nose give it some very cool angles. Yeah, I'd choose this over the 10-year-old.

On Friday, a sherried Edradour. But for now...

Availability - Maybe the secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, January 13, 2020

Knob Creek 14 year old 2004 Brown Sweetness Vol. 1

I went to see a guy about a bottle. I wanted a bourbon. And for my sins he gave me one.

"He" is MAO, a renaissance blogger, person pisser-offer and high priest of The Northfield Whisk(e)y Tendency. N.W.T. selected a private barrel of bourbon and MAO documented the process very well back in September.

I don't always buy bourbon, but when I do it's a private bottling. And though, yes, even those bottles hold mass-produced tempered poison, there's something slightly more human about them. Sometimes one knows the person who selected the barrel, or at least knows a person who knows the person who did it. And, like single cask single malts, private barrels are often a little off brand, a little better, a little worse, a little crazier, a little different than the massive batches pumped out by large distilleries.

As much as some of us would hate to admit it, Beam McDonalds Microsoft Starbucks Suntory has been known to make a good bottle of bourbon. And when their Knob Creeks are on, they are ON. So I was happy to see N.W.T. went with a Knob Creek, a 14 year old (positively ancient these days) at that.

Here's a tasteful photo of the bottle:

Here's a tasteless photo of the bottle:


And here's the very cool N.W.T. label, designed by Doug:

Owner: Beam Suntory
Brand: Knob Creek
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Mash Bill: 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted Barley (maybe?)
Age: 14 years (14 October 2004 - 9 May 2019)
Warehouse: W-I
Floor: F-04
Rick: R-018
ABV: 60% ABV

This review of this 60%abv whiskey began about one-third of the way down the bottle. It ended in the emergency room. I kid, kid. Sort of.

The nose has that romantic woodiness that only American whiskey can pull off, and Scotch cannot, no matter how hard those companies try. Think cooperage + antique furniture + a whiff of maple syrup. And the vanilla isn't, well, vanilla. There's citrus and smoke to it. There are also dried cherries, dried apricots, a hint of root beer and a sprinkle of Beam's peanut dust. The palate lands a hot peppery punch at first sip. So it does need some air. Then comes honey, lemons, halva, banana and maybe some stone fruits. No woody bitterness, and more caramel sauce than vanilla. The finish mostly matches the palate. It's warm and peppery with lemons, bananas and a moderate sweetness.

I am of the sensitive sort, so I'm going to add water...

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, < 1¼ tsp per 30mL whiskey
The nose's vanilla has gone straight to the bean and is joined by almond extract. The oak reads more toasty than charred, with a little bit of wood spice coming through. Also some lemon zest and pineapple. More fruit than vanilla in the palate. Dried apricots, dried peaches and lemons. Ginger beer and candy canes. The finish seems longer at this strength; sweeter and more complex too. Lemon sorbet, fresh ginger, candy canes and a pinch of salt.

Normally bourbons older than 12 years read too bitter and lopsided to my palate, but not this one. It's the fruits! The palate lifts right off at 50%abv, while the nose does more than fine at either strength. Reducing it to 50%abv also works well for old fashioneds and Manhattans. This is the only bottle of bourbon I have open right now and I'm glad of it. Great selection, MAO! Thank you for letting me relieve N.W.T. of a bottle. I hope there will be a second volume!

Rating - I'm happier than a cow drinking her own barrel-aged milk!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Auchroisk 24 year old 1989 Cadenhead Small Batch

I had heard good things about this bottling, but by the time I got around to searching for a bottle, it had sold out. Yes, an Auchroisk had sold out. Why? Sherry casks. Luckily I was able to buy a sample from Master of Malt just before their company sold and their doors were closed to Americans.

This sample was sipped side-by-side with yesterday's Auchroisk, another sherry butt-ed 24 year old. They were very different whiskies.

Distillery: Auchroisk
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Central)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Small Batch
Age: 24 years old (1989 - Marc 2014)
Maturation: "Butts"
Outturn: 1140
Alcohol by Volume: 57.5%
(from a purchased sample)

Rich, hefty sherry in the nose. It's almost smoky. Coffee and Luxardo cherries. There are roses and clementines but a sharp lime nip keeps things from getting too pretty. The palate is indeed that of a sherry bomb. Think: well-aged Glenfarclas meets the better Kavalan sherry casks. And while notes of prunes and dried apricots can be found, dates (and lots of 'em) lead the way. Then mint, nutmeg, cloves, toffee pudding and peach candy go the rest of the way. Dates, cloves and mint make up most of the finish. A hint of peach candy. A savory note appears later on.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Water brings out a beefy note in the nose, which goes well with the mint and cherries. Then some citrus, spun sugar and new leather. More bitter chocolate and black coffee in the palate. Hints of dried cherries and cranberries. Just a little bit more sweetness. The finish mirrors the palate, with more weight on the fruit.

Ardmore got whupped by Aultmore and Auchroisk this week! I would not have thought it possible. This Auchroisk was my favorite whisky of the week, but it's so close between that the scores are ignorable, as they always are. The cask strength was the difference because this whisky did very well with and without the dilution. It also demonstrates (once again) that a single malt doesn't have to be a Glen or a Mac to merge well with sherry casks. I love the intense date notes, and I hope to find them in other whiskies someday soon.

Availability - Perhaps Cadenhead shops still have bottles? Otherwise, it's gone.
Pricing - €120-€140
Rating - 89