...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Old Pulteney 8 year old 1990 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

The single malts of the Green Bottle Era of the Cadenhead Authentic Collection were often low on oak and super high on ABV. I don't mind the former, but the latter can prove difficult to crack. If the "Oak Cask" wasn't in particularly good shape, the resulting whisky can be raw, and dominated by ethyl notes; adding water to that situation rarely helps. Here are two examples of such experiences. And this one was the first and last whisky to make my face go numb.

Yet this series remains well loved by many old school whisky fans. It represents a simpler, less marketing-fatted time when there was less competition for treasures and a trip to the liquor store could result in surprise and discovery. And I wouldn't doubt if some would argue the whisky was better then. That era was, sadly, before my whisky time. I will say, one of the Collection's 1976 Banffs was pretty awesome.

This sample of an 8 year old Pulteney comes from My Annoying Opinions who—through some sort of Minnesotan witchcraft—rescued some green Cadenhead bottles from liquor store shelves in recent years. I'm not worried about the whisky's youth, but the 63.1%abv sets off Hazmat alarm bells.

Distillery/Brand: Pulteney / Old Pulteney
Region: Northern Highlands
Ownership: InterBev Group
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 8 years old (August 1990 - September 1998)
Maturation: "Oak Cask", helpful!
Bottles: 222
Alcohol by Volume: 63.1%

Its color is a yellow gold. Wow, not much heat on the nose. A good sign. It starts with green leaves, anise, roses and juniper.  Then cocoa, pencil eraser and lemon zest. There's a soft medicinal note that floats up occasionally. With 20+ minutes of air, the nose picks up a grape popsicle note. The palate is hot, but too hot. It's sweet throughout, like spicy orange candy. Maybe some green or yellow melon and fresh ginger. There's a good earthy note, out of which grows an agreeable floral character. The writer just realized the latent poetry, then shoehorned it in. Oh yes, there's plenty of malt to be found. It finishes with earth, ginger and lots of sugar. Flower petals up front, pepper in the back.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Flowers and fruit in the nose. Hints of grain (malted and un-) and yeast. Clean of oak. The palate is similar to the nose with more pepper and a caramel sweetness. A hint of of the earthy thing and a nice herbal bite. It finishes brightly sweet, with a sharp citrus edge and a tiny bit of the soil note.

Another good surprise. Though it's loaded with esters and other spirity things, the whisky isn't palate-shredding or out of whack. Instead, it's pretty good. It feels a little younger and simpler with water, but that doesn't ruin it either. It's not a very complex whisky, but it feels more composed than most of the contemporary ultra-young single casks I've tried recently (thisthis, this and this, are what come to mind tonight). My sample probably came from the second half of MAO's bottle, which allowed it some time (and oxygen) to open up. I can imagine a bottle like this could be brutal in its first couple of pours. But as MAO noted, it does open up. Just give it time. Like, months.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, February 27, 2017

Old Pulteney 1997-2012 Gordon & MacPhail for Alain Verspecht

This week I'll be reviewing a few independently bottled Old Pulteneys, none of which are currently available, each one less relevant than the previous. You're welcome!

For those readers who groaned audibly during that first paragraph, please note that I will be doing a week of current OB OPs in the very near future.

And for those readers who groaned audibly during that first paragraph, there's actually a nice story behind this whisky. Gordon & MacPhail bottled this cask to benefit a non-profit Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis research organization that also helps support Alain Verspecht, a Belgian whisky geek with ALS disease. The Bonding Dram was one of the two retailers selling this whisky, and though the bottles had sold out when I went to order one, there were still samples left to purchase.

Distillery: Old Pulteney
Region: Northern Highlands
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Supporting: A Cure for ALS and Alain Verspecht
Age: 14-15 years old (1997-2012)
Maturation: first fill bourbon barrel
Cask number1199
Bottles: 224
Alcohol by Volume: 57%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

Its color is a light bright gold. The buoyant nose starts off with honeydew, ocean air, marzipan and citronella. There are creamy barrel notes at the start, but they linger around the edges rather than forcing their way up front. In fact, they often read like the toasted French oak notes from Spice Tree. After 20-ish minutes in the glass, the whisky picks up aromatic, floral vanilla character. There's an intense maltiness in the palate, followed by milk chocolate and caramel candy (Milk Duds?). It has Talisker-eque salt + pepper. Again, the oak feels more toasted than charred, so there are more spicy notes than vanilla and barrel char. Its sweetness grows with time, and a musty note appears in the midground. The finish has some mild heat and a good sweetness. Its main notes are malt, cocoa and toffee.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose becomes easier with notes of malt, vanilla, milky chocolate and a hint of lime. The palate also gets simpler. There's vanilla, black pepper and a slight bitterness. Some hints of oranges and wood smoke. It finishes with a good bitterness, mild sweetness and plenty of vanilla.

This is a very drinkable single malt that should appeal to almost any palate. This isn't the most complex thing, but it's thoroughly pleasant, something one can just sip in any season. Good cask selection for a great cause.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - it was €66, of which a portion went to the foundation
Rating - 85

Friday, February 24, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Rhetoric 22 year old bourbon

To refresh your memory, and mine, here's a list of the Orphan Barrels I've reviewed:

Forged Oak 15 year old
Lost Prophet 22 year old
Barterhouse 20 year old
and now Rhetoric 22 year old

Like Barterhouse and Forged Oak, Rhetoric was distilled at the old Bernheim distillery and then spent some portion of its maturation in the former Stitzel-Weller warehouse. Again, just to be clear, no matter how many times the marketeers reference S-W, these whiskies were not distilled at the S-W distillery. But they are hella old. And oaky AF.

Rhetoric is a little different than the others, as it is actually its own series. In 2014, a 20yo Rhetoric was released. Then a 21yo in 2015 and this 22yo in 2016. Diageo intends to keep this going until 2019 with a 25 year old. As much as I pick on the Orphan Barrel brand, this Rhetoric experiment is really interesting. Hopefully once the experiment is complete, something can be divined other than "the 25 year old is oakier than the 20 year old".

Owner: Diageo
Brand: Orphan Barrel
Orphan: Rhetoric
Distillery: Old Bernheim
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Mashbill: 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye
Age: minimum 22 years
Alcohol by Volume: 45.2%
(Thanks to Vik for the sample!)

The nose starts off with almond extract and confectioner's sugar. Actually, that's almond croissants. Then apricot jam, amaretto liqueur and brown sugar. There's a solid vanilla bean note, yet there's a happy lack of generic oak going on. Hints of pistachios show up here and there. The palate is a bit sharp as the oak blasts to the fore. There's glue, vanilla and almond extract. A moderate sweetness. Molasses, ginger powder and tangy lemons. A rye rumble in the background. There's plenty of wood spice and cardboard, but no woody bitterness. It has a long peppery tangy finish that never gets too sweet. Plenty of wood spice, barrel char and floral vanilla.

With its fabulous nose and not-terrible palate, this Rhetoric is the best Orphan Barrel bourbon I've tried so far. If not for the glue and cardboard notes in the whiskey's mouth, I'd have recommended this to fans of oak juice. But as this percolated within a first use American oak barrel for 22 years of Kentucky climate, some difficult wood compounds were bound to show up. I did find it less oaky than the Forged Oak 15yo, and the nose is utterly charming.

Other reviews: The Whiskey Jug liked this bourbon a lot. Breaking Bourbon wasn't a fan, though he did enjoy the nose. Drinkhacker loved it.

Availability - A few dozen US retailers appear to have it in stock
Pricing - $120-$200
Rating - 81

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)